Welcome to the April 2022 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 World English Bible which belongs to the public domain.
A WORD FOR TODAY, April 2022
April 1, 2022
“But to us, God revealed them through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. For who among men knows the things of a man, except the spirit of the man, which is in him? Even so, no one knows the things of God, except God’s Spirit. But we received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is from God, that we might know the things that were freely given to us by God. We also speak these things, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches, but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual things. Now the natural man doesn’t receive the things of God’s Spirit, for they are foolishness to him, and he can’t know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But he who is spiritual discerns all things, and he himself is judged by no one. ‘For who has known the mind of the Lord, that he should instruct him?’ But we have Christ’s mind.’” 1 Corinthians 2:10-16, WEB
Today is April Fool’s Day, a day filled with foolishness and jokes. Kids all over the world will play some sort of silly game with their parents and friends. As they tremble in pretend fear, they will say, “What is that sneaking up behind you?” as if there is a spider or rhinoceros were just inches away from your back.
How did this tradition get started? It is likely that the tradition began in medieval times, when the Gregorian calendar was established. Before the mid-16th century, the Europeans celebrated New Year in the springtime, around April 1st. In 1564, King Charles IX of France accepted the more accurate Gregorian calendar, which changed New Year’s tot January 1st.
Some people were too stubborn to change, or they had not received the news of the change, so they continued to celebrate on April 1st. They were called “April Fish.” They were looked upon as fools and were targeted with foolish gifts and invitations to celebrations, which were not happening. Eventually everyone accepted the new calendar, but they continued to play pranks on April Fool’s Day.
The jokes are not limited to childish play. Adults also try to fool people. One year, I told everyone I was pregnant. I found it quite hysterical, because such news would have taken a miraculous act of God for Bruce and me. However, several friends were quite disappointed when I pulled the line “April fools!” Most jokes are just harmless fun, but not all jokes have such a happy ending. Some people go to great lengths to plan and execute practical jokes, but at times they end in pain and heartache. It may be funny on April Fool’s Day to cause someone to be a fool, but in the kingdom of God it is better to be wise than to be a fool.
After Jesus’ Resurrection, He appeared to many people. At the garden, the reaction of the women was mixed. They were afraid but filled with joy and they shared everything they saw with the disciples. The disciples thought they spoke nonsense, but Peter ran to see for himself. When he saw the empty tomb, he left bewildered. Two men leaving Jerusalem on their way to Emmaus met a man on the road who spoke with great knowledge about the things of God. He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!”
For the disciples, the testimonies that were coming in from the women and the two men were like April fool’s jokes. They were caught off-guard, and the stories were touching their greatest desires: to see the Lord once again. It was almost as if they were waiting for someone to say, “You fools!” But, Jesus gave them the Spirit of God, and then showed them it wasn’t foolishness to believe.
We are given the same Spirit, as God breaths on us through our baptism. He opens our minds so that we will understand the scriptures. There are many today who look the resurrection as an ancient April fool’s joke. They do not believe that Jesus was really raised from the dead. Even some who call themselves Christian say that the Resurrection was only spiritual and that to believe it was physical is foolishness. Yet, the scriptures tell us that our Lord Jesus appeared to many, ate with them, offered His hands to be touched, spoke to them and breathed on them. He was not a ghost or spirit. He was flesh and blood raised from the dead. Now God’s Spirit dwells within our flesh and blood, giving us the wisdom that comes only from Him to live in faith and share the Gospel with others.
April 4, 2022
“Likewise, you younger ones, be subject to the elder. Yes, all of you clothe yourselves with humility, to subject yourselves to one another; for ‘God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’ Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time, casting all your worries on him, because he cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:5-7, WEB
Bernard the African was born to parents who were African slaves in sixteenth-century Sicily. They were given Italian names and became Christians. As loyal servants of their master they were granted freedom for their son before his birth. He was uneducated and illiterate. As a youth, he worked as a shepherd, and though he earned a pittance he was extremely generous, sharing what little he had with the poor. As an adult, he was publicly insulted for the color of his skin. His response was patient and dignified, refusing to be angered by the insult. He was noticed by the leader of a group of hermits that followed the rule of St. Francis of Assisi and invited to join them. He gave up all his earthly possessions and joined them. He served as a cook for the community in the beginning, but eventually took over as leader of the group. He later joined the Franciscan Friary of St. Mary of Jesus, beginning first as a cook, but then moving into positions with more responsibility, despite the fact that he was a lay brother, not a priest, and was still illiterate.
He grew in his spiritual life and was widely respected for his deep, intuitive understanding of theology and Scripture. Many people sought him for counseling and healing. He took his responsibilities seriously. He helped the order adopt a stricter version of the Franciscan Rule of Life. His kind and humble attitude drew many people to himself. In his later years, his love of cooking took him back into the kitchen. It is said that Benedict predicted the very day and hour he would die.
Benedict faced the racial prejudice and taunts about his skin color with patience and understanding. He is the patron saint of African Americans. There are a number of historically black Roman Catholic parishes that bear his name. Many of those churches have vibrant ministries that reach out to transient, disenfranchised, and isolated people.
There is no doubt that racism is still a problem in the United States and around the world. People are taunted for their skin color. Some are profiled. Others are falsely imprisoned. We have made great strides in the past hundred years toward a colorless society, but there are always people who see people not for their character but for their appearance. It isn’t just skin color that affects our relationships with others. We judge people in all sorts of ways. Children with disabilities. Obesity. Secondhand clothing. The wrong job. The wrong neighborhood. The wrong school. Benedict could have gotten angry, and perhaps even responded with violence at the persecution and the taunts, but he remained patient and humble. He did not demand anything from anyone, but he received far more than he ever could have imagined.
Today is Benedict the African’s saint day, and we are reminded thought his life to take heed of Peter’s words in today’s passage. God knows what is going on in His world. He knows of all the prejudices and taunts that hurt people. He sees the suffering of those to whom the world has cast only injustices. First we learn to be aware of the way we see and respond to our neighbors, because our words and actions can hurt, and God resists the proud. On the other hand, we learn how to respond when our neighbors are not so aware of the ways they are hurting us, and to trust that God will exalt the downtrodden in His way and in His time. We can cast all our worries on Him because He cares for all of us.
April 5, 2022
“Why is there money in the hand of a fool to buy wisdom, since he has no understanding?” Proverbs 17:16, WEB
I went to Indiana to visit my daughter who just bought her first home. The plan was for me to help her with some decorating, though she had much of it finished after three months in the house. I went with the intent of buying her a couch, though when I got there she was not sure she was ready for one. She has a loveseat size, which fits well in her room, and while she is living alone, she has plenty of seating. Instead, she really wanted a new coffee table.
We spent one afternoon hunting for the right piece. I found a store that sold name brand furniture, but was an independent seller. They had good furniture, and exactly what she wanted. While we were there, however, the company had another store that sold used and vintage items. We walked in the store to see if they had anything. Vintage furniture is often more interesting and better made. We didn’t find anything for my daughter, but I did find several things I liked for me.
I love to shop in antique stores. I often go in to see if I can find anything to use in my art, some of which is multi-media. Many of the antique outlets are like a mall with many different vendors. They each have a booth where they display their things, and everyone is unique. Some like to collect clothing, others display dishes. I am always looking through book dealers in the hope that I will find hymnal or two. There are always toys and record albums. Cases are filled with unique jewelry and gadgets, coins and military memorabilia.
I don’t often spend much money because the items are too expensive to justify gluing it to a canvas. Sometimes those items are wildly overpriced. People like their junk. But then, I suppose the right buyer will be willing to pay anything for the item if they have been searching for it.
Antiques, or items sold in vintage stores, are only as valuable as the buyer is willing to pay. A seller can put any value on an 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, the Internet, 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.
During one treasure hunt a long time ago, I found a Pennsylvania bike license plate from Allentown, dated 1971-1973, in a display case for $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.) I wanted to buy the license, but it was not worth that much money to me. What is the demand for an Allentown, Pennsylvania bike license plate from 1971-1973 in San Antonio, Texas?
I have to laugh at some of the other items that I see when I shop. On the same visit a long time ago, I found an ivory-colored push button princess phone. I suppose it made me feel old because I had one of those many years ago, but I wondered if that could really be considered antique. I might expect that classification for a rotary dial phone because those are now useless. Most phone companies can’t handle calls made on rotary phones anymore. 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. Sometimes I forget that the 70’s were fifty years ago.
The seller might be someone young, and that phone probably seemed like an antique because it had a cord and was so big. 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 are banking on the idea that their junk will be our treasure.
I didn’t buy the license plate or the princess phone on that visit long ago, but at the vintage shop during my vacation I did buy a magazine table and a very cute metal flamingo. I suppose I was in a different state of mind and financial condition when I was in Indiana. I didn’t need the items years ago, so I rightly chose to leave them in the store, but for some reason I made a much different decision recently. Did I really need them? Probably not.
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 these stores, I wonder 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? These are questions we should ask whenever we shop, so that we can make best use of the resources God has given to us.
April 6, 2022
Scriptures for April 10, 2022, Palm Sunday and Sunday of the Passion: John 12:12-19; Deuteronomy 32:36-39; Psalm 118:19-29; Philippians 2:5-11; Luke 22:1-23:56
“Therefore God also highly exalted him, and gave to him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, those on earth, and those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Philippians 2:9-11, WEB
I have been struggling with sinus issues since my trip. It is taking longer than normal to recover because I have contractors making dust in my house while they remodel a bathroom, and the allergens are very high right now. Everything is fighting against the things I am doing to try to clear my sinuses. I joked the other day that I’m keeping the tissue company in business this week, and my garbage can is filled with the telltale signs of a stuffy nose.
There was once a funny commercial for a tissue company that showed some sort of holy man being kind to several different kinds of animals. He sneezed and grabbed a tissue, but then read the words on the side of the box: “kills 99.9% of germs.” He was torn because it was obvious from his kindness that saving life was important to him. How could he kill anything, even germs?
Perhaps this seems extreme, but there is a story about another holy man. He was sitting on the bank of a brook while meditating when he noticed a scorpion that was caught in a whirlpool in the brook. Every time the scorpion tried to climb on a rock, it slipped back into the water. The holy man took pity on the scorpion and tried to save it from certain death, but whenever the man reached out to the creature it struck at its hand. A friend passed by and told the man that his actions were futile because it is in the scorpion’s nature to strike. The man said, “Yet, but it is my nature to save and rescue. Why should I change my nature just because the scorpion doesn’t change his?”
On Palm Sunday Jesus went victorious into Jerusalem on a donkey, greeted by crowds of people singing “Hosanna.” The Jewish leaders were already very nervous about the things Jesus said and the things Jesus did, especially the raising of Lazarus. They were beginning to conspire against Him. In another Gospel, we are told that the Pharisees told Jesus to rebuke His disciples, but Jesus answered that even the stones would cry out if the people were silent. It seemed like all that was happening was beyond Jesus’ control.
This seems especially true as we read the Passion story. As each day passes, the signs of the end become clearer. Jesus was ready to die, and He was unable – or rather unwilling - to do anything to stop it. He could have pronounced Himself king on Palm Sunday, but that was not His purpose. He, like the holy man with the scorpion, came to bring life even when it meant death to Himself.
Human nature is not much different than a scorpion’s: we quickly strike out even at those who want to help, even if we are trying to share the Gospel message. It doesn’t make sense, it is impractical, it is foolish to think that one man had to die for all of humanity. The message of the cross turns the world upside down, going against our expectations and desires. Those who do not believe in the Christian story or message think Jesus was nothing more than a man who got stung by the scorpion and died.
Lent is almost over. This Sunday, Palm Sunday, begins Holy Week. We have spent the last six weeks considering our own place in the Passion of Jesus Christ. Why did He have to do this? What have I done? We’ve tried to repent, to turn back to God. We’ve fasted and prayed. We have done our spiritual disciplines, read our devotionals, and gone to church a little more than normal. We'=’ve walked with Jesus toward the cross.
Though Sunday is Palm Sunday, most churches will also look at the entire Passion Narrative, which is two chapters of Luke this year. It begins with Judas’s betrayal, through the Last Supper and prayer on the garden, the trial and journey to Golgotha, and then the nailing of His flesh to the cross. It ends with Joseph of Arimathea asking for permission to bury Jesus’s body. We can’t possibly talk about every detail in this devotion, and no pastor can preach on every detail on Sunday, but sometimes the stories are best read without comment anyway. It may seem like a very long passage to read, almost overwhelming, but I suggest that you take the time to read every word, no matter how familiar you are with the story. As a matter of fact, it would be valuable to read it out loud, either to yourself or gather with a group of friends to share the reading of this story once again.
It is overwhelming, not only in the length of the text, but also in what it says. After all, this is story of Jesus’s struggle in the last days of His life. We tend to skim over these stories because we know them so well, after all, we’ve heard them a thousand times before. However, each time God’s word is read there is something for us: a word of comfort, a word of hope, a word of peace. Maybe this time you will find a word of warning or admonition. When we assume that we know the story so well, we stop listening to what God has to say to us today.
We could spend weeks studying this text, line by line trying to understand what was happening and what God would have us get out of the story. Yet, there are times when we should just let the Word of God speak for itself, to listen to the story as it was given. There are so many subtleties that could be brought out, details that could be debated. There are so many verses that have both historical relevance as well as spiritual meaning. There are hundreds of questions to be asked, some of the answers are widely accepted and others are contested. Yet we all can find common ground in the belief that in the story of the Passion Jesus did for humankind what no other human being was able to do: He died so that we might be reconciled to God. Whatever path His Passion took, our faith rests on that moment when Jesus hung from the cross, because without His death we would never know life as God intended.
What do we do now that He has made it to Jerusalem? Do we cheer Him with palms? Do we listen as He gives His final words of teaching and comfort and warning? Do we eat with Him at His table on Passover? Do we follow Him as He is tried and convicted of a crime that He didn't commit? Do we follow Him as He carries the cross to the hill? Do we stand with Him as He dies? It is easy to say “Yes!” because we have faith that everything that will happen during Holy Week was according to the plan of God.
And yet, during the week of His Passion Jesus was abandoned by just about everyone. First He lost the Jewish leadership, most of whom have been battling against Him anyway. Then He lost the crowd. Then He lost some disciples. He lost Judas, and even Peter. He lost the rest of the twelve as they ran to hide. The only ones standing with Him at the final moments of His life were His mother, the beloved disciple John and a few women, none of whom have any power or authority. In the end, it seemed that even God abandoned Him.
