Loving Light or Darkness John 3:14-21

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?

Peace.

Selling Out Mark 8:31-38

This Sunday reading is striking when read in contrast to daily events. Namely, how the Christian faith is being played out in those events. Christian symbols were on display at the capital riot on January 6. Right-wing extremists are incorporating the faith in their propaganda. This past week an open letter was sent out by over two hundred religious leaders denouncing the linking of the faith with white nationalism. So how do these items relate to the reading from Mark? Quite simply, Peter was urging Jesus to sell out.

Jesus just had a conversation with the disciples about his identity. Peter got the answer correct by calling Jesus the Messiah. The disciples knew what this meant for them and the rest of Israel. The messiah would restore the nation. This could only mean the power, wealth, control, glory, etc., as God’s favored nation. Yet, Jesus ordered them to keep this news quiet.

Jesus began talking about the inevitability of his death. Peter called him on such a teaching. The Messiah would live and not die. Then Jesus gave the damning rebuke,

“Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

Mark 8:33

Jesus bringing the kingdom and the world’s power were on a collision course. One was going to bring death. One was going to bring about the resurrection. Jesus would not ‘sell out’ for the world’s power. Jesus then gave a challenge to Peter, the rest of the disciples and to us as well.

What have we really gained if we have power, wealth, control, glory, etc., but had to sell out to get it? Is life really that cheap? Jesus’ insistence on bringing the kingdom to us shows that life matters. Our life matters. Life is valuable and needs to be kept for the kingdom where Jesus is Messiah and where through him the dead are raised.

So the Christian faith finds itself in daily events. It is being used to support extremism, white nationalism and the vain grasp for political power. Jesus’ refusal to give into Peter’s challenge shows what is valuable: our place, our lives, in the kingdom of God. Anything else just isn’t worthy.

Peace

Seeing Jesus In A New Light Mark 9:2-9

Today is the Sunday of the Transfiguration. The season of Epiphany draws to an end. The beginning of Lent is about to start. The vision of Jesus transfigured in glory was a blessing that Peter, James and John were allowed to see. The presence of Elijah, Moses and the voice of God speaking from a cloud left no doubt that they were standing in the light of Divinity. Even though frightened, little wonder that they wanted to build three dwelling places for this moment to continue. Perhaps some jealousy rises to have a glimpse of what they witnessed. The great challenge for us is to look upon Jesus in the light of Mark’s witness and not from our personal/political agendas.

Context is so important. The verses prior to the transfiguration has Jesus teaching that to follow him meant putting aside our personal agendas to follow him. He spoke of taking up a cross if we are going to be his disciples and follow him. This isn’t easy to do. The vision we so often see of Jesus is the Lord who will restore the fortunes of our nation allowing us to maintain position of privilege. We see him giving us the power to shape the political landscape. Once more, this is for our gain. If we want to capture the vision of Jesus’ glory, Mark says that we must do so from the perspective of those putting to death our desire for personal or nationalistic glory.

The voice of God from the cloud was speaking to us, the church.

This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!

Mark 9:7

What was it that Jesus had to say? He ordered silence of what was seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. The next verses have Jesus coming down from the mountain to set free a boy possessed by an evil spirit. A vision of Jesus’ glory is properly seen by what he sacrificed to rescue his world from evil. His glory is seen through the lens of a cross and the resurrection.

The title was about seeing Jesus in a new light. This isn’t easy because we are always projecting onto Jesus what we want to see. Namely, our own vision of glory and power. Mark is being very clear that to see a vision of Christ’s glory means putting this vision to death – a cross. Jesus’ glory comes through a cross and resurrection as he came to set the world free. This is where the transfigured Lord is sending the church. That is, if we are willing to listen to him.

Peace.

Authoritative Speech Mark 1:21-28

These days with Twitter, Facebook, etc., etc., etc., there is no shortage of voices for us to hear representing the entire political spectrum. The big question to ask, is by what authority do they speak? Also, why do we grant them the authority to speak for us and command our attention? Does the authority arise from a charismatic personality? Does it offer easy answers to complex problems that we really don’t want to work on in life? Does authority come from affirming our cultural biases, racial fears or political leanings? What is authoritative speech?

Jesus entered a synagogue and began teaching. The people were astounded by how Jesus taught with authority unlike the scribes. A second response came from a man with an unclean spirit outing Jesus as “Jesus of Nazareth” and “Holy One of God.” What was an evil spirit doing in the synagogue? The text doesn’t say but it could be a reference to the scribes. Anyway, Jesus commanded silence from and cast the unclean spirit out. The people were amazed at the authority of Jesus’ words over the unclean.

