Psalm 100; Joshua 22; Luke 17:20-25

Psalm 100: I remember memorizing the King James version of this thanksgiving psalm back in the 5th grade (1957) at Lake Avenue Congregational Church in Pasadena. I’m sure I focused mostly on the words and not very much on its meaning.  Perhaps it takes the experiences of life to fully appreciate the deep joy that this psalm communicates.

Once again, right at the first verse, there are three responses that we have when we realize just Who God is: “Shout out to the LORD, all the earth, / worship the LORD in rejoicing, /come before Him in glad song.” Shouting. Worshipping. Singing. The culture I’m part of pretty much views shouting as “inappropriate,” especially in church.  I think black churches do a better job of combining the three than the Lutheran Book of Worship does.

So, what exactly is this joy that underlies the shouting, worshipping, singing? I think the psalmist tells us in the final verse where there is another triad–this time describing God’s qualities: “For the LORD is good, / forever His kindness, / and for all generations His faithfulness.” (5) God is good. God is kind. God is faithful. Moreover all these things are “forever” and “for all generations.”

The question becomes, can I mirror God’s qualities in my relationship with other people? Can I be good. Can I be kind? Can I be faithful? I think true joy arises out of those qualities. Joy when we realize just how good, how kind, how faithful God is to us. Joy when we transmit those things on to others.

Joshua 22: The Reubenites, Gadites and half-tribe of Manasseh built a large stone altar on the east side of the Jordan. As soon as word reaches the rest of Israel over on the West bank, they send their army prepared to fight, incensed that these East Bank infidels have become apostate, telly them, “‘What is this treachery that you have committed against the God of building yourselves an altar today in rebellion against the Lord?” (16). The West Bank tribes reassure the others that they have no intention of offering sacrifices  on it and reply, “We did it from fear that in time to come your children might say to our children, ‘What have you to do with the Lord, the God of Israel? … So your children might make our children cease to worship the Lord.” (25)

Ah, human nature. Unchanged as always. Suspicious from the start, the West Bank tribes assume the worst in the motives of the East Bank tribes. There is no up front benefit of the doubt, but at least Israel listened to the others’ case before attacking. The East Bank tribes, likewise, were not terribly trusting, assuming that Israel’s descendants would take the Jordan boundary as the “edge of Israel” and eventually cut off the East Bank descendants from God. One can almost see the roots of the modern conflict in the Mideast right here in this story.

The lesson is for all of us. We see something unusual and assume the worst possible intentions and outcome. If we take the time to listen, then maybe we can understand the other person’s point of view and their motives. But our culture is devolving to a “shoot first then ask questions” mentality. And its tragic political and social consequences are evident all around us.


Luke 17:20-25:  Speaking of assumptions, the Pharisees assumed that Jesus was fomenting revolution in his constant chatter about the “Kingdom of God,” so they ask him outright what he means. Jesus’ answer had to be befuddling: “The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed;  nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’” (20, 21a) ‘Huh?’ they must have thought. Then Jesus caps it off with his puzzling statement, “For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.” (21b)

Before Jesus said this, no one had ever thought of a kingdom as anything but a tangible political entity. That it could be dispersed among the physical kingdom like some sort of vapor is not an intuitive idea. (I’m reminded of the scene in DeMille’s Ten Commandments when the angel of death is depicted as an ominous low-hanging fog spreading through the streets that Passover night.)  Even today, when we talk of “being in the Kingdom” or “working in the Kingdom” most people will just think we’re being metaphorical.

Jesus then makes a dire prophecy–to his disciples, not the Pharisees: “The days are coming when you will long to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see it.” (22). This has an apocalyptic sense, I think, of Jesus’ second coming. But he is clear about what our response must be: “They will say to you, ‘Look there!’ or ‘Look here!’ Do not go, do not set off in pursuit.” (23) The clear message to me, anyway, is keep focused on one’s work in the Kingdom, not on silliness that we’ve seen too often, like predicting the exact date of the “Rapture.”  Also, don’t follow the latest trendy religious fashion. Our duty is stay focused on the Kingdom work at hand.

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