Saturday, December 28, 2013

Childermas

Some time after Jesus was born, the Magi from the East arrived to worship the Promised One. They had recognized the signs in the heavens and had travelled some distance to see this phenomenon. Having arrived in the general vicinity, they needed some help finding the right location, and so they stopped in to ask the local king.

The king in turn, called the prophets and his own wise men and they told both the king and the Magi that Bethlehem was the prophesied location. Thanks all around, and the Magi travel to Bethlehem to marvel at and worship the Promise.

The king though, seeing this as a threat to his own well-being, knowing now the location and the time of the appearing of the signs, ordered all the boys two years and younger killed. The intent? To eradicate this threat to his kingdom.

In the church calendar, today remembers that slaughter, that attempt to manage and control one’s own destiny through our own might. The world has just remembered with most of Christendom, the coming of that Promise and yet we see around us that same world pushing back against It, trying to ignore It, and hedging themselves away from It. And so, it is no wonder that we see and witness the same sorts of violence, of sidelining, of imaginary fingers in our ears.

In Matthew’s gospel, this massacre, marked by Childermas comes close upon the heals of Christmas itself, to mark the rapidity and amazing suddenness of the world’s almost immediate forgetting of the miracle that we have just remembered. God has come into the world; how quickly the rejoicing turns to grumbling and attack.

Let’s ask though about believers. It’s one thing to observe the world’s reaction and make comments about short memories and human self-assuredness, quite another to ask ourselves the same questions. How long does our remembering last after the presents are opened and the tree is in the mulch pile? Do we return to the “real world” and try to manage it ourselves? Do we rather, let the remembering soak a bit into our hearts and help shape us as part of that Promise?


The New Year is coming and with it resolutions galore. These resolutions will last almost two weeks for most people, a bit longer for others. Perhaps we might just carry the reality of the coming of God into the world with us into January and beyond and return to it over and again so that it shapes us slowly but undeniably into the image of that Promise.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas 2013

Christmas marks and reminds us of a day a couple millennia ago when the Creator God was born as a helpless human baby. The Creator as creature.

He came as the object of promises made by that Creator God from hundreds and thousands of years before; the birth was the fulfillment of promises and mark the steadfast faithfulness of God. God had not forgotten His people, or the world.

Birthed to live a life as the Life we are made to live. Birthed to live as an example for us; a life of love and acknowledgement of God. Having lived that life, He is destined to die not simply to effect our salvation, but as the ultimate expression of love for you and me; as the ultimate expression of submission to God as an expression of love.

This child reminds us that the world is not foreign to us or to God, but a place to which He deigns to come because He has made it; because He loves it; because He loves you. Loves you and offers you Life with Him.

Two thousand years ago, the beginning of the culmination of God's reconciliation of the world to Himself.

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Fourth Sunday of Advent 2013

Matthew 1.18-25
(with some allusions to chapter 2)
Advent is a season of preparing, of getting ready for the coming of our God.  Our text for this week is one of promise fulfilled but it is quickly followed by warning in chapter 2.  Our text tells us of Joseph’s resolution to put Mary away quietly. He could have chosen public humiliation or worse for this young girl but Joseph is a man of conviction, of righteous behavior.  All of us have heard of, or perhaps have acted in “righteous indignation” toward someone or something with which we have taken exception. Righteousness in the first century was roughly equitable with living by the Law, and in this case the Law was quite clear what Joseph’s options were. But Joseph gives us a glimpse of real righteousness, a righteousness that extends grace in the face of insult, of caring rather than condemning. Joseph himself is an image of God.

We are reminded that there is anticipation of the coming of the Christ child, the incarnation of God. This is not widely known or anticipated by the world, but the hosts of Heaven know what’s coming. It was an angel, a messenger of God who announced to Mary what was to happen and Joseph is told in a dream that this child will save the people from their sins. This birth will mark the fullness of time, a point  or space of time in which the plan of God  will be revealed as the salvation of peoples and the reconciliation of the Creation to God. Scripture reminds us that this Jesus will be none other than God with Us.

God with Us. Imagine that, roll that around in your mind. Let it settle in your heart and your consciousness.  God, the Creator of the World, the Sustainer of Life itself is coming as a child, on par with a creature. This is a return to the Beginning when God walked in the garden and spoke with the original Two; this is the relationship God has always wanted with humans—to move among us and to grant us Life with Him.

Not everyone in the world is ready, is open to receive this God Among Us. Scripture and our experience tell us that some folks suffer from the same misplaced trust and confusion with which the original Two suffered. Not having seen God in the world and coming to believe that self-reliance and human power are the bases of right, of rightness, of righteousness, they will be blinded to the coming of the Redemption; they will refuse to see.

As has often been recited in Scripture, the coming of God is both blessing and bane. Being granted Life means being mortal; being chosen as His people results in being taunted, attacked, and disparaged; having this people cleansed means forced marches into exile; and the coming of this child results in both redemption and death. The world, even those within the people of God who reject Him in various ways, pushes against true righteousness, true Life and they try to seize their salvation with their own hands.

And innocents suffer. Rachel will wail when this child comes not because of the promise fulfilled but because of the blindness and self-referential life we are all tempted to live by the Deceiver.

