Welcome to the April 2023 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 2023
April 3, 2023
“Who has believed our message? To whom has Yahweh’s arm been revealed? For he grew up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of dry ground. He has no good looks or majesty. When we see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of suffering and acquainted with disease. He was despised as one from whom men hide their face; and we didn’t respect him. Surely he has borne our sickness and carried our suffering; yet we considered him plagued, struck by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions. He was crushed for our iniquities. The punishment that brought our peace was on him; and by his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray. Everyone has turned to his own way; and Yahweh has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, yet when he was afflicted he didn’t open his mouth. As a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and as a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he didn’t open his mouth. He was taken away by oppression and judgment. As for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living and stricken for the disobedience of my people? They made his grave with the wicked, and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth. Yet it pleased Yahweh to bruise him. He has caused him to suffer. When you make his soul an offering for sin, he will see his offspring. He will prolong his days and Yahweh’s pleasure will prosper in his hand. After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light and be satisfied. My righteous servant will justify many by the knowledge of himself; and he will bear their iniquities. Therefore I will give him a portion with the great. He will divide the plunder with the strong; because he poured out his soul to death and was counted with the transgressors; yet he bore the sins of many and made intercession for the transgressors.” Isaiah 53, WEB
Every story has a beginning, middle, and an end. The beginning introduces the setting, character, and plot. The middle of the story develops character and the storyline. The plot thickens and conflict builds as we progress through the pages. The conflict is resolved by the end of the story. The story of God’s people is no different than the fairytales or novels we enjoy reading. The Bible begins in the beginning, introducing God and His people. Throughout the Bible we get to know many different characters and see their purpose in God’s story. The plot shows the development of Israel and the world around them. The conflict begins right from the start as the relationship between God and His people is broken by sin and death is introduced as the greatest enemy. Jesus Christ is the conclusion to His story.
The life and ministry of Jesus was filled with incredible signs, wonders, and teachings. From the first miracle at Canaan when he changed water into wine, to the raising of Lazarus from the dead, and everything in between, Jesus showed Himself to be different from anyone the world had ever seen. When He taught in the temple and on the hillsides, people were amazed at the Word as it became alive before them. He taught them that there was a better way to live. Jesus was controversial. Many would follow and listen whenever he breezed through a town or village, however, there were those who did not believe Jesus came from God. Some even claimed that He was of Satan. Some tried to stone Him. The teachers in the temple as well as other religious leaders began to fear his power over the people that saw Jesus as the answer to their prayers.
For three years Jesus ministered to God’s people, teaching them how to live according to the promise of God. The Word He spoke was difficult to understand and accept. The people thought they knew God and thought they were living a godly life. However, Jesus came to share the truth. Toward the end of His ministry, Jesus began to reveal that there was only one way for humankind to live according to God’s promises. There had to be one final sacrifice. He had to die. His disciples and the people did not understand when Jesus spoke about death, because they saw His life as triumphant. They saw Him as a king among men. A few, by the power of God, understood. He was loved by many, but not by all.
As the Passover of His third year of ministry approached, Jesus knew the time had come for Him to fulfill the promise of His Father. Jerusalem was packed with people. It was a holy week for the Jews; the festival of Passover was just days away and many people were in town for the feast. The streets were packed; the hotels were filled with people who came to the Temple to worship. This was a time of remembrance, and to be cleansed in the Temple by sacrifice.
Jesus’ ministry was at its peak; He had a large following. The crowds gathered to listen to Him speak about the kingdom of God. People constantly sought Him to heal their illnesses and cast out their demons. There was talk among the disciples about making Jesus king of an earthly kingdom. They saw Him as the Messiah, the king of the Jews. But their image of the Messiah was one who would take the world by force. It would be easy for Him to do. His followers were not a mighty army, but they were willing to do anything for Him. By the time He rode into Jerusalem, the people were in such a frenzy that it would have taken just one word from Jesus for them to rise to fight.
But Jesus had other intentions. He was going to ride into Jerusalem as a king, but not in a chariot with fine horses. Rather, He was going to ride into Jerusalem as the Servant King. He sent His disciples to a village with the instructions to get a colt that is tied there. The owners asked, “Why are you untying the colt?” The disciples answered, “The Lord needs it.” Throughout the passion narrative, Jesus is always in control. Every physical need is already answered, every desire fulfilled before spoken. There is much more to this week than the incredible provision of God. Jesus did all this to complete His mission, which reached far beyond this world.
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.” Jesus spent time in the Temple that evening and then went to Bethany to rest. The next day He went to Jerusalem again.
It was difficult to travel many miles and take with you the animals you need for those sacrifices. The temple courts were filled with merchants selling animals to the pilgrims so they could offer their sacrifices for the convenience of the visiting worshippers. The market was established within the walls of the Temple, in the Gentile court. Moneychangers traded coins since many of the people who came to Jerusalem could have the right type of money to present their offering. Some of the vendors were not honorable about their products, their weights, and the money conversions. Jesus was upset by the state of the Temple. Sin after sin was causing disgrace in God’s house.
The Temple was no longer a place to learn about God; it was a place to attend to the works of men. Jesus overturned the tables, chased the animals, and spoke against what was happening. His harsh words made the Jewish leaders more upset about the work He was doing. Jesus had arrived in Jerusalem to shouts of acclamation from the crowd, but He still had much to accomplish in the short period of time before the Passover celebration. The people had to learn about true faith in God. His teaching was not unanimously accepted, and the leaders began to plot against Jesus.
Jesus returned to Bethany once again to rest.
April 4, 2023
“He answered them, ‘To you it is given to know the mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven, but it is not given to them. For whoever has, to him will be given, and he will have abundance; but whoever doesn’t have, from him will be taken away even that which he has. Therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing they don’t see, and hearing, they don’t hear, neither do they understand. In them the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled, which says, “By hearing you will hear, and will in no way understand; Seeing you will see, and will in no way perceive; for this people’s heart has grown callous, their ears are dull of hearing, and they have closed their eyes; or else perhaps they might perceive with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their heart, and would turn again, and I would heal them.” But blessed are your eyes, for they see; and your ears, for they hear. For most certainly I tell you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see the things which you see, and didn’t see them; and to hear the things which you hear, and didn’t hear them.’” Matthew 13:11-17, WEB
Jesus was a great storyteller. The people sat mesmerized when He spoke the word of God in ways that touched their life and experience. He used examples of their everyday life: vineyards, yeast, animals, clothes, building, treasures, farming, friends, and money. He used the things in this world that they knew to share 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 were presented in a tangible way so that the people who heard them with a heart of faith understood the promise of God for their life.
Jesus used parables as a way to explain the kingdom of God to those who would listen. Parables are not always understood by those who hear them. Even the disciples, who knew Jesus intimately, often did not understand what He was saying. He had to explain it to them later, in private. What’s the point of telling stories that do not help someone come to faith? I think parables are meant to make people think, to make us reach beyond our comfort zone, to seek answers to questions that are brought to light by the story. What is the kingdom of heaven, or the kingdom of God, like? What does it mean that the kingdom of God grows in impossible places? What does it mean that the kingdom of God is small but grows large and provides protection for creatures of the earth? What is the kingdom of God? These are the kind of questions a former-Christian-atheist friend of mine asked that helped my faith grow. It is in thinking about these questions that we draw near to God.
Parables are not meant to give us answers, but to guide us in asking questions. Faith is not something that is tangible. It isn’t something we can describe in so many words. It isn’t something that is the same for you and for me. It isn’t even the same for each of us throughout our lives. Paul writes, “...for we walk by faith, not by sight...” I will never fully understand the kingdom of God until I dwell in my eternal home. Until that day, Jesus will continue to tell me stories that make me think about what it means to me today. If the kingdom of God is like a man who spreads seeds, am I a seed? Am I the man? There have been times in my life when I have been both. I’ve been the one sharing the stories of Jesus with others. I am also a seed that continues to sprout and grow. The point here is that the God does the part that we can’t. We can’t make others become Christian. We can’t even make ourselves into a Christian. God does the work. Who among us would ever be a Christian without God’s help? God can do the impossible.
Not everyone received those words with a heart of faith. The leadership often heard the stories of Jesus as condemnation against their position. They were threatened by Jesus’ focus on submission, poverty, and forgiveness. They were offended by His insinuation that their obedience was not righteousness, but rather was the act 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 His ministry.
The bible shares more words about the Tuesday of Holy Week than any other day in the history of the world. Jesus spent the day in the temple and around Jerusalem telling parables and causing controversy. The leaders confronted Him and questioned His authority. The disciples desperately tried to understand the changes they saw in Him. In many ways, the crowds were becoming confused because the sweet stories of hope were becoming warnings of woe to those who would not listen. The leaders were already hardened against the message but on Tuesday of Holy Week, we see the people beginning to turn away from Jesus because He was no longer fulfilling their desires. He was preparing them to accept the ultimate sacrifice. Were they ready to receive it?
The Bible says so much about Tuesday, but is silent about what Jesus did on the Wednesday of Holy Week. Jesus knew the time of His death was growing close, why wasn’t He in the Temple trying to reach those that He had not yet touched? I would have felt a desperate need to go continue the ministry until the very last moment, to reach as many as possible. Jesus knew a better way. He spent the evenings during Holy Week in Bethany, at the home of Lazarus, Mary, and Martha. There, on Wednesday, it is likely that Jesus and His friends spent a quiet day in prayer and fellowship.
In Jerusalem, the leaders were plotting against Jesus. They had to find a way to rid the city of this man they saw as a threat to their power. Judas went to the Temple to offer help. We don’t know why Judas would do such a thing, but he could have gone to the priests on Wednesday. Judas wanted power but did not understand the kind of power that Jesus came to reveal. Jesus always knew what was happening, but Judas had no control. We do not know exactly when Judas first began his betrayal of Jesus, but it may have been Wednesday of Holy Week.
April 5, 2023
Lectionary Scriptures for April 9, 2023, Easter Sunrise and Easter Day: Easter Sunrise: Exodus 14:10-15:1; Psalm 118:15-29; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11; John 20:1-18; Easter Day: Acts 10:34-43; Psalm 16; Colossians 3:1-4; Matthew 28:1-10
“I have set Yahweh always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved. Therefore my heart is glad, and my tongue rejoices. My body shall also dwell in safety.” Psalm 16:8-9, WEB
It is hard to think about Resurrection Day when the calendar says we still have to get through the Three Days: Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Vigil. The forty days are almost over. We can see the end of our Lenten journey. Jesus entered into Jerusalem and He set into motion the culmination of His life and ministry.
So, how did you do? Did you manage to break an old habit or are you anxiously awaiting the moment you can dive into your favorite chocolate bar? Did you establish a new habit of prayer or Bible study over the past seven weeks, or did you fail during the first few weeks and never bother to try again? Did you even get around to making a commitment to do something new or give up something old? I have done fairly well, but I confess that I did give up on one promise. I didn’t finish the painting I wanted to do. I also cheated on my morning fast a couple days when I was traveling. I did learn that God is able to use a simple snail mail note to impact the day of a friend at just the right time and I managed to keep up with all my reading.
It doesn’t really matter. However you answer those questions is between you and God. You aren’t a bad person if you didn’t give up chocolate for forty days or take up a new prayer discipline during Lent. You aren’t any more a sinner if you ate meat on Friday or forgot to attend Wednesday night Lent services. God does not call us to do these things to burden us with more than we can handle; the Lenten disciplines were meant to be gifts to help us focus more clearly on our relationship with God. It does not help us to end this journey with a powerful guilt; guilt keeps us from seeking God’s grace because it makes us feel like we aren’t worthy.
Here’s the thing: we aren’t worthy. We aren’t good even if we have managed to keep our commitments this Lent. Our fasting does not earn us anything in God’s Kingdom and though good devotional practices and prayer will be to our benefit, they don’t make us any more worthy in God’s eyes for His grace.
We can’t be worthy. Ever. But God is not looking for worthy people to join Him in rejoicing at the empty tomb this Sunday. He is looking for humble people of faith who know that the only way to get to the empty tomb is through the cross of Jesus Christ. A prominent politician once said, “I am telling you if there is a God, when I get to heaven I’m not stopping to be interviewed. I am heading straight in. I have earned my place in heaven. It’s not even close.” He thinks he earned his way to heaven.
Did he? He said, “...if there is a God...” His attitude is no different than most of the world. We believe in good works. We believe that we have done enough to earn our way into heaven. The truth is this: whatever we have done, whichever “side” of any issue we stand, our work will not make us worthy. It is by faith we have been saved, and that too is a gift. It is given to us by the One who obediently and humbly and passionately went through the Three Days of pain, betrayal, denial, suffering, crucifixion, and the grave to defeat sin and death by rising on Easter morning.
It was ironic that the politician made that claim during Holy Week. Our minds are set on heaven during this time as we experience the miracle of God’s grace in Easter. We see the world come alive with the fresh new growth of spring. We celebrate the day by gathering with our family and friends. We break out our best clothes, and even go buy new dresses or suits for the occasion. Our churches will be filled with sweet smelling lilies, and we can once again sing “Alleluia” to our God. The stories of the Passion and the Resurrection turn our hearts to the God who has done all this for us. Yet in the midst of all this, there are many who have this understanding that their good works will earn them a place in heaven.
They miss it completely; they misunderstand God as much as those religious leaders in Jerusalem did nearly two thousand years ago. They continue to rely on their own strength and to see their own accomplishments as good and right and true. They are arrogant and ignorant. They don’t necessarily appear arrogant or ignorant. As a matter of fact, many people who think like this do wonderfully good works and are both humble and intelligent in the ways of men. However, their humility and knowledge are the very things keeping them from a good and right and true relationship with God. They act as servants to men while ignoring or rejecting or doubting the reality of God and thus raising themselves as gods in this world.
My daughter was in the play “Moon Over Buffalo” when she was in high school. It is a comedic story about a stage family who gets caught up in all sorts of hysterical circumstances. There is miscommunication, misunderstanding, and misdirection from all the main characters. In the end, their foibles leave us rolling in the aisles with laughter. My daughter played an older woman, the mother of an aging actress and grandmother to a young woman who decided to leave the theatre life behind to try to create for herself a “normal” life with an average guy and a stable home life.
When the directors were planning costumes and make-up, they asked Victoria to bring pictures of older family members, like her grandmother. By looking at how my mom aged, they could create a make-up design that would be real. She came home one evening with the theatre make-up still on her face. They were still developing the design, even so, I could not help but be amazed at how she looked. With her red hair (which comes from my mother’s genes) done up in a bun on her head and deep lines of age painted on her face, it seemed almost as though I was seeing my mother again. Victoria was young when my mother died and we always lived too far for the kids to get to know her very well, but Victoria shares some of her physical characteristics. As she pretended to be an old lady, images of my mom shone through her character, especially my mom’s orneriness.
My daughter didn’t become my mother, but for a few brief moments on stage, she was just like my mother. It is tempting to read the lesson from Colossians and think that Paul is suggesting that we reject the world and look toward heaven. There are many Christians who think solely about those things “above,” rejecting the things of the flesh. Yet, Christ calls us to live in the world even while we are no longer of the world. In other words, in Christ we have been transformed into His image and we now belong to His Kingdom, and yet there is work to do in the here and now. So, we are joined with Him and as we grow in faith and mature in grace, God shines through our lives in every increasing glory. When Christ, who is our life, appears, the world sees the work of God in our flesh and in our works. Like an actress on the stage, we become more and more like Him, and it is Him that the world sees when they see our life.
