Welcome to the May 2019 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 belong to the public domain.
A WORD FOR TODAY, May 2019
Scriptures for Sunday, May 5, 2019, Third Sunday of Easter: Acts 9:1-6 [7-20]; Psalm 30; Revelation 5:11-14; John 21:1-19
You have turned my mourning into dancing for me. You have removed my sackcloth, and clothed me with gladness, to the end that my heart may sing praise to you, and not be silent. Yahweh my God, I will give thanks to you forever!
We are happy to follow someone when we know where they will lead us. We are particularly happy to follow them when they are taking us somewhere we are excited to see. There is a scene in nearly every romantic movie in which one person says to the other, “Follow me,” and they go to a special place. It is a place where the two, who are usually at odds before hand, find a connection. It is often the moment when their relationship changes and they both discover that there is something between them that will last forever.
We are less likely to follow someone we do not know to an unfamiliar place. It is especially frightening if they seem to want to threaten our safety. How would you respond if the person asking you to follow them told you that following them meant certain death? To make this hypothetical situation even more difficult, imagine that the person asking you to follow is not a threatening stranger, but someone you have grown to love, trust and honor?
Jesus said to Peter, “Most certainly I tell you, when you were young, you dressed yourself, and walked where you wanted to. But when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you, and carry you where you don’t want to go.” He followed this with, “Follow me.” This does not sound like a place I would like to go.
Yet, Jesus had showed them how to dwell in the Kingdom of God. He taught them what God intended for His people, a life that included the possibility of death at the hands of those who reject Him. They loved Jesus. He promised to give them the power of the Holy Spirit which would help them to do to glorify God. How do you say “No” to Him? But how do you say “Yes”?
Peter was always seen as a leader among the disciples, but we see in His story how often he managed to fail to live up to God’s expectations. He was constantly saying or doing the wrong thing. He rebuked Jesus when He began talking of the crucifixion. He insisted that he would willingly die for Jesus, but then he denied Jesus three times at His trial. Even after the disciples had seen Jesus after the resurrection, Peter went back to work as a fisherman. He didn’t know what to do, so he went back to his old ways.
There are really two stories in today’s Gospel lesson. There is the story of Jesus calling the disciples again from their old life and the story of Jesus forgiving Peter. According to John’s telling of the resurrection stories, most of the disciples had at this point seen Jesus twice. He offered them His peace and told them that their mission would be to take God’s grace and forgiveness to the world. He had already breathed the Holy Spirit upon them and they had been overjoyed by His presence among them. With this in mind, today’s story is somewhat confusing to us. Why didn’t they recognize Jesus? They had seen Him before, in whatever state His body had become after the resurrection. You would think they would be confident that Jesus had risen and that He was amongst them once again.
And why were they fishing? We recall another occasion when Jesus gave the disciples a miraculous catch of fish. It was early in the ministry of Jesus, when He was first calling His disciples. The fishermen had been out on the lake all night and caught nothing. Jesus called to them from the shore and told them to put out into deeper water. “Put out into the deep, and let down your nets for a catch.” They thought this was ridiculous, but Peter responded, “Master, we worked all night, and took nothing; but at your word I will let down the net.” They came back with so many fish it took an extra boat to haul them all to shore and even then it was difficult. Jesus told them, “Don’t be afraid. From now on you will be catching people alive.” (Luke 5)
The time had come for the disciples to do what Jesus called them to do, but instead of fishing for men, they returned to the lake. They tried to catch fish, but caught nothing. Jesus told them once again to throw the nets on the right side of the boat. There they caught 153 fish, enough for a great meal. It was in the repetition that the disciples realized it was Jesus. They were a hundred yards from the shore, so perhaps they could not see that it was Him from that distance. They heard His voice, but it is possible that it would be hard to recognize someone, even someone so familiar, from that far away.
Jesus revealed Himself with another miraculous catch of fish and the disciple whom Jesus loved realized it was Him. That’s what Jesus seemed to do in all the appearance stories; He revealed himself in personal and intimate ways. He revealed Himself in ways they would recognize Him. Mary knew when He spoke her name. The eyes of the disciples on the road to Emmaus were opened when He broke the bread. The disciples in the Upper Room believed when He showed them His wounds. In this story the disciples think they know it is Jesus, but they are afraid to ask Him. He revealed himself in the miracle and then when they came to shore He revealed himself in the meal. This probably reminded them of another miraculous meal when Jesus made a few fish and loaves of bread feed thousands.
When we have our own doubts, we can find comfort in the fact that Jesus keeps revealing Himself to us in ways that we will recognize Him. We might wonder, but He will make it clear and by His Holy Spirit we will see Him and believe. Those disciples had ministered and lived with Him for several years, but they needed to be reminded time after time so that they would be confident in this most amazing thing: Jesus had been raised from the dead. We can trust, by their witness, that all these things truly happened and that Jesus really is alive.
When the disciples were finished fishing, they went to where Jesus had already started cooking fish over a fire. They did not want to ask Him who He was; they knew it was the Lord. Yet we get the feeling that they were still unsure. So Jesus broke bread, and gave it to them to eat along with some fish, thereby reminding them of the miracles they had witnessed while Jesus was alive. It was yet another revelation to give them the assurance that Jesus was indeed alive and walking amongst them.
Jesus turned to Peter and asked, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love me more than these?” What is Jesus asking of Peter? Does he love Jesus more than the other disciples? Does He love Jesus more than those disciples love Jesus? Does he love Jesus more than his fishing gear and the hard work of catching fish on the sea? Peter does not answer with specifics but simply says, “Yes, Lord; you know that I have affection for you.” Jesus did know, for Jesus knew the hearts of His disciples as well as He knows our own hearts. Yet, Jesus asked again. And then He asked again. Three times Jesus asked Peter about his love and by the third time Peter was hurt because Jesus asked it again. “Lord, you know everything. You know that I have affection for you.”
There are several reasons for why Jesus might have asked Peter three times. We are reminded that Peter denied Jesus three times, and the threefold confession of love for Jesus counters the denial. For Peter, the three questions seemed to verify his unworthiness, but for Jesus the three answers restored their relationship and reinstated Peter to his position as leader among the disciples.
There are some subtleties in the text that may or may not be significant. One thing that is often noted is the use of the words “love” and “affection” in these passages. In the Greek there are different words used by John in describing this scene, “agape” and “phileo.” Some suggest that there is little difference between these two words and John simply used the variety to keep the passage interesting. Others will tell you that agape refers to a deeper, more abiding sense of love while phileo is a brotherly love.
There is some comfort to be found in this passage if we recognize the difference between these words. In the first and second questions Jesus asks Peter, “Do you agape me?” Peter answers, “Yes, Lord, I phileo you.” In the third question Jesus asks, “Do you phileo me?” Peter answers, “Yes, I phileo you.” To me it appears Jesus was asking Peter for a deep commitment while Peter was not yet ready to give him that much. Yet, Jesus did not take anything away from Peter. Peter was still restored and reinstalled, commissioned to do the work of Christ in the world. There is comfort in this for those of us who have taken too many years to make that commitment to the work Christ is calling us to do. We can see that Jesus has patience, that He does not take away our commission because we have doubts and uncertainties. He loves us and encourages us until we are deeply and fully committed. Obviously, Peter’s love became deeper as he continued the work until he followed Jesus right to his own cross to die a martyr’s death.
Another subtlety we see in this passage is found in the commission. Jesus first tells Peter, “Feed my lambs.” Then He says, “Tend my sheep.” Finally, He tells Peter to “Feed my sheep.” There is a progression in the way we do ministry found in these commands. First, we are to give the lambs, the newborns, the milk of the Gospel that they might believe and be saved. We go out into the world feeding the lambs with God’s grace so that they will follow Jesus. Once they have been saved, the lambs are brought into the fellowship of believers, through baptism and the sharing of the Eucharist, and there in the congregation the shepherd tends to their needs, making disciples who will also go out into the world to take the Gospel to others. Finally, we feed the sheep. We never stop needing to hear the Word of God, to learn more, to grow in our faith. Every Christian needs to hear the Gospel over and over again no matter how long they have been saved, to stay firm in the faith which has been given. Peter first, and those of us who have followed, are called to continue to feed Christians with the Word of God, to offer Bible studies and the sacraments so that they will stand firm in Christ.
A man named Jacob Koshy said about his conversion to Christianity, “Who would have believed that I could find the truth by smoking the Word of God?” His story is unusual. He was living in Singapore and success drove him to do whatever was necessary to get ahead. He was a smuggler and drug dealer, a gambler and abuser. Eventually he ended up in prison, a harsh place where he could not even get a cigarette. He managed to make cigarettes with smuggled tobacco and the torn pages of a Gideon Bible until one night he fell asleep with it in his hand. The cigarette burned out in his hand and when he awoke he read some words from today’s lesson. “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
Jacob asked for another copy of the Bible and he read the story of Saul who became Paul. He realized that if God could work such a miracle in the life of a man like Saul, then He could do the same for him. He got down on his knees and with tear filled eyes asked Jesus to change him too. With every tear his pain was washed away. He became a missionary when he was released from prison and married a Christian woman. He no longer chased after wasteful things and lived a praise filled life in thanksgiving for what God had done. So, by smoking the Word of God, Jacob experienced the miracle of God’s mercy and grace.
Most of us do not come to our knowledge of God in such miraculous ways. As a matter of fact, most Christians are brought to the faith by someone they love like a parent, friend, or partner. Through prayer and patient witness, they shared the Word of God with us. Slowly, but surely, we came to know Christ and to make Him a part of our daily life. We probably know someone who had a miraculous experience, who suddenly experienced God’s grace and fell down in praise and thanksgiving. Yet, most of us did not have such an experience. The changes that occur are slow as we grow and mature in our faith. Damascus Road does not happen for us all.
It happened to Paul, though. He was a persecutor of Christians, those Jews who were living according to “the Way.” He was on his way to stop another group from preaching about Jesus when suddenly he found himself in the presence of a powerful authority. “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” Saul answered, “Who are you, Lord?” Saul knew that it was someone to be reckoned with and he addressed Him with respect. Saul would become Paul, the chosen one who would take the Gospel to Gentiles and kings and the world.
Ananias was not pleased. He knew that Saul was a cruel man who had done cruel things to believers. He did not deserve to be touched by God’s grace. Perhaps there were those in the world who thought the same thing about Jacob Koshy. Christians most certainly had come across Jacob in his days of smuggling, drugs and gambling. Did they speak the Word into His life or did they turn away because he was undeserving? God spoke to Ananias. “I have plans for Saul who will become Paul. Do as I say and you will see something amazing.” It took a miraculous revelation to get Paul’s attention. Jacob had a Bible in his cell, but it took a miraculous experience for him to read the words in that book and to learn of God’s grace. We are called to be like Ananias, to share the Gospel with those who cross our path, to prayerfully share God’s grace with them even if it seems like they do not deserve it. We might be rejected and persecuted, but God knows what He is doing. Eventually His Word will touch the hearts of those whom He loves and they will be saved.
In today’s scriptures we see the life changing power of God’s Word. Our main characters Peter and Saul had turned their backs on Jesus. Peter denied Jesus on the night he was arrested. Saul was a persecutor of the Church; he even ordered the stoning of Stephen, the first Christian martyr. Peter wept when he realized what he had done. Saul continued to persecute the Christians and was even on his way to Damascus to destroy the fellowship of believers that was growing there.
Peter was sad, Jesus offered forgiveness. Saul was on the wrong path and Jesus transformed his life. In these passages we also see how Jesus made a difference in the life of the disciples. They were uncertain about how to proceed, so Jesus gave them direction. Jesus turned their mourning into dancing. He does the same for us. Throughout the Gospels and Acts, Jesus appears before many people in many different ways. Each person is changed by the experience. His presence affects us all in different ways, but we can’t see Him and not be changed. He speaks our name, He breaks the bread, He fills our nets, He speaks His word into our hearts and He sends us into the world with His agape love.
We turn our attention to another character in these stories: John was the writer of both the Gospel lesson and the Book of Revelation. John saw many incredible things that he wanted to feed the lambs, tend the sheep and feed the sheep through his writing. He wrote, “Therefore Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written, that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:31, WEB)
John was there when Jesus fed the five thousand and when He ate with the disciples on the beach. He was there when Jesus healed the sick, raised the dead and cast out demons. He heard the Word of God from Jesus’ mouth and he was there to take over the care of Jesus’ mother when Jesus died. When John was an old man, he was sent to Patmos, a place of religious and political imprisonment. The Roman authorities were enforcing the ideology that the emperor was divine, and so worship of any entity other than the emperor was outlawed. John was probably sent to Patmos because of his activities as a Christian missionary.
While on Patmos, John had a vision of God’s ultimate purpose for humanity and God’s sovereignty over all the earth. It is a book of hope for the Christian, offering a glimpse into heaven and the promise that God will overcome all our fears. It is a call to trust God and to worship Him now and forever. In today’s passage we get a foretaste of that which is to come for each believer, an eternal lifetime praising our God. John heard the voices singing, “Worthy is the Lamb who has been killed to receive the power, wealth, wisdom, strength, honor, glory, and blessing!”
This is such an odd picture for us to understand. The lamb was slain. What good is a lamb that is slain? For what purpose can a dead lamb exist? And yet, in this passage we are told that He was slain to receive the power, riches, wisdom, might, honor, glory and blessing. It was in His willing obedience to God’s will and purpose for His life that Jesus received that which God intended for Him. The lamb that was slain was seated with the One on the throne and all of creation praises Him. The image here is incredible: they numbered ten thousands of ten thousands, and thousands of thousands. This is the largest number known in the days of Jesus, and also the largest number found in the Bible. Since we now have terms for numbers higher than a thousand (million, billion, trillion, etc.), this should be understood as a number larger than anything we can define in human terms. The number of those who were worshipping God, from heaven to earth to underneath the earth, is beyond our scientific knowledge and our imagination!
And so we are called by the psalmist to do the same. “Sing praise to Yahweh, you saints of his. Give thanks to his holy name.” When Jesus met Saul on the road to Damascus, he was changed from one who persecuted the church into the greatest of all the apostles. He suffered for a moment, made blind by the vision of light and the voice of the Lord. But God’s anger was brief because He had a greater purpose for Paul. His pain was transformed into a passion for the Gospel.
Peter did exactly what Jesus foretold, denying that he was one of the disciples of Jesus. When he realized what he had done, Peter wept with regret. When he realized that Jesus was standing on the beach near where they were fishing, he jumped out of the boat with joy. But then he had to face the reality that he had denied Jesus. Jesus was angry for only a moment, but He had a greater purpose for Peter, too. Peter’s doubt was transformed into a passion for God’s people.
Our own experiences of God’s presence are also life-changing. He turns our mourning into dancing. The pain from our failures is quickly forgiven as God then blesses us with the gifts and the calling to do His work in the world. Jesus transformed the disciples from those wearing sackclothes into those who wear joy. He changes our attitude from doubt and uncertainty, pain and grief into rejoicing and praise.
The psalmist begs God for His favor saying, “What profit is there in my destruction, if I go down to the pit? Shall the dust praise you? Shall it declare your truth?” We are created with the purpose of praising God. We are saved so that we will join in singing thanksgiving with all of creation forever and ever. God’s anger is brief and His blessing is eternal. God speaks His Word into our lives, makes His presence known to us, so that we’ll be reconciled and transformed into the people He has intended us to be. Let us pray to God for His blessing so that we will join in the heavenly worship for eternity.