We rejoice at the coming of God, and at the same time know that the offer of reconciliation is pregnant with rejection. This rejection requires us to consider our faith, our faithfulness. God is with us; are we with Him?
Reflection
We often overlook Joseph; he becomes a part actor in this play overshadowed by Mary, Jesus, and even the Magi. Too often as we read familiar texts, we fail to enter the story, to read between the lines. What might Joseph’s example of righteousness tell you about your own righteousness and righteous behavior?

Relax for a second. Get comfortable in your seat and imagine God with you. Not with you in some ethereal, vague way, but right in the room with you. What emotions arise for you? Are you glad He has come, or do feelings of fear come to the surface?

God has come and the world continues to reject Him, to rely on human wisdom and power. Are you prepared to strengthen your faith, to hold tightly to the righteousness of God, to suffer for and with the God who is with you?


Saturday, December 14, 2013

Third Sunday in Advent 2013

Third Sunday of Advent
Matthew 11.2-15
Advent is a season of preparing of getting ready for the coming of our God. John the Baptist was commissioned by God to prepare the way for Jesus. In response to that commission, John spent a lot of time in the “wilderness” dressed in camel hair and eating honey. He understood himself to be a prophet and he was seen as a prophet by Jesus. John’s message was encouragement to repentance in anticipation of the arrival of Messiah.

John’s message of repentance had touched a nerve and he and his disciples were busy baptizing people who had heard his message and responded to it. One day, Jesus stands in the baptism queue. When Jesus gets to the head of the line, John is nonplussed. Instead of baptizing Jesus, John attempts to beg off, suggesting that Jesus should baptize him. Jesus insists though, and John baptizes him “to fulfill all righteousness.” Following the baptism, the Spirit comes upon Jesus and God’s voice is heard commending Jesus. John will say, referring to Jesus that “I must decrease so He can increase.”

Scripture makes it clear that John knew who Jesus was and John’s and Jesus’ disciples were both out baptizing people in the Jordan. Then John was arrested by Herod for preaching against Herod’s relationship. Today’s text finds John in prison and feeling a bit worried.  John is human and while things were gong all right, he was bold, confronting kings and religious leaders to their faces. Now, John finds himself confined in prison.

John finds himself wondering if all this was worth it; is he in jail for making a fool of himself? Is Jesus really who he thought He was? And so he sends some of his disciples to  ask Jesus if He is for real—or was all this he has experienced and had thought just a charade?  So off go his disciples to find Jesus.

Presented with essentially, “Are you Messiah,” Jesus doesn’t answer the question directly. Rather, He sends John’s disciples back to John with a recitation of the signs Jesus has performed. This seems odd to our modern ears, but to ancient ears, steeped in oral tradition and story, this response isn’t all that odd.  Given John’s ministry prior to prison, John would have understood these signs to validate who he had thought Jesus was. While we moderns reach for a clear yes or no. Is Jesus Messiah or not?

Jesus though doesn’t satisfy our desires for clear cut clarity. He wants us to use eyes and ears open and attuned to the workings of God in the world.  Jesus sends John’s disciples away with this: ‘Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.” In doing so, Jesus rehearses passages from Isaiah much like He did in Luke 4 when He tells those at the synagogue that the prophecy was being fulfilled right in front of them. These are the works the Messiah was to perform; these are the proofs. In another place, Jesus will tell his interlocutors that if they don’t believe His words, they should believe the signs they had seen. For those who are attuned to the things of God, these signs are clear evidence of Messiah’s arrival.

Reflection
Have you ever found yourself in John’s space, wondering whether all this religious stuff was the real deal? What sorts of doubts have you entertained?

As you worked through those doubts, or even if you are still working through them, what role if any might the stories of miracles play in your reflections?

Those who have ears and eyes to see are encouraged to recognize Messiah by the signs He works. But it is not just the signs; there is also an underlying desire to move toward God and His work in the world. How do you see Jesus? As an objective Messiah who is “over there,” or as God moving in the world and in your life? How do you experience Him?


Sunday, December 08, 2013

Communion Reflection Isaiah 52.13-15

In this passage, much like the more famous chapter 53, Isaiah foretells the Lord’s Servant who will be exalted.

This servant, who we are told will be exalted, is also described as suffering, of being beaten and disfigured beyond recognition even as human.

These two verses don’t seem to fit together. How can someone who the Lord is going to exalt, suffer like this?

Isaiah anticipates our conundrum with this seeming impossibility. But this is the divine secret, the basis of the mystery hidden before time, but now revealed.

When the Servant comes, His glory, His exalting will be accomplished through this mystery, and as a result, peoples and kings will not be able to utter a word. They will be dumbfounded by the way this Servant will be exalted.

Paul tells us in Philippians that His name has been exalted above all other names – Jesus, Messiah, the Christ has triumphed in death for us. In doing so, He has blessed and cleansed – or text says sprinkled – the entire world.

This is our God, the promised Servant who loved us so much that He was willing to be exalted through beatings and death. This love, this kind of love, this depth of love, when seen is truly dumbfounding to us, and especially to those who expect exalting to be done through obvious power, through physical might.

When we reflect on this sort of love, we two have our mouths stopped because they are surprised and shocked, and yet now they and we understand this plan, this Servant, this love.


Pray with me. 

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Advent in 2 Minutes

For those who might appreciate a primer on Advent, here you go.....

