This reading is one of those that cause the pastor to enter the pulpit with some fear. The topic involves divorce and adultery. The problem is that quite a few people gathered will be divorced; the pastor might be too. While those having remarried could be fully blessed, the sin of adultery still hangs in the air. So how can we hear good news from this lesson? Especially, since the reading has so often been used as a mallet to hammer down the law.
As usual, we start from the perspective of power. Those days men had the power and women didn’t have it. Children? They had even less. One line of thinking held that a man could simply dismiss his wife with a slip of paper. No valid reason really was needed. The man had the power to do as he willed. The woman was often left destitute. This is how power works. It determines those who win and those who lose.
Jesus was challenged on this thinking about divorce. Really, the goal wasn’t to learn his belief as it was about trying to trick him in his words. Jesus said that Moses gave permission for divorce because of our ‘hardness of heart.’ Hardness of heart is essentially our determination to force life and relationships to fit under our power or control. So we physically abuse, emotionally abuse, withdraw, deny, intimidate, threaten, restrict, etc., in order to have dominion over the other. This struggle over who has the power and the consequences, is not what God had intended from the beginning.
From the beginning, the two are one flesh. They aren’t divided. They aren’t lopsided. They are one. We marry for love. However, we can also marry for power. We marry for lust. We marry for prestige. We marry for wealth. We marry for the ‘trophy’ at our shoulder. These latter reasons leave marriage as a transaction to serve our ‘hardness of heart.’ If we are going to treat marriage as hardly more than a transaction, then what we are doing is little more than adultery.
Jesus said that to enter the kingdom of heaven is to enter it as a child. The kingdom of heaven is the realm and rule of God. Do you want to enter into such a kingdom? Then be like a child. Remember, children were the ones with little or no power. Leave the quest for power and dominion at the door. Want the blessing God had intended for marriage from the beginning? Leave behind the ‘hardness of heart’ to control. Enjoy the oneness God wanted us to have in life.
Jesus was tough in this reading. He told Peter to basically, “Shut Up!” He talked about being rejected…suffering…a cross…and death. He will be ashamed of those ashamed of him and his teaching in what Jesus called this “adulterous and sinful generation.” Jesus warned of losing our life – our essence of who we are – in this generation. The warning about losing our life is that once it is lost, how will we get it back? Imagine the cost? Is it even possible? Jesus’ words were hard to hear.
The reading began with Jesus asking the disciples a very simple question about his identity. They gave the various answers that people were wondering about him. Then, Peter blurted out that Jesus was the Messiah. Peter was correct but Jesus wanted his identity to be kept secret – at least for now. When Jesus started to talk about suffering and death, Peter tried to shut him down. There was a strong belief in a coming Messiah. The Messiah would judge the world “adulterous and sinful.” Then, the Messiah would raise up Israel to a place of glory and power. Nobody imagined a Messiah suffering and dying a horrible death on a cross. This was the belief that Peter grew up learning and to which he gave over his life. So when Peter challenged Jesus’ teaching, Jesus shut him down and called Peter’s actions satanic.
A big challenge to being Christian is how the world tries to put us into a category. Are we liberal, conservative, Democrat or Republican Christians? Each category has its own set of priorities and demands placed upon us. Each category seeks to exert its power and reach over others. Each category calls us to hand over our life to further its goals. Peter held to the beliefs of his Jewish upbringing and when he tried to force them upon Jesus, the response was being called satanic. If we traded places with Peter and tried to exert our views upon Jesus, I think he’d respond the same to us. Why? Regardless of political opinions the goal is the same: power. Power as defined by this “adulterous and sinful generation.”
Jesus came with a different understanding. He gave his life over not to the vying powers of that day. He gave his life over for a dying world to live. He gave his life over not to prop up one of the world’s powers but to establish the reign of God.
Jesus words of taking up a cross and following him, call out to us today. The cross isn’t a piece of jewelry. The cross is a dramatic challenge placed upon where we are giving over our lives. The cross for us is telling the world to “Shut Up!” So that we may give our life over to the Lord who alone brings life even through a horrible cross.
