Existential Eavesdropping

05.24.20

As Jesus completes his final words to his disciples, he begins to pray.  Intentionally, Jesus prayed within hearing distance, for the disciples to eavesdrop.  It wasn’t that Jesus’ prayer was just an extension of the talk he had just given his disciples, because, it was probably the most sincere and passionate prayer that Jesus had ever said to God.  Like so much of the responses, reactions, and even actions that the disciples had witnessed while  watching Jesus for the past three years, this prayer was real, and, it was a lesson.

Jesus was praying for his disciples, as well as praying for himself, and even for us.  The enormity of this teaching moment, however, is that they were witnessing a intimate moment between the father and son, an intense moment of a human with God.  It was truly an existential moment for everyone able to eavesdrop (this includes those that were there as well as us over 2,000 years later.

Our passage and the entirety of John chapter 17, often referred to as The High Priestly Prayer, is introduced by John in the first verse with the words:

‘After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven’

‘These Words’, the words we see in the dialogue detailed in chapter 16, in  the midst of a tragically heavy moment, are actually a bit humorous.  In many ways it reminds me of our Tuesday Bible Project as we ask questions and often end up with even more frustrating and continuing questions.  

Listen to a few of ‘These Words’ of Jesus and his followers:

‘I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.’

‘A little while, and you will no longer see me, and again a little   while, and you will see me’

‘When a woman is in labor, she has pain’

And his disciples honestly asking each other, 

What does he mean?’

To which Jesus replied, 

‘Are you discussing among yourselves what I meant?’

And then, as we get closer to the prayer, Jesus begins to speak in a clear manner, 

 ‘I have said these things to you in figures of speech. The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures, but will tell you plainly of the Father. On that day you will ask in my name. I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God. I came from the Father and have come into the world; again, I am leaving the world and am going to the Father.’

The disciples said,  

Yes, now you are speaking plainly, not in any figure of speech! Now we know that you know all things, and do not need to have anyone question you; by this we believe that you came from God.” 

Jesus answered them, 

‘Do you now believe? The hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each one to his home, and you will  leave me alone. Yet I am not alone because the Father is with me. I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!”

In words we have questions, In words we find answers.

Now we know – The disciples were ready to eavesdrop on the existential prayer..

And….Jesus prays, ‘Father, the hour has come…..’

It had been almost three years since Jesus told his mother that ‘it is not yet my time’ and now, almost three years time, it is time.  It was time to return to the place and position he had held since before creation, it was time for Jesus to complete his mission and purpose on earth, it was time for Jesus to glorify God. 

It is time

Jesus prays for himself, for all that is about to happen on earth and in heaven.

Jesus prays for those who have walked with him as they face the coming hours and days of horror and confusion, but even more for the remainder of their earthly lives as they approach the world with the unacceptable truth.

Jesus prays for us, followers who did not experience first hand moments with the Jesus, God in the flesh, but nonetheless, have stepped onto, and into, the Way that is Jesus.

Two Words 

This morning we focus on two words that are prominent features or this intense prayer uttered by Jesus, and overheard by his followers.

Glory and Unity

One Proclamation

‘This is Eternal Life’

Let’s begin with the word Glory, or as a verb glorify or glorified

Praying for himself, Jesus said, ‘glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you’

Praying for those who had a first hand experience with Jesus and would become the leaders of the followers, he said, ‘I have been glorified in them’

Praying for us, he said, ‘The glory that you have given me I have given them

As the apostle Paul sought to explain Jesus to the Hebrews he used the word Glory this way:

Jesus is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being

Hebrews 1:3

Glory is on of those words that we are free to use but not so easy to define.

In Medieval times artists would depict the holy glory of biblical character, especially Jesus, with a halo around the head immersed in light, or sometimes there would be a light over the person.

As we look at this prayer of Jesus, we see that this word glory is used most often as a verb, an action word….something was done.

So, What are these glory actions?

Jesus explains the glory that he has already given the father by saying, 

‘I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do’ and ‘I have made your name known’

Also, in the context of this moment, in the shadow of the cross, we hear him say to the Father, ‘glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you’

In making these three ‘glory’ comments, Jesus defines what it is to glorify God, it is to show God, it is to point to God, it is to speak the truth of God.  As we see in the apostle Paul’s statement, Jesus is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being – everything Jesus did, every embrace he gave, every acceptance that he offered, every truth he shared, every concern he addressed, every time he brought peace in the midst of chaos, in everything, he gave glory to God by revealing and showing, and living out, the truth of God.  In his very presence there was glory, not because of a light over his head or a voice coming down from heaven, but in the life he lived. In life he gave glory.

