Welcome to the April 2011 Archive. You are welcome to read the entire archive, or find a topic on the list below that is of interest to you. Just click the link, and you will be taken directly to the day it was written. Enjoy, and may you know God's peace as you read His Word.
Scripture on this page taken from the American Standard Version of the Holy Bible which belongs to the public domain.
A WORD FOR TODAY, April 2011
“Then opened he their mind, that they might understand the scriptures; and he said unto them, Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer, and rise again from the dead the third day; and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name unto all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. Ye are witnesses of these things. And behold, I send forth the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city, until ye be clothed with power from on high. And he led them out until they were over against Bethany: and he lifted up his hands, and blessed them. And it came to pass, while he blessed them, he parted from them, and was carried up into heaven. And they worshipped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy: and were continually in the temple, blessing God.” Luke 24:45-53, ASV
I have to admit to playing the lottery occasionally. I don’t play every week; I usually wait until the jackpot is extremely large. Could I settle for the smaller amounts? Absolutely. I don’t need to be a multi-millionaire, although like everyone else, I have a long list of things I would like to do with the winnings. I don’t play every time even though I could settle for less, because the cost of those tickets would become overwhelming. I can piddle away a few dollars a month, but I couldn’t waste that on a daily basis.
There’s a joke that went around a few years ago about a man who prayed daily to God for a winning ticket for the lottery. “God,” he said, “I promise to serve you with every penny if you will just help me win.” The man was disappointed week after week when he didn’t win the lottery. One day he prayed, “I keep praying and you don’t answer me. Why won’t you help me win the lottery?” God answered, “You can’t win if you don’t buy a ticket!”
A group of friends decided to buy a ticket recently when the jackpot rose to well over three hundred million dollars. One of the men went to the store to purchase the ticket and while standing in line decided to buy a candy bar. He stepped out of line only momentarily to grab his favorite type and the guy behind him jumped in front of him to buy his lottery tickets. The man was going to get upset about it, but decided it wasn’t worth the trouble. So he bought his tickets after the line jumper. As it turned out, the man with the candy bar got the right ticket quick picks, the ones the impatient man would have gotten. If only he’d been considerate and patient, he might be a multi-millionaire today.
I tried to think of a way to relate the winning man to our spiritual life, but I think the real lesson can be found in the loser’s story. Have you ever found yourself at a crossroads where there is a chance to wait or to step forward and get something done, and you don’t know what to do. It is hard to say, sometimes. I know that I’ve wondered, “Is this really what God wants me to do? Or should I wait?” If I wait, I might miss the opportunity.
Do you ever wonder what it was like for those disciples in those ten days between the ascension and Pentecost? Do you think they wanted to get out into the streets to tell the people the Good News that was burning inside them? I love the word that is used in the American Standard Version in this passage. It says to “tarry.” Sometimes we are in such a hurry to rush into action that we forget to tarry until we are fully prepared to do the work.
The disciples knew that God was doing something incredible, that they were called to take healing and forgiveness to God’s people. How can you sit around and wait for ten days to go and do those things when the passion burns inside? But Jesus said, “Wait.” They weren’t ready yet. They didn’t have everything they needed. The numbers weren’t ready to come up. So, it would do us well to consider whether it is the right moment to jump ahead, or if God wants us to just stop and be still for that extra moment. The surprise He has waiting just might be extraordinary.
“Wherefore is there a price in the hand of a fool to buy wisdom, Seeing he hath no understanding?” Proverbs 17:16,ASV
I went into an antique store the other day, looking for items I might use in my art. The place was like a mall, where numerous sellers rent spaces and share the staff members who keep keys to all the display cases and take the money from customers. It is fascinating to see what sort of items people put out for sale, everything from vintage clothing to furniture to china. There are toys and record albums, books and jewelry. One booth had cowboy boots and western wear. Another had license plates from every state and yet another had a collection of Mexican handcrafts. There were plenty of coins, military memorabilia and old silver pieces.
I found a number of items I thought were interesting, but since I was planning to use the items by gluing them on to paintings, I didn’t want to spend the kind of money that was expected for the pieces. I knew I shouldn’t spend twenty or thirty dollars on costume jewelry that would be devalued by that type of use. A few items that I liked seemed wildly overpriced. One item, a Pennsylvania bike license plate from Allentown, dated 1971-1973, was in a display case and priced at $15. I thought it was a delightful item, something that might have come from my own childhood (I would have been 8-10 years old in Allentown at that time, and definitely had a bike, although I don’t recall needing a bike license.) I wanted to buy the license, but it was not worth that much money to me.
Antiques, or items sold in antique stores, are only as valuable as the buyer is willing to pay. A seller can put any value on the item, but if it never sells, then it is not really worth that much. Most sellers will do some research before pricing their items, checking other shops, books, and expert opinions about the quality, salability and demand. If no one wants that type of item, then the price must be set low, but if many people want that type of item and it is in good condition, then they can get a prime price. What is the demand for an Allentown, Pennsylvania bike license plate from 1971-1973 in San Antonio, Texas?
The other question I had was whether or not that item should even be in an antique store. Yes, the plate was thirty years old and long past its usefulness, but is it really an antique? According to the common understanding of the word “antique,” items should be at least fifty years old. In some cases, even fifty is not old enough to give the item extra value. I suppose that the license plate might be considered a collectable, which is an item less than 50 years old but expected to have antique value in the future. But can you price an item according to its future value?
I had to laugh at some of the other items that I saw in the shop. The one that really made me think was the telephone I saw in one of the booths. It was an ivory colored push button princess phone. I suppose it made me feel old, because I had one of those many years ago. To me, it might be considered an antique if it had a rotary dial because those are now useless in practical terms. Most phone companies can’t handle calls made on rotary phones any more. The push button was invented in the 1960’s and those princess phones were released late that decade, but they did not become popular until well into the 1970’s.
The seller might be someone young, and that phone probably seems like an antique because it has a cord and is much larger than what they are used to. Today’s generation now uses phones that don’t even have buttons. They use touch screens, and even have phones that will respond to voice commands. They look at the technology of my youth as out of date, old, and useless or collectable. I suppose they think that one of us old folks will buy that phone so that we might relive our youth. Though it has no value to them, they may think that it has value to us. They think that their junk might just be our treasure, and are banking on it.
We need to be careful about what we buy and how we value the things we keep around us. It might have been fun having that bike license plate, but is it really worth the money? What would I do with it? Where would I keep it? Will it enhance my life? As I walked around the store the other day, I wondered about the value of the things I have in my house. Are they treasures or are they junk that I keep around? Are they of help to me, or are they a burden that enslaves?
“Thus saith Jehovah, Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches; but let him that glorieth glory in this, that he hath understanding, and knoweth me, that I am Jehovah who exerciseth lovingkindness, justice, and righteousness, in the earth: for in these things I delight, saith Jehovah.” Jeremiah 9:23-24, ASV
I might remember those pretty princess phones that were popular in the 1970s, but I haven’t remained in the twentieth century. Though I don’t have a smart phone, I enjoy using the technology to communicate with my children. Just the other day I used the camera phone to take a picture of a dress I thought Victoria would like; instead of spending the money and later discovering that she would never wear it, I sent her a picture and asked if she liked it. She did, and so I bought it. It is rather amazing what you can do with those phones.
What is incredible is that at the height of those princess push button phones, the first cellular call was made. On April 3, 1973, Martin Cooper of Motorola walked down the streets of New York City as the general public looked on, amazed that he could be talking on the phone while actually moving. While there were mobile technologies available, this was the next step. He was carrying a phone that they called “the brick,” which was a monster 30 ounces. When we compare that to today’s phones, it looks ridiculous. But on that day Martin Cooper proved that cellular technology was possible.
The mad race is still ongoing, as companies try to develop the newest and best technology for the public. The computers in these phones are more powerful than the first personal computers! The race was well underway on that day in April 1973, as Bell Labs was trying to accomplish the same thing as Motorola. Motorola won that race, and Martin Cooper made sure that his competitor knew it. That call was placed to his rival, to boast about the fact that his company did it first.
If you accomplished something great, who would you call? Would you want to tell a spouse, or a parent, or a child? Would you want to tell a friend or a rival? There are good reasons to share our accomplishments with others, but we should be careful about boasting. Modern technology is being developed so quickly that today’s amazing gadget is out of date by tomorrow. There is only one thing that can never been beaten: our God. This is why He warns His people not to boast in their wisdom, their might or their riches. Those can be beaten by someone who is wiser, mightier and richer. But God, and His grace, is great.
Scriptures for Sunday, April 10, 2011, Fifth Sunday in Lent: Ezekiel 37:1-14; Psalm 130; Romans 8:6-11; John 11:1-45
“Prophesy over these bones, and say unto them, O ye dry bones, hear the word of Jehovah.” Ezekiel 37:4b
It is springtime in Texas. I have been out and about, hunting for wildflowers to photograph. I found a few lovely fields, although the dry weather we have been experiencing for a long time has definitely affected the crop of flowers this year. The fields are covered, but the flowers are smaller and not so abundant as they were last year. In Texas we look for the bluebonnets, because they are so unique to our landscape, but we have plenty of other flowers that pop up in the spring. I managed to get photos of a few new flowers and several creatures this year, perhaps because they were not hidden beneath the bountiful collections of wildflowers. These flowers are much smaller, so either the sparse plants have allowed them to receive necessary sunshine, or they are just not hidden by the taller plants.
I’ve seen one photo of a bluebonnet field that was absolutely covered, despite the poor weather. The person who posted the photo warned wildflower hunters that the field would not last very long. The farmer who owns the field is anxious to get this year’s crops planted, so the flowers will be cut down soon.
Now, I don’t know what is necessary for other wildflowers, but I’ve learned about the conditions necessary for the bluebonnets. First of all, the best outbreaks come when we have had good rainfall in October and in February. The seeds lie in the ground waiting for the right conditions. The rain in October brings the seed to life, but the early roots sleep through the winter. Then the plant is brought back to life in those February rains, popping through the surface in late February and March. Some seeds might be strong enough to go through the process without the rain, but when they bloom they are smaller and less hearty. The rest of the seeds just lie in the ground, waiting for the right conditions.
For the seeds to lie in the ground, however, it is necessary for those plants to be allowed to go to seed. As the petals of the bluebonnet fade, seed pods grow out of the stem. Those pods eventually break open and drop the seeds into the field, where they lie for a year or longer. If the flowers are picked or cut before the right time, there will be no flowers in that field the next year. I suppose the farmer is anxious to reclaim his field, but it is sad to think that all those bluebonnets will not replenish the earth because the farmer plans to cut them down too early.
