HE BEARS OUR BURDENS

“Praise be to the Lord, to God our Saviour, who daily bears our burdens”.

Ps 68:19 NIV

When Scott Peck said that “Life is Difficult” he was striking a chord which finds an echo in almost every human being. Many people find difficulty managing money. However, much they get they never have enough. And those who have more than enough have problems investing it – and paying taxes. Then many others have problems with their marriage and family life. Parents have problems with children and children with parents. Employment “burdens” are common and even when we get on all right with the boss, the person on the desk next to us is a pain in the neck. Some have big burdens. Some have little ones – but plenty of them. Then health can cause us ongoing anxiety. So can the political future. Grief on the loss of a loved one is a common problem that can plague even the strongest. And you never know when it will strike. Guilt for sins can wear you down, however secret the sins may have been.

Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matt 11:28 NIV). Jesus knew the problems that arise in the work situation – he worked in the carpenter’s shop up to the age of thirty. He is a “real world” Jesus. And he has promised to travel with you and to share your burden, whatever it may be. Take him at his word. Cast your burden on him. And leave it there.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, I cast all my burdens on you.

PRAYER OF INTERCESSION

I pray for all people who are having to put a much-loved pet down today. Help them to think in terms of the pain the animal is suffering and also to be grateful for all the years of companionship and security the pet has given them. I ask it in Jesus Christ’s name. AMEN

 

I.B.R.A. Readings

Matthew 6:1–6

WHERE DOES GOD DWELL?

“What a mighty mountain is Bashan, a mountain of many peaks! Why from your mighty peaks do you look with scorn on the mountain on which God chose to live? The Lord will live there for ever”.

Ps 68:15, 16 GNB

The ancient Israelite people had a very real sense that God who had accompanied them on their journey from Egypt to the land which he had assigned to them, Israel, was very much there with them in Israel. Their sense of God’s presence was almost a sense of a physical presence. Having conquered foreign kings and their armies God had decided to dwell there on a permanent basis. For them he lived there in Jerusalem on Mount Zion. “Bashan” in the text most probably refers to Mount Hermon in Lebanon – a huge high mountain that dominates most of Israel’s skyline. Most people would have expected God to dwell on that supreme high mountain, but he “chose” to remain in Jerusalem.

Where does God really dwell? Is he still in Jerusalem? Is he in the Vatican in Rome? Or Washington maybe? Or in some spectacularly beautiful place? The coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost had the effect of driving the apostles out of Jerusalem. They took the message of Jesus wherever they went. They knew that God was no longer the national possession of the Israelites. He was in Damascus, in Antioch, in Philippi or Corinth or wherever simple souls would enthrone him in their hearts and make Jesus their Lord. He no longer belongs to this nationality or that. He had “gone out of the here into the everywhere”. He is in a school class- room, in a home where people love him, next to you. And he goes wherever you take him.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, let me live always close to you.

PRAYER OF INTERCESSION

I pray today Lord for married couples who are experiencing conflict and are thinking that separation or divorce is the preferred way forward. Help them to think clearly and to seek professional counsel. Guide them to consider reconciliation as an option. I ask it in Jesus’ name. AMEN

 

I.B.R.A. Readings

Matthew 5:43–48

KINGS AND THEIR ARMIES

“Kings and their armies are running away”.

Ps 68:12 GNB

Most of us live quiet lives. We do no harm and few people ever harm us. But we watch our television screens night after night, and we see the things that go on in the world. A speech is made by some president and it leads to an outcry. Soon the planes are roaring into battle, bombs are falling, tanks are rumbling through the streets of some far-away city and war is in progress. “Kings and their armies are advancing or retreating. They are the ones who rule the world. Only they aren’t. The kings and their armies have come up against God and he is working his sovereign purposes despite the fact that few can see him.

When the Israelites got to the end of their long and wearying journey from Egypt and entered the promised land it was the achievement of a significant advance in their history. The long centuries of slavery were over. The years of trekking through the wilderness were complete. God had overcome their foes. He had challenged the kings who had sought to continue their slavery and who wished them ill. He had routed their armies, overcoming all the obstacles in their way. Now they were free to pursue their lives, worship their God and enjoy their freedom. They could now be the people he wanted them to be. Their song in the temple celebrated all these events. It brought them joy (and some gloating) to look back and attribute it all to their God.

