I Will Go Before You

I Will Go Before You (Manuscript)

 04.05.20

Today is, traditionally, what we refer to as Palm Sunday.  It is a celebration of Jesus’ approach to the city gates of Jerusalem.  Those inside the gates, as well as those descending on the city from outside the gates, had been anticipating Jesus’ entry into the city. As he appeared, and the people lined the road, the only comparable moment in history that would even begin to relate was King David entering the city with the Ark of the Covenant – the people then celebrating God’s presence returned to the city.  It is doubtful that the people watching Jesus enter grasped that correlation, nor did they grasp the depth of the celebration, few were yet to understand that Jesus was God – but they knew that this was historic – something was in the air, something was happening in their hearts. Jesus made this clear when leaders from the religious institution requested that he calm the crowd down, he responded that if he did then the rocks would begin to cry out which they would find much more troubling and threatening.  God was again – present. The people threw their cloaks down on the ground to protect even the feet of Jesus’ donkey from touching the soiled dirt, they shouted praises, and they waved palm leaves in his honor. 

It was an ironic use of the palm leaves as it was an ironic act of worship.  Ironic, not in the sincerity of the people present, for they were truly engulfed in the moment of recognition of something greater than themselves.  It was ironic due to the fact that within less than a week, their praise would turn into hateful curses and demands for Jesus’ death.

For the opposition, such a quick public opinion shift was an easy public opinion feat, a few key inflammatory words in gullible and trusting ears, half truths and outright lies planted in those minds who would repeat them on without a thought or consideration – pretty soon, ‘Hosannah’ had become ‘Crucify Him’. The opposition to Jesus had only to appeal to the self centeredness of the crowd – to their fears of the unknown. It probably only took a few days, maybe even just a few hours, the subtle plan spread like wildfire.  

‘Crucify Him!’ 

The Easter Question – Why Was A Death Necessary?

The question, therefore, is, ‘Why was a Death Necessary?’

  • An Explanation

Reread this manuscript on Blog this week

We were created to be eternal beings, such is the reason for the Tree of Life in the Garden.  While we are eternal beings, we are not God, or even gods. This was the reason for concern – that Adam and Eve would eat from the tree of life after they had turned from God – after they had made a self declaration of being their own god. In turning away, in doing what God said specifically not to do, they defined themself as equals to God. Living forever as gods who are not God would be hell – keeping Adam and Eve from eating from the Tree of Life, from living forever, was God’s first rescue , his first demonstration of his act of love for, mankind.

Adam and Eve had been instructed to ‘not eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil’.  In obeying, they were permitting God to be their God, but in reaching out and taking from the tree, they were declaring that they knew more than God.  The serpent was incorrect when he said, ‘you shall not die,’ for now (apart from the Tree of Life) they would die.  They had turned from God, their source of life, they could not live eternally apart from God, death was now inevitable. 

Death had now become a reality of the human experience.

An inevitable reality, unless death could be defeated.  Unless humans could once again be eternal.

Taking from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was a revelation of choice, it was a revelation of heart.  They had made themself, and their choice, to be self rather than God. A choice that was humanly impossible to reverse, yet a choice that only a human could reverse.

Death could only be defeated by death – a choice could only be changed by the different choice. A different choice that could only be made by a truly holy and righteous, yet flesh being, – a choice that could only be made by God as well as a choice that could only be made by a human.

Life was now only possible through an eternally resurrected life – a life that could only be God in the flesh.

Jesus.

The Jesus who explained to Martha that ‘Zoe’, ‘life’, is earthly and eterntal.

The Jesus who told Martha, ‘I am the resurrection and the life.’

The Jesus who tells us, He is our resurrection – He is our life.

Second Question – Why Was Resurrection Necessary?

Remember that Jesus said, ‘I AM the Resurrection’ before the death.

A resurrection was inevitable.  The occurrence of a resurrection was impossible to stop. A tomb could not hold a human who could not be held by death.