Now, as he prays, he asks God to continue to show and reveal God’s glory in Jesus through the cross and the return to his holy seat.

His disciples glorified Jesus, by seeking, and striving, to live as he lived.  To accept the challenge to show Jesus to the world.  In how they lived amongst people as well as how they lived when they were apart from people, the hospitality and love by which they encountered people, the compassion and mercy they showed in the moments with people, the truth they sought and shared with all people.

And us, the people that came after the prayer, those who were not with Jesus in the flesh but, nevertheless, have been blessed, thousands of years later by those who were with him.  To us, Jesus says that he has already given us his glory.

Jesus’ glory is that he has revealed God to us through the glory that he gave to God, the glory of living and showing God.  Through his life in the flesh, giving a exact portrayal of God, Jesus has now given that same glory to us.  He has shown us God and shown us how to reflect God in our life.

This understanding of glory, and therefore our mission, is of such importance that it is part of his final prayer prior to his arrest and death.

Our mission is to glorify Jesus, our mission is therefore to glorify God.  This is not usually done due to an emotional moment, it is not usually done with our hands lifted in the air, it is not even necessarily done when we are on our knees – Our glorification of God most usually happens when our hands are reaching out, when we cease to see the labels that keep us from embracing others, when we have spent the time seeking truth so living it flows naturally from our life.

It is of immense importance, also, in this prayer we see one other element that gabbed Jesus attention at this existential moment between Jesus and the Father.  That element is….

Unity

We see the correlation of glory and unity as we look at Jesus’ words after he said he had given us his glory…

The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

Our oneness, our unity, comes from our oneness and unity, with God.

Faith living and Faith practice are an individual journey and a community journey. When the followers returned to Jerusalem we see that ‘All the followers, men and women, were constantly devoting themselves to prayer,’

Oneness and unity, are not a passive, opinionless existence. Disagreement, disputes, and alternative views among any group of people who have free choice will always call for hard and difficult work, as well as personal humility, grace, mercy, sacrifice, and love.  

Unity and oneness cannot coexist together with selfishness and personal agendas.

If we look closely at Christ life, we see two surprises to Jesus, God in the flesh.  The first was the depth of the experience of the grief that comes with the loss of a loved one, or probably any type of loss.  This revelation was a pivotal moment in the life of Jesus.

The second surprise was the experience of anger that at the eye witness of abuse, especially spiritual abuse.  The human response of Jesus at witnessing individuals using the sincere faith of others in order for personal gain and advancement revealed the passionate perspective, and protectiveness of God for us (as a father). God was not a stranger to dealing with abusive people, or groups, but to see abuse from a human perspective was shocking.

Jesus, however, was not surprised by the human response to disagreement, division, arguments, and even contention – they were all  met with Love by Christ – multi sided love was always the answer and always the path to the solution – or at least the way to co-exist admit disagreement.

Disagreement was always an opportunity for love. 

Finally, the stated purpose for this prayer and the purpose of Jesus’ life, as he said…..

This is Eternal Life

In verse 3, even as Jesus had just begun the prayer that had the disciples’ ear, he interrupts his prayer for himself to speak for his current followers and us.  He states his reason for the plea to the Father, he states his mission of his relationships with humans.  He says,….

And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent

As he closes the prayer he completes this thought as he adds,

‘I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves’

This is eternal life, now, Zoe.  Glory and Unity, Life lived and Oneness pursued, individuals who live lives reflecting God as taught through the life of Jesus and as community – seen through a true collective human oneness. 

Glory • Unity • Life

It is a purposeful and passionate prayer, a prayer that we are meant to eavesdrop on, a prayer that is an instruction for the lasting pursuit of life.

05.17.20

Final Moments – Passage Basics

Today, we continue our look at the words of Jesus to his disciples hours before he was arrested and just days before he was crucified in what is called the Final Discourse.  

Our passage today takes us to a  revelation about the nature, character – a revelation of the merciful and compassionate outflow of love and acceptance of God.  It will be in this revelation that Jesus begins to bring together the things we have heard him say in the past – illustrations he has given involving sheep, roads, connections, and voices.  It will be the how of the ties that bind us together as believers, as church. 

Today, our fifth essential lesson for the leaders of the first ‘church’ is Paraclete.

To better understand, let’s begin by breaking down our focus passage.

14:15 If you love me, you will keep my commandments.

