Comfort – November 29, 2015


Isaiah 40:1-11 Mark 1:1-8


Let me begin with a conversation I had one day with a very successful business entrepreneur. He had been in Columbia the previous day as part of the crowd of about one-thousand who heard Walter Isaacson speak to the Liberty Fellows. Isaacson is the author who wrote the popular biography of Steve Jobs…and other best selling biographies about Albert Einstein, Henry Kissinger and Benjamin Franklin. He is also the CEO of the Aspen Institute…a non-partisan leadership development organization. The Liberty Fellows program is affiliated with the Aspen Institute. Its focus is on developing rising young adult leaders in South Carolina…people who are largely in senior management positions yet early in their professional careers. In his speech Mr. Isaacson emphasized his belief that America is divided into too many what he called “tribes”. He described these tribes as voluntary groupings that have been created based on some narrow characteristic or set of characteristics…political….social…geographic… business…race…gender. He said that until many of those tribes come together America…and the world…will continue to flounder in many ways. My friend said he had seen the same tribalism….getting more pronounced and more destructive….and he asked what could be the answer. Think for a minute. You’ve seen the same sort of divisions growing more pronounced in our communities…state…nation and world. What would you have offered as an answer to his question? How would you have told my well-educated…highly successful….community leader…friend to break down this destructive tribablism? I suggest we look to Isaiah and John the Baptist. Isaiah brings us the message. John shows us how to deliver the message. The message from Isaiah is that God brings comfort…and faith in that coming comfort brings us hope. The message is also that God will come to be among us to show us the way. Isaiah’s message came even though he knew that God’s people were to be punished with exile in Babylon…a severe punishment for their sins. Even though they might think that God had abandoned them. But…because the people had abandoned God…Isaiah said …”No, God remembers you and will bring you comfort.” Isaiah said that even though God may punish you…God will remember you…and bring you comfort. God will send a shepherd. That shepherd will feed his flock…gather the lambs…carry them in his bosom…and gently lead the sheep. That shepherd is Jesus Christ. Isaiah also said God will send a messenger to show the way. That messenger is John the Baptist. It was John who showed us how to share the message with others…the message that breaks down the tribablism…the message that leads others to the comfort…hope…and salvation of repenting….repenting that means confessing our sins and turning to Christ. All of John’s life and actions bore out what he was. John lived a life of continual repentance and uncompromising devotion to God. He did not put a family…a job…a team…a political party…an economic philosophy…tradition…or anything else ahead of God. John put nothing ahead of God. What’s first in our daily living? What do our thoughts…words…and actions show about what we place first? John was fearless in his proclamation of the message…so fearless that even his clothing showed it. He didn’t wear the flowing robes and ornate jewelry of those who were religious leaders of his day. In fact…John rebuked the Pharisees, saying, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. Are all of our leaders and want-to-be leaders producing fruit that is in keeping with repentance…confessing their sins and turning to God as their first priority? If not…have you called any of them on it? Ignoring is not a step to repentance. For the common people… John offered instruction in giving, “The man with two tunics should share with him who has none.” How many extra tunics are in our closets? When was the last time we made a trip to a Goodwill donation center? John told the tax-gatherers to be fair. When was the last time we told a legislator about the injustices of our tax systems at the federal and state levels? How have we helped them change those systems? John was as fearless as he looked! Are we? John was also…in keeping with his seemingly strange and simple clothing…self-forgetting and humble. Like John…we are to live…and preach…the whole message…both law and grace….repentance that leads to salvation and God’s comfort. We are to do it in such a way that the character of our lives matches the message we preach…to believe it so much…and with such sincerity…that others will clearly sense the ring of truth. I’ve suggested just some ways each of us can do this. There are many more. This recent story from NPR will show us how Julio Diaz did it. “Julio Diaz has a daily routine. Every night, the 31-year-old Hispanic social worker ends his hour-long subway commute to the Bronx one stop early…just so he can eat at his favorite diner. “But one night last month, as Diaz stepped off the No. 6 train and onto a nearly empty platform… his evening took an unexpected turn. “He was walking toward the stairs when a Black teenage boy approached and pulled out a knife. “He wants my money, so I just gave him my wallet and told him, ‘Here you go,'” Diaz says. As the teen began to walk away…Diaz told him, “Hey, wait a minute. You forgot something. If you’re going to be robbing people for the rest of the night, you might as well take my coat to keep you warm.” The would-be robber looked at his would-be victim, “like what’s going on here?” Diaz says. “He asked me, ‘Why are you doing this?'” Diaz replied: “If you’re willing to risk your freedom for a few dollars, then I guess you must really need the money. I mean, all I wanted to do was get dinner and if you really want to join me … hey, you’re more than welcome. “You know, I just felt maybe he really needs help,” Diaz says. Diaz says he and the teen went into the diner and sat in a booth. “The manager comes by, the dishwashers come by, the waiters come by to say hi,” Diaz says. “The kid was like, ‘You know everybody here. Do you own this place?'” “No, I just eat here a lot,” Diaz says he told the teen. “He says, ‘But you’re even nice to the dishwasher.'” Diaz replied, “Well, haven’t you been taught you should be nice to everybody?” “Yeah, but I didn’t think people actually behaved that way,” the teen said. Diaz asked him what he wanted out of life. “He just had almost a sad face,” Diaz says. The teen couldn’t answer Diaz — or he didn’t want to. When the bill arrived, Diaz told the teen, “Look, I guess you’re going to have to pay for this bill ’cause you have my money and I can’t pay for this. So if you give me my wallet back, I’ll gladly treat you.” The teen “didn’t even think about it” and returned the wallet, Diaz says. “I gave him $20 … I figure maybe it’ll help him. I don’t know.” Diaz says he asked for something in return — the teen’s knife — “and he gave it to me.” Afterward, when Diaz told his mother what happened, she said, “You’re the type of kid that if someone asked you for the time, you gave them your watch.” “I figure, you know, if you treat people right, you can only hope that they treat you right. It’s as simple as it gets in this complicated world.” Like John…Julio Diaz lived the message. In so doing…he also preached the message. The message is turn away from sin…turn toward God…for comfort in knowing that true faith in the messenger sent to us …faith that is demonstrated in our daily living with others…without regard to tribes…leads us and them to salvation and comfort.