What made Jesus’ words have authority was that they spoke directly to the unclean in their midst. The scribes knew the Scriptures inside and out. My suspicion is they used the Scriptures to support the status quo and overlook the unclean spirit that resides in our human institutions, even the synagogue (church). Jesus spoke directly to the unclean and called it out. His word had authority.

Before us is the option to choose what is going to speak with authority to us. Will we opt for the words that allow the unclean to still remain? Will we hear the word from Jesus that calls out the unclean? If we choose the latter then we need to be ready because the unclean won’t leave easily as the evil spirit sent the man into convulsions. Yet, this is the only way for us to know freedom that is heaven granted.

Jesus’ authority calls out the unclean in us. He calls out our prejudice toward others, the noose hung to intimidate, threats of violence to political foes, the lies and deception, the list is endless. The result will be like those in attendance that day in the synagogue, we will be amazed. We’ll know Jesus’ authority to see us free.

Peace.

Where Heaven and Earth Come Together John 1:43-51

These days I think it is really difficult to not have preconceived opinions about others. This past summer BLM put before us the challenge of how we look at each other and the prejudice we carry toward those of a different race. We have had to look at how justice or injustice is being served on the same criteria. Mention someone of a different political persuasion and automatically the label “liberal” or “radical,” is attached. In the Gospel of John, Jesus had invited Philip to follow him. Philip went to tell Nathaniel that he had found the one they had all been looking for, “Jesus of Nazareth.” How did Nathaniel respond, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Obviously, Nathaniel had some preconceived ideas about the value of people out of Nazareth. The same affliction plagued the people of that day and today as well.

Jesus said that Nathaniel was a person without “deceit,” and that he had seen Nathaniel under a fig tree before Jesus called out to him. Apparently, this was enough for Nathaniel to declare,

“Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”

John 1:49

How did Nathaniel jump from doubting Jesus, a person from Nazareth, to calling him “King of Israel?” Nathaniel’s reasoning isn’t described fully. However as a person without deceit, Nathaniel was a person who likely called reality as presented to him: a fact was a fact, truth was truth, etc. His encounter with Jesus caused his vision of reality to change in a dramatic way.

The reading from John concludes with Jesus saying,

Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.”  And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.

John 1:50-51

Jesus was telling that upon him heaven and earth have come together. He cited Jacob from the book of Genesis. Jacob was on the run from his past. Tired and exhausted, he laid down with a rock for a pillow and he saw the vision Jesus referenced. Jacob said,

“Surely the Lord was in this place but I did not know it”

Genesis 28:16

This is the indictment against us all. The Lord has come to us but we didn’t see the reality of it. Why? We have our preconceived ideas and prejudices that distort our reality. We are too busy with our politics. We are too set in our ways of understanding of how the world should work and the Lord’s involvement – toward my advantage. We are so busy with spin that we can no longer look at the facts for what they are. Yet, the Lord was and is in this place.

So how will we be able to recognize where heaven and earth come together? Follow the invitation that was given to Nathaniel, “Come and see.” Look at the things Jesus did: he invited the outcast, he brought healing to the sick, he lifted up those downtrodden and poor, he announced God’s favour to those hardly considered blessed by our standards. When and where grace has triumphed over power, look to see the Lord has come in that place.

The invitation to, “Come and See” is all that any of us can offer to others. All we do is invite others to do is come and see where heaven and earth come together.

Peace

A Word We Need Hear John 1:1-18

I love the snow. Folks look at me as though this is strange. The answer I usually give to their question “WHY?” is a simple “No allergies and no mosquitoes.” This response generally satisfies their question. This morning my love for the snow grows deeper for what it tells us. Where I live, the morning was greeted with a fresh covering of snow. The drab brown of dead grass and bare branches gave way to to a coating of white. The vision out the widow was simply, beautiful. A nice, fresh coating to start a new 2021 from a death filled and compassion barren 2020 was welcomed.

The opening verses from the Gospel of John are high Christology which tell us so much about Jesus Christ. Last week his birth was celebrated and today the reality of his coming has been described to us. The Word, the powerful expression of God has come to be with us. The living Word who brought creation into existence and to whom we owe our life has come to us. If we have any doubts about the nature of God, all we need to do is look upon Jesus and we’ll know the answer. The birth of Jesus means we are blessed in ways we truly cannot fully understand. God has come to be with us. This is grace upon grace.

The sadness of the reading is that we have been so blessed and we reject it. God has come to make beauty known and we refuse to see it. This is our darkness. Those who deny Christ are not those with a different political perspective. They aren’t those we condemn to make ourselves feel better or look more spiritual. The reading says the world did not recognize him and that means all of us. Grace and beauty have come in revealing God to us all and we collectively say, “No thanks.” We have chosen to live in the darkness we have made.

