An Evasive Jesus? John 10:22-30

These days it seems as though nothing is solid and clear answers are illusive. The recent leak regarding the Supreme Court’s possible overturning of Roe v. Wade has thrown the country’s understanding of reproductive health and control into turmoil. What will this mean in practice? How will this affect other areas of life once considered ‘rights?’ The stock market has been riding a wild roller coaster of down…up…and wildly down again. Where is the economy heading? Are we in a recession? Nope. Nothing seems very solid right now. After the past couple years of Covid-19 which doesn’t go away, stability would be greatly appreciated for life to be manageable.

The Gospel of John has the Jews coming to Jesus with what seems a very reasonable question. Is Jesus the long awaited Messiah or isn’t he? The things Jesus was doing are the kind of miraculous actions that only God can do. If Jesus is of God then lets get about the business of creating the kingdom of God on earth (at least what we think it should be). Yet, Jesus seems to defy Scripture by healing a person on the Sabbath (at least our interpretation of Scripture). If Jesus is only a sinner then we had best move on. Come on Jesus, give a clear and solid answer. Unfortunately, Jesus didn’t give one…or did he?

Jesus had already given them the answer they sought but they wouldn’t believe. He started talking about sheep which are acutely in tune with their shepherd’s voice. Jesus has been speaking but we simply haven’t been listening. He wasn’t being evasive. Jesus didn’t fit into the categories being forced upon him then or which we continue to force upon him now. His messiah-ship wasn’t about enhancing corporate profits, investment strategies or about exerting political will over others. The problem is that our hearing is more acutely tuned to the voices that are not of God.

Jesus said that he gives eternal life. We think this means an endless number of days to live but eternal life is so much more than we can imagine. Eternal life is a quality of life, a way of life, that is found in God. Since this life is found in God, it too is endless as God is endless. Jesus gave the assurance that this kind of life won’t be taken away from us.

In these tumultuous days, clear and solid answers would be a welcome relief. The Jews tried to force an answer from Jesus but he didn’t fit either option. We may consider ourselves more sophisticated but forcing an answer from Jesus gives the same result. We have a hearing problem. We are attuned to the world’s voices but Jesus is also speaking. His invitation is to listen to what he said and to listen to the witness of the things he did. In the end, we’ll have an answer that couldn’t be more clear.

Peace.

Jesus and Leadership John 21:1-19

Go to any bookstore or search eBook collections and you’ll discover that there is no shortage of books on the topic of leadership. So you would think that humanity has this leadership stuff figured out. The qualities of great leadership are obvious to each of us when we see it on display, for sure. True leadership is decisive and unwavering. True leadership is strength showing no weakness. Charisma? Absolutely! Yet, when looking at the leadership of this world the headlines show what is deceptive, abuse of power, intimidation, grift, scandal, spin and rallies among adoring followers. Jesus shows a different understanding of leadership for those called to be leaders for his church. The world could learn a thing or two and much more.

The Gospel of John gives us a glimpse of life with the disciples shortly after the resurrection. Peter decided that he was going fishing and several other disciples joined him. They toiled all night but their nets were empty. Jesus on the shoreline told them to fish on the other side of the boat and the nets were so full they couldn’t pull them into the boat. Now, the disciples knew all about fishing. Jesus’ advise for them to try the other side wasn’t about their ignorance regarding fishing. The disciples were only successful when they listened and obeyed Jesus. Yes, we have lots of books about leadership. However leadership in the church is defined by listening and obeying Jesus. The world should again take notice.

The disciples dragged the nets full of fish to the shoreline where Jesus fed them breakfast. Then Jesus confronted Peter. During Jesus’ trial, three times Peter denied knowing and having any association with Jesus. Here Jesus asked Peter if he loved him for each of these three. This had to be agonizing for Peter to be confronted by what he had done. Yet for each declaration of love for Jesus, Peter was given three instructions: feed my lambs, tend my sheep and feed my sheep. Jesus placed Peter into the position of leadership but it wasn’t about being a star with celebrity status or hanging out with the politically powerful to bask in their glory. The role of leadership Jesus gave to Peter was to care for the well being of those entrusted to him.

The reading ends with Jesus telling Peter that one day his hands would be bound with him being led to a place he didn’t want to go. This was a way of telling Peter that he would not have a peaceful death but a violent one. This would be a consequence of the leadership given to him.

