Singer Johnny Cash made famous, the words of Shel Silverstein,
“Well, my daddy left home when I was three and he didn’t leave very much to my ma and me except this ole guitar and an empty bottle of booze. Now I don’t blame him ’cause he run and hid but the meanest thing that my daddy ever did was before he left he went and named me Sue.”
Names are an interesting beast, they can be inspirational or they can be a burden. We can let a name doom us or use it can be the power that successfully propels us onto our path.
Marion Robert Morrison, is, among other things, famous for quotes such as, “Courage is being scared to death… and saddling up anyway. All battles are fought by scared men who’d rather be some place else.” Nicknamed ‘Duke’ as a child by a local fireman who never saw the boy without his dog ‘Duke’. Marion was grateful that the name stuck His first credited movie role, listed him as ‘Duke Morrison’ and then the studio changed the name to ‘John Wayne.’ While this new name was a good fit, the name ‘The Duke’ nickname stuck with Wayne throughout his life.
Frank and Gail Zappa named their four offspring Moon Unit, Dweezil, Ahmet and Diva. Gwyneth Paltrow and musician Chris Marten named their child Apple. Names such as Rocket, Busy, Cricket, Racer, Gravity, and Rumor, leave most of us scratching our heads. As personalities form, names can be redefined by the named. Nick names are frequently assigned when the name never adequately fits a persona.And, often, names are given out of hatefulness.
When my dad got his first job he had to go to the local Social Security office. When he told the clerk his name was Bobby Gene Anthony, she sternly corrected him saying, ‘You mean Robert!’. To which he said, ‘Okay’.
Groups of people are given names as well, these unofficial names are usually formed from some identifying mark of this group – and, these names are often offensive and hateful. Sometimes, these unflattering or mocking names, meant to be and insult, become a badge of honor to the recipients This was the story in the city of Antioch where the believers were given the condescending name ‘Christian.’
A little history – The Greek Emperor on the throne 300 years before Jesus was named Seleucus I. Selecus built 15 cities and named them all after his dad – ‘Antioch.’ The city of Antioch in Acts 11 was designated the ‘Syrian Antioch,’ and it was located about 300 miles north of Jerusalem. It was here, in this Antioch, that the name Antioch, became synonymous with successful business ventures but carrying a strong taint of immorality.
A couple of weeks ago we looked at the Holy Spirit descending upon a gentile leader named Cornelius, as well as his gentile community. This was a man, and community, who had been diligently seeking God. There was an intense desire in their pursuit of God. However, when the Spirit came to the gentiles in Antioch it was descending on a truly Pagan, immoral, and evil city.
This group of new believers in Antioch began to grow and the pagan community began to notice. There is a familiar thread between the community of believers in in the Holy city of Jerusalem and this new community of faith in Antioch, a city in which even the actual religious practices to worship the false gods was immersed in the identical immorality found elsewhere in the city. In both places believers were not considered ‘acceptable’ so thy kept a low profile, working not to bring attention to themselves individually or as a group. Secondly, in both faith communities there was an underlying love for each other that consistently presented in acts of personal sacrifice and through their attention to the needs present within their faith community. There was also, in both churches, a fervent personal drive to know, understand, and apply truth to their lives, their opinions, and their beliefs.
The differences between the two groups is significant as well. The believers in Jerusalem had a religious foundation that was instrumental in bringing them to an acceptance of Jesus as the Messiah. They had absorbed the historical teachings about God from the books of Moses, and, they had the historical and prophetic words from the prophets about the coming Jesus. Basically, they possessed the understanding of the road map that brought them from Creation to Promise to Deliverance to Hope to Redemption to Life. The gentiles, however, had been brought up with the ever changing and constantly evolving worship of false gods, rulers who saw themselves as divine, and religious practices which ranged from fleshly lasciviousness to fearful sacrifices to egotistical mandates to brutal practices. While their religious foundations were very different, both groups had to sort through past traditions, ungodly beliefs, and ingrained institutional manipulation and political agendas in order to find truth.
There was one major difference however that must be said. The gentiles knew the names of all their gods and would learn the names of the new gods as soon as needed. The Jewish believers had no real name for God, there were many references to God usually based on attributes, there were names that were not fully spoken out of reverence, but, when God was asked, ‘What is your name?’ God could only say ‘I Am.’ He was, he is, he has always been, he will forever be – GOD.
Up to this moment in Antioch there had been the Jews and there had been the Gentiles. Now there was the third group, a people who had no name. The religious institution gave them the name ‘annoying and dangerous’, the gentiles saw them as a conundrum. Those that joined the group called them family, the gentile leaders called them suspicious.
Eventually, in Antioch, this pagan city known best for its immorality, the followers of Jesus were given the name Christian. It was a name meant to be derogatory and shameful but to these newly named Christians it was perfect.
In latin, the ‘ian’ ending means ‘the party of…’, adding ‘Ian’ to ‘Christ’ you end up at the word meaning ‘the party of Christ.’ This was meant to be a name intended to be condescending and hateful, but to believers it was the opposite. To have this city – Antioch, recognize this group in reference to Jesus, their Savior, was not only not taken as a slight or insult, but ironically it was seen by the followers as a badge of honor. This title of ‘Jesus People’ was not only accepted by the newly names Christians, it became a self identifier, ‘we are Christians – the party of Christ, Jesus people.’ It was the defining moment, in the defining place, where this people first became a ‘people.’
This people, these followers of the God who had no name because no name could define or fit, this people, now had a perfectly fitting name – ‘Christian.’
A name that…
· Fit the words of the prophets.
· Set the bar for their goals and aspirations.
· Rested on the perfection of their deliverer even in their imperfect state.
· Laid out the nature and character of God.
· Constantly placed mercy, compassion, peace, and hope within their reach.
· Voiced the expectations of a world toward a people immersed in grace.
· It affirmed the work of the Spirit in their lives.
So, what became of this group of people named Christians in a city most in need of the man named Christ? They sought out the former persecutor of Christians and trusted God’s transformation change to work in him. These believers, in this pagan city, heard of a coming famine for the Holy City Jerusalem, and began strategizing how they could help. In the midst of ridicule and dismissal they pursued peace, love, mercy, grace, and hope. This people who were incorrectly defined by this name ‘Antioch’ were correctly labeled – ‘Christian.’ A name that set the bar for their lives in their world, the way they interacted with all, the way they walked the way that responded, the way they cared. A name that defined their mercy, compassion, their hope, their peace, their Savior.
The famous early church historian Eusebius, described a believer named Sanctus from Lyons, France, who was tortured for Jesus. As they tortured him cruelly, they hoped to get him to say something evil or blasphemous. They asked his name, and he only replied, “I am a Christian.” “What nation do you belong to?” He answered, “I am a Christian.” “What city do you live in?” “I am a Christian.” His questioners began to get angry: “Are you a slave or a free man?” “I am a Christian” was his only reply. No matter what they asked about him, he only answered, “I am a Christian.” This made his torturers all the more determined to break him, but they could not, and he died with the words “I am a Christian” on his lips.
Those that were the first to receive the label ‘Christian’ probably embraced the name with a certain honor, humility, fear, and concern. To be labeled is to be identified which was still dangerous. To officially be recognized also usually led to the creation of an institution, the adoption of symbols and icons, and ultimately the corruption of the leaders and people. They were not wrong. Within less than half a century the name of Christianity was used to attack enemies, to manipulate and control minds, and even to force interpretations of God’s word on believers.
But, for that moment in Antioch, this unnamed and unbranded group, was named by those who had watched the ways the members of this group lived. Their single minded focus on the crucified man named Jesus could not be ignored. Their peace in the midst of fear, their unity in the midst of chaos, their mercy in the midst of subjugation, their compassion in the midst of attack, their love in the midst of hatred all revealed their God, the God of grace, the God of love, the God who does not have a name because no name can define or fully describe.
We however have a name, a name given not chosen, a name that carries a huge weight, a weight that Jesus says, in the end, is light and not heavy.
How are you living out your name ‘Christian’?
‘We change the world not by what we say or do, but as a consequence of what we have become.’
Dr. David Hawkins
Acts is the story of the apostles, and followers of Jesus, attempting to catch up with the work of the Spirit. It is a whirlwind of new experiences, mysterious instructions from God, forbidden places, unexpected interactions, and the constant question of boundaries. Acts is a story of Becoming, the apostles becoming the credible first hand witnesses of the life/death/life message of Christ, the Church becoming the avenue of God, the Spirit becoming the power of God, and consistently throughout, God remains the same while revealing his multi-dimensional nature, a nature that is manifest Love. Their story is a journey, not so much about a group of humans weathered and ready to save the world from itself, it is the real life documentation of humans ‘Becoming’ in order to be the hands and feet of God.
A journey that no one in their right mind would have signed up for. An experience that would have been overwhelming if they had known the itinerary before accepting. An endeavor that required moment to moment focus with open eyes and ears as well as willing hearts and minds. A journey which required those involved to plant their feet firmly and commit to this life for the rest of their lives. It was a journey that never ceased to challenge how they perceived the world, how they recognized God, how they interpreted truth – a call to constantly reexamine their most deeply held convictions, opinions, beliefs, and even faith.
It is a journey that is worthy of time, for their journey of Becoming is our journey of Becoming.