We might act as if we would never leave His side, but the reality is that we are more likely to be like Peter than John. At the Last Supper, Peter insisted that he would stand with Jesus even unto death, but it was Peter who denied Jesus three times. Peter eventually received forgiveness from Jesus, but he went into hiding during the three days like the rest of them. We like to think that we wouldn’t be like that, but how often do we deny Jesus in our everyday lives? How often do we continue to willfully sin when we know what we are doing is wrong? How often do we ignore the call of God’s Spirit, going our own way and doing our own thing? How often do we stay silent when we should be speaking the Gospel? We might think that we would have followed Him to the very end of this journey, but we wouldn’t be able.
That’s why Jesus had to do it in the first place.
As you read the story this week, make the reality of the Passion a part of your being. Don’t try to pick it apart or try to understand every detail, simply listen to God’s story. Put yourself in the place of the characters: the crowds, the disciples, the Pharisees, Pilate. Experience it, not as a theologian trying to understand its meaning two thousand years later, but as someone who was there in Jerusalem that horrific day. Feel the pain, the anger, the hatred, the guilt, and remember that Jesus experienced it all for you. Also remember that it was your sin that put Him there in the first place.
We are sinful, imperfect, frail human beings. It is beyond our ability to be righteous, to be the people God has created us to be. We are fallen from the first man, and no matter how hard we try we will betray and deny our God in our thoughts, words and deeds. We will run and hide from the dangers of faith. Oh, we can claim that we haven’t been too bad; we can claim our neighbors are worse sinners than we. However, even the tiniest sin against our neighbors and God’s creation is a sin against God. No matter how we try, no matter how good we are, we are still sinners in need of a Savior.
That’s why Jesus walked this journey that ends in a cross. We have followed Him this Lenten season to be reminded of our need to repent.
This has been true for the entire story of God’s people. Our Old Testament lesson for this Sunday includes “The Song of Moses,” which tells the story of the relationship between God and His people. God made a covenant with them, they failed to live according to that covenant, and God reminded them of what it meant to live within the covenant. They disobeyed, they were reminded of the consequences of their disobedience especially the ineffectiveness of the false gods to which they turn, and finally the LORD’s judgment against His enemies.
We are His enemies. I know that sounds harsh, but our sinfulness is what makes us an enemy of God. We deserve the consequences of our failure to live according to God’s covenant, our disobedience, our turning from Him to false gods. We deserve His judgment. But this is exactly why Jesus went to the cross: because God promised to have compassion on His people. God does not cast judgment on us; instead, He cast His judgment on Jesus. We are the ones who should have been abandoned, who should have carried that cross, who should have died on it. Instead, Jesus stood in our place.
He knows that we are unable to be righteous, so He sent His Son to be our righteousness. Even when God judges us, He has mercy. Even when He knows we have turned to false gods, He keeps His promises because He knows that those false gods cannot do for us what we think they can. He has compassion on us “when he sees that their power is gone; that there is no one remaining, shut up or left at large.” We will abandon Jesus at some point in our lives, probably many times. Every time we sin, knowingly and unknowingly, we are doing so. The disciples disappeared because they knew they had no power over what was happening to Jesus. They just didn’t realize that Jesus had all the power.
God is in control. Always. Even when we think we have everything in our own hands. See now that I myself am he. “There is no god with me. I kill and I make alive. I wound and I heal. There is no one who can deliver out of my hand.”
The Passion and Easter story is the most difficult thing about Christianity to believe and to accept. Why did Jesus have to die and how does that line up to the ideal of a loving and caring God? How does that help Jesus’s social ministry and seemingly political aspirations? It doesn’t make sense. It might seem like Jesus had no control, but the reality is that Jesus was in control of every moment. The disciples could see after the fact how every step of Jesus during His Passion fulfilled the prophecies of the past. Every moment that followed the triumphant entry was planned and foreseen as God’s plan for His Messiah for the salvation of His people. Every moment of the Passion, from Judas’s betrayal, through the Last Supper and prayer on the garden, the trial and journey to Golgotha, and then the nailing of His flesh to the cross, was purposeful. Jesus knew what He was doing, and He did so for our sake. At the very moment of death Jesus commended Himself to the hands of God. The Father never abandoned His Son, but was there all along, watching as Jesus was obedient as we have never been able to be.
Paul writes, “Have this in your mind, which was also in Christ Jesus, who, existing in the form of God, didn’t consider 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 human form, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, yes, the death of the cross.”
Paul is not calling us to follow Jesus onto the cross; we are to follow Jesus wherever He leads us. We can’t do what Jesus did; He already finished that work. But we have been saved for a purpose, to continue the work that Jesus began. Now that sin and death have been defeated, it is up to us to take God's promise of forgiveness, healing and restoration to the world. We can't do that if we are busy chasing after our self-created gods. We can’t do that if we are focused on ourselves.
It won’t be easy. We will suffer persecution at the hands of those who would rather worship their own gods. Should we let it stop us? Jesus did not and Paul encourages us to have the same mind as Christ. After all, He left the glory of heaven to come to earth in flesh to reconcile us to God our Father. His nature is to love and save. He willingly suffered humiliation in life and death. We are called to do the same, not necessarily on a cross but in our everyday experiences.
The day will come when all will bow to our Lord Jesus Christ, but will they bow in thanksgiving or fear? We are sent into the world with an attitude like Jesus, trusting in God and following Him where He leads. We are sent to introduce the lost to the Lord Jesus so that they will be found, those in darkness so that they will see the light, the sick so that they will be healed, and those who are still dead in sin so that they will have eternal life.
We all deserve God’s wrath, but Jesus took it for us. Shouldn’t we try, as best we can, to make sure our neighbors know that Jesus died for them too? Until they recognize Jesus as Lord, they will remain enemies of God, chasing after their own gods and following their own way thinking they have all the power. We are not yet perfect, but we have something the world needs: the promise of salvation. We know that God recognizes that our power is gone and that the gods we rely upon can’t help us. He has mercy. He relents for the sake of His people, no matter how much we fail. We deserve the consequences of our failure to live according to God’s Word. We deserve His judgment, but Jesus Christ has made us children rather than enemies, and by His blood we are saved.
God did not abandon Jesus, and in the end His plan was fulfilled. God took Jesus, whom we all rejected and denied in our own way, and made Him the cornerstone of our life. We see how He had promised all along to make these things happen for our sakes. We see how we mistakenly expected God to do what we want rather than what He knows is best. With our hindsight, we know it was all for good. And that knowledge fills our hearts with joy and peace, and we can join in singing with the psalmist, “I will give thanks to you, for you have answered me, and have become my salvation.” This is indeed God’s work and it is marvelous. This is the day which God has made, not only the joyful day of Resurrection, but every day including the day Jesus died on the cross. Let us rejoice and be glad in it!
Through our baptism and faith, we are called to live in Christ and be of His mind in all we do. We live in a world where there are many people whose nature is like the scorpion’s: quickly striking at anyone who wants to help. Even when we share the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, those with such a nature will reject it and us. We suffer persecution at their hands, just as the holy man risked being stung by the scorpion. Do we let it stop us? Jesus did not. After all, He left the glory of heaven to come to earth in flesh to reconcile us to God our Father. His nature is to love and save and He willingly suffered humiliation in life and death. We are called to do the same, not on a cross, but in our everyday experiences so that others might know God’s love and mercy and grace. The day will come when all will bow to our Lord Jesus Christ, but will they bow in thanksgiving or fear? We are called to bring salvation to the world even when it strikes back so that all will bow by faith.
April 7, 2022
“When he finished praying in a certain place, one of his disciples said to him, 'Lord, teach us to pray, just as John also taught his disciples.' He said to them, 'When you pray, say, "Our Father in heaven, may your name be kept holy. May your Kingdom come. May your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. Give us day by day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, for we ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted to us. Bring us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.”’” Luke 11:1-4, WEB
In 1990, Arnold Schwarzenegger starred in a movie with a most unusual adversary: a classroom filled with five-year-olds. The movie “Kindergarten Cop” was about a big city cop named John Kimball who was looking for the ex-wife of a hardened criminal. There was evidence that she had taken a large amount of money and they cops wanted to question her. She and her small boy were tracked to a small town, so Kimball and his partner went to find them. The partner, a tiny, sweet looking woman, was supposed to substitute for the kindergarten teacher, but she became quite ill before she could begin. They had no choice: tough man Kimball had to go in.
The first day did not go well. Those little kids had him running in circles and the audience laughing hysterically. He was desperate to finish the job and get out of there. He sat them in a circle and asked them questions, hoping the answers would quickly reveal the young boy for whom he was searching. He got frustrated with every question. When asked if they had been born in that town, none raised their hands, so he yelled, “Come on, raise your hands” so they all did. Then he asked who was born somewhere else, they all raised their hands. It was not going to be easy to get information out of the kids because he was trying to deal with five-year-olds as he might deal with a group of adults. He learned during the movie to deal with the kids on their level, simply and with gentle strength. By the end of the movie the concerned principal told Kimball that he was welcome to stay to teach because though she was at first quite skeptical, she could see he was an awesome teacher.
It is pointless to teach kindergarteners about the science of microbiology or nuclear fission. It is a waste of time to try to give them trigonometry homework or tell them to write thousand-word essays on the origin of a species. As a matter of fact, it is pretty pointless to try to teach these things to most adults. The same is true of many other aspects of education, the Latin language for example. What purpose would it hold in the average person’s life to know such things? It is best to teach reading, writing and arithmetic, the things a person will use from day to day.
In the late 1600’s the educators thought it was useless to teach anything to the average folk. School was for those of higher rank, to teach Latin and other intellectual pursuits. But one man thought the poor should know how to read. John-Baptist de la Salle became a priest at a rather early age and was well on his way to greater things, but he gave up his family’s wealth and his position to teach. He thought it ridiculous to teach them how to read and write Latin, so he created a school and trained teachers to teach them in their own tongue. His enemies thought he was misguided and had him fired, but the teachers threatened to leave the school with him. He opened a school for delinquent boys and affected the lives of many. John-Baptist de la Salle is remembered today.
Jesus taught people right where they were. He used stories and ideas that came from their life experiences, and He kept His teaching simple and clear. Those who stopped following did not do so because He was teaching beyond their ability to understand, but because they refused to believe what He was saying. He did not discuss the finer points of doctrine, but rather laid God’s Word before them to hear and believe. When asked to teach them, He did not give them fanciful words or prayers, just the simple truth in its beauty and grace.
As we teach others about Jesus, we should remember the experiences of John Kimball in that Kindergarten classroom and to follow Jesus’ example. It does little good to teach the average Christian the finer points of the biblical languages or the difference between the different eschatological theologies of the church. We need to know of Jesus’ love, His sacrifice for our sin, and the incredible mercy of God. We need to know about His life, death and resurrection. We need to know that we are sinners in need of a Savior and how to be good disciples. We don’t need to know any complicated prayers. We simply need what Christ has given us, a prayer which praises God and thanks Him, asks Him to be with us and provide all we need, confesses our sin and begs for forgiveness and seeks God’s help to walk as His. Christ met the people right where they were, living in the world. May we always do the same.
April 8, 2022
“I will give thanks to Yahweh with my whole heart. I will tell of all your marvelous works. I will be glad and rejoice in you. I will sing praise to your name, O Most High.” Psalm 9:1-2, WEB
Today is “National All is Ours Day.” It is a day devoted to appreciating all the things of beauty and nature around us. The website about the day brings to our attention the ways we use and abuse the world and how we should recognize the importance of the world in which we live. The site says, “The holiday also teaches us to love and be grateful for all that we possess. You can use this day to share what you have with friends, family, or even outsiders.”
There is no information on the origination of this particular day, but there are several suggestions on how to celebrate. First of all, we can go outside and enjoy the nature all around us. This is a “stop to smell the roses” approach to appreciating the beauty of our world, remembering not to take nature for granted. Another way to celebrate is to be thankful for everything you have. We all have something or someone that brings us joy, so this day is a day to appreciate those things and people. The third way to celebrate is to share our resources with others. If we have things that bring us joy, then wouldn’t giving those things to others pass the joy onto others? After all, if “All is Ours,” then shouldn’t we do something to make sure that ours becomes theirs, too?
I’m not so sure about this particular national “holiday.” It is good to appreciate nature and all we have, and it is good to share what we have with those in need, but do we really need a special day set aside to appreciate the everything and consider our role in keeping it? Is all ours?
From our Christian perspective, nothing is ours. We are merely stewards of the many wonderful gifts God has given to us. Yes, we should appreciate the beauty and nature around us; we should be aware of the ways we waste our resources and destroy God’s Creation. Yes, we should count our blessings and be grateful for everything that gives us joy in our little corner of the world. Yes, we should share our resources with our neighbors. We do these things not because all is ours, but because all is God’s and He has called us to be good stewards of everything that is His.
Everyday should be about more than appreciating nature and the things we possess; we should live thankful to God daily with songs of praise. I hope that whatever we do to celebrate “National All is Ours Day,” we will remember that everything comes from God and that true joy comes from faith in Jesus Christ. He has given all of us so much, beyond even our greatest desires. With such great gifts, how can we be silent? The Psalmist could not help but sing praises to God, to exult in His goodness. Let us all join his song worship the Lord God before all the world today and everyday, that they too might see how marvelous He is.
“But now apart from the law, a righteousness of God has been revealed, being testified by the law and the prophets; even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ to all and on all those who believe. For there is no distinction, for all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God; being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus; whom God sent to be an atoning sacrifice, through faith in his blood, for a demonstration of his righteousness through the passing over of prior sins, in God’s forbearance; to demonstrate his righteousness at this present time; that he might himself be just, and the justifier of him who has faith in Jesus.” Romans 3:23-26, WEB
We are nearing the end of our forty-day wilderness wandering with Jesus. This season of Lent has been a time to look at Jesus’ ministry, to follow His footsteps to the cross. For many it was a time of fasting, giving up something that has become more important than God. It has been a time of prayer, repentance, discernment, and self-denial to prepare for the Passion of Jesus. We faced many temptations, as we do every day. Many of us failed to sustain our fasts because life has gotten in the way. We have been reminded that we can’t do any of this by our own effort, that we will fail miserably if we try. We can overcome by God’s grace because Jesus walked all the way to the cross for our sake.
Yesterday, on Palm Sunday, Jesus entered Jerusalem to shouts of “Hosanna, blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!” The people were excited, pulling palms from the trees to wave and throwing cloaks in the path of the donkey on which He rode. Some of the Pharisees rebuked Jesus, telling Him to quiet the crowd. Jesus answered, “I tell you, if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”
On this first day of Holy Week, Jesus went into the temple courts and overturned the tables of the moneychangers and merchants. Those businessmen were there selling animals for sacrifice in the temple, acts that were established in the laws of Moses. However, the moneychangers and merchants were taking advantage of the needs of the pilgrims who could not bring their own sacrifices on their long journeys. During Passover, it is said, that the population of Jerusalem swelled to more than two million people. The priests benefitted from the influx of pilgrims that were there for the feast because they took a portion of the proceeds for their living and the upkeep of the Temple. They were indignant that Jesus would upset the business of the day. They needed to put a stop to Jesus’ activities.
