Saturday, November 24, 2007

One Lesson from Life of Logan Man: History Matters

This past week, the community to which my family and I recently moved, buried one of its most beloved citizens. Leland Conner was killed after a thirteen year old boy stole a vehicle from a rental agency and proceeded to cause a five-car crash that involved Mr. Conner's car.

Conner's death is one of those freakish tragedies that sometimes happen in this world, ample reason for the community's grief. Although seventy-seven years old, he remained an active person. On top of this, everybody who knew him with whom I spoke this week described him as a good man, a nice person. His death is rightly viewed as horrible in and of itself.

But there was an added dimension to the community's grief this past week. Simply put, Leland Conner was a keeper of the past. He knew the rich history of this part of Ohio. And not just the history that has unfolded since whites first came here as settlers. He also was apparently a font of information on the area's Native American history. He played a vital role in preserving and passing on that history, helping give tours to some of the many visitors who come to Hocking County each year and giving presentations to local students.

Fortunately, Conner committed some of his knowledge to several booklets, which are sold by the local historical society. (And for which he received no royalties.)

But his mind was a repository of more important information which, it may be, no other resident of the area possesses. His friends feel that loss keenly. "I've lost my main source. Now who are we going to ask?" one grief-stricken man told the Logan Daily News this past week.

Near the end of the Daily News article profile of Conner, reporter Gretchen Roberts writes:
Conner's research into the region of Hocking Hills has helped provide a firmer foundation for the people of the region to learn about their past.
It makes me feel good to be living now in a community that values its past and that can mourn one of its local historians.

Sadly, we live in ahistorical times. By that I mean, we live in an era with little regard for history. A "regard for history" has nothing to do with wanting to engage in some romantic nostalgia trip into the "good old days." I would rather be alive today than to have lived in the frontier times or earlier about which Leland Conner spoke and wrote.

I admit that I have my prejudices when it comes to the question of whether we should pay heed to history or not. As a boy, I was a nerd who loved hiding under a blanket with a flashlight and a volume of my Funk and Wagnalls encylopedia or one from the American Heritage illustrated history of the United States, after my parents had tucked me in for the night.

To this day, reading history and biography is among my favorite leisure-time pursuits. (I'm currently reading Michael Korda's fine biography of Dwight Eisenhower, Ike.) I was a Social Studies major at Ohio State, focusing mostly on history. My favorite vacations involve going to historical sites.

Much of my interest in things historical can be attributed to my parents and grandparents who saw to it that we understood history to be the story of the human drama and not just collections of dreary facts and dates.

Because I assumed history to be an essential area of knowledge--akin to knowing to fasten your seatbelt when you get into a car or avoiding puddles of water when using electric devices, I was surprised when an Ohio State Political Science professor I admired once told me, "History is a worthless subject." For me, it was one of those, "Come again?" moments. "Wait a minute," I said to him. "Your own discipline depends on history of a sort: polls about voters' attitudes over time, accounts of the work of what you call 'administrative decision-makers.' That's all history. How can you say that history is worthless?" On this topic my professor was as unmoved as any member of the Flat Earth Society would be by evidence that the planet is round.

But that professor was simply wrong. The past has its lessons and we ignore them at our peril.

Historical knowledge is an especially important possession for voters in a democracy like ours. We can't make good decisions about who to support in the upcoming presidential election, for example, if we don't have an appreciation for our constitutional system, why we do things the way we do, what has worked in the past and what hasn't.

John Kennedy wrote a preface to that multi-volume American Heritage illustrated history of the United States that I read by flashlight as a boy. The books were given to Goodwill long ago. But one phrase from the preface which I memorized at the time has stuck with me for forty-five years:
A knowledge of the past prepares us for the crisis of the present and the challenge of the future.
History, the human story, is entertaining. But it's also essential. Failure to learn its lessons will make us no better than cavemen. Knowing it will contribute to our wisdom and our capacity to live and thrive.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Have a blessed, happy, and safe Thanksgiving!

Thanks to all the readers of Better Living for your encouragement and thoughtfulness.

I'm thankful for so many things this year: my wife, my family, the church I have just begun to pastor, the congregations I formerly pastored.

But above all, I'm thankful for the gift of new life through Jesus Christ granted to an undeserving sinner like me. God's grace is truly amazing!

Through Jesus' death, the power of sin over the life of the repentant is destroyed! Through Jesus' resurrection, the gift of eternal life comes to those who believe in Him!

