What Now? John 17:1-11(12-26)

Memorial Day weekend has arrived but this doesn’t feel like much of a vacation. The death toll from Covid will be 100,000 in the next couple days. Stores are starting to reopen while others still remain closed because it isn’t worth the risk. Most people are wearing masks while a few defiantly refuse. Churches have become a major point of contention as some pastors go to court in order to have in-person worship while others are still being cautious. The summer begins with us a divided people. The times are unsettled and with this being an election year, politics will likely make the dynamics worse. So regarding the church in the midst of all of this we might ask, “What Now?” For the answer, we look to the prayer of Jesus out of the Gospel of John.

Jesus was about to be arrested as he prayed for himself and the disciples (for us). He had come to give eternal life. Eternal life was to know God and Jesus Christ whom the Father has sent. So this was his prayer for himself,

And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.” John 17:5

Jesus then prayed for us. His prayer was interesting because of what was missing. He didn’t pray for us to be powerful. He didn’t pray for us to be politically connected or to adopt the world’s ways. What he did pray for is that we know his joy that comes through our relationship with him. Jesus also prayed that we be protected because we are to be in the world but we are not of the world. The world has different meanings but one point to be stressed is that it is loved by God. Jesus was going to return to the Father but his followers were to continue in the work of letting the world know that it is loved by God. Jesus’ love won’t be known by political games or by separating into our private enclaves but only by an engagement with the world, thus the need for prayerful protection. If the world is to know eternal life, the world needs to know Jesus Christ and the One who sent him. The knowledge of Christ comes through how we reflect him in the world.

This Memorial Day weekend the world is divided and in disarray. It needs to know that it is loved. It needs to know a life that is eternal. It needs to know Jesus Christ and the Father who sent him. This is the work for the church that might be wondering, “What Now?” Remember, always remember, Jesus has prayed for you. He has prayed for you to know his joy. He prayed that you be protected in this truth.

Peace.

Presence and Absence John 14:15-21

The nation is beginning to open up.  Whether this was a wise move will be shown over the next couple months.  However, the idea of getting back to some sense of normal human interaction does feel good.  Yes, there are those for whom the thought of being shut in at home with nothing to do but play video games is heaven on earth.  Yet even for them, human interaction is still needed.  We have tried drive-by waving at family.  Zoom has suddenly become an indispensable app.  They help but aren’t the same as actually being with family and friends.

Jesus is continuing his farewell address to his disciples and needless to say they are anxious and fearful.  He promised them that they would not be abandoned, orphaned. Another Counselor — the Spirit of truth — will be with them.  This Counselor will be one who comes along side and continues Jesus’ relationship with them.  If there was ever a time when we seek the assurance of God’s presence, these would be the days.  The Counselor is more than God “hanging out” with us.  The Spirit has a purpose and that is to give us the truth.  The world isn’t a fan of this truth.  Our political environment has left ‘truth’ on life support.  The truth is that we are infinitely loved by God and that includes our enemies and political foes.  The truth is Jesus Christ’s life, death and resurrection is the way this loving relationship is put into action.

So how do we live out this loving relationship?  Well, we do the things Jesus taught us to do.  We know what they involve…loving our neighbor…serving not ourselves and our personal interests but what is best for our neighbor.  Jesus was correct, the world wants nothing to do with the truth of a loving God.  If the world listened to the truth and followed Jesus’ commands, our current political environment would be radically transformed.

These are difficult times as we feel the loss of presence with family and friends.  These days make us wonder of God’s presence with us.  Yet, the message today is that you are loved and so is the rest of the world.  The Spirit is along side you to keep reminding you of that reality.  The way to live out this love is to show it to our neighbor so they will know that they are not alone either.

Peace.

Confronted by the Resurrection Matthew 28:1-10

At a time when…

….researchers race to find a vaccine and treatments for Covid-19, we are confronted by the resurrection….

….we still are looking for the first signs that Covid-19 deaths are starting to decline, we are confronted by the resurrection….

….the hot debate is when to open up the economy while not risking a second wave, we are confronted by the resurrection….

….New York is digging a trench to bury the many bodies unclaimed, we are confronted by the resurrection….

