Wednesday, March 22, 2017

A Promise is not a Contract

All this talk about promises this week and it makes me wonder if there were any reason God would break His promise. In our human experience people break their promises all the time. One reason is because one person in the relationship doesn’t live up to the bargain. Since one person broke their promise we feel there is no need for us to maintain our promise. The truth is, this is a contract relationship rather than a genuine promise. When God makes a promise, He is not limited to whether or not we uphold our end of the bargain.

Take Noah in today’s reading as an example. As soon as stepped out of the Ark we hear of hem getting drunk and losing control. One might expect that God would go back on His word after Noah’s behavior. The Scriptures just finished calling Noah righteous, and today we hear of him cursing his own family. Where is the righteousness in cursing your family?  Every time we turn around humanity is cursed from within, but not from God.

God is steadfast in His promise to rescue us from this fallen world. Nothing we can do, nothing YOU can do, will make God break His promise. When God makes a promise, it isn’t a contact, it is a promise. That shouldn’t give us license to act ungrateful. But it should remind us that God’s love for us is worthy of our love in return. Take a moment this week and think how you might be able to express your love for God. As Orthodox Christians we express our love for God in the way we treat others. Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love Me more than these......fee my sheep.” (John 21.15) Today is a good day to feed someone.

Here are today’s Old Testament Readings:
Isaiah 26:21-27:9 (RSV) -  For behold, the LORD is coming forth out of his place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity, and the earth will disclose the blood shed upon her, and will no more cover her slain.  In that day the LORD with his hard and great and strong sword will punish Leviathan the fleeing serpent, Leviathan the twisting serpent, and he will slay the dragon that is in the sea.  In that day: "A pleasant vineyard, sing of it!  I, the LORD, am its keeper; every moment I water it. Lest any one harm it, I guard it night and day;  I have no wrath. Would that I had thorns and briers to battle! I would set out against them, I would burn them up together.  Or let them lay hold of my protection, let them make peace with me, let them make peace with me."  In days to come Jacob shall take root, Israel shall blossom and put forth shoots, and fill the whole world with fruit.  Has he smitten them as he smote those who smote them? Or have they been slain as their slayers were slain?  Measure by measure, by exile thou didst contend with them; he removed them with his fierce blast in the day of the east wind.  Therefore by this the guilt of Jacob will be expiated, and this will be the full fruit of the removal of his sin: when he makes all the stones of the altars like chalkstones crushed to pieces, no Asherim or incense altars will remain standing.
 Genesis 9:18-10:1 (RSV) -The sons of Noah who went forth from the ark were Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Ham was the father of Canaan.  These three were the sons of Noah; and from these the whole earth was peopled. Noah was the first tiller of the soil. He planted a vineyard; and he drank of the wine, and became drunk, and lay uncovered in his tent.  And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brothers outside.  Then Shem and Japheth took a garment, laid it upon both their shoulders, and walked backward and covered the nakedness of their father; their faces were turned away, and they did not see their father's nakedness.  When Noah awoke from his wine and knew what his youngest son had done to him, he said, "Cursed be Canaan; a slave of slaves shall he be to his brothers."  He also said, "Blessed by the LORD my God be Shem; and let Canaan be his slave.  God enlarge Japheth, and let him dwell in the tents of Shem; and let Canaan be his slave."  After the flood Noah lived three hundred and fifty years.  All the days of Noah were nine hundred and fifty years; and he died.  These are the generations of the sons of Noah, Shem, Ham, and Japheth; sons were born to them after the flood.
 Proverbs 12:23-13:9 (RSV) - A prudent man conceals his knowledge, but fools proclaim their folly.  The hand of the diligent will rule, while the slothful will be put to forced labor.  Anxiety in a man's heart weighs him down, but a good word makes him glad.  A righteous man turns away from evil, but the way of the wicked leads them astray.  A slothful man will not catch his prey, but the diligent man will get precious wealth.  In the path of righteousness is life, but the way of error leads to death.  A wise son hears his father's instruction, but a scoffer does not listen to rebuke.  From the fruit of his mouth a good man eats good, but the desire of the treacherous is for violence.  He who guards his mouth preserves his life; he who opens wide his lips comes to ruin.  The soul of the sluggard craves, and gets nothing, while the soul of the diligent is richly supplied.  A righteous man hates falsehood, but a wicked man acts shamefully and disgracefully.  Righteousness guards him whose way is upright, but sin overthrows the wicked.  One man pretends to be rich, yet has nothing; another pretends to be poor, yet has great wealth.  The ransom of a man's life is his wealth, but a poor man has no means of redemption.  The light of the righteous rejoices, but the lamp of the wicked will be put out.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Signs and Promises