As I enjoy Thanksgiving with family tomorrow, I will also be praying for...

...the victims of the recent cyclones in Bangladesh, asking God to bring comfort to those who mourn and encouragement to those who have survived;

...the earliest possible return from Afghanistan and Iraq for members of the American military;


Happy Thanksgiving, everybody!

Reflections on JFK's Assassination

Tomorrow isn't just Thanksgiving Day. Being November 22, it's also the forty-fourth anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Two years ago, I presented these thoughts about that cataclysmic event.

Third Pass at This Sunday's Bible Lessons

[The first pass, here, explains what this is all about. You can find the second pass here.]

In this installment, we’ll be looking at the Gospel lesson for this Sunday, November 25.

A Few General Comments
1. This may seem like a strange Gospel lesson for a Sunday set aside for the celebration of Christ as King. But, it’s only through the cross that Christ claims His kingdom. Without His death on the cross, sin and death would still have the last word over the lives of those who turn from sin (repent) and believe in Him.

2. At the end of Luke’s account of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness, Luke says, “When the devil had finished every test, he departed from [Jesus] until an opportune time” (Luke 4:13).

The cross was that “opportune time.” Jesus could have eluded the agony of the cross. But without His death, He couldn’t have died for our sin. Nor could He have risen from the dead. He couldn’t have claimed His kingdom. Throughout His ministry, Jesus set His face toward Jerusalem, intent on fulfilling His mission (Luke 9:53). Here, on the cross, as in the wilderness, He faces down three temptations (23:35, 36-37, 39).

In each instance, the temptation is that Jesus “save Himself.” But this wasn’t Jesus’ mission. He came to save others (Luke 2:11).

The fact that Jesus didn’t save Himself is one bit of convincing evidence that He is the promised King and Messiah.

Verse-by-Verse Comments
33 When they came to the place that is called the Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left.
1. Tradition says that the place of Jesus’ crucifixion was a hill, although that’s never specifically said. But it makes sense that it would have happened on a hill, a place of prominence where criminals would be humiliated and the power of the Roman government would be brandished.

2. Crucifixion was a horrible form of execution. It went way back before the Romans, but the Romans practiced it extensively.

Crosses didn’t always include cross beams, but were pikes on which the crucified were hung.

The executed were secured to their crosses with ropes or nails. In ancient Near East culture, the hand included everything from the tip of the middle finger to the elbow. So, when the Biblical accounts speak of nails driven through Jesus’ hands, it likely has in mind the practice of hammering nails between the two major bones of the lower arm.

Once the victim was on the cross, a rope was wrapped around the neck of the executed person. Trying to remain upright and growing weaker with every inhalation of breath, the victim would struggle to keep from falling onto the rope and suffocating. Most victims of crucifixion died of asphyxiation. Others died of exposure after enduring cycles of the heat of the day and the cold of the night. Death by either cause usually took a long time, which is why in the Gospel of John, there is surprise over Jesus’ rapid death. That only points to the fact that, even in death, Christ was in control, something underscored in Luke 23:46.

34 Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing. And they cast lots to divide his clothing.
1. The first martyr of the Christian faith, Stephen, prays the same prayer for his executioners as Jesus prays here for His (Acts 7:60).

The Spirit lives in the followers of Jesus, making it possible for them to do and say what wouldn’t come naturally to them, reflecting the life of Jesus living in them (Luke 21:14-15).

2. It was common practice for soldiers to gamble for the clothes of those they executed.

35 And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah.”
1. Earlier, the people or the crowds, as they’re called in Luke’s Gospel, had evidently cried out for Jesus’ execution (Luke 23:18). But here, the crowd stands silently as the religious leaders scoff at Jesus. Their silence may stem from fear of the authorities or their own hope that the miracle-worker would now miraculously save Himself. Or maybe, like others who witnessed the way in which Jesus bore suffering and death that day, they began to suspect that really was the Messiah.

Evidence from this and the other gospels suggests to me that the religious leaders didn’t execute Jesus out of a lack of belief in Him as Messiah, but precisely because they believed He was the Messiah. He was a threat to the spiritual stranglehold they had over the people.

This is the first of the final three temptations in this account of Jesus’ crucifixion.

36-37 The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, and saying, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself!”
1. This is the second temptation.