Jesus warned about handing over our life to the power of the world. If we do, how will we get our life back? Imagine the cost. Jesus showed the cost by living it out for us.
Tomorrow many of us will go to a worship service. Some of us will go with specific burdens such as a bad diagnosis, a marriage in trouble, a guilt that needs forgiveness. Jesus did invite us to bring our burdens to him. His compassionate invitation is a gift from God that goes far beyond our capacity to imagine. The rest of us might come with expectations for the service. The music staff will provide dynamic music. The pastor’s sermon will be engaging and winsome. Jesus will naturally work along side us to build the kingdom. Bringing our burdens is a gift; bringing our expectations is a different matter.
The reading is the very familiar feeding of the 5000. The crowd was coming because they saw the miraculous signs that Jesus had performed with the sick. Jesus asked the disciples how are they going to feed all those people and they didn’t have a clue. All they could find was a boy with five barley loaves and a couple fish (the meal of a poor peasant). However in God’s abundance, there was more than enough. Jesus fed all five thousand with a surplus of twelve baskets full. The imagery of God feeding manna to ancient Israel during the exodus couldn’t be ignored. Here was God with them in the flesh but expectations got in the way. They wanted to make him king by force, if necessary. Who wouldn’t want God to be king and give us our hearts desire? Jesus withdrew from them. He was not going to be king of a glorious kingdom built up by human demands. His kingship was going to be about God’s abundance as a gift. The difference between the two is huge.
Some of us will attend worship as a gift tomorrow. The burdens will find their proper place in God’s grace. Our emptiness of soul will be filled by Christ to last for what is eternal life. The feeding of the 5000 was a sign for us. As with all signs, it points to what lies beyond the present. Jesus is that bread of life. God is our sustenance. The problem with our expectations is that no matter how good the music or entertaining the sermon, it will never be enough. We’ll always want more.
Tomorrow, let worship be the gift it is intended to be and let God feed you for eternal life
Throughout life, we end up asking much from God. We ask for healing, success in our efforts, relief from life’s anxious times, more followers on social media, victory against our foes, the list goes on and on. Our requests focus often on the here and now. They are defined so much by cultural expectations and immediate needs that we don’t comprehend what Jesus Christ brings with the kingdom of God.
The reading is a sandwich of two healing stories. A young girl was seriously ill and her father (Jairus – a leader in the synagogue) fell at Jesus’ feet and begged for him to come and heal her. A crowd pressed upon Jesus looking to be witnesses of Jesus’ healing powers. Along the way, healing flowed from him to a woman having touched his cloak among all the others.
The woman had been left destitute in her efforts to be healed from the hemorrhages for which she had suffered the past twelve years. She simply wanted to be healed so she could function normally in life. Jesus gave her more. The hemorrhages left her unclean to stand before God and even be touched by others. Yes, she was healed when she touched the edge of his clothing. She was unnamed but Jesus called her “daughter.” She had lived a tough life but Jesus gave to her the blessing of peace.
While this was going on, Jairus was still begging for Jesus to heal his daughter. Then word arrived that Jairus’ daughter had died and so there was no reason for Jesus to come. Jesus said to Jairus, the leader of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” The mourning had begun when they arrived and Jesus commented that she was only sleeping. The mourners laughed at him. Then Jesus took her hand and said, “Little girl, get up!” She got up from her death bed to the obvious amazement of the mourners.
Both stories tell of Jesus giving more than what was being asked of him. An unnamed woman was given a new title and restored not just to normal life but to stand before God as a daughter. Jairus was privileged to witness with his own daughter more than a healing. He was allowed to see the power of God extending beyond the limitations of this life.
The reading ends with Jesus ordering that what had just happened should not be told. This seems ridiculous. Why wouldn’t Jesus want the news of his abilities to be known? Raising Jairus’ daughter from the dead would be great advertising. This is the point. He was more than a traveling healer. He came to give us more – the kingdom of God.