Of course, around our own house we try to keep the wildflowers at bay. Unfortunately, on a neatly manicured lawn, a wildflower is little more than a weed. Not that our lawn is that nice or that we have lovely bluebonnets covering it. Most of our ‘wildflowers’ are really weeds. No matter how hard we try, we can’t seem to get rid of them. Seeds from less concerned neighbor’s yards and the overgrown drainage ditch are dropped by the wind. It is hard to imagine how those plants could possibly grow, but while our grass is drying from the drought the weeds are thriving.
At this time of year we also look at our gardens, the beds where we specifically have planted flowers for color and beauty in our yard. It is hard to keep those beds beautiful: it takes daily water and regular weeding. We have tried different plants, done different things. This year we have filled most of the beds with a covering of mulch and weed block. We are going to add color with potted plants. Though they need to be watered daily in the heat of the summer, they take less water and work overall. We have done pots in the past, and they look lovely.
Since we live in such a temperate climate, sometimes the annuals we buy last for more than one year. We never experience that long freeze that completely kills the whole plant. We looked at the plants in our pots and it seemed as though they might come back. We decided to give them a few days, but we didn’t do anything to help the process. We didn’t give the plants water or trim out the old stems. A few days later it was obvious that the flowers were dead and needed to be replaced.
What does all this have to do with today’s scriptures? In the Old Testament and the Gospel lesson, we see God bringing people back to life. In Romans, Paul reminds us that our tendency is toward darkness, to turn away from God, to be dead in the flesh. We are, by nature, like those seeds that fall to the ground, but need something to bring us to life. The rain that falls is, as we’ve seen in our Lenten texts, the life giving water which is Christ. In Him, and by His grace, we have life.
The difference between us and the flowers is that God invites us to be a part of His work. Do we take advantage of our opportunities to bring life, or do we let it go until it is too late, like with our pots of flowers?
The story of Ezekiel’s vision is odd, but amazing at the same time. The imagery is something out of a horror film, and yet miraculous in the way God can take something that is so far beyond restoration and give it life. Those bones were dry; they were probably lying in the wilderness for a very long time. There was no hope for life. God asked, “Can these bones live?” Ezekiel answered, “O Lord Jehovah, thou knowest.” Then God told Ezekiel to speak to the bones, to tell them, “O ye dry bones, hear the word of Jehovah.” As Ezekiel spoke, the bones came to life. The bones were covered with sinews and skin, then God breathed life into them. God did the work, but Ezekiel became part of the process by speaking God’s word to the dead bones.
We are given the faith to take God’s promises to others, so that they might experience the reality of hope. God is faithful and He is life-giving. Though this story is a vision, not an historical event, we see in the vision something that is true for so many people: they are without hope. This vision was given for the people of Israel who were exiled in Babylon. They were a people who had lost hope. They were defeated, oppressed and far from the temple and their God. They were dead, not in flesh but in spirit. God asked if life could be restored. Ezekiel responded that only God could know. Only God can bring life to the dead.
The story from the Gospel lesson is a little different. Instead of a valley full of bones, the dead body was one man. Instead of being dried bones, Lazarus was rotting in a tomb. Instead of being a vision, it was an historical event. Jesus was there. He spoke the words. Lazarus was raised. The other difference is that no one helped bring Lazarus to life. But it is a story of hope and trust. And in the beginning, the people had lost hope.
Lazarus, Mary and Martha were friends of Jesus. I imagine they spent many hours hosting Jesus in between His journeys. They offered a home, a place to rest, the comforts of family and friendships. While Jesus was away from His friends, traveling near where John had baptized in the Jordan, Lazarus became sick. A messenger was sent to Jesus to tell him about Lazarus. His sisters hoped that Jesus would heal him. Jesus did not leave immediately, telling the messenger that the illness would not end in death. A few days later, Jesus told the disciples that they must go to Lazarus. They didn’t understand why Jesus would risk going back to Jerusalem when the leaders were plotting His death.
Despite Jesus’ promise that Lazarus would not die, he died, but this was so that God would be glorified. He told the disciples, “And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, to the intent ye may believe; nevertheless let us go unto him.” Why would Jesus allow Lazarus to die? Why would He allow His good friends to suffer the pain of grief for even a few days? By the time Jesus arrived, Lazarus had been in the tomb for four days, well beyond the possibility of physical resurrection. The Jews believed that the soul departed the body on the third day. There was no Lazarus left to resurrect. The sisters said to Jesus, “If only you had been here!” They still had hope in the spiritual, but they wanted their brother in flesh and blood.
Jesus waited so that we would see that there is hope, even when there seems to be no reason to hope.
Jesus said to Martha, “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth on me, though he die, yet shall he live; and whosoever liveth and believeth on me shall never die. Believest thou this?” In response, Martha offered a confession of faith in Jesus. “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” As simplistic as this may sound, that is all that is needed to see new life come out of death. Though Martha does not do anything to help Jesus bring Lazarus back to life, she joins in the work of God in her confession. She trusted that God could do it, and God did.
Our hope is found in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Without Him we are nothing more than dead bones in a valley or dead men in the tomb. Without Him we have no hope. All too often, however, we don’t recognize our own death. We don’t see how we are being like the Pharisees by our attitudes toward others. We do not see that we are relying on our own righteousness. We don’t live as God has called us to live, trusting in Him or speaking His Word into the lives of others.
Paul reminds us that when we keep our mind on our flesh we are dead, but when we live in the Spirit we will know real life and peace. In Christ we are no longer dead. Paul writes, “But ye are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you. But if any man hath not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his. And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the spirit is life because of righteousness.”
I was surprised when I went out wildflower hunting because every report said that there would be no bluebonnets this year. I visited one field that I have visited last year, and I think there were more. Though the flowers are definitely smaller and sparser, there are plenty of flowers to enjoy this year. I know some people who weren’t going to go wildflower hunting because the word they heard was hopeless. How often do we ignore the opportunities we have to speak the life-giving word of Christ into someone’s life because we think that there is no hope?
But we don’t always know exactly what will happen: there is always hope when we trust in God. He can bring life to dry bones. He can raise the dead out of their tombs. He can make bluebonnets bloom in the spring, even if there is no rain. He can even fill a field with bluebonnets that have been cut down before their time. So, when it seems hopeless, we are called to trust in God. We are encouraged to join the psalmist in a cry of faith. “I wait for Jehovah, my soul doth wait, and in his word do I hope.” We are invited to speak God’s grace to the dry bones. Will we ignore the opportunities or join as His partners in the life-giving work of forgiveness in this world?
“For we know that if the earthly house of our tabernacle be dissolved, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal, in the heavens. For verily in this we groan, longing to be clothed upon with our habitation which is from heaven: if so be that being clothed we shall not be found naked. For indeed we that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened; not for that we would be unclothed, but that we would be clothed upon, that what is mortal may be swallowed up of life. Now he that wrought us for this very thing is God, who gave unto us the earnest of the Spirit. Being therefore always of good courage, and knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord (for we walk by faith, not by sight); we are of good courage, I say, and are willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be at home with the Lord. Wherefore also we make it our aim, whether at home or absent, to be well-pleasing unto him. For we must all be made manifest before the judgment-seat of Christ; that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he hath done, whether it be good or bad.” 2 Corinthians 5:1-10, ASV
I don’t watch it very often, but I have seen the show “What Not to Wear” on occasion. I think the reason I don’t watch it is because I have clothes exactly like the ones the fashion experts make the ‘victim’ throw away. I would be so mad if they took my most comfortable pair of pants or that favorite t-shirt and threw it in the bin. I wouldn’t mind having them give me some advice for buying and wearing clothing when it matters, but quite frankly I will never get dressed up to go to the grocery store. I choose my clothing from a practical standpoint. What am I doing that day? What happens if I spill something? What shoes do I have to wear to get me through my errands? Though they seem to think the life of the ‘victim’ will be better because they have a better sense of style, I know that they will go out and buy more sweat pants and t-shirts to wear on those days when they just want to be grungy. I sure would.
I may not be fashionably dressed, but I’m clean and my clothes are appropriate. I’m not perfect, and I’m sure that people can, and do, find fault. But I get dressed up when there is an occasion for wearing a dress and I look professional if I am doing something that requires it. My truly grungy clothes are kept for those days when I’m busy painting or working around the house. If I am going out in public, I make sure I look suitable. It doesn’t matter that much to me; I am not as concerned about appearances as the fashion police. After all, they are just clothes; there are some things that are simply more important.
Paul says in today’s lesson that we don’t want to be found naked and so we long to be clothed by that which comes from heaven. He’s not talking here about whether we wear sweatpants or a party dress when we leave the house. He’s talking about the dressing of our spirits. We can’t see each other’s spirits, so we worry about their flesh, but Paul is reminding us that our concerns are not of this world or these bodies. What are we wearing? What does God see when He looks at us? Are we living according to the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ, pleasing to the Lord? When He sees our life, does He see that we have done good things that glorify Him, or have we done that which is bad? Do we need a makeover, but not the kind we could get from the fashion police?
“And as they went on the way, a certain man said unto him, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest. And Jesus said unto him, The foxes have holes, and the birds of the heaven have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head. And he said unto another, Follow me. But he said, Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father. But he said unto him, Leave the dead to bury their own dead; but go thou and publish abroad the kingdom of God. And another also said, I will follow thee, Lord; but first suffer me to bid farewell to them that are at my house. But Jesus said unto him, No man, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” Luke 9:57-62, ASV
Anthony Rapp, star of stage and screen, was at Texas Lutheran University this week to spend time with the students. He spent time in several different departments, sharing his experiences and offering advice. The final event of the week was a screening of the movie “Rent” in which Anthony played the movie maker Mark Cohen, one of eight friends, all of whom were starving artists who lived in the Lower East Side of New York.
The play, and then the movie, offered a modern rock opera interpretation of the opera “La bohème” by Giacomo Puccini. The story talks about the life of these friends, all of whom were facing some difficulty, whether financial, emotional or physical. It is a story about AIDS and death, but also about living life and finding joy despite the tragedy all around. The music and lyrics were created by composer and playwright Jonathon Larson, who was brought into the project by Billy Aronson, but eventually Jonathon took over to project because he had ambitious expectations about the play.