In yesterday’s blog A Promise is a Promise, I spoke about the reality that we can always trust God’s promise, but sometimes I admit it can be difficult to even remember God’s promise. In today’s reading from Genesis we hear about one of the many signs that God created to remind us His promise. Every time we see a rainbow in the sky, we are reminded that God has promised a world-wide flood would never again cover the earth.

God’s creation is a great place to find signs (reminders) that God has promised the suffering of the world would not last forever. Whether it is the sunrise or a light summer breeze or a chirping bird, the natural world is filled with rainbows (figuratively speaking) to remind us of God’s love. It isn’t just in the natural world that God’s reminds us about His love. Inside the Church too we can find examples of signs from God.

Holy Icons, wafting incense, flickering candles, and soothing chanting all lend our hearts to hear the promise of God’s promise. He has promised to welcome us into Paradise as His adopted children. Fasting, reading the Holy Scriptures, attending Church services, helping the poor and hungry....all help to remind our hearts that God is waiting for us to join Him.

Today’s Old Testament Readings
Isaiah 25:1-9 (RSV) -  O LORD, thou art my God; I will exalt thee, I will praise thy name; for thou hast done wonderful things, plans formed of old, faithful and sure.  For thou hast made the city a heap, the fortified city a ruin; the palace of aliens is a city no more, it will never be rebuilt.  Therefore strong peoples will glorify thee; cities of ruthless nations will fear thee.  For thou hast been a stronghold to the poor, a stronghold to the needy in his distress, a shelter from the storm and a shade from the heat; for the blast of the ruthless is like a storm against a wall, like heat in a dry place. Thou dost subdue the noise of the aliens; as heat by the shade of a cloud, so the song of the ruthless is stilled.  On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of fat things, a feast of wine on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wine on the lees well refined.  And he will destroy on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations.  He will swallow up death for ever, and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth; for the LORD has spoken.  It will be said on that day, "Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the LORD; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation."
 Genesis 9:8-17 (RSV) -  Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him,  "Behold, I establish my covenant with you and your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the cattle, and every beast of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark.  I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth."  And God said, "This is the sign of the covenant which I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations:  I set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.  When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant which is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh.  When the bow is in the clouds, I will look upon it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is upon the earth."  God said to Noah, "This is the sign of the covenant which I have established between me and all flesh that is upon the earth."
 Proverbs 12:8-22 (RSV) - A man is commended according to his good sense, but one of perverse mind is despised.  Better is a man of humble standing who works for himself than one who plays the great man but lacks bread.  A righteous man has regard for the life of his beast, but the mercy of the wicked is cruel.  He who tills his land will have plenty of bread, but he who follows worthless pursuits has no sense.  The strong tower of the wicked comes to ruin, but the root of the righteous stands firm.  An evil man is ensnared by the transgression of his lips, but the righteous escapes from trouble.  From the fruit of his words a man is satisfied with good, and the work of a man's hand comes back to him.  The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.  The vexation of a fool is known at once, but the prudent man ignores an insult.  He who speaks the truth gives honest evidence, but a false witness utters deceit.  There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.  Truthful lips endure for ever, but a lying tongue is but for a moment.  Deceit is in the heart of those who devise evil, but those who plan good have joy.  No ill befalls the righteous, but the wicked are filled with trouble.  Lying lips are an abomination to the LORD, but those who act faithfully are his delight.