In recent weeks we have seen the apostles engaging with people from the remotest ends of the earth. People known only by their labels. Labels that identified skin color, country of origin, gender identification, practices, sin, and religion. Humans from these remote locations filled with untouchable people collided with the ingrained hatred and fear embedded in the minds and hearts of the followers of Christ.
Our Acts passage today is one such collision moment, a moment that changed everything.
Three statements from this passage are essential to our understanding.
“Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?”
‘When they heard this, they were silenced.’
“God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.”
It all began with…
“Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?”
After the experience with Cornelius and the other gentiles Peter and his companions traveled back to Jerusalem where they were confronted by the Jewish, the circumcised, believers. Their first question was not a faith issue, they actually did not seem to have an issue with the gentiles believing in Jesus and receiving the Spirit. Their first and most powerful concern and outrage was that Peter had gone into the home of a gentle and eaten a meal with him and other gentiles.
As we saw last week, it was against the law for Jews to step foot into the homes of gentiles, nor were they to share a meal. This, for the Jewish believers, was a major offense, a horrific violation of their faith. However, this was not a faith issue, it was actually not even a religious issue, it was a manmade issue. No where in God’s Law was there a restriction against such interaction between Jews and Gentiles. Somewhere along the line it had become a thing, and, without really thinking about it, it continued to be a thing even for these who walked with Jesus. This bigotry and prejudice had been instilled within them which they probably did not even recognize. It was actually the opposite of Jesus’ words. This fervent dismissal of an entire people group who were a majority of the world population, had been intertwined with their faith and now the two had become inseparable. It was the first thing that came to their mind when they heard the news of the Holy Spirit and the Gentiles. The unnoticed contradiction with Jesus words, had not yet been confronted.
“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.”
When something that is not a true faith issue is permitted to become a key issue of our faith, there must be a moment of Holy confrontation – without the moment of seeing truth our Becoming is stunted and stuck. These hateful attitudes regarding others who are also ‘so loved by God’ can often be instilled from birth, falsely affirmed in our faith, and then perpetuated from our faith contemporaries usually remains as an unnoticed and unchallenged reality of our life witness. Sometimes a traumatic event can create these unholy feelings. Here we see our first truth.
Faith is Seldom the True Core of our Offense.
This confusion of non-faith and non-faith, our failure to fully recognize those things that are cultural more than spiritual, is not a thing of the past, it is alive and strong even our time. Painful divisions exist, they are even instilled in our faith communities, faith communities built on the truth of God’s boundless love. If anything, we see them emboldened in our present reality.
In Matthew 7 we find a very uncomfortable story of a gentle woman and Jesus. The woman comes to Jesus begging that he heal her daughter. Jesus’ response is quite shocking. Ppreachers and commentators have spent a great deal of effort in covering up the offensive response of Jesus….
“Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”
It is a very uncomfortable story of Jesus referring to a gentile woman, and all gentile, as a small dog. Of the many explanations given by commentators, preachers, and experts, it remains offensive. However, we see Christ respond to the woman’s confrontation not with a theological treats or condensation, instead he is silent, he listens, he considers, and he responds to the request of the woman.
What if racism itself is a human reality and not a sin, however, it becomes sin when we are confronted with our bigotry but refuse to be silent and listen?
The Jewish believers had been indoctrinated in the belief that they were truly superior and that all others were inferior. It was a wall of isolation between the Jews and anyone, and everyone, who was no Jewish.
Our second statement is
‘When they heard this, they were silenced.’
After the believers in Jerusalem heard the words of Peter they are silent. Now, let me assure you that for the room full of religious men, who have just been confronted with the own offense, silence is a momentous work of the Spirit. Nothing was said, no defense given, their mouths were shut.
Silence may the be the biggest challenge in Becoming.
It is very human for us to defend oneself. When our human nature reacts with words, voices, excuses, and denials – God calls us to respond with silence. A year ago the Spirit confronted us with our own prejudices as we watched the Black Lives Matter protests and riots going on around our country. We were given an opportunity to be silent, to consider, to attempt to understand the pain of these who were using their usually muted voices, we had a chance to accept their struggle and their pain. Instead, we responded with statements like ‘If they just wouldn’t protest,’, ‘Well, I’m not racist, I don’t see color,’ and, ‘The racism they are claiming doesn’t really exist.’ State lawmakers have reacted with laws prohibiting such protests and even denying the pervasive reality of supremacy and racism.
We were given an opportunity to be silent. As we watched these protests in American streets, as we saw the hoards of immigrants at our borders, as we heard the stories of harassment from women, the cries from the LGBTQ communities. We have been given opportunity after opportunity to see our own deep seated, and often invisible even to us, prejudice and instead of being silent we usually come to our own defense. God calls us to be silent, to recognize and consider that these are loved by God also, to accept, to ask the ‘why’ instead of verbalizing the ‘they shouldn’t.’ We may not ever understand, but we are never promised understanding here on earth. I’m sure that many of those believers in Jerusalem were still scratching their heads in confusion at the time of their death – but still they were silent.
This brings us to our third dynamic.
‘Peter began to explain it to them, step by step’
Peter everything with the Jewish Jesus believers. He detailed for them how God led him to recognize that their prejudice towards others was not God’s law, how God led him to go to Cornelius and how Cornelius affirmed this through his own experience before God, and then how the Spirit moved among the gentiles the same as it had in him.
The response of the Jewish believers is very interesting, they praised God for this movement of the Spirit at the same time they express surprise.
“Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.”
Your Bible may use the word ‘also’ instead of ‘even’, and there are other interpretation choices. The actual wording is a very tepid response to a new reality they were not expecting. They do not doubt the story of Peter, nor do they refute the experience of the Gentiles receiving the Spirit – however, it is still uncomfortable and they still do not fully understand it. This does not hinder their acceptance, they still are committing this change in their mindset and will be altering their reality going forward.
Understanding Others is not a first step to Accepting Others. We do not have to understand to accept. The idea that we first have to understand is a damaging misconception on our part. Our first act of acceptance and embrace is the choice to love as Jesus loved us.
God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.
In an article that Billy shared with me this past week, Atlantic Senior Editor Julie Beck, guided a discussion between two coworkers, Amanda Mull and Katherine Wu. Mull, a self described extrovert, and Wu, a self described introvert. Both described the burdens, or relief of burdens, they experienced during Covid pandemic. For Mull it was a nightmare where those crowded spaces, hugging, and mindless small talk discussions that usually gave her energy were taken away. For Wu, it was her perfect and ideal scenario,
I like being able to set aside alone time and know that for these next three hours I don’t have to deal with anyone else. I think small talk is the tax that God exacted for the privilege of human speech.Katherine Wu, science staff writer at The Atlantic
We are a society with an overflow of burdens, truth is, burdens are a reality of humanity. They are fully individualized, one person’s burden is another’s energy. Our outlook on life is largely influenced by our burdens as well as our perceptions of the burdens that others carry. As I shared last Sunday, those burdens on the backs of others, the struggles, known and unknown to us, are a key factor in how we embrace, distance, accept, or judge others. The apostle Paul was speaking to this when he talked about a thorn in his flesh, a burden that he had to carry, he had asked God to remove it three times but it remained with him and he continued to struggle – he admitted his powerlessness against this burden which forced him to rely on God’s power in the midst of his weakness. We see throughout the book of Acts as well as all four gospels – Jesus came to address our burdens as well as our future eternity.
For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.I John 5:3
As we hit the 8th chapter of Acts last week, the apostles had already begun their initial impact in Jerusalem, Judea, and in Samaria and were now looking forward to the remotest parts of the earth. Just how to do that was their dilemma, God however, came with the solution. Sending the apostle Philip to his remotest place, he also sent an Ethiopian to his remote place, and there the two men met. Philip was not just there to ease the burden on this man, but in the process, God would ease the burden for Philip. The geographical nature of this remotest place, for both men, became secondary to the inner burdens both men carried with them. Philip brought his burden, the labels that he carried often without even recognizing them, to him they had become ordinary and acceptable. Burdens such as judging a person by skin color and ethnicity, condemning them because of personal burdens they carried that he did not understand or approve of. The Ethiopian carried the reverse of those burdens, he lived a life of rejection and dismissal, and even emptiness, because of those same factors that shaded every other person’s perception of him – and probably his own hatred of those who looked at him that way. There, in that remote place, God showed both men that none of those factors, none of those labels, mattered.
This brings us back to our question from last Sunday,
“What will it mean for all of us if the gospel is indeed good news for all people, without exception?’Dr. Matt Skinner, Acts: Catching Up With The Spirit
Let’s Be Honest – At first hearing, ‘Obey God’s Commandments’ sounds like the literal definition of Burdensome!
However, what if the Good News of the Good News is that God’s commandments indeed, are not a burden?
How would such an enlightenment reshape and reorient our perception of the good news, the gospel, to better align itself with the life and teachings of Jesus, and, then, what if that realignment changes how we filter the teachings of the apostles throughout the New Testament?
This is the question that sparked the journey of the New Testament Church, as we see in Acts – this spark, this question, this journey, of the church today – continues to be the challenge for us.
“What will it mean for all of us, all our world, if the gospel is indeed good news for all people, without exception?’