On January 24, 1996, the cast was set, the schedule planned and the venue ready. They did one last dress rehearsal before the premier at the New York Theatre Workshop the next day. Guests were on their way, and everything was ready. Jonathon was not feeling well, but the doctors did not find anything wrong when he went to the hospital; they thought the symptoms were from the flu or stress. Late that night, however, Jonathon died from an aortic dissection. The cast received word in the morning. They canceled the premier out of respect for Jonathon, but they didn’t want to let it go. Jonathan’s parents and other families were in New York, and the cast was so close, they felt that they had to do something to deal with their pain. Instead of a full show, they did a sing through, performing the music without costumes or sets. By the end of the show, however, they could not sit still—they performed the song “La Vie Boheme” with the dancing, enthusiasm and joy that the audience was meant to experience.
When the show was over, the cast went back stage to get their things, but the audience did not move. They sat in their seats for a long time. The cast joined them in their silence. Finally, after what seemed to Anthony Rapp as a lifetime, someone from the back of the theater yelled, “Thank you Jonathon Larson.” The words broke the trance and everyone went on their way. When Anthony spoke about that evening at the screening last night, and about the play, he told the gathered students that the power of the show is that even in the midst of tragedy, we have to keep living. Joy will happen even when there is sadness.
Jesus’ words to the men who want to follow Him in our lesson for today are harsh. Is Jesus really so uncaring that He would tell a grieving man to leave before his father is properly buried? Would he really expect us to walk away from those we love without even saying good-bye? I think the point of this lesson is the same as we find in “Rent”: we have to keep living, moving forward. We’ll grieve. We even see Jesus grieving in the stories of his life. But even in His grief, He keeps living, moving forward. Jesus calls us to live, to move forward, to find joy even when all we want to do is cry.
“Wherefore girding up the loins of your mind, be sober and set your hope perfectly on the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; as children of obedience, not fashioning yourselves according to your former lusts in the time of your ignorance: but like as he who called you is holy, be ye yourselves also holy in all manner of living; because it is written, Ye shall be holy; for I am holy.” 1 Peter 1:13-16, ASV
The cats are very predictable. They like to sleep in certain places, eat at certain times and play with certain toys. There’s probably good reason for their predictability. They sleep in the sunny window in the morning when the rays feel cozy, but move to a shady, cool spot in the heat of the day. Their tummies grumble, like ours, when they are hungry, and they get hungry at the same times each day. They sleep in one area to be around people and in another area when they want peace and quiet. I can usually find the cats based on their predictability.
But they aren’t so set in their ways that they never change their ways. I noticed the other day that Samson was sleeping in an odd spot. That spot has become his regular place at that time of day. It is only a few feet from another favorite spot. It made me wonder why he would change. But they aren’t so different than us. We have our favorite seats—that corner of the couch with the cushion that has molded to fit our body or the lazy boy chair that faces the television perfectly. But after a time I have to sit somewhere else. I need a firmer cushion or a better space for doing crafts or reading.
It is probably the same with the cats. They might like a certain spot and will lie there over and over again, but at some point that spot stop being comfy. We keep a blanket on one chair that Samson enjoys to use for his naps, but the cover eventually gets scrunched to the point of leaving little room for Samson to curl up comfortably. He’ll ignore it until I fix the cover and then he will sleep there again. I’ve also noticed that they will chance spots if something changes. I have a fun pillow that is soft and made from a silky fake fur. They kitties love this pillow, but ignored it for a long time. I kept it under my desk, hoping they would like it there. They did, for a few days, but then stopped using it. I moved the pillow on Saturday, and now they can’t get enough of it. Weather changes give them reason to make changes, too. If it is too warm, they avoid the windows and sleep on the cool tile floors. If it is cold outside, they curl up in the corner of a chair or a couch, or move to the bedrooms that are closer to the heater and get much warmer.
We tend to think they are far more predictable than they really are, and then when they make a change we always say, “That’s an unusual spot for you.” We tend to think the same way about people we know well. I’ve noticed it more with my kids in recent days, both of which are quickly approaching major life changes. They are growing up, getting older, maturing. Victoria has a year left of college, and Zachary heads to college in the fall. I can Victoria’s maturity, her independence, her ability to handle situations without running to Mommy. I can see how Zachary is much more responsible, has established some different priorities and is thinking about the future. It is good to see these wonderful changes, but it is sometimes strange.
Have you ever known someone who made a dramatic change in their attitude that seemed unusual or unnatural? Did you have any friends in High School who were wild but are now serene? Is there anyone from your past that was once involved in bad stuff, but is now doing good works and actively involved in a church? What did you first think when you realized there was a change? Did you think, “That’s unusual for you?” Perhaps it is more important, however, to ask whether or now there’s been a change in our actions and attitudes. Are we living according to the grace of God? Are we conforming to a world that wants us to stay the same or are we moving with God into something better?
“Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to draw up a narrative concerning those matters which have been fulfilled among us, even as they delivered them unto us, who from the beginning wer eyewitnesses and ministers of the word, it seemed good to me also, having traced the course of all things accurately from the first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus; that thou mightest know the certainty concerning the things wherein thou wast instructed.” Luke 1:1-4, ASV
We like to read at our house. The kids, of course, do a lot of reading for school, but they enjoy pleasure books, too. Bruce enjoys historical books, especially books about American history. I am glad that I’ve gotten to the point that most of my reading can be for pleasure, and I like historical fiction, especially authors such as James Michener, Edward Rutherford and Philippa Gregory. I read many other types of books, including the occasional romance novel and books by Christian authors. We have shelves full of books, some that are waiting to be read and others that have been read but kept because they were greatly enjoyed.
Along with the books for pleasure reading, we have many different types of resources. Bruce and I have a few of our favorite college books, some of which we still reference. We have dictionaries and encyclopedias, cookbooks and health references, children’s books and volumes with poetry and folk tales. A number of our books are signed by the author, including a number by Kevin Crossley-Holland, who was a guest of the kids’ school in England.
Quite a few shelves are filled with Christian books, from novels to references, devotionals and bibles. I have multiple books by favorite authors like Max Lucado, A.W. Tozer and C.S. Lewis. Several shelves are dedicated for books by Lutheran writers from Martin Luther himself to modern theologians. We have copies of our denomination’s worship books, foundational documents and resources used for bible study and classes. Among our resources, we also have volumes from men like Matthew Henry as well as atlases, concordances and other references. We even have Greek and Hebrew books, for those in depth studies.
All these books help with my writing and my continued growth as a Christian. Various versions of the bible make word for word studies interesting and it helps to have those concordances and language references to help with translation and interpretation. It is amazing how one little word can make a difference in the meaning of a text, so having several different points of view are helpful for understanding it in different ways.
If you’ve looked for references in a bookstore recently, you know that there are miles of books available. It is quite daunting to know which ones to choose. One theologian will focus on one perspective while another focuses on one that seems to be contradictory. Some people have suggested that it is better to ignore all those books, to read only the Bible and let the Holy Spirit interpret it for us. But even then, our own biases and points of view can get in the way, so it is helpful to see the text in other context, like literarily and historically. Books can help with that.
We might think this is a new phenomenon, to have references and companion books to go with our Bible, but I read an article today that says something different. A group was having a fundraiser, where people could bring their old books to be appraised by an expert named Ken Sanders. A man approached and said, “I have a very important book here,” a comment to which Ken rolled his eyes. Most of the time the books have little value, are not really worth what the owners think. But in this case he was wrong. The book was an original copy of the Nuremberg Chronicle, published in 1494. This book was published as a companion to the Gutenberg Bible, a chronicle of world history. It has divided time into seven ages, based on biblical accounts: creation to flood, flood to Abraham, Abraham to David, David to Babylonian captivity, Babylonian captivity to Christ, Christ to the end of time.
Of course the average people, like you and I, did not have copies of the Gutenberg Bible and the Nuremberg Chronicles in their personal library. But it is good for us to know that those who studied the scriptures were not just relying on their own point of view, but had other resources to help them understand the text. God certainly does want us to rely on the Holy Spirit to help us in our growth as Christians, but it can’t hurt to look at His Word from other people’s eyes. Even Luke did thorough research about the life of Christ before he wrote the Gospel and the story in Acts. It is just as good for us to be well informed about God’s story so that we can tell it to others, too.
Scriptures for Sunday, April 17, 2011, Palm Sunday or Passion Sunday: Matthew 21:1-11; Isaiah 50:4-9a; Psalm 31:9-16; Philippians 2:5-11; Matthew [26:14-27:10] 27:11-54 [55-66]
“Have this mind in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, existing in the form of God, counted not the being on an equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men; and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, becoming obedient even unto death, yea, the death of the cross.” Philippians 2:5-8, ASV
I have to admit that I haven’t found the college tours that I’ve taken with Zachary very interesting. I have gone, and I’ve listened half-heartedly to the speeches, tuning in to the aspects of his future college life that would impact me and pretty much ignoring the rest. I know that those tours are generally designed to convince prospective students that the college is the only real option. I need to know that he’ll be safe and will get value for my dollars; he needs to know about life on campus and academic opportunities. He needs to hear what they have to say, so we go so that Zachary has the information he needs to make an informed decision. When we go on those tours, I hang around the back of the crowd, leaving room for those more interested in the speeches. I look around and listen without really hearing. I don’t learn very much.
It is much different when I go on a tour at a museum or historic landmark. I stay at the front of the pack so that I can hear every word. I’m ready with questions so that I can learn about the place, people and events associated with the site. I buy any affordable books so that I can continue to learn and to use as a reference for when I share those experiences with others. I listen, not just with my ears, but with my whole being, as one being taught.
There’s a big difference. When we listen half-heartedly, the words have no real impact. We can’t remember what has been said or share any knowledge. We aren’t changed by the words in any real way. We can’t make decisions based on those words or do anything in response to them because they have not become a part of who we are. Listening as one who is taught means that we not only hear the words, but we learn them. The words give knowledge and transform. The words make a difference in the head and heart of the one who hears.
Isaiah says, “He wakeneth morning by morning, He wakeneth mine ear to hear as they that are taught.” God has the attention of those He calls into a relationship. By His Spirit we are given the heart to listen and to learn and to be transformed. Those who hear, like Isaiah, pay attention to God and they do not rebel against Him, even when faced with difficult circumstances. In the Old Testament lesson, Isaiah talks of humiliation. He willingly faces the violence of his enemies and trusts in God to deal with it.
Isaiah writes, “For the Lord Jehovah will help me; therefore have I not been confounded: therefore have I set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame.” All the actions against him are ways people in his day, and into today, shame others. Striking the back, as with a whip, or slapping the face are humiliating to the victim. The same is true of pulling the beard. But Isaiah was not put to shame despite these things happening. The enemy might thought they were shamed, but with God as the vindicator, Isaiah did not feel the shame and humiliation expected by the world.