“Again, assuredly I tell you, that if two of you will agree on earth concerning anything that they will ask, it will be done for them by my Father who is in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am in the middle of them.” Matthew 18:19-20, WEB
James Stegalls served in Vietnam for two years, beginning when he was just nineteen years old. He watched his buddies fall around him over the years, and finally wished for it all to end. On February 26, 1968, he prayed for death and he was certain he’d die before dusk that day. When his base came under attack and he heard a rocket heading straight for him, he began to count the seconds until he would die. But a friend shoved him in a pit and the fuse malfunctioned. He was not killed.
He had carried a Gideon New Testament in his pocket during those years, but never had the strength to read it. Finally, in that pit shivering and cold after five hours on his knees, Jim pulled out his bible and began skimming through the book of Matthew.
At the same moment, Jim’s wife’s grandmother awoke from sleep in terror. She sensed Jim was in trouble and began to pray and read her Bible. When she came across the scripture from Matthew 18, she called her Sunday school teacher who rushed to her side and joined her in prayer. Together, they sought God’s blessings for Jim until they felt the peace of God. Years later she told Jim about that night and showed him her Bible. At that spot in her Bible were the words, “Jim, February 26, 1968.”
The United States was a nation built on prayer from the beginning. It isn’t prayer that was forced by the government, but the prayers of mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, wives and children, neighbors and friends, all joined together seeking God’s blessing. There are several moments during the year when we focus as a nation on seeking God’s direction and blessing for our lives. There is a National Prayer Breakfast in February. Today is the National Day of Prayer and there are events all over the nation as people gather to pray. This time of fellowship is a reminder that despite our differences, we need to turn to our Creator, the One greater than ourselves for the strength, courage and wisdom we need to live from day to day. George Bush once spoke about all the Americans who told him that they were praying for him. Those words meant a great deal to him. Prayer is powerful, whether it is said for a young man on a battlefield or the most powerful man in the world. Where two or three are gathered together in His name, He is there.
Our nation needs prayer. We suffer many troubles in heart and mind as well as in body. We still have young people on the battlefield, in distant lands and on our streets. Our leaders need our prayer support so that they can make the necessary decisions and do what is right for the people and our nation. Whether we are able to join with the events around our nation, or spend time quietly in our homes, let us seek God’s grace for our nation, not only today but every day. Together, we can make a difference.
“And I thank him who enabled me, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he counted me faithful, appointing me to service; although I was before a blasphemer, a persecutor, and insolent. However, I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. The grace of our Lord abounded exceedingly with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus. The saying is faithful and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief. However, for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first, Jesus Christ might display all his patience, for an example of those who were going to believe in him for eternal life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, to God who alone is wise, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.” 1 Timothy 1:12-17, WEB
A few years ago I was at the nursery one day looking for flowers to plant in my garden when I noticed a cart with something new and different. I don’t usually buy plants that produce fruit or vegetables because it is just too hard in our yard to keep them alive in Texas. But this plant sounded exotic and exciting. It was a bhut jolokia or ghost chili plant. These chilies were at the time one of the hottest chilies available, with Scoville heat units that make you cringe just thinking about it: one million or more. I bought one of the plants for three dollars.
When I took it home, everyone thought I was insane. “What are you going to do with those chilies?” they asked. It is a frightening thought if you don’t like overly spicey food. Even my friends who like it hot were questioning my sanity. I didn’t know what I’d do with the chilies, but I thought I could at least try to do something. Really, I paid three dollars for the plant, and it is pretty when it is covered with ripening chilies. That’s a pretty cheap experiment, if you ask me.
I decided that I wanted to make gazpacho, which is a cold Spanish tomato-based raw vegetable soup. We had some when we went to brunch for Easter once at a fancy restaurant, and I was fascinated by the idea. I didn’t know what I was doing, but I typically don’t follow recipes. I like to experiment with food, creating dishes by figuring it out for myself. I used to watch a TV chef that taught the viewers that way of cooking, and it is fun. Most of the time it works, but sometimes it doesn’t. I used to tell my family that I might not be able to recreate it, even if they like it. There are times when I need recipes, but I like to ad-lib. So, when I harvested my first chilies, I started the long process of pulling the liquid out of the tomatoes and spicing it up with the chili. Knowing the heat rating made me cautious and I began with a very small amount of the chili. I carefully cleaned it, removing everything said to burn, and then added a small amount of the chili. I patiently waited for it to work together, added a few other ingredients and finally tasted my creation.
It was awful. I mean really, really bad. And it didn’t even have any of the spiciness we expected. I let everyone try a bite, and we agreed. It was terrible. So I threw it away. When you have such a stupendous failure, it is hard to try again. My disappointment was not only in the soup, but also in the chili. What happened? Should I try again? Will they eat it if I try again? Will they like it?
I decided that I had to try again. I cut another pepper and tested it, only to discover that they are not nearly as hot as I expected. I ate a seed, which is one of the hottest parts of the chili, and it had a bite, but not unbearable. I nibbled a larger part of a chili, and it was not inedible. I must have grown duds. Perhaps the soil is not right. Perhaps I didn’t leave them on the plant long enough. Perhaps these chilies are not really as bad as everyone makes them out to be. But I knew that I needed to use more than just a sliver of the chili.
I also checked the Internet for recipes, and though I didn’t like any that I read, I did learn some things that would help me create the soup I wanted in a much better way. I found out what I was doing wrong, and I tried again. The second batch was light, refreshing and delicious. It still wasn’t very spicy, but that was ok, and it seemed to have just the right bite for our comfort level. Now that I know what to do, I can make it again using my own chilies or with chilies I buy at the store. Who knows? I might just find chilies that aren’t duds, and will give the soup a really spicy taste.
Paul knew what it was like to fail to be right with God. After all, in the beginning of the Church, he didn’t follow Jesus, he persecuted Christians. Then, on his way to do more work against the Way, Jesus appeared to him on the road to Emmaus. There Paul realized how he had failed, and he turned to Christ. He discovered the reality of faith and became one of the most incredible prophets and evangelists of the Church. As Timothy’s mentor, Paul encouraged Timothy to live in the forgiveness of Christ, to live in the salvation that Christ gives with grace and mercy. Our mistakes won’t all be as unimportant as whether or not I can make gazpacho or grow chilies. We’ll make horrible mistakes, failing in our own relationship with God. But we go forward, like Paul, knowing that Christ came to save us, to forgive us, and to encourage us to take this message of grace to the world.
“Yahweh said to Samuel, ‘How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him from being king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil, and go. I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite; for I have provided a king for myself among his sons.’ Samuel said, ‘How can I go? If Saul hears it, he will kill me.’ Yahweh said, ‘Take a heifer with you, and say, I have come to sacrifice to Yahweh. Call Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do. You shall anoint to me him whom I name to you.’ Samuel did that which Yahweh spoke, and came to Bethlehem. The elders of the city came to meet him trembling, and said, ‘Do you come peaceably?’ He said, ‘Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to Yahweh. Sanctify yourselves, and come with me to the sacrifice.’ He sanctified Jesse and his sons, and called them to the sacrifice. When they had come, he looked at Eliab, and said, ‘Surely Yahweh’s anointed is before him.’ But Yahweh said to Samuel, ‘Don’t look on his face, or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for I don’t see as man sees. For man looks at the outward appearance, but Yahweh looks at the heart.’ Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. He said, ‘Yahweh has not chosen this one, either.’ Then Jesse made Shammah to pass by. He said, ‘Yahweh has not chosen this one, either.’ Jesse made seven of his sons to pass before Samuel. Samuel said to Jesse, ‘Yahweh has not chosen these.’ Samuel said to Jesse, ‘Are all your children here?’ He said, ‘There remains yet the youngest. Behold, he is keeping the sheep.’ Samuel said to Jesse, ‘Send and get him, for we will not sit down until he comes here.’ He sent, and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, with a handsome face and good appearance. Yahweh said, ‘Arise! Anoint him, for this is he.’ Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the middle of his brothers. Then Yahweh’s Spirit came mightily on David from that day forward. So Samuel rose up and went to Ramah.” 1 Samuel 16:1-13, WEB
“Gilligan’s Island” was a television show that ran from 1964 to 1967. It was about seven people who were stranded on an uncharted desert island after a terrible storm struck their three hour boat tour. The guests and crew were unusual group - a skipper, the first mate, a professor, a pretty country girl, a movie star, a millionaire and his wife. Each episode consisted of some crazy attempt to get off the island which always failed. Gilligan always received the blame for the screw-up but then in the end he managed to redeem himself with some solution to the problem created by the mistake.
If you were to choose a leader on Gilligan’s Island from amongst the guests and crew, Gilligan would be your last choice. The Skipper, as the captain of the boat, generally was looked upon as the leader based on his position and knowledge of the sea. The Professor was the brains behind the man, always offering some intellectual answer to the question they faced. Mr. Howell, the millionaire, was like the CEO of the island; he never lifted a finger to help but had plenty of suggestions on how to make things better for himself. The girls - Ginger the movie star, Mary Ann the country girl and Mrs. Howell - each had their own leadership skills and talents to offer the castaways. Gilligan was second to everyone, always the Indian to all the chiefs.
The irony of it all is that if Gilligan were given the chance to lead the group they probably would have escaped the island after the first episode. Though he appeared to be the bumbling idiot, he was actually the one person who had practical solutions to their problems. Though he was blamed for the failure of their crazy plans, it is Gilligan that would have provided the sensible plan that would have worked. However, since he was the weakest of all the castaways, at least in their eyes, he was never given the chance.
If you were to choose a leader on Gilligan’s Island, who would it be? Would you choose according to the person’s position, intelligence, wealth, beauty, talents or mothering instinct? You most likely would not choose Gilligan because he appeared to be second to everyone else in those virtues. He was the weakest castaway, at least in the eyes of his peers and those watching the television show. Yet, I can imagine that Gilligan is the very person that God would have chosen and anointed to lead the people. God does not choose according to appearances; He looks deeper.
While Gilligan was not the one with the greatest position, intelligence, wealth, beauty, talent, or instinct, he had a measure of all those virtues. They ignored his value because they seemed to be greater than him in each of their virtues. However, they only had the one virtue. Skipper was the leader on the sea, but he had no skills on land. The Professor’s intelligence was inadequate without common sense. Mr. Howell’s wealth was useless. Ginger’s beauty could not save them. Mary Ann’s talents were limited in their circumstances. Mrs. Howell’s acted as a mother, but Gilligan was the only one who saw her that way. Though Gilligan humbly accepted his place as number two to everything, he had something worthwhile to offer the group, and in the end it was always Gilligan who saved the day.
The lesson today reminds us that the outside doesn’t really matter to God: God sees the heart. In the case of David, Samuel expected to anoint one of David’s older brothers. David was not even invited to the banquet. He was not sanctified with the rest of the family, but instead was outside with the sheep. Over and over again, Samuel looked at the sons of Jesse and thought he saw a man of authority and strength, but that’s not what God is looking for in a leader. He is looking for men (and women) who will turn to Him for all things. David was that kind of man. It might have been hard for others to see, because he was just a boy, but he was the one God chose because God knew that David would seek God’s will.
Was David perfect? Of course not. We know that David sinned. His desire for Bathsheba led to the death of Uriah the Hittite and the death of his son. But when the light revealed his sin, he repented and turned to God for mercy. He didn’t blame anyone else. He didn’t try to avoid the reality of his sin. He glorified God, even in his losses. David might not have seemed to Samuel to be the kind of person God would anoint as king, but God looks for those who are humbly willing to put God ahead of themselves, to trust in Him and do His will in the world.
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the farmer. Every branch in me that doesn’t bear fruit, he takes away. Every branch that bears fruit, he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. You are already pruned clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Remain in me, and I in you. As the branch can’t bear fruit by itself, unless it remains in the vine, so neither can you, unless you remain in me. I am the vine. You are the branches. He who remains in me, and I in him, the same bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If a man doesn’t remain in me, he is thrown out as a branch, and is withered; and they gather them, throw them into the fire, and they are burned. If you remain in me, and my words remain in you, you will ask whatever you desire, and it will be done for you. ‘In this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit; and so you will be my disciples.’” John 15:1-8, WEB
I would love to know how many of your walked away from reading yesterday’s devotional with a song on your tongue. Those to whom it happened know exactly what I mean. You read “Gilligan’s Island” and could not help but sing the theme song for the rest of the day. I often caught myself thinking about it. My big problem is that I can remember most of the song, but there are just some parts that won’t come to me. It would be much better if I could just sing the whole thing and get it over with, but when I get stuck on a word or phrase I keep singing and hoping I’ll find the right words. It can be very annoying. In today’s world it is easy to solve the problem; a quick search on the Internet will find some “Gilligan’s Island” fan club web site that will have the lyrics and music for reference. Believe me, it’s there.
We don’t always understand the workings of our brain. Why do we remember some things and not others? Why does our brain get stuck on one thing but not something else? Why can we remember the entire script from a movie we saw when we were children but we can’t remember what we had for lunch yesterday?
This happens to me all too often when it comes to scripture. After all these years of reading, writing and studying scripture the Word is definitely in my heart and in my head. I can relate experiences to a scripture pretty quickly, having it come to mind at the moment. Yet, I’m not very good at remembering the “addresses” in scripture where it is found. Then, when I go to look up the scripture, I have a difficult time finding it because I just can’t come up with the right key word to check in my concordance. It can be very frustrating. At times I worry that I will not be able to remember the right verse or passage when I need it most, like when I’m away from a Bible and I meet a friend in need or when I am asked to defend my faith.
Jesus said, “Settle it therefore in your hearts not to meditate beforehand how to answer, for I will give you a mouth and wisdom which all your adversaries will not be able to withstand or to contradict.” (Luke 21:14-15) We need not worry about what we will say in those circumstances for God has written His Word on our hearts and it is in our heads. We may have moments when we think we can’t remember, but He will give us what we need when we need it. This does not diminish our need to continually read and study the Bible, for it is there that we meet God, hear Him and write His Word in our heads so that we will be ready with an answer. But we need not worry, for God is with us and he is faithful to give us His Word in our times of need. He is far more reliable than our brains.
Scriptures for Sunday, May 12, 2019, Fourth Sunday of Easter: Acts 9:36-43; Psalm 23; Revelation 7:9-17; John 10:22-30
“They cried with a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation be to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’” Revelation 7:10, WEB
Bruce’s mom died in January and his father is not doing well, so the past few months have been filled with the business of their estate. He went home for a month to help clean the house and make decisions about all their belongings. They have found some amazing things in the process, unsurprising since the family has lived in the house for about one hundred and seventy-five years. Bruce shipped a few boxes filled with photos, documents and other treasures. I promised to take on the task of scanning the photos and documents so that they can be shared and protected.
It has been interesting, fascinating even, to look at these photos from the past. There were quite a few from Bruce’s Uncle Willard from the time he served as a soldier in World War II. There are photos from his parents’ youth, from choirs they sang in and even from a play that they put on before they were married. Some of the photos are even older, of people Bruce can’t identify, but are probably great-grand somethings perhaps from the 19th century. The documents are equally fascinating because many are attempts at laying down the family tree, reaching well into the 18th century. Some of the papers document the history of the family in Pennsylvania, which predates the Revolutionary War.
I was there in January as they started this process. They went through every piece of paper that they kept in a safe. We laughed. We cried. We wondered. And we told stories. I’m sure the conversations went long into the night during the month Bruce was home helping. I’m sure that this will be a very difficult Mother’s Day for Bruce. My mom died decades ago, but I still think about her, especially at this time of year. Her birthday was just a few weeks ago. My parents were married in May. Facebook reminds me of my mom as previous photos pop up as memories on my timeline. Those memories help me remember her story, just as the conversations and storytelling helps keep the memory of those we love alive.