Second Sunday of Advent 2013

Matthew 3.1-12
Advent is a season of preparing, of getting ready for the coming of our God. John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin was a bit older than Jesus and John had been given a mission by God. John’s work was to tell the people of Messiah’s coming and encourage them to get ready for His appearing.

Jesus refers to John as Elijah, the prophet who was to come before the coming of God. John in turn, always pointed to Jesus and referred to Him as someone whose sandals John was unworthy to untie. John knew he was a forerunner, going so far as to say that “I must decrease so that He might increase.”

John spent his time preaching repentance and baptizing people in preparation of receiving and greeting the Lord when He arrived. He and his disciples were baptizing a number of Jews who would come and be baptized as evidence of their repentance and desire to be set right with God. Most of the time this would go without a hitch, but one day a bunch of Jewish leaders came out to be baptized in the Jordan. You would think this would have been a cause for rejoicing for John and his disciples—the leaders of his people were coming to him.

John though, accosts them and tells them go do “works worthy of repentance,” and then presumably he would baptize them. On this day though, he wouldn’t. The coming of God was too important a matter for mere form or appearance’s sake. Preparing for God to come was serious business.

Our text for this Sunday includes a quotation from  Isaiah referring to preparing the way of the Lord. The snippet we have in Matthew would have called to mind the larger passage in Isaiah which goes on to speak about valleys being filled in and mountains leveled to make the coming of God an easy enough affair.

This leveling of a path has of course military or royal implications—to make the arrival of an important person easy and direct. But for John, the one crying in the wilderness, this is not about valleys and mountains. This is about hearts. About the hearts of those Jewish leaders who wanted to be baptized because of their repentance but hadn’t actually changed anything. And it is about our hearts—mine and yours. Have we made preparation to receive the coming of God into our lives, or are their still obstacles and stumbling blocks between God and my most inner being? Between God and your most inner being?

If so, the text today calls us to reduce those obstacles and remove the stumbling blocks so that our God can come to us without hindrance. It is a call to open our hearts, our souls, our spirits, our minds wide to receive the God of the universe into the very fiber of our beings and lives. 

With all this talk about repentance we might get the idea that Advent is morose; that it is another excuse to beat ourselves up for not being “perfect.” Nothing could be further from the truth because it reminds us that The King Is Coming! Advent calls us to sweep the floor, remove the cobwebs, paint the door because we are getting ready to celebrate!  

Reflection
Read Isaiah 40.3-4 slowly. Can you hear John’s voice or even Isaiah’s perhaps, calling out to you? What is it saying?

John told the Jewish leaders to do works worthy of repentance before he baptized them. How has repentance been evidenced in your life? Perhaps there are things you need to remove or add to your life to make the way straight for God. What are they?

Saturday, November 30, 2013

First Sunday in Advent 2013

First Sunday of Advent
Jeremiah 23.1-8 
Advent is a season of waiting, of anticipation of the coming of our God. Scripture is replete with people of faith waiting, longing for, and growing impatient with God’s perceived slowness. Israel’s history seems to be one crisis after another, followed by her crying in distress for her God to respond to her. People of faith have had to maintain their convictions in the face of others and perhaps even their own thoughts that looked at the amount of time that had passed and wondering or even proclaiming that God would not fulfill His promises.

In the birth narratives of Jesus, we read of people who have been faithfully waiting for God to visit them through their entire adult lives, and we read in other passages that even angels and perhaps the entire creation have been waiting for the culmination of the ages. 

The passage this week, Jeremiah 23.1-8 contains a promise of God’s restoring of things to their rightful order. In this passage, Israel’s shepherds, her kings and other officials are identified as the cause of Israel’s current problems. They have not shepherded God’s people in the right ways and as a result they will go into exile. Even so, God promises to provide His people with good shepherds and even the Good Shepherd Himself so that His people will be led, protected, and fed in the right ways; in the good ways.  

The Branch of David will come as the Great King to rule, to serve, to protect, and to lead the people of God. But, as Jeremiah is prophesizing this day is far off. Before this day can come, Israel must spend almost two generations in exile with her country desolate and her capital city and the temple destroyed.

No doubt there were many who witnessed or who heard of the destruction who wondered if God would ever bring the Branch. Those who waited would wait a very long time for the Branch to come.  In our day, we wait for the coming of God; for the final consummation of the ages. We hear promises of no tears, of no illness, and no decay. We hear promises of reunion, of dead raised, of new bodies and full health in the very
presence of God. 

And yet the world seems to go on just as it always has. Even in times when religious folk seem to be in charge we glimpse that the fallen reality behind the fa├žade has not changed. In the “real” world, cheating, biting, dishonesty, and self-promotion continue unabated. What we see around us are disasters, famine, poverty, broken lives and relationships, and even in ourselves the striving for the “good life” which may or may not match the God life.  

And so we wait and in waiting we join the history of God’s people who have waited, who have hoped against hope, and who have remained faithful to His promise and to their promise. During the season of Advent we remember both their waiting and ours for the coming of our God in healing, restoring, and enlivening our lives with Him. 

As we light the Advent candles these next four weeks, let us renew our own wonder of our God who chose to break into the world; who became the Incarnate One to truly be Our Righteousness. 

Reflection 
How has the delay of God affected your faith? Has it tested your patience; made you ask “what is all this for?” 