Let’s revisit this statement,
For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.I John 5:3
The epistles of John point us to an understanding of the foundation of Love. God is love, Jesus lived out that love, the Spirit leads us to manifest love in and through our lives. This word ‘Commandments’ automatically solicits thoughts of burdens not the absence of burdens. The word commandments is the hiccup for us to grasp the truth of verse 3. To better understand, we go directly to the words of Jesus.
‘As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.
This is my (the) commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.’John 15:9-12
So, John Lennon and Paul McCartney were correct when they created the tag line ‘All You Need Is Love.’ All we need to survive this world, all we need to relate to others, all we need to carry your burdens, all we need is Love. Love tapped into THE SOURCE of LOVE. Abide in that Love, Know the one who is that Love, follow the one who lived out that Love in the flesh, Follow the one who guides us in and by that Love in our reality. All We need is love.
Love like Jesus’ Love wipes away the labels that we, as humans, permit to keep us from loving others, especially others with certain labels. We saw the Spirit began teaching this lesson to the apostles last Sunday as labels disappeared as Philip shares with the Ethiopian Eunuch. Even though Jesus has taught and demonstrated what it meant to love and embrace all people, the actually doing of this did not automatically become comfortable for the apostles. Theoretically it made sense but actually practicing it was still uncomfortable and they were uneasy – for the Holy Spirit, just like for Jesus, this came automatically.
In chapter 10 of Acts we see another apostle go to a remote place, not so much geographically but to a place that was just as difficult, a place in Judea but a place with a gentile majority. Peter was called to go to the home of a man named Cornelius, a man loved by God just like all peoples, however, this man was a gentile, he was not a Jew. The fact that there was actually a law that Jews could not enter the home of a gentile, Peter still followed God’s call. There he found that Cornelius has assembled a great crowd of people, who happened to be gentiles, to listen the truth of love to be proclaimed by Peter. Peter, like Philip, had to release his own burden of carrying labels, of not loving those that were different, those that who’s upbringing had instilled a false and hateful narrative, he had to let go and love those who God loved. So he began to speak and before he could even finish, the people had already believed in Jesus, and, as a result of their belief the Holy Spirit noisily made his way into their lives. They accepted, embrace, and followed Jesus there just as the Ethiopian man had done. To this day, this event is often referred to as the gentile Pentecost.
Those Jews there with Peter were astounded. These people had been able to accept and follow Jesus without first being Jews, without first going through the system of Judaism, without first incorporating all the religious practices in their life, they had simply believed and received through faith. Then, even more that the Holy Spirit ascended on this group also before they had been baptized.
These people who, just moments before had received their scorn, now these people were of the same faith, they followed the same Messiah, they had received the same Spirit. Their eyes were open in profound surprise, this was a very unexpected and even more unimaginable development, one that they had not seen coming.
Like the Ethiopian, the people wanted to physically identify with other followers, they asked ‘Why Not Now?’ They wanted to be baptized. Peter turned to the Jewish believers present and asked,
“Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?”Acts 10:47
I am sure that they looked uncomfortably at each other, not knowing how to respond, but also knowing that they could not think of a reason to deny the act. So the people, these previously unacceptable people, were now brothers and sisters. God had called all the Jews to love all because Jesus loved all, now that calling was calling them to be act and to love.
We live in a world that needs love, needs to be plugged into the source of love, – the love that Jesus exhibited and the love that we are called to – so,
“What will it mean for all of us if the gospel is indeed good news for all people, without exception?’
Now, Let your mind run free and consider….
What could happen if we honestly said ‘yes’ to the ‘whatever and wherever’ reality of God’s path in our day to day reality?
‘[The book of] Acts, like Easter, urges you to put cautious rationality on the shelf and follow an unrestrained God into the world, wondering as you go what else might be possible.…. [our] passage about an Ethiopian court official who has a divinely orchestrated discussion with Philip is outlandish,…It provokes a question upon which the church still ruminates: …what will it mean for all of us if the gospel is indeed good news for all people, without exception?’Dr. Matt Skinner
Chapter eight of the book of Acts brings us two pivotal moments for the new testament church. One good the other frightening. Chapter 8 presents a moment in time when God’s basic instruction to the apostles is almost accomplished and, ironically, in that same moment this new faith community of enters into a season of great darkness.
Let’s look first at the Locational Elements of this pivotal moment seen in the first 3 verses..
‘And Saul approved of their killing Stephen. That day a severe persecution began against the church in Jerusalem… All the believers that had been together since Pentecost now fled for their lives, only the apostles remained.’Acts 8:1-3
Two parallel events, both very different and yet both very similar, mark this new season for the church.
In Luke’s account of Jesus ascension, Jesus gave his apostles the instruction to testify to all they had seen in, and learned from, the Messiah – a challenge to be the first hand account of Jesus to those who had not witnessed God in the flesh, Jesus, and a second opportunity for those who had rejected Jesus. The logistical specifics of this command was to ‘go to those in Jerusalem, in Judea, in Samaria, and even to those in the remotest part of the earth.’ The apostles have now ‘gone’ to the people of Jerusalem, of Judea, and of Samaria, they were now facing the remotest parts of the earth – the only known obstacle was the ‘how, who, and the where’ of the remotest parts?’
Two simultaneous moments provided the path to speak to discover their plans.
The arrival of a young sincere and faithful young man named Saul, who we known him as Paul. A coming new star in religiosity and highly regarded politically as well. He endorsed the killing of Stephen, followed by a full scale effort to stop the spread of the Jesus movement going house to house weeding out Jesus followers. This sent the followers, who up to this point had remained in Jerusalem since Pentecost, to scatter back to their home.
The second logistical moment took place as the apostle Philip was sent by God, to go to a remote section of the road connecting Jerusalem with Gaza – a road in the wilderness. Soon, here on this ‘remoteish’ road he met a man who was of ‘the remotest place on earth.’ What a logistical plan! – scatter those near, back to their homes in Jersusalem, Judea, and Samaria, and then, bring a person to the apostle from the remotest place on earth!
This is the way God works, he uses the good as well as the bad to remove the obstacles so we can continue with God’s intended purpose.
Now, we see the Practical Elements with which God works. At this place, a distant destination for both men, a monumental moment takes place. In the wilderness, on this remote piece of the road, Philip meets a man who has three outrageous labels that God’s practicalities eliminate. He was…
The first is an obstacle for everyone in the non-remote places on earth, the second is an obstacle for the religious people of the non-remote places on the earth, and the third is an opportunity for the implementation of God’s Good News everywhere.
Ethiopian, brings us to God’s Geographical Practicality. Ethiopian is a word that in the Greek language literally means ‘Burnt Face’ referring to the color and hue of his skin, which leads to judgements and condemnations of his culture, heritage, basically to this man. Greco-Roman literature often referred to “Ethiopians” as being a ‘people who lived on the fringes of the inhabited world’, judging them as inferior beings. The presence of a Greco-Roman xenophobia should not surprise us even thousands of years later.
This was a meticulouslyorchestrated outrageous moment engineered by a God who is not daunted by skin color, culture, heritage or any other obstacle. God brought this remotest man to another man’s remotest place for an impossible encounter. As God gave Phillip a nudge, he approached the man and heard him reading from the Book of Isaiah,
‘He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. By a perversion of justice he was taken away. Who could have imagined his future? For he was cut off from the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people. They made his grave with the wicked and his tomb with the rich, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth.’Isaiah 53:7-9
Philip asks the man,‘Do you understand what you are reading?’
The man answered,‘Who is the prophet Isaiah speaking of?’
Philip addressed question knowing that none of the obstacles were of any consideration.
The second practicality inhabited in this encounter – an Outlandish Practicality, particularly outrageous to the religious people and to the religious leaders – the man was a Eunuch. This meant that he had been castrated as a condition for his position in the queen’s court. The castration had taken place for one, or more, of the following reasons,
- The decision to be castrated had been made by others, possibly even by parents when he was a child or as an adult by his masters and employers, to theoretically give him the credibility required for a better future and better employment.
- The decision to be castrated was made personally by the man for the same reasons.
- The decision to be castrated was a very personal decision made by him, for himself, for his own personal reasons – reasons that few people would understand or accept.
Any one of these reason is as likely another reason; we can be assured that this purposeful condition of his body was a major reason for a lifetime of judgement and rejection. He did not fit the norms for conventional gender definition, he was not consider male or female; this put him outside the boundaries of masculinity and virility subjecting him to never-ending scorn and hatred.
The man was literate, he had the most influential ear in the queen, and he was trusted with her treasury, and subsequently he was rich. He owned a rare and expensive scroll of scripture, he traveled on his own, with his own staff, and he had personal access to a chariot. While not accepted socially by his own countrymen, he was definitely feared and respected. He had great influence at the remotest place on the earth – much more than Philip or any of the apostles. He would enthusiastically become a voice of witness to the remotest place on the earth. He would become the avenue for the good news that acknowledges worth and dignity – the good news that thwarts the prejudices that religions and societies easily fall into.