Lessons on Life from the Death, 

Assurance from the  Life

  • A Rising will Occur

Writer, author, activist and historian Rebecca Solnit, writes about her research on the lasting positive, and negative, impact on societies and culture following times of devastating disaster.  Positive impacts that produce change for the good and missed opportunities that result in long lasting negative impact. Solnit says:

“Every disaster shakes loose the old order: The sudden catastrophe changes the rules and demands new and different responses, but what those will be are the subject of a battle. These disruptions shift people’s sense of who they and their society are, what matters and what’s possible, and lead, often, to deeper and more lasting change, sometimes to regime change. Many disasters unfold like revolutions; the past gives us many examples of calamities that led to lasting national change.”

We see that dynamic in the story of the death.

As Jesus had prophesied, one would betray him and that all the disciples deserted, but that gave others a chance to RISE and fill in the gap. 

Many women were also there, looking on from a distance; they had followed Jesus from Galilee and had provided for him. Among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee. When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who was also a disciple of Jesus.He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus; then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. So Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn in the rock. He then rolled a great stone to the door of the tomb and went away. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb. Matthew 27:55-61 

Later we see Nicodemus rise up.

These who had chosen to remain hidden, or those who culturally be dismissed and invisible, were suddenly visible.  They did not demand to be seen but their  hearts made it happen regardless.

  • A Change will Take Place 

Examples of Lessons Learned from recent history – Dust Bowl (faming practices), Depression (Economic Safeguards), 

Example of Lesson Missed from recent history – Civil War (racism) 

Our life is changed through a full and constant heart gratitude for the sacrifice made by God on our behalf, the demonstration of his love – His Love Motivated Rescue of Us. Leading to heart change in our life that determines our heart response to life. 

The Apostle Paul explains the Lesson Positive Change:

Let (‘LET’ will happen with a heart change unless we choose to hold or restrain it) 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. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:5-11

There is an Assurance 

Then Jesus said to them, “You will all become deserters because of me this night; for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ But after I am raised up, I will go ahead of you to Galilee.”

Matthew 26:31-32

Jesus, with full knowledge of the fact that these men would desert him, still he assured them that he would go ahead of them, ahead for them. 

There is an Assurance – For Us

He makes that same promise and assurance to each of us.  An assurance the he has already gone ahead of us even though we will be disobedient and that he will go ahead of us even in our disobedience.

This consistent aspect of God is explained later:

For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life.

Romans 5:10 

God will go before us, God has gone before us, God is  before us.

The Lessons from the Death, the Assurance from the Life – for us.

a NOW faith

We are in this bizarre time of social distancing, online school/church gatherings, an abundant need, yet rare shortage, of hand sanitizer, lysol spray and wipes, and not to mention suddenly finding that our enhanced internet might not always have enough bandwidth for all the returned children now working/schooling from home along side of Andrea and me.

In the midst of all this craziness we are adapting, we might even say we are evolving. Our household has eaten all of our meals at home for two weeks, Starbucks has sent out people to do coffee welfare checks in our absence, one of my daughters read scripture in church this past Sunday from over a hundred miles away in her pajamas and eating turkey bacon. In addition, we had a reader, and several participants, from other states.

Life is now surreal, it is our new reality, our new normal – it might be temporary or maybe it will impact us permanently.

I, too, am adapting and evolving. After a lifetime of ‘winging it’ with mere bullet points when preaching, my evolving has been to script my full sermon manuscripts for my Sunday message. I have been meaning to do this for too many years to mention, I even sat down once to try but failed – it got boring and laborious. But now, that there are many other options for participants worshipping with us at home than to sit still and listen to a much too long sermon, I must be concise and more respectful of time.

In reality, I have not faithfully followed the manuscript when preaching but it is holding me accountable and timely.