We know today that these words were also a foretelling of the final moments of Jesus’ life. He was whipped, slapped and they probably pulled His beard. He was humiliated and shamed by the men in charge and the soldiers under their rule. And yet, Jesus did not feel shame. He kept His eyes on God and His Words, knowing that the kingdom of this world would not ultimately win. He stood firm in the circumstances, even though it seemed like His ministry was a failure. The trouble with these images is that it seems like Jesus humbled Himself before the world, since He allowed them to beat and humiliate Him in the Passion. But He humbled Himself before God, fulfilling the prophecies that were made about Him throughout the ages by the forefathers, judges, kings and prophets.
Our stories on Sunday begin with the procession. We call this moment “the Triumphal Entry” because we have this imagery of the new King David entering His city. The people roar and shout “Blessed is he!” I usually look at it from the point of view that Jesus was being honored as the military hero they were expecting to come and restore Israel to her rightful place among the nations. By the end of the week the people are so disappointed that He hasn’t raised an army, so they turn on Him and embrace Barabbas, the rebel. They seek a Kingdom for the Jews rather than the Kingdom of heaven that Jesus has proclaimed.
In the reading of this text, many scholars have discounted Matthew’s version because he makes what seems like an absurd literal understanding of the prophecy found in Zechariah 9:9. Where Mark talks about only a colt which the disciples found and Jesus rode, Matthew emphasizes the words of Zechariah, “Behold, thy King cometh unto thee, Meek, and riding upon an ass, And upon a colt the foal of an ass.” There are even those who use this as an example of inconsistency in the scriptures.
John Dominic Crossan has offered another point of view, however. Instead of taking Matthew literally when he says that Jesus sat on the both, we should look a little more closely at the imagery here. “Matthew wants two animals, a donkey with her little colt beside her, and that Jesus rides ‘them’ in the sense of having them both as part of his demonstration’s highly visible symbolism. In other words, Jesus does not ride a stallion or a mare, a mule or a male donkey, and not even a female donkey. He rides the most unmilitary mount imaginable: a female nursing donkey with her little colt trotting along beside her.”
A nursing donkey and her colt would be inseparable, and as such would be vulnerable. The mother would do anything to protect her colt, but the colt itself would put the mother at greater risk because she could not escape danger. While riding on a donkey did have significance as a representation of a humble servant king, what did this imagery mean to the people who had attended that parade? Did it have an atmosphere of triumph?
The crowd yells, “Hosanna” to this son of David, not a cry of victory but a plea for help. The word Hosanna means “Save” or “Have mercy.” The people were not welcoming a conquering hero but looking to Jesus to be their savior. Of course, they were still thinking in terms of the wrong Kingdom. They wanted Jesus to restore the Kingdom of the Jews, but Jesus was there to bring the Kingdom of Heaven. He came as a servant of God, willingly putting Himself in the most vulnerable positions. He would be whipped and beaten, humiliated and killed. Most of us wouldn’t take it. We would fight back. We would rely on our own strength. We would fight with words and with weapons to stay on top.
Jesus never turned from God. Every word was God’s; every action was God’s. In the words of Isaiah, “The Lord Jehovah hath given me the tongue of them that are taught, that I may know how to sustain with words him that is weary: he wakeneth morning by morning, he wakeneth mine ear to hear as they that are taught.” God gave Jesus the tongue of one who teaches and the ears of one who learns. And then Jesus walked into Jerusalem and accepted the wrath that He never deserved. He took our punishment so that we might be reconciled to God and be like Him.
Paul writes, “Have this mind in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, existing in the form of God, counted not the being on an equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men; and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, becoming obedient even unto death, yea, the death of the cross.”
The passage from Paul’s letter to the Philippians is thought to have been based on an early Christian hymn describing Jesus’ kenosis, which is from the Greek word meaning “emptiness.” This hymn tells how Jesus emptied Himself to become one of us, to take on our sin and face once and for all the wrath of God on the cross. God honored His humble obedience by exalting Him above all else. But, it is in our nature to try to come out on top. We work hard for the promotion. We’ll do what it takes to the nicest car, the prettiest house and the best lawn. We compete for the biggest trophies, the fastest times and the best records. Our quest to be number one can easily become the sole focus of our life.
Unfortunately, there comes a time when we can’t do better by our own power and then we face the real test. At some point everyone that temptation to do whatever it takes to win: the athlete that feels the need to use performance enhancing drugs to go one step further is just one example. In business, the temptation might be to steal a co-worker’s ideas or lie on a resume to appear more qualified for a job. In our relationships, we pretend to be someone we aren’t to win the one we desire.
Jesus did not humble Himself so that He would be exalted. He humbled Himself because it was in His nature to be a servant—it was the life to which God had called Him to live and die. He became one with God: He emptied Himself and took on God’s will as His own. He calls us to do the same. We do not empty ourselves so that we might be exalted with Him, but because in Christ we have taken upon ourselves His nature. That nature is one that saves and rescues even when it puts our own life in jeopardy. We are not called to ride on the war horse or even the donkey, but to go with Him on a journey with the weak and vulnerable.
Jesus humbled Himself before God’s word and was obedient. He did not turn from God, but faced the suffering knowing that it was God’s will. He trusted that God would be with him. Though the beating, disrespect, contempt, hatred and disgrace were humiliating, He knew no shame because God was near. His enemies were nothing because their condemnation was meaningless against God’s mercy.
Do you have listen like one who is taught? Do you have experience God’s Word in a way that it transforms you into one like Jesus? Do you keep your eyes on God, looking toward His Kingdom and trusting in Him? Or do you see through worldly eyes, seeking a Kingdom that exalts the winner?
Could you live in the midst of your enemies and share the love and forgiveness of God with them? Or do you run in the opposite direction? Jesus was surrounded by his enemies, trying to share God’s grace but they were unwilling to accept that He was the answer to their cries for mercy. Despite the humiliation, Jesus remained faithful so that we can receive God’s mercy and forgiveness. Like the psalmist, He trusted that God would keep him safe.
Are you like Jesus? Have you been emptied of your desire to be God, trusting in Him for everything? Can you cry out “Hosanna” with the crowds of Jerusalem as they welcomed Jesus and sought His mercy? Can you sing with the psalmist the words of today’s prayer? “My times are in thy hand: Deliver me from the hand of mine enemies, and from them that persecute me. Make thy face to shine upon thy servant: Save me in thy lovingkindness.” Listen with ears of one who is taught, and stand firm in whatever circumstances you face, for Christ has reconciled you to your God and brought you into the Kingdom of Heaven. It is yours, now and forever, thanks to the humble Christ who rode on a donkey with a foal to the cross of humiliation.
“But Jehovah said unto Samuel, Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have rejected him: for Jehovah seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but Jehovah looketh on the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7, ASV
I read an email several years ago, author unknown, about the ridiculous expectations of a call committee. It is a humorous confidential report on the committee’s impressions of several pastoral candidates being considered for the position. Among the names on the list were the greatest witnesses to God’s love in the Old and New Testament; nearly all were turned down for one reason or another. Noah couldn’t convert anyone and had unrealistic goals in building. David was a strong leader but had an affair. Jonah told some strange story about getting swallowed by a fish that later spit him out. Paul was short on tact, harsh and longwinded. “He has a questionable attitude toward women, if you know what I mean.”
I think the email is very funny and amazing as we consider the negative aspects of those whom God chose to do His work in this world. We, like that call committee, would probably reject those men and women based on our impressions. Yet, God found value in their weaknesses. This email even lists Jesus, “Has had popular times, but once his church grew to 5000 he managed to offend them all, and then this church dwindled down to twelve people. Seldom stays in one place very long. And, of course, he's single.” Even Jesus can’t cut it when we look at people through our expectations.
The funniest part of the email is that Judas gets a good report. “Judas: His references are solid. A steady plodder. Conservative. Good connections. Knows how to handle money. W e're inviting him to preach this Sunday. Possibilities here.”
As we read these words, let’s remember several things. First of all, it is good to laugh. Second, it is very good not to take ourselves or our opinions too seriously, since we do not always see things as we should. Finally, God sees what we can’t—the heart—and He chooses us based not on our earthly success or outward appearances. God hasn’t changed the way He does business. He still chooses people who are imperfect. He chose you. If you were applying for a job in God’s Kingdom, what sort of things would He be able to find wrong with you? It might be valuable to consider the ways God’s grace can transform your life, but remember that God has chosen you anyway. He isn’t looking for the person with the best resume or the perfect life. He is looking for those who love Him and who will follow wherever He leads.
“And Jesus answered and said unto them, Verily I say unto you, If ye have faith, and doubt not, ye shall not only do what is done to the fig tree, but even if ye shall say unto this mountain, Be thou taken up and cast into the sea, it shall be done. And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.” Matthew 21:21-22, ASV
The radio talk show host had good news for the men listening. Several recent news reports provided reasons (or perhaps excuses) to do things that are generally considered impolite or wicked. First of all, a blind taste test has revealed that there is a 50/50 chance that you won’t be able to tell a good bottle of wine from a cheap one. The study did not necessarily find that people’s palates are unsophisticated, but rather that the brain just can’t tell the difference. The study found that knowing the label actually boosts the enjoyment, but without any labels, the respondents often had no idea what they were drinking. The good news here is that you don’t have to spring for the fifty dollar bottle of wine to make your friends happy; a five dollar bottle does just as well.
The second story was also about alcohol. A University of Texas research has found that alcohol might actually be good for the brain. We all know the negative impact unrestrained alcohol consumption can have on the brain, including memory loss, health issues and physical impairment. However, neurobiologist Hitoshi Morikawa says, “Alcohol diminishes our ability to hold on to pieces of information like your colleague's name, or the definition of a word, or where you parked your car this morning. But our subconscious is learning and remembering, too, and alcohol may actually increase our capacity to learn, or ‘conditionability,’ at that level.” The good news here, according to the talk show host, is that those UT students preparing for final exams ought to go out and throw back a few to prepare for their tests. According to the study, it might help.
The third bit of news has to do with the male compulsion to stare at women’s breasts. Apparently it is good for them. According to this study, staring at women’s breasts for ten minutes has the same heart health benefits as thirty minutes of exercise. Unfortunately for the men, further research on my part this afternoon has revealed that this ‘study’ does not exist. It is apparently a hoax. But for thousands of men, this was as good an excuse as any to ogle women today.