My mother was a talented woman. She was an excellent seamstress and she knew how to crochet. She also liked to craft. She used plastic canvas, made jewelry with stones and ornaments with plaster. She enjoyed doing ceramics. We have many things in our home that she made like afghans, Christmas ornaments and a large crocheted wall hanging of the Lord’s Prayer. Every time I see these things I remember my mom. It is fun to share stories with others when we come across these items. When we decorate the Christmas tree, the ornaments bring back fond memories of Christmases past.
The story in today’s first lesson is about a woman named Tabitha. She was active in her community and apparently very talented. She made clothes and tunics. Tabitha got sick and died, and her death was heartbreaking for the Christian community in Joppa. She was a disciple and perhaps even a leader who helped found the church there. The widows took care of her body and laid her out in an upper room. Then they sent for Peter. When Peter arrived, the widows took him to the body of their beloved friend and they showed him all the wonderful things she did. They may have been wearing some of the tunics and clothes she had made and I can imagine their excitement as they remembered her and the stories of how she made them.
Peter sent the widows out of the room, he knelt to pray and then he turned to the body and said, “Tabitha, get up.” She opened her eyes and sat up. He took her hand and helped her out of bed, then took her to the widows to show them that she was alive.
Have you ever, in a time of great mourning, wondered why we do not hear of such incredible miracles as this one? Do you ever wish in your grief that someone would come and raise the ones you love from the dead? This is especially true when the one for whom we mourn is someone who was a good person, who had a loving and giving heart like Tabitha. We want them back. We want them to live again because life without them will be empty.
I suppose it is hard to hear a story like this at a time when we are dealing with loss, even the loss of someone who has lived a long life. It makes us wonder why God no longer touches people in such dramatic and miraculous ways. After all, we are told that after the raising of Tabitha many believed in the Lord. Couldn’t He bring faith to millions if someone was miraculously raised by a man of faith like Peter?
We are reminded, however, that life comes not from men, but from Jesus. Jesus once told the disciples that if the people do not listen to Moses and the prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead. Jesus rose and still many did not believe. Others were raised and yet many continue to reject the Gospel. The purpose of this story and all the other miracles in the scriptures is not to make people believe, but to establish the authority of those who would bring the message of God’s power over death to the world. Peter was about to leave the comfort of his community amongst the Jewish Christians, to discover that God’s grace is for all people. This miraculous moment may have helped to encourage him as he faced the unknown.
We do not need to see someone raised from the dead to believe, instead we believe because Christ gives us the faith. Now, stories of resurrection remind us that we will also be resurrected by God’s power in His time and in His way. Jesus heals and by His power we are sent into the world. It is important to note that Peter then travels to stay with a man named Simon who was a tanner. Tanners in that day were outcast. It was dirty and disgusting work preparing skins for clothing and other purposes. As a matter of fact, it required use of urine and dung to make the skins suitable for use. It was a smelly trade, performed by the poor and children. It was also dangerous, since the combination of acids and long hours handling the skins often meant burnt flesh. For Peter to choose to stay with Simon reminds us that the Gospel is given to the outcasts, the poor and the lonely as a message of hope.
We receive the Gospel in the same way, not as a promise that we’ll see miraculous events but that God’s power over death is real. When we face death we know that by His Word, God calls those who believe out of death into a new life. Storytelling helps us remember. The stories our mothers tell us help us remember our past, our experiences and the foundation of our lives. Jesus was doing the same thing during the forty days He spent with the disciples before He ascended into heaven. They eventually recognized Him, as we have seen over the past few weeks, but the teaching of the scriptures he shared in those days continued to build upon everything He had done before He died. He taught them these things, and in the storytelling; Jesus reminded them of the foundations of the future Church. “This is where you came from,” He was telling them, “this is who you are.”
We live in a much different age than when I was a child. I’ve seen memes on Facebook that describe the things we did as kids that would be shocking today. I remember having the freedom to just go outside to play, running all over the neighborhood with my friends. I did not tell my mother where I was going to be every second of the day. It would be impossible for me to know because we often jumped from one friend’s house to another. Or we went to the woods behind our street. Or we ended up at the ball field a few blocks away. Or we walked to the store to buy candy. For a time there was even an arcade just around the corner. We didn’t know where we would end up – we just went. It would have taken too much time to go home with every change to let Mom know where I was going to be. We didn’t wear watches. We didn’t worry. Now parents can be arrested for letting their children walk a few blocks to a park without supervision.
Mom always yelled out the door when it was time to go home. I was usually somewhere that I could hear, but not always. She would yell until I came home. She didn’t worry about me; she just became annoyed when she had to call more than once. I can remember my reaction whenever I would hear my mother’s voice calling to me. I was usually disappointed because I was having too much fun with my friends, but when I heard her call I usually answered.
In today’s Gospel story, Jesus was in Jerusalem for the Festival of Dedication; He was the presence of God incarnate in the flesh of man. He was the light of the world and He told them so. He spoke with authority and performed miraculous deeds of healing and forgiveness. Yet, there were those who did not recognize Him. “Tell us plainly,” they said. Jesus answered, “I have told you.” They did not recognize His voice. When He called, they may have heard with their ears, but they did not hear with their hearts.
His sheep are those who hear, but hearing is not a passive verb in the scriptures. Hearing is doing, it is acting, it is following, it is obeying. Those who have children are quite familiar with selective hearing. Kids hear what they want to hear. I am sure I had selective hearing when I was a child. I am sure that there were times Mother called me more times than necessary because I did not hear. The last thing a child wants to hear on a pleasant summer evening is Mom’s voice calling them to go home. Perhaps they hear it with their ears, but they don’t hear it with their mind or their body. They don’t respond.
Jesus clearly declared with word and deed the truth of His identity and purpose. He was the Good Shepherd. He was the Light. He was the presence of God they so desperately were seeking in their oppression, and they did not hear because He was not the kind of Messiah they wanted. He could not be a king; He could not deliver them from their enemy. His teachings were different than the established Jewish thought. They did not want to hear because they had rejected Him. He did not fit into their expectation, so they ignored His voice. They were not His and it was not because Jesus rejected them. They rejected Him.
It was not very long ago that we recalled the Triumphant Entry into Jerusalem. As hard as it is to believe, Jesus was dead in less than a week from that day. The week began with the waving of palms, but ended with the waving of fists. The Romans would have understood Palm Sunday as a victory parade, since palms were used to reward returning heroes and the champions of the games. The Jews were also known to carry palms at festive times.
The palm branch means many other things. In Judaism, the palm is a symbol of peace and plenty. It is also believed that the palm represents the Tree of Life. The Muslims believe that Mohammed built his house out of palm branches and is therefore considered a symbol of hospitality. To the ancients, palms were considered a symbol of the connection between heaven and earth and were also a symbol of longevity. It is said that at the thirtieth year of a Pharaoh’s reign, the Pharaoh was given a handful of palm branches to hold. The marks on the midrib indicated the number of years the Pharaoh would continue to rule.
The midrib of the palm was very strong and was used as a walking stick. It is identified with Saint Christopher who is the patron saint of travelers. Though there is little verifiable information about Saint Christopher, but he was said to have been a very large man, like a giant, and that he worked shuttling people across a bridgeless river by carrying them. There is a legend that says that one of the people he carried across was a child, who was a much heavier burden than he expected. It was the palm branch he was carrying that helped him stand through it. When he arrived at the other side of the river, the child told him to put the stick into the ground and it suddenly became a beautiful palm. The child was the Christ child and His weight was due to the great burden of the entire world He carried. It is said that this miracle was a catalyst to Christopher’s conversion to Christianity.
Today’s passage from Revelation describes Jesus as the Lamb of God whose blood sets us free. In this vision of heavenly worship, a great multitude from every nation and tongue are standing before the throne of God in white. They are waving palms, just as been done in religious ceremony for generations. The symbolism here can mean many things: God’s victory, His hospitality, His peace and strength. It can represent the joy of the multitude and their thanksgiving for God’s blessings.
The white of their robes does not come from their own righteousness, they are white because they have been washed in the blood of the Lamb. They cry out, “Salvation be to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” They sing out praise and thanksgiving to God for to Him belong the blessing and honor and glory forever and ever.
In this passage we see the Lamb as the Good Shepherd who will guide His people to the springs of the water of life. They will no longer hunger and thirst; they will not mourn as God wipes the tears from their eyes. This is such a vision of hope and promise; that God is with us. In the legend about Christopher, it is said that when they arrived at the other side Christopher berated the child for nearly killing him. “Had I borne the whole world on my back,” he said, “it could not have weighed heavier than thou!” “Marvel not!” the child replied, “for thou host borne upon thy back the world and him who created it!” We are reminded that it is not by our power that we are saved, but by God’s grace. Though Christopher carried the child, it was only by the strength of God that He was able to make it to the other side. And so it is with all those who will be standing at the throne of God praising Him. It is by His grace that we will wave those palms and proclaim thanksgiving for His blessings.
Glencoe (Gleann Comhann in Gaelic) is a beautiful valley, with rugged hills and rocky cliffs where hikers and climbers love to visit. It is a challenging place even for the most experienced people. Though Glencoe is known for its rough beauty, it is better known for its history. In the year 1692, government troops tried to massacre and entire clan of people.
The chief of the MacDonald Clan was late in making a vow of loyalty to the king of England. The men in charge were glad to have an excuse to be rid of these people. The betrayal was incredible. The government troops moved into the homes of the MacDonalds and enjoyed their hospitality for ten days. Then one bitter winter morning, the order was given to slaughter the entire population. Most managed to escape, thanks to the warnings of the troops. Only 38 people were killed that day, including children and elderly. Some also died in the harsh weather. Those who survived returned to Glencoe to restart their lives; however the place was never the same.
The name Glencoe most likely means ‘narrow valley’ but it has come to be known as ‘valley of sorrows’ or ‘valley of weeping.’ It has even been referred to as ‘the valley of the shadow of death.’ Glencoe is a place of beauty, but the pain of death lingers on in our minds as we remember the massacre of 1692. It is equally impossible to walk through this life without being reminded of the pain of sin and death, especially when we hear the daily news stories of violence and hatred all over the world. As we face these valleys in our life, we are reminded in the words of this psalm that God is with us, He loves us, and we have nothing to fear in this life. Life does go on, even in the most desolate places.
Those desolate places are different for everyone. For some, it is the grief they are experiencing over hearing about the horrific death of a friend. For another it is in the news recently received from the doctor of an illness. Some are suffering with questions about the future and their financial well-being. Others are facing separation from loved ones as they begin new phases of their life. Our desolate places might not seem so horrible to someone else, but for us they are the places where we deal with our fear and our expectations. Those of us who are remembering our moms this weekend, whether they have been gone a few months or many years, often feel like we are in a desolate place.
The words of the Psalm were written by David and they come from his experience as a shepherd. Though Psalm 23 has been comforting for many generations of believers, sometimes the language is beyond our understanding. Yet, we can find peace in the words as we relate them to the care God gives to us. The psalmist writes, “He leads me...” There are lots of ways we can go, but sometimes those other paths are a waste of time, leading us to places we do not need to be. Most of the time our wrong choices mean we are lost for awhile but we eventually find the right way. Sometimes, however, the wrong path is dangerous. When we go those ways we can lose faith, lose hope and worst of all lose sight of our God. Our shepherd leads us on the right path, guiding our footsteps so that we are going His way.
The psalmist writes that the shepherd makes the world safe for the sheep, being present, protecting, providing, anointing and restoring. Even when the world seems dark and frightening, the sheep have no reason to fear. As long as the shepherd is nearby, the sheep are blessed with all they need. The Lord is our shepherd, and we shall not want, for He will provide everything we need. The most important thing we learn in this week’s passages is that it is the Lord that provides. He is the shepherd. He is the healer. He is the Savior.
Catherine of Siena was born in 1347 to Giacomo di Benincasa who was a middle-class wool dyer and Lapa who was the daughter of a local poet. She was the twenty-third of twenty five children. It was a time of political, social and religious upheaval. It was also a time when the black plague brought death to one third of the population of Europe. Catherine, who was just a baby when it began, survived and eventually became a nurse who brought healing to many victims through her compassionate caring.
Catherine was always different from other children, drawn to a spiritual prayer-filled life from an early age. Though her father wanted her to marry at the age of twelve, she refused and also refused to become a nun. Instead she pursued a life as a Dominican Tertiary, lay members of the Dominican order, a role that was generally given only to widows. The tertiaries took the habits of a nun, but lived outside the community. She lived in her parent’s home in a nine foot by twelve foot room that served as her hermitage. There she prayed daily and began having mystical experiences in which she had visions of Christ. In the three years that she lived that life she gained many followers, learned to read and became educated in historical and contemporary Christian writings.
Catherine had a mystical vision in which Jesus told her to leave her cell and enter the world to serve the poor, sick and imprisoned. She had an incredible impact on the world in which she lived. Despite the danger, she stayed in her hometown when the plague hit to minister to the sick and bury the dead. She is said to have been able to heal those whom even the doctors could not, and some even claimed she raised the dead. She became a reformer in the church and society, writing hundreds of leaders to leaders in government and in the church. She helped to heal problems in the church in 1377 when she convinced Pope Gregory XI to return to Rome after a period of time running the church from Avignon, France.
The central message of her teaching was the divine love of God, found in the bleeding image of Jesus Christ who is the Redeemer. Despite her mystical experiences, her life was not one that was set apart from the world, but instead she took God’s love with her into the world where she served others according to his Word. She once wrote that God told her “not to love Me for your own sake, or your neighbor for your own sake, but to love Me for myself, yourself for Myself, your neighbor for Myself.” Her love, service and faith were for God’s sake. Her willingness to fight societal conventions and to do the things that others were unwilling to do was her response to the call from God into the world. She heard His voice and followed.
Our scriptures this week tell about the life of Christians who had followed Christ’s voice. Peter willingly went into the presence of a dead woman, prayed for her and God blessed his faith with a resurrection that brought joy to the community of faith. John, exiled on Patmos, wrote about a vision of heaven that was not like last week’s image of an inner sanctum separated from the world. In this week’s vision, a great multitude, more than anyone could count, from every nation praised God with palm branches in their hands. In this vision, very earthly cares like hunger and thirst, pain and suffering are no longer concerns for God’s people for the Lamb is the Shepherd and He will lead them to living water and wipe away their tears.
Peter reacted to the shock and uncertainty of Jesus’ death, resurrection and his denial of Jesus by hiding on his fishing boat doing the one thing that he knew best. But Jesus called him away from that life, again, and offered him forgiveness. “Feed my lambs, take care of my sheep, feed my sheep,” Jesus said. Catherine began her life of active faith hidden in a hermitage where she became educated, but once Christ called she left that safe cell to go out into the world to live and serve and share the love of God. Through it all, despite the persecutions and pain that she suffered, she knew all along that the Lord is her Shepherd and she had no wants, for He provided for her every need.
It is all about God, what He can do and what He has done. He is the Shepherd. He is the Healer. He is the Savior. We might buy the food produced by others to fill our empty stomachs, but it is God who provides. We have no needs or fears that God can’t overcome. Peter didn’t raise Dorcas from the dead, God did it through him. We believe because we heard the words God spoke. He does not need to prove Himself because He has given us the ears to hear.
God’s sheep are those who are active listeners. They not only hear the Word but they put it into action. They are like Peter; they continue to do the work of Jesus in the world. Peter remembered when he saw Jesus raise Jairus’ daughter and he did the same for Dorcas. Will we raise people from the dead? I don’t know. I do know that we can reach out to those who are wallowing in darkness and give them the Gospel so that they might have the hope, peace and life that come from faith in Jesus.