The reading from the Gospel of John isn’t about us. It is about the Word of God having come to live with us. We have been and continue to be blessed because of Jesus Christ. A new year began with the beauty of snow covering the drab brown of last year. The year, 2021, begins with the blessing of light that shines in our darkness. God has chosen to reveal himself to us in the Word, Jesus. Seeing the light for the blessing that it is, means we have the honour to be called a child of God. The year, 2020, was a difficult year but look at Jesus Christ and know that you have been blessed. Grace has come to 2021.

Peace.

Mary And The Call From God Luke 1:26-38

We have all heard the warning that if something is too good to be true it likely is untrue. Who hasn’t received an unsolicited email that immediately causes our doubts to flare up about its honesty? When greeted with, “Now, aren’t you the lucky one,” the desire is to head off in the other direction because we know that such greetings have a catch to them. Now don’t get me wrong, hearing good news is fabulous. However, the experience of life is that this good news doesn’t always come easily.

The angel, Gabriel, came to Mary with the announcement

Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.

Luke 1:28

The idea of being looked upon with favour in the eyes of God would be a blessing for anyone. Unfortunately, we assume that this will mean blessings as determined by this world: riches, power, success in business, celebrity status, etc. The prophets were favoured by God and they spoke with tears of sadness telling the people what was to come upon them. They were despised and killed by those not liking their message. The favoured of God needed to leave everything behind to travel to a land they did not know beforehand. The favoured of God wandered in a wilderness facing thirst and hunger for forty years. Being favoured by God is to know that the kingdom of heaven is on its way to us from the Lord. We need to remember that this kingdom that is coming from God is not of this world.

Mary was called by Gabriel as the favoured one of God and that the Lord was with her. She was invited to be a participant in the Lord establishing the kingdom. This was absolutely a reason to be blessed. Yet, her pregnancy would invite the shame of her community and culture. How would Joseph respond? Mary was told,

He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.

Luke 1:33

This means that a revolution was about to take place and they are bloody affairs. Mary heard the message that she was ‘favoured’ and that the Lord was with her. This was not going to be easy. Her response was to count her in,

Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.

Luke 1:38

This is the last Sunday in Advent and we are blessed to hear with anticipation the amazing news of what God was doing through the birth of Jesus to bring his kingdom to us. We are invited to welcome and participate in this blessing. The world is dealing with the politicization of a pandemic and people are dying. The land is facing power grabs with law suits and disinformation (lies). This is not how the kingdom of heaven functions over which Christ will reign without end. May we all have the courage to join with Mary as the blessed of the Lord saying, “let it be with me according to your word.”

Peace.

A Voice Crying Out In Our Wilderness Mark 1:1-8

The Gospel of Mark starts out with these words,

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

Mark 1:1

I like that it starts with those words. The good news of Jesus Christ isn’t reserved for some time in the past. The good news of Jesus Christ isn’t being set aside for some day in the future. We are told that the good news begins with Jesus Christ and that it continues on making it relevant for today as well. This year of 2020 is a year that we would all like to put behind us. The political turmoil, a raging pandemic and environmental impacts leave us with an urgent plea for good news to ring out, calling us to hope for today.

The reading cites Isaiah speaking of a voice calling out from the wilderness. The voice urges one and all to make the way for the coming of the Lord to be straight: take out the potholes and other obstacles in life that get in way. John the Baptist is presented as that voice. He wears clothing made from camel hair to bring to mind the prophet Elijah. He also ate a diet of honey and locusts which left him independent from others, except for his dependence upon God.

John the Baptist spoke from the wilderness and the people gathered from all around to hear him. The wilderness was a place considered inhospitable for people to live. Wild animals lived there and so did thieves and criminals. Demons dwelt there too. So why go out to such a place? The people had heard the speeches before from those living in mansions and places of political power but there was no good news to be heard, just the same old lines that kept the status quo. John the Baptist spoke in the wilderness news that was different. He told of the coming of one who will baptize not with mere water but with the Holy Spirit. The result is that we would be guided not by the edicts of the powerful but by God. Jesus was the one to whom John the Baptist pointed.

Jesus came preaching a word of liberation to those held unjustly in bondage by political systems. He fed the hungry and healed the sick: he paid special attention to the weakest of society. Jesus welcomed those cast aside by society. He spoke truth in the face of power. John the Baptist was that voice but he was pointing out to a greater voice; Jesus was and is the Word of God en-fleshed calling out to us in 2020’s wilderness which is good news to hear.