There is a reality underneath each of these stories that means the news is not really quite as good as some might want it to be. It probably doesn’t matter whether you buy a cheap or expensive bottle of wine, but if the receiver sees the label they probably won’t appreciate the cheap one as much as they would a more expensive bottle. The chemical make-up of alcohol might have a positive effect on the brain, but a beer binge before finals is not going to raise the grades of any students. And while the men might enjoy a little ogling, one reporter humorously pointed out, “Any cardiac benefits derived from staring at breasts would be offset by the respiratory problems caused by all that mace.”
What do you believe? The scripture for today shows Jesus telling the disciples that if they believe, they can do miraculous things. Should we really believe these stories to the point that we change our lives in response? And when we hear Jesus telling us to believe, do we really believe what He has said? Do you think Jesus wants us to believe those physical mountains into the sea? This statement was probably meant to be hyperbole, or an exaggeration to remind the disciples about the incredible things God can do. We are called to believe in the miraculous, to expect the impossible. But we aren’t necessarily called to do the ridiculous in God’s name. We are meant to believe in God’s good works and to pray for His will to be done in this world and our lives. As we live in relationship with Him, hearing His voice and knowing His character, we will learn to ask for the transforming grace of God to do the miraculous, impossible things that He intends. Rather than believe everything we hear, let us believe in Jesus and live as if He can and does grant everything we ask in faith.
“And the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and trying him asked him to show them a sign from heaven. But he answered and said unto them, When it is evening, ye say, It will be fair weather: for the heaven is red. And in the morning, It will be foul weather to-day: for the heaven is red and lowering. Ye know how to discern the face of the heaven; but ye cannot discern the signs of the times. An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given unto it, but the sign of Jonah. And he left them, and departed.” Matthew 16:1-5, ASV
I suppose it is the artist in me, but I can’t help but try to visualize what I see when I read the Bible stories. This isn’t unusual; creative people have always found ways to put pictures to the words. Movie directors and painters have to think about the scene: is the landscape green and fresh or brown and barren? Are there trees or flowers, rocks or sand? Is it flat or hilly, wide open spaces or crowded with house? Is it sunny, cloudy, rainy or cold? Is it daytime or nighttime or the times in between when the sun is just rising or is beginning to set?
Then the artist must imagine the people. What do they look like? What are they wearing? Is the crowd young, old or multi-generational? Are they happy or sad, frightened or contemplative? Are they listening or are they just there, involved in their own affairs? If you look at the paintings of the old masters, paintings with crowds of people, you can see that the painter painstakingly gave each person a personality. In pictures involving Jesus, there are some who are set in a worshipful pose, listening with hands folded and heads bowed. Others are listening, although not looking directly at Jesus, almost searching the heavens for the answers. There is always a guy who has an angry face, looking at Jesus with arms crossed in contempt. Some look at the ground, humbly, while others look at some of the other people with curiosity. Are they wondering about that humility, that anger, that devotion?
I don’t know what made me think of it, perhaps the lack of interesting weather around our house, but I realized that I don’t think about the weather much when I am visualizing the stories. The only story that stands out dealing with weather is the calming of the storm, but the storm is necessarily described because of the response of Jesus and the disciples. Though the scriptures do talk about weather, often in prophecy, it made me wonder about the wanderings of Jesus. Did they continue to walk when it rained or did they find a covered shelter? Did the road get muddy? Did Jesus and the disciples take a siesta in the middle of the afternoon when the sun was at its hottest? Did they travel daily, or were there periods of time when they traveled and others when they spent months in the same place? How did the weather affect His ministry?
How does the weather affect our ministry? As Holy Week gets underway, church organizers are watching the weather forecast for the next few days. Will the weather be nice on Saturday for Easter Egg Hunts? What about Easter morning? Will they be able to hold those sunrise services in the park or will they have to be moved into a shelter? How warm will it be, or how cold? Some of the early reports have suggested that some places will experience a rare snowy Easter. They may have to change their plans.
We spend a lot of time talking about the weather. Across the U.S. many places experienced deadly storms this week. In Texas, the ground is so dry that wildfires are even affecting the big cities. We now have water restrictions. The unexpected snow has made some wonder if spring will ever come. When spring does come, the snow melt will bring flooding to the valleys, especially in those areas already affected by the recent strong storms. In just a few weeks, we’ll start hearing about the upcoming hurricane season. Ever since the earthquake in Japan, our local news meteorologist has been reporting all the earthquakes around the world and the United States. In a thirty minute news program, even in a place like Texas where there is rarely anything interesting about the weather, the weather takes up as much as a third of the time.
Perhaps it was even more a part of the conversation in Jesus’ day, since they did not have the modern conveniences and conveyances that we have. Jesus knew that people were good at interpreting the weather, but He was concerned about something greater. They knew when it might rain, but did they know when God was in their midst? They could feel the subtle changes in temperature or pressure that indicated incoming weather, but did they sense that something was different in the world? They wanted a sign, something clear and without doubt, but they would get the unexpected.
With all the incredible detail we get from the Gospel writers, I wonder why we don’t hear more about the weather. I wonder why we don’t see paintings with rain falling on the crowds who followed Jesus. I wonder why they didn’t tell us it was a hot and sunny day, or describe the occasional snow storms that may have changed their plans. Perhaps we don’t hear about it because Jesus knew that we would draw our attention to the unimportant details of life and miss the real message of His visit: that He is the One who came to fulfill all the promises of God.
“God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in trouble. Therefore will we not fear, though the earth do change, And though the mountains be shaken into the heart of the seas; Though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, Though the mountains tremble with the swelling thereof. Selah There is a river, the streams whereof make glad the city of God, The holy place of the tabernacles of the Most High. God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved: God will help her, and that right early. The nations raged, the kingdoms were moved: He uttered his voice, the earth melted. Jehovah of hosts is with us; The God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah Come, behold the works of Jehovah, What desolations he hath made in the earth. He maketh wars to cease unto the end of the earth; He breaketh the bow, and cutteth the spear in sunder; He burneth the chariots in the fire. Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth. Jehovah of hosts is with us; The God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah” Psalm 46, ASV
I’ve seen a story on several news outlets recently about the consequences of too much technology. We spend so much time using digital devices that our brain does not have time to rest and process the information it has received. In other words, technology keeps our brain working in one mode, keeping it from switching into a mode that uses other parts of the brain. The experts suggest that this will, in the long term, affect the long term memory. We don’t have time for the ideas or experiences to get filed into the part of the brain that keeps it, and so we lose those ideas and memories.
Some of the studies have suggested that this use of technology and the effects on the brain has caused addiction in some people. It is not unusual for teens to send thousands of text messages every month. They have to use the computer for school and most work requires some knowledge of the computer or other digital resources. Many people constantly check their phones, always have mp3 players in their ears, or keep the television on 24/7. Digital apps keep the mind occupied when waiting for a bus or standing in line. Some multi-task, with several objects turned on at the same time. It is not unusual to see people working on the computer, with cell phone active and TV on in the background. It is no wonder that we can’t remember.
I’ve been making some changes. In the past few days I have made a conscious effort to get rid of some of my email. I check my email regularly, and open the pieces that matter, but I was on too many mailing lists, including retail outlets. When I signed up for those mailing lists, I thought I’d get an email once a week or so. However, most of the stores send email on a daily basis; a few send emails even more often than that. I don’t need to be reminded twice a day of a sale that I don’t plan to attend. Sometimes, by the time I opened those emails (or deleted them) I had more than a hundred to go through. So, as I open those emails, I scroll to the bottom and click the link to unsubscribe.
I have made a few other changes in my digital usage; spending less time with the computer has given me more time to do some of the other things I enjoy. Is my brain benefitting from the changes? I’m sure it is too early to tell. I do know that I have rediscovered the joy of silence, of thinking and praying without the distractions of TV, computer and even cell phone. Maybe I’ll even hear the voice of God without all that distracting noise. Some say God isn’t talking these days: perhaps we just can’t hear Him because we are so busy with our technology. God is still God and He still talks to His people. What is He saying to us today, in this time and in this place?
Scriptures for Sunday, April 24, 2011, Resurrection of our Lord, Easter Day: Acts 10:34-43 or Jeremiah 31:1-6; Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24; Colossians 3:1-4 or Acts 10:34-43; Matthew 28:1-10 or John 20:1-18
“At that time, saith Jehovah, will I be the God of all the families of Israel, and they shall be my people.” Jeremiah 31:1, ASV
It is always strange to write about the Resurrection Day scriptures before we have experienced Maundy Thursday and Good Friday because it is hard to experience the empty tomb without the cross. But since we have been through this many times before, we can remember what the disciples experienced in those last days of Jesus’ life. Besides, for many of us, the passion story was read last Sunday and is fresh in our minds. So, before we talk about the joy of Easter morning, let’s think about the men and women who endured that hard time.
What must it have been like for those disciples? Just days before, Jesus was at the height of His popularity. He entered Jerusalem as a hero to the praise and adulation of the crowds. Though Jesus may have tried to present a different image in His entrance on a donkey with her foal, the people saw Him as the conquering king. Jesus did things early in the week that may have furthered their impression. He overturned the cheating moneychangers and argued with the leaders. The disciples who were closest saw the power and authority with which He did everything. They were looking forward to being in the middle of this revolution to change the world and restore Israel. Though Jesus constantly referred to the reality of His mission, they preferred to see Him as a conqueror.
They were confused when He was anointed at Bethany because they didn’t want to believe that He was about to die. They didn’t understand why Jesus would submit Himself when He washed their feet, or why Judas was running off in the middle of the dinner. They saw a change in Jesus that just didn’t make sense when He was right on the path they wanted for Him. They wondered what it meant and where they fit in this new and frightening picture. “What is happening?” I can imagine them saying. Then the soldiers came and Jesus went willingly. Wouldn’t a conquering hero fight? Peter certainly thought so. He raised his sword to protect Jesus, but Jesus said, “No.” He was innocent, but accepted the will of God. Though Jesus told them that it must be, they never understood. So, when Jesus died on the cross, the disciples were left in shock. What were they to do? Where were they to go? Would there be another king who would lead Israel into freedom? For those first disciples, the cross was the end of everything. Jesus was rejected, cast off, killed and they were left alone.
The very thing they thought was the end was the center of everything they would do from that moment forward. Peter tells the story in our lesson from Acts as we understand it. Jesus preached peace and a new baptism; He healed and set people free. He did good things and Peter was among those who were witnesses. But then Jesus was hung on a cross and died. The story does not end there, however. It does not end in their fear and confusion. It does not end on Good Friday. God raised Jesus from the dead and Jesus prepared those witnesses for their new mission, which was to tell people that God has provided sacrifice necessary to restore God’s people to Himself. They were sent to take God’s forgiveness to the world, forgiveness gained by the blood of Christ.
