810) The Worst People on Earth (b)

     (…continued)  Two messages from this amazing story.  First of all, this is an extraordinary story of forgiveness.  Every day the news is dominated by accounts of death and destruction in the Middle East, where centuries old disputes go on and on and on with revenge upon revenge.  Without forgiveness, the cycle of violence never ends.  The Waorani themselves were disappearing as a people, destroying themselves because they knew nothing of forgiveness.  The story of the forgiveness given by these grieving missionary families, and the impact that had on the tribe that inflicted the pain, is an illustration to the whole world of the power of forgiveness.  These missionary family members did not seek revenge, but instead still desired to serve the Waorani.  In doing so, they gave them tangible proof of the truth and power of the message of the Gospel which they proclaimed.  This transformed the entire tribe; changing their beliefs and their whole way of life.

     The second message in this story has to do with how those five men died, for it was how the missionaries responded to the attack that eventually prepared their killers to be receptive to the Gospel.  You see, those five missionaries had guns along that day that they were killed.  The jungle is filled with dangerous animals, and you don’t want to be there without a gun.  But not one shot was fired at the attacking Waorani.  Five men with guns could have certainly put up a fight against any number of tribesmen armed only with spears.  They all could have probably even survived the attack and escaped with their lives and returned to their families.  But they did not use their guns on the Waorani, because all five had decided ahead of time that they would not.  Why?  Because, as they had explained to their families, they, the missionaries, knew Jesus and were ready for death.  The Waorani, however, did not yet know Jesus, and were not ready to die.  So they did not use their guns.  They did not defend themselves and faced the spears of the attackers, perhaps even praying as Jesus himself prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

     This had an impact on those vicious warriors.  Not only that, but the attackers learned later that they were lied to by their own tribesman, and that the missionaries had not done anything to provoke the attack.  At this point, the Waorani were not yet Christians, and so they promptly killed that member of their tribe that lied to them.  But something about how those missionaries died made them receptive, and not violent, when the other missionaries came to stay.  They had enough contact with the outside world to know what guns were for and what they could do.  They were fearless, and carried on the attack despite the presence of guns.  But it startled them that the guns were not used, and they wondered about what kind of men these were that they killed.

     On one level, there is something crazy about not defending yourself.  One might even say it was unloving and uncaring to leave those five wives as widows and those many children fatherless.  But in all I’ve read about this story and these families, I’ve never seen any hint of regret.  Sadness, of course, but no regrets or second thoughts.  As married couples, those missionaries had gone to Ecuador with some eternal goals in mind.  Their goal was not just an interesting and exciting and long life here, but they had in mind doing something that would make an eternal difference in the lives of those to whom they would bring the message of Jesus.  They could have fired their guns that day, and they could have saved their own lives.  And they could have no doubt ended the lives of Mincaye and the others with him.  But then those Waroani would have been dead and lost, and it would have been a long time before any other outsider could have gotten close.  But by willingly giving up their lives, those men opened up that entire tribe to the message of Jesus; and in the last 60 years, their sacrifice has led to the salvation of thousands of the Waorani.  In addition to that, tens of thousands of people around the world have been influenced and inspired by this story.  The story is well known among missionaries, and it is said to have inspired a whole generation of new missionaries in the 1960’s and 70’s, and yet today. Only in heaven will the effects of that sacrifice be fully known.

     Jim Elliot, one of the five men who were killed, prayed for six years for the salvation of the Waorani, and all that while, it was impossible for him to even get close to them.  And then, he was killed the very first time he did make contact.  But it was then, even though he was dead, that his prayers began to be answered!  

     Elliot knew the risks involved in his work, and he knew he could be killed by these dangerous people.  But he wanted the Waorani to learn about Jesus.  Acknowledging the possibility that he could lose his life, he once wrote: “He is not fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”  This life cannot be kept anyway.  Our eternal salvation cannot be lost by dying here.  Jim Elliot needed to obey the call of God on his life.

     We may not have the same calling as Jim Elliot and those he died with, but we have that same promise, and can have that same eternal perspective on life and that same hope.

     Elisabeth Elliot was the wife of Jim Elliot.  She was one of the women who went back to live with and serve the Waoroni.  She is the one who took her five year old daughter along into the jungle.  After leaving the Waorani, she was the one that told this story to the world in two books; Beyond the Gates of Splendor, and The Savage, My Kinsman.  Elisabeth Elliot died June 15th at the age of 88.   

     The Bible teaches the faith and inspires faith in many ways– sometimes by proclaiming promises, sometimes by teaching theological truths, and sometimes by telling us how we ought to live.  But the main way the Bible teaches and inspires faith is simply by telling stories of the lives of faithful people– Abraham, Sarah, Moses, Noah, Daniel, David, Mary, Joseph, John, Peter, Paul, and so many more.  And we can teach the faith and inspire faith by telling more stories of faithful people– people like Nathan Saint and Jim and Elisabeth Elliot and even Mincaye, the former murderer.

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The 2006 movie.

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“We acted badly, badly, until they brought us God’s carvings (the Bible).  Then, seeing His carvings and following His good trail, now we live happily and in peace.”

–Mincaye

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“What the Waorani meant for evil, God used for good.  Given the chance to rewrite the story, I would not be willing to change it.”

–Steven Saint

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Mincaye and Steven Saint

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Genesis 50:19-20  —  Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid.  Am I in the place of God?  You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.

John 15:12-13  —  (Jesus said), “My command is this:  Love each other as I have loved you.  Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

Luke 23:34a  —  Then said Jesus, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”

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Loving Lord and Heavenly Father I offer up today all that I am, all that I have, all that I do, and all that I suffer, to be Yours today and Yours forever.  Give me grace, Lord, to do all that I know of Your holy will.  Purify my heart, sanctify my thinking, correct my desires.  Teach me, in all of today’s work and trouble and joy, to respond with honest praise, simple trust, and instant obedience, that my life may be in truth a living sacrifice, by the power of Your Holy Spirit and in the name of Your Son Jesus Christ, my Master and my all.   Amen.

