Take the Path of Peace (Zechariah 1:1-17)

Michelangelo’s depiction of the prophet Zechariah, Sistine Chapel, Rome

In the eighth month of the second year of Darius, the word of the Lord came to the prophet Zechariah son of Berekiah, the son of Iddo:

“The Lord was very angry with your ancestors. Therefore tell the people: This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Return to me,’ declares the Lord Almighty, ‘and I will return to you,’ says the Lord Almighty. Do not be like your ancestors, to whom the earlier prophets proclaimed: This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Turn from your evil ways and your evil practices.’ But they would not listen or pay attention to me, declares the Lord. Where are your ancestors now? And the prophets, do they live forever? But did not my words and my decrees, which I commanded my servants the prophets, overtake your ancestors?

“Then they repented and said, ‘The Lord Almighty has done to us what our ways and practices deserve, just as he determined to do.’”

On the twenty-fourth day of the eleventh month, the month of Shebat, in the second year of Darius, the word of the Lord came to the prophet Zechariah son of Berekiah, the son of Iddo.

During the night I had a vision, and there before me was a man mounted on a red horse. He was standing among the myrtle trees in a ravine. Behind him were red, brown and white horses.

I asked, “What are these, my lord?”

The angel who was talking with me answered, “I will show you what they are.”

Then the man standing among the myrtle trees explained, “They are the ones the Lord has sent to go throughout the earth.”

And they reported to the angel of the Lord who was standing among the myrtle trees, “We have gone throughout the earth and found the whole world at rest and in peace.”

Then the angel of the Lord said, “Lord Almighty, how long will you withhold mercy from Jerusalem and from the towns of Judah, which you have been angry with these seventy years?” So the Lord spoke kind and comforting words to the angel who talked with me.

Then the angel who was speaking to me said, “Proclaim this word: This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘I am very jealous for Jerusalem and Zion, and I am very angry with the nations that feel secure. I was only a little angry, but they went too far with the punishment.’

“Therefore this is what the Lord says: ‘I will return to Jerusalem with mercy, and there my house will be rebuilt. And the measuring line will be stretched out over Jerusalem,’ declares the Lord Almighty.

“Proclaim further: This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘My towns will again overflow with prosperity, and the Lord will again comfort Zion and choose Jerusalem.’” (New International Version)

God hulking-out isn’t something you want to see repeated, insisted the prophet.

Zechariah directed his message to the Jews returning from their exile in Babylon. He reminded them that their parents and forebears had been called to repent and return to the Lord. They didn’t. Hence, the Babylonian exile. Big hint from the prophet to the people: Don’t ever do that again. Things will get angry, large, and green if you do.

Zechariah’s generation was being given a chance: To live into God’s covenant and law; to hold fast onto their identity as God’s people.

The people listened to the prophet. They expressed their repentance and a desire to turn from past evil ways and embrace the ways of the Lord. And the returning exiles also acknowledged and accepted God’s judgment. The returning exiles understood that, as a people, they deserve the consequences to centuries of neglecting justice, mercy, and humility.

Every generation of believers must learn from the past. Not only do they need to receive the teachings and traditions of those who went before them, but each generation must also struggle with how to put that teaching and tradition into practice.

The past needs to be squarely faced and deliberately pulled into the present. That is the way a genuine hope is born, giving direction for the future. In other words, old words and ways from the past need new experiences in the present; only by doing this will there be guidance.

Bring in your kingdom so that your will is done on earth as it’s done in heaven. (Matthew 6:10, CEB)

Today’s Old Testament lesson includes the first of eight night visions from the prophet Zechariah. The gist of the first prophetic oracle is a message of assurance and comfort: God will restore. The Lord will renew.

Divine intervention is about to happen in the rebuilding of the temple – a physical example of the spiritual reality that is happening. Just as the ancient temple was being restored for new generations of worshipers, so the people were being renewed to be an example of piety and fidelity to God for millennia to come.

Peace and prosperity will again be realized.

Throughout Scripture, trees are a symbol of a thriving and flourishing life. The myrtle tree is a sign of God’s promise to bring new life, branching out to spread into the next generations. Like all trees, the myrtle needs plenty of moisture when young. Yet, it is distinctive in that the myrtle tree can tolerate drought, grow despite limited soil, and remain hardy when it becomes mature.