….the many mourners are not given the normal opportunity to grieve at the funeral, we are confronted by the resurrection….

….churches are not gathering for worship in buildings filled with Easter lilies, we are confronted by the resurrection….

These past couple months have been anything but normal.  So much of life has changed that we are left with the question is what will the new normal be?  Yet, this Sunday is Easter and this is what the resurrection has done – it changes everything.  We may want to go back to what we consider to be normal but the resurrection confronts us with a new normal.  Our ongoing race for a cure, our mourning and our burying of the dead has come to an abrupt confrontation with the love of God in Jesus Christ.  He entered our death with his cross but his resurrection has opened up life for all creation that death no longer touches.

Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to Jesus’ tomb.  They were doing the normal act of grieving.  Don’t we also approach the grave of a loved one to remember and to grieve their important place in our lives that death has taken away?  Matthew tells us that guards were posted to protect against the “fake news” of Jesus being alive.  Do we really want to have our normal power structures upended by the news of love being stronger than death?  The two Mary’s were confronted by such love as an earthquake opened Jesus’ tomb and an angel told them that Jesus wasn’t there, he was raised from the dead.  They were to go to Galilee where they will see him and along the way the risen Jesus met them.  He told them to tell the disciples and go to Galilee.

A couple important items that Matthew highlights.  The two Mary’s came to the tomb on ‘the first day of the week.’  Creation began on the first day.   The resurrection of Jesus is the beginning of a new creation.  The old ways of pain and grief and dying and Covid-19 will be no more.  They have been confronted by the love of God in Jesus Christ risen.

A second point is the importance of Galilee.  This is where it all started.  Jesus began his work in Galilee where he announced to turn life around because the kingdom of heaven was now at hand.  The same message is for us to hear as well – turn life around because the reign of God bringing life out of death has now begun in Jesus crucified and risen.  So whether we are ready for it or even if we prefer the old normal, the love of God is bringing life out of death.

So in our grieving…our struggle to find a new normal…the race for a cure…worshiping at home online, we are confronted by a love that entered into the old to bring a new creation that will be filled with life.  This good news of the resurrection is what greets us this Sunday.  Jesus Christ be praised!!

Peace.

Are you good, neighbor? Luke 10:25-37

The parable of the Good Samaritan is well known even by those who haven’t read from the Bible in a long time.  There are “Good Samaritan” laws written for people to stop and help others in need.  This parable has had a major impact upon us and our understanding of our neighbor.  However, the point isn’t about being a good person.  The Samaritan isn’t even called ‘good’ in the parable.  The parable begins with a question about inheriting eternal life.

We think that eternal life is about getting up into heaven.  This was not what eternal life meant in the lawyers question.  Eternal life was about living ones life in God and this was defined by the law.  Inheriting eternal life was about living ones life in the new age that is coming in Jesus.  So Jesus asked the lawyer about the law and he knew the answer: love the Lord your God and love your neighbor.  Jesus told him to do this and he would live.  Then the lawyer wanted clarity on who is the neighbor.  Jesus’ answer was given with the parable.

A man was robbed, beaten and left for dead on the roadside.  A priest and Levite crossed the road to avoid the man.  We aren’t told why.  Touching a dead body would have left them unclean and unable to do their duties.  Maybe this concern was the reason, we aren’t told.  A Samaritan (Samaritans were despised by the Jew and this would intensify the feelings) went over to help the injured man and even provide for his extended care.  The Samaritan was willing to cross over and show mercy.  He was the neighbor.  This is how one lives out life in God; inherit eternal life.

We don’t do a lot of crossing over to show mercy these days and the anger that seems so much a part of society illustrates it.  We don’t cross over and show mercy to our opponent because that would show weakness.  We don’t cross over with mercy toward those on the other side of the political spectrum because that would be betrayal.  We don’t cross over and show mercy to others we look down on otherwise we would see them as equals.  Crossing over to show mercy isn’t easy.  Eternal life is elusive these days.

How do we live life that is eternal in its quality?  How do we live a life that is found in God?  Like the lawyer we do know the answer: love the Lord your God and love your neighbor.  The difficulty is doing it.  Life in God is to cross over to the other person and when you get there, show mercy.

As Jesus said, “Go and do likewise.”