–Elisabeth Elliot

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809) The Worst People on Earth (a)

     Anthropologists have called the Waorani tribe of Ecuador one of the most violent groups of people ever discovered.  A magazine article one time called them ‘the worst people on earth.’  This tribe, which only recently began to emerge from the stone age, was on the verge of extinction in the 1950’s.  About half of all Waorani tribe members that reached adulthood died at the hands of other Waoranis.  If you were a Waorani, it was almost certain that you had a close family member who had been speared to death by other Waorani.  They had only the most primitive tribal government, and disputes were not handled by courts or even by chiefs.  Rather, if someone felt wronged they would simply kill the other person.  If the family of the murdered man or woman felt the killing was unjustified, they would seek revenge by killing the killer, and the cycle of revenge would continue.  To do anything but seek revenge was to show yourself to be weak.  Sometimes, these individual killings would erupt into attacks by entire villages on other villages.  This tribe was so remote and so feared that they were seldom approached by outsiders.  They were far from any control by the government authorities, who were simply allowing them to kill each other off.  By the mid-1950’s there were only a few hundred living members.

     And then, in 1956 some missionaries risked their lives to contact these murderous people.  The Waorani, like almost every people on earth, had a belief in God, but they did not know much about God.  The missionaries told the Waorani that God had a son named Jesus who visited our world; and Jesus told people that God did not want them killing each other, and so it was wrong for the Waorani to do so.  Eventually, the Waorani believed the missionaries and they obeyed what Jesus said, and, they quit killing each other.  And now, there are about two or three thousand Waorani, six times as many as in the 1950’s.  Sometimes, a Waorani will kill another Waorani, just like sometimes a Minnesotan will kill another Minnesotan.  But it is rare there, as it is here.  And on Sunday morning in Ecuador, just like here, many of the Waorani are in church, hearing the Word of God, and praying to Jesus.

     Missionaries not only risked their lives to reach these people, but several died in the effort.  The first five missionaries who made contact with this tribe in their own territory were killed the very first day they made contact.  These five men were in their 20’s and 30’s, and all were married and had children.  They had been dropping gifts by plane, and had reason to believe it was safe to land.  They did land on a sand bar on the river near one of the villages, and the initial contact was friendly.  Then something went wrong.  One of the tribesmen that had been with the missionaries on the sand bar, ran back and told the rest of the men of the village some lies about what had happened.  Then, the men of the village ran to the river, attacked, and killed all five men.  Days later, soldiers went in to recover the bodies. The story was featured in Life magazine.

     One would think that would be the end of the story.  One would think everyone would certainly leave the Waorani to themselves now, allowing them to continue to kill each other.  

     But this was only the beginning of one of the most amazing stories in the history of Christian missions.  Not long after the deaths of their husbands, some of the missionary wives began talking about how they might still reach these people.  They were, after all, missionaries, and they were there to tell these people about Jesus.  And who needed to hear more about the love of Jesus than the Waorani?  And who could better show them the power of forgiveness better than the wives of the men that had just been killed?  Of course it was dangerous, but they did not think that the tribesmen would kill unarmed women and children.  So some of the wives and children and other family members went up the river to contact, and then, to live with the Waorani.

     One of the women, an unmarried sister of one of the slain men, stayed for almost forty years, until she died of cancer in the early 1990’s.  Another, the wife of one of the men killed, went with in with her five year old daughter, and stayed two years.  Others, came and went over the years.  The Waorani built for them primitive homes like their own.  The missionaries brought medical supplies, matches, metal knives and axes, pot and pans, and other miracles from the modern world.  And, they brought the Gospel.  In time, a large number of the Waorani came to believe their message.  One of them, Mincaye, eventually became a missionary, and traveled around the world telling his story.  He traveled with Steven Saint, the son of Nathan Saint, the missionary pilot were brought the five men to that river bank where they all died.  Mincaye himself killed Nathan Saint with a spear in 1956 when Steven was just seven years old.  Mincaye died just a couple years ago, but had become like a father to Steven and like a grandfather to Steven’s children.  (continued…)

Nathan Saint on the sand bar where he was killed later that same day.

Steven Saint and Mincaye, the Waorani who killed Steven’s father.  See and hear them at:

http://www.epm.org/resources/2010/Mar/29/mincaye-walk-gods-trail-video/

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Romans 5:8-10  —  God demonstrates his own love for us in this:  While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!  For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!

2 Peter 3:9  —  The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness.  Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

Psalm 33:8  —  Let all the earth fear the Lordlet all the people of the world revere him.

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Prayer of Jim Elliot, one of the five missionaries killed by the Waorani in 1956.  He was 29 years old:

I seek not a long life, but a full one, like you Lord Jesus.

808) “If You Hear I’m Dead, Don’t Believe It”

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“Some day you will read in the newspaper that D. L. Moody of East Northfield, Massachusetts is dead.  Don’t you believe a word of it.  At that moment I shall be more alive than I am now.  I will have gone up higher, that’s all; out of this old clay tenement into a house that is immortal, eternal in the heavens; a body that death cannot touch; that sin cannot taint.  I was born  of the flesh in 1837.  I was born of the spirit in 1856.  That which is born of the flesh may die.  That which is born of the spirit will live forever.”

–Dwight L. Moody, the greatest evangelist of the 19th century  (1837-1899)

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A young Benjamin Franklin wrote this little verse in 1728 to serve as his epitaph.  Franklin made copies of this verse for friends at various times in his life.  This plaque appears on a wall near Franklin’s grave.