We are called to seek after the things of God, not only heaven, but also His kingdom here on earth. We are to look for the helpless and the hungry, the lonely and the sinners; it is in the suffering of this world that we find Christ. As we reach out to those who need to experience God’s grace, then God’s glory will be manifested in our lives.
It is easy for us to look at the Resurrection story with hindsight. We can imagine what it might have been like: the joy, the peace, the sudden revelation of everything Jesus had said. We look at the characters in the stories and think to ourselves, “Why didn’t they know?” “Why were they afraid?” We think these questions because we have twenty/twenty vision. We have seen the end. We have seen God’s work in its fullness. They didn’t have the same perspective. They were living it and they could not see what would happen next.
How do you feel when something exciting happens? Isn’t there a bit of fear when you have been blessed with something good? A new job is a wonderful thing, but everyone suffers a certain amount of fear and doubt. What if I can’t do the tasks? What if I fail? What if it is too hard? What if I can’t get along with my co-workers? We do this when we become involved in a new relationship. Will it last? Do we really have enough in common to make it work? What will happen if I’m left alone again? New mothers perhaps suffer the greatest fears. What if I can’t handle the responsibility? What if my baby gets sick? What if I do something wrong?
It might sound pessimistic, but it is a reality of our human nature. We face a certain amount of fear when we are going into something new. We face doubts and uncertainty when we do not know what is going to happen next. Those fears need not stop us from going forward, but we do have to learn how to cope with and overcome the fear.
The women went to the tomb after the sabbath day was over, at dawn the next morning. Matthew doesn’t tell us why they were going, but the other gospels report that they went to take care of Jesus’ body. He died while the Passover Sabbath was looming, and they did not have time to prepare His body properly for burial. Joseph of Arimathea took the body to a newly carved tomb but did little to give Jesus the honor due to a great friend and teacher. The women went to anoint His body and wrap it properly.
A great earthquake shook the earth as they approached the tomb. An earthquake would have shaken them, but they faced even greater surprises and revelations. An angel, whose presence would have been shocking and fearful, appeared before them and said, “Don’t be afraid.” I don’t know about you, but those words rarely have the intended effect on me. The angel told them to go and tell the disciples that Jesus had risen. After they saw the empty tomb, they ran to tell the disciples. Matthew tells us that they departed with fear and great joy.
Along the way Jesus appeared and said, “Rejoice!” They fell at His feet and worshipped Him. Now, more than ever, you would think that they would let go of the fear. There was their friend and teacher standing before them. However, Jesus knew that there was still fear. He said, “Don’t be afraid” and repeated the command to go tell the Good News to the disciples. The overwhelming fear might have caused them to ignore the angel’s command, but Jesus went to them in the midst of this extraordinary experience to give them peace so that they would go on and do what they were called to do. Jesus comes to us in the same way, giving us the courage to go forward to do what we are called to do in this world despite our fear.
The Old Testament story for Easter Sunrise is from the book of Exodus. It is the story of the Hebrews escaping Egypt. They had just arrived at the Red Sea when they realized that Pharaoh had changed his mind and was chasing them with an army. They had nowhere to go. They couldn’t go into the sea, and they couldn’t return to Egypt; the only outcome they could see was death. They were caught between a rock and a hard place. The people were afraid. They argued with Moses, “Isn’t this the word that we spoke to you in Egypt, saying, ‘Leave us alone, that we may serve the Egyptians?’ For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.” They returned to this thinking over and over again as they journeyed to the Promised Land.
They wanted to escape the heavy hand of the Egyptians, but God’s plan was as frightening because they did not know where it would lead. They were ready to turn back at the first sign of disaster.
This is an interesting text for us to read at Easter sunrise. Imagine how the disciples were feeling after Jesus died on the cross. They did not know what would come next. Despite His repeated assurances, they felt like they were stuck between a rock and a hard place. Danger surrounded them. They couldn’t move forward, and they couldn’t go back. Their lives had been changed, but now everything was for naught. They scattered during the trial, only a few saw Him on the hill. Though some returned to the upper room, we know that Thomas was hiding elsewhere because he was not there when Jesus appeared to the rest.
The answer to the Hebrews was to trust in God. “Don’t be afraid. Stand still, and see the salvation of Yahweh, which he will work for you today; for you will never again see the Egyptians whom you have seen today. Yahweh will fight for you, and you shall be still.” At that, Moses raised his staff over the sea and the sea parted before them. They ran for their lives. The Egyptians followed, but when the last Hebrew was safely on the far shore, Moses raised his staff and the sea closed up again. They were saved by the power of God.
The disciples waited and worried and wondered. I’m sure they prayed, but they may not even have known what they should pray. They probably discussed what they did wrong, what Jesus did wrong, what they should do next. They grieved, they cried, they were angry and confused. How could it turn out so wrong? Did they think, perhaps, that they should have told Jesus to leave them alone three years ago? “For it would be better for us to lead our normal humdrum lives, than to die at the hands of the powerful.” I don’t doubt that at least some of the conversation revolved around returning home, going back to the way life was before Jesus. No matter how good it was to be with Him, the old ways are better than death.
But God said, “Don’t be afraid. Stand still, and see my salvation.”
He says the same to us today.
Now, I don’t know about you, but I am hesitant when I discover something great because on one hand, we want to share that great thing with others. On the other hand, we know that if too many people hear about that great thing it will become more difficult for us to benefit from it. I visited a place on Monday that is so filled with bluebonnets that you can smell them. I was there early, but by noon the fields were filled with people. Some made holes in the bluebonnets to get the perfect picture, destroying the flowers and future seeds in the process. I tell people about that place, but sometimes I wish no one else knew so that the fields would remain pristine, and others would not get in the way of my photos. We don’t want a favorite restaurant or a beautiful park to become too crowded, so we wonder if we should share our find with others. It is as natural for us to want to keep these secrets as it is for us to want to share our great find.
At first Peter thought it was right to keep the message was given for a very specific group of people and them alone. He thought Christ came for the Jews, for God’s chosen people. He was willing to allow others to join into the blessings if they followed the prescribed path of a proselyte. They could not be Christian unless they first became a Jew. However, Peter learned a much different lesson when he met Cornelius.
Peter realized that God’s mercy is not given just for those we want to receive it, but God desires all to turn to Him because He loves us all. Christ does not play favorites, nor should we as we live our lives of faith in Him. We are called to rejoice when God has mercy on the enemy who turns to Him in faith, for in Christ we are no longer enemies but brothers. The world would truly be a much better place if we all loved our enemies by sharing the Gospel of Christ with them so that they will become our brothers in faith. The number of people to whom Jesus was revealed on that first Resurrection was relatively small, but God chose them to be the beginning of something that would more to the four corners of the world one person at a time.
Resurrection Day reminds us that God was doing the unexpected. God did everything differently than they planned. Jesus was not the kind of Messiah they wanted; He didn’t teach the lessons they thought He would teach. He did not fellowship with the right people or do all the right things. I imagine it was tough for those first disciples as they discovered that God was doing something new in the world through them. God taught Peter an awesome lesson that day—that His love and mercy is for all men who hear and believe the Gospel message. Peter expected to minister to the Jews, to his own people. But when God called him to the house of Cornelius, he realized that God did not play favorites. The people who heard the Gospel were not all in the same circumstances. God provided the opportunity and the gifts for the apostles to share Him with all sorts of different people.
It is the same today. Those who need to hear about the grace of Jesus Christ come from all sorts of different place. Not all will be prepared for the message in the same way; not all will receive it with the same heart. But God does not play favorites. He does not care who they are or what they have done. It does not matter to Him if they are male or female, young or old. He does not look at a person’s credentials, their job or the people they know. He only sees the heart. His message is given for all those who will hear and believe. For those first disciples, it was a message of fear and great joy.
Have you ever had one of those moments when you experienced both fear and great joy? The most outstanding example of this would most likely be when women learn they are pregnant. What a joy it is to know that you are going to bring a new life into the world, but it is also an incredible responsibility. It can be frightening to face pregnancy, labor, delivery and then a lifetime of loving and caring for that new life.
In our modern age, we are not surprised or bothered that God used women as the first witnesses; women have earned the respect to be trusted. Yet, in that day and age it was quite unusual for men to take the word of women. In Luke’s account, the disciples even said the testimony of the women was nonsense.
The first time the disciples saw Jesus, they were startled and frightened. They thought He was a ghost. The first time the women saw Him they fell to the ground and worshipped Him. It is not that the women had greater faith. It is just that men look at the world from a different point of view. In general, women see the world through their hearts and men through their minds. Men need answers, explanations. They need to consider what is happening before acting. Despite the fact that the disciples followed Jesus for three years, they would probably have had a similar response to the visitation of the angel as the soldiers at the tomb, becoming like dead men. Jesus had mercy on them when He gave them time to prepare for His appearance. Even then it was troubling, but Jesus revealed Himself in a way that they could believe.
Though we see the story of Christ’s death and resurrection from a completely different perspective than those first disciples so long ago, we do not respond any differently than they did. Some want to run and hide, some need answers about what it means. Others receive the news with fear and great joy. Like the women, however, we are called to go and tell others about what we have seen and heard, so that they too might know Christ and believe.
The empty tomb was the sign that God did something amazing with Jesus, but as Jesus was revealed to all those witnesses everything became clear, not only to those who saw Him two thousand years ago, but us today.
On that first Easter God did something new and amazing; it was not the end but only the beginning for the disciples and for us. We know this because we can look back on the story and see God’s work finished in Jesus. He gave us a peace that we could never know without Him. Peace of heart. Peace with God. Peace that changes the world. We are now called to join with the first witnesses in sharing that peace, preaching that Christ died but was raised by the God who keeps His promises. We might feel like we have been backed into a corner, or caught between a rock and a hard place, but God has delivered us from sin and death when Jesus, the right hand of God, parted the sea so we could cross into heaven and dwell with our God for eternity.
When you believe in the Risen Christ, you will be raised with Him, and when you have been raised with Christ you are called to a new life. God will make Him manifest to others through you. You are called like those first disciples to be His witnesses, revealing Christ in your words and in your deeds. There may still be moments of waiting and worry and wonder, but God says, “Don’t be afraid. Stand still, and see my salvation.”
We may be excited about the coming of Easter because it means we can set aside our Lenten fasts for another year. During these weeks of fasting, we have learned lessons and some of us have failed in some ways. But we are forgiven and have the peace that helps us move on as new people of faith, transformed not by our works by God’s grace. Now we are called to a life of thankfulness and praise that leaves behind the old ways to trust in His promises. No matter what obstacles you face, in front or behind, He will always be faithful to lead you to the Promised Land. He is our God, let us give thanks and exalt Him for His loving kindness endures forever.
April 6, 2023
“For I received from the Lord that which also I delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night in which he was betrayed took bread. When he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘Take, eat. This is my body, which is broken for you. Do this in memory of me.’ In the same way he also took the cup, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink, in memory of me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” 1 Corinthians 11:23-26, WEB
Today is Maundy Thursday. In many different Christian denominations, congregations will gather to share in the final night of our Lord Jesus Christ. He gathered with His disciples to share the Passover Seder feast. During that gathering, He spoke to them in love and shared the truth of His message. As His followers we are to submit ourselves to God and each other in sacrificial love.
Jerusalem was bustling with preparation for the Passover feast. This is the day many had waited for, the day of Deliverance. Those that surrounded Jesus saw Passover as the ideal time for Him to grasp His kingship. This would have great meaning to the Jews, making a connection to Moses and the deliverance out of slavery from Egypt. The Messiah was to come and save the people, so throughout the week as Passover grew near, the people were expectant for something incredible to happen.
The disciples asked Jesus where they were to celebrate the Passover feast. As usual, the preparation was in the hands of God, and Jesus gave them instructions where to go, who to see. As the evening drew close, the disciples gathered in the upper room, ready to celebrate this meaningful night with their Lord.
Before the supper, Jesus 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 rejected Jesus with the words, “You will never wash my feet!” Jesus persisted because it was by His example that He showed them what they were expected to do. “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.” 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.
Jesus instituted a new covenant of faith at this meal. The Passover Seder was a remembrance of the deliverance of the Hebrews out of slavery in Egypt. The meal was highly symbolic, recalling the bitterness and affliction, as well as the rebirth and joy of their new life of freedom. The people celebrated Passover each year in expectation that the Messiah would soon return. There was great hope at this celebration because the people believed they had found the one who would free them from the oppression of the Romans.
Jesus made no such promises. Rather, He spoke through the elements of the Passover and established a new covenant of life, hope, and remembrance. He is the bread of life. In this new covenant He told them to eat this bread regularly to remember that He is the true bread. After the supper He took the cup of Redemption, gave thanks, and gave it to all to drink. He told them that the cup is His blood, and that only His blood would redeem them from their sins. By His death we would be forgiven. Today we recall those words and His promise according to His command to share the bread and wine in remembrance of Him whenever we gather around His table in worship.
During the celebration, Jesus spoke about betrayal and denial. Peter said he would stand with Christ to the end, but Jesus told Peter he would deny him three times. Jesus spoke to Judas and told him to go do what he was chosen to do. Several of the disciples got into an argument about who would be the greatest among them in the kingdom. Even at this late hour, after all Jesus had spoken to them about sacrificial love, they still sought the power of this world. Even in these acts of the flesh betrayal, denial and pride Jesus still had full control. Even in the midst of betrayal and denial, Jesus comforted His disciples. He promised them the Holy Spirit, that they might continue His work after His death.
After the dinner, Jesus took the disciples to Gethsemane so that He could spend time in prayer. It is at this moment that Jesus Christ made the final and most incredible act of submission to do His Father’s will.
The evening did not go as the disciples hoped. Rather than speak about being a king, Jesus spoke of being a servant. He spoke of death, betrayal, and denial. Peter, as usual, made great claims of his love for Jesus and his willingness to even die. Jesus told him that he would, that very evening, deny Him three times. Jesus knew Judas was the betrayer and was clearly in control as He told Judas to do the task quickly. The disciples were confused by the words of Jesus and became agitated as the vision they had of a kingdom began to fall apart before their eyes. The ministry of Jesus Christ was about to close in a most painful and horrible manner, yet He walked right into the hands of His betrayer. It was the will of God.
April 7, 2023
“My praise of you comes in the great assembly. I will pay my vows before those who fear him. The humble shall eat and be satisfied. They shall praise Yahweh who seek after him. Let your hearts live forever. All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to Yahweh. All the relatives of the nations shall worship before you. For the kingdom is Yahweh’s. He is the ruler over the nations. All the rich ones of the earth shall eat and worship. All those who go down to the dust shall bow before him, even he who can’t keep his soul alive. Posterity shall serve him. Future generations shall be told about the Lord. They shall come and shall declare his righteousness to a people that shall be born, for he has done it.” Psalm 22:25-31, WEB
It had been approximately thirty-three years since the birth of our Savior. For the last three years, He shared the Kingdom of God. He did many incredible things. He healed the sick, cast out demons, and fed thousands. He even raised the dead. He preached an old truth that was new to the people: God is merciful, full of forgiveness, and love. He also taught that following Him would not be easy, that He demands much from our lives.