As Philip shares the ‘who’ of the Isaiah passage with the Ethiopian, the man meets and trusts in Jesus. He recognizes that Jesus is the one spoken of by the prophet and that this same Christ is the promised Messiah, the fulfillment of the Law. This realization is automatically met with a personal acceptance and embrace. His immediate response is to follow Jesus, he excitedly asks,
‘Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?’Acts 8:37
Philip in a wilderness place, probably the most foreign place he could be, here in this remotest place, a place where God brought the ends of the earth to him. Here Philip began to share the Good News with the remotest parts of the earth. There was no think tank, no missionary strategy, no confab of the most persuasive evangelists, here there was Philip in a remote place not far from his home, addressing a question of a man who was far from his home at the ends of the earth. Philip addressed the question, and did just as Jesus had instructed, he began to teach this pupil who the prophet Isaiah spoke of and proceeded from there to teach everything that Jesus did and everything that Jesus taught. Everything that Philip had witnessed and experienced. The man became entranced in learning of Jesus compassion and mercy, his grace, his teachings of hope and deliverance, his life validation of Love.
He was reading from the scroll of Isaiah so it is proper to assume that he was a Jew, although probably on the periphery of Judaism. He would have been familiar with the cleansing and religious aspects of baptism. He had an urgent need to express the cleansing from his sin and total immersion into the faith of following Jesus. Previously a seeker now he was a pupil, a disciple, a follower, and soon, a teacher; now he knew he was accepted, cleansed, loved. Now he was asking, ‘why not now?’
‘The Ethiopian reminds us that we are inclined to expect too little from the good news or to underestimate its capacity to bless and include others.’Justo L. González, Latin American Theologian and Historian
The Ethiopian has recognized something that we, in our evangelical comfort, have forgotten. He understands that faith is being a part of something Holy, an unexpected turn that brought him to an immersive experience into this faith and understanding. He is ready to plug himself in the source, to live the full life in Christ, dependent on Jesus. To thrive and grow, it is about a faith that we jump in with both feet. It is not about a new list of dos and don’ts, it about new life that writes truth on his heart, that leads him to strive to be like his source, like Jesus. Why wouldn’t he want to start now?
Jesus explained this to his followers as he said,
‘You have already been cleansed by the word, the truth, that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.John 15:3-5
Good News is a call to abide, it is a call to remain fully connected to the source of life, Jesus, the source of strength, the source of rejoicing, the source of perseverance, the source of confidence, the source of hope, the source of peace. The Source.
While we, years after Martin Luther’s proclamation that salvation is not a ‘how to’ journey, it is a faith journey, we have settled for a distant future in heaven and ridged oversight of our actions and thoughts. Faith leads us to the same question as the Ethiopian,‘Why Not Now?!
Let’s return to our original question, ‘What will it mean for all of us if the gospel is indeed good news for all people, without exception?’
It is a question for all of us, What would it mean if we were to respond by saying, ‘Why not now?!’
Let’s return to where we began last Sunday, that moment prior to the cross, the grave, and the resurrection, to Jesus’ final moments with his disciples before the arrest. That moment at the table as Jesus and his disciples shared their final meal, and before they heard Jesus utter his final teachings and give his final encouragements. Among those encouragements was one that that stands out among the rest,
‘Love one another, even as I have loved you, you also love one another.’John 13:34b
Now, this is not so odd in the words or message themself, but it that he introduces with statement,
‘A NEW commandment I give to you,’John 13:34a
If there is anything that was not new, it was to ‘Love God and to Love Others.’ One of Jesus’ best known parables had to do with the boundless limits of our call to love others So why is this presented as a NEW commandment?
To get us started on this, let’s look back at the beginning of this chapter in John’s Gospel.John 13:1
‘Now before the Feast of the Passover, Jesus knowing that his hour had come and that he would depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, He loved them to the END’
One of those Jesus loved, Judas, had already initiated his own betrayal of Jesus. We also know that Jesus was aware that the others would soon abandon him. However, we see that the setting for everything that took place that evening was done from Jesus’ love for them all. Jesus begins the evening by washing their feet, all the while knowing the reality ahead, and then begging them to love each other – not to remain loyal to him. (End – Telos -purpose, tax)
This was not really a new commandment, while, at the same time, it was new in emphasis and urgency with which Christ said it in this specific moment. This was actually a lifeline that Jesus was throwing his disciples shortly before they were going to need it. In Jesus, this group had been witness to his command of love not just proclaimed verbally, but much more powerfully as LOVE was MANIFEST in the day to day life of Jesus. Now, it was not aimed at the ‘hateful hopeless’ crowds, now it was aimed specifically at them, this group of followers, these that had an actual title, disciples and the coming title of apostles. They knew it was significant that Christ focused this on them but probably didn’t grasp that this would be their avenue of hope and comfort in their coming role of apostles, let alone surviving the coming few days. This was their lifeline that they didn’t realize they would soon desperately need – it is our lifeline that we often forget we have.
The approach to the truth about Love is one of the rare times that the Old Testament presentation is more in line with the way we commonly think. Old Testament, Love is usually an identifier of internalization emotions. It is often used as a way to identify a person, ‘you know him, he loves….’, ‘Or the statement ‘Father of Love.’ It is easily compared to our concept of Love as something internal, something emotional. Often regarded as a comfort and security type of word, our concept of love carries a meaning that is often difficult to fully explain.
In the New Testament, Love is more of an action word, it usually connotes a call to action, to step out, to sacrifice or to experience. Love is usually listed along with a listing of things to do, or things that will prove that the love exists. Love is fully manifest in the life of Christ and the epistles reveal how and why to Love.
No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.John 15:13
Whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. All the commandments are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.Romans 13:8-10
Jesus laid down his life for us, that is devotion. However, most of us would do the same, consider what you would do for a spouse, a child, a family member, a friend – giving your life for them is not unimaginable. When Jesus laid down his life for us it was a much greater act that we could ever do, for in his death he not only died in our place, but he also took on the weight of our sins, our disobedience, our rejection of God. We do not qualify to be such a sacrifice, so, even if we were to desire to volunteer for such a task, we would not be able to.
Love does not obliterate the law, Love Manifest, Jesus, fulfilled the Law.
We strive to be Love Manifest just as Christ Was and Is Love Manifest.
Here is the truth, Jesus took the basic teachings of the law, and raised them to a Holy level, a level to strive for, a level that becomes our aspiration.
“You have heard it said, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with another, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult another, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire.”’Matthew 5:21-22
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”Matthew 5:27-28
Jesus continues the vein of instruction addressing the bar set for lying, divorce, retaliation, and then he says this,
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”Matthew 5:43-44
Jesus teachings did not settle for the ‘get by’ level of our humanness, he called us to All that we are capable of being and doing. We have the breath of God in us, we have the empty grave for us, we have the promise of life now and forever all over us- God knows us, God has high hopes for us, God has created us for that, in this moment, in this time.
Here is another thing, God knows that life can be difficult, that is why he experienced it for himself, that is why God became man.
So, Jesus raised the bar in regard to expectations, but he also raised the bar in regard to how we live. For this he did not just say it verbally, but he manifest it in every fiber of his being, he was love, he was love manifest. That is why, when he needed to rest, instead, he fed thousands instead; why, when he needed to fulfill a promise of healing an officer’s loved one, he made a stop to address the concerns of a chronically ill woman instead; why, when stopped by those he knew would reject him, he stopped anyway and talked and shared; Love Mainfest propelled Jesus to live out love through his deeds and actions. Jesus taught love, not through his words but through his actions and his deeds.
Here is the truth, Manifest Love is,
Manifest Love looks like Jesus
There are as many as 8 defined greek words for love, everything from family and brotherly love, to erotic love, to selfish and abusive love. Modern philosophers have divided love into as many as 12 forms of love. The classifications have been defined to specify the function and details of the varied loves, some of the words speak to a perverse deviation of love. There is one thread that runs through all of the loves, it is a thread that cries out for something that cannot be found in our chaotic humanness, a love that is unconditional, and never ending, a love without limits and without expectations – a love, however, that is full of hope, acceptance, encouragement, sympathy and empathy, a love that is truly truly unconditional, this is Agape love, this is the love that Jesus Manifest, this is the love that we are called to Manifest.
Jesus made it very clear what Love Manifest does in our life.
‘Love so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.’John 15:11
And then, as we go six verses further, Jesus adds,
‘I am giving you truth so that you may love one another.’John 15:17
Love Brings Us To The Table
Love Brings Others To The Table
God’ Table Is A Full & Diverse Table
‘We have just enough religion to make us hate one another, but not enough to make us love one another.’― Jonathan Swift, poet and Anglican cleric, Dean of St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, Ireland (late 1600s) said,
‘When we seek to see God, God redirects our sight to see the person next to us.’Rev. Barbara Brown Taylor wrote (paraphrase),
So, we conclude in that room where the disciples, at some point since the crucifixion, the disciples had gathered. At the arrest they had scattered, to where they each went we do not know. For those days in between Christ on the cross and this morning of resurrection, they had reassembled, they had, once again gathered. They were ashamed and embarrassed, they were humiliated and hopeless, they thought everything was over, they questioned their investment of the past three years. But now they would be gathered, in this room of hopeless, hiding from a world that had declared this Jesus Movement officially over, here in this room these eleven were back together. They stood staring at the floor, sometimes catching the lifeless stare of one another. Hopeless, frightened, dissolution, ashamed, here they stood, an empty table at the opposite end of the room, and at the other, these disciples of Jesus.
It could be said that they had returned here because they were unified in their fear and all the other emotions of devastation, but that is not true. This group had regathered because of Love. They had experienced Love Manifest in this man Jesus. They had seen the outflow of Love Manifest in this man, they had felt Love Manifest from this man, they had witnessed the change he made on the world where they all lived. The gathered back together not to address their shame or confusion, they gathered because they had lived in the presence of Love Manifest.