Jesus had the power to do these things from the Word of God, given to Him by God Himself. Jesus overturned the tables of the moneychangers and the merchants because they were dishonoring the temple by their deceit and greed. They were fulfilling prophesy of Jeremiah by making the temple a place of false religion, rather than true worship of God. He was returning the temple to its true purpose, to be a house of prayer. The priests were trying to find some way to stop Jesus, to catch Him in words that would give them reason to turn Him over to the worldly authorities. Jesus refused to give them what they wanted, which put Him one step closer to the cross.
This week is going to be one of struggle, of surprises, of tragedy. It would be much easier if we could just jump between the rejoicing of Palm Sunday to the rejoicing of Easter. However, Easter is pointless without the cross. We need to walk these next few days with Jesus, to experience the change of the crowds from adulation to anger. We don’t want to admit it, but we are no different than the mob who rejected Jesus just days after shouting “Hosanna.” Jesus doesn’t like up to our expectations, either, so as we experience His Passion this week, let’s remember that our voices joined theirs that week, and that Jesus walked that final week and became the atoning sacrifice for us, too.
April 12, 2022
“Every day Jesus was teaching in the temple, and every night he would go out and spend the night on the mountain that is called Olivet. All the people came early in the morning to him in the temple to hear him.” Luke 21:37-38, WEB
The Tuesday of Holy Week is the most written about day in the scriptures. This was a day of controversy and stories. Jesus spent time in the temple teaching; the leaders sent men to catch Jesus in some sort of crime so that they might have him arrested. His authority was questioned; He was set up with the question about taxes. He warned of false teachers and the end of the age, so that His followers would recognize the times. The leaders became more determined to be rid of Him with every word He spoke, but He seemed untouchable.
Jesus was a great storyteller. The people were mesmerized when He spoke the word of God in ways that touched their life and experience. He used examples of their everyday life like vineyards, yeast, animals, clothes, building, treasures, farming, friends and money. He used the things in this world to describe the Kingdom of God. The crowds were drawn to Him, and the children delighted in His presence. The parables of Jesus always had a spiritual message, but they were presented in a tangible way so that the people who heard them with hearts of faith would understand the promises and expectations of God.
Not everyone received those words with a heart of faith. The leadership often heard the stories of Jesus as condemnation against them. They were threatened by Jesus’ focus on submission, poverty, and forgiveness. They were offended when He insinuated that their obedience was not righteousness, but rather were acts of self-righteous hypocrites. With every word, they became angrier at what they heard, and their hearts hardened even more. I have heard it said that the same sun that melts ice hardens clay. Those who had the heart to believe understood that the Kingdom of God was about power in our weakness, hope in our affliction, and repentance from our old ways of life. Many did not hear the grace of Jesus’ message and they sought a way to end the ministry of Jesus.
The leaders were already hardened against the message, but He was also losing the attention of the crowds because He was no longer fulfilling their desires. His stories and controversies were meant to prepare them to accept the ultimate sacrifice, but they began to turn away. They were not ready to receive the Kingdom that Jesus came to give to the world, their attitude was already hardening which would make it easy to stir up a mob. We like to think that we would continue to follow Jesus to the end, but are we ready to receive the Kingdom as Jesus has taught us through His parables?
April 13, 2022
Lectionary Scriptures for April 17, 2022, Easter Sunrise: Job 19:23-27; Psalm 118:15-19; 1 Corinthians 15:51-57; John 20:1-18 or Easter Day: Isaiah 65:17-25; Psalm 16; 1 Corinthians 15:19-26; Luke 24:1-12
“Then the end comes, when he will deliver up the Kingdom to God, even the Father, when he will have abolished all rule and all authority and power.” 1 Corinthians 15:24, WEB
It is always strange to write about Easter on the Wednesday before Good Friday, especially since we’ve been following the footsteps of Jesus during His week of Passion. While Tuesday of Holy Week is the most written about damy, the record is relatively silent about Wednesday. The leaders of Israel were meeting to plan how to deal with Jesus and Judas visited them to offer help. We don’t know what Jesus did. We can suppose that Jesus spent the day with the disciples, perhaps with Lazarus, Martha, and Mary. He probably continued to teach the disciples, preparing them for what was to come. He likely spent much time in prayer. There is still much to happen: He will celebrate the Passover meal with them. He will be arrested, beaten, tried, and crucified. He will die. But on this day we’ll look ahead to the promise that is fulfilled with the raising of Jesus in just a few short days.
We have buried the Hallelujahs for the past six weeks. We have listened to Jesus. We have considered our place in God’s Kingdom and our need for repentance. We have prepared for this week with fasting, prayer, and devotional practices. Are we ready for what is to come?
There are two separate lectionaries for Easter Sunday. The first is meant to be read early in the morning, at the sunrise. Some churches hold special services away from their regular worship spaces, often partnering with other churches. We attended a beautiful sunrise service on a dew-covered hilltop when we lived in England. There is something sobering about greeting the day when it is still dark outside, as it might have been for the women who went to the tomb that first morning.
We go to church on Easter Sunday excited about the end of Lent, knowing the secret that Jesus has been raised, but those women had no idea. They were going to the tomb to do what they couldn’t do on Good Friday. They were there with arms filled with spices to properly prepare Jesus’ body. He was dead and they were mourning, the work they would do that first Easter morning was part of the process for grieving. Their eyes were probably red and puffy, they were tired from lack of sleep. They were angry at what happened to their Lord. It wasn’t a happy day. We forget that when we walk into a church building filled with the scent of lovely spring flowers and other Christians wearing beautiful new clothes. By the time we hear the lectionary for Easter Day, the somberness of Good Friday is long past for us. But it wasn’t for those women.
Mary Magdalene is found at the tomb alone in the account from John of that first Easter day. We see the grief in her eyes; she’s been weeping, perhaps for days. It was still dark when she went, so she probably had no sleep, anxious to stand vigil at the tomb as she waited for the other women. Instead of finding everything as it had been left on Friday, she found the stone rolled away. She didn’t look inside but ran to tell the disciples. “They’ve taken the Lord!” she exclaimed. Peter and John went to the garden toward the tomb. John reached it first and looked inside, seeing the linen clothes. Peter arrived and went inside, noticing not only the clothes from His body that were cast aside but also the one from His face which was neatly folded. They didn’t understand; they had not yet pieced together the promises of scripture that Jesus would rise from the dead. They left, sadder than before.
There is a story that in the days of Jesus, there was a Hebrew tradition that a servant would stand near the table when the master was eating, waiting for the time to clear the table. The servant knew that he should not touch the table until his master was finished eating. When the master was finished, he would rise from the table, wipe his fingers and mouth, clean his beard, wad up the napkin and toss it onto the table. Then the servant could do his work. A wadded-up napkin means, “I am finished.” However, if the master neatly folded the napkin and set it by his plate, that meant “I am coming back,” so the servant would wait patiently.
It is said that the neatly folded face cloth was Jesus’ way of saying “I am coming back.”
Peter and John left the garden, but Mary stayed by the empty tomb, weeping. She looked inside and saw two angels at the head and foot of where Jesus’ body would have laid. There is significance to this scene that we understand from atonement in the Old Testament. Each year the High Priest scattered the blood of the Lamb on the mercy seat of God, which was the atonement cover of the Ark of the Covenant. The Ark had two angels, one at each end. It is as if Mary was peeking into the Holy of Holies, where the very presence of God dwelt among men. The stone where Jesus lay was the mercy seat of God. In that scene, we see that God’s forgiveness was complete and the promises of God were fulfilled.
The angels asked Mary why she was weeping, and she answered that they had taken Jesus away. She then turned and saw Jesus but did not recognize Him. We wonder how that could be. The disciples, including Mary, spent years with Jesus, and it had only been a few days. When we don’t see someone for a long time, it is easy to mistake them for someone else. Haven’t you ever been in a position where you see someone you think you should know, but can’t place them?
We have a party for our friends early in December every year. It is an open house with an invitation to everyone who can come. Though I don’t ask for an RSVP, many of our friends will tell us they’ll be there so that I can prepare for them all. The doorbell rang one year and when I opened the door there was a couple standing there. I thought they looked familiar, but I could not place them. It was some old friends from California we hadn’t seen in decades. I did not recognize them because they weren’t where I expected them to be.
Mary didn’t expect to see Jesus standing in front of her. He was dead. There may have been something about His appearance that was different, although she recognized Him as soon as she said her name. Would we have known it was Jesus if we were there in that garden so early that first Easter morning? Probably not. Jesus appeared to others in the first days after the Resurrection and none of them knew it was Him. The disciples on the road to Emmaus didn’t know until He broke the bread. The disciples in the Upper Room didn’t know until they saw His wounds. They saw what they expected: a gardener, a fellow traveler, a spirit. They didn’t see Jesus until He revealed Himself to them.
Mary went back to the disciples and told them everything Jesus said to her. That dark, sad morning was beginning to look brighter.
It is easy for us to look back at those first disciples and think that they were foolish for missing it. Didn’t Jesus tell them this is how it had to be? How could they not realize that a little patience would prove Jesus’ words to be true? It is easy for us for two reasons: we know the rest of the story and we have the Holy Spirit to help us see. We would not have been any different if we had been there. We will experience the grief of Good Friday with the knowledge that it happened because of our own sin and for our sake, but we will do so with the knowledge that we’ll sing Hallelujah on Sunday.
Hindsight is twenty/twenty vision.
We also see now how all the Old Testament scriptures fit into God’s plan. They knew the words and hoped for their promise, but it wasn’t until after the Resurrection that they know it was true. Job said, “But as for me, I know that my Redeemer lives. In the end, he will stand upon the earth.” The psalmist sang, “For you will not leave my soul in Sheol, neither will you allow your holy one to see corruption.” Isaiah said, “For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former things will not be remembered, nor come into mind.” These are all promises that point to the work of Jesus on the cross. He is our Redeemer. He is our Salvation. He gives us life. His new covenant will bring new things to the world. It was planned; the promises were fulfilled on the cross and then in the empty tomb.
We will see in the texts for the next few weeks, during the forty days of Easter, that Jesus had to reteach everything He had taught them in the three years leading up to the cross. Even then, they needed Pentecost to bring it all together.
Through Jesus God created new heavens and a new earth. This was as great an accomplishment as the first heavens and the first earth, also created through Jesus. The first creation was made out of chaos, out of nothing, out of darkness. With just a Word, the Logos which is Christ, God made everything good. The new creation is made out of the failures of God’s people. We were created and commanded to care for the earth, but we failed. We failed to care for all that was entrusted to us, especially our relationships. In our sin we broke the harmony between God and man and between one another. Our sins, though against each other, hurt God even more because in our sin we were not living as He intended us to live.
But God’s love for His people is greater than our failure. He is faithful to His promises even when we are not. So, in response to our sin, He promised to make things new, a new creation that will lead to a new beginning for the world. This promise of new heavens and a new earth is a future promise, something that will come in the day God has promised. That day began with Jesus Christ, who lived and died for the sake of mankind. He restored the relationship of men and God, made it possible for men to restore their relationships with one another. Yet, the fulfillment of that day is not now; it will be some day. Though things began anew with the raising of Jesus, there is another day coming when we will see everything as it was meant to be.
God’s salvation is in the future, but it is also now. In that salvation we live and breathe the Gospel in this world, offering hope and peace to those who are still lost in the darkness. The world is being recreated one heart at a time as we, God’s people, share His love to the world. In our words and works, things are transformed and people are changed. We can see a glimmer of what is to come when we will no longer labor in vain or be subjected to misfortune. How great a day it will be when the earth is new, when the wolf and the lamb, the lion and the ox shall share the bountiful gifts of God's abundance!
Not everyone understands the significance of our Easter celebrations. Most are excited about baskets full of candy and brunch with family. For them, our Hallelujah’s are pitiable. Paul knew that this was the way non-believers looked at the early church. He even uses the word “pitiable” in the passage from his first letter to the Corinthians because for many non-Christians we are to be pitied. However, they think we should be pitied because we believe in these myths or fairy tales about Jesus of Nazareth being raised from the dead. They think that we should be pitied because we believe in eternal life in heaven with our Lord Jesus Christ.
For many people, religion is about how we live in this world and the work we do to make it a better place for our neighbors. It does not take faith in God or in Jesus, to do good deeds and living rightly. Many people who are not followers of Jesus Christ do good deeds and live rightly in this world.
But Christianity is unique in that we do believe in something more, something beyond this life. It seems odd that Paul would call us the most pitiable, but consider the world in which the Corinthians lived. It was a pagan world, a world where there were dozens of gods available for human consumption. You could take a pilgrimage to any of the larger cities and find massive temples in honor of those gods as well as all the tourist trappings to help make your trip more enjoyable. You could enjoy the physical pleasures of that religion: the food, the wine and the prostitutes. Christianity has always set a different standard, a standard of moderation and of self-control.
For many people, Christianity is to be pitied because they prefer to live for the satisfaction of their hedonistic desires, which the religions of Paul’s world satisfied. Unfortunately, many today have the same expectations, even some Christians. Faith, to them, is about feeling good, about self-satisfaction, to live their best life. And though the Christian response to God’s grace often brings about good feelings, satisfaction and a transformation into something new and better, Christ never promised that our life with Him in this world would be easy. As a matter of fact, Christian faith is hard. The Christians in Paul’s day were persecuted because they did not live by the societal expectations. Even though they had faith, Christians got sick and they died. Though there were some Christians with wealth, many of the Christians were outcast and poor, often because of their faith in Jesus. Christians truly are to be pitied if you expect faith to be rewarded in this life.
If there is no eternal life then we are indeed to be pitied, but we have a hope that goes beyond today. The non-Christian who pities a Christian for faith in heaven or eternal life sees no purpose of living beyond the here and now, they want an immediate reward. Those without faith in Christ can’t see the point of it. A person once told me that Jesus is dead, and that I should just get over it. But our hope and the foundation of our faith is that Jesus Christ was the first of many; He is the first born of the dead. He rose and through faith we will rise with Him. Christ lives and in Him we live also.
Easter is about life. Certainly, the raising of Jesus is about new life for Him, but it is also about new life for all of those who believe in Him. The empty tomb is a guarantee of the promise that we will be restored to Him and that we will share in His life forever. In baptism we die with Christ, in faith we are raised again. Life is our end, which is completely opposite of the reality of our flesh. We will die, no matter what we do. Even believing in Jesus will not keep our flesh from decay. The life of moderation and self-control may extend our lives, but not forever. We will die.