After the Passover Seder dinner with His disciples, Jesus took them to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. For the next few hours, the world seemed in control. His disciples could barely stay awake and were confused when confronted by the crowds that came to arrest Him, led by His friend Judas. So that His accusers would not which man to arrest, Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss. Peter tried to stop the arrest by wielding a sword, cutting the ear of a guard. Jesus healed the wound. The will of God would not be hindered by the desires of men. Jesus appeared before Caiaphas, the chief priest, so that the Sanhedrin could find some crime worthy of death. They found him guilty of blasphemy, but by Roman law, the Jews could not put a man to death.
The disciples scattered. They hid in the crowds, trying to see each moment, but afraid of being discovered. Peter warmed himself over a fire, trying to fit in to the crowd. Three people approached him and claimed they had seen him with Jesus. Three times, Peter denied knowing him, just as Jesus said. After the final denial, a rooster crowed, and Jesus looked directly at Peter. Peter wept bitterly because he knew that he had denied his Lord.
Jesus was taken before Pilate, the Roman governor. Pilate could find nothing against Rome that would be punishable by the death penalty. When Pilate discovered Jesus was from Galilee, he sent him to be tried by Herod. Pilate was anxious to be rid of this problem. His wife has seen in a dream that Pilate would be blamed for the death of this innocent man. Leaders from the temple were scattered in the crowd that watched the proceedings. He was taken to Herod who was quite excited about seeing Jesus face to face. He’d heard so much about the man; he wanted to see some mighty miracle performed before him. When Jesus would not prove himself, Herod humiliated Him and sent Him back to Pilate.
Pilate was around at the beginning of the week. He had seen how popular Jesus was with the people. He did not view Jesus as a threat, after all this was the Roman Empire. Who could destroy it? So, he went to the people. The crowd was easily agitated because events of the Passover did not go as they’d hoped. Scattered among the people were leaders from the temple, ready with a word to manipulate the crowd. When Pilate saw that Jesus was innocent, he asked the people if He should be freed. Someone yelled, ‘Crucify him.’ At this, the whole crowd went wild and began to yell for Jesus’ death. The final betrayal came when the people said, “We have no king but Caesar.” They showed Jesus that they did not even look to the Lord God Almighty as their King. Pilate tried three times to release Jesus, but he had no control over this situation. Jesus had to die.
Jesus was humiliated, beaten, and stripped of everything. They took His clothes and His dignity. They forced a cross onto His already sore and bleeding back and pushed Him on to Golgotha. When He fell under the heavy burden, they forced a man named Simon to carry it for Him. Other prisoners were taken with Him to the hill, each sentenced to die for their crimes. As He walked His final footsteps on this earth, He faced the women who were weeping over His fate. He told them to weep for themselves, because the time would come when they would face great suffering.
When they were hanging on their crosses, one thief begged Jesus to save them, but the other humbled Himself in repentance and accepted responsibility for the wrongs he had done. Jesus welcomed him to His kingdom. He saw His mother and the one disciple who stayed nearby. He gave Mary to John to care for the rest of her life, seeing to her welfare even in the midst of His pain. The soldiers mocked Jesus and tried to serve Him a poison that would bring death more quickly, but Jesus refused. He would control every moment. As Max Lucado so eloquently states, “He chose the nails.”
It is finished; Jesus Christ is dead. There is such finality to that statement. Jesus died at the ninth hour, 3:00 PM. The earth rocked with the anger of God. The ground shook and the rocks split. A centurion pierced Jesus in the side, and His blood spilled into the earth. The curtain in the temple was torn from top to bottom. This curtain was not some flimsy piece of material like lace, easily ripped. It was thick, a wall like protective covering over the Most Holy Place, the dwelling of God Himself. Within the room which was covered by this curtain was the Ark of the Covenant and the Mercy Seat, the Throne of God. When Jesus died, God ripped the curtain from top to bottom, opening the way into His presence for all people, not just the High Priest. God would no longer live in a box.
Jesus died just hours before the Passover Sabbath was to begin. It was necessary for Him to be buried quickly for no one could do such work after sunset of that day. A temple leader named Joseph of Arimathea, who was a righteous man that did not agree with the verdict of the council, approached Pilate for the body of Jesus. He took the body, wrapped it in a new cloth and laid it in his own tomb, one that had never been used. The women watched as Jesus was laid in the tomb, so they would know where to go to properly prepare His body for permanent burial.
It is finished! But is it? The disciples were afraid, confused, angry, grief-stricken, uncertain. They hid from the world and mourned the loss of their beloved teacher and companion. Can you imagine the things they must have thought about and talked about? Who was Jesus? Why did He die? Why did we spend these years following Him? What will happen to us? Had we truly wasted three years of our lives? Is this really the end?
We know that the story of Jesus is not really finished, that there is hope for a tomorrow, but for now we grieve with the disciples as we wait for the day when we can say “Alleluia” again.
April 10, 2023
“Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will still live, even if he dies. Whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?’” John 11:25-26, WEB
A boulder blocked the entrance to the tomb. It was sealed and Roman guards watched over it. There was no chance for tampering. The disciples were hiding, afraid to show their faces to the world. They did not know what awaited them. If Jesus was so good and truthful, what would become of them? Where was the hope? The hope is in the third day. The women awakened to the sad task of preparing Jesus’ body for burial the morning after the Sabbath. What they discovered would change the world.
The tomb was empty.
In the days that followed, Jesus appeared to many people. He appeared to Mary in the garden and when He spoke her name, she knew it was her Lord. He walked with two of His disciples on the road Emmaus. They were discussing the events of the week when Jesus joined them. They told Him the story and invited Him to dinner. They did not know who He was, because their eyes were closed. At the table, Jesus broke the bread, their eyes were opened, and they understood the scriptures Jesus had spoken to them. He appeared to the disciples in the Upper Room, and He rebuked them for not believing the witness of the women who testified to His resurrection. He appeared to hundreds. He appeared to Thomas, who required tangible evidence that Jesus was raised from the dead.
He was alive. Hallelujah.
In the days that followed His resurrection, Jesus Christ finished the work He came to do. He opened the minds of His disciples to the scriptures and told them to go out in the world to share the Truth of God’s mercy and love with all His creation. Then He promised that they would never be left alone, that the Holy Spirit would come to help them continue His work. Finally, He was taken to heaven to sit at the right hand of God.
We followed the footsteps of Jesus during Holy Week, and we will keep studying His story in the days to come. Last week we shared in His suffering and in the pain, grief, and doubt of His disciples. We watched as the crowd turned from jubilant to defiant. We watched as the disciples hid because of their regret and fear. We watched and identified with the mourning of the disciples. The last days of Lent are always filled with so much emotion as we relive the death of Jesus Christ. This would be a horrible story if it were not for the ending.
Do you believe? Do you believe that the Lord Jesus Christ walked this path, from His victorious ride into Jerusalem to the cross and tomb, and finally raised from the dead? Do you believe that He took upon Himself the sin of the world, your sins, so that you would be forgiven and restored to a right relationship with your Father in Heaven? Do you believe that He died and rose again? Rejoice and be glad! Jesus was dead and now He’s alive. The hope is in the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God. Hallelujah!
It is time to leave the despair, gloom, and discouragement behind, for the Lord God Almighty has given you the gift of eternal life through Christ Jesus. He has done this so that you will walk in faith, living the resurrection in this world. As you do, others will be called away from despair, gloom, and discouragement so that they will experience the grace of God that fills His people with faith. This is how God is glorified.
Two thousand years ago, Jesus Christ spent a short time on earth and changed the world. In the days since, the world has wondered about this man. Christians and non-Christians alike have debated the meaning of his parables and they have questioned the events which surrounded Him. Today, the story of Jesus Christ has been told all over the world, and people continue to worship Him.
“Then Peter came and said to him, ‘Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Until seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I don’t tell you until seven times, but, until seventy times seven. Therefore, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a certain king, who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. When he had begun to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. But because he couldn’t pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, with his wife, his children, and all that he had, and payment to be made. The servant therefore fell down and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, have patience with me, and I will repay you all!” The lord of that servant, being moved with compassion, released him and forgave him the debt.’” Matthew 18:21-27, WEB
One of the disciples I relate to most closely is Simon Peter. He was a paradox. Jesus had very intimate encounters with Peter several times in the Gospels. One time, Jesus asked Peter, “Who do you say that I am?” At that moment, the truth of Jesus was revealed to Peter by the power of God, and Peter said, “You are the Christ.” Moments later, Peter rebuked Jesus for talking about His death.
In another episode, Jesus was washing the feet of the disciples. When he reached Peter, Peter said, “No, you shall never wash my feet.” When Jesus told him it must be this way, Peter said, “Then, Lord, not just my feet but my hands and head also.” Later that evening, Jesus told the disciples that one of his beloveds would betray Him and another would deny Him. Peter boldly told Jesus that even if he had to die, he would never disown him.
At the trial of Jesus, when the people recognized Peter as one of the disciples, Peter denied knowing him. This happened three times, just as Jesus said. When the rooster crowed, Peter realized what he had done and wept bitterly. After the resurrection, Jesus appeared before the disciples several times. One encounter happened after a night of unsuccessful fishing. As the disciples came into shore, they saw a man waiting for them. He told them to cast their nets to the right side of the boat. From there, they caught so many fish they had difficulty hauling it. John realized it was the Lord, and the disciples went to shore to be with Jesus.
In today’s passage, Jesus answered a question from Peter. “How many times should I forgive?” In the days of Jesus, the rabbis taught that you had to forgive a person three times. A similar idea can be seen in modern baseball and law. “Three strikes and you are out,” is the motto of the day and we hold to it even in our personal lives. I am sure that Peter thought that he was being very generous when he asked Jesus how often they should forgive, after all, the law said three times and he upped it to seven. We are curious, like Peter, about how far forgiveness should go. We know to forgive and can do so once, perhaps twice. We might even be gracious enough to forgive the third time as the rabbis allowed, after all love means going the extra mile, right? Going further, like the seven times Peter suggested, seems not only difficult but foolish. At what point do we become a doormat for someone who continues to do the same thing over and over again. Forgiveness is meant to bring reconciliation, and forgiven sin that is repeated over and over again shows that the repentance has led nowhere.
Jesus told Peter that we should forgive seventy times seven times. That’s what Jesus’ Passion and Resurrection is all about. Jesus proved that not only will God forgive His people, but that He will forgive us more than seventy times seven. He will forgive us into eternity. Peter had denied Jesus three times. Jesus gave him three opportunities to confess his love. For each denial, Peter made a confession of faith. Each time Jesus forgave Peter by commissioning him to a great task. Peter’s denial had the potential of destroying his confidence to do God’s will in spreading the Gospel, but God’s grace gave Peter the faith to believe that he could do the work Jesus was calling Him to do. He gives us the same faith to live lives of forgiveness, doing the work of reconciliation to which we are called. We are Easter people, forgiven to forgive.
April 12, 2023
Lectionary Scriptures for April 16, 2023, Second Sunday of Easter: Acts 5:29-42; Psalm 148; 1 Peter 1:3-9; John 20:19-31
“Praise Yah! Praise Yahweh from the heavens! Praise him in the heights!” Psalm 148:1, WEB
Many people thought Easter ended on Sunday with worship and baskets full of chocolate. Lent is over, the fasting is finished, but the Easter season has just begun. This week is what is called the Octave of Easter, eight days of celebration of the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Greeks saw the humor of the resurrection. The devil thought he won, but Christ rose from the dead. The week following Easter were called the “days of joy and laughter.” They held parties and played practical jokes on one another. The joyous week culminated in “Bright Sunday” or “Holy Humor Sunday.” The custom came from the thoughts of early church theologians like Augustine that God played a practical joke on the devil by raising Jesus from the dead. The theologians called it “Risus paschalis: the Easter laugh.”
The crucifixion is a very real and central part of our faith; we will continue to experience the pain of the crucifixion as we go forth into all the world being witnesses for Jesus Christ. Being a Christian isn’t all sunshine and roses. However, in the midst of that truth, we are also reminded that being Easter people means 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.
Despite the doubt, fear, and uncertainty, the disciples knew joy. Peter preached that even though these things were done to Jesus, it was by God’s hand, and it was so that we could live in the assurance of hope in His promises. In his letter, Peter wrote that even though they would suffer trials, they would come through the fire with a faith that though tested would result in joy as Jesus is revealed with praise and glory and honor. John wrote the story of Jesus’ appearance and the rest of his Gospel so “that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name.”
The joy of Easter can be expressed in laughter and revelry, even if being Easter people means hardship. Early Christian theologians recognized the humor in the way God chose to bring redemption to the world. They called the resurrection of Jesus, “a practical joke on the devil.” They said that Easter was the supreme joke played on death. Because of this Bright Sunday was a time for joking and laughter. The people played practical jokes on their priests and the priests told jokes in their sermons. It was a day of joy and laughter. Eastern Orthodox priests have even been known to gather together during the week after Easter to smoke cigars, drink brandy, and tell jokes.
Besides the joy of knowing Jesus was alive, the disciples were given an incredible gift: peace and forgiveness. Real peace is not the absence of conflict but an unassailable trust in God. The world outside our door is not conducive to that feeling of peace that we long for today. As a matter of fact, we face grief, fear, and doubt every day. But Christ comes to us and says, “Peace be with you.” He is saying, “Trust in me and trust in my Father. His promises are true, and He is faithful. Whatever you face, do so with faith, knowing that everything is already finished. Live in the forgiveness I have obtained for you and take it out the door into the world for others.” This is the life we are called to live.
British dog trainer Barbara Woodhouse has this to say about the obedience of dogs. “In a dog’s mind, a master or mistress to love, honor and obey is an absolute necessity. The love is dormant in the dog until brought into full bloom by an understanding owner. Thousands of dogs appear to love their owners, they welcome them home with enthusiastic wagging of the tail and jumping up, they follow them about their houses happily and, to the normal person seeing the dog, the affection is true and deep. But to the experienced dog trainer this outward show is not enough. The true test of real love takes place when the dog has got the opportunity to go out on its own as soon as the door is left open by mistake and it goes off and often doesn’t return home for hours. That dog loves only its home comforts and the attention it gets from its family; it doesn’t truly love the master or mistress as they fondly think. True love in dogs is apparent when a door is left open and the dog still stays happily within earshot of its owner. For the owner must be the be-all and end-all of a dog’s life.”
This is the kind of obedience that is called for by Christ. This is not to say that we are dogs to our Master, but that we are meant to be willing to stand firm with Him even though we are given the freedom to wander. Some would like to think that we are able to do whatever we want because Christ forgives our waywardness. While it is true that we are forgiven, we are not given new life in Christ to run rampant around our neighborhood like the dog who has taken advantage of his master’s grace.
Easter didn’t end on Sunday. As a matter of fact, it has just begun. It is a season that lasts fifty days. During these days Jesus continued to walk with His disciples, to teach them everything they needed to know to continue the work Jesus began. The teaching continued for forty days, and then Jesus ascended into heaven. The disciples waited ten days until the Day of Pentecost when they received the Holy Spirit. The Gospel lessons for the next seven Sundays will reveal Jesus to us again and again as the Lord of our life, beginning with His appearances to His disciples following His resurrection.
Our Gospel lesson begins that first Easter night and ends eight days later. The disciples gathered together had no hope. They’d heard the stories: the women saw Jesus in the Garden. The disciples met Jesus on the road to Emmaus. It was crazy and impossible. It was frightening. There may have been rumors of body stealing, and though they knew they didn’t take His body, they may have been afraid that they would be arrested anyway. If Jesus, who was so good and righteous, so gifted and devout, could be put to death, what would stop the religious leaders from destroying them, too? Thomas was so frightened; he wasn’t even with the other disciples. They had glimmers of the possibility, but it was all so extraordinary that even Jesus’ closest friends had trouble believing. They were afraid; they didn’t know what to expect. They did not yet have the Holy Spirit to give them strength.