Rick

The NOW faith 

(manuscript for 03.29.20)

When Jesus called for Lazarus to come forth from the grave, and as Lazarus came out from the tomb, those who opposed Jesus knew the time had come to stop this movement and this ‘prophet’.  This was the final straw.  They had to stop the talk and discredit the rumors of Lazarus’ resurrection just as they had managed to do with the widow’s son in Nain and with Jairus’ daughter in Capernaum.  Few even talked about Jesus bringing those two back to life anymore.  Those situations had been easy, plant a subtle seed, call it a resuscitation instead of a resurrection – but those two had not been dead for four days. This one was difficult, there were too many credible witnesses, too close to Jerusalem, and Lazarus had been dead for four days!

The basics of their plan was to kill Lazarus the following day so – no resurrected life – no miracle.  If Lazarus was actually in a tomb who could prove that he had risen from death.  The opposition could claim mass hysteria, drunken revelers, or use any number of tried and effective lies and half truths.  So, they would return the following day to kill Lazarus.  An easy and permanent solution which they were convinced was flawless.  The next day, however, they found the same crowd at the home of Lazarus, Martha, and Mary.  Lazarus was reclined at the table with Jesus and others, as Martha served as host.  Mary then drew even more attention to the living Lazarus as she anointed Jesus with an expensive bottle of perfume.  Now there was no way anyone would believe that resurrection of Lazarus was a hoax; there were now too many witnesses were able to testify what they had seen after they interacting with Lazarus for two days 4 days after his death.

If only Lazarus had not died, if only Jesus had not called Lararus out of the grave.  But, Jesus had called for Lazarus to come forth and Lazarus actually had.

In the minds of the opposition, this was the point when they made it their unfailing mission to get rid of Jesus once and for all.

This was also the moment when Jesus gave us all a clear understanding of why Jesus came, what he taught, and the manner in which he interacted with all.  He came so that we could all have Life Now.

As we take a moment to look at some of the characters in the story of Lazarus death and resurrection we quickly see a picture of the various presentations one the same faith.  

There were the disciples, who, after being unable to convince Jesus not to return to Jerusalem due to safety concerns, decided to accompany him to Bethany.  Bethany was basically a suburb of Jerusalem and Jesus already had a target on his head.  It was the disciple Thomas, who is usually remembered for doubting Jesus’ resurrection, that said, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”  The disciples had a faith of a soldier, this was their mission – to protect the one who led them.

Then there was Mary, whose deep display of grief in Jesus presence seemed to trigger his tears.  Mary was always the one that lived in the moment.  Whether it was sitting at the feet of Jesus to experience every moment in his presence, or mourning at the grave of her brother, or even sacrificing her most valuable possession to honor Jesus, she always held back nothing.  Mary’s faith was like a sponge soaking up every experience and every moment.

And we have Jesus who had seen death before, this death was different though.  At this death we see something we do not see elsewhere, we see Jesus weep.  Not just cry but weep.  Deep and empathetic weeping, the kind that others notice and cannot be hidden.  Rationally, he knew he would raise Lazarus from the dead, but it was the experience of loss, as viewed in his closest and most loved ones, that made this different.  His tears were about the pain of death, the pain that others experience in the loss of a loved one, and possibly the impact that would be felt at his own impending experience of dying.  Real soul crushing pain that goes to bed with you at night and wakes up with you in the morning.  That feeling you cannot shake no matter how much you rationalize.  It hurts, and Jesus, God in the flesh, experienced this at the tomb of Lazarus.

Then there was Martha – Martha often gets a bad rep, considered too controlling, maybe too rational, probably too concerned about every detail.  She was the one that was honest with Jesus, even when it didn’t sound very holy or righteous.  She was always looking at the obvious but, at the same time, looking for more. But it was also Martha who took off running to Jesus the moment she heard that he was close, while she could see no trace of him she ran at the simple mention of his name.

It was Martha who allows us all to better understand that Jesus came to so that we can have life now.  It was possibly for Martha, and then for all of us who read her story, that Jesus permitted four days to pass following Lazarus’ death before he returned to Bethany.  It was Martha that had the interaction that provided her, and us, the essential element of faith, a faith that permits us to understand what it is to Live Now.  We see this displayed in the dialogue that was probably less than a common paragraph, a lesson that began with Martha’s statement:

“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not  have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.”

Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

Martha was placing her hope on, and defining her faith by, a coming event, a coming moment – Resurrection.  Jesus corrected her, and possibly our,  theological understanding through his use of three small, yet powerful, words that explained everything:

I, Am, Life.

I

The one letter word ‘I’ is pretty self explanatory.  Jesus is talking about himself,  there is no question, what comes after ‘I’ refers to him, and only to him. We see this same definite direction as Genesis one says, 

‘In the beginning GOD created’  

It is also much like the “I’ in his statement detailed in John 14:6

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

There is no discussion or argument, he is referring to himself.

AM

The word ‘AM’ is not an event to come, or even an event that has already taken place, actually it is not an event at all.  ‘AM’ is a statement of ‘was being’, ‘now being, and ‘will begin’.  It is, in the case of Jesus, an infinite identifier.  Jesus is, Jesus was, Jesus will be, Jesus is a forever ‘Now’.  This is what Jesus is and it is what Jesus does.  He was before Martha embraced and followed, it was what Martha experienced as she journeyed with Jesus, it was her own resurrection and her existence – it was why she automatically took off running.  It was in this teaching moment with Jesus that Martha a Now Faith began to click, she began to understad.

Life

Jesus said:

I came that you may have life, and have it abundantly.

Greek word zóé: life or live

It is not just life as we think of it but both of physical or present and spiritual now or future existence. 

Martha, without realizing it had already experienced the life, she had already partaken of the resurrection for she had also previously been dead in her sin.  Jesus, in very definite, yet simple, words, taught Martha, and us, that his mission was not just about a future event, a physical resurrection or his own resurrection, or our own eternity, it is about NOW, and the faith he leads us in is a NOW faith.

As followers of Jesus we are also partakers of the resurrection that IS Jesus and of the NOW life, we are not waiting for this life it is NOW.

Faith, the faith we call Christianity, is not a waiting faith, it never was and never will be.  We do not wait for a moment and then start living, we do not delay the life until heaven – We live NOW.

It is when we are alone and when we are with many, it is when we are surrounded by those who treat us unfairly and when we are around those who we can fully trust, it is when we are poor and when we have plenty, it is when life is miserable, it is when life is pleasant, it is when life is scary and when life is easy, it is when we are uncomfortable and inconvenienced and when things are just right, it is when we feel unloved and it is when we feel loved,  it is when we are free to move and do and it is when we are in quarantine and lock down.  It is NOW. 

This is what Jesus was talking about when he prayed:

Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

This is OUR mission, that we would live now in as if we were living in heaven.  It is our reality as believers, it is our way of life as followers, it is living in the unseen and enjoying even in the midst of the unenjoyable. 

It is NOW.

So, How do we live in a NOW Life, a Now faith?

Much like the Disciples, Mary, and Martha, who each approached their believer journey, their life differently, living with a NOW faith is also going to be personal. 

Somewhat different for each of us, somewhat different depending on each of us.

It probably will start by looking for our Joy, the Joy that reminds us what our calling, our mission, is – what are life is about.  Not just happy things but those discoveries that remind us of our NOW faith.  Maybe it is a memory grasping truth, maybe it is a happy or a sad moment or experience, possibly it is just realizing that what you can see and how life feels is not always true to what life is.

It is what takes us back to the place that Martha went to when she realized that she was not waiting for an event but that life was right there with her.

It is what led Martha hold a dinner party the next day in honor of Jesus.  It is what led Lazarus to recline at the table with Jesus, it is what led Mary to anoint  Jesus.  

What is your LIFE NOW FAITH leading you to do?

Backstory is becoming Passage Primer!

Passage primer narrow

Beginning next week Backstory will be ‘Passage Primer’ with the goal of providing you with context before you journey into the weekly readings.  Passage Primer will also be located at a different site (check your email next week).