Death is obvious, even in our church spaces. There is often a cemetery attached to church property. In some places, prominent members of ancient congregations were even buried inside the church. We saw that often in England, where floor engravings marked the resting places of wealthy landowners or exceptional members of the clergy. Churches like Westminster Abbey appear to be little more than huge, elaborate tombs. While that church is known for other things, like weddings and the coronations of monarchs, funerals and even secular gatherings, most people visit to see the resting places of hundreds of famous people from poets to kings.
We knew that’s what we’d see as tourists when we visited a few years ago. I particularly wanted to check out Poets Corner. With monuments to the likes of Chaucer, Tennyson, Browning, and Dickens, some of the most amazing minds are remembered in that corner of the church. Though William Shakespeare is not buried there, he is remembered with a memorial in that area. I was also interested in the legacy of the Tudors, several of which are buried in the church. Fascinating stories about their life battles and death reunions make a visit to the church like watching a soap opera. The architecture, something that always fascinates me, is amazing and beautiful. It is worth a trip for anyone in England.
Yet, it is a living church. People gather there each Sunday for worship, to hear God’s Word and to receive the sacraments. As a matter of fact, the church offers several worship services every day, including weekdays at lunch. Anyone visiting and workers from the city are welcome to worship the living God in the midst of the hustle and bustle of life. We visited during lunch hour, and we heard the worshipped announced over the loudspeaker when we were in the middle of our tour. We asked one of the staff how to get to the service and he was so excited that we wanted to worship that he took us through red velvet ropes and against the flow of visitors so that we could be there in time.
I was disappointed when we arrived at the worship space because there were only a few dozen worshippers. There were hundreds of tourists that day, but in the midst of that chaos we few received the body and blood of Christ. I wondered why as I watched the visitors filing by that they would spend so much time with the dead when they could be worshipping the living God. For them, Westminster Abbey was nothing more than a tomb.
Our world is truly upside down. Luke wrote that after the resurrection the women went to the tomb seeking Jesus’ body so they could finish the work of anointing Him for death. As they were there, two men in dazzling robes appeared asking them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” They did not yet know that Jesus had been raised, though He told them to expect it. They did not understand what He meant until later when He appeared before them alive. As Christ lives, so do we. Unfortunately, we often see the world with a skewed point of view, seeking death instead of life. We would rather spend an hour looking at the tombs of famous people than worshiping the living God. This happens in our daily lives also as we chase after the things that will perish and decay, following the ways of the world instead of dwelling in the promises of God.
We wander for forty days during Lent, learning everything we need to know in a world full of chaos and confusion. Then we spend forty days after Easter learning everything we need to know, but there’s something different. We see that chaotic and confused world through a new perspective. During Lent we see the promise as they did in Jesus’ day, that the Messiah came to set us free from the world. During the Easter season we finally see that Jesus wasn’t an earthbound king we must follow, but that He is the Living God who redeems us and sets us free from sin and death. The Old Testament promises have new meaning, and we have a much different purpose. We are not called to simply follow Jesus, but we are sent out to be His people, to take the Gospel to the world.
It is finished; the work is complete, and yet Jesus folded the napkin and has promised to return. We live in the already but not yet of God’s promises. We have eternal life even as we wait for it. We think of Easter as the end of a journey. Many of us will stop whatever Lenten discipline we began forty-some days ago. We’ll eat too much chocolate and drown ourselves in the coffee we’ve avoided for too long. We’ll set aside our devotional books, thankful that they helped us through our wilderness wandering but glad that we will have that time for ourselves again. We don’t have extra church commitments. As crowded as our congregations will be on Sunday, next week will seem empty. To many, Easter will be over and it will be time to get back to normal.
But Easter is only beginning this Sunday; we will learn during the next forty days that all our work stands on the promise of that empty tomb and that there is still much work to be done. God made so many promises to the poor, to the lame, to the deaf, to the possessed, to the imprisoned, to the lonely, to the outcast, to the ill and more, but the promise of Easter is the foundation of it all. The empty tomb means that all our tombs will also be empty, that we will be raised with Christ and that we will rejoice in His presence for eternity. We are Easter people, founded on the hope of eternity. In that hope we can go out and face the reality of the world in which we live. Sometimes that means we’ll face suffering and pain.
Christian faith does not guarantee a charmed life. The empty tomb of Easter does not mean that everything will go well. It was the empty tomb that set the apostles on a road to persecution; most of them were martyred. The empty tomb does guarantee that we will join our Lord Jesus in eternity. He was the first of many, raised to new life to live forever in the new heavens and earth. It is the world we see promised in those Old Testament texts.
Resting in His promises we can say that we know our Redeemer lives and that faith in Him will get us through today and tomorrow until we finally dwell in His presence forever. The world may pity us for standing on myths and fairytales, but we belong to Jesus Christ and He will deliver us into His Kingdom to dwell in the presence of our Father in heaven forever. Death will no longer rule, and the world will be restored as God always intended it to be.
April 14, 2022
“Now before the feast of the Passover, Jesus, knowing that his time had come that he would depart from this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. During supper, the devil having already put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he came from God, and was going to God, arose from supper, and laid aside his outer garments. He took a towel and wrapped a towel around his waist. Then he poured water into the basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. Then he came to Simon Peter. He said to him, ‘Lord, do you wash my feet?’ Jesus answered him, ‘You don’t know what I am doing now, but you will understand later.’ Peter said to him, ‘You will never wash my feet!’ Jesus answered him, ‘If I don’t wash you, you have no part with me.’ Simon Peter said to him, ‘Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head!’ Jesus said to him, ‘Someone who has bathed only needs to have his feet washed, but is completely clean. You are clean, but not all of you.’ For he knew him who would betray him, therefore he said, ‘You are not all clean.’ So when he had washed their feet, put his outer garment back on, and sat down again, he said to them, ‘Do you know what I have done to you? You call me, “Teacher” and “Lord.” You say so correctly, for so I am. If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you should also do as I have done to you. Most certainly I tell you, a servant is not greater than his lord, neither is one who is sent greater than he who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.’” John 1:1-17, WEB
Today is Maundy Thursday. Many congregations will gather tonight to relive the final night of our Lord Jesus Christ. He gathered with His disciples to share the Passover Seder feast. He spoke to them in love and shared the truth of His message: as His followers we are to submit ourselves to God and to each other in sacrificial love.
The word “maundy” comes from an ancient word that means “mandate”. On the night He was betrayed, Jesus gave us a new command, “to love one another.” (John 13:30) He didn’t just talk about love, He showed them. He removed His cloak and wrapped a towel around His waist and got on His knees to wash their feet. This menial task was one that only a servant would do. Peter was so incensed by the action he rebuked Jesus (not the first time), “No, you shall never wash my feet.” Jesus persisted because it was by His example that He showed them what they were expected to do. He set the example and once we know it, we’ll be blessed to do it. If we are obedient to the new commandment to love one another, we will experience His love in a new and powerful way. The disciples were specially chosen to serve the Lord. They had to know that they were no greater than those in the world to whom they would take the Gospel.
From the beginning of His ministry to the very end, Jesus always put others before Himself. Jesus was willing to get on His knees to do whatever needed to be done. Though Peter wanted to refuse Jesus’ service, Jesus said that it was necessary. We, too, have to accept that it is through Jesus’ sacrifice that we are cleansed. If we reject or ignore the cross, we are not part of Him. If we skip the suffering, we miss the very act that gives us the freedom to live. Through faith, then, we are called to do what Jesus does, to serve rather than be served. We are to sacrifice for the sake of life and share everything which Jesus did for us with others. We are blessed if we live and die as Jesus did, humble and obedient before the Lord. For it is in the serving we truly know and understand the attitude of Christ and live the blessed life He has called us to live. This is the mandate we remember as we gather in worship this evening.
We also celebrate the New Covenant Jesus instituted at that supper. The Passover Seder was a meal to remember the deliverance of the Hebrews out of slavery in Egypt. It was highly symbolic, recalling the bitterness and affliction in Egypt, as well as the rebirth and joy of their new life of freedom in the Promised Land. The Passover was celebrated yearly with the expectation that one day the Messiah would come. They remembered the Exodus but looked forward again to God’s promised salvation for them. This was a hopeful celebration because the people believed they had found the one who would free them from the oppression of the Romans.
One of the most shocking things Jesus said during His ministry had to do with eating His flesh and drinking His blood. Those words began to turn people away. They did not understand because their law instructed believers to avoid human flesh and to never drink blood. How could they do such things when God commanded them against it? How could Jesus be from God and tell them that the only way to live is to do so?
Jesus never promised that He’d be an earthly king. Rather, He made a New Covenant with His people through the elements of the Passover meal. He took the bread, gave thanks to God and gave it for all to eat. He was the bread of life; His body is truly and substantially in, with, and under the bread of the sacrament; as we eat we remember that He is our true bread. After the supper He took the cup, symbolic in the Seder as being the cup of Redemption. He gave thanks and gave it to all to drink. “All of you drink it, for this is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many for the remission of sins.” We are forgiven by the shedding of His blood. This meal fulfilled His shocking words to the people about eating His flesh and drinking His blood; here He offered a foretaste of the eternal banquet we will join when we, too, are raised into eternal life with Christ. On Maundy Thursday we join together with believers from every time and place by sharing His meal, taking in His promise for forgiveness in a tangible way in obedience to His Word.
April 15, 2022
“You, being in past times alienated and enemies in your mind in your evil deeds, yet now he has reconciled in the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and without defect and blameless before him, if it is so that you continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the Good News which you heard, which is being proclaimed in all creation under heaven, of which I, Paul, was made a servant.” Colossians 1:21-23, WEB
Why do we call this day “Good Friday?” How could something so horrible be called good? The form of capital punishment used on Jesus was cruel and painful. The criminal was beaten, humiliated, hung from a cross, and left to suffocate. If they took too long to die, the soldiers broke their legs so that they could not push upward with their feet to get a breath of air. They were not given water to drink, but rather vinegar that was sometimes laced with poison.
Good Friday is part of what we call The Three Days. It began the evening of Maundy Thursday and then continues through the evening of Easter Sunday. A vigil is held Saturday night which counts down the moments until sunrise, recalling the promises and prophecies of the Old Testament as the Christians waited for the rising of the Son of God to new life. Ancient Christians baptized new believers at the end of the vigil so that they could partake in the first Communion after the Resurrection.
After the Passover meal, Jesus went to the Garden of Gethsemane with His disciples to pray and wait. Jesus asked very little of His disciples over the years they were together, but at this final hour He asked them to stay awake with Him and pray. Three times Jesus found them sleeping, unconcerned about things to come. For them this was a night like any other night. Jesus asked them to pray, not for His well-being but for their own. They needed the strength that was gained through a close personal relationship with God to get them through the events of the next few days. They needed to be in prayer so that they would not fall into temptation. They would face anger, fear, confusion, and doubt, leading them to do something stupid or lose all hope just like Judas whose despair led to his destruction.
Jesus prayed in that garden, asking God if there were not some other way to accomplish the work to be done. But even at His moment of greatest anguish when His prayers brought sweat that was mingled with blood, He submitted Himself to the good and perfect will of His Father. “Not my will, but yours be done.”
A large crowd was led by Judas into the garden in the dark of night with torches and swords. They came to take Him away as if He were a traitor, leading a rebellion against them. Peter had one of the two swords the disciples carried with them and he used it to strike one of the servants. Jesus stopped that foolishness, for how could twelve men with two swords defeat such a crowd? Jesus touched the ear of the servant and healed him, then went willingly with the crowd to His trial and death.
Those hours were grueling. Peter denied knowing Jesus. The guards mocked and beat Him. Caiaphas brought forth false witnesses, Pilate washed his hands of the matter, and the priests goaded the crowds into a frenzy until they cried out for His crucifixion. The disciples disappeared into hiding, afraid for their very lives.
Jesus was forced to carry His own cross until He could no longer stand under the weight. The Roman soldiers forced Simon of Cyrene to carry it to the hill for Him. The women followed, weeping for their beloved Master and friend. They did not understand that this was His hour of glory. This was not a time of darkness but of light. This was the culmination of God’s love and mercy, the moment when the wages of sin, meaning death, would be defeated for all who believe in Him.
At the Skull, the place of crucifixion, Jesus was nailed to the cross. He spoke little during these hours, but every word was powerful and meaningful for those who heard. He spoke the words of David from the psalms, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” This means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” This psalm was the anguished prayer of a righteous sufferer, one that did not call for the Lord to avenge the wrongs done. He then said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” Though we see this as His darkest hour, for Jesus this is the hour of His fulfillment, when death was defeated so that life could reign. That life is found in forgiveness for all our sins.
One of the thieves ridiculed Jesus, telling Him to save them and Himself. The other asked Jesus to remember Him in His Kingdom. Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” The world grew dark as the sun stopped shining. The curtain in the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. God would no longer live in a box for the Jews, but would bring life to the world through the death of His Son.
“Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” Jesus’ time was closing quickly. It would not take Him days to die. They would not need to feed Him poison or break His legs. Jesus was here by His own free will and would die at the moment He chose. Many of the people who had gathered began to grieve over what had happened. A centurion proclaimed, “Surely this was the Son of God.” Jesus turned to His mother who still lingered at the base of the cross. She was with John, the beloved disciple. He said, “Dear woman, here is your son. Here is your mother.” From that day forward, John took Mary into His home and cared for her.
“I thirst.” He once again turns to the words of the Psalms, speaking not only of the physical need for something to drink, but the utter loneliness He felt at that moment. David wrote in Psalm 22:15, “My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of the earth.” Then Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, He gave up His spirit.
The hour of His sorrow, pain, and humiliation was over, but it would last for several days for the disciples. They would grieve the loss of their beloved friend and teacher. They would fear for their lives. They would try to make sense of it all. How did this happen and why? What would they do now? Should they just return to their old lives and forget these past few years? Nothing was as it should be, nothing was right. Oh, LORD, where are you?
In today’s scripture passage from Paul’s letter to the Colossians, Paul reminds us why He did this: we were separated from God our Creator and Father. Jesus died to reconcile us to Him. He makes us holy and blameless before our God, an impossible task except for the one who is holy and blameless. He did this so that we would be made new, given faith to live as we were created to live, to dwell in the hope that God promised for us from the very beginning of time. He did this because He loved us so much He was willing to do anything to make us right again.
This is a compilation of all the Gospel stories about the arrest, trial and death of our Lord Jesus Christ as taken from Matthew 26:36-27:56, Mark 14:32-15:41, Luke 22:39-23:49, John 18:1-19:37. Each writer gave his own perspective of the story, while remaining true to the event. For a fuller understanding of the depth of Jesus’ love for us, for what He did that day so long ago, read each of the Gospel accounts in their entirety. And may you have a blessed Good Friday, a day that seems so bad, but is so good. For without the Cross, we can never have Easter.