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     “Good morning, and how is John Quincy Adams today?” asked an old friend as he shook the former president’s trembling hand.

     The retired chief executive looked at him for a moment and then replied, “John Quincy Adams is quite well, sir, quite well.  But the house in which he lives at the present is becoming dilapidated.  It is tottering upon its foundation.  Time and the seasons have almost destroyed it.  Its roof is pretty well worn out.  Its walls are much shattered and it crumbles a little bit with every wind.  The old tenement is becoming almost uninhabitable, and I think John Quincy will have to move out of it soon.  But he himself is quite well, sir, quite well.”

     It was not long after that he suffered his second and fatal stroke.

John Quincy Adams (1767 – 1848)

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John 11:25-26  —  Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life.  The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.  Do you believe this?”

John 14:18-19  —  (Jesus said), “I will not leave you desolate; I will come to you.  Yet a little while, and the world will see me no more, but you will see me; because I live, you will live also.”

2 Corinthians 5:1-9 (Contemporary English Version)  —  Our bodies are like tents that we live in here on earth.  But when these tents are destroyed, we know that God will give each of us a place to live.  These homes will not be buildings that someone has made, but they are in heaven and will last forever.  While we are here on earth, we sigh because we want to live in that heavenly home.  We want to put it on like clothes and not be naked.  These tents we now live in are like a heavy burden, and we groan.  But we don’t do this just because we want to leave these bodies that will die.  It is because we want to change them for bodies that will never die.  God is the one who makes all of this possible.  He has given us his Spirit to make us certain that he will do it.  So always be cheerful!  As long as we are in these bodies, we are away from the Lord.  But we live by faith, not by what we see.  We should be cheerful, because we would rather leave these bodies and be at home with the Lord.  But whether we are at home with the Lord or away from him, we still try our best to please him.

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Father in heaven, draw our hearts to you, that our hearts may be where our true treasure is found, and that our minds and thoughts may look to your kingdom, whose citizens we are.  Thus, when you shall call us hence, our departure may not be a painful separation from this world, but a joyous meeting with you.  

Perhaps a long road still lies before us.  Sometimes our strength is gone, and a faintness overcomes us, and we are in darkness; we become restless and impatient and our heart groans in anxiety about what is to come.  O Lord our God, do then teach us, and strengthen in our hearts the conviction that in life, as well as in death, we belong to you.  Amen.

–Soren Kierkegaard  (1813-1855)  Danish philosopher and theologian

807) Abraham and Adamou (part two of two)

Robert Pindzie

Adamou, one of Abraham’s spiritual descendants, now ‘as numerous as the stars in the sky.’

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     (…continued)  Thirty years ago, the congregation I was serving sent money to help in the construction of a church building for a congregation in the African nation of Cameroon.  Two years later, I met Adamou, the pastor of that congregation, who was then doing graduate work for three years at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota.  He spoke at my church a few times and we became good friends.  He then went back to Africa to teach in a seminary and we lost touch.  Twenty years after that, he was again in Minnesota.  He called me, and we got together and renewed our friendship. 

     Adamou is from a remote village in the middle of Africa.  His father, Monga, was the village chief, and was raised in the traditional tribal religion of his ancestors.  Monga converted to Islam in 1920, and the whole village was converted with him.  That often happens in Africa, where such decisions are made as a community.  

     In the area of the jungle where Adamou lived there were 35 villages, but only one village had a public school.  Education is not a government priority there like it is here.  However, there were Lutheran mission schools in all 35 villages, schools financed and staffed by Lutheran missionaries.  Parents, eager for their children to receive an education, would send them to these Lutheran schools.  Muslim children were welcome, but it was made clear that the children would hear stories from the Bible.  

     Adamou started school when he was six, and he loved to learn.  He especially loved the Bible stories.  His favorite story was the story of Abraham’s great-grandson Joseph.  At first he loved those stories like school children love stories of Daniel Boone or Laura Ingalls Wilder; as interesting stories of other times and places, but without religious significance.  He, like his father, was a faithful Muslim, praying five times a day, and fasting at all the proper times.

     But when he was 14 years old, Adamou heard something that would change his life.  What he heard was John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”  This promise of eternal life had a profound impact on Adamou.  Life was hard in his primitive village, and death was always a threat.  Six of his eleven brothers and sisters died in childhood, and he wanted to know more about this assurance of eternal life in Jesus.  There was no such assurance in his Muslim faith, in which he had to just do his best and then accept his fate from Allah.  There was no assurance of going to heaven.

     Adamou already knew and loved the Bible’s stories, but now he read the Bible for faith and assurance.  Eventually, he came to believe in Jesus as his Savior.  But now what could he do?  His father was the chief of the village and a Muslim, and there was not one other Christian in the whole village.  For several weeks, Adamou said nothing about his new faith, and continued in his daily prayers to Allah.

     He finally decided he could no longer pray to Allah, so he ended his prayers and all other the religious duties and practices of Islam.  His father saw this, and called him in for a talk.  The old chief, old enough to be Adamou’s grandfather, did all the talking.  “Son,” he said, “I see you are no longer praying to Allah.  I know you are going to that Christian school, but I do not see you praying to or worshiping in that way either.  Be careful, son.  No one should live without God.”  That was all he said, and Adamou took that as permission to become a Christian.  The next Sunday he walked ten miles to go to worship at a Lutheran missionary church in another village.  Muslims and Christians live together peacefully in his area, and his conversion was accepted without any trouble.  Many other conversions soon followed.