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for 01.05.20

Readings

Jeremiah 31:7-14  •  Psalm 147:12-20  •  Ephesians 1:3-14  •  John 1:(1-18

Passage Primer

Jeremiah 31:7-14

This passage most likely takes place about six centuries before the birth of Christ.  It was a time of severe doom and gloom.  Jeremiah, and Isaiah before him, had each spent most of their lives calling on the people to return to God, warning them of the oncoming disaster if they failed to do so.  They did not return to God and those warnings have came to pass.  The city of Jerusalem, the country of Judah, and even the temple of God had been conquered, defeated,  and destroyed.  Most of the people had been exiled and were now living in Babylon or in refugee and migrant camps.  The people were now slaves.  They had been scattered, the world as they knew it had come to an end, and there seemed to be no hope in sight.  In this prophesy from Jeremiah bringing the people back to hope.  His message promises a light in the midst of their darkness, that they will return home, be reunited with each other, and will permit God to be their shepherd.

Psalm 147:12-20 (responsive reading)

The final five Psalms in the book of Psalms are frequently called the ‘Praise the Lord’ psalms as they each begin and end with the words ‘Praise the Lord’. This particular passage in the Psalms, verses 12-20 in chapter 147, bring the connection of creation and salvation into focus.  The psalmist uses many aspects of God’s creation to point to God’s creation through Jesus.  Later, in another of our readings for this week, we see the writer of the gospel of John also use the thread between creation and salvation.

Ephesians 1:3-14

In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians he emphasizes the oneness that exists between all believers, Jews and Gentiles.  The focus is on the adoption of believers as children of God instead of a person’s human nationality or and aspect of our human birth.  The walls that divided the Jews and the Gentiles have been torn down and no longer exist.  The message is of unity rather than division, the accomplishment of Christ rather that the works of man, the commonality of believers rather than the elements of division rather than the grace of God.

John 1:1-18

In the accounts of Jesus birth in the gospels of Matthew and Luke we are given a chronological account from the message to Mary to the escape to Egypt.  The account in Matthew actually goes further back by beginning with the lineage of Joseph that dates back to Abraham.  The account in the gospel of John, however, does not use places or dates, it is actually presents the gift of Jesus in a very timeless manner.  John shares a great deal of theology as he details God’s gift to mankind of grace.  The existence of Jesus at creation, the fact that he is God’s truth, and the existence of a darkness that only Jesus can penetrate is all part of this ‘birth’ account.  Although the entirety of the book of John is not written in this literary manner the set up of darkness and truth is a thread that lays a foundation for the message of Christ’s life.

 

Backstory

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For Sunday, 12.15.19

Readings

Isaiah 35:1-10  •  Psalm 146:5-10  •  Luke 1:46b-55  •  James 5:7-10  •  Matthew 11:2-11

Backstory

Psalm 146:5-10 (Responsive Reading)

Psalm 146 has been called a summary of the entire Bible.  If you back up to the beginning of the chapter you see a call to worship God followed by an explanation why we worship the unseen God instead of a King, Prince, or any Person – because those humans are just like us….we/they all come from the dust and will return to the dust. Then we have an explanation what it means to us when our trust is in God and our praise is to God.  A preparatory statement about the coming Messiah (Jesus) rounds out the Psalm which ends where it starts – Praising God.

Isaiah 35:1-10

While most of Isaiah is a call to the people to turn back to God, chapter 35 seems to give them a glimpse of what is waiting when they return. Their eventual is described as a desert blooming after a long drought which will back every element of life that has been absent.  The prophet speaks of the return involving a ‘highway’ which is a holy path where there is no wickedness – a highway that will be clear and understandable for those who choose to travel on it.  While the ‘highway’ was a description of what was awaiting the people after their time of correction and return, it is an equally a portrayal of our salvation journey.