Reflection on Lord’s Acre Celebration – November 22, 2015

Reflection for Lord’s Acre

2 Corinthians 9:6-12


“God loves a cheerful giver.” Do you remember the circumstances of the first time you heard that and understood it? I do. I must have been six or seven years old. It was one of those days during the summer break from school that I got to spend with my grandfather. He was a dairy and poultry farmer…a few miles out of a small town in upstate New York. We lived in a ramshackle house…that has since fallen down…right next to his farm. It was the day that he drove to the big city of Syracuse in his 20 year old truck to deliver fresh eggs. Let me say a few words about my grandfather. As far as I know he never went to church. The closest church was in the town about five miles away…but he was a dairy farmer who milked his 60 cows by hand every morning and afternoon. He was tired on Sunday mornings. And…even though gas was 25 cents a gallon…it was a luxury to go to town for anything. He was not wealthy. He had seven daughters. When his widow died each of the six surviving daughters had to pay about a thousand dollars to settle the farm debts after the buildings and property were sold. They considered it a small price to pay for the generous love their father had shown them. I had been on this trip with my grandfather several times…and noticed that he gave a piece of paper to everyone who received his eggs…with one exception. He gave a piece of paper to the folks who ran the fancy country club…the folks at the fine hotel…and the people at the big hospital. But…he never gave a piece of paper to the people at the orphanage. They got more of his fresh eggs than any other customer. The orphanage was always the first stop on his weekly trek to Syracuse. On this trip I noticed he didn’t give the orphanage a piece of paper. I asked why. He said the paper was a bill…that the people who received the paper had to pay my grandfather for the eggs he had delivered. He said the people at the orphanage didn’t get a bill because they were doing God’s work…and my grandfather wanted to help them do God’s work because God had been generous to my grandfather. He said the best way he knew how to help was to give them the first fruits of his day of delivery. He then told me…”God loves a cheerful giver.”…and I saw a big smile on his face. I understood the message. As Paul promised the church at Corinth God had provided all that they needed to my grandfather and his family. My grandfather sowed abundantly …reaped abundantly…and shared abundantly. As I have had the opportunity to study Paul’s letters to the church at Corinth…and learn from some great teachers…I have discovered that this gem of instruction is only part of a much larger message that Paul was communicating. You see…Paul’s letters to the church at Corinth were about reconciliation…repairing and overcoming breaks in their relationships with each other…with their community…with Paul…and with God. That reconciliation began with reaching out with sincerity…humility and generosity. Today I ask you to pause in your time of thanksgiving to ask where reconciliation might be needed. Relationships within your family…at a workplace …in the community…within your church family. Where has there been hurt…anger…loss of trust? What hurt…anger…loss of trust can you give to God? Where it exists reach out to the source…reach out in humble…sincere…faith-filled love…and generously share…share as generously as God has shared with you…as God shared with my grandfather. And, know this: God not only loves the cheerful giver. God is a cheerful giver.