Though we may not raise someone from physical death, it is up to us to actively follow Jesus, continuing the work He began by speaking His word into the lives of those who are without faith. Who knows? We might just be the vessel through which God’s voice gets through and as we reach out to them and tell them to get up, they might finally respond and join us in the great company of saints singing God’s praise and thanksgiving at the foot of His true throne.
“When Yahweh brought back those who returned to Zion, we were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with singing. Then they said among the nations, ‘Yahweh has done great things for them.’ Yahweh has done great things for us, and we are glad. Restore our fortunes again, Yahweh, like the streams in the Negev. Those who sow in tears will reap in joy. He who goes out weeping, carrying seed for sowing, will certainly come again with joy, carrying his sheaves.” Psalm 126, WEB
A popular television show made a huge mistake on a recent episode. The show, set in a fictional time and place that somewhat parallels Medieval England. The mistake happened during a scene, apparently as characters were gathered for a feast. Instead of drinking grog out of a pottery or gold vessel, someone was drinking coffee out of a paper cup with a lid. It was obviously left on the set after a break; the cup came from the food services people who served during the filming. The company has laid the blame on them for not removing it, even though the director, the actors and the editors should have caught it long before the show was aired.
The funny part of this is not that there was a mistake in the film, because this type of thing happens all the time. There are people who spend time looking for mistakes in films and television shows. Some even put these together in shows that focus on bloopers. In one war film, an extra who was playing a soldier was wearing modern blue jeans. A scene from “The Lord of the Rings” has a car in the background. A chariot in “The Gladiator” is accidentally shown having a gas powered engine.
The funny part is what has happened with this mistake in the days that followed. Most people assumed that the cup came from a popular coffee shop. It had a similar look, although it has been proven since that it was just a normal cup from the food service company. In the meantime, the experts have estimated that the already popular coffee shop received billions of dollars of free advertising from the mistake. It is not unusual for companies to pay for product placement in movies and television shows, but that coffee shop could never do so in a show about a fictional time and place like Medieval England. The network offered a funny explanation about the mistake: “The latte that appeared in the episode was a mistake. She had ordered an herbal tea.”
The editors have removed the cup from the show and it will never be seen when the show is aired again, but it is too late. Even if there isn’t video proof, the photo of that moment is all over the Internet. It has been used by people who have continued the joke by photoshopping other beverages instead. One put a cup from a Texas based burger joint with the caption, “I fixed it.” Other people, with seemingly too much time on their hands, have created photos of a cup using as similar logo as that coffee shop, but changing it to fit the setting of the show.
That very brief and tiny mistake has become the source for laughter and conversation.
We take everything so seriously these days and we forget that it is ok to laugh. I think we would do well to have similar mistakes happen in the future, if only to find a moment that we can laugh together. If we are laughing, we aren’t arguing about things that does nothing positive and can even be harmful by breaking relationships. It is said that laughter is the best medicine. I think that may be true, and if we could just find a way to laugh together once in awhile, we might even be able to find a way to have the conversations necessary to make things right in our world. With a little laughter, we might just accomplish something good together, bearing good fruit for the sake of the world and to the glory of God.
“Moses said to the people, ‘Don’t be afraid. Stand still, and see the salvation of Yahweh, which he will work for you today: for the Egyptians whom you have seen today, you shall never see them again. Yahweh will fight for you, and you shall be still.’” Exodus 14:13-14, WEB
I tend to be non-aggressive at the store. If I have to enter a busy aisle, I wait until those in front of me move. Others are not so patient and they rush past, only to stop and block the rest of us while they pick their product. Unfortunately, it seems like those most in a rush are the ones who take the longest. Others join the traffic jam and it quickly becomes impossible to move in any direction. I might not be aggressive, but I get very frustrated when I’m trapped in a crowded aisle.
I’m sure we all have examples of having been caught between a rock and a hard place. We can’t move forward, we can’t go back. This might be perceptible like at the grocery store, or it might be invisible like our spiritual life. How often have we been faced with experiences that give us two equally impossible outcomes and we don’t know how to get out of it?
The text for today is from the story of the Hebrews escaping Egypt. They had just come to 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 for both possibilities was death. The people were caught between a rock and a hard place and they 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 were better for us to serve the Egyptians, than that we should die in the wilderness.” They would return to this thinking over and over again as they journeyed to the Promised Land.
Though they wanted to escape the heavy hand of the Egyptians, 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.
The answer to the Hebrews was to trust in God. “Don’t be afraid. Stand still, and see the salvation of Yahweh.” 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. By the power of God they were saved.
The promise was fulfilled. The sea was parted and those who believed came out on the other side.
Do you believe? Do you believe in the God who created the heavens and earth? Do you believe in the God who saved Israel from Egypt and took them to the Promised Land? Do you believe in the God who gave us the Law to help us to live good and right and true lives in this world? Do you believe in the God who appointed the judges and the kings and the prophets? Do you believe in the God who repeatedly saved His people despite their failure to live according to His Word? Do you believe in the God who had mercy on His people who kept turning away? Do you believe that God was always faithful, even when His people were not?
Do you believe in the God who sent His own Son to be beaten, betrayed, denied and killed on a cross? Do you believe that the One named Jesus who was obedient even to being nailed on a cross? Do you believe He died and was buried in a tomb for three days? Do you believe that in doing so Jesus took upon Himself the entire weight of the sin of the world, including your own? Do you believe that He rose again? Do you believe that He did this so that you will be forgiven and raised to new life with Him? Do you believe that He has called and gifted His Church and sent us out into the world to tell the story again and again so that the whole world will believe?
When you are caught between a rock and a hard place, God says, “Don’t be afraid. Stand still, and see my salvation.” You 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.
“Behold, I send you out as sheep among wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents, and harmless as doves. But beware of men: for they will deliver you up to councils, and in their synagogues they will scourge you. Yes, and you will be brought before governors and kings for my sake, for a testimony to them and to the nations. But when they deliver you up, don’t be anxious how or what you will say, for it will be given you in that hour what you will say. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you.” Matthew 10:16-20, WEB
We have all received the email or gotten the facebook message from a stranger claiming to have some incredible offer for us. I seem to get a lot from “women” in some foreign nation desperate to deal with the estates of their dead husbands or fathers. They were rich men and their money is tied up in some controversy in their country. The only way these “women” can get their money is if a kind American, hopefully someone who is in ministry, will partner with them. All we have to do is give them all our important information and their advocates will take care of the business of it. We are not to worry, because this is all real and we’ll be rich at the end of it.
I received one recently that had real names in the text of the letter. The man whose name was used was indeed a rich and powerful man, the woman’s name was his spouse’s name. Yet, I know this was not real. I googled the names, but I deleted the email because that family would not need my help to take care of their estate business. The email was filled with unprofessional errors. The facts didn’t quite add up. There was “truth” there, but it was twisted by many lies. That’s how these scammers get people willing to help. In the end, the helpers discover that the people claiming to offer these incredible opportunities have emptied their bank accounts and destroyed their credit.
I read a story about a man who was approached on the Internet with an offer. The man, familiar with these types of scams decided to see how far it would go. The offer came from Liberia and the stranger wanted the man to send him used electronics, the stranger would sell them and send the man a piece of the action. The stranger used scripture to ensure the man’s trust. He continued with the charade even though he was determined not to get in too deep. He asked the stranger to take some photos of where he lived because he owned a photography business. “I’ll pay you if they are good.” The stranger took a photo of a sunset, which was not very good, but the man said, “This is great.” He was really just trying to waste the scammer’s time so he wouldn’t be able to trick someone more gullible.
The stranger said he could take better photos if he had a better camera, so the man sent him an incredibly cheap, used camera. The photos that came back were actually pretty good, and the man realized that he’d have to do something with them. The stranger told the man he wanted to be a journalist and really wanted to commit to the business. The man was still skeptical, but put together a booklet called “By D Grace of God,” a phrase that had come out of their conversations and sold them on the Internet.
The booklet did very well, selling to people all over the world. It raised $1000. The man sent half to the stranger and offered the other half only if the stranger would do something charitable with it. The man didn’t expect anything out of it, but soon the man received pictures of the stranger blessing the children in five different schools with materials that they needed to learn. They have continued to work together ever since and have raised incredible amounts of money to help the hurting people in the stranger’s land. The stranger said, “I used to receive. I’m the one giving now, and it’s better than to always receive.”
In the beginning, the man was faced with a choice. He could have ignored the contact, and it is usually best that we do. Most of these people are only interested in getting rich off gullible strangers. The man began the relationship with skepticism, and hoped to catch the scammer in his lies. Perhaps the stranger was at first just someone out to do harm to another. But in this case it seems that the stranger was someone desperate for a friend, and an opportunity. Sometimes it is best to shrewdly engage with those who are testing us, because in the end we might just be able to minister to them in a way we never expected.
It is not easy to be a Christian in our world today. We are like sheep living in a world filled with wolves. Some people will not only reject us for our faith, but they will try to take advantage of us, knowing that we feel a responsibility to be kind and generous as we walk in faith.
Though the work is difficult, Jesus reminds us of the source of our power and authority. Sharing the Kingdom of God is not something we can do on our own; it is His power that brings healing and restoration. He approves those whom He calls and gives us the authority to do His work. He speaks through us. The word that saves is His. When we face tough times, we need not worry for God is with us. In the end, we know that God helps us to tell the difference between the things of this world and the things He would have us do and say. Meanwhile, it is good to be careful and to be good stewards of our resources. As we face the world through eyes of faith, we can trust that He will provide us with all we need when we need it, including wisdom and discernment.
“They said therefore to him, ‘What must we do, that we may work the works of God?’ Jesus answered them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.’” John 6:28-29, WEB
In his sermon for Easter Sunday, Martin Luther addressed the problem of doubt in our salvation. He suggested that when the devil tries to convince you that your sinfulness is too great for God’s mercy, you should answer the devil’s temptation with these words: “I know very well what I am, and you do not need to tell or teach me that, for it is not your business to judge about that. Therefore, go away, you lying spirit, for I should not and will not listen to you. But here my Lord Christ, God’s only Son, who died for me and rose from the dead, He tells me that all my sins are forgotten and that He now wants to be my Brother and I in turn should be His brother. He wants me to believe this from my heart without wavering.”
It isn’t easy. Sometimes the idea that the Lord God Almighty could possibly want us to be His children is absolutely ridiculous. Luther addressed this, too, by saying, “When you feel that it is too hard for you to believe, do this: fall on your knees, tell Him your inability, and say with the apostles, ‘“O Lord, increase our faith.” I would gladly from my heart regard You to be my heart’s dear Father and Christ to be my Brother, but my flesh unfortunately will not follow; therefore, “help my unbelief,” so that I can give honor to Your name and regard Your Word to be true.’”
Luther’s point in the sermon was that doubting the work of Christ on the cross and the promises of Easter is a sin against God. It is calling God a liar and the cross as pointless. The most important work we can do is to believe. Jesus said this in conjunction with the story of the feeding the five thousand. The people were following Him for all the wrong reasons. They wanted their flesh satisfied, but did not understand that Jesus had something greater to offer. Jesus knows that we will struggle with our own insufficiencies, but we can’t stay there. We have to trust that God’s Word is true.
His salvation is enough. We might not think so when we look at ourselves in the mirror. But if we begin with thankfulness for God’s salvation and praise for God’s graciousness, then we will find that He generously helps us deal with the rest. We will fail. We will doubt and worry and fear. We will focus too much on our failures and not enough on His forgiveness. We will forget the great things that God has done and turn again to our own ability to make ourselves right. But in doing so we are rejecting the reality of our situation: we can’t make ourselves right, but He has.
Faith is a gift. We may struggle with many things in this life because this life is hard. People we love die. We get sick. Our financial situation my leave us in want. We hurt because of all the suffering we see in the world. However, no matter how much we doubt and worry and fear about these things, we can always trust that God’s Word is true and that He is faithful to all His promises. This world is temporary. Faith guarantees that we will one day no longer suffer because we will dwell in eternity forever with our Father and our Brother Jesus Christ. We may not think we are worthy, but He has made us His children forever. Thanks be to God.
Scriptures for Sunday, May 19, 2019, Fifth Sunday of Easter: Acts 11:1-18, Psalm 148, Revelation 21:1-6, John 13:31-35
“Behold, God’s dwelling is with people, and he will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.” Revelation 21:3b, WEB
I love reading a series of books by Jodi Taylor called “The Chronicles of St. Mary’s.” St. Mary’s is an institution that does historical research by viewing history in “contemporary time.” Don’t ever call it time travel, it upsets the people at St. Mary’s. They have these pods that are able to take them to specific times and places where they record the specific event they’ve been assigned, all while trying not to die. They usually get into some messes, but they must be careful as to now do anything that will disrupt the flow of history. There are, of course, some bad guys who want to do just that; they also want to end St. Mary’s one person at a time. This up close and personal view of history “in contemporary time” makes for some very humorous adventures that leave the readers wanting more. It also makes us want to be able to travel through time.
Though physicists are still discovering new ideas, it was Einstein who best laid out the reality of time travel as we understand it today. The science is somewhat complicated, but what Einstein discovered is that time is not constant, but that it is relative to the one who is traveling through it: the faster you travel, the slower time moves. In other words, if you were to travel into space at nearly the speed of light and return to the earth after two years, you will find that much more time had passed. According to his theory, it appears time travel is possible. However, it is impossible to return to the past.
Clifford Pickover wrote, “Most cultures have a grammar with past and future tenses, and also demarcations like seconds and minutes, and yesterday and tomorrow. Yet we cannot say exactly what time is. Although the study of time became scientific during the time of Galileo and Newton, a comprehensive explanation was given only in this century by Einstein, who declared, in effect, time is simply what a clock reads. The clock can be the rotation of a planet, sand falling in an hourglass, a heartbeat, or vibrations of a cesium atom. A typical grandfather clock follows the simple Newtonian law that states that the velocity of a body not subject to external forces remains constant. This means that clock hands travel equal distances in equal times. While this kind of clock is useful for everyday life, modern science finds that time can be warped in various ways, like clay in the hands of a cosmic sculptor.
“The line between science and mysticism sometimes grows thin. Today physicists would agree that time is one of the strangest properties of our universe. In fact, there is a story circulating among scientists of an immigrant to America who has lost his watch. He walks up to a man on a New York street and asks, ‘Please, Sir, what is time?’ The scientist replies, ‘I’m sorry, you’ll have to ask a philosopher. I’m just a physicist.’”
As long as there is a clock close-by we think we know the time. Yet, the reality of time is far more complicated. Scientists like Albert Einstein and Carl Sagan spent much of their careers seeking to better understand time and all that is related. It was much simpler when we could keep the concept of time locked in a box or a watch or a clock. Even so, we joke about time likehow we wish we could have twenty five hours in a day or eight days in a week. Perhaps time travel would help us with our hectic schedules!
We try to keep God locked in a box. As we look back to the beginning of creation, we see that what God created He called good. The earth, the heavens, the plant and animal life, the man and the woman are spoken into life by God and He said, “It is good.” When sin entered the world, everything became corrupt and perishable, ravished by time. In his sin, Man tried to confine God to make Him suit their needs with idols, locking God behind the doors of their hearts and their temples so that He could not disrupt their plans.
But like time, God is not constant and can’t be locked in a box. He is bigger than anything we can create. God is not hidden behind a curtain or held by our ideology and biases. That’s what Peter learned in the vision and encounter with Cornelius. He learned that God’s grace is available to all those who hear, not just for those who exist in a certain time, place or culture. He took that news to the Jews and opened for them a whole new world. The new world was one in which God’s love extended to people from all nations. This new world is made visible in the love of Christians for one another, the love that Jesus Christ commanded for His disciples. It is in that love, not a feeling but an active love between brothers and sisters, that God is glorified in this world and He is manifest for all to see.