As we join with believers throughout history and around the world in anticipating the coming of God, what might help you to join that expectant people who wait for Him? 

Often God calls His people to cleansing, to a re-commitment, to greater faith. What could you and your family do to keep your faith more alive in the coming year?

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Gifts....and more

Have you received a gift that was particularly special? Maybe it was something you had been wanting for a long time, or perhaps something you had been needing and for which you had been hoping, or maybe even something you did not expect but once you had it, it seemed the perfect gift. These sorts of gifts go beyond themselves and impact more areas of your life than what might seem at first blush their purpose.

Perhaps it was someone offering you a job out of the blue that set you back on your feet.

Maybe it was someone who came along beside you during one of your darkest moments and lifted you out of that space, empowering you to move forward.

Or it could have been a note, written on a small card that arrived in the mail telling you that you hadn't been forgotten in the morass of life.

None of those appear to the greater world as anything special. None will fuel an economy, end a war, or cure a disease. But to you they might have meant more than the world itself. Because of them you are here today - not just breathing but valuable. Those are special gifts are really the ones that "keep on giving" over years and even lifetimes.

Have you ever thought of yourself as such a gift; as something larger and more expansive than just you as a person with green eyes and blonde hair? Not only as an object crafted by God that makes people laugh, or crochets baby blankets, or provides an ear from time to time. Not only as another person trying to get through life who may seem to have it more together than some others now and then. Rather, as something more expansive - a presence, a life-giving force, a wave moving through space and time impacting and enlivening those with whom you come in contact.

Can you see yourself innately "humming" as a life-giving force that expands outside of your immediate reach? A force that causes ripples across the world by impacting and causing others to vibrate.

Do you see yourself moving through life that way? What would happen to the people you meet if you did? How would your interaction with other people, with other things change? Imagine yourself as such a life-giving presence and force for others over the next week or so. Let us know what happens.



Monday, July 22, 2013

What is Truth?


John 18.37: For this reason I have come into the world – to bear witness to the truth.

Jesus tells us more than once why He has come into the world. For instance, in Luke 4 He uses Isaiah to tell us that He has come to declare the “year of the Lord’s favor.” Earlier in John’s Gospel, John tells us that Jesus came to save and not condemn the world.
In our text, Jesus tells us that He has come to bear witness to the truth. We find ourselves asking, like Pilate, “what is truth?” To what does Jesus witness?  Some commentators tell us that Jesus is king, that his kingdom exists, that the answer to Pilate’s question is “yes,” as in “Yes, I am the king.” I wonder though if this is everything Jesus meant; the only thing to which He bears witness is that He is king. The problem here is that this seems to put Jesus in playing a game with Pilate based on different meanings of king. Is this what Jesus was doing hours before He died – playing word games with the procurator?
I think not.
Jesus has spent His ministry witnessing to something more expansive, something that required more public exposure than a private conversation with Pilate could provide. What is this truth to which Jesus bears witness?
John tells us in chapter 3 of his gospel that God loves you, that He gives both acceptance and freedom; that He offers – he wants – relief for you. Right now.
And it has always been so.
Jesus came to bear witness to the truth of Heaven’s reality, that there is a reality in which care, love, and acceptance is available for everyone. Jesus’ life bore witness to a reality that we cannot see but which we must see to live in it. Jesus bore witness to the truth as it really is, despite what it might look like with a king hanging on a cross.
It has always been so. It must have been for it to be truth.
God loves you and wants you back. He wants you not to possess you, but to bless you. Living His Life is the Life you were made to live. Now.
So much so, that He is willing to die for you.
As king.
On a cross.
And that’s the truth.

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Naaman's Dipping and Requests

The familiar story of Naaman dipping in the Jordan is a story with more than a few twists. Let's review the story first. Naaman we are told had been used by YHWH to punish Israel and our story describes him as a man of valor in high regard by his boss, the King of Syria the current thorn in the side of Israel. It turns out though that Naaman suffers from some sort of leprosy. 

On one of Syria's raids into Israel, the Syrians captured an Jewish girl who had found her way into Naaman's household as a servant for his wife. Knowing of Naaman's illness, she suggests to her matron that there is a prophet in Israel who could help him. This message gets transmitted to Naaman who takes it to his boss. The boss - the king of Syria, tells Naaman to travel to Israel and gives him a letter to Israel's king directing that Naaman be healed.

Upon Naaman's arrival in Israel he gives the letter to Israel's king who reacts in a panic. He does not even consider finding the prophet - or any prophet to help Naaman. Instead, he takes the letter as some sort of ploy by the Syrian king to find fault and justify an additional attack or further subjection upon Israel and her king.

The good news is that Elisha hears about this transaction and sends a message to the Jewish king to send Naaman to see him, so that Naaman would know there is a prophet in Israel. Naaman arrives expecting some great show to be made about his healing but he doesn't even get an audience with Elisha. Elisha simply sends out a servant to tell Naaman to dip seven times in the Jordan. Naaman is outraged. Not only does this prophet not come out to see him, but his prescription is submerge himself in the dirty Jordan. 