  • This is a monumental challenge, possibly it could be called a ‘responsibility’ or even a ‘task’.  Maybe, it could even be the basics of the ‘job description’ of being a leader of the new church, or to give an even a more broad boundary, a ‘job description’ of followers of Jesus.
  • In this challenge, Christ uses two very specific words (as he usually does), they are the word ‘If’ and ‘Will.’  It is our nature to filter words, any words in the way we think they are said.  We may think that this challenge is said with our interpretation being – ‘keep my commandments so, you will love me.’  Reading it this way the emphasis, and entire point of this small verse becomes an order to act ‘obey my commandments.’  We then seek to do a ‘work,’ obey the commandments.
  • Christ’ words, is actually a statement, not an order.  The ‘love’ comes first and the ‘obey’ is a natural outflow. ‘Love me and you will obey me.’  Love brings trust, trust brings a desire to know, this naturally leads us to obey.
  • Christ statement here is to point out the ‘how’ of following Jesus as the ‘Way’, the ‘Life’, and the ‘Resurrection.’ Love God.

14:16 I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate/Helper (greek word – Paraclete), to be with you forever

  • Paraclete Defined – one along side of you, another (simply put – in place of Jesus in flesh with you as he has been for the past three years) he will be an advocate, helper, companion, comforter, intercessor, the one with you, (all these roles and all other roles that Jesus in flesh filled)
  • Paraclete Presentation  – Unseen and Unknown to world who does not know/follow Jesus (the way), is grasped/known by those who know/follow Jesus (the way). Paraclete is the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Godhead.
  • Paraclete Gifting – Paraclete, much like the dwelling abode, is an inclusive gift, not exclusive.  Paraclete lives with all who step onto the road that is the Way, that is Jesus.

14:18 I will not leave you orphaned (last week, previous verses, Jesus talks about leaving)

  • This was the disciples worst fear, to be abandoned. A fear that, after just have Jesus return following the crucifixion, that he will now leave again.  
  • Now, as the realization they have been given the task of teaching and doing as Jesus did; the task of forming the faith communities that will be the church – this assurance is of immense importance.  It will be a promise that returns to their minds and hearts in the face of trials and celebrations for the remainder of their lives.

Now let’s go to the  revelation about the nature, character – a   revelation of the merciful and compassionate outflow of love and acceptance of/by God, 

by beginning with a Tiny/Huge  Greek Word

κἀγὼ, kagó

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask  the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, the Paraclete, to be with you forever.

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, the Paraclete, to be with you forever. 

And I

Definition: and, even so, me also

Usage: I also, I too, but I 

This is not a reprimand of their inability to keep God’s commandments, nor is is a concession to their unfaithful love, it is a revelation about the nature and character – a revelation of  the merciful and compassionate outflow of love and acceptance of God.

God gives even though Jesus has just stated that if we love him we will obey him.

Reveals the Character and Nature of the Father

Reveals the Character and Nature of the Son

Reveals the Character and Nature of the Spirit (Paraclete)

Reveals the Character and Nature of GodA Very Wordy Paraphrase of John 14:15-16 

As you love me, and grow in that love for me, you will naturally find yourself doing all that I taught you and and all the ways you saw me be love to all those I came in contact with – with no judgement, with no condemnation.  This will just be natural response because you cannot help but do, and live, this way. It will come automatically from you just like the healing of the lady that pushed her way through the crowd even though she had to be unbelievably weak after bleeding for a decade.  This doing, and living, will be as natural as breathing.  You will become the embodiment of love more and more as you love me.  Oh, by the way, I am asking the Father to send you the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, a companion like I have been to you in the flesh for the past three years, the Paraclete help you on The Way.

The revelation about the nature, character – a revelation of the merciful and compassionate outflow of love and acceptance of God.

Enlightenment of God in the flesh to the Human Experience through God in the Flesh experience 

Jesus understood, after living this life, that it is difficult.  He understood that to simply say Love will lead to Obedience was a denial of the human experience.  He personally understood the temptation of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, the allure of the toxic things instilled into the world through the choices of humans.

The nature of God, of the Father, Son, and Spirit is for all humans to experience a full life – God is our biggest fan 

God will give more than is foundational needed for us to succeed.

But HOW?

The Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, was never meant to take us over, to fix us, it is a cooperative effort. The very name ‘Paraclete’ is one that comes along side of us, a helper. It is still up to us to do the work, to know God, to increasingly grasp the love of God so we can respond with love back.