Luke 1:46b-55

Our Luke passage is a song penned, and sung, by the young teenager – Mary, as she settled into the reality of God’s radical plan for her life.  While this is often portrayed, and sung, in a very passive and sweet tone, it is actually very bold and a defiant message of a young girl as she sits at the intersection of God’s plan and the expectations of her world.  Mary, singing or voicing, her inward submission and acceptance of God’s will, is following a long tradition of defiant speaking/singing (see Exodus 15:1bc; 13, 1 Samuel 2:4-5, 7; and verses 7-9 of our Psalm for this week). In voicing her acceptance of God’s plan, Mary says that ‘God has done’ great things for me’ – a statement that is surely bizarre for a young teenager who is about to see her life turned upside down.  Facing rejection, isolation, loneliness, humiliation, judgement, condemnation, and hatred, Mary’s faith and acceptance of God’s path is based on what she knows of God and her trust in him.  Mary has an amazing grasp on God’s love and is able to surrender the entirety of her life to his will.

James 5:7-10

This passage from James may seem oddly placed in the middle of the Advent season.  James is calling the readers, a people who were clearly facing their own times of difficulty and trials, to wait patiently for the return of Christ.  While it may be odd, the message is very clearly a call to believers from the time of creation.  The question ‘where is my hope, where is by strength, where is my rescue?’ is the question of humanity.  It was the quest of the Israelites as they waited for God’s rescue from the exile and slavery, it was the quest as the faithful looked forward to the coming Messiah, and it is our quest as we await the return of Christ.  James’ call to the people is to be patient while they continue on with life, treat others with love and respect, and to trust God throughout their trials, victories, and life.

Matthew 11:2-11

Our gospel passage takes us over three decades beyond the nativity to John the  Baptist who is at an extreme low point.  A ruler (Herod) has imprisoned John and, unbeknown to John, will soon have him beheaded.  John is wondering about everything, doubt and desperation are present as he is asks if he was right to trust that Jesus was, and is, the promised Messiah.  In his own reality of exhaustion and fear, John, understandably, needs affirmation that he has not followed the wrong path; he needs to know that he has been on the correct highway (see our Isaiah passage).  The interesting response of Jesus Christ is not to proclaim the miracles he has performed, he does not point to the attention of powerful and rich people he has received, nor does he list the ways in which he has fulfilled the prophecies – instead, Jesus says ‘Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.’  Jesus proves himself by reminding John of the life and acts of love, mercy, compassion, and grace.  Jesus then gives John a gentle affirmation in reminding him of God’s love that has been, in particular, directed at John throughout, and even before, his life, and in no lesser way; Jesus reveals to John that this love is even more at work during this time of isolation.  Sometimes we need a reminder of love when hope and peace seems fleeting.

Backstory

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posted 11.27.19

Readings

Isaiah 2:1-5  •  Psalm 122  •  Romans 13:11-14  •  Matthew 24:36-44

Backstory

Isaiah 2:1-5

In the first and second chapter of Isaiah, the prophet ‘sees’ God’s word concerning Judah and Jerusalem.  In chapter one, what Isaiah ‘sees’ is the wickedness of Judah, and in Jerusalem, he ‘sees’ the degenerate nature of the city and the inhabitants.  Statements such as ‘Your country lies desolate, your cities are burned with fire’, [you are a] ’sinful nation’, [you are a] ‘people laden with iniquity’ and [have] ‘offspring who do evil’, on top of this, the city of Jerusalem is called a ‘whore’ who was once ‘filled with justice.’  God’s response  is to hide his eyes and cover his ears.  The call is for the people is to ‘cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.’  Then, in chapter two following our focus passage, Isaiah ‘sees’ a condemnation on the arrogance of those who reject God’s truth yet maintain an image of religiousity.  Squeezed in between these two messages of warning and condemnation God tells, and shows, the prophet what Jerusalem will be.  The prophesy of a city where truth will be learned and go out to other cities and nations.  A place where ‘peoples’ of all nations and backgrounds will gather and a time where peace will be sought and taught.  Isaiah is planting the seeds of a personal relationship with God, a non-geographical personal faith founded on God’s work and grace that will spring forth from within each follower, regardless of location, heritage or background.