April 18, 2022
“I waited patiently for Yahweh. He turned to me, and heard my cry. He brought me up also out of a horrible pit, out of the miry clay. He set my feet on a rock, and gave me a firm place to stand. He has put a new song in my mouth, even praise to our God. Many shall see it, and fear, and shall trust in Yahweh. Blessed is the man who makes Yahweh his trust, and doesn’t respect the proud, nor such as turn away to lies. Many, Yahweh, my God, are the wonderful works which you have done, and your thoughts which are toward us. They can’t be declared back to you. If I would declare and speak of them, they are more than can be counted. Sacrifice and offering you didn’t desire. You have opened my ears. You have not required burnt offering and sin offering. Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come. It is written about me in the book in the scroll. I delight to do your will, my God. Yes, your law is within my heart.’ I have proclaimed glad news of righteousness in the great assembly. Behold, I will not seal my lips, Yahweh, you know. I have not hidden your righteousness within my heart. I have declared your faithfulness and your salvation. I have not concealed your loving kindness and your truth from the great assembly.” Psalm 40:1-10, WEB
The phone rang a few weeks ago. My longtime friend and mentor was on the other end. “Peggy, it is time for me to go home. I love you and I thank you.” It was a shocking call, although my friend was 97 years old and has been ready to go home for a very long time. She was a deaconess in my church and had an impact on so many lives, including mine. She became less active as her health began to decline, but she spent her days lifting so many of us in prayer.
My friend was called to youth ministry at my childhood church when I was barely a teenager. She became a deaconess after her husband died; she was still fairly young and had a lot of energy. She’d lived a full life and had several grown children, and she was excited to impact the lives of the youth in her care. On the day I confirmed my faith, my friend was waiting at the exit. She drew me aside and said, “Peggy, I think you would be terrific helping with Sunday school.” It is important to help the young people find their place in the ministry of our churches, and she was right there to do so for me. I began as an aid in the kindergarten class and have helped in the education of Christians of all ages for more than forty years.
I visited my friend a few years ago and she confided in me that she felt like she was no longer useful. She said, “Peggy, all I can do is pray.” I told her that her prayers are the very thing that keeps so much of us going. I’m not the only one at that church she impacted. She was still in contact with others in my confirmation class and generations of youth that followed. She often told me that she prayed regularly for my daughter who is also in youth ministry, and she always asked how she was doing. She always had news about the youth of my generation, all of whom were also in her prayers. She touched us all in different ways, but she touched us all. And we all went out into the world and touched others with the same love and grace that she gave to us. Her impact is greater than she’ll ever know. She touched me and all those I’ve touched, including my daughter and all those she will touch. We will never know how many people they will touch.
There is a theory called the “butterfly effect” which says that the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil could cause a tornado in Texas. This seems absolutely impossible, but the flap of a wing changes the world around it which causes ripples that grow and grow and grow until the conditions are perfect for a tornado to form. That might sound extreme, but it could happen.
My friend died last Thursday. I’m sad, but incredibly thankful that she was finally able to go home, and I can imagine she went there joyously with today’s Psalm on her lips. She has wanted to go for so long. We don’t want anyone to go too soon, but we also can’t help but rejoice with those we love that they are receiving their inheritance. She was 97 and had an incredible impact on her little corner of the world, and perhaps a bigger impact than we will ever know because so many of those she nurtured in faith have had an impact on their little corners of the world. Her years of prayer for all of us has done more than we can ever really understand. I, among many, am incredibly thankful for her life and her faith.
I have often wondered if Jesus will show us the impact we have had on the world when we meet Him in heaven. I can imagine a map with little lights indicating every heart that was touched by the words we have said or the things we have done in His name. I suspect that my friend’s map will be so bright with all the little lights representing all the people whose faith she fanned directly and indirectly that it would be too bright to look at with human eyes. She was such a blessing, and more than we can count were blessed to know her.
Small actions can have huge impact. We don’t know when a kind word will change the course of a day for thousands of people. We don’t know that planting a flower might make a neighborhood more beautiful. We don’t know how one small act of kindness might change the life of a person who is suffering. We don’t know how our witness might bring the Gospel to a new generation of preachers. My friend may have thought she was a small butterfly, but her wings spread a mighty wind all over the world. She gained her rest by faith, but I am sure our Lord has received her with open arms and give her a beautiful crown for all she did in His name.
April 19, 2022
“But we don’t want you to be ignorant, brothers, concerning those who have fallen asleep, so that you don’t grieve like the rest, who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. For this we tell you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will in no way precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with God’s trumpet. The dead in Christ will rise first, then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air. So we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore comfort one another with these words.” 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, WEB
I don’t usually quote so much of another person’s writing, but I recently read this from C. S. Lewis and thought it was a good reminder to us today. Change a few words and every generation of human beings since Adam and Eve have dealt with the same fear.
“In one way we think a great deal too much of the atomic bomb. ‘How are we to live in an atomic age?’ I am tempted to reply: ‘Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of motor accidents.’
“In other words, do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation. Believe me, dear sir or madam, you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before the atomic bomb was invented: and quite a high percentage of us were going to die in unpleasant ways. We had, indeed, one very great advantage over our ancestors—anesthetics; but we have that still. It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty.
“This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.”
There is a certain power to being afraid of death because it means that we take better care of ourselves. We eat right and exercise so that we can be healthy. Science has worked to create cures and medicines to lengthen our lives. We take precautions so that we won’t die from foolish accidents. We pray and work toward peace so that we won’t destroy our enemies or risk our lives. We do what we can to make our little corner of the world safe from natural disaster. Without that fear, we might just let the world destroy our flesh before our time.
The message of Easter reminds us that we need not be afraid as they were at the dawn of the atomic age because Jesus Christ has defeated death and the grave. We should be aware of the dangers and do what we can to live our best life, but we need not live as if the dangers of our time are any worse than the danger of death that every generation of human has faced. As Lewis suggested, we should not spend our time focused on the way we will die, so frightened that we cant accomplish anything. Rather, we should spend our time living, doing sensible and human things. Most of all, we should spend our time sharing the Gospel of our Lord so that our neighbors will know that because we have faith by God’s grace, death no longer has a hold on us. We will die, but we will live forever.
April 20, 2022
Scriptures for April 24, 2022, Second Sunday of Easter: Acts 5:12-20 (21-32); Psalm 148; Revelation 1:4-18; John 20:19-31
“Jesus said to him, ‘Because you have seen me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen, and have believed.’” John 20:29, WEB
Fifteen years ago (Easter was on April 8th that year) I wrote, “Most of the country saw some unusual, even extraordinary, weather for this Easter weekend. Snow covered the ground as far south as Waco Texas, with bitter temperatures and damp air at our house. Farther north the situation was even more extreme, with feet rather than inches of snow covering the ground. It is hard to imagine an Easter without spring flowers and Easter egg hunts, yet in many places the flowers have yet to bloom and the Easter egg hunts were cancelled. Even brand new Easter dresses were left hanging in closets because it was simply too cold to wear them.”
I could have written that this week for many of my readers who dealt with snow again this year. The cold didn’t make it quite so far south this year, but we are also having an unusual spring. The wildflowers are few and far between, much later than normal. It is almost too hard to see the joy of Easter through the mist of winter, and that is what so many had to do this year. We’ve had to look beyond the unspring like weather to rejoice in the great thing He has done. Unfortunately, very few people have eyes that see the joy when things look bleak. They can’t see the sun shining behind the clouds.
There are times when God grants us a vision of what heaven will look like. Sometimes it appears in a dream, but often He simply uses the beauty of His created world to give us a foretaste of the world to come. I’ve seen heaven in the giggle of a baby; from the top of a mountain overlooking a hidden valley; in a meadow filled with flowers; in a rainbow after a storm. I can’t see these things and ignore the majesty of my Creator. We can see God’s hand even in unexpected weather.
When we were living in England I saw the most incredible sight in the sky as I was standing at the sink washing the dishes. In an otherwise cloudless sky, there was a large, dark mushroom shaped cloud. The waning sun was behind this cloud and the rays showed from behind, creating a halo around the cloud. It was as if God was behind a curtain, and His light was trying to break through to the world. As I continued with my work, the bottom ‘stem’ of the cloud began to split, like the curtains on a great stage. The sun’s rays broke through, and the stage behind was breathtakingly beautiful. This foretaste made me long for the day when I will stand in God’s presence and worship Him at His throne.
I saw a much different vision of heaven that weekend fifteen years ago. As clouds covered the earth and rain fell from the sky, I saw one of the first hummingbirds of the season. He took a moment at our feeders, but the wind was bitter and the rain was cold, so he took refuge under the bush that is near my window. He sat there for a long time, and though he seemed to be shivering, he was also safe and dry. I could almost see God’s hands surrounding him, protecting him from the cold.
God reveals Himself in His creation so that we will have a vision in our hearts and our minds of the heavenly realms. He gives us a glimmer, to draw us ever closer to Him and to keep us on His path. We just have to take the time to see Him, to witness the beauty of His creation and His constant presence in His world. That glimmer is not necessarily going to be something as grand as the sun bursting forth from beneath a cloud. It might just be in the ordinary ways that God reveals Himself to those He loves. It might be a spectacular view of the sky, or it just might be someone in need, someone who needs to know God’s loving presence in their life.
This coming Sunday, has been historically known as “Low Sunday.” Though the meaning of this is uncertain, to our modern ears it makes perfect sense. The Sunday following Easter is often very poorly attended. Perhaps that day seems unimportant compared to the significance of Holy Week and Easter. Perhaps it is a letdown after the celebrations of the week before. Perhaps everyone is exhausted, so they take a break for a week. It is a day when many pastors choose to take vacation, to rest and recover from the draining experience of Holy Week; many parishioners take the same Sundays “off” when the pastor is away.
It doesn’t help that we hear the same story every year on the Second Sunday of Easter. We hear over and over again the story of Doubting Thomas. It is an uncomfortable story to hear because we think so negatively about doubt, and yet we all experience some level of doubt when it comes to the stories about Jesus Christ. Nearly every year there is some story in the news that can cause us doubt: tombs are located, historical writings surface, books are popular that cast a shadow on the things we have learned in Sunday School. We wonder how Jesus could have risen from the dead if that bone box they found really held Jesus’ bones. The reports give us reason to question everything we believe to be true.
However, doubt is not the opposite of faith. Indifference or apathy is the opposite of faith. Doubt makes us question, makes us seek, makes us study to know and understand. Doubt makes us grow, and it often makes our faith deeper and more real than it was before we had those questions. Thomas doubted. He refused to believe the disciples when they said, “We have seen the Lord.” He needed to see Jesus for himself. Don’t we all? Perhaps we can hear the stories of Jesus and believe them to be true, but we also doubt. We need a very real experience of God’s revelation to us for us to truly believe. That revelation comes at baptism, when the Holy Spirit comes upon us and grants us the faith by which we will live. We can’t do it on our own. Without God’s help, we would be indifferent because we would not have the faith to believe. Doubt can lead us to faith because it makes us seek to know and understand that which God has given to us.
Another name for this Sunday is Quasimodo Sunday. I know you are asking, “Why would we name the first Sunday after Easter after a character from the Victor Hugo story?” The character was actually named Quasimodo because he was left on the church steps on the Sunday after Easter. The words “quasi modo” in Latin mean “in the manner of newborn babes.” In the story “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” Quasimodo fought to protect the beautiful Esmeralda. His faith was innocent, his hope was child-like. His name was appropriate; he lived in the manner of newborn babes.
Jesus told Thomas and the other disciples that those who believe without seeing are blessed. They are those who have a child-like, innocent faith. That faith is true; it is real because it is not based on human effort but on the work of God by the power of the Holy Spirit. Yet, we all grow up. We all lose our innocence. We face difficulties. We experience unexpected circumstances. We face persecution. We are attacked by the devil and the world as they try to break our faith. We might doubt but that is a part of our maturity because we gain knowledge and wisdom as we ask questions. It good to have child-like faith, but it is also necessary for us to seek for ourselves the meaning of our faith, especially when it is questioned by the world. Our doubt, and overcoming our doubt, becomes a witness just like Thomas’s faith has become a witness to us. He doubted, but he continued to seek the Lord and in the end he made the greatest confession of all, “My Lord and my God.”
It wasn’t easy to be a Christian in the beginning. Faith in Jesus went against everything in both their secular and religious worlds. The Romans doubted the truth of the resurrection and the Jews rejected the claims that Jesus was the Messiah. The leaders in Jerusalem looked for ways to put a halt to the cult growing around Jesus. No matter what the enemies of the Gospel did, it seemed as though more and more people heard the words of the evangelists and were coming to faith. It didn’t help that the miraculous signs and wonders of Jesus continued with the apostles.
The Christians were a curiosity, but questions and doubts followed them. Today’s lesson from Acts follows the incredible story of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11) who were struck dead by their unfaithfulness to God. On the one hand, the disciples of Jesus were healing the sick and casting out demons. It was said that even the shadow of Peter could make a man well. On the other hand, there was something frightening about the power they seemed to have. Can you imagine if the people in your neighborhood found out that someone keeled over and died as Ananias and Saphira? The story was surely reported to people outside the church; a great fear came upon them all. “What if my faith isn’t good enough?” is a question any of us might ask. Only those with true faith dared become part of the group because pretenders and those with half-hearted belief risked the same fate as Ananias and Saphira. Despite the fear, the Gospel was doing its work in the hearts of many because more and more began to believe in the Lord.
Faith in Jesus was risky. The Romans who were carefully watching this growing cult, and the Jewish leaders were concerned. Solomon’s Colonnade was a public marketplace. It was also a gathering place where people went to talk to the teachers of the day, to learn about God’s Law and to ask questions. Jesus often taught there, so the disciples continued to use this space to preach and teach about Him. He changed their lives and they wanted to share His lifechanging message with others.
Perhaps the Jewish leaders were jealous. The disciples were doing things they could not do, impacting lives in physical as well as spiritual ways. The priests were upset that the disciples were intruding on their ministry. The priests had the disciples arrested and imprisoned, but during the night an angel of the Lord set them free. They were back in the Temple before the leaders even knew they were gone. The authorities took the disciples again, but they did so quietly because they feared the crowds.
I read a lot of historical fiction, particularly from the Middle Ages in Europe. It was a violent and bloody time. A true victory was only won when the enemy was utterly destroyed. Many of the wars are described as bloody massacres, with fields filled with hacked flesh and mud made with the blood of the injured and dead. We see these battles in our imaginations as involving huge armies, but there were likely only a few thousand on the battlefields, including the women who followed their men in the baggage train. But hand to hand combat is violent and destructive. Swords against swords leave the fields bloody and covered with bodies.