Celebrate the triumph of Jesus over the powers of evil as he rose from the dead and through the Holy Spirit empowered his disciples to live and enjoy fullness of life.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, thank you for your victory over all that is wrong and evil.

PRAYER OF INTERCESSION

I pray today Lord for all those people who will go to Christian worship feeling lost, lonely, unhappy or worried. May the music in the service uplift them, the readings from the Bible help them, and the sermon meet them in their deep need. I ask it in Jesus Christ’s name. AMEN

 

I.B.R.A. Readings

Matthew 5:38–42

GOD THE COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF

“In your goodness you provided for the poor”.

Ps 68:10 GNB

We sometimes say, “It takes all sorts to make a world”, referring to the vast variety of personality types we meet up with. We could almost say a similar thing about God, there are so many aspects of his nature used in the Bible. He is the creator who makes heaven and earth. The Israelites knew him also to be a judge “who rules with equity” (or justice). At the time of the exodus from Egypt he was seen as a warrior, then later as a deliverer. On the journey, at Sinai he became a lawgiver. Later still they described him as the shepherd of his flock. Gradually they began to understand him to be a father. Psalm 68, a hymn sung much later in the Temple in Jerusalem, thinks of him as a general commanding his army – a picture we wouldn’t use now. In that amazing sequence of events that started in the escape from Egypt God led his people and took charge of them, just as a general gives the orders when his army goes into battle. Only a strong leader, a victorious general determined to gain the ascendancy would have been capable of bringing them through the ordeals and journeyings that brought them finally to Israel or Canaan as it was known at that time.

Our understanding of God changed dramatically as Jesus revealed him both as Lord and Saviour. But that element of “Commander-in-chief” is still valid. God does give out of love. But he also demands our obedience, our loyalty, our membership of his community. The Germans say “He is Gabe und Aufgabe” meaning both gift and demand. The question we have to answer is “How does God command you? Where does he send you?”

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?

PRAYER OF INTERCESSION

Lord, bless all paramedics and ambulance drivers who get called to assist at road accidents. Make them sympathetic to the condition of those who are injured, and help them to be gentle, to move fast and be thoroughly professional. I ask it in the name of Jesus Christ. AMEN

 

I.B.R.A. Readings

Matthew 5:33–37

PROVIDING FOR THE POOR

“In your goodness you provided for the poor”.

Ps 68:10 GNB

Many churches take a collection for the poor at the time of a service of Holy Communion. And many poor people know where to go when they are in need – to the church. The problem of poverty is as old as the Bible, as old as the exodus from Egypt. And in Psalm 68, a hymn sung in the Temple at a service of worship in Jerusalem, the congregation acknowledge that God, in his goodness, provided for the poor. Whatever means were organized in the Temple the people acknowledged that the help the poor received had its origin in God himself.

In the New Testament the book of Acts recorded that the early church in Jerusalem organised a system in which there was a common sharing, which means that those who were poor were subsidised by others who had more.

Part of the mission of the church down through the ages has been to give assistance to the poor. The East Harlem Protestant parish in New York organised a credit union to help poor members. They didn’t merely give handouts. They found that one poor widow with three children to support was deeply in debt to a number of creditors. A counsellor showed her how to get one loan to pay off all the debts and then arranged for her to reschedule the payments for that loan at a slower rate and so to avoid further debt. Thoughtfulness is needed in helping the poor. Enquire how your Christian fellowship supports the poor and see if you can play a meaningful part. Just helping people to find employment can often be the most caring and helpful thing you can do.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, help us to help the poor.

PRAYER OF INTERCESSION

I pray today Lord for all who will be involved in car crashes. Help them to cope with the shock and, if they are injured, help them to get speedy medical attention. Help them with all the legal things and prompt their friends and relations to support them. I ask it in Christ’s name. AMEN

 

I.B.R.A. Readings

Matthew 5:31–32

THE GOD OF RENEWAL

“Because of the coming of the God of Sinai, the coming of the God of Israel. You caused abundant rain to fall and restored your worn-out land”.