Psalm 122 (Responsive Reading)

Psalm 122, said to be written by King David, is one of fifteen Psalms called the Songs of Ascent.  The songs are thought to have been sung by the worshippers or or priestly singers on their way up to Jerusalem.  Psalms such as this were a special treat centuries later to the Israelites who were in exile in Bablylon as they remembered the city of Jerusalem and the constant hope for joy and peace.

Romans 13:11-14

Romans is Paul’s instruction to the church teaching faith and, therefore, how to live life as faithful followers of Christ.  In this passage, Paul is urging the followers to ‘get to it,’ to jump with both feet in and start living what they believe.  The telling factor in the passage is not so much what is in it but, instead, what precedes it.  After you read verses 11-14 go back and read verses 6-10 to see what Paul is telling the followers of Christ to start doing in their lives.  Paul is telling the Christians to start loving each other which is the sum of all he has taught – ‘Love,’ Paul says, ‘is the fulfillment of the law.’

Matthew 24:36-44

The gospel of Matthew, which gives the most extensive account of Jesus’ life and teachings, was written around eighty years after the birth of Jesus.  Matthew was written about a decade after the gospel of Mark. As the two books were being written every aspect of life, religion, and faith was in different stages of turmoil.  When the gospel of Mark was shared the Jews were in a brutal revolt against the Romans; Matthew was written after the revolt had been defeated by the Romans and the temple had been destroyed.  Mark was written to Christ followers who were living with an earthly hope for change while still having the intuition of their Jewish existence still a reality; Matthew was written to Christ followers who had seen much of the foundational Jewish religious practices, and leaders, gone and now the hopes for a return of Christ seemed a futile fantasy.  God’s leading in the writing of Matthew was to give a broader big picture look which included the Old Testament, a larger look at the life and teachings of Jesus, the return of Christ, and eternity all tied together.  Our passage for this week is preceded by an emphasis on the return of Jesus – in their current state of increased oppression by the Romans, the followers of Christ are becoming increasingly skeptical of such a victorious event as Jesus’ return.  While our small passage has an undeniable eschatological (end times, Jesus’ return, ‘Parousia’) emphasis, there is much more applicable truth to this teaching from Christ than the mere message of rapture theology (the interpretation that followers of Christ will be mysteriously taken to heaven prior to the difficult events of Jesus’ return). This passage is a strong encouragement to believers to live now and to not stop living their lives in the midst of their faith.

Backstory

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posted 11.20.19

Readings

Jeremiah 23:1-6 •  Psalm 46  •  Colossians 1:11-20  •  Luke 23:33-43

Backstory

Jeremiah 23:1-6

Jeremiah had spent the entirety of his life as a prophet calling the people back to God.  His passion was not only rooted in his understanding of the consequences of their actions (defeat and exile) but also in his own recognition of God existing in every facet of his life.  Jeremiah, a man who had given up every earthly standard of life and success, desired that the people would know a life that transcended the expectations of the low bar set by his fellow human beings.  In this passage, Jeremiah is pronouncing the guilt of the political and religious leaders.  Although he does not remove the blame on the people for their coming misery, he is also proclaiming that the leaders share equal responsibility.  The leaders’ refusal to turn back to God and, instead, pursuit of please the earthly leaders over them, has led to their abandonment of their obligations to shepherd their people.

Psalm 46 (responsive reading)

The Israelites were facing an unkind and possibly unfamiliar situation in the developments of natural upheavals (earthquakes, storms, etc.) along with political surprises (invasions, attacks, etc.).  This Psalm addresses both of these new realities in the lives of the people and recognizes this new normal. The people are called back to a focus and hope on God, along with a recognition of God as their leader and King.  The Psalmist brings this calling to an undeniable close with the words, “Be still, and know that I am God!” and “The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.”