That is what love is when it is released to manifest itself through every aspect of our life, when it permanently places its brand on or heart, our mind, and our soul.
Love Manifest becomes the undefinable identifier of the Light Within Each Of Us.
So, as we began to permit the fact that, not only is God Love, but that His Son was/is Love Manifest in the Flesh, we can look again at the Psalm read earlier. We now see it not as an example of fantasy thinking but as a realistic description of the Loving Shepherd who desires the best for us, we can see it as the hopeful ode describing our God who is love. We can trust him in death’s valley as well as in the lush pastures.
God, my shepherd, I don’t need a thing. You have bedded me down in lush meadows, you find me quiet pools for drink.
You let me catch my breath and send me in the right direction.
Even when that direction goes through Death Valley, I’m not afraid because I know you walk at my side. Your shepherd’s crook gives me security.
You nourish me in front of my enemies. You revive my drooping head; my cup brims over with blessing.
Your beauty and love chase after me, they pursue me, every day of my life.
I am back home in the house of God for the rest of my life.Psalm 23
The table, particularly sitting with others around the table while enjoying relationships and food, was one of the most precision times to Jesus. I am assuming this, of course, but I think it is a valid assumption – it seems to be that the table is Jesus ‘go to’ tool for connectedness, counsel, consideration, and comfort. We see him sit at the tables of tax collectors, sinners, gentiles, friends, and even those plotting his demise, at tables on beaches, on the sides of hills, in the homes of this friends, and even next to a well in Samaria. It is at these tables that there is an intimacy, a connectedness that opens ears, hearts, and minds – moments when lives are transformed and sacrifice takes place, it is at these holy moments that decisions are made and new path’s are taken.
The thing about the table is that it is a true face to face, it was in those moments that a true self came through, vulnerability, devotion, hope, redemption, and sometimes opposition, hate, and rejection. However, it was still face to face, it was still the place where everyone opened their eyes, let down their guard, and allowed themself to see the savior.
It is no surprise, then, that it is at a table that Jesus spends his final moments with his disciples. As he sat there, he knew that among those sitting at this table with him, those who were face to face, those who had no choice but to look up and see the face of Jesus, in this group was one that would betray him and another who would deny him, and ultimately all but one of them would desert him. In these final moments these were the ones he chose to sit with and who chose to sit with him. Jesus told the men that this would be the last time he would sit at a table with them until after he had completed what had to be done. He would not sit at a table with these again until after the cross, the grave, and the resurrection.
Before there was church, there was table, where sinners and saints, disciples and outcast, believers and betrayers gather to remember, to anticipate what is still to come, and to embody together the restoring and unifying power of God. The Lord’s Table is living theater, the communal enactment of unity amidst diversity, rooted in who God is and demonstrating where humankind and creation are headed. The Lord’s Table is the founding practice from which the church grew.
Dr. Stanley P. Saunders, Professor Emeritus, Columbia Theological Seminary
After the cross, the grave, and the resurrection, Jesus appeared to his disciples again, it did not take long until it was also a table moment. Jesus appeared in the room and said ‘Peace’. The disciples were burden with guilt, crippled by fear, they were confused and humiliated, the room was filled with all the enemies of Peace. And Jesus said Peace. They took a breath and remembered peace. They had forgotten peace, they had blinded themselves to ever experiencing peace again, and her was peace manifested in this man they had sat with, this friend they had listen to, this savior they had experienced face to face, eyes open, this was peace.
Jesus reached out his hands, he let them see the wounds of the cross, the bruises of beatings, the marks of a sacrastic crown. In those wounds the disciples saw beyond the marks, they saw beyond the pain, they saw the love that had carried Jesus through brutality of every kind, the love that had brought him back to their table, just as he had promised.
‘While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?”’
Can you imagine, after the days the disciples had just went through, in this place where they were hiding from the world, that in this moment, in this place, Jesus was hungry. I’m sure it made them grin, this was the Jesus they knew, he liked to eat just like them, just like any human. This was Jesus, resurrected, transformed, risen, alive, but still, it was the man they knew. Eating meant reclining, reclining meant being at the table, being at the table would mean understanding. Even in the doubts they still had, even after their actions that caused shame, still Jesus was there to teach them, to open their minds to truth. It was just a matter of joining him at the table.
And, then, Jesus begins to teach, clarify, demystify,
Jesus said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms had to be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “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 the witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”
This last week in bible project we looked at Romans 12, in which the apostle Paul says,
‘Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.’
Now, you can imagine our question, why does God not give us a full measure to prepare us for anything and everything. We see the answer to this in Jesus engagement with the disciples following the resurrection. It all began with the first measure of faith – sight. This was a group that had been following, listening, and learning from Jesus for the past three years, and that only began because they were first looking for Jesus – God had given them the first needed measure, the will to look instead of remaining blind.
Let’s go back to that first encounter of Jesus and his disciple Andrew. Andrew had been looking, searching for truth, seeking the Messiah. His mentor at the time, John the Baptizer, said to Andrew:
“Look, there he is – the Lamb of God!”
Now, God gave the second needed measure of faith, Andrew physically began to walk after Jesus, he followed him until he could ask the loaded question,
“where are you staying?”
To which Jesus replied,
“Come and see.”
Then came the third essential measure of faith, Andrew ran looking for his brother Simon Peter, upon finding him he said,
“We have found the Messiah, the Anointed!”
And then the process of faith continue with Peter.
Look again at that room full of Jesus disenchanted, frightened, and confused disciples,
This entire life changing experience of the past three years had actually begun long before this moment in the room – when God gave them the measure of faith needed to seek the Savior. They had been willing and eager to receive this faith, to risk acting on it, to willingly accept the sacrifice all the while have no idea what any of that meant. But they had enough to do what they were called to do – seek truth, search for the Deliverer, keep their eyes open removing obstacles along the way.
They had huddled together after the crucifixion clinging to the measure of faith they had been given. Seeing no hope, they still clung together around an unused table. Here, with each their combined common faith, in their same heart and soul, they held on and held together.
Jesus appears in the room, very unexpected, he had never had that power, no one had ever seen someone with this power. This was hopeful, scary, confusing, but they continued to look and listen, this was God giving another measure of faith.
Jesus knew that they needed more, and he knew that they were still looking, they had not accepted the lies of the religious and political officials of conspiracies and deceit. More faith was given.
They disciples were overjoyed, still looking and seeking, but still doubtful. Jesus gave them the next measure as he proved who he was to them, he asked about food and questioned why they were not at the table. This was the final measure of faith needed, a measure of faith they accepted and grasped with all their heart and soul. They sat together and Jesus opened their minds because they were ready to see more.
Later, after Jesus ascension back to heaven, apostles Peter and John were headed to the temple to pray. As they approached the entrance to the temple they encountered a man who had been crippled since birth. Sitting at the gate asking for monetary assistance had been his vocation for most of his life. Peter and John could not give him money but instead, God used these two to heal the man. Soon, he was up and walking, everyone noticed, they all saw, they knew this man had always been crippled now he could walk. The crowds rushed to see and hear Peter and John, these two who had just preformed this miracle.
Peter began to speak. He spoke of their willful blindness, how Jesus himself, the one that was responsible for this miracle, had been before them but they had refused to see him. Peter reminded the crowd that Jesus had repeatedly invited them to the table but they had consistently refused the invitation. He led them to consider the obstacles they had placed in the way of their sight, as well as those they had willingly allowed to remain blocking their sight. Their willingness to accept the lies told about Jesus, the fact that they had allowed religious and political officials to stop their search willingly accepting the blindness these individuals had called them to. Petter pointed out the fact that they had all been given the needed measure of faith but they had been unwilling to use it, refusing to pull away the blindfold to see the table in front of them. The apostle confronted their choice of ignorant blindness. Peter called them to pull off the blindfolds, to see the table, to turn from the things that had led them to turn away from God, and to sit down in the refreshing presence of the Lord at His table.
It was a call to repentance, a call to see, a call turn away from the things they had given power to, the thing to which they had rendered their faith.
It is the same call that is proclaimed to us. A call to sit at God’s table, to accept his work, to choose to live in the faith he gives. It is a call that requires we recognize those ways that we are willingly choosing blindness, it is a call of refreshment and redemption, a call of risk and reconciliation, a call to see and to seek.
The church at the table, Matt Skinner words it this way,
“There is a diversity of encounters as well as the diversities of responses in these harmonious communities of believers where everyone belongs there.’
Dr. Matt Skinner (Paraphrase), Professor of New Testament, Luther Seminary
Being at the table, and welcoming others to the table, is our call:
‘“We are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when Jesus is finally revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. And all who have this hope in him continually strive to purify themselves, just as Jesus is pure.”’
I John 3:2-3
What his your response to the invitation to come to the Table?
Following the arrival of the Holy Spirit, when thousands came to personal acceptance of Jesus Christ, a personal acceptance that came from a personal encounter, these new Christians, who did not even have the label of ‘Christian’ yet, began to figure out how to be what they were led to be in the midst of millions of people who didn’t want them to be anything different that what everyone else was already being. They they were in uncharted territory.
