Tag Archives: Christ

Sometimes the World Seems Like a Strange Place

The Assumption of Our Lord Jesus Christ Cathol...
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Life gets very complicated sometimes.It feels peculiar to me to live in the same country where I grew up and feel like a stranger. When I was a child nobody thought it was odd for a family or an individual to go to church. Today it is assumed that Sunday morning is for sleeping in or for soccer practice. When I was a child we all stood up first thing every morning at school and said the pledge of allegiance. Then our teachers read to us from the Bible, or some read Bible story books. Nobody thought that was strange. When we attended graduation ceremonies, we all expected to stand and bow our heads for the opening prayer. Nobody acted like it was an intrusion or an insult or weird.

All these things have changed. My husband and I went to a restaurant during the Christmas season, and as was our habit, we said, “Merry Christmas” to the person who seated us. She was a young woman, probably in her early twenties. She looked a little flustered, and then she said, “I don’t know if I am allowed to say …. That…. Back to you.” We tried to assure her we understood, but in fact, we didn’t. It seems completely at odds with the country we grew up in. We feel almost as much like strangers in the USA as we feel when we travel to some other country.

When I feel alone and confused about the world around me, I turn to prayer, the Bible, and my hymnal. This past Sunday we sang a hymn that is very comforting. It is a prayer hymn, and when I sing it, I can pray and be comforted all at once.

Lord Jesus, think on me

And purge away my sin;

From selfish passions set me free

And make me pure within.

I know that even as I look around and wonder why other people act the way they do, I am not as different as I wish I were. I am sinful and selfish, self-centered, easily upset when the situation does not meet my expectations. My focus on what I want makes me angry and hurt. The hymn reminds me that I need to let go of self and turn to Christ. I thought I was asking him to notice me, but in the hymn I am led to pay more attention to him. I need to be purified.

Lord Jesus, think on me,

By anxious thoughts oppressed;

Let me your loving servant be

And taste your promised rest.

It is so wonderful to take my anxious thoughts to Christ. I ask, “What happened? Where can I be at home? This is a strange and frightening world.” Then I recognize that if I stop thinking about me and remember that my call is to be a servant, not a tyrant, then I can be at peace. When I am serving Christ with all my heart, the anxiety and fear simply fade away.

Lord Jesus, think on me,

Nor let me go astray;

Through darkness and perplexity

Point out your chosen way.

Oh, I do feel lost. Often. The signposts I expected to find simply don’t exist anymore. All the rules have changed. Not God’s rules. The rules of the culture. The common practices of my neighbors. The things people think are normal. I easily become confused, perplexed, and lost. I need the light of Christ to show me the way to go.

Lord Jesus, think on me,

That when the flood is past,

I may the eternal brightness see

And share your joy at last.

There is a way to make sense of everything. I just need to see things God’s way. I need to change my world view. The world view of the people around me is constantly morphing, but that way of living leads to chaos. I need to see the world the way God sees it. Then I will have the peace of reassurance that God is bringing his perfect will to pass.

Even in the darkest moments, when I hear the most discouraging words, when it looks as if everything is truly upside down, I can turn to Christ. He will forgive me for my failures, lead me to servanthood, and put me on the path to his perfect will.

I thank my Lord Jesus Christ for Synesius of Cyrene, a faithful Christian who lived more than a thousand years ago, (375-430AD) for writing down his own prayer in troubled times. I thank my Savior for all the people who had a hand in preserving this beautiful prayer all these years. I thank the One who gave himself for me because he knows that I am dust, and I need this hymn.

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What’s the Truth Here?

Jesus casting out the money changers from the ...
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Sunday’s readings

Exodus 20:1-17

Psalm 19

1 Corinthians 1:18-25

John 2:13-22

All four gospel writers describe the day that Jesus cleansed the temple in Jerusalem. He was like a whirlwind roaring through, overturning tables and scattering coins everywhere, driving out animals and people in his fury. When we remember that Jesus truly is God in the person of the Son, we know where this fury came from. It takes us back to the wilderness trek of Israel, when God first explained to them what he expected of them. The wilderness is the place where we can put the cleansing of the temple in its right perspective.

In the wilderness, God told the people what sort of sacrifice he expected. Any animal or any fruits of harvest given over to God as a sacrifice was to be the best of all. Over and over he emphasized that gifts to God should be unblemished, perfect in every way. In the temple of Jesus’ day, vendors sold blind, lame, pathetic animals that were the rejects they could not sell elsewhere. Moneylenders who were there to serve people of all nationalities and convert their many different forms of money to coins acceptable for shopping in the temple routinely gouged their customers in the rates and fees for money exchange. As a consequence, every worshiper who did not arrive with his own perfect animal ready for sacrifice was subjected to the untender mercies of vendors and moneylenders who cheated the customers and cheated God. It is said by some commentators that temple inspectors collaborated in the whole scheme by ruling that perfect animals brought from home had defects and must be replaced by animals bought within the temple grounds. The offerings were lies to God as a result of the people lying to themselves. The temple had become a place to celebrate big lies and scorn for both God and people.

Jesus, God incarnate, took action to show what a fraud the whole operation was. His action, taking place shortly before he himself became the only perfect sacrifice for the sins of humankind, highlights what a complete lie the whole worship experience had become. Every worshiper had become part of a scene that honored neither God nor man. Jesus’ action said with great clarity that God hates lies and he hates fraud and he hates the behaviors that sustain such attitudes.

When Jesus cleansed the temple, he was preparing it for the day when the curtain that hid the Holy of Holies would be ripped from top to bottom, the day Jesus himself was sacrificed on the cross. Jesus told his disciples, “I am the way, the truth and the life,” and on the day of the cleansing, he acted as purifying truth to cleanse the temple and ready it for the one true sacrifice that would wipe away the sin of all humankind.

This is the truth celebrated in today’s psalm. This is the truth revealed in God’s law. The psalmist knew about that truth. He wrote that God’s law is the revealed truth that the heavens wordlessly sing about day and night. God’s law, which is often viewed as restrictive and oppressive, is revealed by the psalmist and by Jesus’ work of cleansing the temple to be liberating and fulfilling.

Some people have great difficulty “finding” any money to give to God as an offering when they worship. The lesson of the temple cleansing, pointing back to the lessons of Israel’s wilderness days, is that our gifts to God come first. They are the most special gifts we give to anyone for any reason. Our gifts to God must be our first fruits, our most perfect, our free gifts of love and gratefulness. We deny the blessing and mercy of God in our lives when we begrudge him our best.

This is the reason that we must give in gratefulness and love, not out of any sense of obligation. There were, no doubt, individuals who were sickened by the deceitful marketplace the temple had become in Jesus’ day, but their anguish was completely overwhelmed by the power of those who thought of worship as an opportunity to enrich themselves. They had no respect for God, and they caused even faithful worshipers to sink beneath their bad attitudes. There were almost certainly faithful believers who refused to have anything to do with the temple because of this problem.

We can be thankful that this story is in the gospel. It is a reminder first that Christ supplanted all the sacrifices ever burned in that temple by being the perfect sacrifice no animal ever could be. Beyond that, it is also a reminder that we never fool God when we give him less than our best, when we give him only our leftovers. Jesus is the way God tells us that we are so important to him that he gave his best for us. This gift demands that we give only our best to him.