Do You See? – November 15, 2015

“Do You See?’

1 Samuel 1:4-20 Mark 13:1-8


“Do you see?” Jesus asked. He was telling the disciples to look at the temple and realize that something was happening that was more important than the magnificent temple that had been built from the stones…stones that would be lying in a pile of rubble. The coming of the kingdom was underway. If we have paid close attention to the news of the past few months we might think that something else of critical importance was taking place. And, it is. In the United States…we are in the beginning of that national quadrennial exercise called a presidential election. Six billion dollars and a lot of energy will be spent to convince us to select our national leaders. Much posturing…fretting…and name calling…and half-truths will be evident. There will be those who fret…posture and call names when it’s all over. Amidst all of this…the story of Samuel should give us comfort and guidance. Before hearing of the comfort and guidance…however…let’s make a quick comparison of the United States and Israel at the time of Samuel’s birth. In Judges we read of Israel’s habit of rebellion over and over again. It’s somewhat like the United States’ habit to strive for a secular…non-religiously driven society. The strong and loud libertarian impulses in America today are much like Israel’s pushing away of Yahweh’s covenant in the period before Samuel’s birth. The comforting news is that God’s answer today is the same as it was then. Samuel’s birth gives us two facets of that answer. When a nation is in such despair…the only hope is the appearance of righteous and just individuals…both in the national leadership and in the local citizenry. First Samuel, chapter 1 announces both. Samuel is the coming new leader and he is given to the nation through a righteous and just individual. Do you see…righteous and just leadership comes from righteous and just individuals…who lead and who support the righteous and just leaders. Israel’s problems were deeply rooted in the national mindset…the hearts of the people. They were made worse by her failed leadership…men offering themselves as religious. Eli and his sons were so perverse that they provided no hope for renewal. Without a truly godly leadership their nation faced eventual ruin. The birth of Samuel provided hope for the future for Israel. The important role of leadership in modern nations can’t be overlooked. The last century has given us many examples of corrupt, tyrannical despots…people who manipulated the nations over which they held control…and inflicted immense pain and suffering on masses of people….Adolph Hitler…Romania’s Ceausescu…Cambodia’s Pol Pot and Iraq’s Saddam Hussein…just to name the most notorious. Other national leaders have allowed the spiritual infrastructure of their nations to deteriorate through less dramatic and less obvious policies and practices. As illustrated by the first chapter of First Samuel…God wants to use godly leaders to reform the nations. In the Old Testament…kingship was a source of great potential for good for the nation of Israel. It became the means through which God himself would eventually redeem his people. These principles are no less true of our community…state…and nation today. The second necessary element in the spiritual rebirth of a nation is even more important…though it receives less attention…the importance of an active godly righteous and just citizenry. A righteous and just ruler alone cannot reform a rebellious and sinful population. The good news of this passage from First Samuel begins with the righteous, everyday affairs of a faithful family. Through her sufferings and trials…Hannah was used as an instrument of God to begin spiritual rebirth in Israel. Like Elizabeth and Mary after her she was honored by God with a miraculous conception in order to show God’s mercy and grace to continue his salvation story. But without a host of other…nameless Israelites who also prayed and lived their lives in quiet devotion…such reform would not be possible. Those individuals became what Jesus referred to as the salt and light of their society. The Bible consistently shows us that social change and reformation as well as change within a church family take place primarily in this way. As the waves of the sea slowly and gradually alter the landscape of the seashore…we need wave after wave of godly people…daily