This was a group from all over the known world, a group of different races, different religious understandings, different cultures, different religious practices, different social and economic standing, and different religious personal experiences. This was a group that would have never landed in the same place, in the same anything if it were not for the same savior and for the same sacrifice.
In this same place they were out of place; a group that did not belong together yet they could not help but be together, a group of misfits who fit perfectly together, a group that was lost but would lead a world through their story of being found. This was the beginning of the church, this was our beginning.
This group was of one heart and one soul, none of them claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. They were dedicated to learning by listening to the apostles testimony about the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold.
This was the tie that bound them together -Jesus, Jesus crucified, Jesus resurrected, Jesus ascended, Jesus.
It was the Holy Spirit that empowered them, the glue that held them together, the GPS that guided them, the hunger and thirst that grew them – this was the Holy Spirit.
This story in Acts, a story of the original New Testament church, is their story, it is how they, sometimes painfully and sometimes joyfully, figured out what it meant for them to be church. This is their story, it is not our story, it is not our guide – the story of the New Testament Church is just that – it is Their Story. A story of depending on Jesus and doing it alongside of others on the same journey. It is a story of finding their way together while still on their own personal journey. It is a story of learning how to be of one heart and of one soul, even when everything about your experience is yours alone. It is a story of a journey that gives us inspiration in our journey alone together.
To understand the lesson from this passage, we have to understand the primary point that is being present – the people were of one heart and one soul. It is not a lesson to be of one heart and one soul, but a lesson of what can happen with a group of people who, individually are of one heart and one soul. What happened in the new testament church could only happen because of this heart and soul commonality. Understand, their story is not a story of things for us to do in the year 2021, it is not a rule book about how to govern and guide the institution of the church, it revealed what happened with this first group that happened because that did have the same heart and soul, the author is celebrating the connectedness where there is the existence of one heart and one soul. Note, and please grasp this note, the New Testament Church is not our How To Guide, it is a Here Is What Made Their Powerful Experience Possible. It simply means that when we are in unity due to our heart and soul, not our agenda, our politics, our social or economic status – it is then that we can have enough respect for each other that disagreements are fine, our goal is not to eliminate disagreement, it is then that we learn to appreciate and prosper in our diversity. It is then that the Holy Spirit is freed to work among us – it is then that we begin to see Our Story. Having the same heart and same soul is our private journey our private story, however, when put together with others, and their different and distinct stories, God can do anything through us.
The New Testament Church had the story that it did because it was a group of people who shared one commonality, they each had the same heart and the same soul. They did not connect together for any other reason that that. They did not acquire that once were together but it was the factor that allowed them to thrive under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
So, we begin with these individuals who would later be given the label of ‘Christian’ who are learning how to be what will be come known as the ‘Church’, figuring out how to be Church alongside of each other and apart from each other. For this first Church of first Christians, they had one heart and soul, none of them claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. They were individually dedicated to learning by listening to the apostles testimony about the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold.
The foundation was their individual distinct stories that led to their same heart and soul. Grasp this, the Church is a different people with different stories, all with the same heart and same soul. [The church is ] A community of God’s created human beings, often who have little or nothing in common except for different personal holy moments that have led to having the same heart and souls as the others we are in community, in church, with.
After Mary had proclaimed that Jesus was alive, the disciples were still hesitant to completely believe. In fact, in the gospel of Matthew reprimands this group of men who fail to believe and receive the story of this woman. Christ did appear in the midst of the disciples, affirming the message of Mary and proving his risen humanity by showing them his scars and inviting them to fully understanding his humanness by the nail prints on his hands and feet. Thomas was not at this gathering, and being told about this, he said that he too would believe when he saw, and even touched the scars, but until then he would not be able to believe.
We give Thomas a hard time for voicing his disbelief. We judge him in the same way we often hear the stories of everyone from a perspective of our own skepticism and arrogance. We want to be given the space but we seldom want to give others grace.
Here is a truth – scripture and scripture stories (and all stories for that matter) are not a one dimensional, they are multi dimensional. This is why we never finish learning and why we never are done with these stories. God calls us to pick them up and turn them around, to look at them from every direction. With each new look we see something new, with each new perspective we are offered a new enlightened understanding of the truth. Every time we open up and turn it around, scripture reveals more truth and clarifies the things we are mistaken or fuzzy on.
When Jesus later appears to Thomas and offers to show him the scars, inviting him to even touch the hands and feet, Jesus is meeting Thomas exactly where he is ready to be met. Thomas sees and no longer needs to touch, he know believes. Jesus’ statement that follows is not a reprimand to Thomas because he had to see, it is actually Jesus taking advantage of a powerful teaching moment to preparing Thomas, and the other disciples, for the next stage of their stories. They would be sharing with individuals who could not see Jesus resurrected, they would not have the opportunity to touch the nail prints. What if Jesus was telling them that they would not be able to have Jesus as their show and tell but, instead, their own live were going to be the visual, they very existence was going to be their proof. Our story is our proof.
We know one thing for sure, before Jesus 2nd appearance, Thomas was still in fellowship with the other disciples and they still considered him to be a part of their fellowship. In the same way that Jesus made sure to include Peter when he sent Mary to proclaim, ‘Jesus is alive.’
Why is this important? Because Thomas was still of the same heart and soul as these men, as well as Mary who had already seen Jesus. The group had not made Thomas an outcast because he did not believe the same as them at this moment. They trusted God’s work in Thomas, they trusted his story, just like they were trusting God’s work in each other and themselves. Unity is not because of full agreement, nor does it require unanimity of thought. Unity is what happens in a group where each participant in that group brings a same heart and a same mind to the environment and connectedness of the group.
The church is one in Jesus and his mission to save the world, the church is about unity of heart and soul. Notice that the word MIND is not used, this sameness is different than that. We do not have to use the same vocabulary, the same actions, the same politics, the same anything – however, we are all committed to truth, and we are accountable to seek and search for this truth at all times and in all things. What brings us together is not those things that are seen, it is inside, it is our connection to God which enables our connection to each other.
The first church had many intense disagreements in all areas of life, the book of Acts is full of those arguments some even between the apostles, but, they had agreement in the one thing that mattered, a same heart and a same soul.
The greatest unity is found in the greatest diversity. When our unity is in the midst of our diversity, the things that we commonly connect with, our preferences, our achievements, our season of life, the color of our skin, the sameness of our backgrounds, and many other factors that change with time – those things cannot divide us. Unity happens when we are connected by our heart and soul, when we are all tied into the same life pumping through us, when we are all clinging to the same hope that permits us to respect instead of hate. When we have this type of unity, politicians, religious leaders, and any one else with an agenda, are unable to divide us through sound bites and subtle insinuations.
The apostle Paul depicts our faith story, our journey, our salvation, as being ‘grafted in’ to our root, to God. Our Bible Project looked at this last Tuesday night, we talked about the art of grafting. I grew up seeing aluminum foil wrapped wrapped around the branches of hard shell pecan tree outside my grandmother’s back door. Honestly, I don’t remember this aluminum foil ever not being there. As I got older and began to ask questions I learned that my grandmother was not very fond of hard shell pecans however she loved paper shell pecans. So, whenever possible, she would take a branch from a paper shell pecan tree and graft it in to the hard shell pecan tree. This resulted in branches on the tree that actually produced paper shell rather than hard shell. These new branches remained what they were created to be yet they were all tied into the heart of the tree that provided life, and the branch held onto the tree with a grasp on the soul of the tree.
Our sin has caused us to be removed from our life source, from the soul and heart beat of the tree, we have died in this process and Jesus call is to graft us all back into the tree. That was the purpose of the cross, which came from the tree. As these branches with different stories and different pasts choose to be grafted in through the redeeming work of Jesus, they, we, are once again tied into the heart and the soul of the tree. We do not cease to be the branch we were made to be but, we are now connected, each with our own story, our own mind, connected to God’s heart and God’s soul – now we have life.
This is the church, a tree with limbs grafted in all over it. While the limbs may look different and may even act different, they are all dependent on the same roots and same life source. We are all on the tree together yet we are all on the tree separate.
This is how we are separate yet together, this is how our faith is personal yet public, this is how we have different stories but still have the same story, this is why we are always accepting yet holding everything accountable to truth, the truth of God, a truth we are constantly seeking and searching for. This is why Jesus said we must search, seek, discern, and never permit any one human to control and dictate to us. This is why there is only unity when there is diversity.
Eugene Petersen, author of the Message paraphrase of the Bible, is often asked ‘How do I find the right church for you?’ His response was interesting. He said, and I paraphrase – ‘Find a church that is not so big that you can disappear, don’t find a place you can be anonymous. Also, don’t find a church that makes you feel good or important, or one that is in tune with your emotions and practices, that shares you current tastes. Make a commitment to stay there for 6 months or even a year, however long it takes. Stay there until you are finally able to see that these people, this group, this church, has the same heart and the same mind as you do. Be open to it along the way. They may be strange and different than you, and they may be aggravating and frustrating beyond belief, but they have the same heart and soul. Connect in a way that is it going to painful to leave’
Heart and Soul are our individual journey, seeing the power of Heart and Soul is only possible when diverse hearts and soul believers connect together.
This is church.
Message – My God/Your God 04.04.21
Possibly two of the most holy moments that any human can experience is to watch a human life come into this world and to witness a human life leave this world. The birth of a child is exciting but also such an exhausting moment that we miss the holiness. Then at death, we can be so consumed by the misery and grief that we fail to notice the holiness of the moment. However, they are both still holy, holy does not evaporate when we miss it, it just wraps its arms around us and carries us through the exhaustion and grief.