Monday, March 20, 2017

A Promise is a Promise

When I was younger the Cold War was in full swing. I lived through disaster drills which included watching movies about how to survive nuclear war. We lived in a time of fear – always afraid the world would end while we slept comfortably in our bed. There was on night while I was in high school that a dear friend and I were discussing the situation. I was not afraid because God made a promise.

In the Nicene- Constantinopolitan Creed we say we believe that God will come again to judge the living and the dead. But how do we know there will be anyone living for Him to judge? In today’s reading from Genesis God makes a promise. “Neither will I ever again destroy every living creature as I have done.” This one promise of God brought me great comfort during the Cold War, and it can bring you comfort also.

Here are today’s Old Testament Readings:
Isaiah 14:24-32 (RSV) -  The LORD of hosts has sworn: "As I have planned, so shall it be, and as I have purposed, so shall it stand, that I will break the Assyrian in my land, and upon my mountains trample him under foot; and his yoke shall depart from them, and his burden from their shoulder."  This is the purpose that is purposed concerning the whole earth; and this is the hand that is stretched out over all the nations.  For the LORD of hosts has purposed, and who will annul it? His hand is stretched out, and who will turn it back?  In the year that King Ahaz died came this oracle:  "Rejoice not, O Philistia, all of you, that the rod which smote you is broken, for from the serpent's root will come forth an adder, and its fruit will be a flying serpent.  And the first-born of the poor will feed, and the needy lie down in safety; but I will kill your root with famine, and your remnant I will slay.  Wail, O gate; cry, O city; melt in fear, O Philistia, all of you! For smoke comes out of the north, and there is no straggler in his ranks."  What will one answer the messengers of the nation? "The LORD has founded Zion, and in her the afflicted of his people find refuge."

Genesis 8:21-9:7 (RSV) -  And when the LORD smelled the pleasing odor, the LORD said in his heart, "I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth; neither will I ever again destroy every living creature as I have done.  While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease."  And God blessed Noah and his sons, and said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.  The fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth, and upon every bird of the air, upon everything that creeps on the ground and all the fish of the sea; into your hand they are delivered.  Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you; and as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything.  Only you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood.  For your lifeblood I will surely require a reckoning; of every beast I will require it and of man; of every man's brother I will require the life of man.  Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for God made man in his own image.  And you, be fruitful and multiply, bring forth abundantly on the earth and multiply in it."

Proverbs 11:19-12:6 (RSV) - He who is steadfast in righteousness will live, but he who pursues evil will die.  Men of perverse mind are an abomination to the LORD, but those of blameless ways are his delight.  Be assured, an evil man will not go unpunished, but those who are righteous will be delivered.  Like a gold ring in a swine's snout is a beautiful woman without discretion.  The desire of the righteous ends only in good; the expectation of the wicked in wrath.  One man gives freely, yet grows all the richer; another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want.  A liberal man will be enriched, and one who waters will himself be watered.  The people curse him who holds back grain, but a blessing is on the head of him who sells it.  He who diligently seeks good seeks favor, but evil comes to him who searches for it.  He who trusts in his riches will wither, but the righteous will flourish like a green leaf.  He who troubles his household will inherit wind, and the fool will be servant to the wise.  The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, but lawlessness takes away lives.  If the righteous is requited on earth, how much more the wicked and the sinner!  Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid.  A good man obtains favor from the LORD, but a man of evil devices he condemns.  A man is not established by wickedness, but the root of the righteous will never be moved.  A good wife is the crown of her husband, but she who brings shame is like rottenness in his bones.  The thoughts of the righteous are just; the counsels of the wicked are treacherous.  The words of the wicked lie in wait for blood, but the mouth of the upright delivers men.