Jesus had been busy. He had healed a man with a withered hand. A good deed. Unfortunately, Jesus did this on the Sabbath and in the synagogue. The synagogue was a place for worship and apparently not to heal broken bodies. The Sabbath was a time for rest and apparently not to heal broken bodies. The nice folk didn’t approve of Jesus upending their neatly constructed lives. The Pharisees met with supporters of Herod to destroy Jesus.
Actually, Jesus had been doing a lot of healing in that region. People with withered hands and diseases approved as they smothered around him hoping to at least touch him. Demons fell at his feet as he cast them out (Jesus sternly ordered them to not reveal his identity) . Yes, Jesus had been busy showing that the reign of God was definitely with him. He sent out the disciples to spread that good news with the power to cast out the demons as well.
Jesus returned to his home town and the crowds continued to gather. His family tried to restrain him because folks were saying that he was out of his mind. You know, crazy. Scribes came down from Jerusalem and diagnosed him as being possessed by Beelzebul because he was casting out demons. Now none of those people would be against a man with a withered hand being healed. They just didn’t want the healing to interfere with worship observances. None of the scribes would be against casting out demons. The problem with Jesus casting out demons was that his actions pointed out the evil that lived among them. Who wants to face that reality? Anyone challenging our convenient worship ways…anyone naming the evil that has found a home in our neatly manicured lives is going to get push back. Big time.
Jesus responded to the absurdity of the scribes’ accusations. Any kingdom that is divided will not last. Satan casting out Satan is a complete contradiction. No. Someone more powerful than Satan is now present and Satan’s kingdom is being routed. Jesus is that someone. Whoever says that Jesus’ actions were in league with the devil are uttering a blasphemy against the Holy Spirit that simply can’t be forgiven.
The reading ends with Jesus’ family still calling out to him, trying to control his craziness. He pointed out to those around him saying that they who do the will of God are his family. If doing the things Jesus did causes us to be called “out of our minds,” then we should all be so crazy.
This past week had Ascension Day. The day when the church celebrates the ascension of the risen Jesus to the “right hand of the Father.” A few churches still formerly recognize the day with a dedicated worship service. However, it has largely been passed over due to busy middle of the week schedules. The unfortunate result is that the church is passing by the calling that Jesus gave it. Yes, we know that the church is to spread the Gospel but what exactly does this mean for us and others?
Jesus had finished explaining to the disciples that his death and resurrection were the fulfillment of the Scriptures. Also, our being empowered by the Holy Spirit was part of the fulfillment too. Just before he blessed them and ascended, Jesus gave these instructions,
repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.Luke 24:47
The nation of Israel had been defeated a long time ago. No, Jesus wasn’t going to “make Israel great again” as so many had dreamed. (You can substitute any other nation, state, company, person, etc). His death and resurrection was for the salvation of the world and not to play winners/losers as part of our political power games. The early church was under a ruling power whose leaders were not reluctant to claim divinity or put down dissent with crucifixion. Again, Jesus’ death and resurrection were not to simply switch sides over who got to use abuse and personal glory to maintain power.
“Repentance and forgiveness” is all about freedom. Freedom in Jesus’ name is to go in a different direction. Jesus’ mission was about release and liberation (Luke 4:18-19). So when he told them to proclaim repentance and forgiveness, Jesus was telling us to give others the freedom to go in a different way. A way that was different from making Israel great again. A way that abandoned worship for rulers. A way that did not include using violence and killing to keep power.
As long as a few have the wealth and power while everybody else is put in their place to keep the status quo, then the church has a mission. As long as laws are written to the advantage of some and disadvantage to others, then the church has a mission. As long as some feel they have the right to abuse others of a different race or sex, then the church has a mission.
Jesus stated that his work was liberation and freedom. This is the mission he gave us to do. We have a lot of work ahead of us.