Start Where You Are, Grow from there 

Start with what you know – Love God, Love Others

Illustration: Love God, Love those that God loves (all others). Love your neighbor as yourself…. I shared last week that the ‘as yourself’ has always bothered me. I know too may people who loathe themself. This pandemic has brought me to an understanding of this love, it is a love that holds others in the same regard we hold ourself. During this crisis we have seen countless individuals proclaiming their ‘right’ to not wear a mask, to gather as they want, to be able to work regardless of the dangers to a community. Sadly, this has often been from self proclaimed followers of Christ. This is saying I love me first, my wants trump your needs. This is not loving your neighbor, it is not loving God. It is not permitting the Paraclete to bring us back to truth.

Guide you and seek to know God, Love God, more & more

How do I grow in my love for others, put that into action w/God.

Connectedness

Growing up, there was one thing you could always bank on, that was that on the hottest and most humid day of the summer, my mother’s side of the family would gather for a family reunion at Couch Park in Stillwater. A rented pavilion would always be the place for all the food that was brought, which would be eaten through out the hot and humid day.  Upon arrival food would be placed in the pavilion, lawn chairs would be set up under the best shade trees, hand held fans were pulled out of purses, and the ‘catching up’ would begin. 

As soon as possible, the cousins, the kids, would begin itching to get away and head to the creek to explore, to the ball field for a game of kick ball, or anywhere that the adults were not.

One element of every reunion on every record breaking hot and humid day was the presence of Billy.  Although I cannot remember what Billy did to gain our sighs and groans when we would see him appear, but his presence always warranted an ‘Oh no, Billy is here.’  

At the close of every day, we would load up our vehicles and head home until the record breaking hot and humid day the next summer. Before we were even settled into our car seats we would begin asking mom to explain how we were related to such and such individual. Her response always began with, ‘Well, let me see…’. Her explanations were seldom grasped as we were waiting to bring up the delicate matter of Billy.  ‘How are we connected to Billy?!’  This was always a difficult explanation that usually began with a great grandparent and got more confusing from there.

Us cousins, however, had our own theory.  Billy was not actually a part of the Miller family, but instead, he lived near Couch park and his mother would keep a schedule of all the reunions and would send Billy away each day to eat and annoy whatever unsuspecting family reunion he could join.  It made sense, we never saw Billy with any adults, he just always appeared.  We were convinced that we were not related to Billy except for the fact that he lived within walking distance of the park.

That theory was destroyed one summer when the reunion was moved to a neighboring town.  Billy showed up.

It wasn’t until a summer visit with Lily to Oklahoma State University in the summer of 2017. We were speaking with the department chair of one of the majors she was considering.  As I looked at the man, I couldn’t help but think I knew him, his name was very familiar.  Finally, after I inquired if perhaps we were related he immediately began to explain our connection.  He had beat me to this realization.  His explanation was as confusing as my mother’s had always been, a fact that he could tell by the expression on my face, finally, he paused and said, ‘I’m Billy’s brother.’ 

Everything was now clear, Billy was connected.

The Tie That Binds

This is our fourth week of looking at those things that Christ taught the apostles between the resurrection and the ascension.  The things that they would be essential to understand as they led the beginning of the church, essential for their own faith and perseverance, as well as essential for the new believers to understand. He took those forty days to take his followers back through his teachings and his actions to help them grow in their understanding.  So far the lessons have been:

Peace

Presence

Life

Today, the fourth lesson is this the same quest we, as children, were on at our  family reunions:

Connectedness

Connectedness defines our relationships. 

By Existence We Are Irrevocably Connected To God

Just before the crucifixion, just before the arrest, Jesus sat at a  supper table with his group of followers, friends, with whom he had spent the last three years.  With a sense of urgency Jesus began to teach the disciples to provide them strength for the coming days.  He had already confronted Judas regarding his betrayal, and for Peter for his approaching denial, and now he shared with the eleven.  

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.”

The men were surely confused and bewildered.  They had just celebrated the Passover meal together and now Jesus was so solemn and very confusing.  Where was he going? Why was he going?

Thomas spoke the question they were all thinking, ‘Where are you going?’ And ‘How do we know the way?’

The disciples, now even more confused as they processed this unexpected and mysteriously announced departure of Jesus, was it to another geographical location, another city, or worse, another group of followers? ‘Was Jesus leaving them for others?’

Jesus response was equally troubling, ‘I am the way to where I am going,’ 

While Thomas, and the others, were processing this answer, Jesus adds, ‘If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.’

It was Philip that made the next statement, his was a request, ‘Show us the Father.’