Has anyone ever told you a story that made you say, “Wow, I wish I had been there”? You don’t just want to hear about it; you want to experience it, too. I’m sure Thomas felt the same way; he probably felt bad that he wasn’t with the disciples on that first night. He abandoned them, and thus abandoned Jesus. In those days following the crucifixion, I’m sure that the disciples questioned everything Jesus said and did during His ministry, trying to figure out what it meant. They were probably recalling those statements about suffering and rebuilding. They may have been in denial about His death. They knew about the ones Jesus raised, but could they have ever imagined He could raise Himself?
We always read this story about Thomas on the Sunday after Easter, but the story begins on that first Easter day. The first time Jesus appeared before them, the disciples were sad, grieving, confused, doubtful, and afraid. After Jesus appeared, their attitude must have changed. Their tears turned to laughter. But can you imagine walking into a room full of laughing disciples when all you can think of is your dead Master? Thomas must have thought they were crazy. “How can you be laughing at a time like this?” They were laughing because they were in on the joke. Jesus beat the devil.
We pick on Thomas, but can we really blame him? After all, we would probably have felt the same way if we had been out of the loop. We would have had difficulty believing the testimonies of those who were those first witnesses. Instead of recalling the sadness and of the disciples after Good Friday, which Thomas was still feeling on that first Sunday, we are invited to join in the joy of the week after Jesus’ first appearance to His disciples.
We live a long way from the resurrection, not only in distance but in time. The eyewitnesses are long gone, only their stories remain. It is easy for us to assume that there is exaggeration in the records, that it couldn’t possibly be real. It is easier to doubt than it is to believe. So, is it any wonder that Thomas was uncertain? Thomas was not among the disciples at that first meeting according to John. Where was he? Did he even hear that Jesus had been raised? I don’t think Thomas’s doubt suggests a lack of trust or love, but the story they told is impossible.
The disciples were not able to believe in Jesus without the power He gives them to believe. The breath He breaths into all believers is the Holy Spirit, and it is by the power of that Spirit that they have faith. To blaspheme the Holy Spirit is to deny His power, to reject Him.
In that first appearance, Jesus breathed on the disciples and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit!” This was like a down payment of what was to come: the Holy Spirit that would anoint them at Pentecost. In the days between His resurrection and ascension, Jesus taught the disciples everything they needed to know, but even then, it would not be enough. Only by the power of the Holy Spirit could the disciples ever believe and do the work God was calling them to do.
Many will reject the word we speak. They will not believe us. Some believe their sin is too great for even God to forgive. They can’t accept that there is mercy that can overcome. Others do not think we are credible witnesses, like the women who were ignored on that first resurrection day. What have we seen that we can really report? There are others who do not believe they need to be forgiven. The worst reason the Word is rejected is that we do not reveal our own need for forgiveness. We wear a mask that tells the world that we are good Christians, and they see our calls for repentance as judgment and condemnation. Or they see us as hypocrites because we say one thing, but they see our flaws too clearly. They do not believe that we speak the Gospel because we know we are sinners in need of a Savior. They think we see ourselves as their savior. There are yet others who simply need to see something tangible to believe, no words will ever be enough.
Thomas was one of those guys who needed to see to believe. Eight days after the first appearance, the disciples were still hiding behind the closed doors. This time Thomas was with them, unwilling to believe their word. Imagine how they must have felt about his rejection. Thomas was like a brother, having traveled with them for nearly three years. He heard the same stories; he learned the same lessons. He was given the same prophecies and promises. If he did not believe them, who would? How could they possibly share their message with outsiders? I imagine they were hurt, there may have even been discord among the disciples. When Jesus appeared the second time, He spoke the words of peace again. “Peace be with you.”
In this greeting, Jesus touched on the greatest problem within the Church even today. For the disciples to do the work they were called to do, there must be peace among them. How can they take the message of the Gospel out into a world if there is no reconciliation between brothers? Whatever was going on behind those closed doors during the week between the first and second appearance, Jesus pointed them in a new direction. Once Thomas was given the same experience, there was nothing to keep the disciples divided.
We pick on Thomas, but can we really blame him? After all, we would probably have felt the same way if we had been out of the loop. He didn’t get the joke. We would not have gotten the joke either. We would have had difficulty believing the testimonies of those who were those first witnesses. Instead of recalling the sadness and of the disciples after Good Friday, which Thomas was still feeling on that first Sunday, we are invited to join in the joy of the week after Jesus’ first appearance to His disciples. Jesus said to the disciples, “Because you have seen me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen, and have believed.” This reprimand was given to all the disciples, not just Thomas. They had an advantage: they saw the Risen Lord. They lived with Him and learned from Him for another miraculous forty days. But the Church would grow out of faith in the word heard, not seen. The blessed ones would be those who would believe when they heard their testimony.
Viktor Frankl experienced Auschwitz and Dachau. He’d been condemned to a living death, along with so many others who were devastated by the horrors of the holocaust. It was humiliating to be treated like an animal; they were stripped, whipped, shaved, and put into prison. He lost many family members through death in the camps and gas ovens. He had every right to lose hope; what did he have to look forward to? Yet, Viktor knew that the only thing that kept him alive despite the cold, fear, starvation, pain, lice and vermin, dehumanization, exhaustion, and terror was hope. Faith in the future kept him going day by day. Many prisoners just stopped living, they refused to move off their beds, wash, or dress, even when they were threatened. They no longer cared; they had no hope and so gave up. This is what Viktor called “give-up-itis.”
We can almost understand giving up under such extreme circumstances, and yet looking at those who survived we can see that God did amazing things through their lives. When we think of the stories that have been written by those who lived through the horrors, and the lessons they’ve shared, we are thankful that they never lost hope. Otherwise, we might have lost their witness, not only to the horrors of what happened at the hands of the Nazis, but also the amazing grace of God.
“Give-up-itis” is not limited to people who are in extreme circumstances. Have you ever known someone who felt there was no hope in their job or their relationships, and so they just gave up on them? They stop working to make things better. When there is no room for promotion, a worker will only do what is necessary to get through every day at the job. When there seems to be no future in a marriage, a couple will give up and stop trying to build up their relationship. Sadly, I think there are many people who are living in America today who have “give-up-it is.” They have no hope for a job or a better life, so they just give up trying. There are those who think there is no solution to our problems, so they hide ignoring the possibilities that really do exist.
It is easy for us to get caught up in the cares of the world, even those that really have no value. Can you imagine how difficult it must have been to be a disciple in those first few days after the crucifixion and resurrection? They were worried and scared, perhaps even rightly so. But Jesus came to them in the midst of that difficulty to give them peace.
We can experience the same peace if we keep our hearts and minds firm in the promises of God. He calls us to obedience. That doesn’t mean that we should be like dogs. As followers of God saved by Jesus, we are called to love God so much that we trust Him completely. Obedience means believing that the best place in the world to be is within earshot of our Master.
This was a most extraordinary thing that the disciples were doing. Jesus died and you would think that His death should have put an end to any movement of faith that would follow His name. And yet the stories in the book of Acts tell us that the people believed in extraordinary numbers. Three thousand were baptized on Pentecost, and the scriptures tell us that people were being added to their numbers daily. These were people who believed by the word of those apostles: they told stories and the Holy Spirit instilled faith. There is no way that the council would be able to stop the growth of The Way, even if they killed all the apostles. It didn’t take long before others were already spreading the Good News. The people who had witnessed the Pentecost miracle were traveling to the four corners of the earth with stories about Jesus.
In today’s lesson from the Book of Acts, Peter and the apostles had been arrested for preaching about Jesus in the temple. They had been warned, but answered the Sanhedrin, “We must obey God rather than men.” The movement of the followers of Christ was called The Way; it was growing daily. This made the Jews nervous and jealous. The temple leaders persecuted the disciples, having them arrested, beaten, and threatened with death. But God was with the disciples, giving them strength, peace and hope in the midst of their troubles. God even sent angels to help them at times and gave them opportunities to share the Gospel through their persecution. Nothing was going to stop them because they loved their Lord with their whole being and they were willing to stand for Him no matter what happened. The disciples didn’t mince words when facing the Sanhedrin. This made them extremely angry. They wanted to kill them.
There was one Pharisee who was a peacemaker that brought calm to the situation. He told his fellow councilmen to be patient and let God take care of the situation. “Now I tell you, withdraw from these men, and leave them alone. For if this counsel or this work is of men, it will be overthrown. But if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow it, and you would be found even to be fighting against God!” This was wise advice, although I’m certain the council was hoping it would turn out much differently.
This man was named Gamaliel, and he may have had a concealed motive for speaking those wise words. We know that this Pharisee was a Jewish scholar and teacher of the Law. His most famous student was Saul of Tarsus, otherwise known as Paul. Tradition holds that Simeon, the old man in the Temple who recognized Baby Jesus as the Messiah, was Gamaliel’s father. If this is true, he most likely told his son about Jesus. Did Gamaliel know that the men standing before the Sanhedrin were followers of that baby from so long ago? It is believed that Gamaliel did become a Christian and was baptized by Peter and John, but that he kept his Christianity a secret until his death so that he could remain in the Sanhedrin and offer aid to the Christians who were being persecuted. The Jewish account of his life maintains that he remained a Pharisee until he died. But his speech at the trial of the apostles gives some credence to the possibility that he had faith.
It is easy to see the obedience of Peter and the apostles in this story as they stood up for their faith even against such a great risk. What about Gamaliel? Gamaliel was risking his own power, position, and reputation for a bunch of misfit prophets. It didn’t matter if he was a believer or not; Gamaliel was willing to trust God in this situation, and he convinced the others to trust Him, too.
In his letter, Peter tells us about the hope we have in Christ. The promise of eternal life in Him is not dependent on anything human or created, it is founded in God’s grace and love for His people. We have been given the eternal kingdom; the promise is real, and the King is faithful. We may experience hardship and trials, but through those difficulties our faith will grow and mature. Our joy rests not on the blessings we will see in the here and now, but in faith that God has assured our salvation and that we’ll share in His glory.
What is so incredible about the God we worship is that He never kept Himself above His creation, but instead came down to dwell amongst His people. The incarnation is absolutely ridiculous if we think about it in human terms; however, God does not think the way we do. His ways are higher. He stands as our helper, our guide, our hope.
That’s why the devil didn’t see the joke coming. It was outrageous and preposterous. It was unexpected. Celebrating Holy Humor Sunday might just be a way to laugh at ourselves, as perhaps Peter and Thomas and all the disciples must have laughed after they realized what had really happened to them over these amazing and outrageous weeks and years. We can tell jokes about ourselves, about our fear and our doubts and laugh in the joy of God’s forgiveness, trusting in His mercy and sharing His grace through laughter and merriment one Sunday a year, praising God for Jesus. We can be glad and rejoice because what God has done is really a great joke that has brought salvation to the world.
April 13, 2023
“Jesus said to them, ‘Can the friends of the bridegroom mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? But the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast. 16 No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; for the patch would tear away from the garment, and a worse hole is made. 17 Neither do people put new wine into old wine skins, or else the skins would burst, and the wine be spilled, and the skins ruined. No, they put new wine into fresh wine skins, and both are preserved.’” Matthew 9:15-17, WEB
I recently read this quote from N. T. Wright, and thought it was worth our consideration. “In particular, if Lent is a time to give things up, Easter ought to be a time to take things up. Champagne for breakfast again — well, of course. Christian holiness was never meant to be merely negative. Of course you have to weed the garden from time to time; sometimes the ground ivy may need serious digging before you can get it out. That’s Lent for you. But you don’t want simply to turn the garden back into a neat bed of blank earth. Easter is the time to sow new seeds and to plant out a few cuttings. If Calvary means putting to death things in your life that need killing off if you are to flourish as a Christian and as a truly human being, then Easter should mean planting, watering, and training up things in your life (personal and corporate) that ought to be blossoming, filling the garden with color and perfume, and in due course bearing fruit. The forty days of the Easter season, until the ascension, ought to be a time to balance out Lent by taking something up, some new task or venture, something wholesome and fruitful and outgoing and self-giving. You may be able to do it only for six weeks, just as you may be able to go without beer or tobacco only for the six weeks of Lent. But if you really make a start on it, it might give you a sniff of new possibilities, new hopes, new ventures you never dreamed of. It might bring something of Easter into your innermost life. It might help you wake up in a whole new way. And that’s what Easter is all about.”
We talk about fasting at the beginning of Lent. “What are you giving up?” we ask one another. In recent years, however, many people talk about taking up something new in Lent. I read a devotional and did a photo challenge. Some people suggested filling a bag with items to give away or collecting food to donate to the food bank. These additional Lent practices are valuable, but only if they don’t replace the practice of fasting. See, as Wright suggests in this quote, Lent practices are meant to kill off the things that we need to cleanse from our life. I suppose those practices like filling bags to donate is a way of purging the “stuff” that burdens us, but I think sometimes we use this idea of taking up practices as a cop-out so that we don’t have to fast. However, we don’t benefit from the fast if we don’t fast. I have to confess that I took on so much that I didn’t accomplish everything. Perhaps I need to take those practices I did not finish and work on them in this season of Easter.
Unlike the patches and wineskins in today’s passage, the old ways are not always bad. The new ways aren’t always bad, either. I like taking on Lenten devotions and photo challenges, but they should not replace the old practices of fasting.
Matthew spoke these words in response to questions about how to live this new faith in the old ways. They wanted to know why the Pharisees fast but Jesus’ disciples did not. Jesus said that you should not mix the old with the new. The garment and wineskin in today’s passage is old. Putting a new patch on the cloth will destroy the garment because the two fabrics will not wear well together. The patch will shrink with the first wash and rip the old cloth. The new wine will expand in an already stretched wineskin and cause it to break. In both these cases, it might seem like good sense to reuse the old, but in the end it will be a waste.
Jesus was doing a new thing; it was time to worship God in a new way. Jesus was not suggesting that we should never fast or give up the old ways completely. But He reminds us that each has its own place in our lives. The old and the new provide ways for us to grow in our faith; fasting helps us prepare for Jesus’ passion, and Easter is an opportunity for new growth. We just have to figure out how to do what is best, that which will benefit us at the right time in the right season.
April 14, 2023
“Remember your leaders, men who spoke to you the word of God, and considering the results of their conduct, imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” Hebrews 13:7-8, WEB
Many churches, including ours, are in the process of calling a new pastor. There is a meme that floats around, author unknown, about the ridiculous expectations we have for our pastors. It is a humorous confidential report on a call committee’s impressions of several pastoral candidates being considered for the position. Among the names on the list were the greatest witnesses to God’s love in the Old and New Testament; nearly all were turned down for one reason or another. Noah couldn’t convert anyone and had unrealistic building goals. David was a strong leader but had an affair. Jonah told some strange story about getting swallowed by a fish that later spit him out. Paul was short on tact; he was harsh and longwinded. “He has a questionable attitude toward women, if you know what I mean.”