contributing their influence on our culture and slowly chipping away at the evil in our society…chipping away at complacency…overcoming fear. Just as the slow but constant drip…drip of water on a granite boulder will eventually change its surface…so Christians must be faithful to God’s Word…living devout and godly lifestyles over the long duration in order to reform the nation…serve the community and build His church. Let me share a real life story with you…about a man named Howard…Howard Keller. He signed all of his communications with his initials H. K. That’s what he wanted everyone to call him. H.K. had a long and successful career in radio advertising sales. When we met he was 60 years old and the sales manager for a radio station in Charleston, South Carolina. I was slightly more than half his age. I was a sales rep for that radio station. H. K. hired me. He was my boss. He had the authority to fire me. One spring sales in the radio station had been flat…and in that market spring was an important season for radio advertising sales. H. K. called a meeting of the sales team. After all had arrived and become quiet he said just one sentence…”I think we’re driving by more business than we write.” That was it. He left the room. The sales reps talked with each other asking what he meant and what might happen next. As the next week began H. K. would get in the car with a different sales rep at the beginning of each sales day. As the sales rep drove on his or her regular rounds H. K. would point to a business and ask if the sales rep had ever called on them. Most of the time the answer from the sales rep was no. H. K. would then tell the rep to pull into that business’ parking lot. They would go inside the business together. H. K. would introduce himself and the rep and ask for the business’ decision maker. When that person was available H. K. would engage in conversation about the person and their business…then ask if they had ever considered advertising on our radio station. In most cases the person said they had never been asked. In some of the situations no sale was made…but in many a sale was made…and some of those businesses are still advertising with that radio station…three decades later. What H. K. showed us was that each of us creates our own comfort zone…and typically stays within that zone…missing many opportunities to make the sale…to create believers. What he also showed us was that we control whether we will get out of those comfort zones…and we reap the benefits from going beyond the comfort zone. I hope I don’t have to elaborate to point out that H. K.’s lesson applies to those of us in any church family today…including our church family. God doesn’t want any of us in a comfort zone. God enables us to get out of those comfort zones. A most effective part of getting out of our comfort zones is prayer. Do you see Hannah? She had every reason to be bitter…and to hide away in a comfort zone. She was incapable of bearing children. She was ridiculed by Penninah. Her husband…Elkannah…was unable to comfort her. The priest…Eli…didn’t understand her motives. Yet…rather than give in to her emotions…or just plain give up and live solely in her comfort zone …she let those circumstances drive her to prayer. Hannah’s pain prodded her to a strong faith which was demonstrated in prayer. Her prayer and vow show the kind of faith that is demonstrated when a person is dealing with pain, suffering and loss. In these days of pain, challenge and loss our prayer must be as faithful. Our words and actions must show us living a godly lifestyle that takes us and those we encounter out of our limiting comfort zones. Do our prayers ask God to give us the wisdom and courage to participate in active, righteous and just ways in leading our family…our church…our community…our state…and our nation…leading the way out of comfort zones? Do our actions and words take us out of our comfort zone to take the word of God to others? Do we invite others to join us in our church family? Do you see….that it is like Hannah that God would have us live out our faith…outside our comfort zones? Do you see…that regardless of those leading…God is leading and enabling us to lead them to be righteous and just leaders…though in doing so we may take them and ourselves out of their comfort zones? Do you see…that like that magnificent temple…our comfort zones also must become a thing of the past?