Then Jesus reveals their, and our, connectedness to God.  Earlier in John we see that no man has ever seen God, that is then repeated after Jesus in I John.  Now Jesus says that they have seen the the Father since they have seen Jesus.  Jesus is speaking of a much larger ‘seeing’ than to merely see a face or body.  Jesus is speaking of the nature, and very being, of God.  As the men has heard Jesus teach and explain, even more, as they have witnessed the actions and responses of his life – they have now seen God.  They intimately know his truth and they have a first hand eyewitness understanding of this life.

They now have the ability to differentiate, to know, to recognize God. 

First, Let’s go back to his initial words of comfort – ‘I go to prepare a place for you in my father’s house where there are many dwelling places (mansions, houses, rooms, etc.).  This term ‘dwelling places’ is the greek word ‘moné’ which is only used twice in the New Testament, both times are in this chapter.   There is the use of the word in another form in chapter 15 as Jesus leads us to ‘abide in him’ however this use in 14 is different.  There is a permanence in the specific use of ‘moné’ here as this is not just a dwelling place but a dwelling abode, a home – a forever home.

Second, let’s look at Christ’ use of the terminology of ‘the way.’  This is a passage frequently used in the modern evangelism movement to point  humans to heaven.  This term, however, is much more specific, and yet at the same time, much broader than the narrow use of evangelists.  First, it is not necessarily a salvific statement, it is an answer to Thomas’ question when he says ‘we don’t know the way.’  Jesus answer is ‘yes you do, you know me, I am the way.’ Knowing Jesus is how we know the way, it is how we know what is truth, it is how we know what is life.

Third, there are ‘many’ dwelling abodes for us.  The Father’s house, whatever it may look like, whatever it may feel like, wherever it may be, it is already our home, it is where we are meant to be, there is an intentional and permanent dwelling place waiting for us. 

Much like the prodigal son, we are always welcomed to take the road home to ‘our’ abode.  The road that is Jesus.

By Choice We Are Connected to Each Other

Our connection to each other takes place on two levels of our choice. First it is our choice to take the road that is Jesus.  Second, it is our choice to choose to be a part of community of  believers, of humans who are taking the same road.  We partner to learn, to support and encourage each other, and to serve others with each other.

Peter spoke with the believers who were far away in a place where there were very few that were taking the road of Jesus, very few other believers. As we have seen, they were considered exiles by those in their physical community who shunned their beliefs and lives.  Their second layer of choice in regard to the connection of other believers was very limited, they couldn’t go about trying to find the right ‘group’.  Their choice was to connect or not to connect – they knew a connection was essential to their survival.

Peter explained to them that they had to find a way to make this connection work, and it would be a lot of work.

Much like us today, as we have had to find different ways to connect and gather, as we have been forced out of our normal, out of the ordinary, they had to discover how they could learn and teach, how they could encourage and support, how they could love a community in which they were shunned and exiled.

God using extraordinary circumstances and situations to bring us to a new normal, learning how to do ‘church’ in an adapted manner that will be the new  norm.

Observance of Lord’s Supper – partaking and remembering together while being apart.

By Creation We Are Connected to All Created, and All of Creation

Our connectedness to God brings us to recognize our connectedness to all of God’s created and all of his creation.

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.

To all peoples, past, present and future, to all of creation…..

kosmos -the world, universe; worldly affairs; the inhabitants of the world; adornment

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and  first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor (everyone else) as yourself.

The ‘as yourself’ has always stumped me.  I have encountered countless individuals who obviously did not appear to love themselves.  However, the experience of this pandemic, coupled with so partisan divisions we now allow to affect even our churches and those hurting loved of God, has revealed this is not about ‘liking self’ it is about what is most important.  It is about living selfishly or lovingly in the midst of God’s creation and among his created.

Story of border shelters and banners and political abandonment. 

Our connectedness calls us to love and to strive to live in, and with, an eternal mindset now.  Christ said pray this way, in saying this he gave us a definition of our connectedness to Him, Other believers, and the entire world – a call that confronts our heartless prayers, pronouncing that our prayers must have feet, legs, hands, hearts, and mind to be a true and sincere prayer to God.  Prayer are a call to action to act, and live, out of our connectedness. 

Jesus said, ‘Pray (If we have learned anything lately, it is that prayer can never be just words, it must also be our hands, feet, legs, our selfishness, our lives) then in this way: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

Pastures and Pens

 The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, best known for his statement that ‘God is dead,  from my perspective, seems to exhibit a loathing of of two things,  women and religion, specifically Christianity.  In regard to his view was of religion, primarily Christianity,  he said that it seeks to keep people down, to control the masses

Nietzsche’s basic premise about religion is that it was invented by weak men who wanted to make even weaker the strong, the warriors, this was done by adapting morals so the warriors, those who had power, could be made weak primarily through guilt and fear.