     Later on that same year Chief Monga died, and Adamou’s older brother became chief.  A few years later, that brother died, and now Adamou is the chief of his village.  He is also a respected member of the council of chiefs, and a good friend of the Muslim king of the entire Bamoon tribe, a tribe of over a million people.  Adamou’s work as a pastor and seminary professor means that he must live in the big city, but he often returns to his village for his duties as chief.  45 years ago when he became a Christian, he was the only one in his village.  Now, his village is 75% Christian.  That is the kind of church growth that has been happening throughout Africa.  The Genesis 12 blessing upon Abraham continues to reach around the world.  Abraham, and then his descendants, were “blessed, so that they could be a blessing.”  All over the world, in places far from the land that was promised to Abraham, his family of ‘spiritual descendants’ continues to grow.

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Matthew 28:18-20  —  Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.  And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Galatians 3:26-29  —  So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.  There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, and heirs according to the promise.

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PRAYER FOR AFRICA (www.educationforjustice.org):

O Lord, Creator of the entire world,
O Loving God,
This prayer is for Africa.

Bless the plains, rivers, trees
And all the African lands.
Bless the birds, fish and animals
That bring beauty and abundance to Africa.

Bless O Lord,
Your children in Africa.
Dry their tears,
Bring hope into their hearts,
Health and safety to their lives,
Food and water for their nourishment.
Bring peace to their countries
And still the guns of war.

Bless us, O Lord,
And heal your continent of Africa.
Renew the land, renew the spirit
Of all those who are wounded in any way.
May justice roll down like water
On the parched ground of your beloved Africa.  Amen.

806) Abraham and Adamou (part one of two)

“Your descendants will be as numerous as the stars in the sky, and all the nations on earth will be blessed through you.”

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Genesis 12:1-3…6  —  The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.  I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.  I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you….”  Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.

Genesis 22:17a  —  (The Lord to Abraham)  “I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore.”

Romans 4:16  —  Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring– not only to those who are of the law but also to those who have the faith of Abraham.  He is the father of us all.

Romans 4:23-24  —  The words “it was credited to him” were written not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness– for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.

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     Arabs and Jews have been having a major disagreement about who has a right to live on a narrow strip of land on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea.  Ever since 1948 when the United Nations set aside that land for the Jews, many Arabs have been attempting to eliminate the Jews from that part of the globe.  The Palestinians say, “You can’t just give them that land.  We were here first; long before 1948.”  But the Jews say, “No, we were here first.  In fact, God gave this land to our ancestor Abram, later called Abraham, almost 4,000 years ago.”  They point Genesis chapter 12:1-3 where God himself said to Abraham, “Go to the land that I will show you,” and God led him to the land that is now Israel.  But Arabs say, “Not so fast.  Abraham is our ancestor too.  We are descended from his other son, Ishmael, who also got a piece of land way back then (Genesis 17:19-21).”  And then many Christians (not all) say, “You are both wrong.  God’s promise to Abraham no longer has anything at all to do with property rights, but now has to do with something much bigger.  God’s promise was extended to all the people of the world through Abraham’s descendant Jesus Christ, who was the fulfillment of what was promised in verse three where it says, ‘all the peoples on the earth will be blessed through you.'”

     Three of the five great religions of the world trace their ancestry back to this man Abraham and the call of God to him in Genesis 12.  Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all believe in one God, the God who called Abraham to leave his country and his people and his father’s household and go to a new land.  After that, there are many significant differences between those religions, the most important having to do with what each says about Jesus Christ, “The way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).  But all three start here, with this story, and the one God, who calls the one man, Abram.

     I cannot here even begin to deal with this whole story and all it means.  And, I will not get into the question of who has the divine right to the land.  That, after all, is more of a Jewish and Muslim concern.  Christians are not very interested in that, because we read the story of Abraham through the lens of the New Testament.  Paul said in Galatians  3:29, “If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendant,” and, “those who have faith are the children of Abraham and are blessed along with him.”  The descendants of Abraham are now spiritual descendants and not by nationality, said Paul (himself a Jew).  And Jesus himself renewed and revised the promise made to Abraham.  In Genesis 12:3 God said to Abraham, “All the peoples on the earth will be blessed through you.”  In Matthew 28 Jesus said to his disciples, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and I will be with you always, to the very end to the age.”  Christians aren’t as interested in deciding the short term questions on the inheritance of these property rights in the Holy Land.  We are more interested in Jesus and his promise of the inheritance of eternal life in heaven for all who hear and believe the Gospel.  

     There is a clear progression in the call of God to Abraham in Genesis 12.  It begins with a specific call of God to one man to leave his homeland and move to a new place.  Then the Lord begins talking about blessing other people– first, a whole nation that would descend from Abraham, and then, how that blessing would be extended to the whole world.  Even way back then it seems to be about much more than property rights.  This is not only a call to a new land, but primarily a call to a new faith– faith in a promise that Christians believe was fulfilled Jesus Christ.

     Ever since the day that God called Abraham, that call to faith has been reaching outward around the world and down through the generations.  In the 8th century it reached my ancestors in what is now Germany.  Forty-five years ago it reached my friend Adamou in the middle of Africa, one of Abraham’s descendants, now ‘as numerous as the stars in the sky.’  (continued…)  

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Merciful Father, your kindness caused the light of the Gospel to shine among us.  Extend your mercy now, we pray, to all the people of the world who do not have hope in Jesus Christ, that your salvation may be made known to them also and that all hearts would turn to you; through Jesus Christ, your Son our Lord.  Amen.

Lutheran Book of Worship, 1978, page 45

805) Prayers on the Commandments

Different wording and numbering, but the same basic commands.