So what is John the Baptist telling us to do? He is telling us to repent. Repentance is more than simply saying that we are sorry. Repentance means to turns our lives around and take life in a different direction that Jesus lived out for us to see. Yes, we are living in 2020’s wilderness but a voice is calling out for us to take life on a new path. If we are willing to listen, then we’ll begin on a new journey that is good news for all in Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

Peace

Jesus and Taxes Matthew 22:15-22

Does anybody really enjoy paying taxes? As mid-April approaches, do any of us celebrate writing out a check to send off to the treasury? Are any of us filled with joy as another tax form needs to be filled out? Taxes are a part of life. So when Jesus is asked about paying taxes in the reading, the answer he gives is unexpected because he flips the narrative. Pharisees and Herodians were trying to trap Jesus in a political trap. In the end, Jesus exposes them for their own hypocrisy.

Pharisees and Herodians were on opposite sides of the political spectrum. Pharisees were against the Roman occupation and paying taxes was the equivalent of being considered a traitor. Herodians, as the name suggests, supported Herod who served at the leisure of Rome. So lets say a liberal Democrat and conservative Republican join forces to take someone down politically. Yeah, you get the picture. Something is about to happen and it doesn’t pass the smell test. A trap was being set.

Jesus was asked about the legality of paying taxes to Rome. If he said, “yes,” Jesus would be charged with betraying Israel and God. If he said, “no,” Jesus would be charged with sedition against Rome. How was Jesus going to respond? He trapped them in their hypocrisy.

Jesus asked for a coin. They had one readily available engraved with the image of the emperor. Owning the coin proved that they were fully involved with the economic realities of living in the Roman empire. Therefore, paying taxes was acceptable. However, God’s authority has a moral claim over our lives that cannot be negated by Rome. The answer Jesus gave was not the simple “yes” or “no” that they were hoping to hear and serve their political agenda. Life as a person of faith in this world is far more complicated than we imagine.

We live in a time where there is confusion over God and country. Do we merge the two together or keep them strictly separate? If we aren’t careful, then we are living out what the Pharisees and Herodians were trying to do with Jesus when he flipped the trap on them saying,

“Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

Matthew 22:21

There is a political claim that is made upon us because we live in this world. Yet, there is a claim that God has placed upon us as well. If we try to merge the two, we end up making the country into an idol. If we try to separate them, then one is chosen at the expense of the other. The answer Jesus gave about taxes seems to leave us in tension between the two.

The life of faith is not an easy one – nothing shocking here. So we are left with the great challenge of discernment. Where does the claim of politics begin and end? Where does God’s claim (as the One who gave us life) fit in? How we draw the lines is the way faith is lived.

Peace.

A Scandalous God Matthew 22:1-14

Have you ever thought of the Gospel as something that is scandalous? Normally, we call the Gospel “Good News.” It is because of what Christ has done for us through his death and resurrection. The Gospel is for us, salvation. So how can something that is so good for us be a scandal? It is scandalous for us to hear because God doesn’t follow our understanding of value, worth or importance. Instead, the Gospel destroys our false claims.

A king is throwing a wedding party (a symbol for salvation) for his son. Nobody responds. A second invitation is sent out but some of the invited guests were too busy with the farm or their business. They were too busy doing the things which we define as bestowing worth to a person. The king’s invitation is what graciously declared their importance in the kingdom but they refused. The other invited guests abused and killed the king’s messengers. They violently snubbed the king’s gracious invite. So what does a king do to those who snub his kindness? Naturally, he destroys them.

There needs to be a word of caution given here. If we aren’t careful, we end up taking one of Jesus’ parables about God’s kingdom and make them about supporting our claims for worthiness and power. The actions of the king can be used to justify violence (in God’s name) and anti-Semitic beliefs. Jesus was using this parable to illustrate the nature of God’s kingdom. He wasn’t reducing God to a tyrannical human king seeking vengeance for being snubbed.

Since none of the first invitees were willing to attend the party, the king sent out more servants to invite who ever they could find, good or bad. In the end, these folk had a valued place in the kingdom which exceeded those busy with farm, business or direct opposition could never attain. The kingdom of God is about and will always be about grace.

A curious point was made about a guest present at the party without a wedding robe. When asked, the guest gave no answer to why they were at the party and were then thrown out. The person didn’t comprehend the kindness and grace given by the king’s invitation.

So what do we do with this parable? We live in a crucial time when we are divided and the value of human worth is being debated. Black Lives Matter, immigration policy, suburb vs. inner city, rich vs. poor are all being played out as to who is worthy and who is not to be a part of this country and world. The violence being lived out today and as shown in the parable is how we choose to define our own value and worth.

Jesus told this parable as a way of describing the kingdom of God. We are important not because of our wealth or stubborn ideology. Value in the kingdom of God comes by God’s invitation. The invitation is sent out to all people. Therefore, all are the same.

So will we finally get this through our heads? Will we abandon our efforts to define ourselves by tyrannical force? Are we really going to let ourselves be on the outside looking in at the salvation God has invited us to in Christ? Or, are we going to let God be the one who defines us by that gracious and wonderful invitation to salvation?

Peace