Well eventually Naaman agrees and is healed. He wants to give Elisha a handsome payment for his healing but Elisha rejects the offer. Naaman then makes two requests which are odd to our ears. The first request is that he be allowed to take back two donkeys' burdens of earth from Israel. This is likely a cultural artifact in that gods were often considered to be geographically tied. In this thinking, YHWH was god in Israel so if Naaman takes some dirt back from Israel, perhaps this god would also accompany him.

Naaman's next request is even more odd. He is convinced that The God lives in Israel and he is a believer now in this god. But Naaman has a problem. When he returns home he knows he's going to have to accompany his boss to worship in the local Pagan temple. He will not just be accompanying his boss, but his boss will lean upon Naaman during the worship periods and Naaman will be expected to bow and pray to this Pagan god; and he knows that YHWH likely will not approve of this behavior. So Naaman asks a peculiar indulgence - that when Naaman goes to the Pagan temple with his boss and bows his head, YHWH won't take offense at his behavior.

This is indeed a bold request and upon our first reading we think the answer must be something like, "You've got to be kidding!" But that's not the response Elisha give Naaman. His answer is a simple, "Go in peace."

What?! Go in peace? Really? What is going on here? The early church struggled with what to do with Christians who under threat of death failed to maintain their confession of YHWH as God, and so this request and the response are intriguing. 

What do we make of this story? Well, let's ask a question....who is the hero in this story? I submit that it is the servant girl. Having been taken in to forced labor, she has enough wits about her to recognize an opportunity to introduce YHWH to Naaman's household and to bless him through her God. Everyone else seems to be supporting roles. This servant girl starts the chain of events that leads to YHWH being worshiped by the household of a powerful Pagan general.

We are reminded too that God uses non-believers to rattle our cages when we get too settled in thinking we are His people and THEY aren't. God used Naaman to punish Israel and then was introduced directly to Him through the efforts of a Jewish girl.

Finally, we get a glimpse of the grace of God for people who find themselves in tight spots and seems to be more gracious than we often extend to each other. Assuming that Elisha's response is a positive response to Naaman's request for grace, it seems that YHWH was willing to overlook Naaman's future behavior in a Pagan temple because Naaman wouldn't have a choice in fulfilling his responsibilities to the king of Syria.

We often hold each other to higher standards of behavior, suggesting that folks change jobs to free up Sundays, or to leave employment as slot machine makers or yes, even attending some other church due to familial expectations.

What do you think? What do you get out of this story?

Monday, May 20, 2013

Pentecost

Pentecost is not the birthday of the church.

It is the blow the doors off, hitch up the horses, invasion of the world by the Spirit of God.

Hang on for the ride.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Theme of the Bible

Cain and Abel:
.....God and other people
The Law:
.....God and other people
The prophets:
.....God and other people
Jesus:
.....God and other people
NT letters:
.....God and other people

Got the idea?

It's not all that hard.

Really.

Repentance

isn't as hard as some people seem to think it is.

It doesn't require crawling on your knees.

It doesn't require some great show of "Godly sorrow."

It doesn't require "walking the aisle" and dumping your baggage on the front row.

It is simply deciding to live the Life offered by God.

It is simply turning your focus toward the interests of others, just as God's interest is on others.

It is simply living the Life God would live if He were you.

God doesn't care about your sins.

Really.

He does want you to live the Life He made you to live.

What He wants is you - to bless you by offering you real Life.

He doesn't really care about how many sins you have, how long you've had them, or even what they are.

He knows He made you human, and you're not going to get every detail right.

All He wants is for you to live in His direction - a Life that is giving, outward focused, concerned for others.

Like Him.

Like the Image you are.

No, you don't have to do it perfectly; He knows you're not going to.

After you blow it, all you have to do is get back on track.

That's it.

God loves you....

...and offers you life with Him.

That's the Gospel.

When you decide that you want to take Him up on His offer, He'll let you.

This Life is the one you are made to live. It isn't foreign, but rather is the fullest expression of you as the image of God. It takes some getting used to, it takes some effort in remembering to put others before you, it does feel odd.

But it isn't.

You needn't be worried about whether you're one of the Elect, you needn't worry about having to get everything right, you needn't worry about having to keep a bunch of rules once you've returned to Him.

You will need to want to live the Life He offers, even if you don't live it perfectly.

Believe it or not, it gets easier and easier the more you experience the Life of God.



Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Resurrection Day is For the Marginalized


Jesus’ birth was announced first to a 12 or 14 year old girl, who had been betrothed to Joseph. The angel didn’t make the announcement to Joseph first like Zacharias or Abram. No, this announcement of the arrival of Messiah was made to this girl.

When His parents brought Jesus to the Temple, they met two people. The first was Simeon who upon seeing Him, praised God and said that now God could let His servant depart in peace. The other person was Anna, an 80-100 year old widow who spent most of her time in the Temple. Upon seeing the baby, Anna also praises God but then instead of bowing out of the picture, becomes the first evangelist of the Messiah’s arrival. This old widow became the first evangelist of the Messiah.

A young girl receives the first announcement, and an old widow becomes the first evangelist of Messiah’s arrival.

When Jesus and His disciples go to Samaria, the first non-Jewish interlocutor of Jesus is a woman with a questionable history. After sparing with Jesus for a while, she takes off to her town and exclaims, “Can this be Messiah?!” As a result of her excitement, the town believes in Jesus. According to John, this woman is the first non-Jewish person to have the Gospel proclaimed to her.