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Prayers by Martin Luther (1483-1546), adapted from Luther’s Prayers, translated by Charles Kistler (1917)

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(1st commandment)  Eternal God, you ask that I rely on you alone with all my heart in all things.  It is your earnest desire to be my God, and I must believe in you as my Lord, or, suffer the loss of eternal salvation.  My heart shall neither build on nor rely on anything else, whether it be property, honor, wisdom, power, purity, or any person.  Amen.  (#83)

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(1st)  I thank you, Lord, for mercifully condescending to me, a lost person, in such a fatherly way.  Unbidden, unsought, and undeserved by me, you offered to be my God, and have accepted me.  You will be my comfort, help, protection, and strength in every time of need.  Although we poor, blind creatures have sought our comfort and help in many other places; you have shown us that only in you do we have a true and lasting hope.  We will be forever grateful.  Amen.  (#84)

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(3rd)  Dear Lord, I thank you for your great blessing which you have given us in your Word and the preaching of it.  This is a treasure that no human heart can fully appreciate.  You have especially commanded that we make use of these blessings on the Sabbath Day, for your Word is the only light in the darkness of this world.  It is a word of life and comfort that brings peace and every blessing.  Where this beloved and healing Word is not found, there are, as we daily see, dreadful and horrible darkness, error, strife, death, every misfortune, and the devil’s tyranny.  From this preserve us.  Amen.  (#92)

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(4th) Dear God, you have given me spouse, child, house, and land.  I receive these as your gifts, and will care for them for your sake.  I will do what I can to make all go well.  If not all my plans succeed, I will learn to be patient and let whatever cannot be changed take its course.  When things do go well, I will give you the glory and say, ‘O Lord, this is not by my work or effort, but by your gift and providence.’  Be the head of my family.  I will be obedient to you in all humility.  Amen.  (#200)

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(4th)  I pray Lord for your blessings upon the home and the state.  Help us all to be devout, to honor our parents, to be obedient to our rulers, and to withstand the devil, refusing to follow his enticements to disobedience and strife.  Help us in our efforts to improve our homes and nation, and to preserve peace for your praise and glory, and for the promotion of everything that is good.  Grant that we may acknowledge these as your gifts and give you thanks for them.  Amen.  (#98)

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(5th)  Dear Lord, grant us your rich grace that the people with us and we with them shall be friendly, kind and gentle to one another, forgive each other from the heart, and endure each others faults and shortcomings in Christian love.  Thus, we may live in peace and unity, as this commandment teaches us and requires us to do.  Amen.  (#104)

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(6th)  Dear God, in this commandment you teach and command me to be pure, orderly, and respectful in all my thoughts, words, and deeds.  You forbid me to disgrace any other man’s wife or daughter, certainly not by any wicked deed, but also not by any idle talk that would rob them of their decency and degrade me.  Rather, I should do what I can to help them maintain their honor and respect, just as I would hope they would do for my family.  For we are responsible for each other– we should not do anything that would bring our neighbor’s family into reproach, but should do what we can to preserve their honor and goodness.  Amen.  (#105)

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(8th)  I confess and ask for your grace, because I have so often in my life sinfully spoke with malice and contempt against other people.  They depend on me for their honor and reputation, just as I depend on them for the same.  Help us all to obey this commandment, giving our neighbor the benefit of the doubt, and explaining their actions in the kindest way.  Amen.  (based on #115)

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Deuteronomy 6:4-7  —  Hear, O Israel:  The Lord our God, the Lord is one.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.  These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts.  Impress them on your children.  Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.

Psalm 119:105  —  Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.

804) Forgiveness in Charleston

Vigil Held For Victims Of Charleston Church Shooting

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By John Stonestreet, for Breakpoint, June 23, 2015, at:  www.breakpoint.org

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     Today, we felt compelled to talk about the events of last week, the horrific killing of nine people at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.

      Why?  Because we’re seeing in those events how light overcomes darkness.  How love overcomes hate.

     As you undoubtedly know, on June 17, a man described as “white, with sandy-blond hair, around 21 years old and 5 feet 9 inches in height, wearing a gray sweatshirt and jeans” entered Emanuel and participated in a Bible study led by the Church’s pastor, Clementa C. Pinckney.

      At about 9 p.m., the man, subsequently identified as Dylann Roof, opened fire killing nine people, including Pastor Pinckney.

     Scarcely had the news broken than pundits – both liberal and conservative – started using the shooting to further pet causes, from banning the Confederate flag to the need to permit people to carry guns in church.

     But, remarkably, the people of Emanuel wanted to talk about something far more important:  grace and forgiveness.

     In an interview with the BBC, the children of Sharonda Singleton, one of the victims, told the reporter “We already forgive [Dylann Roof] and there’s nothing but love from our side of the family.”

     And they weren’t alone.  Stephen Singleton, Emanuel’s former pastor, told NPR that “we’re people of faith, and people of faith know that we heal.  God helps us heal.  This doesn’t drive us away from God.  This drives us to God, and that’s why I’m here now.”

     When asked what his former parishioners had told him, he continued, “There are a lot of broken hearts, a lot of sorrow and a lot of healing to be done.  And that’s what we’re going to work on, and that’s what we’re going to focus on because if we get bitter and angry, we just make a bad situation worse.”

     Thus, Anthony Thompson, a relative of another victim, Myra Thompson, said:  “I forgive you, my family forgives you.  We would like you to take this opportunity to repent.  Repent.  Confess.  Give your life to the one who matters the most, Christ, so he can change your ways no matter what happens to you and you’ll be okay.  Do that and you’ll be better off than you are right now.”

     Senator Tim Scott, appearing on Face the Nation said that while Roof may have intended to ignite a war between the races, he brought the people of Charleston closer together.

     And that’s because the people of Emanuel have responded in a way that is distinctly, if not uniquely, Christian:  loving those who hate you, forgiving those who sin against you, and blessing those who would persecute you.

     Christian ideas may no longer have power in our culture that they once had.  But to paraphrase the Apostle Paul, there is no argument against the kind of grace on display in Charleston.

     We even saw it on display in Roof’s capture.  A North Carolina woman, at great personal risk, followed Roof’s car until she was sure it was him and then called the police.  When asked why, she replied, “I had been praying for those people on my way to work . . . and the Lord put me in the right place at the right time.”