They victory was often not won by strength or the upper hand, but with power over the mind. The armies fought psychological warfare to break the courage of their enemies. Courage is vital when facing someone determined to kill you, and it is the warrior’s job to make the enemy afraid. The armies shouted insults and obscenities, banged on their shields with their swords to make thunderous noise. They put on displays of strength and power so that the enemy knew they were up against people determined to win.
One of the most disgusting practices of that day was to put the severed heads of dead enemies on poles above the gates to their fortresses. This was a display of dishonor because it meant the body was not properly buried, and an improper burial made it impossible for a warrior to go into the afterlife of some religions. There was also humiliation in the way the head was picked clean by the birds, leaving only the skull and some hair flowing in the wind. The equivalent of this dishonor in ancient days was to “hang someone on a tree.” When someone was put to death for a crime, they were hung on a tree and left for the birds. They were not only punished for their crime, but they were dishonored as well.
Peter, in his speech to defend himself before the Sanhedrin, acknowledged that they not only killed Jesus, but they dishonored Him by hanging Him on a tree. He told them that Jesus was not to a deranged man who wanted to be king; He was the One whom God Himself had sent to be Savior. They dishonored the One who came to redeem Israel. The disciples were witnesses to these things and they were compelled by the faith they have by God’s grace to preach the Word that God had given to them. Jesus was dishonored to bring fear into the hearts of His followers, but the disciples were not afraid, so they continued to preach and teach despite the danger. They knew their strength was not in human power and authority, but in God’s grace and they could do nothing but obey.
Peter stood before his accusers and told them that he could not be silent. “We must obey God.”
This type of defense sounds almost arrogant, and we struggle with it because people have used it to do things that were clearly not God’s Will. Women have claimed that God told them to kill their children. Leaders have claimed that they were following God’s will by starting wars. Religious fanatics have claimed that they were doing what is right because God spoke to them personally. There are many examples of people who abused God’s name for their own benefit. Yet, there was something about the disciples; there was proof in the signs and wonders that followed them. God was truly working through the early church, doing amazing things, and people believed in great numbers.
The leaders of both the Romans and the Jews may have thought they could stop the Christian cult from growing, but it was not by human power any of it was happening. Peter and the others didn’t escape the prison, they were set free. It wasn’t human power that healed or cast out demons: it was the power of God given to them through the Holy Spirit. The world can try to stop God from doing what He will, but they won’t succeed. God has the power to overcome even death and sin, how much more will He do with life?
I like the story of Thomas because he is shown not only as a doubter, but also a believer. Jesus offered His hands and side for Thomas to touch when He appeared on the eighth day, but Thomas did not need to physically feel the wounds. When the disciples saw the wounds, they rejoiced, but Thomas responded with a confession of faith that went beyond the joy of the others. He worshipped Jesus and confessed that Jesus is truly who He said He was.
We, too, are called to confess our faith that He is our Lord and our God. He is the answer to our prayers. He is the fulfillment of God’s promises. Jesus is the Messiah, the Alpha and Omega, the One who is and who was and who is to come. He is the Almighty Incarnate.
At the beginning of the book of Revelation, John’s introduction tells us why the book was written: to reveal that Jesus Christ is God and that He invites us to live in His grace and His peace. John tells us that Jesus is many things: the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, ruler of the kings of the earth. He also tells us what Jesus does: loves us, frees us, and makes us a kingdom. Times might be tough today, but John foretells the time when Jesus will be the focus of the entire world, not just our hearts. The imagery in the Revelation is frightening, but Jesus says, “Do not be afraid. I AM who I AM and I WILL BE who I WILL BE.” He is God’s promises come to life in flesh and His life gives us ours.
We pick on Thomas for his attitude in today’s Gospel lesson. He said, “Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” Why wouldn’t he believe based on the word of his friends? Shouldn’t he have accepted what they had to say, based on their reports? After all, the disciples were not the first to proclaim this good news; even Jesus told them it would happen before He was crucified. The women reported the missing body; Mary said that she had seen the Lord. How many witnesses would it take for Thomas to believe?
We shouldn’t be so hard on poor Thomas! None of the others believed until they saw Jesus for themselves. They didn’t believe the women; they thought they were mumbling nonsense. Even when Jesus appeared, they were glad only after they saw the physical evidence of Jesus’ crucifixion, knowing that indeed the one who appeared before them was their Lord and not a ghost.
Jesus is speaking to all of us when He addressed Thomas’s faith after having seen the evidence because we all think we need some proof to believe. We are reminded, though, that we believe not because we have seen and not because we by our own power can believe. We believe because we have been given the power of the Holy Spirit and by that power we can believe. Thomas was not present when Jesus breathed on the disciples; he did not yet have the Spirit that gives the faith that comes from God, the faith on which our assurance is built.
None of the disciples believed without His help. For Thomas and the other disciples, the help came in the appearance of Jesus before them and from the breath of the Spirit He breathed upon them. He appeared from outside the locked door, almost like a ghost. Yet, He was not a ghost, He was living and real. He let them touch Him, to see His wounds. They reported His presence with joy to Thomas, who did not believe them. He’s not alone. Many people have seen our joy, especially at Easter, and yet they still do not believe in the resurrection of our living Lord Jesus. They will not have the opportunity to see Him in the flesh like Peter and the others or Thomas. It is no wonder that they do not believe.
Yet, many people do believe. We believe not because we have any sort of proof, but because we have been breathed upon by God and anointed with the Holy Spirit. We believe not based on the physical presence of Jesus, but on the word of the witnesses. We believe by the mercy of God, for it is only by His grace can we have faith. We have the Word, given to us in the scriptures, to speak the testimony of the witnesses into our lives. As John wrote, “Therefore Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written, that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name.” We are the blessed ones because we believe by God’s power, not because we have any sort of proof.
It isn’t any easier to be a Christian today than it was for those first Christians. I’ve often written about the persecution of Christians around the world, and while we don’t face beheadings in the United States, the danger is becoming more real for all of us. Could you imagine going before the most powerful authorities in our day and saying, “We must obey God rather than any human authority”? If we were to do that today, we’d be counted as insane, or at least ridiculous.
How often have we heard the distain, even from other Christians, when people talk as if they are doing God’s Will? “She talks to God? And God talks back?” We might just find ourselves in the position when we have to say that we cannot obey human authority over that of God. Will we have the courage to be obedient, even when it seems dangerous? Jesus promised them peace in the Gospel story, but they were in the midst of the most difficult turmoil they had ever known. So, when Jesus appeared to them, He reminded them of His promise. Peace would not be found in giving up, in running, or even in hiding. Peace is found in Jesus. That’s where we will find peace, too.
It is a tough job to be a witness. We will face those who hate us because of our faith in Jesus Christ. There are many like Thomas who need more than words to make a confession of faith. There are those like the Jewish and Roman leaders who will try to halt the work of God. There are those who think that any name will do, any path is right. There are many, too many, who believe that they do not need a Savior at all. But we are called to take forgiveness to them anyway, because God has assured us that He will bless the work we do in His name. He has given us His Spirit to teach and guide us on our way.
How will He reveal Himself to you today? Perhaps it will be the kind words of a friend or the awesome power of the weather. Perhaps it will be in a magnificent sunset or someone who needs to get out of the cold. Go about with your work today but be ever mindful of His presence because you just might catch a glimpse of heaven.
And so, let us go forth singing with the psalmist the praise and thanksgiving in our hearts. Let us not be afraid to share the Gospel message with the world. Let us all be witnesses to the amazing things God has done through Christ Jesus our Lord. The world needs His grace and love and peace. The world needs us to be obedient to God so that they, too, will experience the risen Christ and believe.
April 21, 2022
“But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we certainly can’t carry anything out. But having food and clothing, we will be content with that. But those who are determined to be rich fall into a temptation, a snare, and many foolish and harmful lusts, such as drown men in ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some have been led astray from the faith in their greed, and have pierced themselves through with many sorrows. But you, man of God, flee these things, and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness. Fight the good fight of faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called, and you confessed the good confession in the sight of many witnesses. I command you before God, who gives life to all things, and before Christ Jesus, who before Pontius Pilate testified the good confession, that you keep the commandment without spot, blameless, until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which in its own times he will show, who is the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings, and Lord of lords. He alone has immortality, dwelling in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen, nor can see: to whom be honor and eternal power. Amen.” I Timothy 6:6-16, WEB
Today is the 96th birthday of Queen Elizabeth of the United Kingdom. She is planning to celebrate her special day with family and friends at a private cottage on her Sandringham estate. The cottage was a favorite place of her late husband Prince Philip. It has been just over a year since he died, so I imagine her day will be filled with happy memories as she spends time in his favorite place. We wonder at her choice, after all, she has multiple castles and palaces where she can spend her time. Wood Farm Cottage was where Philip spent much of his last few years; after he retired, he stayed there painting watercolors and relaxing away from the public’s eye. The cottage is a humble hideaway, and much less formal than the main house, which is an incredible building just a few miles up the road.
We visited Sandringham while we lived in England, as well as some of her other homes. I like to joke that my claim to fame is that I ate at every one of the queen’s homes. I had tea at Sandringham, in the tea shop on the grounds. I ate a ham sandwich in the gardens of Buckingham Palace. I ate shortbread cookies outside Windsor Castle, and she was there! Sadly, she was inside but never invited me (or the thousands of other people visiting that day) in. I ate a chocolate candy bar at the Palace at Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh, Scotland and she was there, too! Unfortunately, that meant I couldn’t actually go into the palace, but a nice guard allowed me to put my foot through the gate so I would be “standing” on the grounds. Finally, I had a snack at Balmoral, the queen’s Scottish estate in the far north. She was reportedly going to be visiting the estate when we were there, and it is said that she mingles with the visitors. Unfortunately, she had not yet arrived when we had to leave, but I still managed to eat at her house!
The palaces and castles are impressive, with incredible furnishings and art. These homes are well maintained, though it takes a great deal of money to do so. How do they pay for it all? They are royalty, so they must have plenty of money. Of course, there are those who would say that the care and upkeep is paid for on the backs of the people. This is true, in a sense. The queen is sovereign or head of state for fifteen Commonwealth realms, each with roles that are separate and legally distinct. Even at her age, Queen Elizabeth still serves her people, and she is given a yearly payment called the Sovereign Grant to use for official royal duties. It covers the costs of staff and upkeep, and is equal to about £1.29 per citizen. That money from the nation are not her own personal funds.
She does have private monies. There is a fund called the Queen’s Privy Purse, which has been passed down from monarch to monarch over the ages and includes income from a private estate. She owns several of her own properties, including Sandringham and Balmoral, which provide some of her income. The government reports that the queen pays taxes on all her private income. Many people scoff at the idea of royalty, and many sovereigns have not been good people. Despite her wealth, she has long been a humble servant of her people and a good sovereign for her country for more than seventy years. Most of all, though, she loves God and knows that though she is sovereign over nations, she is also a servant to the Sovereign King of kings and Lord of lords.
I am sure there are readers who will wonder at choosing a rich, privileged woman in a Christian devotional, especially a text like the one today that focuses on money. Paul is not arguing against wealth in this text. Paul wrote, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.” Money is not the root of all evil; the love of money that is the root of all evil. We need money to pay for everything we have. We need enough money to pay the rent or mortgage. We need money to buy food. We need money to purchase the clothes for our backs. They bible does not tell us that we have to live without money to be happy, but that we are to find contentment in what we do have. In other words, we do not need to chase after more and more money so that we can have bigger and better things. Perhaps it has taken 96 years, but the queen seems to have found contentment.
Spending her birthday in the informal cottage rather than a grand palace is just one of the many ways that Queen Elizabeth demonstrates her humility. Of course, she is 96 years old and has had some health issues recently, so she has chosen to spend her day away from the limelight instead of basking in the adoration of her people. She continues to serve her people with love. We can look to her as an example of one who has followed the message of Paul to Timothy to grow and mature in faith, fighting the good fight and taking hold of the promises of God.
She seems content these days, despite the continued responsibilities and pressures of rule. She certainly isn’t a pauper, and you can see her wealth in her homes, those that are owned by the nation and her own personal properties. Some might say she has too much wealth, yet there are hundreds of people who have far more wealth than her, people we respect for their good works and charitable contributions. She also does what is right with her wealth, serving her people with her resources as well as her action. We look to her as an example today because she lives as one with faith, humbly serving her people with her whole heart, honoring the God who is her King and Lord that chose her to be queen with thankfulness and praise.
April 22, 2022
“When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then they said among the nations, ‘The Lord has done great things for them.’ The Lord has done great things for us; we are glad. Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like streams in the Negeb! Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy! He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.” Psalm 126, WEB
Easter is a time of joy, and yet we are reminded that the crucifixion is a very real and central part of our faith and that we will continue to experience the pain of the crucifixion as we go forth into all the world being witnesses for Jesus Christ. It isn’t all sunshine and roses. In the midst of that truth, we are also reminded to trust in God, to live in faith, and to be joyful through the pain because our perseverance will bring us to the time of seeing our salvation in its fullness, enjoying the benefits of eternal life.
The first Easter may not have seemed very humorous to the disciples. They were frightened, hiding behind closed doors. They were angry because they thought someone stole the body of their Lord. They were confused because they didn’t understand what was happening. It was a difficult time. Though I doubt many of us will ever suffer the kind of persecution that the early church faced, we all can identify with Peter and the disciples. We’ve had to speak the truth to someone unwilling to hear. We have all experienced fear and doubt. We do not know what tomorrow holds and though we have the hope of eternal life it is hard to remember when we are suffering today. We identify more easily with the suffering of the crucifixion than the joy of the resurrection.
Despite this reality of our Christian life, this is indeed a time of great joy, joy that can be expressed in laughter and revelry. For many Christians around the world of many different denominations, the week following Easter Sunday, culminated in “Bright Sunday” (the 2nd Sunday of the Easter season). It was observed by the faithful as “days of joy and laughter” with parties and picnics to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection. The custom was rooted in the musings of early church theologians (like Augustine, Gregory of Nyssa, and John Chrysostom) that God played a practical joke on the devil by raising Jesus from the dead. Early theologians called it “Risus paschalis – the Easter laugh.” Lately we call it Holy Humor or Holy Hilarity Sunday. The Octave of Easter (the eight days between Easter and the Sunday Sunday) was a time for joking and laughter. The people played practical jokes on their priests and the priests told jokes in their sermons.
Here’s a joke to start the laughter: “Did you hear the one about the shortest sermon in history? It was titled: ‘Killing Jesus.’ The content: ‘Didn’t work.’”