A couple weeks have now passed since Easter. Eventually, we get around to asking the question, “What now?” The news of Christ’s victory over death is fantastic! So how does that news translate to today? Do we go back to life as usual with jobs, soccer games, lawn mowing and Facebook? What is the day of Resurrection saying to us?
The risen Jesus met up with two travelers on the way to Emmaus. They didn’t recognize Jesus until he broke bread with them. Then he disappeared. The two travelers ran to the disciples and told the news of seeing the risen Jesus. All of a sudden, Jesus stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” They thought he was a ghost.
The idea of an existence after death was nothing new. A common philosophy then (as well as today) was the body was limited and bad. The soul was eternal and good. Death meant the soul being set free from its bondage. A resurrected body would have seemed rather disgusting to such a philosophy. So when Jesus appeared, he made it clear he wasn’t a ghost. Ghosts don’t have bones, flesh and scars. He ate some food to prove his physical nature. Jesus went on to explain that his risen presence before them was a fulfillment of what had been written in the Law of Moses, Prophets and Psalms.
We state that Jesus’ life, death and resurrection was the result his great love for us – this is absolutely true. His resurrection also declares that creation (declared good by God) would not be left to rot under the weight of our sin. The resurrection means that creation is being made new and restored to its goodness, no longer subject to decay and death.
After a couple thousand years, the opening question returns “What now?” Jesus said this to the disciples,
“Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.”Luke 24:46-48
Repentance and forgiveness are necessary for relationships to flourish. We all know this from personal experience. Yes, it is important to hear it announced that our sins are forgiven and of our relationship with God. Yet, the risen Jesus had a physical body. Creation has not been abandoned. Everyday we learn of another mass shooting…Everyday the debasing of those from a different political perspective or race is heard…Everyday creation is subject to pollution and decay for no other reason than profit margin… Everyday we need to repent of our complicity of all the above so that forgiveness and relationships may once again be restored to goodness. This is what we do in light of the resurrection. This is the “What now?” as we wait for the work of resurrection to be completed in Christ.
Growing up, Easter was never something I considered scary. The day included going to worship with the church building filled with one Easter lily after another. We had ham for dinner. Family gatherings were the norm. We ate lots of chocolate bunnies…lots of chocolate. The message that the risen Christ’s victory over death was wonderfully good news. This wasn’t scary. So this Easter, we read about women encountering the reality of the resurrection first hand at the tomb of Jesus. Their response was fleeing the tomb with fear and silence.
A week ago, the reading left Jesus’ lifeless body being buried. In him, God had taken upon himself our lies, our injustice, our abuse, our remedy for all trouble causers – death. Jesus put all our sin to death on the cross with him. So when some women went to the tomb with spices for Jesus’ body, the tomb was open and the body was gone. A young man dressed in white told them that the risen Jesus was not where death ruled. Told to tell the news to Peter and the other disciples, they fled and said nothing because they were afraid.
Why the fear? Jesus’ resurrection was the start of God establishing his reign over us and creation. So what does this mean for us? Our grab for power and glory – condemned. Our use of disinformation (lies) to further our goals – condemned. Our ease of denying each other the justice due a child of God – condemned. The casual approach to kill those with whom we disagree or see as opposition – condemned. The very things we surrender our lives for power and glory stand condemned in light of Jesus’ resurrection. God’s kingdom has begun. Everything we know has changed. A new world is at hand, no longer corrupted, defiled or subject to death.
Jesus’ ministry announced that the kingdom of God was at hand. He brought healing to the sick. Wholeness of life to the outcast. Abundance given to the poor and needy. Jesus’ resurrection was God’s declaration that his ministry was how the kingdom of God was to be perceived and made welcome. So when the sick are denied care, we allow hate and prejudice to fill our hearts and the needy are rejected, we stand condemned. This is scary.
This is not the end of the story. The reading also tells us the women were amazed. Amazement is a great description for Easter. The ultimate power of death is broken. A new day has begun with all creation on the way to being restored to wholeness. The neighbor no longer held bound and enslaved will be fully set free. This wonderful news isn’t reserved for some future day, it is for us now. In Jesus risen, God’s reign has begun now. It is at work now among us. This isn’t really scary. It is world changing. It truly is amazing.