     The congregation’s response was reminiscent of the horrific event from years ago, the murder of five Amish girls in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania.  The members of the Amish community forgave the murderer.  The families of the victims reached out to the widow of the perpetrator.  And on this program then, Chuck Colson asked questions we should ask again today:  “How are we working in our own communities to build cultures of grace?  Are we teaching our children to forgive?  Are we actively working to restore offenders and reach out in aid to victims?  Are we overcoming evil in the world by good, as we are commanded to do?”  And I would add:  “If evil and tragedy come our way, are we ready to respond in love the same way our brothers and sisters in Charleston have?”

     What happened in Charleston is a tragic reminder of the great darkness in the world.  But in the aftermath we see the truth that the “light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it.”

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Statement by the sister of Depayne Doctor:  “That was my sister, and I’d like to thank you on behalf of my family for not allowing hate to win.  For me, I’m a work in progress.  And I acknowledge that I am very angry.  But one thing that DePayne always enjoined in our family … is she taught me that we are the family that love built.  We have no room for hating, so we have to forgive.  (To Dylann Roof) I pray God on your soul.”

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John 1:4-5  —  In him (Jesus) was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

Romans 12:14-15  —  Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.  Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.

Matthew 5:43-45a  —  (Jesus said), “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.”

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Rev. Rick Warren’s prayer for Charleston:

Father, our hearts are broken again as we see the result of sin in our broken world.  We know that you are grieving for these who’ve lost their loved ones…  First we pray for the unity of the Body of Christ.  May our brothers and sisters at Emmanuel church not only feel the love and prayers of the other churches in Charleston, but from hundreds of thousands of other churches supporting them this weekend.  Second, we pray for comfort and peace and healing in the hearts of those who are overwhelmed with grief in this tragedy.  Thank you for saying ‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.’  Father, you know what it is like to lose a son.  Holy Spirit, we ask you to comfort the families, and the church, and the community.  May all of us recommit ourselves to doing the opposite of what the gunman intended to accomplish.  Help us to be uniters where there is division.  Help us to protect all life in a culture of violence and death.  When faced with evil, give us the strength to respond by doing good, and to show love in the face of hatred.  Help us to be bridge builders when others want to erect walls, and to be peacemakers when others create conflict.  In the name of Jesus we pray.  Amen.

803) Prayers of Confession by Martin Luther

Adapted from Luther’s Prayers, translated by Charles Kistler (1917)

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My Lord Jesus Christ, you are indeed the Good Shepherd, and I, alas, am a lost and straying sheep.  I have fear and anxiety.  I would gladly belong to your flock and be with you and have peace in my heart.  I hear from your Word that you are as anxious for me as I am for you.  I am eager to know how I can come to you to be helped.  Come to me, O Lord.  Seek me and find me.  Help me also to come to you and I will praise you and honor you forever.  Amen.  (#153)

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Dear Lord Jesus, I feel my sins.  They bite and gnaw and terrify me.  Where shall I go?  I will look to you, Lord Jesus, and believe in you.  Although my faith is weak, I look to you and find assurance, for you have promised, “He that believes in me shall have everlasting life.”  My conscience is burdened and my sins make me tremble, but you have said:  “Be of good cheer, your sins are forgiven and I will raise you up on the last day and you shall have eternal life.”  I cannot do any of this for myself. I come to you for help.  Amen.  (#147)

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Dear God, I have been wronged by my neighbor.  I did not deserve this of him.  But I must remember and consider how I stand with you.  Before you, I find a long account against me which convinces me that I have sinned a thousand times more against you, than my neighbor has done to me.  Therefore, I must do as you say, by sincerely praying, “O Lord, forgive, and I will also forgive.”  Amen.  (#172)

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Dear Lord God, I cannot count the sins that I have done and am still doing.  I have forgotten most of them and no longer feel any guilt.  Whatever is in me apart from your grace, is sin and condemned.  Thus, I must altogether despair of myself, my works, and my powers.  I know not what else to do but to pray for your mercy.  My joy and comfort is that you grant this poor sinner the forgiveness of all my sins out of your pure grace.  I give you thanks.  Amen.  (#141)

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Dear God, in your presence I confess myself a great sinner.  The Ten Commandments would cast me directly into hell.  But your precious Gospel teaches me that it is the highest wisdom to know and believe that out of your love, you are merciful through Christ, and you help poor and condemned sinners.  Therefore my confession of faith and my confession of sin is this:  “I am indeed a sinner, but God is merciful to me.”  I was your enemy, but you made me your friend.  I was condemned, but you desired that I be blessed and made an heir of heaven.  Indeed, this is your will.  You have permitted this truth to be preached to me and have commanded me to believe, for the sake of your Son whom you have given to me.  Amen.  (#146)

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O Lord, I am your clay and you are the potter.  You have declared me a sinner, and I accept your Word.  I confess before you my godless condition and my sinful nature.  I, and all people, are in sin and death; but you, are life and righteousness.  I, and all people, are full of evil, but you are the highest good.  I am led to this confession not by my reason, but through your Word.  Lord, I am in sin, but you are my righteousness.  Therefore, I am happy and without fear, for my sin cannot outweigh nor overpower your righteousness.  Neither will your righteousness permit me to remain a sinner.  Blessed are you, O faithful God, my merciful Redeemer.  In you alone do I trust, therefore I shall not be condemned.  Amen.  (#143)

802) Symbols (b): The Pastor

     

     (…continued)  Most of the symbolic actions of the Old Testament priests are no longer practiced, but Christian worship is still filled with symbols.  The most universally recognized symbol in the world is the cross, so most Christian churches have a cross up front and in the center, symbolizing it’s central importance to our faith.  The colors of the paraments on the altar symbolize the season of the church year that we are in.  Candles the altar can symbolize Christ as the light of the world, or, they can be a symbol of God’s Word which is a light on to our path.  Many churches have one candle burning all the time, throughout the week, symbolic of the fact that Christ is always with us.  