I read an article that suggested the most important day of Holy Week should be Maundy Thursday rather than Good Friday or even Easter. The writer pointed to the fact that the disciples returned to the Table. The Cross was finished, and the Resurrection was a one-time event, but Christians have since those days always returned to the Table. We do so not only in the Eucharist, but also as we gather for potlucks and other events to celebrate our lives together. There is something to this idea, though I don’t think any of the three days should be considered more important than the others because you can’t have one without the others. This is why the call Maundy Thursday through Easter “the Triduum.” The Three Days are one long liturgical event, leading us to the joy of Easter and back to the Table where Jesus feeds us His life.
Risus Paschalis, the Easter Laugh, celebrated the joy of the season, a joy that perhaps was lost in the solemnity of after Easter lessons. In 1988, the Fellowship of Merry Christians began encouraging churches to return to the tradition. Easter had become too dark, so they resurrected Holy Humor Sunday. This Sunday is a time to lighten up, to enjoy the humor of God, to laugh at ourselves and to experience the reality of our life in Christ, good and bad, with merriment and happiness.
April 25, 2022
“There are six things which Yahweh hates; yes, seven which are an abomination to him: arrogant eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are swift in running to mischief, a false witness who utters lies, and he who sows discord among brothers.” Proverbs 6:16-19, WEB
Murder has existed since almost the beginning. Cain killed Abel in the fourth chapter of Genesis. It was self-defense; Cain killed Abel because of human pride. There is no way to count the number of people who have been murdered since then; it is hard enough to count the number who are murdered yearly around the world. We try to keep a count, but we don’t always know how people have died. When someone disappears and their body is found years later, we can’t always tell how they died. The television is filled with shows that use forensics to discover the truth about deaths, but those are fictional. Most investigations can’t be solved in less than an hour.
Sadly, willful violence that leads to death is a reality in the world in which we live. While most people die of accidents or natural causes, some people are murdered. Most murder is an unfortunate response to a situation gone out of control, leading to a resolution that is much too permanent. Cain was jealous and responded to Abel’s faith with a blow to the head. We’ve all heard about murders, but few of us have any real experience with it. Even fewer will ever murder someone. We probably will not be murdered. Every murder is one too many, and it is our hope that God will keep those tempted to kill from doing so.
Unfortunately, there are too many people who have little regard for human life, and though we may not take that lack of regard to its inevitable end, we often use words that threaten. How many of us yelled, “I’ll kill you!” to our siblings when they did something that made us angry? We didn’t mean it, of course, but words mean things. We learn as children that sticks and stones may break bones, but names never hurt us. The more we say something, however, the more likely it is to be real to us. If our response to every supposed affront is “I’ll kill you!” it won’t be long before we are responding in a real, physical way.
It is one thing for siblings to cry out in a moment of anger, but yet another for the kind of threats we see happening today. The internet has become a dangerous place, and many people with controversial opinions are getting death threats. Many celebrities, politicians, and other people with a public presence need twenty-four-hour security. There is some risk to being a dominant personality with a following, as there will always be someone who disagrees with your point of view. They speak and do things that anger others; they are often equally loved and hated. I once read a story about person attending a political rally that received threats just for being there. Even children are threatening one another in school yards and on the Internet. Bullies have led other young people to commit suicide because they are so afraid.
We know right from wrong. Our parents and the other adults in our lives have taught these things to us, however there is also an innate understanding of what is good and what is evil. As Christians, we have the scriptures to show us what God sees as right and wrong, but other religions seem to follow a similar formula. I wonder if we haven’t done ourselves an injustice by teaching that “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me” because even the words really can do harm.
Today’s passage from Proverbs provides the basic foundation for the laws that many religions follow. The Ten Commandments teach us to respect authority and to not murder, steal or lie. As Christians, we know we need to follow the Word of God, but people in general know the difference between right and wrong. God gives us a conscience, the knowledge between what is good and evil. We know it is not right to threaten to kill our siblings, and as we mature we learn to respond more civilly when we are upset. Sadly, it seems too many people in today’s environment have not learned how to deal well with any offense against them.
We err; we sometimes respond too harshly when we are hurt. When we do fail, we have an intercessor in Jesus Christ. He died on the cross so that we will be forgiven for what we have done against God’s Word. However, as forgiven people, we are urged to avoid the things that God despises: pride, lies, murder, scheming, evil, false witness and dissension. These are all sins that begin with the words out of our mouths and the language we use in responding to the world around us. Words matter, and as Christians we are encouraged to watch what we say, even if we don’t mean it, because we know that words can lead to a physical response that can’t be fixed.
April 26, 2022
“Yahweh is my light and my salvation. Whom shall I fear? Yahweh is the strength of my life. Of whom shall I be afraid? When evildoers came at me to eat up my flesh, even my adversaries and my foes, they stumbled and fell. Though an army should encamp against me, my heart shall not fear. Though war should rise against me, even then I will be confident. One thing I have asked of Yahweh, that I will seek after: that I may dwell in Yahweh’s house all the days of my life, to see Yahweh’s beauty, and to inquire in his temple. For in the day of trouble, he will keep me secretly in his pavilion. In the secret place of his tabernacle, he will hide me. He will lift me up on a rock. Now my head will be lifted up above my enemies around me. I will offer sacrifices of joy in his tent. I will sing, yes, I will sing praises to Yahweh.” Psalm 27:1-6, WEB
I’m a worrier. When the kid’s school buses were a few minutes late or Bruce doesn’t call when he should, I begin to pace. When the bills seem a little high, I wonder where we will get the money to pay our debts. When there are decisions to be made, I consider every possible outcome over and over again until I’m sure that we won’t make the right one. Then I worry about what will happen.
Everyone worries about something at some point in their lives. Even highly successful people find themselves in situations that cause them worry. James Cash Penney worried so much about a situation during the Great Depression that he ended up in the hospital. He had invested poorly, and his financial situation began to fail. He was unable sleep at night, and he made himself so sick with worry that he developed shingles. He was so upset that even medication was unable to relieve him of his problems, and his condition worsened. He later recalled the incident. “I was broken nervously and physically, filled with despair, unable to see even a ray of hope. I had nothing to live for. I felt I hadn’t a friend left in the world, that even my family had turned against me.” He was certain he would die.
One morning he heard singing coming from the small chapel in the hospital. The song was “God will take care of you.” James went to the chapel and listened to the song, the scripture and the prayer. He suddenly realized the depth of love that the Lord Jesus has for him, and he was lifted out of his depression. He considered those twenty minutes the most dramatic and glorious of his life, because the Lord performed a miracle in his life. He was no longer overwhelmed by worry.
When I find myself worrying the only thing that keeps me from becoming like James Cash Penney is my faith that the Lord will not leave me. I know that even when my family is late, the bills seem overwhelming, or our decisions are not right, Jesus will help us through. He is our refuge, our strength, our hope and our peace. Jesus won’t necessarily fix my problem, but if I am beginning to worry, I know I can turn to Jesus to calm my fears.
I long for the day when I will not worry about anything, but I’m sure that day will not come while I live in this world. The psalmist prayed that he might dwell in the house of the Lord forever. In Christ, we live in the assurance that God is faithful to His promises, and we will live forever in His presence. He will never leave or forsake us. J.C. Penney thought the world had forgotten him, but he learned that even if they did, Jesus was always there. In the midst of our worry, may we always know that the Lord is our light and our refuge. He will lift our burdens from our shoulders and help us through our troubles.
April 27, 2022
Lectionary Scriptures for May 1, 2022, Third Sunday of Easter: Acts 9:1-22; Psalm 30; Revelation 5:(1-7) 8-14; John 21:1-14 (15-19)
“After these things, Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples...” John 21:1a, WEB
What do you do when you don’t know what to do? I don’t mean when we you are bored, but when you are struggling with something, and you just don’t know how to deal with it. For example, what do you do when someone you love dies? Most of us turn to the things with which we are familiar. We clean the house. We cook food. We immerse ourselves into a hobby. We work. We find something to stay active so we don’t have to think about our loss.
In the first half of today’s Gospel lesson, John tells us that “after these things” Jesus appeared to the disciples, again. At this point, the disciples and others have seen Jesus at least once, and several have seen Him multiple times. He told them not to be afraid and He breathed the Holy Spirit on them. He commissioned them to take the grace and forgiveness of God to the world. They were overjoyed at His presence. After all this, Peter said to some of the disciples, “I’m going fishing.”
Each time Jesus appeared to them, He revealed Himself in a way that they would recognize and understand. It was not about recognizing His body or His face, but His words and His actions. Mary knew it was Jesus when He called her by name. The disciples on the road to Emmaus knew Him when He broke the bread. The disciples in the Upper Room on that first Sunday recognized Him by His wounds. We see two more revelations in today’s story, both repetitions from their time together.
Why would Peter go fishing? Despite everything, Peter when to a place that was familiar. He wanted to fish. Fishing was all Peter knew just a few years earlier. It was his livelihood, and the place where he felt most comfortable. I can imagine that Peter could think there, after all it was a place where he was in control. He probably enjoyed the hard work, the fresh air, the satisfaction of bringing in a net full of fish. Some of the other disciples decided to join him. The disciples had experienced some incredible things in the past three years, especially in the past few weeks. Now everything Jesus did was coming to a head; they were beginning to see that their lives were forever changed. It was probably too much to bear, so they went “home.”
This story makes us look back into the early days of Jesus’ ministry. The fishermen had been out on the lake all night and did not catch anything. Jesus called to them from the shore and told them to put out into deeper water. “Let down your nets for a catch.” Jesus was revealing Himself once again through a familiar experience, but they didn’t recognize Him at first. “Master, we worked all night, and took nothing; but at your word I will let down the net.” They returned with so many fish it took an extra boat to haul them all to shore and even then it was difficult. Jesus told them, “Don’t be afraid. From now on you will be catching people alive.” (Luke 5)
Jesus died but was resurrected, the disciples had seen Him and were commissioned again to go fish for men. Now was the time, but they returned to the lake. They tried to catch fish but caught nothing. Once again Jesus said they should put out their nets despite being unsuccessful so far. There they caught 153 fish, enough for a great meal. It was in the repetition that the disciples realized it was Jesus. They were a hundred yards from the shore, so it is possible that they had a hard time seeing that was Him. Even His voice may have been distorted at that distance. How did they not recognize He who was so familiar?
As He had done so many times before, Jesus revealed Himself in a familiar way. That’s what Jesus seemed to do in all the appearance stories; He revealed Himself in personal and intimate ways. He revealed Himself in ways they would recognize Him: by speaking their name, by breaking the bread, by showing them His wounds. The disciple whom Jesus loved, John, realized it was Him and said, “It is the Lord.” Peter jumped out of the boat in a rush to see Jesus. Even so, the disciples weren’t sure, and they were afraid to ask.
A man named Jacob Koshy converted to Christianity in a strange way. “Who would have believed that I could find the truth by smoking the Word of God?” he asked. He was living in Singapore and success drove him to do whatever was necessary to get ahead. He was a smuggler and drug dealer, a gambler and abuser. He eventually ended up in prison; it was a harsh place where he could not even get a cigarette. He managed to make cigarettes with smuggled tobacco and the torn pages of a Gideon Bible until one night he fell asleep with it in his hand. The cigarette burned out in his hand and when he awoke he read some words from the lesson from Acts, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
Jacob asked for another copy of the Bible, and he read the story of Saul who became Paul. He realized that if God could work such a miracle in the life of a man like Saul, then He could do the same for him. He got down on his knees and with tear filled eyes asked Jesus to change him too. With every tear his pain was washed away. He became a missionary when he was released from prison and married a Christian woman. He no longer chased after wasteful things and lived a praise filled life in thanksgiving for what God had done. So, by smoking the Word of God, Jacob experienced the miracle of God’s mercy and grace.
Most of us do not come to our knowledge of God in such miraculous ways. As a matter of fact, most Christians are brought to the faith by someone they love like a parent, a friend, or a partner. Through prayer and patient witness, they shared the Word of God with us. Slowly, but surely, we came to know Christ and to make Him a part of our daily life. We probably know someone who had a miraculous experience, who suddenly experienced God’s grace and fell down in praise and thanksgiving. That doesn’t make our experience any less than theirs. We might not be changed immediately, but the change is still miraculous as we grow and mature in our faith. Damascus Road does not happen for us all.
It happened to Paul, though. He was a persecutor of Christians, those Jews who were living according to “The Way.” He was on his way to stop another group from preaching about Jesus when suddenly he found himself in the presence of a powerful authority. “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” Saul answered, “Who are you, Lord?” Saul knew that it was someone to be reckoned with and he addressed Him with respect. Saul would become Paul, the chosen one who would take the Gospel to Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel.
Ananias was not pleased. He knew that Saul was a cruel man who had done cruel things to believers. He did not deserve to be touched by God’s grace. Perhaps there were those in the world who thought the same thing about Jacob Koshy. Christians most certainly had come across Jacob in his days of smuggling, drugs, and gambling. Did they speak the Word into His life, or did they turn away because he was undeserving? God spoke to Ananias. “I have plans for Saul who will become Paul. Do as I say, and you will see something amazing.”
It took a miraculous revelation to get Paul’s attention. Jacob had a Bible in his cell, but it took a miraculous experience for him to read the words in that book and to learn of God’s grace. We are called to be like Ananias, to share the Gospel with those who cross our path, to prayerfully share God’s grace with them. We might be rejected and persecuted, but God knows what He is doing. Eventually His Word will touch the heart of those whom He loves, and they will be saved.
How would you react if you came face to face with your favorite star? I can tell you how I would react; I was a blithering idiot. I was a teenager. My mother, a friend, and I were traveling home from a meeting that was a few hours from home. We stopped at a rest area to use the rest room and grab a quick snack. It was very late, and we were tired. A fancy privately owned bus pulled into the gas station. It did not take long for us to discover that the bus belonged to Rick Springfield.
Rick Springfield was definitely one of my favorite stars at that time. I loved his music and I liked to watch him on the soap opera General Hospital. I was determined to meet him, to get his autograph, and to give him an encounter he would not forget. I doubt that he would remember it, but if he does he’s probably still laughing. My mom, my friend, and I stood in the path from the bus to the building at the rest area. He had to walk by! When he did, he kindly gave us his autograph and humored us for a moment. He was obviously exhausted, having just come from a concert a few miles up the road. To add to the strain, we later discovered that the evening we met him was the anniversary of his father’s death, an event that to that still brought tears to his eyes.
