Wednesday, June 24, 2020

My Mezuzah


I was born into a Catholic family and my earliest memories of church is of the wonderful liturgy in the faith. There is so much to see when one attends a Catholic mass. From the statues to look at, the stained glass, the stations of the cross, to making the sign of the cross before praying, as well as reciting the responses, “Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy.” “The Lord be with you. And also with you. Lift up your hearts. We lift them up to the Lord. Let us give thanks to the Lord our God. It is right to give Him thanks and praise.” I enjoyed that.

Unfortunately, I believe the Protestant Reformers occasionally threw the baby out with the bath water when it came to liturgy. Instead of debating each liturgical action on its own biblical and symbolic merits, if it was deemed “too Catholic” it was tossed out. 

For instance, I am a visual person, and I like the priest’s preparation of the Eucharist. He takes a cruet with wine in it and pours it into the chalice. He then takes a cruet with water and pours a little into the chalice as well. Do you know why? The wine represents Jesus’ divinity. The water represents His humanity. Jesus was both 100% God and 100% man, so both should be in the chalice. I love that. I think that’s wonderful! I find it meaningful. Alas, it is too Catholic so we Protestants don’t do it. I think that’s too bad. As long as liturgy or the implements used in it, do not become idols, or are thought to have some sort of holy power, any visual aids that help deepen our worship of God, I believe can be a blessing.         

As an example, I recently watched the first season of the series “The Chosen.” This is a crowd-funded series about Jesus you can only access on the internet. It is amazing! I highly recommend it! It is free to watch on your smartphone, tablet, or computer, and if you have a streaming service like Roku or Amazon Fire Stick, you can even connect it to your television, which is what I did. Watch it! You will be blessed!

One of things I noticed while watching was when people entered or left their homes they kissed their fingers and touched their doorframes. It seemed odd, but happened so often I was intrigued. After a little research, I discovered the small case or tube attached to the doorpost they were touching is called a Mezuzah, which literally translates “doorpost.” Inside the Mezuzah is a scroll on which is written in Hebrew two portions of Deuteronomy – 6:4-9 and 11:13-21.  

These verses comprise the Jewish prayer called Shema Yisroel, which begins “Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One” (Deut. 6:4). The verses that follow are the basis for the practice of hanging the
Mezuzah. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Deut. 6:5-9).

Jews touch their fingers to their lips when they enter or exit and then touch the Mezuzah, thereby “kissing” the Mezuzah and the Word of God it contains to remind them to commit wholeheartedly to God’s commands as well as to teach them to their children. I love that! Although hanging a Mezuzah is a Jewish custom, some Christians have begun displaying the Mezuzah on their doorpost as well, using it as a testimony of their love for God’s Word and as a conversation starter to share the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Biblically, as long as it is not thought of as a good luck charm or a source of power in itself, there is nothing wrong with hanging a Mezuzah in your home. A Mezuzah can serve to remind a Christian family to love God, teach the Scriptures to their children, and praise the Messiah Jesus for His atoning blood. Subsequently, this Mezuzah will be attached to the doorpost at my home. A reminder to love God, teach the Scriptures, and praise Jesus. Anything that can help deepen our relationship with God, I believe is a blessing.            

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Remember to email your praises and petitions to southchurchprayer@gmail.com. We lift them up every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, at 4:00 pm on Facebook Live.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Neighbors


Understandably, all sorts of people had all kinds of questions for Jesus. In Luke 10:25-28, we read, “One day an expert in religious law stood up to test Jesus by asking him this question: ‘Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?’ Jesus replied, ‘What does the law of Moses say? How do you read it?’ The man answered, ‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.’ And, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ ‘Right!’ Jesus told him. ‘Do this and you will live!’”