A young girl receives the first announcement, an old widow becomes the first evangelist of Messiah’s arrival, and a Samaritan woman who was living with some guy she wasn’t married to is the first to receive the announcement of the Gospel outside of Israel.

On the morning of the resurrection, John and Peter race to the tomb, find the wrappings laying neatly on the shelf, and then—they go to their homes! Mary Magdalene stays outside the tomb, worrying herself to death about where the body of Jesus might be. After a short exchange with the gardener, the Gardener softly says “Mary…” and she knows it’s Him! This woman, also with a questionable history, is the first person to whom Jesus reveals Himself after He is raised.

A young girl receives the first announcement, an old widow becomes the first evangelist of Messiah’s arrival, a Samaritan woman is the first to receive the Gospel directly from Jesus outside Israel, and this woman with a questionable history is the first to have Jesus reveal Himself to her on Resurrection morning.

Three women and one girl. No men, no rabbis, no political rulers, no pastors, no bishops, nobody with any political or social power, and no Apostles. Three women and one girl.

The message of God and the coming of Messiah reflect what God’s concerns have been from the earliest concerns expressed by God. God has always been concerned about the folks on the fringe, the outcasts, the oppressed, and those meant to be avoided and not heard or seen. It isn’t any wonder that these first showing of Jesus are to a girl and three women, a widow and two with questionable moral histories.

The coming of Jesus and the resurrection are especially important to people just like these four. Wealth and powerful people don’t often worry about dying, and certainly don’t think they need a savior. But folks who aren’t powerful, who live their lives in one-down positions, who only exist for the entertainment and use of the powerful—these need a savior and it is these who appreciate Messiah the most. 

It is these folks who respond with the most enthusiasm to the call "He is risen!" Their response, "He is risen INDEED!" God wants everybody and has a special spot in His care for those we too often ignore, elect not to see, and avoid in our lives. If we are to be God people, we must be concerned about these same people.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Seven Last Words--Commit


Seven Last Words
“Into your hands I commit my spirit.”

Finally, it really is over. After about three years of “setting His face toward Jerusalem,” of cycles of enthusiasm and abandonment, of insult, isolation, and abuse, and after hanging on this cross for six hours, it is mercifully time to let go.

Jesus has lived the will of God His entire life and in fact this is what has brought Him to this point. He’s going to die today because of His absolute commitment to the leading of God.

It isn’t just that He follows the will of God, but because He is God, His death in a few moments comes from His love for people; His love for you. This is the end of the road on which He set out on from the beginning. Having missed the family caravan back home, He brushed aside His parents’ remonstrances by reminding them that He had to be about His Father’s business. His practice of confounding and frustrating the Jewish religious leaders will last the rest of His life. It has on this day resulted in His death, demanded by those very rulers who claimed to have no king but Caesar.
Here on top of this hill’s killing field Jesus is ready to realize the reconciliation of the world to God. The words “into Your hands I commit My spirit” are clearly reference to His imminent death—perhaps even His last breath. This is probably their primary import, but there are other secondary but just as important implications.

These words from Psalm 31, much like those from the 22nd Psalm, are words that reach out to a God who is not obviously present in His suffering, but who is trusted to be here by both the psalmist and Jesus.  It is this trust perhaps that allows these words to form one bookend for His earthly life. At twelve He had been taken to the temple and instead of heading home, launched His attending to the Father’s business amidst the leaders of His people. On this day, He will complete His work by committing Himself to the Father one last time.

Reflection
Jesus’ entire life was spent doing the Father’s will. As a result, Paul will call Him the Second Adam for His faithful life, and credit Him for reconciling the world to God.

Jesus’ life on earth was an example for us. His life demonstrated for us the way we are supposed to live—the way we are made to live. In these words, we are given the secret for such a life, and that is to commit ourselves to God, and seek to do His will in every moment.

Are you willing to live every moment for God? Are you willing to live every moment doing the things that Jesus would do if He were living your life today?

Most of us lose focus from time to time. It’s easy to let the troubles of life confound and confuse us so that we become defensive and do things designed to satisfy our egos and satisfy perceived wrongs. Do you ever find that you’ve lost focus?

What do you do to get yourself back on track after realizing you’re off target?

Much of the time the result of our being out of focus is hurt to someone else. What have you done, or might you do to fix those hurts?

What do you need to do?

Monday, March 11, 2013

Seven Last Words--Finished


Seven Last Words
“It is finished.”
We have come to the end—well right up to it anyway. After crying out that He thirsts, Jesus is given some sour wine and John says that he died. But John does not record our last two Words, one of which is this declaration. 

What does Jesus mean by it is finished? Specifically, what is the “it?” Certainly it includes His life—His time on earth has come to an end. After thirty some odd years, with the most recent 18 or so hours of insult, abuse, desecration, and dehydration, His body is ready to die. 

But we remember that this death is not just that of an itinerant rabbi who came afoul of the law. No, this is Messiah—one appointed as God’s messenger and representative—God Himself in this case. This then is the end to the planned-before-time-mission. Everything in His life; in fact everything in the history of the cosmos has been leading to this moment. He has been faithful even unto death. That death is now here to mark the completion of this mission. Man now has a way to return to God.