Ps 68:8 GNB

Nature is amazing. To listen to much of the doom and gloom predicted by modern experts one could be forgiven for thinking that this planet has just about had it. The oceans are getting clogged up with plastic waste. The climate is about to change – for the worse. And we are running out of land on which to grow food to feed the exploding population. And technology is replacing human beings in the workplace thus reducing the need for people to work and endangering the capacity for people to earn money and sustain their lifestyles.

This verse from Psalm 68 tells us that the mighty God who altered the course of history when he intervened at the time of the exodus was able to generate rain to restore the promised land when they returned to Israel. It says he is a God who, beyond the computations of humans, has a hand in the weather, frequently surprising the humans who think they own the universe.

In fact, problems of many kinds do crop up that threaten the human race. War – using weapons of mass destruction is one possibility. Disease, striking down thousands of people can always occur unexpectedly. And natural disasters are completely unpredictable, but devastating in their impact on humans, the earth and animals. Christian believers will doggedly continue to believe that God has renewed this planet, the home of his children, and will continue to do so in whatever way it is needed. Christian believers will also be responsible and play their part in maintaining order and looking for solutions.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, continue to care for the physical universe.

PRAYER OF INTERCESSION

I pray today Lord, for the elderly. Surround them with people who care about them and the necessary medical personnel to see to their health needs. Give them the satisfaction of looking back and knowing that their lives have been worthwhile. I ask this in the name of Christ. AMEN

 

I.B.R.A. Readings

Matthew 5:27–30

THE MIGHTINESS OF GOD

“O God, when thou didst go forth before thy people, … the earth quaked, the heavens poured down rain, at the presence of God”.

Ps 68:7, 8 RSV

The experience of the exodus was imprinted on the psyche of the children of Israel for evermore. If God had rescued them from their four-hundred-year travail in Egypt he could do anything, so they figured. And then, to confound all their doubts, fears and misgivings, he guided them through the wilderness and brought them through alive. What a message this screamed to the surrounding nations who had written them – and their God – off. This tiny nation of slaves had shaken their fists (so to speak) at the powerful nations round about. It proved that there was nothing God could not accomplish. So stupendous were the acts of God that even nature joined in the amazing happenings. An earthquake accompanied the giving of the Commandments on Mount Sinai. It even rained in the desert where no rain ever fell.

Our Christian faith today is grounded not so much on the mightiness of God, but on the love and sacrifice of Jesus. For many people that’s all there is to the Christian faith – lots of love. We need to recapture some of this sense of the mightiness of God and stop confining him to little dimensions and nice, pleasant trivialities. John Wesley awakened a torpid Church of England in the eighteenth century. At least his God did. William Booth laid bare the superficial hypocrisy of nineteenth century England and started an army that saved countless souls and started numerous welfare movements. Because his God was mighty. The charismatic renewal stirred a huge revival late in the twentieth century because a few brave souls discovered how powerful the Holy Spirit is. How mighty is your God?

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, show your might and power in our generation.

PRAYER OF INTERCESSION

Lord, I pray today for my country. In all its problems, mistakes, and difficulties, help the politicians to see through the fog and take the necessary steps to get things right. Bless and guide the youth as they prepare themselves for adulthood. I ask it in Jesus Christ’s name. AMEN

 

I.B.R.A. Readings

Matthew 5:21–26

GOD IN THE WILDERNESS

“You, God went out before your people, when you marched through the wilderness”.

Ps 68:7 NIV

An inhospitable desert stretches between Israel and Egypt. It is known as the Sinai Desert. It occupies a very significant place in Israelite history. When Moses, at God’s command, led his people out at the time of the Exodus it presented a formidable barrier to the escaping people. The Israelites wandered in this near -empty desert for some forty years and somehow survived despite a scarcity of food and water. It was a test of faith for Moses. It was a time of trial for the people. Much of their subsequent faith in God was forged in this wilderness.

Two great components of their faith came to the fore in the desert. The first was the miracle of their deliverance. For four hundred years they had slaved for the Egyptians. Now God, in a miracle, had set them free. Now they knew – their God was a miracle-working God. He was also a liberating, redeeming, saving God. This understanding of God was to shape their faith – and the Christian faith to which their faith gave birth.