This is called Palm Sunday as we join in praise with those welcoming Jesus as a conquering king. This is called Passion Sunday as we join with those unjustly calling for his death. So how can today be two very different days? The two points may seem contradictory but in reality it is not because Jesus’ identity has changed. We have changed. We are two sided. The reading includes Jesus being put on trial by the powers of that day. Yet, in reality, we are the ones being judged by God. We and the world created by our hands has been put on trial. We were not innocent then nor are we innocent now. Our lives of injustice, abuse, debasing of others betray us.
The title begins, ‘Our Hate.’ Hate is the operative word and exposes what is going on around us. Oh sure, none of us claims to hate anyone. Yet the past couple years display the nature of how we look down upon and deny others their rights as created in the image of God. We fear “them” and so we lash out violently. We fear loss of power and so a mob invades the halls of congress. We fear the loss of privilege and so the rules are changed to protect what we have created for our benefit. Black Lives Matter is the outpouring from a long time of justice denied. Violence against the Asian community spiked beyond the usual because of anger at Covid-19.
There is no sugar coating this day. If we fail to honestly look at ourselves and how we recognize others and how we treat them, then we are minimizing what happened on that day of crucifixion and what led up to it. Jesus’ trial exposed our lies, deceit, acceptance of the innocent suffering, the mockery, protecting our position of advantage at the expense of others, etc. If we won’t look carefully at ourselves then we are admitting that what happened then is still acceptable today. The week ahead isn’t to be glossed over to prepare for Easter family events. This week is to examine how “hate” has taken hold of us just like back then. How we perpetuate it and allow it to continue.
The second part of the title is “God’s Response.” God’s response to our hate is found in Jesus Christ. In him, God entered into our humanity…our flesh and blood. In him, God took upon himself our denial of justice, acceptance of lies, violence against those different, etc and put it all to death on his cross. He put it all to death on his cross. This is love.
So this day leaves us at a crossroad. Will we glide through Holy Week comfortable with lives lived out in “our hate?” Or, will we put “our hate” where it belongs and that is on the cross of Jesus Christ? The reading ends with the lifeless body of Jesus laid to rest in a tomb. The world’s “hate” has done its work once again. However, God is not done responding which is for next week.
These days we are constantly being forced to choose sides. The casualties of lost friends and divided family is a heavy heartache. The desire might be to find a happy middle ground because what is happening is painful. Yet, the times are a “winner take all” situation. You are either good or bad. You are either light or darkness. So how do we know the category into which we find ourselves? It all depends on whose ideology you agree with. If you agree, then you are light. If you don’t, you are darkness. The gospel reading has Jesus teaching that God loves the world (cosmos). Surely we can find middle ground here, right?
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.John 3:16-17
John 3:16 has been called the Gospel reduced down to a single sentence. The emphasis is on love, God’s love. Without it, there would be no hope. God’s love extends to more than just us or this planet but to the entire cosmos. God’s love is for all creation. Jesus lifted up on the cross is for us all to recognize the enormity of that love and the extreme depth of our darkness.
A couple points to highlight. Eternal life is more than an endless number of mornings to get up and do what we want for the day. Eternal life is a quality and way of life that conforms to the ways of God which is endless. Belief is far more than agreeing with a few talking points. Belief is abiding in Christ Jesus which is doing the things he did and following the ways he taught.
In God’s amazing love for the cosmos, he gave us Jesus so that we would have the light that brings life to endlessly flourish. We nailed Jesus to a cross. This is our darkness. The light of God’s love would not be covered up in a tomb. Jesus was raised.
Jesus talked about loving light or darkness. His perspective isn’t about political power, winning and losing, or oppressing others for our benefit. Loving the light is to live in a way that conforms to him because his is a life that is eternal. How will we live in that light today?