Yes, we have lots of books available to read on the topic of leadership but I think it would be safe to say that few envision a leadership dedicated to the caring for the well being of others and being willing to go where we don’t want to be. So lets take a moment to dream. Lets imagine a world where leaders tended solely to the needs of the people and had the courage to go where they didn’t want to be. The world would be a different place. Actually, it would begin to be a reflection of the Kingdom of God.

Peace

The Song of Faith Luke 1:39-55

This season of the year is filled with great music. Yes, we bemoan Christmas music blaring over shopping store speakers in October. Yet the music is in us. We can’t seem to help singing our favorite carols in the privacy of the car. Perhaps we hum a stanza or two at the office desk. This is a great time for the music of Christmas. In tune or not, we sing out unabashedly. We simply can’t help ourselves. The music is in us. All the way to our souls.

This is the Fourth Sunday of Advent. The reading turns to Mary. She is singing what is the song of faith. The words aren’t about Santa, Rudolf or even Little Drummer Boys. The words are about what God has done for her and the implications for the world. These implications aren’t that God will make us great again, or that we will be powerful, or that the world will look to us in awe, or that our cultural preferences will be established as dominate over others. The song of faith Mary sung from the depths of her soul was not about what we deem of value.

Mary’s song of faith was how God had embarrassed the boastful claim of our lie filled wisdom, brought down those walking the marbled halls of power and filled the soul with what corporate tax breaks won’t satisfy. God shunned these to choose her – a young Jewish woman under Roman oppression and from a town not even worthy of a modern day stop sign. The child she would soon give birth would bring salvation which wasn’t some far off event: the day of the Lord when the reign of God is fully established. Salvation is in the here and now whenever the lies and power and wealth are also shunned for what Jesus embodied.

Mary’s song of faith was about what God has done, is currently doing and will yet accomplish in the child she was carrying. The joy empowering her lungs was that the Lord had chosen her, one of the world’s lowly to bring such a blessing.

So much great music this time of year! What song carries the faith that fills the depth of your soul? Sing it loud!

Peace

“Lets go Brandon” and Jesus the King John 18:33-37

“Lets go Brandon,” was chanted by those in attendance at a conference hosted by Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, Texas. If you aren’t familiar with “Lets go Brandon,” it is a vulgar euphemism against President Biden. It should also be noted that Pastor Matt Hagee has since apologized for the church hosting the event.

So what do we make of all of this? The Twitter posts ranged from supporting people expressing their political beliefs to condemnation toward the church for allowing such an event to happen on their property. Division is nothing new to anyone. Unfortunately, division has also become a part of the church. Covid has made the division all the worse as politics has been carried into the pew. We are now vaccinated and anti-vaccination Christians. We are pro-mask and anti-mask Christians. We seem to be driven by politics more than anything else these days. The question still remains of what do we do when the faith becomes driven by politics?

This Sunday is called Christ the King Sunday. The end of the church year has come and Jesus Christ is declared King. Jesus is not shown sitting on a royal throne but is standing before Pilate in judgement. Pilate is interrogating Jesus to find out the truth of him being a rival king and threat to Rome. Jesus’ response was very interesting. He said,

Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” 34Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” 35Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” 36Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here. 37Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”

John 18:33-37

If Jesus’ kingdom was from this world his followers would fight. They would also slander, insult, shout out “Lets go Brandon”, argue, bicker, lie, divide, kill and anything else granting them the goal of power. These are the ways of the world’s kingdoms. Jesus’ kingdom is not how the world behaves and his followers are to be different as well.

Jesus also said he came to testify to the truth which isn’t hard to understand. The false accusations, mockery and his unjust crucifixion reveal all we need to know about the world. Listening to his voice, the truth becomes obvious.

Christ the King Sunday has come and Jesus the King is portrayed by John as being judged by the world. However, the powers of the world end up being judged instead and the verdict isn’t kind. Jesus’ kingdom offers a far different reality from the kingdoms of this world. So when we are being divided we need to remember what Jesus came to testify: the truth.

Peace

Jesus and Divorce Mark 10:2-16

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.

Peace.

Is Jesus Crazy? Mark 3:20-35

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.

Peace.

Resurrection, Scars and Ghosts Luke 24:36-48

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.

Peace

Easter, Scary or Amazing? Mark 16:1-8

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.

Peace

Our Hate and God’s Response Mark 15:1-47

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.

Peace.

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.