Everything – November 8, 2015


Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17 Mark 12:38-44


Entrepreneurs and promoters leased the Los Angeles Convention Center to display the nearly 30-thousand objects left from the estate of the entertainer…Liberace. Thousands of people willingly paid six dollars each for the privilege of viewing the remains of Liberace’s personal materialism. This was followed by an auction at Christies in Los Angeles…where another admission charge of ten dollars was levied in a desperate attempt to regulate the crowd. In a crazy sell-off…a king’s ransom was paid by the bejeweled crowd for Liberace’s belongings On that incredible night…money was the only speech understood by the auctioneer. It also spoke in other ways. As the evening progressed it spoke volumes about the heart of the dead entertainer and the hearts of the bidders. Money talks. This has been a truth since the beginning. Because he knew this…Jesus chose the Temple treasury for his parting shot before leaving the Temple for good. The giving…or holding…or other use of money…shows the state of the heart as few other things can. Because of this Jesus chose this place to create the contrast with the phony righteousness of the religious establishment with true devotion to God. The treasury where they placed their offerings consisted of thirteen brass treasure chests called trumpets because they were shaped like inverted horns…narrow at the top and enlarged at the bottom. Each bore an inscription telling people what the offering would be used for. Jesus found a place to watch the givers without drawing attention to himself. Like many of us Jesus was a “people watcher”. He watched their motives as well as their actions. Neither the widow nor the rest of the people had any idea they were being watched. But…hear the words of the Scottish minister…George MacDonald…who…in the nineteenth century wrote…”When we feel as if God is nowhere, He is watching over us with an eternal consciousness, above and beyond our every hope and fear.” What did Jesus see as he sat across from the treasury chests and watched the worshipers make their deposits? At first he saw that many rich people threw in large amounts. We should not assume that he disapproved of all the offerings of the wealthy. Very likely there were a number who had noble motivations. But…Jesus also saw much that displeased him. Public giving in a setting like that promotes self-conscious ostentation…people acting important. Think about this…would the stars have turned out to support “Live Aid” if there were no cameras and they could not stand to sing with Stevie Wonder? What would happen to our great national charities today without celebrity benefits…or published donors’ lists…or bronze plaques…or pictures taken with crippled children? The huge Passover crowds and the public display of the offering trumpets created some outrageous preening and prancing. You can imagine the hush that came over the crowd when a notable person approached…perhaps with an offering too heavy to carry himself…and the loud gasp at the sound of a great number of shekels crashing into the brass trumpets. Can you imagine their faces and the “see if you can top that” expression of those donors? Jesus also saw something that made his heart applaud. He saw the poor widow put in two very small copper coins. Jesus…and everyone else who saw her…knew that she was a poverty-stricken widow because widows wore distinctive clothing…which in this widow’s case was probably worn and tattered. She probably approached the trumpets quietly…her head bowed…hoping to draw no attention to herself. She did not know that Jesus was watching…but she knew that God was and that was whom she came to please. She was living out the Shema…loving God with all she had. She gave everything. On this Passover she was silently saying to God, “I love you, and all I have is yours.” The Passover crowd had been “oohing” and “aahing” over the generosity of the rich…yet Jesus had remained unmoved. But when the widow passed by…though he sat still…Jesus was inwardly standing on his feet and applauding. She was a rare flower in a desert of official…formal…phony devotion…and her true beauty made his heart rejoice. Jesus told his disciples that the widow put more in the treasury than all the others…she gave all she had. Jesus’ praise of the widow should give us some things to ponder. When it comes to giving…the posture of our heart makes all the difference. The I.R.S. doesn’t care what is on my heart when I write that check to charity. But, the Lord cares whether I give lovingly or begrudgingly. Paul told the Corinthians, “If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:3) But…if I give a penny with the same heart as the widow it is a great gain to me and to God. God weighs our motivations. This truth can be a comfort or a terror. Which is it for you? God can do great things with small offerings. Those two pennies…given quietly with the widow’s motive…have produced more for the Kingdom in the 2,000 years since than all other gifts presented that Passover week. These two miniscule coins have been multiplied into billions and billions for God’s work as humble people have been liberated to give from their little. When the judgment comes Jesus will square the accounts. There is nothing to show that the woman ever knew what Jesus thought of her gift or that she ever became a prosperous woman. The judgment will show her work. She will be first with God. This last observation…God is egalitarian. There is no advantage with God for the poor or the rich…for the unlettered or the educated…for the known or the unknown. Billy Graham has no advantage over the humblest believer…and vice versa. All of us…without exception…can do great things for God. Is it possible for a Church to love and give like the widow? Has it ever done so? The history of the Apostolic Church answers with a loud yes. Paul told the Corinthians: “And now…brothers…we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. Out of the most severe trial…their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able…and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own…they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints. And they did not do as we expected…but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us in keeping with God’s will.” (2 Corinthians 8:1-5) God does not want our money. God wants us. Yet…we cannot give ourselves to him without giving our money. It is so true…money talks. It tells us where our hearts are. What does our giving say about us…individually and as a church? There is a disease which is particularly bad at this time. It is called cirrhosis of the giver. It was actually discovered about 34 A.D. and became the death of Ananias and Sapphira. You’ll find their story in the book of Acts. It is a serious condition which makes the victim’s hands unable to move when it attempts to open a billfold or purse or put a check in the offering plate. The cure seems to be to remove the person from the House of God…since the condition disappears when the person is in other environments like restaurants…golf courses…and shopping centers. Then…there’s no trouble moving the hand from the billfold or purse to place money in the hand of another person. Some data to share. Over 300 billion dollars was given by Americans to charities in 2014…which includes all places of worship. That seems like a big number. It includes business and foundation giving as well as individual giving. Total giving…however…is only about 2 percent of all income received by Americans…not even one-half of a tithe. That 2 percent number has been consistent since the data has been collected….about 50 years. Yet…holiday retail sales last year grew by over 4% and the growth rate is expected to be greater this year. The Barna Group has been researching religious questions in the world for a couple decades. They have done it well…and are considered quite credible. Their research consistently shows that only five percent of professing Christians actually tithe to their church. All others give less than ten percent. Actually this disease is really not a problem of the hand. It is a heart problem. The best remedy is to fall in love with God…with Jesus…with all your heart…with your everything…for where your heart is…there will your treasure be.