2. Why the soldiers offered Jesus “sour wine,” vinegar, is unknown. Soldiers commonly kept this drink with them.

39 One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”
1. This is the third of the final temptations of Jesus. This criminal would be perfectly happy to have Jesus prove to be the Messiah if it meant he could get off the hook for his sin.

None of us get “off the hook” for sin. We will either repent, submitting to the death of our old, sinful selves, or we will stubbornly refuse to repent and suffer eternal separation from God. And, except for those present on the day of Jesus’ return, we will die a physical death before experiencing resurrection. We have the same promise Jesus gave to his friend Martha after her brother Lazarus died, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die…” (John 11:25-26).

40-41 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.”
1. The second criminal, in effect, confesses his sins. He claims no right to heaven with God. He’s done no religious “works” that warrant eternity and he knows it.

He also understands that Jesus is without fault.

42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
1. Now, comes an unlikely confession of faith. Somehow, in the suffering Jesus, who shares this man’s death sentence, He sees the promised Messiah.

The Life Application Study Bible notes on this passage point out that the second criminal evidences more faith in Jesus here than his disciples did. It cites Luke 24:21, where the disciples on the road to Emaus, express hopelessness over Jesus’ death. “We had hoped,” they tell the risen Jesus, Who they don’t yet recognize, that He was the Messiah. They couldn’t see how a dying Messiah could be their long-anticipated King. The second criminal “got” it.

2. As my colleague Rick Hinger points out, the word for remember used by the criminal is, in the original Greek, anamnesis. This is the precise word that Jesus uses when instituting the Lord’s Supper (“Do this for the remembrance of me…”). The idea is that to be remembered is more than simply to be recalled in memory. It has the idea of being “re-membered again,” to be together again. (In Holy Communion, we believe that time evaporates and we come into the presence of the “eternal now,” enjoying eternal fellowship with all who have believed in God in the past, present, and future, “in every time and place,” as we put it in our Communion liturgy.

43 He [Jesus] replied, “Truly, I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
1. Jesus responds to the man’s repentance and belief in Him by declaring forgiveness and that, as a consequence, he will be in Jesus’ kingdom in the eternal now.

2. Paradise is a word borrowed from an ancient Persian language. It originally referred to an enclosed pleasure park, filled with trees, something which today we might also call a garden. In fact, these parks were the dominions of kings. In the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Septuagint, with which Jesus would have been familiar, this is the word applied to the Garden of Eden. There is a sense in which, those who have become part of Jesus’ kingdom have been restored as residents of Eden, the place where the first human beings lived in perfect fellowship with God, unobstructed by sin.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

US Army Has Fostered Peace in Iraq...

but does the Iraqi government want peace in Iraq? Intriguing and disturbing question.

Please Pray...

for the people of Bangladesh.

Great News!


A Second Pass at This Sunday's Bible Lessons

[To see an explanation of what these "passes" are about and to look at the first one, go here.]

The Bible Lessons for Christ the King Sunday, November 25:
Jeremiah 23:1-6
Psalm 46
Colossians 1:11-20
Luke 23:33-43

General Comments (continued)
5. The Psalm is important for Lutherans. It was the inspiration for the lyrics of Martin Luther's signature hymn, A Mighty Fortress is Our God.

6. The New Testament book of Colossians is a letter written by the imprisoned apostle, Paul, to the church in Colossae.

Colossae was located in the region of Asia Minor, what is modern-day Turkey. According to The Archaeological Study Bible, "The historian Herodotus...referred to Colosse [an alternate spelling] as 'a great city of Phrygia,' and Xenophon...described it in 400 B.C. as large and prosperous. Because the city was on a major trade route, these descriptions make sense.

Paul founded the church at Colossae.

The city eventually lost its prosperity when new trade routes that avoided Colossae were established. The remaining long history of the city was grim. It was raided, conquered, and eventually destroyed by a succession of foreign armies. The Turks totally destroyed the place in the 12th.-century A.D. The site is currently unoccupied and, says The Archaeological Study Bible, no digs have ever been undertaken there.

7. Our lesson from Colossians, among the most beautiful in Scripture, is a stirring affirmation of the deity of Jesus Christ. It's an appropriate passage for Christ the King Sunday.

Tomorrow, I hope to present verse-by-verse comments on the lesson from Luke, the passage on which my message will be based on Sunday.