     What pastors wear when they lead worship is also symbolic.  This is true even if they wear flip-flops, faded blue jeans, and a T-shirt– symbolizing they are just like the rest of the folks.  Other pastors wear other garments, symbolizing other things.

     I have usually worn the traditional alb and stole.  I once had a Southern Baptist lady visit the congregation.  She had just moved to Minnesota from the Arkansas, and was used to a more informal worship service.  She had never been to a Lutheran service and had some questions for me.  The first thing she said was, “Where I come from, the pastor just wears regular clothes like the rest of us when he’s is doing the service.  How come you Lutheran preachers get all dressed up in a white robe with that colored scarf around you neck, like you are something special.  You aren’t one bit better than the rest of us, you know.”

     I quickly agreed with her, saying she was right about pastors not being any better than anyone else.  But I told her she was wrong in thinking that is why we put on what we do for worship.  “In fact,” I said, “what I wear for worship is symbolic of something very different than what you think.”  I said the alb and stole is not meant to symbolize that I am better than her, but instead is meant to take the focus of me entirely.  I am not up front to show off myself, but to point to Christ.  And what better way is there to do that than by covering up all I can of who I am?  I can’t cover up my face because I need to talk, and I can’t cover my hands because I need to turn the pages, but I can cover up the rest of me.  

     “Clothes make the man,” goes an old saying, but the man (or woman) isn’t what is on display in worship.  It is God who should be on display, and covering up the clothes of the pastor removes a distraction.  People notice clothes, and so instead of praying or hearing God’s word they might be saying to themselves, “Look at that, his tie is crooked again!,” or, “Doesn’t he dress a little too casual for church?,” or, “What’s that, another new suit, we must be paying him too much?,” or, “Isn’t that neckline on her sweater a little too low?”  And the pastor himself might become too conscious of what he is wearing, wondering if the zipper on his pants is all the way up or if his shirt is still tucked in.  The robe, or alb as it is called, covers the clothes to remove that distraction.  My worship vestments are certainly not an attempt to say that I am better than anyone else, but that I am unimportant.  The pastor leading worship is representing someone else.   And so, the robe is white, symbolizing the purity of Christ– Christ who covers me and my imperfections.  I am representing Christ, and to bring his Word to the congregation and not my own.

    And what I wear around my neck is not a scarf as the lady thought.  It is a ‘stole.’  The stole is symbolic of a yoke, an item used in the old days to put on the shoulders of people to help carry pails of water or feed, or to be put on the shoulders of animals to yoke them to each other and to the load being pulled.  Jesus once said, “Take my yoke upon you,” and the stole is symbolic of that yoke, symbolizing that I have been yoked to Christ and his work.

     So I told our Baptist visitor that everything I wear as I lead worship is intended to point not to myself, but to Christ.  She said that made sense to her.  At first, she had not understood the symbol.  Therefore, the symbol itself became a distraction for her, instead of doing what it was intended to do, which was to remove the distraction.  She had to learn the meaning of the symbol.

     One thing we have to remember as we read the Bible is that it was written a long time ago, in a culture far different from our own; so there will be much that we will not understand or that may seem odd to us.  As I pointed out in the story of our Baptist visitor, symbols can be easily misunderstood, even by someone living in the same century and just a few hundred miles away.  So we have to have a certain humility about reading these stories.  There is much we can learn from them, but we have to begin by realizing there is much we do not know.  Symbols are helpful, but their meaning has to be learned.

     But what the Bible does clearly tell us, even when it seems most odd, is that God is not a far away distant God who is uninvolved with this world.  God has become involved, he has even been here in person– but he comes into specific times and places, speaking into specific cultures and in languages and thought forms that may be very different from our own.  We must not sit in judgment of what we see in the Bible, but rather, seek to understand the truths behind the images and symbols.  Then, we can let God’s Word judge us, and then we will know how to receive its word of comfort and hope.

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2 Corinthians 4:5-7  —  For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.  For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.  But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.

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A PASTOR’S PRAYER by Martin Luther  (1483-1546):

Lord God, Thou hast placed me in Thy church as a pastor.  Thou seest how unfit I am to administer this great and difficult office.  Had I hitherto been without help from Thee, I would have ruined everything long ago.  Therefore I call on Thee.  I gladly offer my mouth and heart to Thy service.  I would teach the people and I myself would continue to learn.  To this end I shall mediate diligently on Thy Word.  Use me, dear Lord, as Thy instrument.  Only do not forsake me; for if I were to continue alone, I would quickly ruin everything.  Amen.

801) Symbols (a): The Scapegoat

     Sometimes in the political news you will hear the term ‘scapegoat.’  There will be some huge scandal, involving many people at many levels of government, all of whom are accused of engaging in illegal activities, obstruction of justice, immoral behavior, or other bad things.  The press and the public will demand that something be done about it.  Then, behind the scenes, the damage-control team will select one poor schmuck and find some way to put all the blame on him or her.  The press will then have something to talk about, the public’s desire for justice will be satisfied, and all the rest of the scoundrels involved can self-righteously condemn the one who has been selected to take the blame.  The poor person who gets dumped on by everyone is the ‘scapegoat.’  Many others are then able to escape punishment because all the wrongdoing is placed on the one.    

     This concept of the scapegoat comes from the Old Testament book of Leviticus (see below).  These verses come in the context of a much larger section which describes in great detail all the rituals that the priests had to go through in order to receive God’s forgiveness for the sins of the people.  The proper clothes must be put on by the priests in the proper way, a goat and a bull must be slaughtered and the blood spread here and there in just the right way, a fire must be prepared and certain parts of the sacrificed animals are to be burned on that, and then, there is this part about the scapegoat.  These are the kinds of chapters that people get bogged down in when they attempt to read the Bible from cover to cover.  The material is difficult to understand, not very interesting, and can go on for many pages.