Peace.

Peace: accepted or rejected Luke 10:1-20

A couple points to consider.

First, are you at peace?  This isn’t a trick question.  Are you at peace?

Secondly, how does peace relate to your place in the kingdom of God?

Peace seems really in short supply today.  The struggle to find peace is ongoing without a whole lot of success.  The search for peace leads us to try practices like meditation or something called ‘being in the moment.’  These practices along with others can help us feel more relaxed and push off the stressors in life for a while but when you get cut off in traffic…you are hotly corrected for having the wrong political views…the boss expects more while offering less support…peace disappears.  Our struggle for peace continues because we don’t quite understand how to make it happen.  Peace doesn’t come by denying reality.  Peace doesn’t come by having the biggest army.  Peace is a gift and a gift comes through grace.  Grace is an expression of kindness, a love that is given without merit or worth.  Grace is hard to find in our polarized world.  No wonder peace is so rare.

Jesus was sending out seventy followers with the instruction to offer their peace wherever they went.  Their peace was directly related to being a part of the kingdom of God.  Prior to this, Jesus rebuked James and John for wanting to destroy a Samaritan town with fire from heaven because the village wouldn’t receive them.  Jesus was now giving a strongly different idea about being an emissary for the kingdom of God.

Jesus sent out seventy to the surrounding area where he was about to go.  The first thing they were to do upon entering a town was to offer their peace.  If their peace was rejected, the town wasn’t rejecting them but God.  The response was not to destroy the town but to wipe off the dust from their feet.  Since God was the one being rejected, God will deal with them.

If their peace was accepted, they were to stay at that home and enjoy the hospitality offered.  The seventy were not to move from house to house.  In other words, they were not to manipulate and play one home against another for their personal benefit.  Rather they were to stay at the one place and receive the homeowners gracious hospitality.  Do you know what happens when grace is met by grace?  This is where the kingdom of God can be called near and peace is found.

The seventy returned excited over the ways that the kingdom’s presence was evidenced.  Jesus commented that he saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.  Amazing how something as simple as an offering of peace, an expression of grace can undercut the essence of evil.  What Jesus wanted them to celebrate wasn’t witnessing to the evidence of the kingdom but being secure of their place in God’s kingdom.

Does peace seem to be in short supply?  Then share your peace.  If it is received then both sides will graciously know that the kingdom of God is near.  This is truly something to celebrate.

Peace

An idle tale? Luke 24:1-12

We have come to Easter and we know what that means for the day.  We gather with the family and enjoy lots of food.  The couple pounds lost from denying ourselves chocolate will be replaced with a couple pounds more to spare as we devour the Easter candy.  Sometime during the day, we need to contend with the message of Easter.  Is the resurrection an idle tale?  Or, has the resurrection of Christ set creation on a new path to be made new?

On the first day of the week, women went to the tomb of Jesus.  They went there like we all do when going to a cemetery.  We go to tell stories.  We weep.  We grieve.  We seek to find a new normal without the person we loved.  However on this morning, the tomb was empty and two men in dazzling appearance asked, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?”  The two men reminded the women of Jesus’ words of being crucified and raised on the third day.  The women ran to tell the disciples who considered their words nothing more than an idle tale.

The resurrection of Jesus is God’s judgment against the darkness of the world.  The likes of Herod and Pilate denying justice to the innocent and who give in to mob rule for political peace are judged.  The chief priests and the mob crying for the death of Jesus while preferring the release of a criminal are judged.  Our world where Jesus walked among the outcast and poor was judged.  Our world where death is granted ultimate power is judged as a fraud.  The real power is in God the Father who raised Jesus from the dead.

The resurrection of Jesus happened on the first day of the week.  The first day which goes back to the start of creation when God spoke and light shined in the darkness.  The resurrection of Jesus is the beginning of a new creation.  All creation is now to be set free from sin and the darkness.  Light is shining.

The women were asked, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?”  Why are they still looking for the old ways of death when a new creation has now begun in Christ risen?  The disciples called the message delivered an ‘idle tale’ because their thoughts were still on the old ways.  This Easter the message confronts us as well.