Karl Marx, another German Philosopher, also found religion deplorable, in his case his vitriol was aimed at all religion, as well as the very idea of religion.  He is famous for saying, “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of social conditions in which the spirit is excluded. It is the opium of the people.

Quite frankly, much of the time, I would have to agree with both of these men. It is often true that religion, actually the institutions of religion and not faith itself, work in conjunction with rulers and politicians, that can be guilty of controlling the masses and demeaning the individual.   

This is the setting in which our focus passage for today takes place.  It is the setting in which we see Jesus teach about life…..life that begins with the now and goes forever.  TheZoé, the life, that Jesus soon calls himself.

During Jesus’ day, the religious institution was in cahoots with the Roman government in order to keep control.  Even though both sides despised each other, they recognized the value of working together, at least until they achieved their own goals. They recognized the value of partnering and using each other. With a little, sometimes a lot, of compromise of beliefs and principals, the religious establishment was, and often still is, able to work with earthly powers to achieve, often misguided agendas and goals.  With a similar release of certain held values, the government was, and is, able to work with the religious institutions to use them as well.  

So, on this day, the day in which Jesus healed a blind man, a day that ordinarily would have been a day of celebration for the formerly blind man and his family, a day that just happened to be the Sabbath, a designated day of rest, a day that religious leaders strictly defined the boundaries of work and rest for each man and woman, a day that the politicians relinquished economic gain in order to maintain control, became a day that greatly threatened the delicate and fragile collusion that was holding on by a thread between the religious institution and the political system. 

The institutional establishment began its work and undertook a quick investigation. First questioning the validity of the blindness of the man, did he have any weaknesses that could be leveraged against him.  Then, after an initial questioning of the man, they moved on to harassing his parents.  When this did not help, they returned to the man. 

This second interaction with the man elicited a classic response from the leaders and an honest, yet gutsy, response from the man

So for the second time they called in the man who had been blind and told him, “God should get the glory for this, because we know this man Jesus is a sinner.” 

“I don’t know whether he is a sinner,” the man replied. “But I know this: I was blind, and now I can see!” 

“But what did he do?” they asked. “How did he heal you?” 

“Look!” the man exclaimed. “I told you once. Didn’t you  listen? Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples, too?” 

Then they cursed him and said, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses! We know God spoke to Moses, but we don’t even know where this man comes from.”  

“Why, that’s very strange!” the man replied. “He healed my eyes, and yet you don’t know where he comes from? We know that God doesn’t listen to sinners, but he is ready to hear those who worship him and do his will. Ever since the world began, no one has been able to open the eyes of someone born blind. If this man were not from God, he  couldn’t have done it.” 

“You were born a total sinner!” they answered. “Are you trying to teach us?” And they threw him out of the synagogue.

The leaders tried to discredit him, they attempted to intimidate him, they sought to harass his family, they attacked his spirituality, and finally, where there was nothing left to do, they just threw him out.  The indisputable fact remained – the man was blind before and now he was not.

This blind man, who had been rejected and dismissed all of his life due to his blindness, was now being rejected in a new way because he could now see.  Life was different, he could see, it wasn’t about seeing with his eyes, it was now about  seeing life with his heart. He was blind, now he could see.  Even with his eyes closed, he could now see life because he had met life.

Jesus found the man, and speaks of sheep, sheep pens, sheep in the pasture, shepherds, gates, gate keepers, thieves, and bandits, and finally, about recognizing a voice.

The listeners, those who followed Jesus expressed that they still did not understand his figurative language, so, Jesus clarified.  It was now that he taught lesson number three – Peace, Presence, and Now Life Jesus is Life. Zoe, life that is now and life that is eternal – all the same life.

Let’s look at the nuts and bolts of Jesus’ explanation.

First, let’s look at who Jesus was speaking to?

Jesus was not speaking to those who are entrenched in sin nor was he addressing the religious leaders – he was speaking to his followers.   Jesus is talking to us, over 2,000 years later.

Second, what is Jesus basic message?

Jesus was a speaking of life, Zoe.  He says that he came because there would be judgement and he came to save us from that judgement.  He came to give us life and is full and abundant. 

Jesus’ word ‘saved’, is sózó in the greek, goes beyond our limited understanding of ‘being saved’.  Sózó is much larger meaning healing, to be made whole, to be delivered or protected, to preserve, and even ‘to merely do well’.  It is referring to now and then.  For Jesus, and his followers, everyday is the new day of beginning of eternity.  He desired that our life would be interpreted differently than the earthly values but instead through those things that do not fade or lose their value.  He was leading us to live beyond what we have and do not have.