Colossians 1:11-20

The group of Christian believers at Colossae, much like others churches we have seen addressed in the letters of Paul, were highly susceptible to false teachings.  Problematic elements of their faith included Jewish legalism, Greek philosophies, mysticism, the worship of angels, and deep an extreme belief that their bodies were evil (meaning that their focus was to conquer and discipline their own bodies).  Paul’s call to the Colossians was to understand the divine and human reality of Jesus along with his exalted status.  To see the amazing fact that Jesus was, and is, God and that he also lived as a human accomplishing, for us, what we could not, and cannot, do for ourselves.

Luke 23:33-43

We end our journey to Jerusalem with Jesus at the cross just a week before we begin Advent and the time of expectation of the newborn Christ (we will see the resurrection following lent and before Pentecost in a couple of months).  This is where Jesus has been headed and we see what is a true King is as Jesus accepts and hangs on the cross.  There is no pride, no pleas for rescue, no venomous spewing of hostilities and hatred, there is no attempt to secure a favorable heritage in the eyes of those watching him die in agony and pain – we only see forgiveness and, oddly, peace.  Jesus death gives us life.

Backstory

backstory heading

11.17.19

Readings

Psalm 98  •  Isaiah 65:17-25  •  Malachi 4:1-2a5  •  2 Thessalonians 3:6-13  •  Luke 21:5-19

Backstory

Psalm 98 (Responsive Reading)

Once again we are reminded that only God is truly God.  Last week we saw King David himself proclaim that an earthly King is not, and never will be, God. Psalm 98 takes that acknowledgement a bit further by proclaiming the fact that God is God is enough to call us to a joyful praise in the midst of every circumstance and situation.  Not only does our recognition of God bring us to praise but it also brings us to a joy filled trust in God as the one that judges each of us. A true knowledge of God brings us to a expectation of the new and renewed he brings to us.

Isaiah 65:17-25

In this third part of the book of Isaiah, the prophet begins to tell the people what God will do after the exile.  During the time in Babylon, the exiled Jews had been slaves, building houses for others to live in and basically never seeing the fruits of their labors.  In this look at the future, Isaiah tells the people that God is creating something new where they will see the fruits, experience health, and know freedom.  More importantly, the people will not remember the pain of their path and will experience forgiveness of their sin.  While this prophesy is often used by Christian eschatologist, it is directly written to the exiled Israelites to grab hold and prepare to be a part of this new work that God is doing.  It is a call to watch and work, mostly, however, it is a call to trust God.

Malachi 4:1-2a5

Malachi is the final book of the Old Testament addressing the people after the exile and after temple is rebuilt.  While being a prophesy of certain hope, Malachi is primarily pronouncing the sinful nature of the priests and people.  In the short time since the exiles have returned, rebuilt the temple and restored Jerusalem and Judah, they have also turned their backs on God once again. This short passage from Malachi confronts the sin of the people while reminding them, once again, of the healing and restoration that awaits at their return to God.

2 Thessalonians 3:6-13

The church at Thessalonica was a community of believers that truly needed each other.  They were considered an enigmatic group to the non-believers of the city and a threat to the political and religious leaders.  Most in the church at Thessalonica did not have a Jewish past and were susceptible to the false teachers traveling through the area.  They also were faced actual persecution and, sometimes, were not allowed the basic freedoms of purchasing food and needed goods for their own survival.  They needed each other to help navigate life and faith.  There were those in their midst who had a very questionable faith combined with a draining one sided manner of relating.  They were not really functioning members of the Christian community but rather were selfishly using the other believers.  Paul tells the church to treat these questionable believers with the love of a brother while, at the same time, not permitting them to cause an undue burden on, or a distraction to, the church.

Luke 21:5-19

Jesus is now in the temple at Jerusalem with his disciples during the week leading up to his crucifixion.  As they stand in the temple an elderly widow give all that she has in the offering but the followers of Christ only seem to notice the man-made beauty of the building and ornaments. Jesus confronts their inability to see the sacrifice of the widow and instead focusing on things that will soon be torn down and destroyed.  As Christ points out their failure to see God’s work he addresses their priorities and faith knowing that they are soon to face a loss that will challenge everything they see as valuable.