Your anger lasts a little while,
but your kindness lasts
    for a lifetime.
At night we may cry,
but when morning comes
    we will celebrate. (Psalm 30:5, CEV)

“Tolerate,” “grow,” and “remain” are anything but passive words. People are more than mere observers. “Repent” and “return” and “renew” are verbs. There is a great deal of activity to do. A divine/human cooperation needs to occur. On God’s end, even the angels get involved in the action. What’s happening here is both heavenly and earthly business.

Relational dynamics between God and God’s people are to be a dialogue and not a one-sided monologue. The Lord and the present generation are to demonstrate for future peoples how peace is actually realized and enjoyed.

The Vision of Zechariah, by Unknown artist, c.1300 C.E., Sicily

Like all biblical visions, Zechariah’s is not readily understandable. Nobody is sure about what the symbolism is behind the vision’s horses. Yet, I’ll venture to say that it’s the colors which are significant: red is the color of action; brown is a color of stability and fertility; and white represents purity and holiness. Red, brown, and white mixed together creates a beige color.

Beige is an earthy and dependable color. It’s an inherently welcoming and calming color, offering warmth and symbolizing harmony and comfort. Together, with the horses we have a representation of strength, stability, and structure. They are signs of peace and rest, of God’s shalom.

Spiritual wholeness, moral integrity, relational harmony, and settled peace don’t just magically happen. 

For the Christian, peace was bought at a price – the blood of Jesus. (Colossians 1:20)

Peace must be both passively received and actively pursued. (Ephesians 4:3)

Practices of peace need to be engrafted into our lives so that we might daily experience it. (Romans 14:13-15:7)

The name “Zechariah” is a Hebrew word meaning, “God remembered.” God has not forgotten divine promises. 

The time has come to take hold of the vision God had from the very beginning to walk with humanity in continual fellowship and happiness in the garden, a place of abundant growth, beauty, and health – a place of peace and rest.

The happiest, fully rested, and most peaceful people and nations on earth continually find a steady stream of joy in their families, their rituals/traditions, and their religion.

To find joy and happiness in life is to find peace and rest. And peace is something to be shared, to be passed onto others.

“The peace of Christ be with you.”

“And also with you.”

Such ritual words and practices are reminders of continually returning to the Lord and finding simplicity and satisfaction in Jesus.

In observing and celebrating the Lord’s Table, we find our penultimate remembrance of how peace was achieved, as well as our supreme participation in the triune God.

Perhaps, then, peace and prosperity will extend their tree-like branches over the earth and into the next generations.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Peace before us,
Peace behind us,
Peace under our feet.

Peace within us,
Peace over us,
Let all around us be peace.

Christ before us,
Christ behind us,
Christ under our feet.

Christ within us,
Christ over us,
Let all around us be Christ. – a Navajo Prayer

Live Into Your Calling (2 Peter 1:1-11)

Simon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ,

To those who through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ have received a faith as precious as ours:

Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.

His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.

Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For if you do these things, you will never stumble, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (New International Version)

The deepest yearning in every human soul is to become whole again, to return to their spiritual source, to experience belonging and union with the Beloved.

In the beginning, all of creation was a vessel filled with divine light. Then, it broke, and the shards of holiness were strewn across the earth. Those broken pieces are all around us. Sometimes, maybe oftentimes, we don’t see them because of our own darkness.

My friends, we have a simple but profound task: To bend down, find the broken shards, and pick them up.

This work of making a real and lasting contribution to humanity confirms our vocational calling and is made possible by divine power.

And yet, so many of us feel like a tiny Who on a speck of dust, with such a small insignificant voice, that nobody can hear us.

But somebody does hear us – and that somebody has very large elephant ears which are attuned to listen.

A person’s a person, no matter how small. A person has light, no matter how dim.

A great deception which befalls humanity is the lie that we aren’t enough – that somehow we lack voice and light in our core personhood.

This leads to another deceitful thought: God is holding out on me; I got the short end of things; I was never given the sort of voice which can be heard, or the kind of light which can burn bright.

Those deceiving vampires only suck the life out of us. What we need, instead, is to imbibe deeply of robust theology which empowers us to live faithfully in this world of corruption.

We have everything we need to grow in grace; God’s provision for us is total and complete.

By grace, we can discern between truth and error; endure hostility and hardship; persevere with patience as we await the new heaven and new earth; and confront anything in this present life with confidence and hope. We can do it because we’ve been equipped for it all.

Core to all this provision is the very life of Christ. Jesus is the source of the power; and his is the grace needed to live life to the full. The same resurrection power which raised Christ from the grave is available and provided to us.