Eugene Petersen described the words of Jesus in this way, ‘ I came so you can have real and eternal life, more and better life than you ever dreamed of.”

Jesus said, Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.

This imagery of the pasture and the pen is that abundance.  An existence of peace, in the protection of the pen, and an abundance as in the pasture.  We are free to come and go as both, pasture and pen, are the abundant life

We have a tornado shelter that we have opened up to our neighbors.  We have non Oklahoman neighbors who are petrified of tornadoes and are the first to show up.  We also have a lady next door who is a life long Okie and a life long healthy respecter of the tornadoes.  She will bake brownies earlier in the day of a tornado and then bring them to the shelter when it is time.  We will then join in the protection of the shelter, our pen, with the fear, brownies, and abundance.  It is a choice, it is a protection, and it is all part of the abundance.

This is the pen, no guarantees that it will be how or what we want but it is what  we need.

Third, who are the thieves and bandits?

Jesus is using this teaching time to warn the people of their greatest danger.  An institution that was originally formed from sincere faith.  A faith that taught the most important thing is to love God and to love everyone else.  A faith that led Jesus to reveal his distaste for the collusion of the politicians and the religious leaders when he entered the temple.  A faith that was true and sincere as opposed to institution who used people in order to achieve their own agenda.

Jesus was not speaking about the adulterers or the prostitutes, not about those who may take our possession, those who abuse us or dismiss us, not the heathen, not the worshippers of idols and false god, not the racists, not the haters, not any of the people, vocations, cultures, religions, or any of the others that we point to as dangerous and suspicious.  The thieves and bandits were the  very institutions that we are taught to trust.

Nietzsche has another interesting quote, ‘in truth there was only one Christian, and he died on a cross.”

It is our responsibility to always realize that religious leaders, politicians, or any institution can never be given carte blanche, we must alway be honest in our critique of them. Our full trust can only be on the Christian – Christ. 

Lastly, how are we to respond?

The interesting thing about this explanation of Jesus’ figurative speech is that is is a message to us.  It is not really a warning to beware, but, instead, we are called to very real and concrete response.  

Know the voice of God.

The onus is on us.  It is our responsibility to be able to differentiate between truth and lies, between the shepherd and the bandits, between love and abuse.  We must know the difference between the things of life and the things of death. Know God. Know Life

Following the ascension of Jesus, and after Pentecost, the church began.  The people were not set on starting an institution but they had an intense passion to Know the Voice of God.  They broke bread with each other, spent time learning from the eyewitnesses, the apostles, about Christ, Giving what they had, and providing for those that had need.  This was a natural reaction to the desire to Know God’s Voice. To know what was about life and what was about life. 

What are you doing to Know the Voice of God?

Presence

 Theme – The Tie That Binds – Considering Church

Understanding what ties/binds believers (the church) together. First encounters following resurrection, apostles training, continued throughout the book of Acts, reveal to us the ties that bind us together 

Today, we continue looking at that first day after the Sabbath, after the crucifixion –  the day the followers of Christ began to understand what Jesus meant when he said that he would rise again.  That first day – that first day of good overcame evil, that hope was victorious over hopelessness, that peace triumphed over turmoil, that love proved greater than hatred.  It was a huge day.

The day had actually begun long before the women arrived at the tomb, or the men hiding in their room, long before creation, long before chaos, long before pride, long before arrogance, long before insecurity, long before self centeredness – It was a day that began before death.  

Is it possible for us to understand that the resurrection coming before the death – before any death?

It was Jesus who, before his death, said, ‘I AM the resurrection.’

 Regardless of our understanding, the truth is that the tomb was empty, Jesus had risen.  The eyewitness were now to see so they can tell. 

First Lesson – Peace

The women took the road from the tomb to go back and tell the men about the empty grave and the angel’s proclamation, then, on the road, Jesus appeared to the women. Jesus told the women, ‘Don’t be afraid,’ he told them to have peace not fear, to go on in an unabashed joy.

Then, still on that same day, there were the men. The men could have been on the road to and from the tomb, or on the road to Galilee where Jesus had interacted them to go.  Instead, understandably, they were hiding in the house, but there was plenty of reasons for the men to afraid. 

They were afraid when Jesus appeared in the room, and as he had done with the women, Jesus said, ‘Peace’ – not ‘Fear’ but ‘Peace’.  Peace when their gut instinct said to be afraid, to be ashamed, to be humiliated, to be defeated, to be hopeless.  