I have come to the conclusion that we seldom grasp these holy moment for ourself because we are exhausted, we are miserable, we are relieved, we are overwhelmed, we are fearful, we are jubilant, we are distracted – none of these are necessarily bad things, it is just our reality. I have begun intentionally noticing holy in these moments, as I have attended funerals of the parents of old friends, or in the occasions when I am conducting the memorial and being invited into the holiness as I meet with the family or accompany them to see body of the loved one just minutes before the service. I have begun to recognize the holy in the comments made at their first time to see the body since preparation, dressing, and make up. ‘He looks so peaceful,’or, ‘She loved this dress, she really looks good in it, definitely her colors.’ I think years ago these just seemed to be hollow words meant to hide the pain of the loss, now however, I have begun to recognize the genuine place the words come from. I get to watch as the have these holy moments, moments when they get to see this loved one as they remembered, the face that they see when they tell their stories, the face they will always keep in their heart. It is a holy moment, it is an unprecedented moment when holiness carries them through.
After Jesus was confirmed to be dead, his body was taken down from the cross and carried to a tomb donated by a religious leader named Joseph. There had been a group of female followers watching the crucifixion of Jesus along with John the disciple, they all witnessed the holy and painful moment from a safe distance. A smaller subset of that group stealthily followed the body to the grave and witnessed the stone rolled in front of the entrance to the tomb. Then an even small subset journeyed to the grave as early as possible after the Sabbath. Among this group was Mary Magdalene, one of Jesus’ most faithful followers and possibly one of Jesus most dedicated devotees. Jesus had delivered Mary from seven demons who had taken up residence within her. She followed not just because she felt she had a debt, she also was a true seeker of truth. Mary sought understanding in all the words and actions of Jesus. Mary have see the power of Jesus, she had seen the compassion and mercy of Jesus, and she had personally experience his deliverance and rescue in her own life.
Mary didn’t go to the tomb expecting to see Jesus, Mary went to the tomb because that was what needed to be done. She didn’t go seeking another Holy moment. It was so early that the sun was not yet fully above the horizon, identification as a Jesus follower was dangerous, and then there was the issue of the huge stone. Nobody had any expectations except for the expectations they put on themselves. All the women wanted to do was give Jesus’ body a proper and respectful anointing and burial preparation. This moment was holy as soon as she made her first step to the cemetery, as she journeyed to do what you do for a body recently buried, especially what you do for a friend that has been hurriedly laid in the grave. Even though this was a practical and rational, action, it was a holy action, an action of respect, she went to the do the most holy, The entire endeavor was to be done without any acclaim, it was not about them. God’s holiness carried Mary and the others through their fear to the tomb which was opened, and inside as they took the steps to see Jesus. Her journey, her intended common purpose, her diligent and faithful act of respect were holy, to her though, it was just what needed to be done. But, once there, she saw Jesus, he was there, in human form, not dead but alive, a human form that she grabbed ahold of and embraced for as long as possible. Jesus peeled her hands from his neck and arm, he told her that there was much to be done, she surely shook her head in agreement, she wiped away her tears of joy and waited for Jesus to speak.
‘“Go and tell the disciples, and tell Peter,” Remembering Peter was huge, after his recent blatant and repeated rejection of Jesus, Peter could have easily been dismissed, but Jesus made a point to make sure everyone knew he was still included, he made an obvious notice that God was still Peter’s Father and he was still Peter’s God.
This was the first lesson about resurrection. Resurrection heals and erases the scars of the pain and the hurt of rejection. It was forgotten, Jesus had released it in death, there was no trace of it in the heart of the resurrected Jesus.
“Go and tell them that I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Jesus said.
Mary began to shiver, a tingling, she surely recognized that Jesus was back on his path, the green light his back was now to the cross and even to the empty grave, now he was continuing on his journey to save the world. Jesus didn’t need to talk about cross, he didn’t need to explain the theological significance of his resurrection, he just needed back on his path. He didn’t need to say any of that because he knew Mary’s holy moment was going to be communicated to his disciples and followers clear and concise, and strangely, Mary did not need to ask any questions because seeing Jesus was the answer to all her questions.
As she ripped into the room where the disciples were hiding, she could hardly wait for the door to even close. “I’ve seen him! I’ve seen him! I’ve seen the Lord, I’ve seen Jesus!”
The eyes of the disciples revealed everything, some were opened as wide as could be, some were all wrinkled together, their words expressed a myriad of perspectives.
“She has already been to the tomb? Is it wise to go to the tomb, isn’t it risky?”
“This has all been too much for her, she is being hysterical.”
Still others looked at each other with a hint of hope, “Is it possible? Wouldn’t he have told us this would happen? Wait a minute, did he tell us this would happen?”
May was bent over with her hands supporting her on her knees, she was catching her breath, shaking her head up and down, her actions were affirming this was real, she had seen the resurrected Jesus!
“Are you sure it was him,?’ One of the disciples surely asked.
The room was abuzz with the chattering of the men gathered before Mary. As she caught her breath, she said, “Oh, and he told me to tell you that he is ascending to God.”
Here is the second lesson of the resurrection. A proclamation of seeing is always going to trump the message sent, even the message comes from Jesus. All she could think to say was to testify that she had seen him, she had seen Jesus. Mary, without even thinking about it, without any regard to the cultural expectations and restrictions on female, blurted out, “and, YES, it was him, don’t you think I, of all people, would recognize Jesus?!”
Jesus knew that she would proclaim everything in this manner, Jesus understood human nature. Months before, had told the Samaritan woman to “Go, call your husband, and come back.” But she too arrived back in the city and just proclaimed, “Come and see a man who told me everything! This man I have seen.” Then, after all the city ran out to see Jesus, they proclaimed, “It is no longer because of what she said that we believe, for we have now seen for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.” It was a holy moment that could have been missed but it was not because they had now seen.
Seeing and experiencing, changes everything, even in the most mundane of times and activities. It is in our daily actions, taking the boring steps on our path, that we walk in holy moments. Moments that change our life, moments that can be a part of Jesus’ path to save the world. Moment where our eyes are open, moments when we see the hand of God.
The cross and the empty grave were now behind Mary and the other followers. Death and Resurrection had been essential detours but now the victory was complete. The followers were now living in the holy – in the midst of the most unholy. It was a natural time of fear and chaos, but Jesus was now inviting them all to join him in the pool of peace. There was a lot ahead but it was holy, it didn’t actually seem to be holy and peaceful, but still Mary could not help but burst into the room yelling “I’ve seen him, he is alive!”
Then there is a third lesson in the resurrection, – Jesus had scars.
This is a most intriguing aspect of Jesus in his resurrected state. This body was no longer the same body that hung on the cross, the body that had been suffocated by the pull of gravity, no longer did his heart fail to beat nor did his lungs refuse to take a breath. Now, Jesus embodied what he was meant to be, only now he was in a body that was impervious to the pains inflicted by an unholy world, now in a body that would never again feel the tug of death. Now his body was perfect, however, he still had the nail prints in this hands and feet, he still bore the scar on his side from the sword that had pierced him.
Giving Thomas a moment of holiness, Jesus held out his hands for Thomas to see and touch, Jesus carried the scars for the world to know, to know and understand Holy, that he is Holy, that this is God. See, these scars were not just an earthly manifestation of what he had done, they were eternal scars marking the pivotal moment on the cross and the proof of the moment at the tomb. Scars to carry to be seen by those who were now freed from their own disobedience, cleansing us of our rejection because we had chosen him, the scars continue to be a invitation to all peoples, to a world to whom were rescued by the same God, the same Father.
Scars that call us all to recognize and to call upon the God who created all, who loves all, who reaches out to all, who desperately desires to save all. The God who bears our scars.
Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died. So you see, just as death came into the world through a man, now the resurrection from the dead has begun through another man. Just as everyone dies because we all belong to Adam, everyone who belongs to Christ will be given new life.
I Corinthians 15:20-22
This is Easter, this day, this life, this moment is Holy. May we all recognize this truth today, may we all remember this holiness this week, may we all chose to live in this peace forever. May we also remember the message of the scars engraved into Jesus’ skin, scars that forever remind us of the why, the pain, the release, and the full burden of the cross.
Today we stand looking up at an empty cross today, we stand outside the empty tomb, today we run with Mary who is exhausted but canot with to tell and proclaim, we stand with Jesus, we experience the holy Jesus, the sacrificial lamb who death could not hold. Today we stand on hope because of that which will never need to be experienced again. Today is holy, this is Holy, this is our Holy moment.
Let us pray
03.28.21 Palm Sunday
Have you ever asked someone how they were doing and find their response ‘I’m Fine’ hard to beloved. Whether it is due to the tone of their voice or the look on their face, it is response that is not very convincing. You want more, you want more words to help you navigate the assumptions made from their non verbal signals.
There are some responses, or explanations that only need a word or a handful of words and you know exactly what is meant. Sometimes a very short sentence can communicate much more than a very wordy sentence.
An example, As we see the words ‘Jesus wept’, we are given a powerful moment with God’s experience of our experience of grief, as well as an evidence that Jesus, who sits next to God, understands the impact of our humanness.