This email is very humorous as it looks at the people that God chose and used throughout His-story, recorded in the bible. Each one has questionable aspects about their personality and their past that would make us doubt their ability to lead and preach. Yet, God found value in their weaknesses to work for His good and perfect purpose. This email even lists Jesus as a possibility. “Has had popular times, but once his church grew to 5000 he managed to offend them all, and then this church dwindled down to twelve people. Seldom stays in one place very long. And, of course, he’s single.” Amazing how we can even see negative aspects in the life of our Lord.
The funniest part of the email is that Judas gets a good report. “Judas: His references are solid. A steady plodder. Conservative. Good connections. Knows how to handle money. We’re inviting him to preach this Sunday. Possibilities here.”
Our human understanding of what is important is often far off center from God’s. God is calling people to share the Gospel, to live in a way that glorifies our Lord Jesus Christ in this world. Noah was obedient, even when the task seemed ridiculous and impossible. David sought God’s will. Though Jonah at first ran from the Lord, he was gifted by God to turn a whole nation to repentance. Paul laid a solid foundation of doctrine for the Church today, his testimony about the power of God through Jesus Christ and his letters to the church keep us focused on our Savior and His purpose for our lives.
We live in a more transient world today. Even our pastors move from place to place, rarely staying in one community for more than a few years. As we consider those who have been chosen to guide and encourage our Christian walk, let us always remember that Christ died for their failures, just like ours, and let us always look for God’s gifts rather than our expectations. God hasn’t changed the way He does business. He still chooses people who are imperfect according to our expectations. We can easily look at each of our ministers, pastors, or priests and find fault in the way they live and work. However, God has blessed each of them with gifts with which they share the Gospel of Christ. We should remember them in prayer and give thanks to God for sending them our way.
April 17, 2023
“Continue steadfastly in prayer, watching in it with thanksgiving, praying together for us also, that God may open to us a door for the word, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in bonds, that I may reveal it as I ought to speak. Walk in wisdom toward those who are outside, redeeming the time. Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one.” Colossians 4:2-6, WEB
I worked in retail a number of years ago. I moved from being a cashier and floor clerk to the management training program. While I was in the program, I was an assistant manager, learning everything I needed to know from the senior store manager. It was a good program, very informative while also giving me the experience I needed to do my job well leading the people. My mentor taught me to respect all the people on our staff, encouraging them to do their jobs well by being a good example. It was sometimes necessary for management to be every-man, to do any task necessary to keep the store running well. Between my experience as employee to management, I learned habits of retail that lasted well beyond my employment.
I haven’t worked in a store for decades, but it still bothers me to see messy shelves and items out of place. I have moved the wrong size items to the right spot on the rack, straightened shelves, folded clothes, and rehung items that have fallen off hangers. Sometimes this habit of mine makes it seem as though I’m a store employee and people ask for my help. I usually do whatever I can, but I make sure that they know that I do not work there. On a few occasions, I’ve been asked for help even when it was obvious that I was not a store employee. Perhaps I look like I belong in retail. Or maybe I just look like a nice lady willing to help. I know that others have experienced this situation, even to the point of hilarity, because there are websites of stories from people who were caught by someone who was certain they must work in a store. Sometimes the mistake was problematic, but kindness can usually make things right.
Retail employees, especially in the big box stores, have some sort of uniform to make them easily identifiable to the customers. It doesn’t always help when someone decides that you need to help them like when someone sees me doing the work, but those uniforms are meant to set the employees apart from customers. I sometimes wonder if it would be helpful for Christians to wear some sort of badge so that we can identify ourselves to the world, but our Christian life should be recognized not by some mark on our bodies. They should know we are Christians by our love, and by the way we live our lives. People should be able to see Christ shining so that they will know that we can be trusted to help them.
In Paul’s letter to the Colossians, he gave them some instructions about how to live. As we journey through life, prayer is the starting point for all we do. God is manifest through our words, prayers, and thanksgiving. God has blessed us with many gifts and opportunities to use them. Yet, if we wander around as if we do not know Him, then none will be drawn by His love. This is why Paul writes of walking in wisdom, seasoning our speech with grace and being prepared to answer when people ask. The questions are not always to find out information. Sometimes people ask to just see if we are willing to listen, to love, to serve and to shine the light of Christ. I suppose that’s why I deal with those mistakes in retail stores with kindness, even if it is inconvenient for me. We are blessed to be a blessing, saved so that we can go out and share the saving grace of Jesus with others. Do people recognize that grace in you?
April 18, 2023
“Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor that which is evil. Cling to that which is good. In love of the brothers be tenderly affectionate to one another; in honor preferring one another; not lagging in diligence; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope; enduring in troubles; continuing steadfastly in prayer; contributing to the needs of the saints; given to hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless, and don’t curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice. Weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind one toward another. Don’t set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Don’t be wise in your own conceits. Repay no one evil for evil. Respect what is honorable in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as it is up to you, be at peace with all men.” Romans 12:9-18, WEB
I was once looking through the videos at a department store when an elderly woman began to ask me questions. She wanted to know if I had seen a particular movie, whether I liked it, and if I would recommend it to her. She wondered which ones I thought she might enjoy. She followed me from rack to rack, discussing price, stars, and other things. Even when I was finished with my choice, she continued to chat. It was a pleasant conversation, but I needed to leave.
I don’t know what made the woman talk to me so long. I found it hard to believe that someone could trust a complete stranger’s opinion, but I think the woman was more interested in conversation than my choice in movies. We wandered around the store a bit together until I finally told her I had to go. She gave me a hug and told me to have a good day. I guess she needed a friend, and I could be one for just that moment.
We don’t know what is going on in people’s lives, sometimes even our friends. We don’t want to share our struggles with others for so many reasons. We don’t want to trouble them. We are embarrassed by our problems. We think we can handle them ourselves. We are afraid that we will be rejected. At some point in our lives, we deal with something. It doesn’t matter how prepared we might be, we live in a fallen and broken world and troubles come to everyone sometime. Sometimes I feel like that woman, starting conversations with strangers. I’m really an introvert, but even the most reserved people have moments when we seek to make a connection with other human beings.
I could have been frustrated by the woman following me around the store. I could have gotten angry or rejected her. Somehow, though, God put me in the path of that woman for a moment, to make a connection, to give her some joy. It was a chance for me to be kind. It doesn’t take much to touch a person in their needs, even if we do not know the specifics of their struggles. One of my Lenten practices was to send a note each day to someone that God put on my heart. I was surprised at how many of those people received that note when they most needed it. I don’t know their struggles, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is being a presence, making a connection, sharing a moment of grace and kindness.
I know many people would have rejected that woman in the store. As a matter of fact, I’ve read too many stories of people talking about how they did just that not only to strangers but also to family and friends. They reacted to someone’s need with cruelty, never considering that they might just need a moment of grace.
Paul tells us to love genuinely. The cross calls us to do what is right not for the reward it will bring but rather because love demands it. It is hard to let someone’s struggles invade our own lives, but love demands what is hard. We are to rejoice in hope; not hope in the glory but rather hope in the cross. How many of us really want to be patient in suffering or persevere in prayer when it appears God is unwilling to answer our way? Paul’s words get even harder. How do we bless our enemy? Is it really possible to be humble in this world of ours? What if, like Jonah, we know God will not avenge us but will seek our enemy’s repentance? How can we let go and treat our persecutors as if they deserved our compassion and mercy? How can we let Christ die for the sake of all human flesh when most people will never deserve His grace? We do so by being kind, responding to the needs of those around us, even when we don’t know what they are. Listen for God’s voice and obey. You might just give someone some joy that they didn’t know they could feel.
April 19, 2023
Lectionary Scriptures for April 23, 2023, Third Sunday of Easter: Acts 2:14a, 36-41; Psalm 116:1-14; 1 Peter 1:17-25; Luke 24:13-35
“When he had sat down at the table with them, he took the bread and gave thanks. Breaking it, he gave it to them.” Luke 24:30, WEB
I love to read historical novels, especially those that are set in England. The era of Henry VIII has been used by many authors because his life was filled with everything a good story needs: lust, betrayal, love, and murder. Though the books I read are fiction, the authors are historians and use real documents to come to their conclusions about the time and people. Many of their characters are real. Sometimes even the conversations are accurate. We can’t know what is in anyone’s heart, especially someone who lived centuries ago, but the authors create situations that reveal the ambitions of the people and their willingness to do anything necessary to get what they want.
That’s where we see the intrigue and conflict in the life of Henry and his six wives: Henry was easily manipulated by those in his court, quickly turned from one opinion to another. They used his favor to get ahead but had to work even harder to keep their place in his court. Kings like Henry VIII demand much of his people, turning on those who do not satisfy his every whim. Because of this, he was easily manipulated. However, it took very little to make him turn his back on those who had been loyal.
The story of the Boleyn family is a classic tale of people of humble beginnings working their way to the top. The family patriarch was a tradesman who became a successful merchant. He found favor in the court of the king, earning titles and wealth at the king’s hand. His daughters, Mary first and then Anne, were caught up in the lives of the nobles of Europe. Mary was said to have been mistress to two kings, including Henry when she was serving his wife Catherine. Her sister Anne was also a lady for Queen Catherine.
A lady is little more than a servant: not really a servant but called to serve. The ladies and courtiers to the king were expected to be available at any moment to do whatever the king and queen desired. If the queen wanted her hair brushed, one of the ladies would do it. They did not do the dirty or heavy work, after all they were gentry. However, they were servants at the monarchs’ beck and call. Anne served, but as she served the queen, she caught the eye of the king. Then she manipulated herself into his heart and destroyed the royal relationship. She gained her crown by convincing the king that he was the only authority: above parliament, the church, and even God. That was her undoing. He used that authority to have her beheaded when she no longer pleased him.
Everyone acted as if they loved the king, willingly and willfully doing his bidding. However, it was exhausting for the ladies and courtiers to constantly keep up the act. They did not love the king, they loved what the king could give to them. They loved the wealth and the power they had because of his favor. They did not love the king because they knew that if he was unhappy, he would ignore their pleas and perhaps even destroy them. A compassionate king is beloved. A king that listens to the complaints of his subjects will also hear their hearts filled praise.
The psalmist sings, “Because he has turned his ear to me, therefore I will call on him as long as I live.” The Lord God is gracious and merciful. He hears the cries of His people, and He answers their prayers. Our psalm was used as part of the liturgy for the religious festivals throughout the Jewish year. It is a hymn of thanksgiving and praise for God’s deliverance from death.
The Jews had three festivals that were tied directly to agriculture and the harvest. These celebrations also had historical remembrances attached, so they were celebrations in thanksgiving to God for His daily care for His people as well as His goodness to their people throughout the ages. Passover occurs first and is a remembrance of the Exodus. On the third day of Passover, a sheaf of the first barley is given at the Temple as a wave offering. The priest literally waved the sheaf toward God so that He might accept it and bless it. No one was allowed to eat any of the barley wheat before the wave offering. This was also called the Feast of First Fruits.
The third feast was called Sukkot or the Feast of Tabernacles/Booths. This festival lasted for a week in the fall, and it celebrated the harvest. During this festival the people remembered the journey from Egypt to Canaan and to thank God for the productivity of Canaan. The religious life of God’s people went from Passover to Sukkot, just as the agricultural calendar went from planting to harvest. The people identified God’s deliverance and His provision by celebrating the harvest of their daily bread and the remembrance of their past.
Between those two festivals, fifty days after Passover, the people celebrated the Feast of Weeks, also known as Shavu’ot or Pentecost. This was a festival of joyful thanksgiving to God for blessing the harvest by giving offerings from the first fruits of their work. Pentecost was also a time to remember the giving of the Law at Mount Sinai. Just as the people stopped briefly between their exodus out of Egypt and their journey to Canaan at the foot of the mountain, so too did the people stop briefly during the year to thank God for the blessings He had already given and to hear once again the words given to them on the mountain. The giving of the Law occurred fifty days after the Passover in Egypt, so it occurred fifty days later in the yearly remembrance of God’s mercy. The reading of the Law was an important part of this festival.
The word Pentecost means “fifty days.” Jesus was crucified during the celebration of Passover, taken to the cross as the perfect Lamb of God. It is no surprise then that the Holy Spirit would come upon the disciples fifty days later while the city was filled with people attending the Feast of Pentecost. On the first Pentecost, the people of Israel were given God’s law. During the Pentecost that we see recorded in the book of Acts, the people were given the Holy Spirit, along with God’s power and authority. God’s Word was written on their hearts instead of tablets of stone.
It could not have been easy for Peter to speak his first sermon before the crowds that were in Jerusalem for the festival. They were there to hear the reading of God’s Law; Peter gave them something better. It was bold and courageous. He was offering them a new promise, a different promise. As they heard his words, the people were “pricked in their heart” or “cut to the heart” and they wondered what they should do with this new story. Peter told them to repent - not only of the sins they had committed, but also of the way they were doing worship and living their lives of faith. He told them to be baptized so that they would be forgiven and receive the Holy Spirit. He said many other things, testifying to convince them of the truth of what he was saying. His boldness brought the word of God, Jesus, to thousands of people in one day.
There is a story about a father that wanted to give his child something to do. He took a map of the U.S. out of the newspaper and tore it into pieces to see if his child could put the map back together. A few minutes later the child returned with it all taped back together. The father was amazed. “How did you do that so fast?” The child turned the page over. One the back was a picture of Jesus. “I just put Jesus together and everything fit into place.”
Ask any youth minister and they will tell you that Jesus is always the answer. It doesn’t matter what question you ask, the kids will always say “Jesus.” And they are right. Jesus is the answer. The problem is that sometimes we don’t know how to put all the pieces together.
That’s what was happening to the disciples in those moments following the crucifixion and the resurrection. The encounter in today’s Gospel lesson took place on the first Easter Day. Some of the disciples stayed in Jerusalem, hiding. Others left; last week we heard that Thomas was missing in action. In today’s story, two disciples were walking home to Emmaus. These disciples had been with Jesus and learned from Him for some time, possibly most of His three years of ministry. They did not understand how everything fit together. The crucifixion of Jesus did not fit their expectation. The witness of the women that Jesus had risen confused them. They could not make the puzzle fit together because there was something wrong with some of the pieces.
In the closing scenes of the movie “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,” Indiana is faced with a difficult decision. His father has just been shot and the only way to save his life was the Holy Grail which they had been searching for many years. After surviving a gauntlet by following the clues, Indiana has made his way into a cave where an ancient knight was protecting the grail. On the shelf were a hundred cups, some were extremely ornate and others quite simple. The bad guy followed Indiana into the cave and went directly to the cups. He demanded to know which one, but the knight responded, “You have to choose.” A wrong choice meant certain death.
He turned to a woman who had also followed Indiana and gave her the responsibility. She chose a large gold vessel covered with precious jewels. It was a cup fit for a king. The man agreed and took the cup to pool of cool clean water. He drank and immediately began to age. He not only died but his entire body decomposed and disintegrated before our eyes. The knight said, “He chose poorly.” Indiana looked over the shelf of cups and chose a most humble vessel. “This is the cup of a carpenter’s son.” Indeed, it was the cup that gave life. He took it to his father and the wound was healed by the water poured from the cup.
Every generation since Christ has searched for the Holy Grail. There are legends from all over the world about the cup of Christ. There are stories from around England that Joseph of Arimathea buried it on the island. I once saw a class cup from first century Israel and wondered if it could be the cup, after all, the owner of the Upper Room could very well have had glass vessels for the guests. Modern authors are fascinated by the possibility of the existence of that one simple cup that Jesus used at the Last Supper, as if it offered something special to anyone who possessed it. Yet, we need not look so far to discover the Holy Grail. We don’t need to go on dangerous adventures to hidden rooms with ancient knights like Indiana Jones to know the life-giving liquid of Christ’s cup.