It also revealed to them that God was there with them in the harshness and despair of their wilderness journey. He did not leave them alone to sort it out as best they could. He journeyed with them as a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.

He journeys with you too in your wilderness, whatever form it may take. When you are ill – interminably as it may seem – Jesus Christ knows your sense of desolation and says, “I will be with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt 28:20 GNB). He is with you in all your deserts and calamities.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Thank you, Lord for your abiding presence.

PRAYER OF INTERCESSION

Lord, I ask that you will help me to face any disappointment that comes my way. Help me not to lose my temper nor to go to pieces. Show me how to get up again and to develop new goals, hopes and dreams. Help me to move forward confidently. I ask it in Christ’s name. AMEN

 

I.B.R.A. Readings

Matthew 5:17–20

WHEN YOUR TIME IS OVER

“(God) leads prisoners out into happy freedom”.

Ps 68:6 GNB

A person who has never been sent to prison cannot imagine what it is like. It often hardens the heart of the prisoner and makes him more determined then ever to “get his own back” by committing more crime than before. One former prisoner said, “ I mixed with other thieves inside and they taught me more professional tricks than I had previously known. The next time they won’t catch me – I’ll be too smart”. He had already decided that he was going straight back to his old ways!

Prison in the days of the Bible was much harsher than it is today. “In the ancient world imprisonment was merely the prelude to death. In those days the state would not take the trouble to look after prisoners. A man was only a prisoner until he was led out to die” (W. Barclay, The Revelation of John, Bk 1 p72).

We may interpret the statements in Psalm 68 assuming that they could have been of a general nature. “The wide scope of the Old Testament idea of God is shown by the fact that the mighty God, before whom his adversaries perish, is the merciful father of the helpless and the compassionate helper of the oppressed. Here … history penetrates the present in simultaneous consolation and warning” (A. Weiser, The Psalms, p485).

There is freedom after situations that are similar to imprisonment. Addiction to alcohol or narcotic drugs can be a kind of imprisonment. A period of military service can be limiting. Enslavement to the habit of gambling can be amazingly difficult to shake off. Oppression comes in many forms and God is the supreme being and liberator who wills freedom for everyone. Seek his help.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, set all who are captives free.

PRAYER OF INTERCESSION

Help me Lord as I go forward into this new week. Give me courage to face whatever problems will arise. Give me the love of Jesus in my heart so that I can reach out to any who will need my care and consideration. Help me to overcome any temptation. I ask it in Jesus’ name. AMEN

 

I.B.R.A. Readings

Matthew 5:13–16

A HOME FOR THE LONELY

“(God) gives the lonely a home to live in”.

Ps 68:6 GNB

A student living in a far-away country was befriended by a minister and his wife and spent many of his vacations enjoying the hospitality of the manse family. One tiny event used to make him feel really “at home”. At the meal table the student would sit at the opposite end of the table from the minister. The minister would say, “Steve, a slice of bread?”. The student would reply, “Yeah, nice”. The minister would then cut the slice of bread, balance it on the narrow blade of the bread knife, and say “Airmail”. Then he would flip it from his end of the table to the students who had to catch it. If he did, the minister would say “Well held”. Somebody once defined the gift of hospitality as being able to make a visitor feel at home without sensing that anything special was being done. The student said later, “I sometimes felt more at home there than I did at my own home”.

The Hebrews cherished family life and knew that the home circle was a crucially important part of the whole community. Sometimes they sensed that God was more there than in the Temple.

Jesus spent much of his time in other people’s homes. He was a great borrower – borrowing a boat to preach from and a hillside from which to break bread. He invited himself to the home of Zacchaeus, the tax-collector and there changed the man from a miserly hoarder to a generous giver.

Make your home something special – a place where people feel at home and where Christ could be a welcome guest. Let others know that you always have an open door.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, help me to make our home a place of love and acceptance.

PRAYER OF INTERCESSION

Lord I pray that all Christian congregations today will be aware that they are not just local communities but that they are surrounded with a great cloud of witnesses who have gone before and that they are one with the angels and archangels and the whole company of heaven. AMEN

 

I.B.R.A. Readings

Matthew 5:1–12