God’s supply for us is sufficient. It is enough. We have everything we need to walk with boldness through any dark alley. The believer’s confidence is in carrying the cross – which keeps the deceiving vampires of guilt, shame, doubt, and distrust at bay.

Sheer cognitive belief, however, is insufficient. It’s only half the equation. The other half is to let our light shine, be the salt of the earth, and take up the gifts given us by God and use them.

Therefore, put significant energy into your faith development through knowing your call to bless the world and not curse it.

Confidently using faith, fully participate in God’s divine power through the qualities of:

  • Goodness. Cultivation of moral excellence is both helpful and needed in all our relationships. Goodness is like a seed planted. It proper amounts of water and sun, as well as continual tending to keep the weeds away.
  • Knowledge. There are two words in the ancient Greek for knowledge: one is a reference to acquiring information; and the other refers to actively using the information provided. The Apostle Peter uses the latter – an experiential knowledge which is wise, discerning, and discreet.
  • Self-Control. This is the ability to get a grip on yourself, to avoid controlling others and focus on all things within your own control. Ultimate control belongs to God; self-control belongs to you and me.
  • Perseverance. To see the big picture, to look ahead and keep your eye on the goal, is the lived practice of endurance. Everyone has patience. The real issue is whether we will tap into it, or not.
  • Godliness. The heart of godliness is a growing awareness of self, others, and God – rightly relating to them all with wholeness and integrity.
  • Mutual Affection. Basic human kindness is the basis of any healthy community and every relationship.
  • Love. This is the Christian’s consummate virtue. Whereas affection is to be mutual, love can always be done whether someone loves us back, or not. Genuine love can be directed at the unlovely, even enemies.

Effectiveness in living a virtuous life is not a matter of more but better.

It doesn’t happen on an industrial scale with a mass production of spiritual resources for the busy Christian consumer.

Rather, it occurs in the soil of God’s grace, mostly below the surface of the ground, slowly but surely germinating with faith, rising in hope, and producing a harvest of love that blesses both church and world.

A little bit of Jesus is enough to turn the world upside-down. You don’t need a big loaf of bread; a miniscule communion wafer will do.

A tiny mustard seed of faith can move a mountain.

A kernel of goodness can produce a harvest of righteousness.

A bit of knowledge and awareness can uproot the weeds of bigotry and hate.

A grain of self-control can grow into a field of peace.

A simple insight can create a cascade of transformation.

A single act of kindness can alter the course of another’s life forever.

A few seconds of attention can change the world.

A teensy amount of love can feed everyone on the earth.

We have everything we need to realize the new society Christ has made possible. We are in want of nothing. We are enough because Christ is enough. So, live into your calling with courage and confidence.

Heavenly Father, you are the One ever-present on this earth in your only Son and through your Spirit:
May your Name be shown forth as holy through us, your people.
May your gracious and benevolent reign come, establishing peace and justice, hope and life; and may your moral and ethical will be done, here on earth, as it is always done in heaven.
Give us what we need for today; and adjust our vision into a clear 20/20 awareness of others’ needs.

Forgive us of our great and many sins, for the immoral and unethical things we have said and done, and for the good words and good deeds we have failed to say and do; forgive us, just as we forgive those who have egregiously sinned against us.

Don’t let us amble down a dark path of temptation, of hardening our hearts and closing our minds; but instead, deliver us from the machinations of evil, and set our feet upon the lighted path of righteousness.

To You, everlasting God, belongs all sovereign decrees of  justice and truth;
To You, almighty God, belongs all powerful deeds of righteousness and goodness;
To You, holy God, belongs all glorious displays of love and compassion;

Through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord, who with You and the blessed Holy Spirit are one God, now and forevermore. Amen.

The Kingdom of God Is Here (Matthew 10:5-15)

Jesus sent his twelve harvest hands out with this charge:

“Don’t begin by traveling to some far-off place to convert unbelievers. And don’t try to be dramatic by tackling some public enemy. Go to the lost, confused people right here in the neighborhood. Tell them that the kingdom is here. Bring health to the sick. Raise the dead. Touch the untouchables. Kick out the demons. You have been treated generously, so live generously.

“Don’t think you have to put on a fund-raising campaign before you start. You don’t need a lot of equipment. You are the equipment, and all you need to keep that going is three meals a day. Travel light.

“When you enter a town or village, don’t insist on staying in a luxury inn. Get a modest place with some modest people and be content there until you leave.

