This episode is week one of a study on the Gospel of Mark that will continue for a number of weeks. This message includes an introduction to Mark but also offers reflections on the nature of discipleship. Discipleship requires that we not only restrain ourselves from what dis-honors God and/or hurts those around us, but discipleship also requires that we engage in positive action that both honors God and witnesses to God's love and care. Both are necessary if we seek to follow Jesus who not only resisted the temptations of Satan but then acted on our behalf embracing the cross for our sake.
For this, the last episode of the Advent season, we consider John the Baptist. He is but one more piece of evidence offered by the Gospel writers in their presentation of Jesus as the promised messiah, the anointed one of God. John goes before Jesus. Who then goes after Jesus? Stated in a different way, who will follow Jesus? Will it be you? While it is important to understand all the lead up to the birth of Jesus, the issue of how we will respond to that birth is even more so. Unless Christmas is more than an observance, unless we allow it to become an experience, it all matters very little.
Our teaching text for this episode is focused on the rebuilding of the temple after the Babylonian Exile. It is a moment of great joy, but at the same time it is also a moment of sorrow. While the completion of the temple foundation is a very real sign of restoration it also pales in comparison with what once was. God's redemption, God's liberation is very real, yet there is often an element which has yet to unfold. We experience this ourselves. In Christ we rejoice, yet our lives are still marked by suffering and sorrow. One day this shall pass as God's redemption comes to its glorious culmination, but for now we experience joy and sorrow side by side.
Jeremiah had the difficult task of watching his nation be overrun by the Babylonians. Many people lost their lives and and the Temple was destroyed. Yet in the midst of all this God comes to him with a word of hope. God offers a reminder of a promise made long ago, a promise which God had not forgotten. God promises come to us in the midst of difficulty as well, and sometimes we wonder why God seems so slow to act. Jeremiah's hope would eventually be fulfilled in the life of Jesus Christ. God proved faithful. God remains faithful today and we should cling to hope even when it seems things are falling apart.
Our text today comes from an interesting moment in Old Testament history, a moment when a long lost scroll is found in the temple. This scroll was in fact the law given to the people through Moses, the terms of the covenant relationship between God and Israel. Following this the rediscover of these words which had been lost or hidden, the people repented and renewed their covenant with God. In a similar fashion, Jesus himself is a word which was hidden but eventually revealed in history. Jesus too is a Word revealed that merits a response. He is a Living Word which calls us to repentance and invites us into a covenant relationship with God.
In today's sermon we consider the fate of Judah (the southern Kingdom). In particular we consider their fall to the Babylonian empire which Isaiah likens to the destruction of a vineyard. Isaiah also presents this pending fate, as a divine response to the faithlessness of the people. That may be the case, but not all suffering should be seen this way. The Bible itself challenges this idea. One aspect of Isaiah's message, however, remains universally applicable. There is always hope. Even from a stump, new life can grow and flourish. There was hope for Judah, and there is hope for us. Always.
God is to us a faithful parent. As such, God grieves at the thought of harm befalling us. It is God's heartfelt desire that we live the lives God calls us to live, but it is also God's desire to spare us from the repercussions of our failings. There is a tension here, but in the end God chooses compassion over condemnation, and mercy over judgement.
Our passage today deals with an interesting passage from the Old Testament which reminds us of both our need to witness but also our need to redirect ourselves. Our witness is not terribly effective when we fail to let the good news inform and transform the living of our lives.
Ruth is a wonderful short book that speaks to us on so many levels. Among the messages it offers is a moving example of devotion. In fact, Ruth devotion to Naomi can serve as model for our devotion to Christ. While this sermon provides an overview of Ruth a short series in 2018 dug a little deeper. You can check out videos of series here. Just to keep everything together we have added this sermon to that series. Series on Ruth
The text for this message is the Ten Commandments, but this is the second time we have seen them. In restating these commands, central to God's covenant with the Israelites, Moses invites a new generation to claim for themselves a first hand relationship with God. While tradition and knowledge can be and should be passed onto our children and grandchildren, every generation must choose faith and a relationship with God for itself. The same is true for us when it comes to the new covenant revealed in Jesus Christ. We do no inherit authentic faith; that is something that we, with God's help, must choose for ourselves.