Today’s Gospel story is one of my favorites, perhaps because we see how truly human the disciples really were. We often think of them as special and extraordinary, but they were just like you and me. We wonder how they did not recognize Jesus, but then we realize that we are sometimes so overwhelmed by our circumstances that we do not see the obvious. Jesus was probably in a form that made him appear different and their eyes were kept from recognizing Him. However, they were also distracted by their thoughts and emotions. What had happened? What were they going to do? Who was this Jesus, really?
We don’t always recognize the presence of God in our ordinary circumstances. Jesus said that we would see Him in the faces of those we serve, but how often do we really do so? Do we see Jesus in that neighbor who needs a helping hand or the hungry man at the food bank? Do we see Jesus in the politician that needs our prayers or the teacher that is overwhelmed by her work? Do we recognize Jesus in the person behind the wheel of the car that just cut us off or the friend that has forgotten to answer an email?
The two disciples were walking to Emmaus on the evening after the Resurrection. One of them was named Cleopas. The other is unnamed, but it is thought to be his wife, Mary. They were discussing the events surrounding Jesus’ death when a stranger joined them. They did not recognize that it was Jesus. In all the stories of Jesus’ appearances, He had full control. When He asked what they were discussing, the disciples were shocked to hear that He did not know what had happened. “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who doesn’t know the things which have happened there in these days?”
It must have seemed impossible that someone could have been in Jerusalem and not heard about Jesus. They told Him the story as they knew and understood it, how Jesus was crucified and how some of the others had seen Him alive. Their story was laced with sadness and confusion. They had heard He was raised but were uncertain. “Foolish men, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Didn’t the Christ have to suffer these things and to enter into his glory?” Jesus answered their confusion by opening the scriptures for them, sharing Old Testament passages, and explaining how they related to His the life, death, and resurrection. He started putting the pieces together for them. They began to see and understand more clearly, although Jesus was not yet fully revealed to them.
We might wonder why Jesus did not just say, “Hey friends, here I am!” Yet can you imagine the impact His appearance would have had on these disciples? They still did not fully understand how everything fit into the plan of God. Jesus needed to put all the pieces into the puzzle in the right way, but it would have been very difficult to do so if they knew that it was Jesus walking beside them. They listened intently, growing in knowledge about the story as Jesus revealed the words of Moses and the Prophets foretelling of Jesus’ life, ministry, and suffering. He also showed them how He was to be raised.
When they arrived at their destination, Jesus tried to keep going but the disciples invited him inside. It was late and they were probably very curious about this man they met on the road. He had so much knowledge of things they should have known but didn’t. They wanted to learn more. I am sure they found comfort in His words. They sat down to eat, and when Jesus took the bread, blessed it, and broke it for them, they saw Jesus. They were amazed, not just that Jesus was alive, but that they didn’t recognize Him. “Weren’t our hearts burning within us, while he spoke to us along the way, and while he opened the Scriptures to us?” Jesus was revealed to the disciples in the sharing of the word and of the bread.
Jesus not only taught the disciples about the Kingdom of God as found in the Law and the Prophets, but He renewed the covenant that He established at the Last Supper. As we hear the scriptures read and preached, we learn about the Jesus who came to do all this for us. It is in the breaking of bread that we join in the fellowship of His people, receiving His body and blood together with every Christian in all time and space. We are made new every time we receive this gift: forgiven, transformed, and purified by His grace so that we can go forth another day to trust God and live in love. We can find the Holy Grail around the Table each Sunday when we gather to receive the body and blood of Jesus.
Jesus established the pattern of worship for our lives of faith. He is revealed in word and bread. We experience Christ in body and in spirit. Our faith is founded on both reason and mystery. What does it all mean? Where are we going? What do we do with this faith we have been given? It was not until the bread was broken that the disciples could see Him clearly. Then they knew it was Jesus and they were amazed. Then they were able to go out and share the Good News with others. Jesus put the pieces together so that everything else would fit into place.
There are ministries all over the country that support transitional houses for women when they leave prison. At these houses, women are supported in their efforts to return to society transformed and ready to live a better life. They receive new clothes, cosmetic and hygiene products, and home comforts. Unfortunately, when many women leave prison, they return to their homes where they are subjected to the same people and circumstances that caused them to commit the crime that put them in prison. They return to abuse, drug use, and gang mentality. These houses are designed to create a new family atmosphere for the women so that they can see that they can live a different life.
These programs offer job training and help find work opportunities for the women. They provide clothes to give the women confidence and a professional appearance for job interviews and work. They protect the women from their old lives, providing access to only those things that will help them become successful in the world. If there are children involved, they will help with Child Services to ensure their safety and well-being. These ministries help women grab hold of a new life, a better life.
Peter wrote, “...knowing that you were redeemed, not with corruptible things, with silver or gold, from the useless way of life handed down from your fathers...” Jesus Christ died, and His blood was shed to give God’s people new life. God intends for us all to look at our past and consider how He has brought us out of it into something new. What have we been ransomed from? What is it about our life that God wants to transform?
We inherit from our past so many things: health, tradition, culture, finances, property, business, personality, habits, politics, biases, debts, feuds, religion, and interests. Some of these things can be good and are worth continuing into another generation. However, some of the things we inherit from our past have no value and can actually be harmful. Like the women in those transitional houses, there are things that we have to set aside to become the people we are meant to be. Jesus made it possible, redeeming us from the failures of our past. The sacrificial system had little value because it was not lasting. Jesus was the perfect Lamb of God who finished for all time the need for atoning sacrifice. In His grace, we are called to trust in God, love one another, and live according to the word of God.
The two disciples saw Jesus clearly when He broke the bread with them. I would not like to admit how many times I saw the truth as I was on my knees receiving communion. Too often as I take the bread and wine I realize my own failures during the week, seeing His face in those that I failed to serve. I remember the opportunities I had to share the Good News but was so caught up in my own cares and concerns. But just like those disciples, I also see God’s grace in the breaking of the bread. I remember his forgiveness and receive the strength to go on into another week of trying to live as His witness in this world.
God does not always come to us in dramatic and forceful ways. Sometimes He comes to us slowly at first, carefully laying out His story so that when He is fully revealed we will recognize him. Though some Christians have extraordinary experiences of Jesus, like Paul on the road to Damascus, most of us learn about Jesus through Sunday school teachers and our parents. Slowly, but surely, we hear the stories laid out before us until one day we finally see Him and understand. Even then we wonder how we could not have seen, just like those disciples. “Weren’t our hearts burning within us?” we ask. But in the stories of God’s grace, we see that we are just like those who were there at the beginning, learning, and growing in grace each day.
Our experience in life is nothing like it must have been in the court of King Henry VIII, where everyone was an enemy because they stood in the way of one’s ambition. However, we do face enemies throughout our lives - the bully on the playground, the co-worker willing to do whatever is necessary to get ahead, the jealous boyfriend. Even our siblings can be like enemies: always working against us to get their own way. However, the greatest enemy we face is death and Christ has conquered that enemy for us. This is enough for us to sing His praise and proclaim our love.
We are reminded of that grace every time we receive the cup that bears the very blood of Christ which was shed for us on the cross. Christ did this for you. Each time we gather around the table, we call out to the Lord for salvation. We find life in His answer as we remember the cross of Christ. His love is revealed in that breaking of bread. There we see Jesus revealed for us. The Psalmist sings, “I will take the cup of salvation, and call on Yahweh’s name. I will pay my vows to Yahweh, yes, in the presence of all his people.” We find the Holy Grail at the table where Jesus Christ is given for us in the bread and wine. We are made new every time we receive that gift, forgiven, transformed, and purified by His Word so that we can go forth another day to trust in God and live in love.
God hears us when we cry out to Him, and He is right there to answer our prayers and do everything that He has promised. The answer is always Jesus. He puts the pieces into place and makes everything come together.
Jesus commanded us to “Do this in remembrance of me,” because in the Word and Sacraments He reveals Himself again and again. We are amazed, and this Good News demands a response, so like those two disciples from Emmaus, we are to go out and tell others about our risen Lord Jesus so that they will believe and be saved. It might be scary, but like Peter and the disciples at Pentecost, we have the Holy Spirit to guide us, to give us courage, to fill our mouths with the words that others will hear. He will put the pieces together for them, too.
April 20, 2023
“For though I grieved you with my letter, I do not regret it, though I did regret it. For I see that my letter made you grieve, though just for a while. I now rejoice, not that you were grieved, but that you were grieved to repentance. For you were grieved in a godly way, that you might suffer loss by us in nothing. For godly sorrow produces repentance to salvation, which brings no regret. But the sorrow of the world produces death. For behold, this same thing, that you were grieved in a godly way, what earnest care it worked in you. Yes, what defense, indignation, fear, longing, zeal, and vengeance! In everything you demonstrated yourselves to be pure in the matter. So although I wrote to you, I wrote not for his cause that did the wrong, nor for his cause that suffered the wrong, but that your earnest care for us might be revealed in you in the sight of God.” 2 Corinthians 7:8-12, WEB
Fiesta San Antonio is described as “a 10-day, city-wide, fun-filled, multi-cultural, family-oriented celebration.” The website about the event states, “With over 100 different events, it's the biggest party and greatest community benefit in the state of Texas.” The city holds historical educational forums, parades, sporting events and coronations as part of the celebration. Fiesta is scheduled for April and began as a remembrance of those who fought for Texas independence in the mid-nineteenth century.
While there are always some serious events planned for the week, with children learning about the Alamo and other historic events, it is basically a huge party. Evenings on the Riverwalk and in the old part of town are filled with entertainment, food, and plenty of drink. It gets crowded downtown as thousands of people attend the events and enjoy the good things at Fiesta. I’ve heard interviews with a number of people who go out of their way every year to ensure their place at the party. One person said that working the booths every night can be difficult, things can get rather rowdy and crowded. Yet, despite the hard work they wouldn’t miss it for the world. They meet so many wonderful people and see them year after year. It is worth the hassles for them to be a part of it all.
I also once heard that there is a surge in accidents during Fiesta. This makes sense because of the number of people having a good time. Accidents happen on crowded walkways. Alcohol is a big part of the celebration, and this always causes some injury. Drunken partiers tend to get out of control and those that drive bring death and destruction in their wake. The purpose of that report about the dangers of Fiesta was meant to call attention to the consequences of selfish behavior. Perhaps the report will put fear into at least a few people who will act more appropriately while visiting Fiesta.
Paul wrote an upsetting letter to the people of Corinth, a letter that was probably seen as harsh and inconsiderate. The Christians of Corinth were not living as they were called to live. Paul’s letter was written to encourage godly living among the believers. He did not want to frighten them or make them worry about their salvation, which is the worldly sorrow about which Paul wrote. His letter might have upset them at first, but they experienced the godly sorrow that comes from hearing the Word of God and they repented.
The report about the “Fiesta spike” was not meant to make people afraid to go near downtown to enjoy the festivities of this week. Instead, it was meant to ensure that the people who do attend do so responsibly. Hopefully more people will take the advice of the event organizers, not to drink to excess or drive while intoxicated. How often do we try to avoid saying the hard things for fear of upsetting someone? I’m sure it was difficult for Paul to point out the wrongdoings of the Corinthians. Yet, he stepped forth and spoke God’s word into their lives, which brought them back to the Gospel of grace and mercy. So, too, are we to call for the repentance of our brothers and sisters in Christ that they might live more fully in God’s grace.
April 21, 2023
“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
We have all laughed at the comedic antics in a movie or sitcom of some man doing the work his wife usually does, such as vacuuming, dusting, dishes, or the laundry. My particular favorite is the man who adds too much detergent to the washing machine which overflows with suds all over the basement. It is hard to believe that any human being would make such a mistake.
Until we do something similar. I had a dishwasher full of dishes when I discovered that I did not have any soap. I decided to use a tiny bit of regular dish soap so that I could run the dishes through without going to the store. Unfortunately, I added a bit too much, and the dishwasher began to overflow. I somehow knew as I was doing it that I was probably using too much, but it didn’t look like enough to be a problem so I didn’t think it would be that bad.
I have a friend whose son had gotten into trouble. He wanted to be popular and was willing to do what was not right to fit into the crowd. His grades slipped and he ended up getting detentions at school because he was not doing his homework. He began to have difficulty sleeping and was not feeling right. His body reacted to the stress of not doing what he was supposed to do.
We know right from wrong. Our parents and the other adults in our lives taught these things to us, however God built an innate understanding of what is good and what is evil into every human being. 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. Paul tells us, that those who do not have the law “show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience testifying with them.”
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 not to murder, steal or lie. Christians 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. When we tend toward error, He often gives us a twinge of a reminder, such as the son who was not sleeping well because of the stress of doing what was wrong. I knew it was wrong to add too much soap to the dishwasher, and I had a big mess to clean up after I ran the machine.
We suffer the consequences of our error, but when we do fail, Christians have an intercessor in Jesus Christ. He died on the cross to forgive us for our sin against God and other people, our rebellion against God’s Word. As believers forgiven by the blood of Jesus Christ, we are transformed by God’s grace into people who have the strength and courage to avoid the things that God despises: pride, lies, murder, scheming, evil, false witness, and dissension. By His grace, we are called to walk in faith and serve God in humility, truth, and love.
April 24, 2023
“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.” Psalm 40:1-5, WEB
I recently watched a video from Pastor Louie Giglio. He is described as the pastor of Passion City Church in Atlanta and the founder of the Passion Movement. His focus is on encouraging young adults in their lives of active faith in the world, glorifying God in all they do. He has written several books, and often puts faith and science together to show how God is glorified in the natural world.
The video I watched included the audio of several different types of celestial bodies mashed together with the song of the whales, showing that the entire universe sings the praises of God. He then added a human voice singing a familiar song with words of praise, creating a beautiful composition. He used this as a demonstration of Psalm 148, which talks about how all of creation sings praise to God. Pastor Giglio is not without controversy, but this video certainly makes a powerful point. I sat in wonder as I listened to the song, in awe that God created a world that praises Him all the time.
When was the last time you truly experienced the sense of wonder at something? The word “wonder” is defined as “the feeling excited by something strange; a mixture of surprise, curiosity, and sometimes awe.” Children experience this all the time. I remember spending summers chasing after wonders. We stayed outside past dark to catch lightning bugs and play flashlight tag. We swam in the pool from sun up to sun down and sometimes even later. We played in the woods behind our house searching for anything that might pique our imaginations. We skated on the frozen puddles in the field and stretched out on the grass to watch the clouds go by. We hid under the umbrella tree with our favorite books. We were fascinated by lady bugs, picked “yard mums” (dandelions) for our mothers and ate peanut butter sandwiches for lunch.
Peanut butter sandwiches are wonderful. I don’t eat them often enough. They make me feel like a child again; they remind me that there is so much to be thankful for in this world. Silly, isn’t it? And yet, that child-like wonder is exactly how we should feel all the time.
Someone in Sunday school today reminded us how much easier it is for children to have faith. Perhaps they are more willing to see the wonder in the world and to believe in Jesus because they have not yet experienced the hardships of life. They don’t know what it is like to suffer the consequence of their wrongdoing. They don’t have responsibilities, so they can fritter away their lives under the rolling clouds and blue skies. They are also not cynical. They haven’t seen the worst of people, so they are willing to see the best. We didn’t hold grudges. We bickered but we forgave. We reconciled. We loved. And then we went back to wondering about the amazing things in the world.