It is also though, the end of God’s self-expression incarnate among us. Incarnated to show us God, and in showing us God to reveal to us our true selves. We are made to live as Jesus lived while on earth, but we forget our making and our calling. We give in to fear, to defensiveness, to taking care of Number One. Jesus’ life showed us that such living is antithetical to our true crafting by God.

And too; and perhaps most importantly, we have reached the end of God’s demonstration of His lavish love for us—for you. Too many times we hear that God had to send  Jesus because we are sinful creatures who are totally depraved and have no good in us. That our sin put Jesus on the cross, and for that we are certainly miserable people.

Nothing could be further from the truth. God came incarnated out of His love for you—that was the whole point. John 3.16 tells us that “God SO LOVED the world….” When Jesus looks at the people He says they are like sheep without a shepherd; this is a statement of compassion, not disdain. Jesus tells us that He has come to do the will of the Father, and in Luke chapter 4, He tells us what that will is—to give sight to the blind, to set prisoners free, and to relieve the oppressed, declaring the Lord’s favor.  This has not been a mission of judgment, but one of love.

Because He really loves you. So much so, that He was willing to die for you, and in doing so, to demonstrate the love God has for you. It is finished; did you see it? Do you comprehend His love for you?
Reflection
Read John 3.16-17, and taste the love of God for you. Roll it around in your mouth and sit with it for a while. What thoughts come to mind after a few minutes of contemplating these two verses? What emotions rise up for you?

What does the death of God for you tell you about how God considers people—even those who might kill Him if He showed up again?

What does it tell you about how you should see those same people?

What do you need to do?

Seven Last Words--Thirst


Seven Last Words
“I thirst.”
The end is coming quickly now. His body has been beaten, desecrated, and now is quickly becoming dehydrated. His tongue sticks to the roof of his mouth they are so dry. If there was anything to swallow, it would be almost impossible to do so. Jesus’ humanity is coming to the end of life, a life that seemingly has been pulled from it; beaten from it.

These words have meant many things to many people through history. Surely, Jesus suffers from physical thirst. How could he not? And so these words are our second verbal indicator of his human suffering and approaching death.  It is a bit ironic that he who suggested that the Spirit would be a living fountain of water in him who believed would now feel bereft of water. Ironic perhaps, but a clear indicator of what Jesus has given up so that we might live.

Jesus has been on a mission directed by God. He probably also thirsts—longs for the completion of this mission. Following on the heels of his cry of being forsaken, this simple statement has less energy, less demand of God.  He is ready to die for the Father. He is ready to die for you.

He thirsts also for you. As the representative of humankind, Jesus embodies the state of us all—thirsting after God.  In these words, Jesus tells us that God thirsts for hearts to be formed in us which thirst for him. He thirsts that the world might be set right and humans might take their rightful place with God.

Through his thirst, he offers the Spirit to slake our thirst—our longing for a world and a life with more certainty, less hurt, and clearer ends.
Reflection
Water—without it we would die in just a handful of days. It is critical for life. Scripture pictures water as just that—life giving grace. Jesus told the woman at the well that he could give her living water so that she would never thirst. Or again, that those who have the Spirit have within them a living, vibrant, life giving stream or fountain that is unquenchable. God wants us to have that Spirit and to live thirsting for him.
Have you ever been so thirsty that your tongue literally stuck to the roof of your mouth? Have you ever hungered after God to such a degree that your soul seemed to be parched? Describe that here:

If you have felt that way, what have you done to quench that thirst? How do you keep it from returning?

Do you have friends who seem to be living lives of thirst? How are some ways you might give them some spiritual water?

What do you need to do?

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Seven Last Words--Forsaken


Seven Last Words
“My God, my God! Why have you forsaken me?”

Jesus is coming to the end of His task. He has been on this cross for almost six hours. He has experienced repeated insult, injury, frustration, and even abandonment by both His disciples and the leaders of the People of God. From a human perspective, He has come almost to the end of His rope. Almost, but not quite. The end will come quickly now.

Many smart people have pondered the meaning of these words, and have come to the conclusion that we simply don’t know their  full meaning. The conundrum arises from a central tenet of Christian theology—that God is One, and He cannot be split into parts. Given this understanding, it is simply impossible for God to have forsaken God; for there to have been a rift in the Trinity.

And so He hasn't. 

This utterance isn’t from Jesus’ divinity, but from His humanity. He is tired, and He has been doing what He came to do—all the suffering, all the not-answering-a-word, all the frustration with disciples who still don’t get it, has been part of the plan. Nevertheless, He hurts; He is tired; He is overwhelmed. Enough is enough.

These words are from Psalm 22, and are rooted in Israel’s relationship with her God; rooted in covenant and rooted in a history that has seen an endless cycle of closeness and distance between her and God.  They are rooted in Israel’s trust in God, and it is this trust that underlies and drives these words.

Israel’s history has included being over run, despoiled, and taken into exile. Her history has included punishment and being sent from her God. In the midst of these calamities, history has also witnessed her God go with her, even if she cannot experience His presence. God has not forsaken Israel even if it has seemed He has.

And God has not forsaken Jesus here. 

These words are the result of a very human feeling of desolation, of being alone in a dangerous place, but at the same time are founded in the expectation that God still hears, still knows, still acts to restore those who would cry out to Him. The remainder of Psalm 22 makes it clear that when all is said and done, the speaker believes that God does in fact hear and will act to restore Israel to himself. Similarly, Jesus trusts the steadfastness of God.