He was gracious and listened to us babble about how much we liked his music and then I, trying to be all cool, blurted out “So, how do you like being on ‘The Love Boat’?” I meant “General Hospital,” of course.” I’m not even sure why I came up with the wrong television show. I was so embarrassed, and then blurted out, “I mean ‘General Hospital’,” and giggled desperately. I think he smiled a little, and I hope that I gave him a moment of happiness in his time of sadness. As I look back on that moment, I think that he smiled a little and perhaps my foolishness gave him a bit of happiness in a time of sadness. All I know is that being in the presence of someone famous made me silly.
Today’s passage from the book of Revelation is a description of what it will be like in heaven. For some, this is a ridiculous vision; who would want to spend eternity falling on their knees praising God with the same words over and over and over again? It seems like a waste, living forever and ever doing the same old thing. Won’t we get sick of it? For a non-believer, this scene does not give them any sort of hope or reason for seeking to know God.
I’m sure there are those who do not understand how I could have been so blown over by someone like Rick Springfield. They can’t understand how I could get so tongue-tied over him. Yet, for me, that was a memorable moment, foolish or not. I have since lost that autograph, but I'll never forget standing in the dark parking lot waiting for him and his crew. I won’t forget his kindness to two teenagers and a mom in the middle of the night.
I imagine there are folk who think they would really be cool if they met their favorite star, but we really do not know how we will react or what we will say in that moment. We also like to think we’ll know how we will act when we meet face to face with our Creator. Some time ago there was a song by Mercy Me called “I can only imagine”. Will we stand? Will we fall? Will we sing or be silent? We can only imagine what we will do when we meet Him in that day and perhaps this image from Revelation is exactly how we will naturally act in His presence. Perhaps being there with Him will constantly bring us to our knees in praise and adoration for eternity, and eternity will not be long enough.
I doubt Peter expected his reunion with Jesus would go as it went. He was probably timid, after all it was not very long since he had denied knowing Jesus. What would Jesus say? What would Jesus do? Would Jesus forgive him?
The disciples finished their fishing, and then went to where Jesus was sitting on the beach. He had already established a fire and was already cooking fish on the fire. They were all timid. Was this really Jesus? Jesus broke bread and gave it to them to eat along with some fish, thereby reminding them of the miracles they had witnessed while Jesus was alive; revealing Himself again to give them the assurance that He was indeed alive and walking amongst them again.
Jesus turned to Peter and asked, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love me more than these?” What was Jesus asking of Peter? Did he love Jesus more than the other disciples? Did he love Jesus more than those disciples love Jesus? Did he love Jesus more than his fishing gear and the hard work of catching fish on the sea? Peter did not answer with specifics but simply said, “Yes, Lord; you know that I have affection for you.” Jesus did know, for Jesus knew the hearts of His disciples as well as He knows our own hearts. Yet, Jesus asked again. And then He asked again. Three times Jesus asked Peter about his love and by the third time Peter was hurt because Jesus asked it again. “Lord, you know everything. You know that I have affection for you.”
Why did Jesus ask three times? Peter denied Jesus three times, and the threefold confession of love for Jesus counters his denial. For Peter, the three questions seemed to verify his unworthiness, but for Jesus the three answers restored their relationship and reinstated Peter to his position as leader among the disciples.
There are some subtleties in the text that may or may not be significant. One thing that is often noted is the use of the word “love” in these passages. In the Greek there are different words used by John in describing this scene. The transliteration of these words is “agape” and “phileo.” Some suggest that there is little difference between these two words and John simply used the variety to keep the passage interesting. Others will tell you that agape refers to a deeper, more abiding sense of love while phileo is a brotherly love.
There is some comfort to be found in this passage if we recognize the difference between these words. In the first and second questions Jesus asks Peter, “Do you agape me?” Peter answers, “Yes, Lord, I phileo you.” In the third question Jesus asks, “Do you phileo me?” Peter answers, “Yes, I phileo you.” To me it appears Jesus was asking Peter for a deep commitment while Peter was not yet ready to give him that much. Yet, Jesus did not take anything away from Peter. Peter was still restored and reinstalled, commissioned to do the work of Christ in the world. There is comfort in this for those of us who have taken too many years to make that commitment to the work Christ is calling us to do. We can see that Jesus has patience, that He does not take away our commission because we have doubts and uncertainties. He loves us and encourages us until we are deeply and fully committed. Obviously, Peter’s love became deeper as he continued the work until he died a martyr’s death on the cross.
Another subtlety we see in this passage is found in the commission. Jesus first tells Peter, “Feed my lambs.” Then He says, “Tend my sheep.” Finally, He tells Peter to “Feed my sheep.” There is a progression in the way we do ministry found in these commands. First, we are to give the lambs, the newborns, the babies, the milk of the Gospel that they might believe and be saved. We go out into the world feeding the lambs with God’s grace so that they will follow Jesus. Once they have been saved, the lambs are brought into the fellowship of believers, through baptism and the sharing of the eucharist, and there in the congregation the shepherd tends to their needs, making disciples who will also go out into the world to take the Gospel to others. Finally, we feed the sheep. We never stop needing to hear the Word of God, to learn more, to grow in our faith. Every Christian needs to hear the Gospel over and over again, to stay firm in the faith which has been given. Peter first, and those of us who have followed, are called to continue to feed Christians with the Word of God, to offer Bible studies and the sacraments so that they will stand firm in Christ. Is that what we do?
“An evil is in the professed camp of the Lord, so gross in its impudence, that the most shortsighted can hardly fail to notice it during the past few years. It has developed at an abnormal rate, even for evil. It has worked like leaven until the whole lump ferments. The devil has seldom done a cleverer thing than hinting to the church that part of their mission is to provide entertainment for the people, with a view to winning them. From speaking out as the Puritans did, the church has gradually toned down her testimony, then winked at and excused the frivolities of the day. Then she tolerated them in her borders. Now she has adopted them under the plea of reaching the masses.”
This quote might seem like something that was written recently by someone concerned about the number of churches feeding the flock with activities and preaching that will draw in the crowds and satisfy everyone’s desires. It is certainly a problem in today’s world, but apparently was a problem in the nineteenth century. The words were written by C.H. Spurgeon. It is a problem that every generation of Christianity faces. We have to discern our purpose and do God’s work according to His Word. But the world constantly tries to distract us from the commission Jesus to the disciples.
What is our purpose as a Church? Are we called to get as many people in the pews as possible? Are we called to be the majority? Should we conform to the world so that it will come through our doors? After all, if we can get them to come, then we can speak God’s word into their lives and they will come to believe, right? So, we spend our time trying to be exciting, satisfying and relevant, whatever that means, in the hope that we’ll fill our churches until they are overflowing. Then we can build bigger churches with room for more activities that will draw more people into our doors. We can claim that we are doing it for God, but are we if we’ve turned from Him in the process?
We certainly want the Church to grow. We want to experience the exciting spread of the Gospel that we see in the book of Acts, when families, hundreds, and even thousands of people were added to their numbers. Yet, in those stories it is not what the disciples were doing to attract the people that made them believe: it was the Gospel, God’s Word that gave the people faith. Nowhere does it tell us that the disciples entertained the people or that they gave the people everything they desired. They preached, they baptized, and they healed. They took the Resurrection of Jesus into the world, and many were convinced of its truth. By God’s Word they believed and were saved.
This is not an easy thing for God to ask from us. The world does not want to hear the Gospel. As a matter of fact, the message of the cross, of forgiveness, is foolishness to the world. There are those who do not believe they have anything for which they should be forgiven. They have lived well enough; no one is hurt by their actions. There are others who think that they are beyond forgiveness. They believe that things will never be right because they are unworthy of such grace. The disciples were arrested and even killed for the message they preached, but the Church refused to stop speaking despite the persecution because they were commanded by Christ to do this work.
There is nothing in this commission about entertaining folk or focusing on good works. We are called to share the Gospel message and help people make it a part of their life. Then we help one another grow and mature in our faith so that we can do the work that God has called us each to do. We might be overwhelmed with the tasks we have been given and with the people we have to help, but we find comfort in the scriptures and in the sacraments as we go study and gather in worship, even that so called boring worship that has no modern entertainment value. Our call might take us into places we do not want to go, but God will be with us through it all. We do not have to work so hard at filling our pews to do the work God has called us to do: God provides the harvest and He holds the Church together through everything, including persecution.
When we have our own doubts, we can find comfort in the fact that Jesus keeps revealing Himself to us in ways that we will recognize Him. We might wonder, but He will make it clear and by His Holy Spirit we will see Him and believe. Those disciples who’d ministered and lived with Him for several years needed to be reminded time after time so that they would be confident in this most amazing thing: that Jesus had been raised from the dead. We can trust, by their witness, that all these things truly happened, and that Jesus really is alive.
The world needs the Gospel. We won’t fill our nets with fish by becoming like the world, but by following Christ and doing His work. When we step out in faith to do the work God has called us to do, we ask ourselves, “What is our purpose.” We seek to understand God’s will for our lives, and we try to be obedient to His will. This often leads us to step out of our comfort zone, to do things that seem beyond our ability and beyond our resources. When we succeed, it is easy to pat ourselves on our backs in a congratulatory way. Yet we learn, particularly during this Easter season, that our purpose is not to create grand buildings to build up great ministries. Our purpose is to take the forgiveness of Christ into the world.
April 28, 2022
“On the first day of the week, when the disciples were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and continued his speech until midnight. There were many lights in the upper room where we[a] were gathered together. A certain young man named Eutychus sat in the window, weighed down with deep sleep. As Paul spoke still longer, being weighed down by his sleep, he fell down from the third floor and was taken up dead. Paul went down and fell upon him, and embracing him said, “Don’t be troubled, for his life is in him.’ When he had gone up, and had broken bread and eaten, and had talked with them a long while, even until break of day, he departed. They brought the boy in alive, and were greatly comforted.” Acts 20:7-12, ASV
I like to tell stories. This is obvious in the daily posts of “A WORD FOR TODAY”. You’ve listened to my stories day after day. Sometimes my stories are from my past, and sometimes they are about the things I experience now. I tell stories about television shows, movies or commercials. I have even used other people’s experiences. I find ways of using stories from books I have read or newspaper headlines. While not all the devotions are written as stories, they all tell a story in some way. At least I hope they tell all tell a story: the story of God’s grace in the world.
Certain topics find their way into my stories on a regular basis, like my cats, my family, and travel. I talk about wildflowers and weather. I like to tell the stories of the Saints and other historic people. Sometimes I worry that I’ve told the same stories over and over again. I confess that after writing this devotional for nearly twenty-three years, I do sometimes post edited repeats, including this one from twelve years ago. My life these days isn’t very exciting. I hope that even the repeats continue to offer new lessons for us as we grow in faith. Sometimes I just like telling the story again.
There are some stories that I like to tell. After having told them a number of times, I have developed the story beyond words. The stories have rhythm and I know when to change my tone of voice or use my body to emphasize a point. These tiny details make the stories more interesting; they help keep the listener’s attention and create an emotional response. That’s what stories are meant to do: some make us laugh and others make us cry. They help us to share our lives and build relationships. Though we have told the stories over and over again, they become a shared experience that bonds us together.
My children, however, never really appreciated my reruns. It doesn’t take much to spark a memory: a word, a sight, a noise, a smell. The kids often have experiences similar to things that happened to me when I was their age, and their storytelling leads us back to my memories. They get frustrated by this because they have already heard the story and they aren’t usually very patient about it. “You told me this one already, Mom,” they say with a sigh. This response makes me stop talking; after all, I don’t want to bore my kids.
I sometimes worry that the readers of my devotions get tired of hearing my stories over and over again. I hope that even if my life isn’t very exciting, the lessons of God’s grace that I find in my experiences are enough to keep your attention. I don’t think I’ve sent anyone falling off a wall with my storytelling. I don’t think I could talk all day and then all night. Paul certainly had something to say that day recorded in today’s scripture, didn’t he? He probably filled the time with stories, stories of his own adventures with the Gospel and stories of Jesus. He knew the scriptures, so I’m sure he also told those stories to the people listening.
Did the young man get bored? Perhaps: young people are not very patient with us old folk and our stories. It isn’t that they aren’t interested. After all, Eutychus was there, listening to Paul. But I can see him sitting in the window, on the edge of the crowd. He was probably like the kids we have in our communities of faith, anxious to learn, but wondering how the stories of those adults have anything to do with them. Our kids would probably have their social media open on their phones, only half listening to the sermons.
I’m not sure what lesson we are meant to get out of the story of Paul’s fatal sermonizing. Yet, as we read this story, we see that it only took a personal touch from Paul for Eutychus to come back to life. Perhaps the stories were boring to the young man, but a relationship was built between the two that day. And though our kids might get bored with our old people storytelling, they want to be in a relationship with us. They want more than stories; they want that personal touch. So, even as you share your own stories, don’t let their impatience destroy what might develop between you. Give them the stories, but also the personal touch. Show them how God’s grace is relevant to them today.
April 29, 2022
“For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.” Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, WEB
This text from Ecclesiastes is perhaps one of the best known, but not necessarily a favorite text. We like that there is a time to be born, to plant, to heal, to build, to laugh, to dance, to gather, to embrace, to seek, to keep, to sew, to speak, to love, for peace. We don’t like that the teacher reminds us that there is also a time to die, to pluck, to kill, to break down, to weep, to mourn, to throw stones, to refrain, to lose, to cast away, to rend, to keep silent, to hate, for war. Those negative attributes of life are the things we try to avoid.
Matthew Henry wrote, “We live in a world of changes. The different events of time, and conditions of human life, are vastly different from one another, and we are continually passing and repassing between them. In the course of nature (James 3:6) sometimes one part is uppermost and by and by the contrary; there is a constant ebbing and flowing, waxing and waning from one extreme to the other. When we are in prosperity, we should be content, and yet not secure—not to be secure because we live in a world of changes, and yet to be content and, as he had advised (ch. 2.24) to find satisfaction in our work, in a humble dependence on God, neither lifted up with hopes, nor cast down with fears, but with evenness of mind.”
How much easier would life be if we didn’t have to face the highs and lows? But would it really be better? We don’t want to kill, but would we grow any food if the seed doesn’t die? We don’t want war, but sometimes we have to fight for justice. We don’t want to break anything down, but we can’t build something new without getting rid of the old. The highs are good, but would we even know they are highs if we didn’t experience the lows? Would we really experience life if we never had to face death?
We do live in a changing world. We experience highs and lows. We may want to avoid the lows, but it is in those times when we experience God. Now, we might prefer the experience of the mountain top, but we can’t stay there. Like Jesus after the transfiguration, we need to go back into the valley, into the muck of real life. That’s where God’s hand is most at work. Who would we heal if there were no sickness? Who would we comfort if there were no pain? Who would we seek if none were lost? It might be easier to see God’s grace in the highs, but it is in the lows where God is really at work. There is, indeed, a season for everything, and God is at work in it all.