The psalmist knew what it was like to be buried in the muck and mire of sinfulness but trusted in God’s forgiveness. Pastor Giglio is much older than his target audience now, but I think he understands that the young are more willing to see the wonder of faith and science working together to praise God. Yet, we should all be like children, hearing the praise song of creation glorifying God the Creator.
Children trust. It comes with the innocence of childhood. Perhaps we should be more like we were when we were children. Perhaps we should take more time to be in awe of the sunset or the rainbow. Perhaps we should watch the clouds roll by. Most of all, we should take time to be in awe of God’s wonderful works. He created the world and everything in it. He sent Jesus His Son to pull us out of the muck and mire, wash us, and cloth us with His righteousness. He has made us new so that we can see His creation with new eyes. We should be singing with the stars and whales so that everyone will hear that our God has planned wonderful things for His people; things that were, things that are, and things that will be!
April 25, 2023
“My son, if you come forward to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for temptation. Set your heart right and be steadfast, and do not be hasty in time of calamity. Cleave to him and do not depart, that you may be honored at the end of your life. Accept whatever is brought upon you, and in changes that humble you be patient. For gold is tested in the fire, and acceptable men in the furnace of humiliation. Trust in him, and he will help you; make your ways straight, and hope in him. You who fear the Lord, wait for his mercy; and turn not aside, lest you fall. You who fear the Lord, trust in him, and your reward will not fail; you who fear the Lord, hope for good things, for everlasting joy and mercy. Consider the ancient generations and see: who ever trusted in the Lord and was put to shame? Or who ever persevered in the fear of the Lord and was forsaken? Or who ever called upon him and was overlooked? For the Lord is compassionate and merciful; he forgives sins and saves in time of affliction.” Sirach 2:1-11, RSV
Today is the day we celebrate the life of Mark the Evangelist. His story is interesting because we see the connections between people in the Gospel stories. Mark was not one of the Twelve, but he was a large enough part of their world that his Gospel is accepted as canon. A few of the disciples were related like James and John, Peter, and Andrew, but we often think of the other characters in the story as completely unrelated. It is particularly amazing for us that these strangers would drop their whole lives to accommodate Jesus’ ministry. Yet, as we look at the story as a whole, we realize that there were connections we might not expect. This is especially true in the story of Mark, also known as John Mark.
John Mark’s mother Mary had a home in Jerusalem with a large upper room. It was to this room that Peter returned after being released from prison in Jerusalem. Herod, who was concerned about the growth of this new religion and who was anxious to keep the Jews happy, had arrested Peter after the killing of James, the brother of John was received so well by Jews. An angel of the Lord appeared to Peter in prison and set him free. The angel led Peter out of the prison, but Peter thought he was experiencing a vision. When he realized that what was happening was real, he went to the home of Mary, the mother of John Mark, where many people had gathered for prayer. (Acts 12:12)
This was most likely the same place where the disciples gathered with Jesus for the Last Supper. Mary had a nephew named Barnabas who was an early leader in the church. As a matter of fact, we learn in Acts 13:1 that Barnabas was a teacher at the church in Antioch. Since he is first on the list of teachers of Antioch, he was probably the most important. He is thought to have been among the seventy-two sent by Jesus ahead of Him to every town and place. (Luke 10:1) He was probably with the disciples in the upper room for the Last Supper.
Jesus may have known Mary, the mother of John Mark, through His relationship with Barnabas. When Peter and John (Luke 22:11) were sent to prepare for the Passover meal, the homeowner was very accommodating and had the room ready for them. Perhaps Jesus arranged the details through Barnabas to use his aunt’s house for the meal. There is some conjecture in this line of thought, but there are enough connections in the scriptures between these characters to consider the possibilities. Besides, we know that Mary’s home became a gathering place for those first Christians. Wouldn’t it make sense that they returned to the place where they’d last met with Jesus over a meal? They needed a safe place to hide before the resurrection and a place to pray after the ascension. (Acts 1:13) Since this Mary was among the early believers, it made sense that she made her home available to Jesus and his disciples.
Since Jesus spent time in Mary’s home, her son John Mark would have been there to serve the disciples. One tradition holds that it was John Mark who carried the water into the room for Jesus to wash the feet of the disciples. (John 13) Another tradition claims that it was John Mark who ran from the garden naked when Jesus was arrested. (Mark 14:51) Even if they gathered in different rooms, John Mark would have heard the stories from those first apostles after the resurrection; he would have listened to Peter and the others as they gathered in prayer and to figure out the mission on which they’d been sent. John Mark was likely at his mother’s home when Peter arrived from the prison. The disciples gathered in Mary’s home did not believe it when the servant Rhoda told them that Peter was at the door. They all thought it must be his angel. They all heard his miraculous story, including John Mark who was learning about Jesus from the stories he heard told in his mother’s home. (Acts 12)
Some experts believe that John Mark was an interpreter for Peter and his Gospel is actually told from Peter’s point of view. Peter was a fisherman, and his education may have been limited, so it may have been difficult for him to write the story. Paul was highly educated and used a scribe for his letters, so Peter may have been too busy starting the Church to actually do the writing. So perhaps Peter worked with John Mark to tell the story so that others might hear and know that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. Peter wrote about Mark as if he were a son, so they were very close. (1 Peter 5:13)
John Mark traveled with his cousin Barnabas and the Apostle Paul. Barnabas was a leader in the Church at Antioch, where Saul/Paul was also a teacher. (Acts 13:1) Barnabas and Paul were set aside by the Holy Spirit to travel to Cyprus (Barnabas was from Cyprus) to share the Good News with the people there. John Mark traveled with them. (Acts 13:2) When they left Paphos and went to Perga in Pamphylia, John Mark left them to return to Jerusalem. We don’t really know why John Mark left. Was he homesick? He was much younger than the others, so he might have been. Paul was beginning to take over the leadership of the group. Was John Mark upset that his cousin Barnabas was being pushed aside? Was something wrong at home? Was his mother ill? Did Paul make decisions with which John Mark did not agree? Whatever happened, John Mark’s abandonment of the mission upset Paul and he later refused to take John Mark with him on his second missionary journey. That decision caused Barnabas to leave Paul. (Acts 15:39) They must have reconciled because Mark visited Paul in prison. (Colossians 4:10)
Mark’s Gospel was shared first as an oral story. It was learned and developed as these characters gathered together, sharing their memories and the lessons they’d learned. Though it seems to us sometimes that they were strangers who were drawn together by this incredible man, Jesus actually transformed families into something new and different. They knew each other, but they began to know each other differently as the Gospel transformed their lives. Though we look at Mark’s Gospel and realize that he was probably not a direct witness of many of the events, we know that he did know the people who’d lived them. They were family. They were friends. They were a part of his life of faith from the beginning. Peter was even like a father to him. So, he knew the stories as well as we know the stories from our own lives and the lives of those we love. What we read in Mark’s Gospel came out of that odd collection of strangers, connected not only by the love of Christ, but also by their shared experience of Jesus and the love they had for one another.
St. Mark the Evangelist was not an Apostle, but Jesus called him to do the work of the Kingdom in his own unique way; he had the vocation of reporting the story of Jesus to help spread the Gospel to the world. We see in his life the family connections between the Christians that were both blood and spirit. He wasn’t perfect, and we can see God’s grace in the fact that despite his decision to leave Paul, he was restored to ministry. We also see that though Mark was young, God gave him a place in the work of His Kingdom. He does the same for us despite all the excuses we make because we don’t think we can do the work.
April 26, 2023
Lectionary Scriptures for April 30, 2023, Fourth Sunday of Easter: Acts 2:42-47; Psalm 23; 1 Peter 2:19-25; John 10:1-10
“Day by day, continuing steadfastly with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread at home, they took their food with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God, and having favor with all the people. The Lord added to the assembly day by day those who were being saved.” Acts 2:46-47, WEB
Our texts for today revolve around the word “shepherd.” The fourth Sunday of Easter is always Good Shepherd Sunday, and we hear a piece of John 10 each year. This year, John 10:1-10 tells us Jesus is the gate and the gatekeeper, the only way to salvation, and how He is willing to lay down His life for His sheep. In the end He provides proof of His authority to be the Good Shepherd. His sheep are those who believe; they’ve been given to Him by His Father. The psalm for this day is always Psalm 23; it is a song of the sheep who is praising the goodness of the Shepherd who is the LORD. The LORD provides. The LORD directs. The LORD leads. The LORD restores. The LORD guides. The LORD protects. The LORD comforts. The LORD feeds. The LORD anoints. Life under the LORD’s care is good. Life in the presence of the Shepherd is blessed. We are called to be faithful to the LORD, to follow our Shepherd and to trust in Him. We will hear His voice and He will take care of us.
The world struggles to understand how we can be obedient to what they consider a fairy tale. They don’t understand how we can follow this life, especially in this day and age. Tithe? Aren’t there better ways to spend our money? Church on a Sunday morning? Don’t you want to sleep in? You are studying the Bible again? You have read it so many times there can’t possibly be anything new to glean out of it!
We know, however, that God will use our resources in ways we can’t even imagine, that time with God in community is more than just a place to be and that the Bible will always surprise us with something new. Yet, we also know that there are people who make claims about God’s voice that are questionable. God will never call a mother to murder her children. This is why we need to be part of a community of faith that will help us to live according to God’s Word. We need one another to help us hear God’s voice, to know that what we hear is truly God’s voice.
Community was everything to Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He grew up in a huge, loving family that did everything together. He worked at creating a community to educate young men in ministry. Even after he was arrested, Dietrich found a way to create community inside the prison where he was kept. He died well before his time, but through his life we have learned what it means to dwell together in grace and love.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was executed for his role in a conspiracy against Adolph Hitler. A group of high-ranking military officials tried to kill Hitler so as to overthrow the National Socialist regime. He is counted among the martyrs of Christianity, having suffered a horrendous death for crimes that are seen now as founded firmly in his Christian faith and God’s call to justice.
His execution was so horrific that even some of the German soldiers refused to watch. They did not have enough gallows because so many were hung in those days. Instead, they used meat hooks from the slaughterhouse, lifting the victim slowly as they were hung with nooses made out of piano wire. The victim suffocated to death in about thirty minutes. Before the hanging, he was stripped naked and beaten, then led into the yard. It was humiliating and painful, but Dietrich Bonhoeffer last words were, “This is the end, but for me the beginning of life.” He lived his life in the knowledge that he followed the faithful Shepherd. Despite the hardship, Bonhoeffer knew that he would find himself in the presence of God in the end.
Martin Doblmeier created a documentary about the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. In an interview about the movie, Doblmeier said, “Most people know Bonhoeffer because of his writings. Cost of Discipleship, Letters and Papers from Prison, Life Together, these are classic books that will inspire Christians and non-Christians for generations. You feel in his words the youthful passion of a man struggling to understand the will of God, knowing the earthly price that is often paid for responding to that call. In his own time Bonhoeffer was not a widely known figure, but over the last few generations his stature has grown, and his writings have become more and more influential. I think that is because, in the language of today, he was a man who not only talked the talk but walked the walk. In the world of religion today there seems to be a widening chasm between the left and right, the progressive and traditional, especially in the Christian world. What is extraordinary is how Bonhoeffer’s appeal seems to cross over the divisions, finding wide acceptance on both sides. Conservative Christians are attracted to Bonhoeffer because he is so Christ-and Bible-based. The progressive wing is attracted to Bonhoeffer’s commitment to social justice. It is not that the two sides should be in any opposition, it is simply the fact that too often they are, and Bonhoeffer is a unifying figure, not a divisive one.”
In the life and times of Dietrich Bonhoeffer we see an example of the kind of life God calls us to live. He was neither a liberal nor a conservative; he was both. He was frustrated with the liberal theology of the Lutheran Church in Germany which caused him to eventually leave the church. He felt that it was too obliging, which is why it was no longer relevant in the society of his day. The Church was not willing to stand up for what was right against what was wrong. He was not willing to set aside his ideas, but he also understood that some of the views in his day minimized scripture.
In Bonhoeffer we can see that the sides are neither good or bad, but they are different ways of seeing the world and responding to the Gospel. We can work together for the sake of God’s kingdom, unified not by a point of view but by the amazing grace of Christ Jesus. Our work here in this world will end, but that end is not the end, it is only the beginning of life for us as we join in the heavenly community of saints for eternity. We join that community not by our own discipleship or actions, but through faith in Jesus Christ. If we remember this, eyes always on the cross and the promise that is found there, we’ll know the unity that they saw in that early church which was a diverse group of people sharing everything and living as God called His people to live.
Everyone has an opinion in the conversations, but few are willing to listen to the others. In Bonhoeffer we can see that there are different ways of seeing the world, and that perhaps the best way to deal with it is not division, but community. There is a reason that God chose the image of a shepherd to describe His character and work. A shepherd doesn’t lead one animal, he cares for many. It isn’t a hundred individuals that are under His care, it is a flock. While He knows and loves every sheep, able to call it by name, the shepherd’s world is in community.
We can work together for the sake of God’s kingdom, unified not by a point of view but by the amazing grace of Christ Jesus. Our work here in this world will end, but that end is not the end, it is only the beginning of life for us as we join in the heavenly community of saints for eternity. We join that community not by our own discipleship or actions, but through faith in Jesus Christ. If we remember this, eyes always on the cross and the promise that is found there, we’ll know the unity that they saw in the early church. We can have the kind of community that Bonhoeffer tried to build wherever He was, even if we are a diverse group because we are led by the same Shepherd.
Through the Church we live without fear as we walk together in faith, because God is with us. In Acts, the believers shared everything in common, even selling their goods to care for the needs of other brothers and sisters in Christ. They shared God’s grace, giving to those who had less and receiving when they had their own needs. They met daily for prayer and study, and often gathered to share fellowship with one another. They did all this with joy, praising God. Doesn’t that sound like dwelling in the house of the Lord forever?
There was something very unique about the Christian community in Jerusalem that made strangers want to be a part of it. Luke tells us that day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. Unfortunately, today many congregations are failing, and churches are dying; we certainly aren’t adding thousands to our numbers. As a matter of fact, too many of our new members are simply Christians who are coming from another place. The church is not growing from our witness, it is just moving around as people search for the Jesus they want to trust. We are divided by our ideas and we lose sight of our Shepherd.
We have to ask ourselves what we are doing that is different than what they were doing. Are we trusting in God? Do we hear His voice and respond accordingly? Or, are we trying to get people to follow us, to go on our path, to believe in what we are doing? Are we trying to manipulate people by giving them what they think they want or coercing them with guilt or promises we can’t keep?
My husband recently got several calls from someone he didn’t know on his business phone. We were inundated for a while with calls for someone because theirs was published incorrectly. We have all had to deal with wrong numbers, although I suspect most of us don’t know anymore, unless they leave messages. With caller ID, I personally only answer those that come from people I know, but it was different when you did not know who was calling. I remember dealing with a ninety-five-year-old man looking for his sister, a teenager wanting to talk to a girlfriend, and a construction company getting back with a client. It is no trouble to tell the caller that they have reached the wrong number and it sometimes even leads to humorous conversations, like the one with the elderly man. Sometimes the people who dialed wrong will leave a voicemail and I feel like I need to inform them that they reached the wrong party.