On Guard – November 1, 2015

“On Guard!”

Jeremiah 33:10-16 Luke 21:25-36


After Mary and Joseph…it was the shepherds who heard the word of the arrival of a savior. Jeremiah tells us why this happened. The promise that Jeremiah made…a promise of a coming savior…could not have come at a better time. Things were tough for the people of God. Jeremiah himself was in jail. Jerusalem was under the siege of the Babylonians. Nebuchadnezzar was leading his armies to destroy the city. All of the judgments that Jeremiah had been predicting were about to befall the people of God. The land would be laid waste. The towns of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem would be deserted. Jerusalem would become a ghost town and the people would be skeptical about the future of the city of God. The people would say, “What a waste!” But the Lord knew the plans he had for his people…plans to make them prosper. Jeremiah 33 began with God promising to tell Jeremiah great and unthinkable things that Jeremiah did not know. In this section of Jeremiah God promised that the ill fortunes would be reversed. Sorrow would become joy. Whatever had been undone in the name of justice would be redone in Peace and safety would return to the people. The proof would come in three leading indications of peace…weddings…thanksgiving…and farming. First…there would be weddings. The blessing of marriage would return to God’s people. The deserted towns and cities of Israel would have people in them once again. Jeremiah had earlier prophesied the death of marriage. Jeremiah…himself…was forbidden to marry. A wedding is an investment in and expectation of a future. But…the people felt they had no future so how could they marry? Jeremiah had told them that God was about to judge them for their sins. Through Jeremiah God warned of a time when all social occasions would come to an end. Invitations would not be mailed. Vows would not be exchanged. The cake would not be cut. You see…a society at war and in sorrow and mourning has no time for weddings. Marriage only happens when people are at peace. But…peace would return. Grace would triumph over judgment. God would redeem his people from captivity. When that happened marriage would not only be permitted…it would be encouraged. A second indicator is thanksgiving. A society in which people interrupt their regular routine to give thanks to God is a good society. When the Israelites were carried away to Babylon they could no longer give thanks to God in Jerusalem. But…God promised that thanksgiving celebrations would be re-established at his temple. To understand the joy of God’s promise…imagine being taken hostage…or…that our whole congregation was captured…made slaves…and forced to march to a faraway country. Imagine how you would long to go back to your home church to worship God. Then…imagine having your freedom restored…and going back home. Imagine rejoining God’s people to sing “Amazing Grace”. How great would your joy be? That’s what it was like for the people of God in the Old Testament. Jeremiah prophesied that someday they would go back to the temple in Jerusalem and sing praise to God. And…they did. God’s people returned to their home cities to sing the same song to the same God in the same temple. They gathered together again for public thanksgiving. A third indicator of peace is farming. Agriculture only works in a stable society…when a farmer knows that he will be living in the same place when the harvest is ready. Warfare and captivity make farming impossible. When ancient armies invaded a land the first thing they did was destroy the crops and livestock. But…God had good news for the farmers…when he promised to restore them to the land. When sheep can graze safely it is a sure sign of peace. The shepherds turned soldiers would become shepherds again. These are the promises God made…promises delivered to the people by Jeremiah. Peace in Israel was only the beginning. God’s most wonderful promise was that he would send a good King. The King would be from the house and line of David. The King would bring salvation to the people of God. The King would come when peace had been restored to Israel. God