The Easter season lectionary for this year includes several passages from the Book of Revelation. A few weeks ago we saw an introduction to the main character of the epic, Jesus Christ (Revelation 1:4-8). Then we got a glimpse of worship in heaven (Revelation 5:11-14). The next week was another vision of worship (Revelation 7:9-17). This week is a vision and a promise that everything will be made new again (Revelation 21:1-5). Next week we will see the culmination of all God’s promises when we return forever to the Garden God intended for us all along (Revelation 21:10-22:5).
Those who have studied Revelation will ask, “Where are all the exciting bits?” After all, Revelation is about beasts, war, and bloodshed, right? It is about strange creatures, symbolism, and how everyone we hate is the anti-Christ. I’m being facetious, of course. Those things are certainly a part of the book of Revelation and they need to be understood to understand what is coming for us at the end of time. However, as we’ve studied the book this year, we’ve noted something amazing.
It isn’t a timeline as many interpret it. We can’t interpret the events in Revelation as if it fits into a calendar or a clock. It is a series of visions that tell the same thing in different ways with God and the Lamb as the center of the picture. It is like a kaleidoscope, the action moves from evil, sin, and death, to a call for repentance and then a moment of worship in heaven. God is in the midst of all of it John is showing us how bad life is when we live according to the world and how wonderful life is when we keep God in our focus, trusting in His promises. Note how often we see worship in our scriptures during this season. These are just five moments among many more throughout the book. The question it raises is this: Who do you choose? Do you choose God or the world?
We will face difficult times. Those visions that seem extraordinary are reminders that we will experience hardship in this world, but that we can trust that God has promised that those with faith will one day dwell with Him again forever. The point is to keep us focused on God’s promises as we walk through those dark and perilous times without turning to the world for false security, righteousness and salvation.
Christianity is about overcoming obstacles. The cross and the resurrection are certainly the most obvious events in which God has overcome our greatest obstacles, but there are many other ways in which we overcome. Jesus teachings were about overcoming fear, barriers, biases, hatred, doubt, hunger, loneliness, imprisonment, thirst, despair, sin and death. Many of the Christian writings, both canonical and the writings of Christians throughout the ages, have this focus. Often those difficulties are based on the messages that are received from society in general. In today’s world, self-help books fill our bookshelves, so Christian writers also share ways in which the Christian message can help people overcome their difficulties.
Things were not much different in John’s day; the gods which the people worshipped were different. Ours have names like “work”, “money”, “leisure.” Though the Hellenistic culture in which John lived was in many ways similar to our own, they had a list of gods which they honored with temples, pilgrimages and religious rituals. The Christians had to overcome people’s reliance on those gods while drawing them into the heart of the One true and living God. They also had to fight the Jewish community who rejected the message of Jesus Christ and the ministry of the apostles in the world.
The Jewish community of Jesus’ time had strict rules about their socialization. They could not eat with people who were not circumcised. In the days following Jesus’ resurrection, as the apostles were beginning to teach and preach the Good News to the world, they continued to live according to the rules of their community. Peter refused to fellowship with those who were not circumcised.
That was until he had a vision from God; God showed him a better way. As the three men from Caesarea approached, Peter was on his roof praying. He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles of the earth and birds of the air. Then a voice told him, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.” Peter was upset by this command, because the food before him was unclean according to the Jewish law. “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” This vision happened repeatedly, to ensure Peter that what he heard was the truth of God. When the vision ended, the men from Caesarea asked Peter to go with them.
Peter did not hesitate to visit the home of Cornelius. Peter told Cornelius it was against his law for him to be there, but asked why he had been called. Cornelius shared the story of the angel and Peter understood that the vision was not only about food but also about people. So, Peter stayed with Cornelius and shared the Good News with his whole household. They believed and the Holy Spirit came upon them. The circumcised Jews who had come with Peter were amazed that God would pour out His Spirit on gentiles, but they heard them praising God in other tongues.
After this visit, Peter returned to Jerusalem to tell them about God’s grace to the Gentiles. They were not so upset that God would bless the Gentiles, they were upset that the Gentiles were expected to be accepted in their community and at their table fellowship without changes that would fulfill their laws. The early Christians, Jews who believed in Jesus, thought the promises of God were for them alone. To them, Gentiles were unclean. They could not gather in fellowship or eat with those who have not been given the sign of the covenant between God and Israel. If a believer wanted to be part of the body of Christ, they had to become part of Israel first. They required Gentile converts to become Jews first through circumcision, then they could inherit the promise of eternal life in Christ. Peter discovered that God’s grace was not dependent on being a certain kind of person, but that He can bless whomever He pleases. Those who have been saved by the Word and by the power of the Holy Spirit are part of the same fellowship and are welcome at the same table based on God’s grace.
Like time, God cannot be defined simply. He is bigger than anything we can create. God is not hidden behind a curtain or held by our ideology and biases. That’s what Peter learned in the vision and the encounter with Cornelius. He learned that God’s grace is available to all those who hear, not just for those who exist in a certain time, place or culture.
The Old Covenant between God and His people required circumcision of the flesh. That was the sign that the Jews belonged to God and that He was theirs. The New Covenant required something even more difficult: circumcision of the heart. This raised the question, “What is the sign of the relationship between God and His people if circumcision was no longer necessary?” Jesus answered that question in the passage for today. “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” The world we will know we are His if we love one another as He loved us.
The beginning of this passage Jesus says, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and he will glorify him immediately.” How was God glorified in the life of Jesus? Was it through the miracles, through the Word? Yes, but the true glory came at the cross when Jesus obediently and willingly died according to God’s plan for the world. He defeated sin and death so that the gift of eternal life would be ours. He loved us that much.
In the verses that follow this reading, Peter told Jesus that he would follow Him wherever He went. Yet, Peter denied Jesus three times that very evening. Peter would eventually follow Jesus to the cross, but not until he finished the work God commissioned him to do. Jesus loved. Peter followed Jesus. We are called to glorify God by loving one another as He loved us.
They say birds of a feather flock together and this is true of human beings also. We like to be with people that have similar interests and background. We like to gather with people that have similar cultural heritage. It is more fun to hang out with a group of people that like the same types of foods and enjoy the same types of music. It is certainly easier to work with people who have the same goals, desires and opinions. This is especially true when our common bond is something as important as the covenant sign shared by the Jews. Over the years, however, the Jews made those common bonds into walls, walls that divided them from the rest of the world. The same thing often happens to us; our differences become reasons to keep people away, walls that separate us from others. But Jesus said, “Men will know you belong to me if you love one another.”
Many people enjoy a life of faith in God but they prefer to do it alone. They argue that the Church is not a building, but individual believers in personal relationship with Him. They claim that God can be found anywhere, in the quietness of the fields and under the shade of a tree. While this is true, there is something to be said about joining together in the fellowship of the saints, not only through time and space as we see in the texts from Revelation, but also in the here and now. After all, our worship today is a reflection of the eternal worship we will eventually join when we die. Our praises, sung together in the presence of God is far more beautiful to His ears than those we sing alone.
Just as the center of Revelation is worship, so too is our life of faith in this world as we wait for God’s promises to be fully and completely finished. We are called and gathered by the Holy Spirit to join with the entire creation to sing praises to God our Father. He hears our praise wherever we are, because everything He has made sings along with us. Yet, there is something very special when Christians raise their voices together to glorify God in the here and now.
In the psalm for today, we are humbled by the fact that we are just a small part of all that worships God. The sun, the moon and the stars all praise God. The heavens and the raindrops, the earth and all that lives on land and in the sea sing His praises. The elements, the mountains, the hills and all the trees praise God. Wild and domesticated animals, clean and unclean and birds of the sky all join in the worship. No man is greater than all this, whether ruler or servant, young or old, male or female. All creation was made by God and all creation sings His praise.
In the final verse, the psalmist says, “He has lifted up the horn of his people, the praise of all his saints; even of the children of Israel, a people near to him.” That horn is Jesus Christ our Savior who deserves our thanks and praise. He has made things new by loving us so much that He was willing to die. On that cross, Jesus made things new and gave us hope that the day will come when creation is restored as God intended. That promise is for all men, for all who hear His voice. But we don’t have to wait for the final chapter of Revelation because Jesus restored us to our Creator and the Spirit of God dwells among His people. His love is manifest in our lives. We can look forward to the Day when we will dwell with our Father and we will clearly see His Glory. For now, we live in this world, bound by the constraints of space and time, but called to love one another so that God is glorified through our lives of faith.
“Don’t judge, so that you won’t be judged. For with whatever judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with whatever measure you measure, it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but don’t consider the beam that is in your own eye? Or how will you tell your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye;’ and behold, the beam is in your own eye? You hypocrite! First remove the beam out of your own eye, and then you can see clearly to remove the speck out of your brother’s eye.” Matthew 7:1-5, WEB
I saw a video meme with the caption “WWJD.” Of course, that stands for “What would Jesus do,” but it didn’t make sense at first. The scene was a store parking lot. A car that was driving down one of the aisles came upon a shopping cart in the middle of the road. The driver put his window down and pulled the cart along as he drove until he got near the cart corral, then he got out of his car to push it into the stall. The funny part? The guy was wearing a white robe with a red scarf and looked a lot like our idea of Jesus. What would Jesus do? He would put His shopping cart into the corral to protect the other cars from being dinged.
Shopping carts are one of those things that are so valuable, and yet such a pain. The aisles in stores are often just wide enough for two carts, but barely; it is difficult to maneuver with them when the store is crowded. The cart corrals get full, especially when people are not careful about tucking them inside one another. I once saw a guy that didn’t even bother to walk all the way to the cart corral. He pushed it from the other side of the lane, and while it made it to the corral, it just smashed into the other carts and made it all a jumbled mess. His cart was outside the barrier, in the road and a danger to pedestrians and vehicles. Many people just leave their carts by their parking space, which makes parking more difficult. Wind can blow the carts around, causing damage to cars and dangers to drivers. I’ve seen carts blown from one end of a parking lot to another. The movement usually ends when the cart crashes into a car that can be seriously damaged with scratches or dents.
I must confess that I am among those who occasionally get lazy with my cart. I don’t have good reasons, just excuses. It is usually because I can’t see a cart corral close to my car or because I don’t have a lot of time. I try to ensure the cart will not end up in the middle of the road or roll into another car and I’m extra careful when the weather is bad. While I do fail at this, I am more likely to help other people with their shopping carts. If I see someone at their car with a cart, I offer to take it for them and use it myself. This saves them time because they don’t have to walk to a cart corral and I don’t have to look for a cart. It is especially valuable for those with small children because they don’t need to worry about how to deal with the cart and the children.
The lesson from the video is that we should try to live as Jesus would live. We should try to be a good steward, not only of our own stuff, but also the stuff owned by others. If we love our neighbor, we won’t do anything that might bring harm to their car. The text for today reminds us of something else: we are all sinners in need of a Savior. We all make mistakes. I have to admit that I want to get angry when I see a cart just left in the parking lot, especially when the cart has made it difficult or impossible to park in the empty spot or when the weather could cause damage.
However, how do I get angry with someone who has done something that I do? Even though I try to be like the Jesus in the video and that I am usually good about putting my shopping cart where it should go, I also abandon my cart with excuses to justify my failure. We do not know who is just lazy or who has similar excuses to justify their failure. Grace is given for all so that we will be transformed into people who will consistently try to live like Jesus. Who knows? Your kindness or your good example rather than your judgment may just help someone else do what is right and good for their neighbor.
“So teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. Relent, Yahweh! How long? Have compassion on your servants! Satisfy us in the morning with your loving kindness, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days. Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, for as many years as we have seen evil. Let your work appear to your servants; your glory to their children. Let the favor of the Lord our God be on us; establish the work of our hands for us; yes, establish the work of our hands.” Psalm 90:12-17, WEB
The Psalmist asks God a simple question, “How long?” Tradition suggests that this was a song of Moses. It was written, perhaps, during a time of trial brought on by the hard hearts of God’s people. The Hebrews wandered in the desert for forty years. This unfortunate detour of their travels was not because God wanted them to be hungry and thirsty, or that He could not find the way. They wandered for forty years because they rebelled against God at Mount Sinai. During those years of wandering, the Hebrews complained about everything; they even thought it would be better to go back into slavery in Egypt than to continue wandering in the desert and eating manna.
The question “How long?” makes a great deal of sense to us. When we are in the midst of trying times, when we are facing trials and temptations, we wonder how long we will have to suffer. We cry out to God seeking some sense of the time. Will we hurt for a long time or for a brief moment? We want the time to be short, for God to have mercy. We ask God to relent, to repent of the course He has set before us. We seek His mercy and pray for His compassion. We seek His steadfast love.
When we ask the question “How long?” we are usually looking for a number. We like to define time with clocks and calendars. Human beings have always tried to make His world fit into our ability to define and measure everything, but God has designed the world around us to move perfectly according to His good and perfect will. We can’t make it fit into our own understanding of time and space. We can’t even work to make ourselves perfect, let alone the creation. This is why we seek God. Only He can control the days, weeks and months, and only He knows the course our life is ordained to go. He gives life and He takes it. He guides and directs our footsteps.
We might ask God to define the time the way we want, but God will give us something better. He will help us to number our days; He will help us to realize that our time is short and that it will be best used according to His will and purpose. God gives us all we need to live in this world and the next. He has mercy and grants forgiveness that we might truly have more than earthly time, giving us an eternity to spend praising His holy name. He will help us to live through our times of trouble with the hope of what is to come, and He will help us to work according to His grace.
“The first book I wrote, Theophilus, concerned all that Jesus began both to do and to teach, until the day in which he was received up, after he had given commandment through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. To these he also showed himself alive after he suffered, by many proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days, and speaking about God’s Kingdom. Being assembled together with them, he commanded them, ‘Don’t depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which you heard from me. For John indeed baptized in water, but you will be baptized in the Holy Spirit not many days from now.’ Therefore when they had come together, they asked him, ‘Lord, are you now restoring the kingdom to Israel?’ He said to them, ‘It isn’t for you to know times or seasons which the Father has set within his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you. You will be witnesses to me in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the uttermost parts of the earth.’ When he had said these things, as they were looking, he was taken up, and a cloud received him out of their sight. 10 While they were looking steadfastly into the sky as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white clothing, who also said, ‘You men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who was received up from you into the sky will come back in the same way as you saw him going into the sky.’” Acts 1:1-11, WEB
Many students will graduate from college and high school in the next few weeks. These students have spent years learning and maturing with the ultimate goal of going out into the world to live and work and hopefully find success. Some of the students will go on to more school; others are searching for the perfect job. Some parents will become empty nesters as their children move out of the house. There are students that know exactly what they want to do for the rest of their lives, having known since childhood. Others are still trying to decide what type of job they would enjoy.
It is a time of great change in the lives of these students. Many will wait through summer vacation before beginning their new life, taking the next few months as a final fling of freedom. Life out in the real world is much different than academia, even in the higher levels of education where the competition can be fierce. They won’t have anyone to blame when they fail and it is less likely that anyone will bail them out when they run into trouble. It is time for them to stand on their own two feet. It is no wonder that many of these students would prefer to take the summer to party. Their friends will move on in different directions. Together they look back at their accomplishments and look forward in awe at the possibilities they face.
The same sort of moment happened to the disciples. After all they went through with Jesus, the day had to arrive when He would no longer be with them in flesh, when they would do the work of the Kingdom on their own. It was a daunting task that Jesus called them to do, to share forgiveness with a world that was unwilling to hear the message of the Gospel proclaimed because it turned their whole understanding of God upside down. Jesus told them repeatedly that He would have to leave, but I don’t think they thought about it much until that moment when He was gone.