Empowered by God to Serve Together

by Pastor Pat Badkey

[My friend and seminary classmate, Pastor Pat Badkey, preached at the morning worship service at Saint Matthew Lutheran Church in Logan, Ohio, this past Sunday, November 18. I was installed as Saint Matthew's pastor that day. Pat, her husband, Steve, and I were seminary classmates. Through the years, they have remained our dear friends and our kids practically grew up together. Pat is one of the finest and most faithful pastors I know. So, I was honored and happy when she consented to give the sermon as I was installed. Below is Pat's sermon.]

Isaiah 65:17-25
About a week ago I received some news via email from friends who now live in Columbus, Ohio. It was a birth announcement from a friend with whom I had worked with for about two-and-a-half years at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Cincinnati. Well, actually, her husband Ben wrote the email; I think Deanna might have been a little tired out from the birth.

The announcement went like this: “We are proud to announce that we have added a new member to the family as of yesterday evening. Lauren Jane was born on November 5, 20007. She weighed 7 lbs, 14 oz, and was 21” tall. Mom and baby are doing well and recovering. Bryce is eagerly looking forward to teaching her how to play baseball, cars and trains…two early pictures are attached. Hope all is well! Ben, Deanna and Bryce.” Two adorable pictures followed in the email and she is a cutie.

Birth announcements and announcements of new life are always wonderful to receive because they bring good news full of hope and possibility to the people who receive them.

I thought of new life as I read our text in Isaiah 65:17-25. This passage was written to the people of Israel after they have returned from their long exile in Babylon. What they find when they finally get home surprises them. Their country lays in waste and their beloved city, Jerusalem, is in ruins.

To people who find themselves in a rather hopeless situation, the prophet announces these words from God, “For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy and its people as a delight”. God promises them that people will live long lives, their work shall prosper, and they shall enjoy the fruits of their labor. God promises them peace and then God continues by saying, “Before they call I will answer, while they are yet speaking I will hear.”

In this passage God is announcing to his people a future filled with hope and possibility and it is promised to them not as a reward for present righteousness but as pure undeserved gift from God, a God who promises to answer our heartfelt prayers even before they are asked. God is promising to transform the whole cosmos simply because the Lord is a gracious and creative God, a God who is present with his people.

As I heard these hopeful words about God creating a new heaven and a new earth, I tried to imagine hearing them as Christians who are standing at the beginning of a great new adventure in their lives together. I tried to imagine hearing them as a congregation who was installing a new pastor to lead their congregation and as a pastor who was called to provide pastoral leadership to a new congregation. These words from the prophet Isaiah promise that God will be present in their new life together and will help them create the ministry they have been called to do.

As a congregation and as a pastor begin their mutual ministry, it seems there are two things they must do. The first is this, the congregation and the pastor must commit to being in ministry together for the sake of Jesus, just as a husband and wife might commit to being married and being a couple.

Let me tell you a story. The year is 1985. It is spring and I am living in Toledo with my husband Steve and our daughter Charissa, who is just a little over a year old. I have taken the last nine months or so off because I needed to regroup after finishing seminary and also within that same time frame, we moved to Toledo and celebrated our daughter’s first birthday. If you do calculations, the preceding year-and-a-half had been pretty hectic for us. Well, the bishop’s office calls me one day in April and asks if I would like to interview for a part time call in Toledo, at St. Petri Lutheran Church. You see, I had told the bishop’s office, that as I began ministry, I would really like to serve a congregation at least initially on a part-time basis. So the synod office calls and says they would like me to interview for this position and that it is the only position they have that is part time in Toledo. So I say yes, I will interview. I interview, and it goes well. But the one thing that makes me hesitant is the senior pastor I will be working with has this reputation around town of being a rather loose cannon. Eventually, the congregation extends the call to me. I pray and think about the call, but I am still not sure for some reason if I should accept it. I keep thinking, “What if it does not go well? Then what will I do? Then what will happen?”

I decide to call the assistant to the bishop, who was Pastor Kirk Havel at the time, to speak with him about my feelings and concerns. As I talked with Pastor Havel, raising my concerns, raising my fears, that this might be less than the perfect situation, he patiently listened, then he said to me, “Pat, no congregation is perfect. Other staff members are not without their issues. Perhaps you need to think about entering into ministry with a congregation like you enter into marriage. Couples try to get to know each other the very best they can before they get married, right?” I said, “Yes.” (Steve and I, like most couples, had done pre-marital counseling) He continued, “But basically couples enter into marriage for better for worse, for richer and for poorer, in sickness and in health, in good times and in bad, as their vows say, because they never know what the future will bring. They end up committing to the marriage and to each other to make it the best marriage they can. They end up saying we both must use our individual gifts to make it strong.”