promised to send the King when generations had restored peace to allow shepherds to abide in their fields…keeping watch over their flocks by night. This would be the time when the Messiah would come. Luke’s gospel story fulfills these promises. A couple of newlyweds went up from Nazareth to a little town in Judea and gave birth to a son. Luke wrote that “there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.” Announcing the birth of Jesus Christ to the shepherds was just as necessary as his birth in the town of Bethlehem…or his being of the line of David…or his being born to a virgin. The Holy Spirit had promised that the Messiah would come in a day of weddings…thanksgiving and farming. The king would come when shepherds had peace enough to count their sheep in the fields. So…what difference does it make that Jeremiah prophesied the birth would come at a time when there was peace enough for shepherds to be in the fields? It’s one of the many proofs that Jesus is the Messiah. Everything about Jesus…including his birth…was a total fulfillment of the promises in the Old Testament…down to the smallest detail. The proof that Jesus is the promised King is not found in just a couple brief passages. It rests on a large number of prophecies…fulfilled prophecies. Someone who questions the truth of Jesus Christ should check what the Bible says. It holds the wisdom of the oldest peoples of the world. It offers many convincing proofs that Jesus is the Savior. His birth…death…and resurrection occurred as they were predicted many centuries before they occurred. Who…except God himself…could predict something centuries in advance and then make it happen. The shepherd promise in Jeremiah 33 tells us that Jesus is exactly the kind of king God promised to send. If the promise about the shepherds is true…wouldn’t all of the other promises of God through Jeremiah be true? Jeremiah said the coming King would be a rightful king. That came true. Jesus was the rightful heir to David’s throne. Jeremiah said the coming king would be a just king. That was another promise fulfilled. In his commentary…Matthew Henry wrote that Jesus is “righteous in enacting laws, waging wars, and giving judgment, righteous in vindicating those that suffer wrong and punishing those that do wrong.” Jeremiah said the coming king would be victorious. Another promise that came true. Jesus has overcome all of God’s enemies. He reigns supreme…even over death. Finally…Jeremiah said the coming king would be a righteous king. He said his name would be the Lord Our Righteousness…the same name given to the city of Jerusalem. Jesus is the answer to the greatest problem of humanity…sin. Jesus absolves sin through his righteousness. Knowing Christ in a personal way brings his righteousness. His righteousness becomes our righteousness. As Jesus told his disciples to be on guard…let us use this knowledge of the truth of Jesus Christ as the Messiah…to keep us on guard against those who would tell us otherwise…on guard against those who would tempt us…on guard during those times of despair and hurt when we might think God has left us. As we enter the time of year when we give thanks for God’s bountiful blessings… and celebrate the prophesied coming of the Lord of Righteousness…let us also release our sorrow…mourning…hurt…anger…and guilt…knowing the promise of God…spoken through Jeremiah…a promise that sorrow will become joy…a promise of redemption though we might feel lost…the promise of a strong and meaningful future. Many of us have watched an outstanding… hard fought sporting contest. It was made outstanding because no one left anything on the bench…on the sidelines. They were on guard against complacency…on guard against waiting for someone else to do what needed to be done…on guard against the expectation of defeat…on guard against the frustration…anger…hurt and doubt of previous losses. Let us be the same as we have opportunities to share…and to live…the Good News that Jeremiah prophesied. Let us come to the Lord’s Table today… renewed with hope as promised by Jeremiah…and as embodied by the Lord of Righteousness with whom we break bread and sip from the cup this morning.