We have a hard time with this concept of atonement through sacrifice. Why would a loving God demand payment for sin? Why would He punish anyone, especially when sin is innate and we are incapable of overcoming it? Why would a loving God demand blood, especially the blood of someone who was so good? I suppose that is part of the reason those first disciples couldn’t understand what was happening. Even though they understood the need for atonement and the shedding of blood for forgiveness, they were offended by the idea of human sacrifice.
Jeremiah writes, “At that time, saith Jehovah, will I be the God of all the families of Israel, and they shall be my people.” This is a covenant that is unbreakable by a God who promises everlasting love. Israel failed her God over and over again. Like a father disciplines a child, God disciplined His people when they turned from Him. They sought the aid of allies instead of trusting in God. They worshipped the gods of their neighbors instead of staying true to the One who chose them out of every other nation to be His. They went their own way instead living according to His Word.
Despite the discipline, God always remembered His covenant. He kept His promises. The punishment might have been hard, but it was not permanent. They suffered but were not destroyed. This was ultimately manifest in the death of Jesus. Though it seemed permanent on Good Friday, the disciples saw God’s faithfulness in the empty tomb. The punishment was not permanent. Jesus wasn’t destroyed. Though God might, at times, punish the sins of His people, He remembers His covenant and restores them into wholeness.
So, we come again to those disciples. How were they feeling on Friday and Saturday? They were broken. The unimaginable had happened and they could not see beyond that moment. I wonder if some of them were angry with God? Did they think about following Barabbas, who was set free while Jesus was crucified? Did they think perhaps he was what his name suggests “Son of the Father,” instead of Jesus? Were they ready to give up and return to their old lives, getting along as best they could in an oppressed world?
Whatever plans they were making were shaken on that Resurrection Day. The cross wasn’t the end of everything; it was the beginning of something new and spectacular. The tomb was empty. Jesus had been raised. It wasn’t enough, however, for the body of Jesus to be missing from the cave. Most of the people in Jerusalem, especially the Romans and the religious leaders, suggested that there had to be a natural explanation. They spread rumors that the disciples stole the body to make it appear He was resurrected.
The disciples, despite the promises in the prophecies and the words of Jesus, wondered if someone else had stolen Jesus’ body. Did the authorities want to ensure the disciples could not hide the body and make these claims? There are still people who argue these points today, still not believing that Jesus was raised from the dead. But we are told in the Gospel stories and in Peter’s recollection of those days: Jesus not only was raised, but that He visited His disciples and even ate with them. He was made manifest in their presence after He was raised so that they might believe. Jesus honored those disciples by appearing to them; they were chosen to see Him so that they could then go out into the world and reveal Him to others.
He honors us, too, as He is revealed by others, choosing us to continue sharing the message that He gave to those first disciples. He is revealed by those whom God sends, like our parents, pastors and other Christians who cross our path, but it God that makes Jesus manifest in our life. God raised Jesus from the dead and He raises Him in our lives. We inherit the same promises as those who came before, joining in the covenant that God began with Israel but extended to all nations.
I have a statistics tracker on a few pages at my website. I don’t pay a lot of attention to the numbers, they aren’t very impressive and since the tracker is free they might not even be very accurate. But it is fascinating to see hits on my site from places all over the world. I’m often surprised, especially when someone visits from the Middle East or tiny islands in the Pacific. Over the years I have seen trends in visitors. I only get to see limited information about the last one hundred visitors and most of the people come from the United States. There are usually some hits from Canada, England and Australia. I rarely see visitors from South America, but that quite possibly has to do with language, since Spanish is the predominant language. I am amazed at how many visit from Africa and Oceana, as well as Asia. My statistics tracker reminds me daily that the Word of God truly is for all nations.
Peter had to have it shoved down His throat. He kept returning to the idea that Jesus Christ came to save Israel, but eventually learned that Israel was no longer just a nation, but was also all people who believed in Christ. Everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins through His name. He shows no partiality when it comes to the saving grace of Christ Jesus. He is the right hand of God, He was punished but not destroyed, and He has become my salvation because he did it all for me.
I like the idea that Jesus is the right hand of God. In ancient culture, the right hand attests to the victor’s powerful superiority. A commander, when entering a city, would raise his right hand in the air to show that he is the winner. God has raised His right hand, because He has conquered sin and death. He raised Jesus to show that He is all powerful. Jesus may not have been accepted by all the people in His day, and His death and resurrection may have been question by both the unbelievers and the believers, but He was still victorious. It was when God revealed Jesus to the witnesses, and now to us, that we can believe that He is faithful to His covenant promises. God has promised everlasting love and He will rebuild that which has been broken. He will restore His people, all His people, all those who believe in Jesus.
When you believe, you will be raised with Christ, and when you have been raised with Christ you are called to a new life. God will make Him manifest in your life. You are called, like Peter and those first disciples, to be His witnesses, living a to a life of revealing Christ to others in your words and in your deeds. You are called to a life that leaves behind the old ways and takes on His garments of righteousness. Through faith in Christ, a faith that God produces in us when Christ is revealed, we become His people and He is our God.
On that first Easter, when the disciples discovered that it was not the end but only the beginning, God did something new and amazing. He gave us a peace that we could never know without Him. Peace of heart. Peace with God. Peace that changes the world. Let us join with the first witnesses in sharing that peace with the world, preaching that Christ died but was raised by the God who keeps His promises. He comes today and always to restore us, to rebuild His chosen people into one nation in covenant with God.
“Now on the first day of unleavened bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, Where wilt thou that we make ready for thee to eat the Passover? And he said, Go into the city to such a man, and say unto him, The Teacher saith, My time is at hand; I keep the Passover at thy house with my disciples. And the disciples did as Jesus appointed them; and they made ready the Passover. Now when even was come, he was sitting at meat with the twelve disciples; and as they were eating, he said, Verily I say unto you, that one of you shall betray me. And they were exceeding sorrowful, and began to say unto him every one, Is it I, Lord? And he answered and said, He that dipped his hand with me in the dish, the same shall betray me. The Son of man goeth, even as it is written of him: but woe unto that man through whom the Son of man is betrayed! good were it for that man if he had not been born. And Judas, who betrayed him, answered and said, Is it I, Rabbi? He saith unto him, Thou hast said. And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and brake it; and he gave to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body. And he took a cup, and gave thanks, and gave to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many unto remission of sins. But I say unto you, I shall not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom.” Matthew 26:17-29, ASV
In Jesus’ day, the people had to rely on one another for protection, food, even shelter, especially those who had to travel long distances for pilgrimage or trade. Hospitality was a very important aspect of the culture. If a stranger came to your door, hungry and tired, it would have been natural to invite them into your home to share a meal and a warm place to sleep. In today’s world it could be very dangerous to invite such a stranger into our home. I often watch the daytime court television shows, and it amazes me how often young women take home perfect strangers they meet at a bar. It isn’t until they have to sue those men for the money they took that they realize they’ve trusted men with criminal records a mile long. We teach our children to be wary of strangers because of the terrible things that might happen.
It was not entirely safe then. There were criminals who attacked people on the road or took advantage of neighbors, but their culture called for hospitality. They willingly opened their doors to strangers, because it could mean the difference between life and death. It seems odd to us how easily Jesus found a place to stay when visiting the small towns during His ministry. Jesus and the disciples stayed in the Samaritan town where He met the woman by the well for two days. Someone in that town welcomed them into their home because that’s the way they did things.
We take some things for granted because we know that we can go to the grocery store and get more if we run out. Salt, for instance, is very inexpensive and available. But it was not so simple in Jesus’ day, it was difficult to come by and very expensive. When two people shared salt, they formed a covenant. The host promised to keep his guest from harm and the visitor promised not to bring harm to the host. It was a binding agreement, one that kept everyone safe from harm in an age when people were reliant on the community for their well-being.
On this day we recall the final meal Jesus had with His disciples: the Passover meal. During the meal, the participants shared food symbolic of the trials and suffering the Hebrews experienced during the exodus. These served as a reminder for every generation to thank God for His mercy. One food they shared was a mixture of bitter herbs and salt water. They dipped unleavened bread into this mixture and ate it as a reminder of the bitterness of slavery and the tears shed throughout the ages.
Matthew makes a point of sharing that moment in His Gospel telling of the Last Supper, telling us that Jesus and Judas both dipped their bread in the bowl at the same time. As they did it together, they established a salt covenant between them. Later that evening, Judas broke the covenant by turning Jesus over to the Jews, betraying Jesus with a kiss. Judas did not survive to see the Resurrection and his ultimate fate has been debated for millennia. Judas was doomed to destruction according to the scriptures, but could he have been saved? Did he find forgiveness? I can’t help but think that there was hope for Judas despite his failure. Jesus made a promise when He dipped that bread in the salty herbs and Jesus is always faithful. The story of Judas can give us hope in the midst of our own despair. Peter and the other disciples betrayed Jesus, too, and so did we. But we all have an advantage over Judas. We know that God raised Jesus and that forgiveness is ours through faith in Him.
“Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? And some of them stood there, when they heard it, said, This man calleth Elijah. And straightway one of them ran, and took a sponge, and filled it with vinegar, and put it on a reed, and gave him to drink. And the rest said, Let be; let us see whether Elijah cometh to save him. And Jesus cried again with a loud voice, and yielded up his spirit. And behold, the veil of the temple was rent in two from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake; and the rocks were rent; and the tombs were opened; and many bodies of the saints that had fallen asleep were raised; and coming forth out of the tombs after his resurrection they entered into the holy city and appeared unto many. Now the centurion, and they that were with him watching Jesus, when they saw the earthquake, and the things that were done, feared exceedingly, saying, Truly this was the Son of God. And many women were there beholding from afar, who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering unto him: among whom was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.” Matthew 27:45-56, ASV
This story doesn’t seem like good news. The horrific events of that first Good Friday make us wonder how it could ever be called good. Jesus, without an understandable reason, was abandoned by God, falsely judged, beaten and humiliated and then hung on the cross. After a few hours of suffering, Jesus died. Even in those final moments, the people ridiculed Him, yelling for Him to save Himself. The criminals that were punished by His side joined in the scorn. His disciples disappeared; only a few of the women stood nearby. That doesn’t seem very good.