“When you knock on a door, be courteous in your greeting. If they welcome you, be gentle in your conversation. If they don’t welcome you, quietly withdraw. Don’t make a scene. Shrug your shoulders and be on your way. You can be sure that on Judgment Day they’ll be mighty sorry—but it’s no concern of yours now. (The Message)

“People can’t observe the coming of God’s kingdom. They can’t say, ‘Here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ You see, God’s kingdom is within  you.” Jesus, from Luke 17:20-21, GW

When Jesus told his followers that the kingdom of God is here, he didn’t simply mean that it all of a sudden showed up. No, it’s already here. It always has been. We just haven’t paid attention. And we haven’t noticed because we keep looking for a location, somewhere outside of ourselves. But, as it turns out, we already have what we’ve been searching for.

Christianity, at its core, is about following Christ. And that journey with Jesus is first and foremost a journey into oneself. This is why the Lord tells the disciples not to go first to outsiders. There’ll be a time for that. But now, the journey to their fellow Jews was to be an internal walk into the very depths of their own souls and the soul of a nation.

The singular message of this particular mission was to proclaim that the kingdom of God is near. It is here. In fact, it is so near and here that it is actually within you. But the disciples needed to discover this for themselves by going out and removing all obstacles to awareness of God’s light.

Jesus sent the disciples out and told them not to take anything with them because they already had what they needed. The kingdom of God is already within them.

A Byzantine fresco of Jesus sending the disciples, 12th century

So, they were to leave all their baggage and their stuff behind. The disciples were to be stripped of all their trusted outer resources so that they had the ability to see themselves, to others, and human need – and then to be moved in their hearts with compassion, just as Jesus is. 

Whenever we take all our pre-packaged stuff with us into relationships and the doing of Christ’s mission, we already assume we know what other people need. If we have nothing with us, then we are able to see people for who they actually are; we can genuinely listen to what they are saying. 

You have freely received compassion from God, so freely give it away. Not everyone will respond, but that’s not your business; they will have to deal with God on that later.

Compassion is to be our response to human need. Yet, we don’t always respond with compassion because of the obstacles within our own hearts and lives prevent us from seeing others and their needs.

The following are a few of obstructions which hinder us from compassion and perceiving the kingdom of God within us, and how to deal with them:

  1. Contempt. Contempt breeds contempt. Unacknowledged and unresolved anger produces bitterness. Hatred feeds more hatred. Our environment makes a difference. For example, if you find you have to check your heart at the workplace in order to do your job, then you need to either you quit your, or bring forth the kingdom of God by tirelessly advocating for compassionate treatment of people.
  2. Busyness. I’m referring to an unhealthy pace of life. Many of us work too much and do too many things. We cannot have compassionate hearts by moving so fast that we fail to see other people’s needs. Slow down. No one is going to come to the end of their life and wished they had been workaholics. Make a thoughtful plan to slow down enough so you can tune into the needs of others and have emotional energy for them.
  3. Resentment. It’s possible to become coldhearted by excessive and unrelenting caregiving. This is the same sort of problem as an unhealthy pace of life; you give so much that you actually begin to resent the people you care for. Caregiving has to be meticulously balanced with self-care. There’s a time for everything, including rest and recuperation.
  4. Inaction. Only receiving and not giving is what I call “spiritual constipation.” It’s when a person listens to hundreds and thousands of sermons and podcasts but doesn’t listen to their neighbor. They have no intention of putting anything they hear into practice.

However, with nothing restricting or obstructing God’s kingdom within us, we can see the divine image within each person and within ourselves. We can begin to radiate that divine presence and be transformed by it’s inner light.

Like Jesus, transfigured before the disciples on Mount Tabor, we too, become transfigured by God’s energy of love touching our hidden divine energy as image-bearers. That energy now comes forth because we have left everything behind to follow Christ and experience the generosity which, ironically, only comes from having nothing.

This is a spiritual walk we cannot take alone. The road we travel is the way of community. Just as God is community – Father, Son, and Spirit – always in a unity of love, so we, as God’s image-bearers with the divine light within us, must strip ourselves of everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles and run with perseverance the race marked out for us.

We are to fix our eyes on Jesus and see him, the pioneer of our faith, the Light of the World, the Living Water, and Bread for the world, who endured all things for the redemption of humanity and all creation.

Almighty God, you sent your Son Jesus Christ to reconcile the world to yourself: We praise and bless you for those whom you have sent in the power of the Spirit to proclaim that the kingdom of God is near. We thank you that in all parts of the earth a community of love has been gathered together by their prayers and labors, and that in every place your servants call upon your Name; for the kingdom and the power and the glory are yours forever. Amen.