He went on to say, “I think the same is true with ministry. Once you decide you have been called to serve a particular congregation, you have to be committed to it just like you are to your marriage and see where that takes you.”

Well, I must tell you when I heard those words, it was like a light bulb going off in my head and my heart and I accepted the call. Those words allowed me to give that congregation my all and commit to the ministry I felt called to share with the people of St. Petri. I was no longer worried and concerned about the situation being perfect as much as all of us working toward the ministry and mission our Lord had called us to do in the south side of Toledo. It was an exciting time for me and I felt blessed to serve alongside that pastor who had the reputation of being a loose cannon because he proved to be a wonderful colleague and in a congregation that wanted to figure out new ways they could serve their Lord as they celebrated over 100 years of ministry.

It seems that is a good part of what we are doing here today at St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church in Logan, Ohio. We are celebrating the commitment Pastor Mark Daniels is making to you as your pastor and you are making to him as a congregation to be in mission together for the sake of Jesus.

We are also celebrating the new ministry to which God is calling St Matthew’s. Be assured, the ministry you will do together will not always be perfect or should I say, will not always go smoothly (ask any couple who has been married 50 years, maybe even 25, maybe even 10 years, if their marriages have always been perfect or without bumps), but that does not mean the ministry will not be blessed, or that God can not use St. Matthew’s in great and creative ways for the sake of the good news of Jesus Christ.

The second thing a congregation and a new pastor must do is remember the Holy Spirit has empowered them to build together and dream about the ministry to which they are called.

Pastor Ed Markquart, Lutheran pastor and author of an evangelism course called “Witnesses for Christ,” recounts a dream he had one evening. He said the dream began rather oddly. He, even though it is the year 2000, finds himself sitting in his old 1963 VW bug in the dream. Pastor Markquart said this was odd because it was the very car he had driven to his first parish in 1973. The car was old then, ten years old, gray-green in color and very dilapidated with hardly any floorboard left and fenders that were falling off and seemed to frown.

Anyway, he is in his 1963 VW bug and sitting at a stop sign and in the lane next to him is a red Porsche with its motor running. In the dream, the driver of the Porsche then gunned his engine and Pastor Markquart said he then gunned his, sending a signal to the driver of the Porsche, that yes, he was willing to race (Warning should be noted here that none of us should really do this except in a dream).

The driver of the red Porsche was a handsome young man with dark hair and he had a mustache. Pastor Markquart noted to himself in the dream that his hair use to look like that about 25 years ago. The young man glances at Pastor Markquart again as he puts a cigarette to his lips. Pastor Markquart glances at him but he lifts a carton of milk to his lips instead. In the red Porsche, next to the young, dark haired, handsome driver sits an equally beautiful young woman, who makes him and the car look really good. And next to Pastor Markquart sits, you guessed it, his wife of thirty years. The driver guns the engine once again to a quiet roar. So Pastor Markquart guns his engine again and it sounds rather like a whining toy engine.

Well, the light changed. Wheels whirled and there was blue smoke all over the pavement as Pastor Markquart pulled away from the red Porsche and its occupants. Pastor Markquart said what the driver of that red Porsche did not know was that the night before in his dreams, he had installed a new Ferrari engine in his VW bug and it now had power, real power. As he pulled away from the Porsche, he heard the beautiful young woman exclaim: “What does he have under that hood?”

What is this dream trying to proclaim to us this day of the celebration of the installation of a pastor?

It reminds us that God’s Spirit has been poured out on all the followers of Jesus. Pastor Markquart would say this, that as Christians we have been given unexpected power in our lives, like that engine in that VW bug gave him the power to beat that Porsche in an unexpected fashion. He would say, as Christians, we have been given unexpected power because we have received God’s spirit in our baptisms and this power that we have received and which lives within us allows us do more with our lives, our ministries, and in our congregations than we can ever imagine, think, or ask—so we can spread Jesus’ love and forgiveness to all people in unimaginable ways. This outpouring of his spirit is one of the ways God lets his creativity loose in the world.

So being empowered by this unexpected Holy Spirit, a pastor new to a congregation and a congregation must commit to discover together the visions, the dreams God has now for his people, his people of St. Matthew Lutheran Church in Logan, Ohio. Of course this is a challenge. But it is exactly why God has brought you all to this point in time and it is this ministry we also celebrate at this service today.