Jesus spent three years with the disciples before He was killed on the cross. Then He spent forty days proving Himself alive and giving them final instructions. He reminded them of the promise that they would receive power when they were baptized by the Holy Spirit. Jesus opened their minds to the scriptures. Everything Jesus had taught them for three years and forty days was finally making sense. It was time for Jesus to go to God to sit at His right hand. He was taken into heaven, bodily raised from the earth into the clouds right before their eyes. They had seen Jesus do many miraculous things, this was just one more. However, there was something very important about that moment.
When Jesus was raised to the right hand of God, it left little room to question the very nature of this man they had known for three years. This was God in flesh, worthy of their worship and praise. This was also the moment that He left them alone, seemingly abandoning them with nothing but a promise of a helper to come. He sent them into the world to share the Kingdom of God, but would no longer be there to pick them up after they fell. It was up to them to do the work they were called to do. It was no wonder that they might stop and stare into the heavens for a moment. It would have been easy to stay right there at that spot and continue looking toward heaven waiting for Jesus to return.
However, Jesus did not intend for them to wallow in the past and wait for the future. There are times in our own lives, such as when we graduate from school, when we can identify with the feelings they must have had at that moment when Christ was taken away. It is easy to want to gape at the clouds and hope for His return, so that things would not have to change. But Christians are called to live in Today, to worship Him by doing the work He has called us to do: taking the Gospel of life and forgiveness to a dying world.
Scriptures for Sunday, May 26, 2019, Sixth Sunday of Easter: Acts 16:9-15, Psalm 67, Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5, John 14:23-29 or John 5:1-9
“On this side of the river and on that was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruits, yielding its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.” Revelation 22:2b, WEB
“But the fruit of the Spirit is, charity, joy, peace, patience, benignity, goodness, longanimity, mildness, faith, modesty, continency, chastity. Against such there is no law.” This passage may sound familiar and yet a little different. This version of Galatians 5:22-23 is from the Latin Vulgate, a Latin translation that was created mostly by Jerome in the late fourth century which became the official Latin Bible for the Catholic Church and some of the modern translations used this as their basis. The difference between this one and the verses with which we are familiar is that this has twelve fruit rather than nine.
Some will be bothered by the difference in texts, but numbers here don’t matter. Augustine wrote about this passage, “The Apostle had no intention of teaching us how many [either works of the flesh, or fruits of the Spirit] there are; but to show how the former should be avoided, and the latter sought after.” I am not sure why Jerome would have added the three, which are longanimity (which means patience in affliction, different from the first patience which means bearing with the imperfections of others), modesty (which means humility), and chastity (which means indulging in physical desires only when appropriate) but they are certainly fruit that we could use these days.
There are so many images in today’s passage from Revelation. It is a visual image of heaven given to us in words. We can’t even imagine the reality of this place and won’t be able to do so until we are in the midst of it all. If we take the numbers literally, the City of God, the New Jerusalem, is so big that it would cover about half of the United States. We want to relate this image to our human experience, to try to imagine a city that looks like a perfect cube measure 1400 square miles along the width, height and depth. It doesn’t make sense to our human minds. Cities aren’t perfect cubes and they are not that big. However, John was describing the indescribable with words to which his readers could relate. The vision he saw was immense, magnificent and greater than anything in this world.
How big is the Tree of Life? It is often depicted as being twelve different trees because it bears different types of fruit and is found on both sides of the river; but what if it is just one tree? It must have been enormous to provide fruit for all those whose names are written in the book of life. What does it mean when John says the tree “bearing twelve kinds of fruits, yielding its fruit every month”? Is that one fruit a month, or does the tree bear all twelve every month? We can’t imagine this because we know that trees have cycles and only produce fruit in due time. We automatically think of fruit like apples, oranges and peaches, but wouldn’t it make sense that the Tree of Life might bear fruit in keeping with faith? Twelve is the number of completion. What if the fruit produced here are the fruit of the Spirit? After all, this fruit is for the healing of the nations, and what would heal the world better than charity, joy, peace, patience, benignity, goodness, longanimity, mildness, faith, modesty, continency, chastity? What an awesome world this would be if these were the fruits on which we were living! After all, they say you are what you eat.
When we read this passage from John, we try to imagine what he is describing, but our imaginations are simply incapable of seeing it as it will be. It is like we are looking at a picture of a redwood tree. Anyone who has been to the Redwood forests of northern California understand how pictures can be deceiving. We have all seen pictures of these giants, but the photos do nothing to tell the real story. You have to stand in one of the groves and see one of these magnificent trees to truly comprehend their sheer size and majesty. Even if you see a picture of a person standing near the trees, or a picture of a car driving through one of the trees, those people and cars seem more like toys than the trees like giants. The same is true of what we will see in heaven some day. We will be delightfully surprised to see the City of God, to dwell in the presence of God and the Lamb, to drink from the River of Life and to eat of the Tree. And though it will be immense, it will be personal and intimate and perfect.
Last week we looked at the context of the Revelation texts we’ve been hearing through the Easter season. For the past few weeks, our scriptures have also focused on some of the more incredible aspects of the early days of the Church. Some of their experiences are somewhat hard for us to believe, not because we doubt God is capable of doing these things but because we have not personally experienced anything so extraordinary. They not only saw Jesus heal and raise the dead, but they themselves were given the power of God to do likewise. They not only spoke God’s words in a way that others could understand, but they did it for people who did not even speak their language. They had visions and felt the power of God as He led them to people and places to do His work.
How did they know? How did they know it was real? I have had experiences that I was certain came from God, but when they were over I couldn’t help but wonder if there might be some natural explanation. This is especially true when things did not go as I expected them to go. Take, for example, those times when we have heard that “still, small voice” that seemed to be leading us to make a specific decision. Do we follow that voice or do we ignore it? We’ve heard too many stories of people who have claimed to have heard a voice telling them to do something out of the ordinary like kill their children. We know that God would not command such a thing, though He did do so with Abraham. What about those who say that God has told them to run for political office? We are more likely to believe someone who said God is sending them as a missionary to Africa, but even then we are cynical.
How did the apostles know? In today’s story from Acts, Paul had a vision of a man from Macedonia. Paul understood this as a vision from God and he left immediately to go on a trip that eventually led to Philippi. How did he know that this was a vision? What made him follow? Did he have other visions that he ignored? Would he have followed the vision if it had been a woman who had called him to come? It is impossible for us to answer these questions based on the record we have been given, but it is helpful to realize that the apostles most likely suffered from the same kind of questions that we ask today. For every story of a healing, there must have been a dozen people who weren’t healed. For every conversion there must have been hundreds that never came to faith. It is enough to make the most faithful, faith-filled people question and doubt.
While we might wish that God would speak more clearly to our generation, I think we should look at it from a different perspective. Instead of longing for a time that is gone, we should go forth in faith doing exactly what God has already told us to do which is to live as people manifesting the fruit of the Spirit and sharing the light of Christ with the world. We don’t want to take any risks, so we want absolute assurance that we are doing what God intends. Yet, when we do step out in faith, we are disappointed that things do not turn out as we expect. We think God is sending us to convert someone, but when they reject the faith we wonder if we heard correctly. We think God is sending us to heal someone who is ailing, but when they do not get well, we think we have failed.
That’s what happens when it is all about “we.” We forget that we do not know the mind of God. We do not have a complete picture of His plan.
What was on Paul’s mind when he ended up in Philippi and still had not found the man who’d appeared in His vision? Paul was in a city that was populated by mostly Gentiles. As a matter of fact, it was a retirement spot for Roman legionnaires. It could not have been a comfortable place for Paul, despite his citizenship and his knowledge that the Gospel was meant for the whole world. At least in other cities there was a vital Jewish community where Paul could find friends community and aid. Philippi did not even have a synagogue. How would he find the Jews to share the Gospel with them?
Paul went to the river. The Jews that lived in communities like Philippi often met by the river to pray and worship. He went there on the Sabbath because he expected to find other believers. It is not surprising that they might like meeting by the river, there is something very peaceful about worshipping where there is flowing water. The sound is calming, but it is also an image that reminds the people of God’s presence among them. Moving water was considered living water, and rightly so. It is not surprising that God’s Spirit would be likened to a river because it is clean, clear and fresh. It is constantly changing and yet always the same. When he arrived at the place of prayer he met a woman. She was a woman of wealth, a business woman who sold purple cloth who was a believer in the one true God.
Paul went to Philippi not really knowing what to expect. Paul did not let that concern him. He looked for opportunities, knowing that God was in charge and that He would do His work. Paul did not look for a specific man in the city, he simply trusted that God would guide and direct him in the way he should go. He went about doing the work ordained for him: preaching the Gospel to whomever had ears to hear. Paul preached to whomever would listen, believing that God would make the seeds take root and grow. Paul believed the vision, but even more importantly Paul obeyed what Jesus commanded. He loved Jesus and kept His word.
At the end of his Gospel, John writes, “There are also many other things which Jesus did, which if they would all be written, I suppose that even the world itself wouldn’t have room for the books that would be written.” The four Gospels don’t tell us everything. We see only a few days out of three years, a few cities out of an entire region. Almost certainly Jesus did more than can be said in just under 65,000 words, but the four Gospels certain tell us an excellent cross-section of His work. They told the same stories in different ways. They showed similar miracles from different point of views. There is just enough repetition to show consistency but enough difference to know that they have not copied their witnesses from one another. God gave us the most comprehensive record possible without causing a world full of books to be written.
Today’s healing story is unique. In nearly all of the stories, Jesus addressed the healed person with the statement, “Your faith has made you well,” but in the story from John 5, faith is never mentioned. The man does not seem to believe in Jesus; he didn’t even know how he was healed. He didn’t ask to be made well, he just wanted help into the water. He is blind both physically and spiritually. He doesn’t even answer Jesus’ question, “Do you want to be healed?” He simply whines that no one will help him get wet. Jesus healed this man anyway. Even after the healing the blind man did not know Jesus.
Though Jesus eventually identified Himself to the man, this story shows us that the healing was not dependent on any human effort. The Word of God in and through Jesus made him well. There was no human desire or faith. There were no human works. God’s Word healed the blind man without fanfare or flourish. We are called to minister in the same way to bring healing to those who don’t know Jesus and to do so without fanfare or flourish. We need only speak the Word of God into their lives and disappear into the crowds.
Will the healing always come? Perhaps not, if it is not God’s will. However, it is never our place to question the will of God or the faith of the person who needs healing. God knows the hearts and He knows His plan. The blind man may never have believed in Jesus, we don’t know. He eventually learns that it was Jesus who made him well, but that’s all we hear. This story leads to questions about Jesus and his commitment to the Law. It also shows us another way Jesus healed, another way He accomplished His work. Before we say God can’t do something because we aren’t cooperative, let’s remember that nothing is impossible with God.
There is a joke about a priest who died and went to heaven. When he arrived at the pearly gates, St. Peter welcomed him and took him on a tour. His home was a humble place, a plain building furnished with everything that he could possibly need. The rest of heaven was absolutely beautiful and the priest was feeling a bit of remorse over his resentment for such a humble home. Then they arrived at a beautiful mansion. A man arrived as they watched and he was given great honor. The priest asked St. Peter, “Was that God?” St. Peter answered, “Oh no, that was a lawyer.” The priest didn’t want to seem ungrateful, but he asked St. Peter, “I spent my entire life devoted to my parishioners, and teaching the gospel, and I have very humble quarters in Heaven. I just don’t understand what that lawyer did that would merit such a beautiful mansion.” St. Peter answered, “It isn’t what he did. You see, we have thousands upon thousands of priests up here. But he’s our first lawyer.”
Earlier in John 14, Jesus said, “I am preparing a place for you” and “in my Father’s house are many rooms or dwelling places,” so we often think of heaven in terms of places to live forever. I’ve heard people talk about their dream house in heaven often based on that house that they never did have, the mansion that was always beyond their reach. While there is some discussion of rewards in the scriptures, John 14 looks at eternity from a completely different point of view.
In this passage from the final words of Jesus, God promises that He will dwell with His people. This is not about our future when we die and go to heaven, but about our present as we live in this world. It is about God coming to us, dwelling in us. Last week we heard the command that we are to love one another. It is by this love that the nations, the world, will know we belong to God. This week we hear that our love for God is evident in obeying that which Christ has told us, when we do what He commanded us to do. In other words, we love God when we love one another and He will dwell amongst us and we will manifest the fruit of His Spirit to the world.
Jesus Christ could have stayed in Jerusalem forever. He could have continued to dwell in the presence of His people, continuing to teach them and love them in His risen body. However, if He had stayed we would only be bound to one another by His limited presence. He told the disciples that they should rejoice when He told them He was going away, because when He left He would send the Holy Spirit. Jesus can’t dwell in our hearts as a man of flesh, but the Holy Spirit can. God could choose to dwell in beautifully built temples and churches or the glory of heaven, but He has chosen to dwell in our hearts, in His Church, in His people. Because of this, we can experience the peace that passes all understanding.
The Psalm for today includes a word that is used about seventy-five times in the Old Testament (once in Isaiah and three times in Habakkuk, with the rest in the Psalms.) That word is “Selah.” It is not easy to define this word, though many suggest it is simply a liturgical pause like a rest or stop in modern musical composition.
However, there are those who think this word actually suggests something much deeper than just a pause in the music, that it is also instructional to the singer and listeners. The word “Selah” is thought to mean something like “stop and listen” indicating that the words deserve some extra attention. Others take this meaning even further, suggesting that it is related to the Hebrew word that means “to measure.” With this understanding the listener and singer are given the command to do more than just listen, but to also consider or “measure” the words. In this way, the verse to which it refers should be heard and understood and applied to our lives. Faithful listening is more than hearing; it is stopping to really consider what the words mean.
In today’s Psalm , the word “Selah” is used twice. The first is following a benediction. “May God be merciful to us, bless us, and cause his face to shine on us.” Stop and listen; measure these words and those that which comes after, “That your way may be known on earth, and your salvation among all nations.” God blesses us to be a blessing and the purpose of that blessing is so that the world knows His salvation. His blessings to us are not for our own good, but for the good of the world. The second usage comes with a directive to all nations that they be glad and sing for joy, for God’s mercy and judgment is given without favoritism. The blessings are not meant for one people, but for all people. God’s grace extends far beyond our borders, beyond our walls, beyond our opinions and biases. Selah. Stop and listen. Understand that God has created and redeemed the whole world and one day the whole world will sing His praise.
This is the will and purpose of God. God knows when and how it will all come into being. For today, in the peace of Christ, we take one step at a time in faith knowing that with God the impossible is possible. There we will find peace. We have been given the most incredible promise: we will dwell with God forever in a place we can never imagine. Yet, the promise of the future is ours today. We can, even now, share God’s grace, bearing fruit that will make the world a better place.
And so we obey as best we can, knowing that God’s Spirit accompanies us on our journey. We might wish that Jesus were still dwelling among us, but the reality is that He couldn’t be everywhere at all times. The Spirit can. And so we gather together, by the river or in a cathedral, praising God and praying for His guidance. Wherever we are and whatever we do in faith, God will be with us. As we keep our eyes on Him, we’ll see and hear His voice more clearly and act with assurance and peace.