I could easily let it go; after all, it wasn’t my mistake. But sometimes these messages seem important, so I try to let them know they reached the wrong party. One time I tried to clear up the mess, I was questioned about whether or not I knew the person and if I could tell them how to get a hold of her. I called to let them know of their mistake and felt that I had been through an inquisition about a person I had never met. Unfortunately, it isn’t always that easy, like the day I got a call from a company about a disability claim for a person that I did not know. I tried to call the company and ended up on a consumer unfriendly voicemail system that made it impossible to find a human being. I was repeatedly sent back to the main menu until I finally hung up, frustrated by my inability to find anyone who could fix their problem.
We live in a world that is increasingly becoming “people-free.” The grocery store provides “self-check-out” lanes so that the consumer can do all the work for themselves. You can take care of almost all your business on the internet, with voice mail, with text messaging. We use email instead of the phone. Gas pumps have pay points, so we do not need to pay a cashier. We don’t even have to go to the post office anymore: we can print our stamps on our own computer and put the envelope in a mailbox. We can watch church on television, order pizza on the Internet, and stream first run films on our television. Our community has become too virtual.
We need to interact with other people every day, to share our joys and pain. We need hugs and smiles. People need people. In the beginning, God said, “It is not good for man to be alone” so He created woman and at the same time a community. He drew His people together and gave them laws to help them live together. He ordained a pattern for worship that was practiced in community and a social system that made all people important to the whole.
The “people-free” society is even making its way into the church. Besides televangelists, people can attend worship at mega-churches where they are assured a sense of anonymity. Individuals get lost in the crowd, which is just as well for many of the people who attend. On the other extreme, many Christians are choosing to have a solitary life of faith, no longer attending services at the church down the street. The pandemic made it easy to find any kind of church service online. They sit in front of their television. They read and study the scriptures and have a life of prayer, but they miss the life of community that comes from fellowship with other Christians.
The earliest Christians lived in community, and they shared everything. They gathered often to pray, learn, and fellowship. They ate together, communed together, and worshipped the Lord together. They were bound together with other believers not only by the Spirit, but by a life lived in community. They devoted themselves to the work of God. They studied the scriptures and the teachings of the apostles, they gathered together for worship and praise, and they prayed. Do we do this? Yes we do, for an hour or two a week, but then we go out and live according to the ways of the world. Perhaps we spend time in bible study and daily prayer, but is it filling our lives with God’s voice to drown out the calls from the world? Do we spend time during the week encouraging one another with words of grace or by helping each other live the Christian life outside the walls of the church?
It is not enough to spend time in the privacy of our homes with God. God calls us to be obedient to Him at all times, no matter what that might mean for our lives. I think that’s what Luke means when he talks about the early Christians sharing everything they had. The Christian community in Jerusalem was not a model of literal equality, but it shows us the need to support one another for more than just a few hours a week.
I am always amazed at how quickly people respond when they see a need. A hurricane comes through a coastal town and people donate to Red Cross to help. Others load trucks full of water. Yet others go with shovels and work boots to help clean up the mess. We take casseroles to our neighbor when they lose someone they love. A charity needs a new bus to move students and the community chips in. We may not always seem as generous as we should, but when we see a need we are more than willing to help. We aren’t trying to make things equal between us, but we are share our “more than enough” so that others will have “enough.” They weren’t required to put everything into one bank account, but they were so committed to the Lord that they willingly gave up what was necessary for the sake of others in need.
That’s what the outsiders saw in the Christian community: a willingness to give to share with one another. It wasn’t forced or even expected: it just happened. When someone was hungry, someone else fed them. When someone needed a new robe, someone helped them get one. When each was comfortable, they ensured the others were comfortable, too. Who wouldn’t want to be part of a community that doesn’t worry about money and resources? Do those who do not understand how we can live a life of faith in God see us living in this kind of community?
What makes the Church unique is that it is one body, Christ’s body, working together to accomplish God’s Work in the world. And we don’t do it according to our will and purpose, but according to God’s. We trust in Him. We listen to His voice, and we respond by faith with strength and everything we have. We might fail. No, we will fail. But if we continue to work like those first disciples, devoting our time to the teachings of the apostles, worship, and prayer, then we will learn to recognize God’s voice above all the others.
Have we lost touch with His voice? Do we hear Him when He calls? Are we ready to respond with mercy and grace to meet the needs of those who are suffering in the world? Or are we following the voices of strangers? Do we trust the thief that claims to be the voice of God but who only wants to steal the gifts God has given? Are we willing to trust God even when we are suffering? Is Jesus our focus, or are we chasing after our own agendas, theories, expectations?
As we follow Jesus, listening to His voice, going only where He leads, we will find that God’s grace will multiply in ways that are beyond our ability to imagine. Even if we don’t think we have enough, we’ll be able to find more than we need to help our neighbors just as they will help us. This is the kind of community that others long to join. This is the community that Jesus created to share His Gospel with the world, so that they will become part of that community of faith and receive the life Jesus promised to those who believe.
Saint Peter was walking the streets of heaven which seemed overly crowded to him. He went to the gate to look in the book they keep when people check into heaven. He found no comfort in what he saw; he knew that there were too many people on the streets based on the information in the book. He told Saint Paul of his concern. “Paul this doesn’t look good! Are there really that many extra people in the streets? Who are these people and how did they get here? Go and see if you can find out what is happening.” So, Saint Paul ran off to investigate while Saint Peter stood at the gate personally. After a while Saint Paul returned with a report. “You are right, Peter, there are extra people here.” Saint Peter replied, “I knew it. Where are they coming from?” Saint Paul answered, “Oh, its Jesus. He’s helping people climb in over the back fence again.”
This is a funny joke, but the reality is found in today’s Gospel lesson: Jesus doesn’t have to bring people in over the back fence because He is the gate. We live in the hope of eternal life, based on the promise of Jesus rather than the sum of our knowledge. We have hope for all people, teaching them about Jesus so that they see Him as the gateway into God’s presence.
This is not to say that Peter and Paul had it all wrong and that we should ignore or reject their canonical writings as some are willing to do. The scriptures are given so that we might grow into the people God created and ordained us to be. As we follow the example of those who have gone before, we grow in faith and maturity, giving us the courage and the strength to share the message of Jesus with others. If we have hope for them, we will share the gift of eternal life with them. If we set up boundaries and judgments against them, then we will not bother to do the one thing God has commanded us to do: share the Gospel. Why bother if they don’t belong anyway?
In all things, Jesus is our focus. As we follow Him, listening to His voice, going only where He leads, we will find that God’s grace will multiply in ways that are beyond our ability to imagine. Those who were considered enemies become brothers, not because we change our mind or because they change but because we see them from a new perspective: through Jesus colored glasses. There is no reason to limit the number of people on the streets of heaven because God’s grace is big enough for all. We are reminded in this passage that the way we get there is through Jesus, whether it is over the back fence or through the front door.
Peter reminds us that dwelling with God does not mean we will never walk through the valley of the shadow of death. As a matter of fact, even our Lord Jesus suffered at the hands of men, though He’d done nothing wrong. He was crucified as a criminal, though innocent of sin. Men found it right to put Him to death, but Jesus did not turn away from their wrath; instead, He stood firmly in the will of God, doing what He had been sent to do. It was for our sins that Jesus died, and for our sake that He now lives.
Those who hear His voice will follow without fear, knowing that the Great Shepherd will provide all we need. The life we live in this world will never be perfect, even in the community He built from the disciples He gathered. The shadow of death looms over all that we do because sin still rules in this world. However, we walk in faith knowing that God has already established our home forever. We have the gift of the community of faith to support us; the Church is like that green pasture and still waters in David’s song of praise. We find peace in the care of the Good Shepherd in the community of believers who worship God and do His work that we can find peace.
Unfortunately, the Church does not look much like it did in those early days. There are few who gather so regularly for prayer and study. We do not sell our possessions to support another’s needs. We don’t eat together with one heart or constantly praise God for His mercy and grace. We are also not adding to our numbers daily those that are saved. We are, at times, like a flock of sheep gone astray. The lessons for this week remind us to listen for the voice of our Master and follow Him, so that we will know what it is like to dwell in the house of God. But even when we fail, we can be assured that our Lord walks with us and we shall have no fear of death. We shall not want for grace because through Jesus Christ there is an abundant supply, and we’ll see His Church grow in faith and in believers as God adds to our community those who are being saved.
April 27, 2023
“This is what Yahweh, the King of Israel, and his Redeemer, Yahweh of Armies, says: ‘I am the first, and I am the last; and besides me there is no God. Who is like me? Who will call, and will declare it, and set it in order for me, since I established the ancient people? Let them declare the things that are coming, and that will happen. Don’t fear, neither be afraid. Haven’t I declared it to you long ago, and shown it? You are my witnesses. Is there a God besides me? Indeed, there is not.’” Isaiah 44:6-8, WEB
I never really got into “American Idols.” I confess that I sometimes enjoyed watching the auditions, more for those who could not sing than for those who could. Over the years, the amateur singers became less amateur, and the auditions did not include as many of those contestants that made me laugh. The judges are experienced in the music business, so they offer encouragement to some of the contestants, but they also speak honestly to those who are sent home with suggestions on how to improve. By the end of the season, someone is crowned the winner and they become the next idol. They are on the twenty-first season, and there are some people who would never miss an episode. They follow the winners. Some even wonder if they could be the one idolized by America.
Who or what do we idolize in our world today? The definition of an idol is “a representation or symbol of an object of worship” or “an object of extreme devotion.” Sports heroes and movie stars are often put onto pedestals and held in high regard. Sometimes we look at our political and religious leaders as more than just role models. Idols can also be non-human, like places, relationships, jobs, or material possessions. We are devoted to our spouses, our homes, our hobbies, and our ideas. When we schedule our lives around a television show, it becomes an idol. Though most of us would deny that we worship these things, when they are the most important part of our lives, they are idols.
While it may be fun to follow the budding careers of these talented people, or enjoy the things we love, we need to be careful to keep these things in the proper perspective. Unfortunately, we tend to hold things in very high esteem even though they are just fallible and perishable. The idols of the old gods were made with human hands, with no breath or power. There is nothing greater than the Lord God Almighty, and yet we rarely make Him the priority of our lives. Something else always stands in our way.
We are witnesses of the Lord God Almighty, called to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with the world. Do they see that we hold God above all else in our lives, or are we caught up in devotion to the idols of this age? We don’t necessarily have figures made out of stone or wood like they did in the days of Isaiah, but we still have objects of worship, whether they are people, places, things, or ideas. May we always be witnesses to the truth that God is the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. There is no one like Him. He knew it would be this way. Human nature tends to look toward the tangible things of this world that we can touch and see to make us happy and bring us comfort. Yet all things but God are perishable, they are unreliable. There is no God besides the One who is revealed in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. He is our Rock and our Salvation. May we always keep Him as the priority in our life and put everything else in the proper perspective.
April 28, 2023
“The blacksmith takes an ax, works in the coals, fashions it with hammers, and works it with his strong arm. He is hungry, and his strength fails; he drinks no water, and is faint. The carpenter stretches out a line. He marks it out with a pencil. He shapes it with planes. He marks it out with compasses, and shapes it like the figure of a man, with the beauty of a man, to reside in a house. He cuts down cedars for himself, and takes the cypress and the oak, and strengthens for himself one among the trees of the forest. He plants a cypress tree, and the rain nourishes it. Then it will be for a man to burn; and he takes some of it, and warms himself. Yes, he burns it, and bakes bread. Yes, he makes a god, and worships it; he makes it a carved image, and falls down to it. He burns part of it in the fire. With part of it, he eats meat. He roasts a roast, and is satisfied. Yes, he warms himself, and says, ‘Aha! I am warm. I have seen the fire.’ The rest of it he makes into a god, even his engraved image. He bows down to it and worships, and prays to it, and says, ‘Deliver me; for you are my god!’ They don’t know, neither do they consider: for he has shut their eyes, that they can’t see; and their hearts, that they can’t understand. No one thinks, neither is there knowledge nor understanding to say, ‘I have burned part of it in the fire. Yes, I have also baked bread on its coals. I have roasted meat and eaten it. Shall I make the rest of it into an abomination? Shall I bow down to a tree trunk?’ He feeds on ashes. A deceived heart has turned him aside; and he can’t deliver his soul, nor say, ‘Isn’t there a lie in my right hand?’” Isaiah 44:12-20, WEB
I still have the remnants of my children’s favorite baby blankets buried somewhere in a box. They are falling apart, torn at the edges and worn out in the middle. As each child grew older, the blankets were cut into smaller pieces to get rid of any stains and make them easier to carry. Yet, even with those changes, those blankeys were kept near. It was a comfort to them when things were hectic or confusing. If they were left with a babysitter, the blankey was never far away. It was the one thing they could hold on to when everything seemed out of control to them. I think most children have something like this, such as a favorite toy, pacifier, or stuffed animal.
It is understandable that children need a security blanket. We all are comforted by the physical presence of the things that make us feel sheltered. We like to be in our homes when bad weather strikes because we feel secure. We prefer to drive a dependable car so that we can trust we won’t find ourselves alone on a deserted road in a broken-down vehicle. These items help us to relax, feel safe and sound. They give us a sense of peace in the midst of chaos. Some children become overly attached to these items, they get hysterical when the blankey or stuffed animal is missing or out of reach. This is true even if the people who love and care for them are close at hand. Though Mom and Dad are the ones in whom the child can truly trust, he or she does not feel secure without that blankey or toy. This is fine for the first few years of life, but it is problematic when a child goes to school. Eventually we all have to learn that peace cannot be found in the things we can hold with our hands.
Yesterday’s devotion was from the book of Isaiah. God said that nothing is like Himself: no idols can protect the people or speak about what is to come. He asked if there is any God besides Him. Today’s passage continues the thought, reminding us that our idols are useless. In our day and age, we don’t necessarily worship little statues made of gold, stone, or wood, but we still have our idols. They are those things that we hold in higher esteem than God; the things that we rely on for protection, comfort, and peace. Yet, those things are perishable. How can we trust in things that do not last?
The children’s blankeys are faded and torn, worn out beyond recognition. Over the years they were reduced to small squares of fabric that could help no one through any real trouble. Yet, for some children, those security blankets are the source of their peace. Even though it is Mom and Dad who provide them with food and shelter, they cannot live without the comfort that thing provides. In adulthood we do same, but our security blankets are much bigger. We trust in our houses, our stock certificates, our cars, or other tangible things to keep us safe.
Have you ever seen the ruins of a house leveled by a tornado or fire? They are completely destroyed, with only a foundation and pile of rubble or a few blackened beams left. News from Wall Street often reminds us of the uncertainty that comes with investment. I watched a car fly through the air when I was driving the other day; thankfully the people were fine, but the car was destroyed. These things are helpful and good to have in our lives, and yet we have to remember that they are perishable. They are not worth our worship or complete trust.
I love the imagery in this passage from Isaiah. The carpenter uses the same wood to create an idol, a false god on which he will rely, as he uses to cook food and warm himself on a cold summer night. Wood is a good thing, a gift from God, given so that we will have homes, food, and warmth. But it cannot be the foundation of our faith. Our homes, cars, investments and even our blankeys are not bad things. They should be used for their proper purpose, but it does no good to worship them or keep them beyond their usefulness. Only God is without limit, only He can be our God. The rest is perishable, gifts from God for good purpose but not worthy of our worship. May we keep all things in their proper place, with God as the first and the last in all our lives.