Jewish tradition recognizes 613 commandments. When asked to choose one, this man had a 99.8% chance of getting it wrong, and he nailed it! Imagine being praised by Jesus. How awesome would that be? However, although he answered correctly to begin with, his follow up question reveals more about his heart. Verse 29, “The man wanted to justify his actions, so he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’” Jesus goes on to tell the story of the Good Samaritan. This “expert in religious law” obviously knew the law, but it had not changed him at all. He was “trying to justify his actions.” Did you catch that? What actions? There are obviously people he did not see as his neighbor. Those he did not “approve” of, the “others,” the “unclean,” the “unrighteous.” One of those groups were the Samaritans, which is exactly why Jesus tells this parable where the “hero” of the story is a Samaritan.

As Christians, we believe we must love the Lord our God with all our heart, all our soul, all our strength, and all our mind, as well as loving our neighbors as ourselves. However, during times like these, perhaps we should all honestly ask ourselves, are there any Samaritans in my life? Any person or group of people we do not view as our “neighbors?” Do we see them as the “others,” unworthy of our compassion and love? Do we try to justify or rationalize such feelings?

More importantly than knowing the answer to Jesus’ question is living out the answer every day. Followers of Jesus should be known, recognizable, not because they get the highest score on the quiz, but because of our service, mercy, compassion, grace, and especially our love. The world should see in us the truth that we love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength, and that we love others – all others – the same way. After all, the Bible says, “Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love” (1 John 4:7-8).        

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Remember to email your praises and petitions to southchurchprayer@gmail.com. We lift them up every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, at 4:00 pm on Facebook Live.

Friday, June 12, 2020

Praise the Lord!

Psalm 150, “Praise the Lord! Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heaven! Praise him for his mighty works; praise his unequaled greatness! Praise him with a blast of the ram’s horn; praise him with the lyre and harp! Praise him with the tambourine and dancing; praise him with strings and flutes! Praise him with a clash of cymbals; praise him with loud clanging cymbals. Let everything that breathes sing praises to the Lord! Praise the Lord!”

It has been a long, hard road. On March 15, I canceled church in response to the Covid-19 outbreak. For three months, we have been unable to gather for worship. Yes, we have benefited from modern technology, making a variety of content available here on Facebook Live, Vimeo, and scchartford.org, and it has been a blessing. We will continue to do so going forward, however, this Sunday we reopen the doors of South Congregational Church for corporate worship! Yes, we will wear masks. Yes, we will use hand sanitizer. Yes, we have blocked off pews to allow for social distancing, but the sounds of a community worshiping together will once again rise to heaven from 277 Main Street in Hartford, Connecticut as it has for 350 years!

It is said that absence makes the heart grow fonder, or, as the rock band, Cinderella sang in 1988, “You don’t know what you’ve got, ‘til it’s gone.” I do apologize for the atrocious grammar, but that’s rock ‘n’ roll.

I have missed worshiping together. What has encouraged me is how many brothers and sisters-in-Christ I have spoken to who really miss it as well. They are excited to be together again! Sadly, for some, Sunday morning can deteriorate over the years into a sense of obligation or habit. Ugh! I’m tired. It’s been a long week. I don’t want to go to church this morning. You have to! You’re the pastor!

God is sovereign, and as Romans 8:28 reminds us, “…God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” Perhaps, one of the “good” things we can take away from this worldwide pandemic is how much we miss worshiping God! I am so excited that others are so excited to praise the Lord! Sometimes you don’t know what you’ve got, ‘til it’s gone. Or in the King James, “You knoweth not what thy possesseth, until thy possesseth it not.”

I pray our enthusiasm does not fade. “Praise the Lord! Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heaven! Praise him for his mighty works; praise his unequaled greatness! Praise him with a blast of the ram’s horn; praise him with the lyre and harp! Praise him with the tambourine and dancing; praise him with strings and flutes! Praise him with a clash of cymbals; praise him with loud clanging cymbals. Let everything that breathes sing praises to the Lord! Praise the Lord!”           
  
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Send in prayer praises and petitions to southchurchprayer@gmail.com. We lift them up every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 4:00 pm on Facebook Live.