“Therefore putting away falsehood, speak truth each one with his neighbor. For we are members of one another. ‘Be angry, and don’t sin.’ Don’t let the sun go down on your wrath, and don’t give place to the devil. Let him who stole steal no more; but rather let him labor, producing with his hands something that is good, that he may have something to give to him who has need. Let no corrupt speech proceed out of your mouth, but only what is good for building others up as the need may be, that it may give grace to those who hear. Don’t grieve the Holy Spirit of God, in whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, outcry, and slander, be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tender hearted, forgiving each other, just as God also in Christ forgave you.” Ephesians 4:25-32, WEB
A man was visiting an executive from the company for which he worked. He arrived at the home in a limousine, but when he discovered that the driver would have to wait in the car while he was visiting, the man insisted that the driver join them in the house. At the end of the evening, the man sat in front with the driver and when he learned that they were going to pass the driver’s house, the man insisted on meeting the driver’s family. The family was thrilled at the unexpected visit and the man entertained the family by leading a sing-a-long and telling them stories. The man was Fred Rogers, famed for his delightful children’s show “Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood.” Fred Rogers was as kind in real life as he was on television.
If you do a little Internet research on Fred Rogers, you will discover that everyone wants to claim him for their own. They see a characteristic in his life that reminds him of their own world view, so they assume he must hold the same view. Yet, people who have a distinctly opposite world view also see characteristics that make him like them. Some claim he must be one thing, others claim that he could not possibly be. It may seem simplistic, but the best, and perhaps only, characteristic we should attribute to Mr. Rogers is kindness. It didn’t matter who you were, he loved you. Even when you did not agree with something he did or said, he loved you.
Love, and kindness, was so deeply imbedded in his life that even his weight was a manifestation of it. The number 143 was his favorite, often referenced in his stories and conversations. He liked that number because it represents the phrase “I love you.” “I” is one letter, “love” is four letters and “you” is three letters. He was almost fanatical about keeping his body weight at 143. It may have been the ideal weight for his body type, and he kept to that weight in a very healthy manner. Yet, I suspect that he did it also to keep his own heart and mind on the true purpose of his life: to love others and to treat them with kindness.
Fred Rogers was once asked if he ever got angry. The questioner wanted to know if he ever lost control. She could not imagine him having a knock-down drag out with his wife. “Do you ever yell at her?” He answered that she should ask his wife, but then admitted that he had a very modulated way of dealing with his feelings. He didn’t scream. He did not throw things. He never felt the need to manifest the feelings of anger. Notice he doesn’t deny having those feelings. We all get angry sometimes. He simply learned how to deal with anger in a loving and kind way.
Today is 143 Day in Pennsylvania. Fred Rogers was a native son, having been born in Latrobe. The governor decided to honor him on the 143rd day of the year. It is meant to be a day when everyone remembers Mr. Rogers with love and kindness. Of course, the hope would be that it would not be limited to one day a year, but at least for today, Pennsylvania will be an especially lovely place to be today if everyone follows the directive.
As I looked for scripture for this special day, I found this verse from Ephesians about being kind to one another. I thought it was interesting, then, as I read the verse in context, to see that Paul also talks about anger. “Be angry. Do not sin.” Many of us consider anger itself a sin, yet it is a very real emotion that we all feel from time to time. Paul’s words do not tell us to never be angry; he tells us that when we are angry we need to find a loving and kind way of dealing with it. We want to scream and throw things, but perhaps we need to learn to modulate the way we deal with our own feelings. This could be said about all our feelings. The life of faith is a life lived in love and kindness so that we will not express our feelings in a way that might harm others.
That verse comes from Psalm 4:4, “Be angry, and do not sin; ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent. Selah” (ESV) Check your heart. Anger can be a very positive emotion because it can lead us to do something to change the circumstances that make us angry. Jesus got angry, so Paul is not telling us that anger is a sin. Instead, he reminds us modulate the way we deal with our anger. He quickly tells us to be kind to one another, to forgive as we have been forgiven. We may think the temperament of Mr. Rogers is unattainable, but our Christian faith calls us to a life of love and kindness. It is a way of life toward which we can and should strive.
“Praise Yah! I will give thanks to Yahweh with my whole heart, in the council of the upright, and in the congregation. Yahweh’s works are great, pondered by all those who delight in them. His work is honor and majesty. His righteousness endures forever. He has caused his wonderful works to be remembered. Yahweh is gracious and merciful. He has given food to those who fear him. He always remembers his covenant. He has shown his people the power of his works, in giving them the heritage of the nations. The works of his hands are truth and justice. All his precepts are sure. They are established forever and ever. They are done in truth and uprightness. He has sent redemption to his people. He has ordained his covenant forever. His name is holy and awesome! The fear of Yahweh is the beginning of wisdom. All those who do his work have a good understanding. His praise endures forever!” Psalm 111, WEB
The church calendar is filled with feasts, festivals, and commemorations. Check online any day of the year and you’ll discover a dozen or more people or events that are remembered for the way they impacted the world and the church. We are more familiar with some of those dates because they are part of our lectionary. We remember important dates in the life of Jesus and His family, the lives and deaths of the apostles, and the martyrs from every age. We pay attention to their stories because they have something to teach us about faith, life, obedience, joy, peace, hope, and so many other things.
Some of the people who are remembered might seem strange. On May 24th we commemorate three scientists: Copernicus, Kepler and Euler. There are many who think that science and faith are incompatible, but the reality is these three men were strong and devoted Christians.
Nicholaus Copernicus, who was a contemporary of Martin Luther, introduced the heliocentric model of the universe, which placed the sun rather than the earth as the center. This theory was not well received. Martin Luther wrote, “There is talk of a new astrologer who wants to prove that the earth moves and goes around instead of the sky, the sun, the moon, just as if somebody were moving in a carriage or ship might hold that he was sitting still and at rest while the earth and the trees walked and moved. But that is how things are nowadays: when a man wishes to be clever he must needs invent something special, and the way he does it must needs be the best! The fool wants to turn the whole art of astronomy upside-down. However, as Holy Scripture tells us, so did Joshua bid the sun to stand still and not the earth.” De Revolutionibus, a book written by Copernicus was banned decades after original publication. Yet, the church eventually saw the truth in his theory.
Johannes Kepler lived a century later and was a strong supporter of heliocentricity. He worked to understand and explain the laws of planetary motion. One of his books, Mysterium Cosmographicum, was a defense of the Copernican model, but he answered the question on religious grounds. He saw the universe as an image of God and that since God is the center of Christian faith, then the sun ought to be the center of the universe. Kepler’s work was just the first step and despite the flaws gave a very strong foundation on which future science could be built. And he did it from a Christian point of view. He was absolutely insistent that there was order in the cosmos. He wondered why the heavens were so perfect but the earth so wretched, but believed that we could see the mind of God in the hidden order of the universe.
Leonhard Euler came more than a century later. He was a Swiss mathematician, thought to be the best mathematician ever. About one third of the work published in the late eighteenth century on mathematics and mathematical physics and engineering mechanics was by Euler. I confess that I don’t understand much of what I read on the sites reporting his accomplishments, but he had an incredible impact on the scientific world. He even affected the language of mathematics; he was the one who popularized the use of the Greek letter for Pi. His work did not stop when he went completely blind in 1771. Faith was very much a part of his life, too. There is a legend that a French philosopher visited the court of Catherine the Great, but was convincing her courtiers of atheism. She called Euler to confront him. Euler announced with great conviction using a comedic literary device, “Sir, a + b to the nth over n equals x, hence God exists. Reply!” According to this story, the philosopher thought all mathematics was gibberish and thus had no reply. The court laughed as he stood dumbstruck. By permission of Catherine the Great, he left Russia for good.
The psalmist sings, “Yahweh’s works are great, pondered by all those who delight in them.” We might think that science and religion cannot get along, but the reality is that they serve different purposes. Science answers the questions of what, when, and where. Religion answers who and why. God invites us to study the Creation, to ponder His works as they are manifest in the world. The three scientists we remember today did just that and they were able to juxtapose their theories of what, when, and where with the who and why which is God because He loves. There is still so much for us to learn, and while science sometimes tries to usurp God’s place in the world, God is always able to reveal the truth of His sovereignty over everything, including mankind. Those scientists who are wise, who fear God and do His work make incredible discoveries about the universe in which we live and they widen our awe for the God who made it all.
“Therefore I urge you, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service. Don’t be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what is the good, well-pleasing, and perfect will of God. For I say, through the grace that was given me, to every man who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think reasonably, as God has apportioned to each person a measure of faith. For even as we have many members in one body, and all the members don’t have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts differing according to the grace that was given to us, if prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of our faith; or service, let us give ourselves to service; or he who teaches, to his teaching; or he who exhorts, to his exhorting: he who gives, let him do it with liberality; he who rules, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.” Romans 12:1-8, WEB
I am sure you have seen, at some point in your life, people giving away red paper poppies, especially around Memorial Day. Veteran’s groups do this to remind everyone of the sacrifices that have been made for the sake of our country and every American. The “Buddy Poppy” program helps disabled American Veterans, who are paid to make the paper poppies. Donations also support VFW programs that help veterans and the families of fallen service people.
The poppies have been used since the program started in 1922, but the idea of the poppies comes from an historic event. Moina Michael was inspired by the 1915 poem “In Flanders Field” written by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae. Poppies are flowers that leave behind abundant seeds that begin to bloom when the soil is disturbed. When the bodies of World War I soldiers were buried on the fields of Flanders in Belgium, the ground bloomed with these bright red flowers, leaving the impression of the blood of the fallen on the hearts of those who were left behind. McCrae is said to have been mourning the loss of his friend, Lieutenant Alexis Helmer.
Though we may not be able to identify with the emotional impact of the poppies in that field so long ago, the poem “In Flanders Fields” continues to leave a lasting impression on our hearts. “In Flanders fields the poppies blow… Between the crosses, row on row… That mark our place; and in the sky… The larks, still bravely singing, fly… Scarce heard amid the guns below… We are the Dead. Short days ago… We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,… Loved and were loved, and now we lie… In Flanders fields… Take up our quarrel with the foe:… To you from failing hands we throw… The torch; be yours to hold it high… If ye break faith with us who die… We shall not sleep, though poppies grow… In Flanders fields.”
Moina Michael was so touched by this poem that she began wearing a poppy in remembrance that same year. She began making and selling the poppies to help servicemen in need. Madam Guerin from France took the project to France and earned money to help widows and orphans. People in other countries followed suit. By 1922, the VFW was involved, and now you’ll see veterans handing out poppies in front of your favorite grocery store or at the mall or on Main Street around Memorial Day. When you do, remember, they aren’t just trying to help you remember the fallen heroes of our nation. They are helping those who continue to suffer because of the loss.
For many, Memorial Day is a time for picnics, for gathering with families and friends and for getting started on the summer season. I remember as a child, we used Memorial Day weekend to get the pool cleaned and refilled and the patio straightened up from the long winter. I hope, as we go about of lives and enjoy our day, we will all spend a little time thinking about those who have made the greatest sacrifice so that we can live freely and share generously all we have.
And, we can take today and consider the sacrifices we are called to make for the sake of others. Few are called to give their lives in the way, as a matter of fact, less than one percent of our population serve in the military and fewer than that actually die in war. But we are all called to live in faith and to give of ourselves and our resources generously. How can you make a difference today? Is there a program you can join to give your time to help others? Is there some need in the world you are drawn to meet? It may not be your task to hand out poppies in front of the grocery store, but in what way is God calling you to sacrifice yourself and your resources for the sake of another?
“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. Don’t seek revenge yourselves, beloved, but give place to God’s wrath. For it is written, ‘Vengeance belongs to me; I will repay, says the Lord.’ Therefore ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in doing so, you will heap coals of fire on his head.’ Don’t be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Romans 12:9-21, WEB
We used to have season passes for Sea World and we visited as often as we could. We made sure to watch the Shamu show on a regular basis and though the show is the same each time, there are minor differences because the animals have unique personalities and moods. Sometimes the whales react more slowly or refuse to do the skill being performed or they just want to have a little fun with their human partners. The shows also differ slightly according to the place we sit. There is a difference, also, depending on where you sit. The closer to the pool you sit, the more likely you are going to get wet. This is called the “Splash Zone.” We often had seats in the splash zone, but usually rather near the top. It isn’t so bad getting splashed a little bit when you are there on a hot day. One day the park was not so crowded and it was a very hot day, so we decided to sit much lower in the splash zone than we had ever been.
We laughed in expectation when the whales began to splash, remembering the other times we had gotten wet during the show. Then it was just a few drops, perhaps a big splat on the leg, that dried in a matter of minutes. No big deal. So, when the whale set up for the splash we waited anxiously, wondering how much more water there would be so close. It happened so fast we barely even saw it coming and it was as though we were standing underneath a waterfall. During the show we were hit several times and we left dripping wet. We were so wet that we could taste the saltwater on our lips. The splash left a lasting effect. Our clothes, hair and even my purse were drenched in salty water and everything needed to be cleaned.
The whale did not do anything wrong; he did what was expected of him during the show. The fact that we got soaking wet was our own fault because we sat in the splash zone even after the reminders that people in those seats would get wet.
However, as I remember this event, I am reminded how our sin has a lasting effect on the people around us, even when the sin is seemingly innocent or is brought on by our own actions. When you take a joke too far, what was once funny might then significantly impact your relationship with the person who receives the brunt of the jokes. It might seem harmless to do a little flirting, spend too much money or coerce someone into having one too many pieces of pie, but even these actions that might seem petty can be life changing to someone else. That’s why we are called to love with more than just words.
We all have expectations for our life in Christ. We want to make grand things happen for God, but when we are living our daily lives we realize that there are hundreds of small, seemingly insignificant tasks. We become discouraged and give up because it doesn’t seem like we are accomplishing anything. The Christian lifestyle is first and foremost about a relationship with God, and it is about loving God and our neighbor. When we realize this, we don’t mind taking care of those little things, the menial tasks that seem too hard and too trivial to make a difference in the world because we know that it is God working in the lives of our neighbors. Those humble acts of faith share the love of Christ for the sake of others. The Christian life is hard as Paul notes in this passage to the Romans. But it is the life that God is calling us to live. It is a life of active love, joy in hardship, compassion, forgiveness, humility and peace keeping.
Our works will never save us or anyone else, but we truly love with our deeds. Our life is meant to be filled with actions that encourage others and share with them the life changing mercy and forgiveness of Christ Jesus. Evil is overcome when we live the Christ-like life of which Paul writes in our own lives as well as the lives of those that cross our path.
Scriptures for Sunday, June 2, 2019, Seventh Sunday of Easter: Acts 16:16-34; Psalm 97; Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21; John 17:20-26
“Be glad in Yahweh, you righteous people! Give thanks to his holy Name.” Psalm 97:12, WEB
I must confess that I say “Come, Lord Jesus,” on a daily basis. Our world is broken and His coming is the only thing that will finally make everything right. Of course, the world has been broken for a very, very long time. It has been broken since Adam and Eve ate the wrong fruit in the Garden of Eden. It has been broken for every generation of human being that has ever lived. It is definitely broken today, but is it really as bad as it has ever been or as it will ever be? Even so, come Lord Jesus.
We are impatient. We are looking forward to spending eternity in heaven with our Father and our Lord, Jesus Christ and we are tired of struggling in this harsh world. Jesus will come again in God’s time. We know this to be true and we trust that God will be faithful, but we still want it to happen in our time. God is slow because there are still people who do not know Him and have not yet come to faith. He is patient so that they have a chance to spend eternity with Him, too.
Our pastor often talks about praying for our “one.” This is the person in our life who is not saved but for whom we have hope. This isn’t about making someone into something we want them to be, but to pray that they will know the joy and peace that we have in Jesus Christ. There are too many people in the world who do not know Jesus or who have rejected Him, yet there is always time as long as we are still waiting for Jesus to come. We can’t save anyone, but as long as there is time, we should do what we can to share God’s grace with them. We were once like them, without faith and destined to separation from God, but thanks to Jesus we have the promise of eternal life. Is this not what we want for those we love?