If we are content with leadership that allows injustice to reign, where the innocent are allowed to suffer, where political peace is preferred over the truth then the resurrection is an idle tale.

If we are content with the hungry not being fed, the sick refused care and the outcast to be shunned and condemned as unworthy, then the resurrection is an idle tale.

If we are content with creation being exploited for profit rather than protected and cared for, then we are pushing the darkness upon it and the resurrection is an idle tale.

The message for this Sunday is, “Christ is Risen!”  Will we receive it as the good news it is for all creation?  Will we treat it as an idle tale?  The difference is to be in the past’s darkness or live in the light of God who raises the dead to a new life.

Peace.

How could we? How could he? Luke 22:14-23:56

The great declaration of the Christian faith is that Christ has died…Christ is risen…Christ will come again.  This coming week is Holy Week and we look at the first part: Christ has died.  I encourage all to attend Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services to grasp the depth of the Christian faith.  This reading from Luke is long as it covers the passion from the Last Supper to his crucified death.  The question is, “How could we?”

Following the Last Supper with his disciples, Jesus goes with them to the Mount of Olives to pray.  Judas Iscariot is absent because he left to betray Jesus.  Suddenly Judas arrives with a crowd to arrest Jesus.  A kiss of friendship is given.  A sword is drawn.  Jesus announces that the power of darkness is at hand while he is taken away.

There has been an ongoing conflict between Jesus and the Kingdom of Heaven against the power of darkness.  Now has come the time for the power of darkness to reveal itself.  The next few hours the power of darkness reveals it’s true nature.  Lies.  Deceit.  Violence.  Normally rational people screaming for the death of an innocent man while leaders stir up emotions further.  Their delirium has them demanding the release of a known murderer to see Jesus killed instead.  Mockery.  Kill.  This is the power of darkness.

This is why Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and all of Holy Week are important.  If we simply jump to Easter, then we excuse ourselves and sit like spectators watching a game to see who wins.  We need to see the darkness.  We need to recognize our involvement.  We need to ask the question, “How could we allow ourselves to made pawns of the darkness?”

How could he?  When this question is asked of Jesus, the answer is always ‘love.’  Yet the word is vague.  There is a rare group of people willing to sacrifice their lives for someone else.  We call them ‘heroes.’  Jesus gave of himself for a world lost in its darkness.  This is why we call him, Savior.  This is love.

For now the power of darkness seems unstoppable and Jesus is handed over.  However, he takes his last breath on the cross in trust that the One who called light into existence will not let darkness prevail.  Jesus took his last breath trusting that the One who created life will not let it be denied by the darkness.

This coming week, we take a long look at the darkness and ask “How could we?”  We also ask, “How could he?”

Peace.

What is a parent to do? Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

Everyone who has grown up with siblings can relate to this text.  Within each family there seems to always be the wild child.  The one knowing how to wrap mom and dad around their little finger.  The one the rest of the family seems the need to keep and eye on.  Then there is the one never getting into trouble and continuing to whisper under their breath, “mom and dad always like them best.”  This brings us to the reading above.  We call it the parable of the prodigal son but it is really about the incredible love of a parent for a couple of children refusing to understand how good they have it.

In the parable the younger son declares his independence and wants his inheritance now.  To him, his father is as good as dead.  The inheritance is quickly spent.  The son returns with a plan to be allowed back at least as a common worker.  The father instead receives him back fully as a son and throws a big party.

The older son refuses to attend the party for ‘his father’s son.’  He despises his father’s love for that son who wasted the inheritance on prostitutes.  He sees his life lived under his father as servitude and drudgery.  His father never even held a party for him and his friends though he likely never asked for one.  He refuses to attend the party for the safe return of his father’s son.  What is a parent to do?

Family fights are so horribly painful.  We know each other’s weaknesses.  A parent knows the hurt of being caught in the middle.  What is a parent to do but love each child unconditionally?

The father in the story is God.  The party is a restorative feast to bring us one and all together again under his love.  However we are too busy manipulating, fighting, calling out each other’s sins, acting out in resentment, treating God as though dead, despising God for being merciful and so on.  We are some nasty kids at times.

Yet, we are still loved.  There is a party to celebrate our restoration as one under his love for us all.  If we only understood just how good we have it.

Peace.