     The scapegoat part is interesting.  Aaron, the high priest, is to bring out a live goat and “lay both hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites, and put them all on the goat’s head.  He shall then send the goat away into the desert and the goat will carry on itself all their sins to a solitary place.”

     One might well ask what any of that had to do with the forgiveness of sins.  Proper garments, elaborate rituals, blood of animals, burnt sacrifices, and then turning a goat loose in the desert– what good does any of that do?  Later in the Old Testament this gets even more confusing, because in other books these very practices are condemned by God as worthless.  Whereas in the early books of the Bible there are many pages of commands and instructions from God on how to do these rituals and sacrifices, the later books of the Old Testament are filled with angry words from God condemning those very same practices.  How are we to understand this?

     The answer has to do with the use of symbols in religion.  Symbols are a part of life; shortcuts to communication.  Golden arches on a road sign tells you there is a McDonald’s restaurant ahead, wearing a purple and gold sweater means you are a Minnesota Vikings fan, putting on a cheese-head cap says you are a Green Bay Packers fan, and a white check mark on your shoes tells the whole world you are wearing expensive tennis shoes.  And what is a symbolic shortcut for us, is a primary means of communication for people who cannot read or write.  When you go to church on Sunday morning there are printed bulletins and published hymnals to aid you in your worship, but those are helpful to you only because you know how to read.  However, throughout Old Testament times and for much of the history of the Christian church, most worshipers in most places could not read.  Therefore, in order for worship to be meaningful, it had to be primarily a visible event out in front for people to watch.  It was a visible, and therefore by necessity, a symbolic, acting out of the truths of the faith.   And so blood was shed to show the seriousness of sin, and priests were selected and wore special garments to symbolize their place as mediators between God and people, and sacrifices and incense were burned so that even certain smells would become a reminder of God’s presence; and, live goats were released into the wilderness so people could see that their sins were removed from the community and that sin should remain far from them.  They could not read about any of this, but they could see it played out symbolically.  God commanded all these rituals so that the people could see and learn and remember the faith.

     But it was never meant to be just a show.  The symbols were to be symbolic of something else.  And so later on in Old Testament times, when the faith and worship of the people became corrupted, the rituals became nothing more than a show, and, were even thought to be a guarantee of God’s presence and protection.  The people, led by the priests, ignored and neglected the truth behind the symbols– the truth that they had sins that needed forgiving and that God was a loving and forgiving God who cared for them, but who also wanted their obedience.  God wanted them to live in the ways of justice and peace.  What God did not intend and did not want was that the people would use the rituals in an attempt to buy God off, and then sin without worry, dealing with each other unjustly and oppressing the poor and needy.  By the time of the prophets, all these rituals and symbols had become no longer an aid to faith, but a barrier to pure faith and devotion.  It was for this reason God said he now hated their sacrifices and rituals.  He hated them because they had become nothing more than a symbol, and the truth behind the symbol had been completely forgotten.  What had become a call to obedience had turned into a license for disobedience; what had been a sign of God’s love and mercy, had become a way to take advantage of God’s love and mercy.

      By the end of the Old Testament, the symbols were useless, the system was broken, and something new was needed.  Jeremiah told the people that God would make a new covenant with them.  Centuries later, when Jesus broke bread with his disciples on the night he was betrayed, he picked up on Jeremiah’s words and said “This is the new covenant in my blood.”  No longer would it be the symbolic shedding of an animal’s blood.  Now God himself, in Christ, would shed his own blood.  Now it would not be just a symbol of the cost of sin, but now, in person, all would see the pain that our sin causes in the very heart of God.  No more would there be sacrifices of lambs, for now the perfect lamb of God was sacrificed for all people of all time.  There are deep and meaningful symbols of this from the beginning of the Bible to its end, and all this one meditation can do is point out that it is there.  But in the death of Jesus on the cross, the symbol becomes the reality.  

     The suffering of Jesus on the cross was not just a one time event, but it was the physical expression of the pain and suffering that had been in the heart of God from the beginning of the world, when God first created people and they sinned against him. (continued…)

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Leviticus 16:5, 8-10, 20-22  —  (Aaron) shall take from the congregation of the people of Israel two male goats for a sin offering, and one ram for a burnt offering…    Aaron shall cast lots on the two goats, one lot for the Lord and the other lot for Azazel.  Aaron shall present the goat on which the lot fell for the Lord, and offer it as a sin offering; but the goat on which the lot fell for Azazel shall be presented alive before the Lord to make atonement over it, that it may be sent away into the wilderness to Azazel…  When he has finished atoning for the holy place and the tent of meeting and the altar, he shall present the live goat.  Then Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins, putting them on the head of the goat, and sending it away into the wilderness by means of someone designated for the task.  The goat shall bear on itself all their iniquities to a barren region; and the goat shall be set free in the wilderness.  

Isaiah 1:10-16 (portions)  —  Hear the word of the Lord:…  “The multitude of your sacrifices— what are they to me?  I have more than enough of burnt offerings, of rams and the fat of fattened animals;  I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats…  Stop bringing meaningless offerings!  Your incense is detestable to me…  I cannot bear your worthless assemblies…  They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them.  When you spread out your hands in prayer, I hide my eyes from you; even when you offer many prayers, I am not listening.  Your hands are full of blood!  Wash and make yourselves clean.  Take your evil deeds out of my sight, and stop doing wrong.”

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Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.

Create in me a pure heart, O God,
    and renew a steadfast spirit within me.

–Psalm 51:1, 2, 10