The good news isn’t found on that cross. It is, without a doubt, a horrific way of accomplishing what God intended through Jesus Christ. No death, not even the death Jesus suffered, is good news. The cross was necessary to complete God’s work and we would have no joy on Easter without it. But what made that Friday good were not the events leading up to the death, but everything that followed. Jesus’ final cry unleashed the power of God in incredible ways. At that moment, the curtain in the Temple tore and the earth shook with earthquake.
It doesn’t seem miraculous to us, especially in these days when the memories of Haiti and Japan are so fresh. The images of those earthquakes are frightening and horrific. There has been disaster closer to home, with whole towns devastated by the power of a tornado. It is not unusual, after a natural disaster like earthquake, tornado or hurricane, to see photos of homes that have poignant reminders of the people who lived there, like dolls caught in the branches of trees, photos stuck in muddy puddles, curtains blowing through broken windows.
It is easy to imagine that the curtain tearing in the Temple had something to do with this earthquake. Our experience tells us that it doesn’t even have to be the power of God that sent that, although the timing is beyond coincidence. However, as we consider the curtain that is described in this story, it is hard to believe that an earthquake that didn’t bring down the walls of the Temple could cause the ripping, particularly since the curtain was not like the sheers we hang on our windows. This particular curtain was very heavy, nearly two inches thick. It was the partition that separated God from humans, the entry into the Most Holy Place where very few men were allowed. Only the High Priest on one day a year could enter that place, and only after a long ritual of cleansing and preparation. On that day, the priest entered the most holy place to sprinkle the blood on the Ark of the Covenant to atone for the sins of the people.
Jesus changed all that. With the shedding of His blood, it was no longer necessary to shed the blood of animals that had no eternal affect. Jesus was the final lamb. He was the One who could provide forgiveness forever. The priest would never have to enter into that Most Holy Place once a year again, because Jesus finished the work.
The best part of what happened on that first Good Friday is that God was set free. He was no longer confined to the space within the Temple. Now, we know that God cannot be limited by human walls or understanding, but He abided in that place for the sake of His people. But from that moment of Jesus’ final cry and breath, God’s forgiveness became available for all people. He was set free by the blood of Jesus to be more than the God of Israel. He was set free, as He intended all along, to be our God, too. Now that is truly Good News.
“Now if Christ is preached that he hath been raised from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, neither hath Christ been raised: and if Christ hath not been raised, then is our preaching vain, your faith also is vain. Yea, we are found false witnesses of God; because we witnessed of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, neither hath Christ been raised: and if Christ hath not been raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also that are fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If we have only hoped in Christ in this life, we are of all men most pitiable.” 1 Corinthians 15:12-19, ASV
Victoria and I were watching “The Wizard of Oz” the other day and Victoria said, “It is strange watching this now that we’ve seen the story from other points of view.” At first I wasn’t sure what she was talking about, and then I realized that she was talking about Gregory Maguire stories we’ve read or seen performed. “Wicked” looks at the relationship between the Wicked Witch, whom he has named Elphaba, and Glinda from Elphaba’s point of view. In the story we see that Elphaba has led a hard life, after all, she was born green. We see her capable of falling in love, of doing good things. She is also passionate and opinionated, willing to stand up for her beliefs and do what she thinks is right. I don’t think Gregory Maguire makes her more likable, but you do see beyond her wicked witch image.
Gregory Maguire has rewritten other fairy tales, like Snow White and Cinderella, giving us those stories from another point of view. Dr. Alvin Granowsky has done some similar writing. His books are designed for children and put both stories in one volume. On one side you’ll find a well-known fairy tale like “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” or “Jack and the Beanstalk.” When you flip the book over, you find another story. The story about Goldilocks is titled, “Bears Should Share” and Jack’s story is told from the point of view from the Giant’s wife. She describes Jack, who is normally seen as the hero, as a mischievous thief.
Zack recently asked for a copy of Grimm’s Fairy Tales. They were discussing the stories in one of his classes and he realized that what is written in the book is very often different from what we remember of the story. Take, for instance, the story of Cinderella. In the Grimm’s version, one of the ugly stepsisters actually cuts off her toes to make the shoe fit. The descriptions are harsh and dark, not sweet like the Disney version we remember. I love the movie “Ever After” which is a more real world and less fairy tale telling of the story.
Yesterday was Easter. What story did you hear? Did you go to church and hear the telling of Christ’s resurrection? I noticed in the past few weeks, as is typical at particularly holy times in the Christian church, some televisions shows were discussing the story of Christ from an analytical and critical point of view. One show documented the story of the Shroud of Turin, pointing out inconsistencies with its history and theories about it. A study was done on the shroud a few years ago which dated the linen to the middle ages, and thus confirming that it was a fraud. However, this particular show made the claim that the linens that were tested were fake, and that the real shroud was never really tested. The experts went on to say that a forensic study of the shroud reveals that Jesus was not dead when laid in the tomb, but that He was actually saved by Joseph of Arimathea and laid in that unused tomb in a coma for a few days. They went on to say that when Christ was seen in those days following the crucifixion, it was a resuscitated man not a resurrected man. They even claimed the Bible proves their point, and quoted several scriptures.
They have rewritten the story. Now, there are times when it is fun to see the story from another point of view, and there are often lessons we can learn from other characters. It really doesn’t matter much when the stories are fairy tales. But when we make these changes, we should consider what sort of impact will it have on the hearer. Will we learn not to judge a witch by the color of her skin? Or will we accept that wickedness is acceptable because it is a response to a harsh life? What happens when we change the story of Jesus to fit the theories of those experts? Is it enough for Easter to be resuscitation day?
The experts who make the claims that scripture proves their point ignore the scriptures that tell us differently. Today’s message from Paul clearly states that Christ died and was raised. If this is not true, then the entire mission of the Christian church is pointless. Without the resurrection, our preaching is futile, and so is our faith. A coma on the cross would never finish the work God started, the work of forgiveness that came with the shedding of Christ’s blood. Christ overcame death, winning for us eternal life. He could not have done so if He simply slept for two days. But then, these other versions of the story are as old as the one we believe and love. So let us begin this new day telling the story of Christ without twisting it into something new. For His story is best told as it was given to us and it is as true today as it was in the days of Paul.
“Be not ashamed therefore of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me his prisoner: but suffer hardship with the gospel according to the power of God; who saved us, and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before times eternal, but hath now been manifested by the appearing of our Saviour Christ Jesus, who abolished death, and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, whereunto I was appointed a preacher, and an apostle, and a teacher. For which cause I suffer also these things: yet I am not ashamed; for I know him whom I have believed, and I am persuaded that he is able to guard that which I have committed unto him against that day.” 2 Timothy 1:8-12, ASV
I’m reading the latest book in the Earth’s Children series by Jean Auel. “The Land of Painted Caves” continues the story of Ayla, a woman who has lived a most extraordinary life. The books have been set in prehistoric Europe and describe the possible interaction between Cro-Magnon man and Neanderthals. Ayla came from Cro-Magnon people, but her entire community was destroyed and her family killed by an earthquake when she was just five years old. A Neanderthal clan found her and cared for her despite her unusual appearance and memories. She eventually left the clan and found people like herself, and has become part of the world from which she came with unique abilities.
Those unique abilities were seen as frightening because the people in that time attributed everything unusual to the spiritual world. As Ayla encounters new people, they think she must be magic or nearly divine. Her new family has come to accept her abilities as normal, at least for her, and is even learning how to do some of the same things. What I find amazing, even though this series is fictional, is it seems like Ayla is behind every important invention of that time. I’m only halfway through the book, and I’m certain that she will invent or help invent the wheel.
She tamed several wild animals, which is absolutely incredible for her people believe. She travels on horses, which have not yet been domesticated in her time. She taught them to pull poles rigged to be like a cart to carry supplies. She and her husband even rigged a seat for another traveler so that they could move faster. In the last chapter, she convinced a large group to ride on the pole drags and horses so that the group could get to safe cover before a severe storm. Besides the horses, she has befriended a wolf who aids in hunting and is very protective of his family.
Ayla is a healer and knows the medicinal and nutritional value of plants and animals. It is funny to read her interactions with the other people, giving them advice that was new to modern medicine just a few years ago. She never quite understands the reality of what she is saying or why it might be true, but in one case she told a pregnant woman that it might not be healthy to drink fermented drinks. That is an advanced idea for a time when the people did not even recognize that a baby is the product of sexual intercourse between a man and a woman.
There have been six books in this series and they have all run about eight hundred pages. The time period these books cover is only about thirty years. It seems impossible that there could be so many advances in human knowledge and ability in such a short period of time in such a small corner of the world. Of course, it is fiction and the author has been able to create a world in which that could be true. Jean Auel uses Ayla to give us a glimpse into how those firsts might have happened. Though it was likely that they did not happen at one place with one person, it is not beyond possibility for us to believe the stories are true in some sense.
The story of Christ is at times impossible to believe; for some even think it is nothing more than fiction. It does seem incredible for some much to have revolved around one man, not only the healing of body, mind and spirit, but also the change in the way people view God and worship Him. Those aren’t even the hardest parts to believe. It is no wonder that there are those who can’t seem to accept that Jesus died and rose again, or that God would even have to do such a thing, or that Jesus would willingly accept the cross. It is no wonder that there are still those who reject the Christian story. Yet, those of us who know Christ have the faith to believe that this was the way God chose to restore us to Him. He did it all. He finished what God started. He alone saved us.
Scriptures for Sunday, May 1, 2011, Easter Two, Holy Humor Sunday: Acts 2:14a, 22-32: Psalm 16: 1 Peter 1:3-9: John 20:19-31
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to his great mercy begat us again unto a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…” 1 Peter 1:3, ASV
In the book I’m reading, “The Land of Painted Caves,” from the Earth’s Children series by Jean Auel, a very unusual group decided to travel to see some of the sacred painted caves that are cared for by their people. Ayla, the main character, was taking an important journey as she trained to be the spiritual leader of her cave. The journey was long and took them far from home. Though the people they visited had the same ancestral background, they had little contact. Some travelers like traders and storytellers did visit and take stories from other places, but those stories were often considered little more than myth or legend.
The setting of the book is ancient Europe, and the people were Cro-Magnon, and long before modern understanding of faith and religion. The caves were believed to be sites where the Great Earth Mother was accessible, close to earth and her children. The caves have a special quality, long understood by the people as being sacred, and they painted pictures of animals and symbols on the walls in recognition of the earth mother’s presence and the life she gives.
The group was unique because Ayla and he rmate were able to tame several wild animals, including horses and a wolf. They also created some amazing inventions that made travel easier and faster. They had developed excellent hunting and gathering techniques, and were able to share their gifts with the others. Among the travelers was a woman who was the most important spiritual leader of the people, honored by all, even though she lived too far from many caves to have a direct impact on their lives.