As we see Jesus on the cross and hear his voice the three simple words ‘It is finished’ we are hit in the face with his determination to travel his path all the way through the cross.
And then, earlier in Mark, there is the narration ‘He intended to pass them by’
For us to understand the significance of Jesus silence before his accusers we must go back to Jesus voice in the midst of human struggle. Back to the midpoint in the ministry of Jesus. Early in the evening after Jesus fed 5,000 plus people and now he was closing out the day by permitting personal moments with those in attendance. An exhausted Jesus looked over at this disciples. This had to be an exhausted group of men, this journey following Jesus had been challenging especially today. Jesus had told them to feed the crowds, it was an absurd request. The men were tired and as Jesus saw this he insisted they get in the boat and head ahead of him, he assured them he would be fine as he pushed their boat into the deeper waters. Jesus then went back to the crowds and eventually found a quiet spot and began to pray.
When evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and Jesus was alone on the land. When he saw that they were straining at the oars against an adverse wind, he came towards them early in the morning, walking on the sea. He intended to pass them by.
But when they saw him walking on the sea, they thought it was a ghost and cried out; for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”
Then he got into the boat with them and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.
Such an odd statement, ‘he intended to pass by them’ or ‘he wished to walk on by them.’
When Jesus saw that they were straining at the oars against an adverse wind, he came towards them early in the morning, walking on the sea. he wished, to pass them by.
He intended to pass them by? What stopped him?
When they saw him walking on the sea, they thought it was a ghost and cried out; for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” Then he got into the boat with them and the wind ceased.
Jesus plan, or his preference, had been to walk on past them, not a word or even a wave. He stopped because they were afraid, they were struggling, they didn’t see any hope. They had just seen Jesus perform this miracle yet now, with the winds growing stronger, they quickly forgot God. So Jesus got into the boat with the frightened disciples who had forgotten the power of God.
See Jesus was on a path, his calling, on his way to Jerusalem, on his way to the cross, on the way to saving the world. Saving the world was his mission not calming the disciples, nor had it been the healings or feeding, or any of the other diversions. But, Jesus could not just walk by the hurting people anymore than he could walk on by his struggling disciples. So he stopped, just like he would continue to stop whenever there was a need. That is what he did, that is what God does, he goes off the path to bring us peace, he climbs into the boat with us. Jesus detours off the path for us, he hears our cries.
Salvation of the world was Jesus’ calling, his mission, but, climbing into boats was Jesus’ character it had been carved out of compassion and mercy and powered by love.
I feel confident that I can say that we have all been in the scary boat at least sometime this past year. Many times Jesus has claimed in the boat with us. Sometimes he even sends us to climb in a boat with mercy and compassion.
When stepped off the path, he did not explain, he just helped, he calmed, he brought peace. That was what he does, there was no explanation needed, there were no expectations, no defense, no conditions, no reprimands, he just did what he knew needed to be done, and then, he resumed towards his calling, he returned to his path.
The apostle Paul explains this challenging challenge to us,
If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death — even death on a cross.
A determination that is willing to go through to do what God has called you to do – that was the determination of Jesus. That is the same mind of Christ, the same way of thinking, that we are called to. A determination to follow God’s path all the while keeping our eyes open for essential detours, opportunities to reveal the same compassion and mercy displayed by Jesus. It is only then, that Christians can heed God’s first call – to save the world.
So let’s return to Holy Week.
Instead of focusing on Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, on this Palm Sunday, we are going to go right up to the cross. We will travel with the compassionate and merciful Jesus on his determined path, right up to the cross.
The cross was not Jesus’ destination, however, his path led through the cross, though the empty grave, through the seat waiting next to the Father, and to his calling to save the world. The cross was an essential part of his path.
We come to the trials of Jesus following his arrest, the lies, the deceit, the holes in the contradictory statements, and the near silence of Jesus the accused. Mark’s gospel does not detail the scrambling between Pilate and Herod, it just gives us the tone and environment of what took place, and most importantly, we see what determination looks like.
Just before his arrest, Jesus had prayed in agony in the garden of Gethsemane, he had questioned God asking if there was any other way his path could go, did it have to go through the arrest, the trials, the public humiliation, the grief piled on his loved ones, the pain and misery…..was there any other way? Jesus knew the answer, he had been a part of the decision making before the beginning of our history, he knew what had to take place, he knew, but, he was also human, with the human emotions of fear and dread, he also knew, and he knew the victorious outcome, but still, he asked ‘is there any other way to get there?’
In the midst of all of this, there was already isolation, which had already begun, even his disciples were unable to help him navigate this human experience. He knew the isolation would be complete as even God would have to forsake him. The weight of the sin of the world on the shoulder of one man was not a journey that could be shared, isolation and rejection were expected but not looked forward to.
As Jesus walked from the garden, Satan grabbed the opportune moment. Satan attempted to use Jesus’ humaness against him for 30 years – now, Satan had the most opportune opportune moment, if this didn’t work, Satan had no chance of any ultimate victory. Satan manipulated and cajoled humans, the guards appeared at the entrance to the garden. They were there to arrest Jesus in this opportune moment. As Jesus saw the guards he responded,
‘“What is this, coming after me with swords and clubs as if I were a dangerous criminal? Day after day I’ve been sitting in the Temple teaching, and you never so much as lifted a hand against me. What you in fact have done is confirm the prophetic writings.” All the disciples bailed on him.’
Mark 14:48-50 (the Message)
It had begun, Jesus was alone, he had been deserted.
The religious leaders quickly put together a trial of Jesus. They coached witnesses, and brought them before the leaders as they approached their formal judgement. Finally, the chief priest said,
‘The Chief Priest stood up and asked Jesus, “What do you have to say to the accusation?” Jesus was silent. He said nothing. The Chief Priest tried again, this time asking, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed?”’
Mark 14:60-61 (the Message)
The chief priest was foaming at the mouth, Jesus remained calm which made the priest even more incensed. Jesus didn’t look angry, scared or defensive, he had just sat there. The red faced priest glared at Jesus waiting for an answer, the other leaders and priests moved to the edge of their seats, then Jesus look directly into the eyes of the chief priest and began to speak,
“Yes, I am, and you’ll see it yourself: The Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Mighty One, Arriving on the clouds of heaven.”
Mark 14:62 (the Message)
In their furor, the religious leaders, now a raging mob, took Jesus to the one who had the power to finish this ‘Jesus Problem’ off. They took him to the ruler Pilot who could send Jesus to his death.
In a room filled with the religious leaders, priests, and witnesses, Pilate asked Jesus,
“So You are the King of the Jews?”
Jesus responded, “It is as you say.”
Mark 15:2 (NASB)
As the hate filled crowded room became even more hostile, Pilate attempted to bring reason and rationale into the inquiry,
“Do You offer nothing in answer? See how many charges they are bringing against You!”
Mark 14: 4 (NASB)
Jesus, from this point forward was silent. He did not need to talk, he did not need to defend himself, it was unnecessary, he had accepted his fate when he walked into the waters of John’s baptism, he had affirmed it in the garden. This was all part of this path, it was all part of the isolation, it was all essential to his purpose. He did not need to take a detour just to prove that they were wrong, it would not advance Jesus on his path, nor would it be an opportunity for compassion and mercy. So, from this point forward, he would offer no defense, he would give no argument, now it was time for love not words.
In this opportune moment, Satan used screaming voices, lies, hatred, and deceit, Jesus, in this same opportune moment, used love, mercy, compassion, grace, and strangely, silence, and even hope.
That is what an opportune moment, a moment of opportunity. We can chose to make that detour a opportunity to add to hate, or we can use that detour to let God shine through us.
Jesus at this moment chose to shine. He chose to sacrifice himself, beginning with what others thought of him, his reputation, his sacrifice was not limited to the cross. HIs sacrifice involved his entirety. At this point, as he chose to remain silent and give not defense, he had stepped fully into sacrifice.
I think that the good and the great are only separated by the willingness to sacrifice.
Jesus was now on the same path he had been since his baptism, he was now just steps from the cross, it was now just steps through the cross.
Shortly before Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem and the week of Passover, the Holy Week, Mary took not he scandalous act of anointing of Jesus with her most valuable possession, a container of expensive perfume. Those present aghast and critical, they were not silent, they spoke, they criticized, the judged, they condemned. In this instance, Jesus did speak, he did offer a defense, not of himself but of Mary,
“Truly I tell you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.”
Later, as Jesus drew his final breath and gave up his spirit, a centurion, who had been a part of the execution, now standing there where had stood all day watching and witnessing the sacrificial act of Jesus.
‘At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. Now when the centurion, who stood facing Jesus and witnessed his final moments and the manner in which Jesus breathed his last breath, this centurion said, “Truly this man was God’s Son!”’
Mark 15:34, 37-39
Centuries before Isaiah had voiced our call,
“The Lord God has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word. Morning by morning he wakens— wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught. The Lord God has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, I did not turn backward. I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting. The Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame; he who vindicates me is near. Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together. Who are my adversaries? Let them confront me. It is the Lord God who helps me; who will declare me guilty? All of them will wear out like a garment; the moth will eat them up. Who among you fears the Lord and obeys the voice of his servant, who walks in darkness and has no light, yet trusts in the name of the Lord and relies upon his God?”
This is our calling. This is a Holy Week.