This cry from the cross is in a real way an affirmation of God’s presence and care for His people. God has not forsaken Israel, not forsaken Jesus, and will not forsake you—even in times when it seems He is absent.
Reflection

Read Psalm 22 slowly. Let the words evoke the feelings, the dry mouth, the being surrounded by dogs. Have you been in such a place? When was it, and how did you maneuver through it?

In this psalm, despite the exhaustion and the wasting away, the psalmist calls out to God for help, for salvation. We often hear only the words of desperation, failing to hear that they arise from and  are based in a faith that God does in fact hear.  What kind of faith  do you suppose it takes to be in such straits and yet reach out to this God that seems to be absent?

Has your faith been tested like this? If so, how has your faith changed this side of the testing? If your faith hasn’t been tested like this, how might you prepare for such testing?

What do you need to do?

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Seven Last Words--Behold Your Mother


Seven Last Words

“Woman, behold thy son.”

Jesus spent his last evening washing feet, giving last-minute encouragement to his disciples, praying in the garden while the disciples slept, and then betrayed and standing a religious trial. At dawn, He had been taken to Pilate and experienced the leaders of His people yelling, “We have no God but Caesar!”

After enduring an exchange of question and answer, He was finally turned over for crucifixion in return for a notorious insurrectionist. Beaten and insulted by the Roman soldiers, He now finds Himself hanging on a cross, being jeered yet again by those who should know better.

Before He dies, there is one last detail He needs to handle. He has to make arrangements for mom. Jesus is her oldest son, and some believe her only son. In the culture of the day,  she will not have anyone to care for her when He’s dead. It is his responsibility to make sure she is  entrusted to someone.

Looking down from the cross, he sees a handful of people. This small clutch includes His mother and the disciple we understand as one of His closest followers.  While He still has strength, He  makes introductions of sorts, entrusting Mary to John for the rest of her life. Tradition tells us that she lives with John for eleven years following Jesus’ death.

What do we see in this vignette? We have God, the One through whom  all things are made, and by whom all things are sustained, being killed viciously by His own people. He allows them to kill Him because He loves them and this is the way they will return to God.

Even so, this God before He completes  this cosmic, planned before time mission, in writhing physical pain and mounting emotional and psychic pain, takes time to care for a creature.  He will not allow Himself to complete His Father-directed task until he ensures that Mary will not be left alone in this world.

God stops or delays what He is doing to care for people.  How cool is that?

He loves you in the same way. Let Him care for you.

Reflection

What does it mean to you, that God took time to make sure that Mary was cared for before He died?

Have you ever thought that maybe God wasn’t with you—that He may have left you out to dry? How did you work through that? If you’re in the middle of it right now, might knowing that Jesus cared for Mary even in the midst of his anguish help you reconnect with God?

We humans often get caught up in our own lives, our own important tasks. Sometimes we lose sight of the people around us and forget to care for them. Who in your life have you overlooked?

What do you need to do?

 

Friday, February 15, 2013

Seven Last Words - With Me


Seven Last Words
“Today you will be with me in Paradise.”

Jesus is crucified between criminals. These folks are called thieves in Scripture, but the word used, lestes, might more accurately be translated as “robber.” A robber doesn't just take things surreptitiously like a thief might. A robber confronts his victims and may well use violence or even murder to take what they want. These two weren't second story men or petty thieves being crucified for taking someone’s VCR. These guys were violent men who may have been part of Barabbas’ group of insurrectionists.

I review all that to shed some light on who these guys were. They would have fit in the list of people Paul has told us would “never enter the Kingdom of God.”  These were men who had committed considerable crimes.

Unfortunately, they had been caught by on e of the most brutal regimes the world has known. Not only was life worth very little, but it could be taken seemingly at a whim by those in power.
We find them mounted on crosses as examples, on either side of Jesus on this Friday. They’re guilty and they know it; they’re guilty and they’re going to die today. One of them join in with the crowds, the Romans, the Jewish leaders and mocks Jesus.  He’s not observant, he’s not listening. He goes along with the crowd and rails against Jesus.

The other robber is a bit more observant; more on the ball so to speak. He’s either heard of this Jesus, or maybe he sees Jesus’ behavior on the cross and sees something that changes his view. Whatever it was, this robber acknowledges two things: 1)  they are guilty and Jesus isn't  2) Jesus is God. This robber interrupts the first one’s jeering and asks Jesus to remember him when He comes in His kingdom.

Jesus’ response is essentially, “OK.” This robber will be with Jesus.

Reflection
Jesus is crucified between two criminals who behave and speak to Jesus in two different ways. How does the difference in their behaviors reflect the choice we have to make about Jesus?

These men are likely guilty of violent crimes against multiple people and may be insurrectionists against Rome. How do you react to the first robber; the one who mocked Jesus?

How do you react to the second robber? If your reactions are different, why are they different?

The second robber’s response to Jesus is largely a “death bed confession.” What is your reaction to death bed confessions?

What does it mean to you that Jesus apparently forgives this robber without any special rites or requirements?

Following are discussion last week of forgiveness, how does this interaction inform your understanding of God’s forgiveness and mercy for people who have had violent histories?

What do you need to do?

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