As the unusual group arrived at a new camp with these important and legendary leaders, most of the people were in shock and awe. The stories surrounding these men and women were so extraordinary that most thought it was exaggerated myth. To see it with their own eyes was frightening and impressive. The most common response was “We heard about you, but couldn’t believe that the stories were true. We thought they were stories created by storytellers. Now that we see it with our own eyes, we are even more amazed.”
Those who met the group along the journey would often then go back to their own caves and tell of their experiences. The hearers might believe the stories, but more likely they doubted the reality. Despite the eyewitness testimonies, they were certain that the stories must be exaggerated. It is impossible for humans to control horses and wolves, for a woman to kill a flying bird with a stone, for fire to be created by striking two rocks together. Even the existence of the spiritual leader was little more than a legend. It was hard to believe that any of it was real.
We live a long way from the resurrection, not only in distance but in time. The eyewitnesses are long gone, only their stories remain. It is easy for us to assume that there is exaggeration in the records, that it couldn’t possibly be real. It is easier to doubt than it is to believe. So, is it any wonder that Thomas was uncertain? I don’t think Thomas’s doubt suggests a lack of trust or love for his fellow disciples, but the story they told is incredible. Jesus came, walked through a locked door, and stood among them. Thomas was not among the disciples at that first meeting according to John. Where was he? Did he even hear that Jesus had been raised?
Has anyone ever told you a story that made you say, “Wow, I wish I had been there”? You don’t just want to hear about it; you want to experience it, too. I’m sure Thomas felt the same way. He might have felt bad that he wasn’t with the disciples on that first night. He abandoned them, and thus abandoned Jesus. In those days following the crucifixion, I’m sure that the disciples questioned everything Jesus said and did during His ministry, trying to figure out what it meant. They were probably recalling those statements about suffering and rebuilding. They may have been in denial about His death. They knew about the ones Jesus raised, but could they have ever imagined He could raise Himself? Based on their experience, the resurrection was not something they could expect.
We always read this story about Thomas on the Sunday after Easter, but the story begins on that first Easter day. The first time Jesus appeared before them, the disciples were surely sad, grieving, confused, doubtful and afraid. After Jesus appeared, their attitude must have changed. Their tears turned to laughter. But can you imagine walking into a room full of laughing disciples when all you can think of is your dead Master? Thomas must have thought they were crazy. “How can you be laughing at a time like this?” They were laughing because they were in on the joke. Jesus beat the devil.
The Greeks saw the humor of the resurrection—that Jesus played a practical joke on the devil. The devil thought he won, but Christ rose from the dead. The week following Easter were called the “days of joy and laughter.” They held parties and played practical jokes on one another. The joyous week culminated in “Holy Humor Sunday” the second Sunday of Easter. Some churches have recently taken up the practice again, using humorous liturgies and throwing parties to celebrate the joy of the resurrection.
We pick on Thomas, but can we really blame him? After all, we would probably have felt the same way if we had been out of the loop. We would have had difficulty believing the testimonies of those who were those first witnesses. Instead of recalling the sadness and of the disciples after Good Friday, which Thomas was still feeling on that first Sunday, we are invited to join in the joy of the week after Jesus’ first appearance to His disciples.
Besides the joy of knowing Jesus was alive, the disciples were given an incredible gift: peace and forgiveness. Real peace is not the absence of conflict but an unassailable trust in God. The world outside our door is not conducive to that feeling of peace that we long for today. As a matter of fact, we face grief, fear and doubt every day. But Christ comes to us and says, “Peace be with you.” He is saying, “Trust in me and trust in my Father. His promises are true and He is faithful. Whatever you face, do so with faith, knowing that everything is already finished. Live in the forgiveness I have obtained for you and take it out the door into the world for others.”
In the passage from Acts, Peter is giving a sermon in response to the unbelievable encounter with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Some in the crowd thought that the disciples were drunk despite the early hour. Peter stood before them to tell them what has truly happened, and that all was as God intended. Though Jesus was crucified at the hands of human beings, it was as God had planned. Jesus went to the cross by God’s hand so that His plan for salvation could be completed. In this speech, Peter lays the responsibility on both the Jews (those inside the Law) and the Romans (those outside the Law), but ultimately the responsibility belongs to God. All that they did, they did because God planned it to be done. It is no wonder the early theologians saw this as a great joke on the devil and death. It is foolishness! But it is a joyful joke for those of us who receive the promise by faith.
In his letter, Peter once again talks about joy. We rejoice even in our trials because by faith we know that God done what He has promised and that we have been reborn into a new life that is eternal. And now we live in hope, not for something that cannot be, but something that is assured. We are certain, not because we have experienced it for ourselves, but because God is faithful.
Peter states emphatically that they were witnesses to these things and we believe based on their witness. Though we cannot experience the flesh of Jesus as they did, though we can’t see Him or touch Him or hear Him as they did, we can believe based on their testimony. To reduce the Resurrection of Jesus to something purely spiritual diminishes the witness of Peter and the others. It also diminishes Jesus to less than was promised by God through His prophets. It may seem ridiculous to our modern human sensibilities and we may try to find alternate explanations or accept that the stories might not be absolutely true. But the story of Jesus’ ministry, Good Friday, Easter, and Eternity is as God intended. Jesus lived, died and rose again by God’s hand and for God’s plan so that we will live in joy forever.
The devil didn’t see the joke coming. It was outrageous and preposterous. It was unexpected. Celebrating Holy Humor Sunday might just be a way to laugh at ourselves, as perhaps Peter and Thomas and all the disciples must have laughed after they realized what had really happened. Holy Humor Sunday might just give us the opportunity to look at this beloved story in a new way, with new eyes, without taking ourselves so seriously. We’ve heard it all before, but can we still hear it with fresh ears? Can we tell jokes about ourselves, about our fear and our doubts and laugh in the joy of God’s forgiveness, trusting in His mercy and sharing His grace through laughter and merriment? We can be glad and rejoice because what God has done is really a great joke that has brought salvation to the world.
“For perhaps he was therefore parted from thee for a season, that thou shouldest have him for ever; no longer as a servant, but more than a servant, a brother beloved, specially to me, but how much rather to thee, both in the flesh and in the Lord.” Philemon 1:15-16, ASV
I was on Facebook a few weeks ago when a friend asked me how I knew one of my other Facebook friends. I have to admit that at that very moment, I wasn’t entirely sure of the connection. I’d friended that friend because he was friends with her. He was from my hometown and the right age, so I thought he must have graduated with us. However, when I looked him up in my yearbook, he wasn’t there. I checked an old church directory and tried to piece together the possibilities. I was hoping he would answer her question, but he decided to be silly and say, “I’ll let her answer.” I eventually figured it out. We had worked together as DJs a long time ago. He found me because he saw that I was a friend of our mutual friend. Though we were not friends for the same reasons, we were able to connect by an odd coincidence.
On another occasion, I noticed two of my Facebook friends became friends. One is a neighbor and one is a friend from a church we used to attend. They became friends after a concert where the neighbor saw the other friend perform. There was no connection to me, but somehow these two people met and became friends on Facebook. It happened again today to two other friends. They probably met at a meeting, although they are from opposite ends of the country. These coincidences make my world seem very small.
I wonder how Onesimus came to be in Paul’s presence. He was a slave that had apparently run away from his master. Paul was in Rome and Philemon, the slave’s master, was in Colosse. Did Onesimus happen to overhear Paul’s preaching? Did he meet a Christian in Rome and go with them to serve Paul? Had he heard about Jesus and Paul and seek Him out? How long were they together? When did Paul learn that Onesimus was a runaway slave? We don’t know much about the background of this story. We only know that a time came when Paul sent Onesimus back to Philemon in the hope that Philemon would see the slave in a new light.
What happens when we make these unusual connections? Do we see them as coincidences or opportunities? Do we see them as accidents or divinely appointed meetings? Facebook has become a wonderful opportunity to reconnect with our past and to find new people with whom we can share our faith. Perhaps these connections happen for a reason. Together we are able to do so much more than we can on our own, and once a third cord is added to the rope, it is unbreakable. Our relationships will ultimately change as we see one another through the eyes of another, as we look at those old friends through someone else.
Philemon had the opportunity to see Onesimus through Paul’s eyes. We don’t know how he responded, but we can make the choice to do what is right and good when we experience a similar connection. We might be like Paul, asking our friends to consider a new relationship. We might be one of those who are encouraged to look at our friends in a whole new light. However it happens, let’s not ignore the opportunities we have in our ever shrinking world to make connections and change lives.
“Sow to yourselves in righteousness, reap according to kindness; break up your fallow ground; for it is time to seek Jehovah, till he come and rain righteousness upon you.” Hosea 10:12, ASV
Have you noticed how easy it is to lose track of time? Yesterday I was working on the devotional and in thinking about my friends and about Facebook, I started thinking about some of my other Facebook friends and how I got to know them. One friend happened to find me through the page of another mutual friend, even though we did not know one another from the same place. It was another example of how small our world is becoming. As I thought about our connection, I began thinking about the other people we would know and if any of them were on Facebook.
I ended up searching the Internet through some of the websites about the youth organization to which we both belonged, wondering if I could find the names of others I knew way back when. My friends could now be actively involved as sponsors and leaders. I was curious about the presence of the organization on the Internet and I wondered if one of the older adult leaders was still alive. She would be in her 80’s or older at this point. I discovered that she no longer held the position, and that there is a scholarship available in her name, but I could not find anything else.
I didn’t realize how long I was searching until I looked at the clock and realized that I’d wasted much too much time. I think most of us have probably done the same thing. We get into surfing and get lost as we click from one page to another. On each page we find a link that looks interesting and we think perhaps that will give us the information we seek. If we click into a photo album, we might spend fifteen minutes looking at the pictures. We watch videos. We read stories. We end up at Facebook and click “like” on the page, which then leads us to more information. Before we know it, an hour has passed and we have no idea where it went.
There might be good reason to spend so much time searching on the Internet, although I think most of us would agree that we can easily get lost and waste our time. If it isn’t surfing the web, it might be reading a book or pulling weeds in the garden. Some get lost in a bookstore and others in a coffee shop. I know there are those who get lost in video games, and I suppose I am one of them. But there are certainly better ways to lose track of time. Prayer, bible study, service to others… these are all ways that will glorify God with our time. Instead of searching for things that do not really matter on the Internet, the time spent searching for God will bless us in many ways.