We have that faith because those who have come before us were willing to share the Gospel with others. John writes, “Not for these only do I pray, but for those also who believe in me through their word...” Jesus was not just praying for His one, He was praying for all of us. He was praying for those who would come to faith based on the witnesses of those who knew Him. He was praying for those who will come to faith based on our witness.
We were once those who would believe, but we are now those who believe and we are sent to share the Good News of Christ with the next generation of believers. The early church had a natural sense of urgency when it came to the mission of the Church. Christ is coming again, soon. The kingdom of God is near. Now is the time, don’t wait! They were passionate about the message and they shared it with the world.
Now it has been two thousand years. We are no longer living with the same sense of urgency. Yet that message, “Today is the day,” is as true for us as it was for them, perhaps even more so since we are closer to His coming than they ever were. For us, however, two thousand years is a long time to wait and we have lost patience and our zealousness. We have allowed the worries and the cares of the world to temper our enthusiasm and we have followed with a skewed sense of purpose. We can’t seem to agree about anything anymore, even when it comes to the Kingdom of God. Ask a ten people about the Book of Revelation and you’ll get eleven points of view. Jesus calls us to love one another and be of one mind so that the world will know that God.
We are a diverse people; we come from different times and places. The Church has existed for two thousand years and has touched nearly every corner of the world. It is hard enough for the people in a congregation to agree about the color of the carpet. How can Jesus expect us to agree with people of completely different world views? There was a street in a town where we used to live that was called “church mile.” It had at least a dozen different churches, side by side. There were even multiple Lutheran churches, one from each type possible. Most of the churches were struggling because there were not enough people to keep the pews full. It seems to me that if Jesus’ prayer had been answered, those churches could have found a way to merge, to glorify God in their unity.
However, unity does not necessarily mean that we will all be the same. It is impossible. Not even the twelve disciples were the same. There were fishermen, a tax collector, revolutionaries and others. At least one was married. Some were brothers. They were from different villages. In the scriptures we can see they had different personalities. They did not always get along. The disciples often bickered and the early Church faced difficulties. The churches on that church mile had things in common, but they also had many differences. Joining as one body meant those Christians would have to give up something of their individual identities.
When Jesus prayed for the unity of the believers, He wasn’t praying that all Christians would join one particular type of denomination. I mourn over the brokenness of His Church, but I think He has allowed for the differences to suit our personalities. Some want red carpet, others want blue, and yet others think the floor should be tiled. Some like a praise band, others long for quiet, contemplative worship. I love liturgy, but I know others would prefer lengthy teaching sermons. I like to follow the lectionary, but others would prefer to hear the bible verse by verse. Some want a large church with thousands singing thunderous praise to God, while others like a smaller, more intimate congregation where they know the names of every person in the room. We are hard wired differently, so even when our doctrinal theology does not agree, we can’t assume those who disagree are less than Christian.
Jesus’ prayer for them and for us was to be of one mind. That mind is not our own, or the mind of our particular leaders, or the mind of our denominational perspectives. That mind is Christ’s. As we have seen over the past few weeks, Jesus set down how we could be unified. We are called to love one another with an active love. In service to our brothers and sisters in Christ, the world will see that we are one and will know that God is the Lord Almighty. They will see our unity and will know that God does exist in and through our lives. Two people can disagree about the color of the carpet and still love one another: that is a sign of God’s power.
Redwood trees last for centuries because they live in groves. Despite being incredibly tall and majestic, they have very small root systems and need to dwell together in groves. I once saw a tree that was felled by an extreme store and was shocked at how small the roots really are. That one tree was just far enough from the others that it had no support and thus no strength. They count on the other trees to help them stand; their root systems intertwine, giving the group a greater strength than any individual tree.
We long for Jesus to come because living in this world is the hard part, especially since we are still sinners. We are all imperfect; none of us have it completely right. The most important thing is to dwell in a community of believers, to pray for one another, to encourage one another, to correct and rebuke one another when necessary. We can’t live in faith alone; we need to be joined to our brothers and sisters in Christ. We need to be like the Redwoods, helping each other remain faithful as we wait for the Day of Christ.
There are, unfortunately, too many Christians who think they can go it alone. They choose not to participate in the fellowship of the saints, to join others for worship, word and sacrament or Bible study. They are disappointed with the body of Christ either because they have been hurt by individuals or they do not like what they’ve seen, so they decide to spend time alone with God. When they do this they stand separate, alone in the world, and then when the storm hits there is nothing to help hold them up. They have no unity with others who can give them the strength they need to stand. They are too far from that which gives true strength in Christ. The Church is strongest when we are one with each other in Christ Jesus.
It won’t be easy, because even when we find a community of faith that fits our needs, we will still disagree with people within that community. That’s why Jesus wants us to be of His mind, not worrying about the differences, but seeing Him in their lives. And when the world sees how we love one another, they will see the love of God. They will see how the Gospel of Jesus Christ changes a person. They will wonder what it is that we have that makes us live as we do. People are drawn to us when we glorify God with our lives, and perhaps they too will experience the forgiveness and mercy of God and be saved.
I once went out to lunch and used a gift card to pay for my meal. It was a partially used gift card and could not remember how much was left. I thought it was enough, but when the waiter returned with my receipt he said it was sixteen cents short. “Don’t worry about it, though. I got it.” It was a very nice gesture and we thanked him for it, but I could not have the waiter paying a part of my bill out of his own pocket. So as I left a generous tip, I included an additional sixteen cents.
Sixteen cents is insignificant and none of us would suffer greatly without those pennies. The restaurant probably writes off more than sixteen cents of ‘shortage’ every day in broken dishes, burnt food and cash drawer mistakes. I’m not sure where to draw the line, but at some point the amount becomes significant. While we might justify the smaller numbers, it becomes harder when it is a considerable amount of money. I once knew a woman who could justify every windfall as a gift from God, even those that might harm another. When she got extra change from the grocery store cashier or found something lost on the street, she praised God rather than tried to make things right. It is good to praise God with words, but it is even better to praise Him by living rightly in the world.
There was once a television commercial in which one good deed led to other good deeds. Unlike the campaign of “paying it forward,” the recipient in this commercial was not the one who went on to do a good deed. The next person in line was a bystander, a witness. They were not paying it forward, but were emulating something they saw happen. We are reminded that the things that we do, good and bad, are not only visible to the people who benefit from our actions. People witness them and they have an impact. A stranger in the grocery line might notice a kindness to a clerk and do the same for a co-worker. A friend might observe a good relationship between neighbors and take a better attitude home to their own neighborhood. A classmate of a child might witness a mother volunteering at school and decide to do something to help out at church. We do not know how the things we do will affect the world around us.
It is especially amazing that God has intervened in the insignificant aspects of our lives as part of His plan for salvation for others. I have had experiences that have seemed coincidental like an unexpected phone call or an unplanned stop at the store which led to something greater happening. These may not be quite so coincidental; it may just be part of a larger plan as God moves in and through the lives of His children.
Our reading for today could almost be divided into two different stories. In the first few verses we meet a girl who had a gift that was being used by her owners to earn money. She had a spirit of divination, so she could read the future or discover hidden knowledge by interpreting signs or by some supernatural power. She knew that Paul was a servant of God and she identified him by crying out to the crowds. It seems like an odd thing for the demon within her to do. Paul became annoyed because the girl became so distracting, keeping the people from hearing his message. He didn’t heal her because he felt sorry for her. He healed her because he was tired of her bothering them. He turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her!”
The demon left the girl and her powers were gone which upset the girl’s owners because without her gifts she had no value to them. They had Paul and Silas arrested, and the two disciples were put into jail. Paul and his companions were sitting in that jail making the best of things, worshipping God together despite their difficult circumstances, I have no doubt that they were praying for a miracle to set them free. It is natural and human for us to look to our God to get us out of trouble; after all, He has promised to take care of us.
An earthquake struck as they were praying and singing hymns. The earthquake was so violent that the foundations of the prison were shaken. The doors were opened and the chains were unfastened. Sounds like a miraculous gift from God to me. Paul and the other prisoners could have taken advantage of the opportunity and ran to freedom praising God. However, freedom for the prisoners would have meant punishment for the jailer. It would have been a punishment so great that the jailer thought his best option was to kill himself with his sword. Instead of running away, Paul and his companions as well as the other prisoners in the jail stayed. Paul called out to the jailer and told him that they were all still there. Paul believed that if God intended for them to be free at that time, then He would accomplish it in a way they would be truly free. Escape would have meant that they would all have been fugitives and the jailer would be dead. God did take care of them in His time and His way.
The integrity of the Christians caught the jailer’s attention and he asked about Jesus. In the end, he and his entire household was baptized. This conversion gave the Christian message credibility to the Gentile community and others began to believe in Christ based on the witness of that one man. One annoying girl led to the Christianization of the Gentiles.
The psalmist writes that God’s power and majesty is accompanied by darkness, fire, lightning and the melting of mountains. God is supreme over all things and gods and we who love God hate evil. Hating evil means living a life that does only what is right and not doing what is wrong, even if it is justifiable. Our circumstances may not seem good, but then living in God’s will is not always sunshine and happiness. Sometimes we’ll find ourselves in the middle of an earthquake. But as we trust in God and do what is right, we will find that His blessings are even greater than we ever expected. For Paul, the blessing was obvious when a new Christian found faith in Jesus Christ because of their witness.
There is reason for us to rejoice even now while we wait because God is faithful and His promises are sure. We long for the day when Christ will come and make all things right. We long for the day when we will dwell for eternity in the presence of our God and our Lord Jesus Christ. For today, however, there is still work to do. There are still people who need to hear the Gospel and to see our witness in the world. There are still people who need to experience the mercy and forgiveness of God so that they will believe and join us the praise and worship of God now and forever. Everything will be truly perfect in that day, but until then let us trust that God is working in this world in ways we may not understand, but that will ultimately lead to the fulfillment of all His promises.
“The first book I wrote, Theophilus, concerned all that Jesus began both to do and to teach, until the day in which he was received up, after he had given commandment through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. To these he also showed himself alive after he suffered, by many proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days, and speaking about God’s Kingdom. Being assembled together with them, he commanded them, ‘Don’t depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which you heard from me. For John indeed baptized in water, but you will be baptized in the Holy Spirit not many days from now.’ Therefore when they had come together, they asked him, ‘Lord, are you now restoring the kingdom to Israel?’ He said to them, ‘It isn’t for you to know times or seasons which the Father has set within his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you. You will be witnesses to me in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the uttermost parts of the earth.’ When he had said these things, as they were looking, he was taken up, and a cloud received him out of their sight. While they were looking steadfastly into the sky as he went, behold,[a] two men stood by them in white clothing, who also said, ‘You men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who was received up from you into the sky will come back in the same way as you saw him going into the sky.’” Acts 1:11, WEB
Today is the fortieth day after Easter, and is thus the Day of Ascension. Throughout His ministry Jesus revealed to the disciples the will and purpose of God, that He came to die and they would be witnesses of that for the world. Jesus stayed with the disciples for forty days after His resurrection and then He was raised into heaven to be seated at the right hand of God. This was necessary for the sake of the disciples and the church: if Jesus had stayed, the Holy Spirit could not come and the disciples would never have the gifts necessary to be witnesses to the work of Christ. Jesus did not just disappear. Luke tells us that in those forty days He opened their minds so that they would understand the scriptures.
Luke gives us two different versions of what happened when Jesus ascended into heaven. In the Gospel, Luke tells us that they worshipped Him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. In Acts, Luke tells us that when Jesus rose into heaven, they stood there staring into the sky. While they were looking up, “two men stood by them in white clothing, who also said, ‘You men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who was received up from you into the sky will come back in the same way as you saw him going into the sky.’” In one story, the disciples worshipped Jesus and went joyfully to wait for His promise. In the second story, they stood gaping at what they had seen, unmoving perhaps because they are unsure of what they should do next. Some might call this a contradiction, but it is the reality of our faith in Christ. We joyfully worship and wait, but we also wonder and worry. We know Christ and His promises, but we aren’t sure of what it means.
You would think by this time the disciples would fully understand what Jesus taught and what God intended for them. Yet, as Jesus was about to leave they still asked, “Lord, are you now restoring the kingdom to Israel?” Jesus reminded them that it is not for them to know the times or dates. This is why the disciples always looked at the mission of the church as urgent. The coming of Christ was, to them, an imminent event. There was no time to wait.
Jesus told the disciples to stay in Jerusalem until they received the power of the Holy Spirit. In the scriptures it seems as though Jesus had taught them everything they would need to know, but they needed the Holy Spirit to be able to accomplish the work. The Spirit would give them the gifts, the authority and the power to continue Jesus’ work in the world. So, they stayed in Jerusalem and waited.
That’s what it is like in the Kingdom of God; Christian faith means urgently waiting. Over the past few weeks we have seen images of heaven in our scriptures. We have seen the New Jerusalem, the river of living water and the Tree of Life. We have seen God’s grace and magnificence. We have seen the time when our tears will no longer fall and when we will never know sickness or pain. It is worth waiting for heaven, but that’s the hard part. How do we live in this paradox between urgency and patience? How do we continue to watch for the coming of Christ while also living in His presence in this world?
We long for the day for God’s promises to be ultimately fulfilled; we are anxious for the day when all the faithful will join in the heavenly worship for eternity. There is no time to spare, but we’ve waited for two thousand years. We are reminded by the lives of the disciples that we are not to be passive as we wait. God has given us gifts to share His love, grace and forgiveness with the world so that all will believe. Though we’ve waited for two thousand years, our mission is as immediate as it was in the days of those first disciples. Now is the time. Today is the day. Amen, Come Lord Jesus.
“This is the message which we have heard from him and announce to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him and walk in the darkness, we lie, and don’t tell the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ, his Son, cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us the sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we haven’t sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” 1 John 1:5-10, WEB
It seems like nearly every day we hear a story about someone from the past that is revealed so that they and the work they did will be removed from the record. Statues are being removed because the subject had a bad reputation, even if they accomplished great things for the nation. Celebrities are rejected because they have been accused of horrific things. Political candidates are accused of having skeletons in their closets. The accusations are often based only on rumors, and those rumors are often untrue. However, once something is said it is never forgotten. The accusations often become part of their story even when they are not true. False claims and rumors have ruined the lives, reputations and careers of too many people. Sometimes the stories are true.
One of the hardest lessons we have to learn is that people, especially those we trust, are not perfect. We have to ask ourselves whether we should hold past sins against anyone, and we should never let anyone’s sin be the reason we reject their work in this world. The reality is that we are all sinners in need of a Savior. We all make mistakes. Some of them are huge. Some are miniscule. It doesn’t matter the size, we are all imperfect. Even in faith we are going to sin; it is part of our nature since the beginning of time. We try to live more Christ-like lives, but we will fall.
We demand perfection from others, but it is important for us to look in the mirror. Eternal life comes to those who recognize their sin and turn to the Lord for salvation. It is by His power and grace that we will inherit the life of blessedness, a life in an eternal relationship with God our Father. We may have to hold others accountable for their actions of their past, but let’s always remember that God’s grace is for them, too. All who acknowledge their sin and confess their need for forgiveness will walk in fellowship with Jesus Christ forever, including us. We may not always know the hearts of those who are accused, but we are reminded that we share their sinfulness. We need to confess our sin to God, to look to Christ for forgiveness, and to embrace the transformation of the Holy Spirit in our lives who will make us grow in maturity as we walk in faith each day.