In the prophet Isaiah, God says, “Behold I am creating something new,” to the people of Israel. That is what God is doing here today. God is creating a new relationship between a people and their pastor and a pastor and his people, and God is pouring out his life-giving spirit so established ministries may thrive and visions of new ministries may come to life in unexpected ways at St. Matthew’s. May God bless the mutual work and ministry which this congregation and their new pastor have been called to do in the name of Jesus. Amen

Monday, November 19, 2007

"What is a Moderate?"

I write about that here. Thanks to Joe Gandelman for asking me to join his blogging team at The Moderate Voice. It really is an honor.

I will continue to blog here, at, and at

A Pass at This Sunday's Bible Lessons

[Each week, I take at least one "pass" at the Bible lessons that will be read during worship at the congregation I serve as pastor, Saint Matthew Lutheran Church in Logan, Ohio. The passes are designed to help the people--and me--prepare for worship. Hopefully, others will find them helpful too, as we use the Church Year-related lectionary appointed for congregations of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), which is similar to the lectionaries of most other Christian traditions.]

The Bible Lessons:
Jeremiah 23:1-6
Psalm 46
Colossians 1:11-20
Luke 23:33-43

General Comments:
1. November 25 brings us to Christ the King Sunday, the last Sunday of the Church Year. For an overview of the meaning and uses of the Church Year, you can go here.

2. The first lesson was written by the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah. He was active as a prophet around 627 to 586 B.C., during the period when the last five kings of Judah were on their thrones.

Last week, we mentioned that the Old Testament lesson from Malachi was written after the Babylonian Exile. Jeremiah was written before that traumatic event. (In the Babylonian Captivity, thousands of citizens of Judah were forced into slavery in Babylon, the capital city of the Chaldeans, a nation that overran Judah. The captivity would only definitively end in about 538 B.C., when the Persians would conquer the Chaldeans.)

3. Some background that might help in understanding Jeremiah: Judah, also known as Judea, was what remained of the nation of Israel in the time of its first three kings: Saul, David, and Solomon. Solomon, David's son, was the most powerful of Israel's kings, expanding the country's economic and military might. But Solomon also began the process of perverting Israel's religious life. He countenanced the worship of many foreign deities, splintering Israel's loyalty to God, usually for the sake of getting along with neighboring nations with whom Solomon formed economic and military alliances. This process of syncretism led to Israel's undoing.

Solomon died in 970 B.C. Israel split in two in 930 B.C. The Northern Kingdom, which took the name of Israel, broke away from the rest of the former nation, seating its own king and centering its worship life in Samaria. (Samaritans still existed, as you know from reading the New Testament, in Jesus' day. Samaritans were hated by the residents of the Southern Kingdom.)

The Southern Kingdom, called Judah or Judea, strove to maintain the Davidic line for its kings, and was headquartered in Jerusalem, the site of the temple built on God's orders. It was in Bethlehem, David's hometown, then about five miles from Jerusalem, that the Old Testament said, the Messiah would be born.

The Northern Kingdom fell in 722 B.C. Prophets in both the north and the south were certain that the fall resulted from the nation's faithlessness.

Jeremiah believed that the Southern Kingdom was filled with a faithlessness that would eventually lead to that nation's downfall, a foreign king who worshiped a foreign god would be the instrument of the one God of the universe to bring judgment on God's people.

3. As was true of last week's Old Testament lesson from Malachi, Jeremiah's presentation in this passage doesn't end with judgment. He also holds out the possibility of restoration. In the preceding chapters, he presents condemnations of Judah's last five kings, the nation's civil rulers. At 23:1, he turns his attention to the religious leaders, shepherds who, he says, have led Judah away from God. But the main theme of these verses is Jeremiah's foretelling of the coming of Judah's last king, the Messiah.

4. In v. 6, the title given to the Messiah, “the Lord is our righteousness,” could as eaily be, "the Lord is our justice-bringer." This relates as much to the way in which the Messiah will save sinners from condemnation for their sin, bringing forgiveness to sinners justified by God, as it does to justice. As The Jerome Bible Commentary points out, "Isaiah had given a similar name to this future king--i.e., 'imannu 'el, 'God is with us.'"

More on the other lessons for this Sunday tomorrow, I hope.