Letters to the Old and the Young (2 Timothy 2:1-7)

Paul and Timothy by Unknown artist, 1886

As for you, my son, be strong through the grace that is ours in union with Christ Jesus. Take the teachings that you heard me proclaim in the presence of many witnesses, and entrust them to reliable people, who will be able to teach others also.

Take your part in suffering, as a loyal soldier of Christ Jesus. A soldier on active duty wants to please his commanding officer and so does not get mixed up in the affairs of civilian life. An athlete who runs in a race cannot win the prize unless he obeys the rules. The farmer who has done the hard work should have the first share of the harvest. Think about what I am saying, because the Lord will enable you to understand it all. (Good News Translation)

The Apostle Paul was a spiritual father to Timothy. Oh my, how we desperately need Paul and Timothy relationships today!

Too much independence breeds nothing but goofy thinking, messed up emotions, extreme ascetic practices, doctrinal heresy, and shallow spirituality. A good and godly spiritual father or mother is an absolute necessity to properly guide others, pass on sound teaching, and model how we ought to live.

I’m going to address two groups of people: older generations and younger generations….

Dear Older Generations:

Hey, if you are concerned about younger generations, then by God do something about it!

Heed the words of Paul to Timothy and be a spiritual director of souls to those who are like sheep without a shepherd.

Get your mental and emotional energy off of retirement, your economic portfolios, only giving money, and placing your hope in political elections.

You have built a lifetime of knowledge concerning personal piety and ethics, human behavior and community, and divine ways and means of living. Don’t squander it by dying and leaving only a material inheritance. Rather, die to self, and leave a spiritual legacy of mentoring others in the faith.

Guide a younger man or woman in discerning between the workings of the Holy Spirit and the machinations of evil spirits. Help them unlock the mysteries of being united to Christ. Assist them in moving into greater self-awareness and God-consciousness.

Keep learning and growing. Don’t rest on your laurels. Continue navigating the circuitous ways of the interior life – and leading other younger Christian disciples into the life of the Spirit.

Warn and encourage with all spiritual wisdom. Warn against the temptations of wealth, security, and attention. Don’t be the answer guy but learn to ask good and helpful questions which pilot the soul and inspire the spirit – instead of rigid lectures telling others what exactly to do and how to do it.

Don’t be a putz, a schmuck, a curmudgeon, or a blockhead. Be winsome, kind, self-effacing, gentle, and above all, humble. You have learned many things in the school of hard knocks. So, give the space and grace for younger generations of people to fail and be trained by their mistakes. And be there to help them get back up.

With sincerity and humility,

Pastor Tim

Dear Younger Generations:

This may or may not be obvious: You don’t know it all. And you cannot do it all by yourself. You need a spiritual guide.

So, go find one. Actively seek for a spiritual father or mother. In your search, look for a virtuous person, especially looking to see humility, self-control, service toward others, wisdom, deep and prayerful contemplation, a heart for God and a love of neighbor.

This may take a while but that’s okay. The journey is as much or more important than the destination. Once your search finds such a person, take advantage of the opportunity by submitting fully to your mentor with obedience. Follow their advice because they’ve been there, and they know what is useful for you.

You haven’t reached the Promised Land. There is a lot of wilderness wandering that needs to happen, a lot of soul-searching, and many temptations to face down. Your director knows these challenges better than their back door, so don’t think for a moment that everything is going to be victory in Jesus. Suffering can be your greatest teacher.

It isn’t the outer person who needs all the attention; it’s the inner person. And the journey to the heart is fraught with many trials.

Stick with the process. Don’t flame out early. Persevere, endure, and don’t give up. Work hard at not having a “meh” attitude. Expect to struggle with spiritual laziness, emotional heaviness, physical weakness, fearful apprehension, depressing despondency, desertion of hope, and dark thoughts.

Nobody is going to give you a shot in the arm which inoculates you against harm, heresy, or half-baked obnoxious people. Every good thing in life requires a great deal of blood, sweat, and tears, so be willing to roll up your sleeves and put in the work of sanctification.

The Christian life is a marathon, not a hundred meter dash. When the metaphorical bear jumps on your back, and you feel you cannot go on, remember that your spiritual mentor has your back – not the bear.

Be patient and do the consistent practices which will add up to a godly life, blessing both the church and the world.

With encouragement and love,

Pastor Tim