Later, in the midst of his doubts, even Thomas was given this word, ‘Peace’.

Now, on that same day, Sunday, Jesus appears again.  And again, he appears on a road – and again he brings peace, actually this time he brought peace in the midst of despair long before the hearers even were aware they were talking to Jesus.  Sometimes, Peace itself can be very aggressive.

On this day, again on a road, we have lesson two – Presence 

A Road

Roads are an interesting thing.  They are an avenue to getting to a place or to getting away from a place.  The prodigal son took a road to reject his father and then to return and be embraced by his father.  Today’s road went from from Jerusalem to Emmaus, which was also the road to Jerusalem from Emmaus. 

On this day, on this road, two men were traveling from Jerusalem, they were heading in the direction of Emmaus.  They were heading in the opposite direction of Jerusalem.  They were walking and talking as they headed south on that road – talking about their sadness, their disillusionment, how their hope was gone, how they felt abandoned, how they thought they understood – and, now how they understood nothing.  

They were talking about the cross, they were talking about Jesus.

These men were followers of Jesus but now felt that everything was over, Jesus was dead.  It didn’t make any sense, they were so sure Jesus was the one they had been looking forward to coming to deliver the people.  They had been convinced he was the promise of blessings, the promise given to Abraham.

Had they been mistaken, or worse, had the promise been broken?

It was here, here on the road, here as the sun grew closer to the horizon, that Jesus appeared on the road. In the midst of this grief laden conversation between these two south bound travelers, Jesus joined their journey and their discussion.  

These two men needed to be on the road with Jesus at this moment, they needed to see Jesus, they needed to experience Jesus’ presence at this moment. 

Everyone that experienced Jesus on this first day needed to have that moment, they needed to be eyewitness – Jesus met them exactly where they needed and in the manner they most needed.

‘What are you talking about?’ Jesus asked.

The two men explained that they were talking about, and despondent by,  everything that had taken place in Jerusalem during the recent days.

They were shocked when Jesus asked them, ‘What has happened in Jerusalem?’

‘Are you the only person on the face of the earth who is actually unaware of what took place last week?’ the two men said in unison, both with looks of shock on their faces.

Jesus stuck with the two as they continued to walk away from Jerusalem.  On the way, Jesus – starting with Moses going through the prophets, explained what had been promised, and prophesied, about the coming Messiah, about himself,  about Jesus.

Seeing

Oddly, the men did not identify their new travel companion as Jesus.  Seeing things we truly need to see is sometimes a challenge.  As he wrote this account, Luke used the greek words that, in our English, are ‘they were kept from seeing.’  A very vague statement that means little to us today, or probably even when he wrote these words.  Were they blind to recognizing Jesus because God confused something in their retina connection to the brain, causing them to not realize they were with Jesus – that God was waiting until they were ready to see and recognize.  Or, maybe it was the men’s grief created by their unrealized hopes and dreams they had attached to Jesus as well as their understandings, and possibly agenda about Jesus’ mission.  Maybe, they were just so caught up in their emotions and anguish, along with forgetting to look for Jesus, that the metaphorical tears made their vision fuzzy.

Regardless of the why and how, the men were talking with, and listening to, Jesus without knowing it.

It must have been somewhat funny to Jesus, funny that they didn’t recognize him even though he had walked with them before.  I wonder if it was exhausting to Jesus that they needed an explanation and clarification of the prophets words.  I am sure it had to be precious to Jesus that they invited him to stay with them and asked him to join them at the table for a meal.

Jesus, whose death was the source of these men’s pain, was alive and with the men, Jesus was present in their grief.  They didn’t even see that he was present as they invited him to stay the night with them, their eyes were still kept from seeing Jesus when they invited him to the table.

Present and Presence at the Table 

If you think about it, there is something very radical about the table.

The table is where you break bread, it is where you pass and receive food, it is where you you sit, sometimes where you feel captive, you are possibly with another person who lacks table manners, it is where the real and vulnerable ‘you’ often shows up.  It is where we have all shared great conversation and awkward silence, where we have experienced exhilaration and desperation.  You never really know what you are going to experience at the table – it can be a very intimate experience.

The table is a frequent occurrence in the life of Jesus.  It was a a table of 5,000 people, and again at a table of 4,000 people that Jesus first challenged his disciples to care for those people by feeding them.  It was at the table of a despised tax collector where Jesus radically chose to invite himself to sit and a shocking transformation took place.  It was at the table of his closest friends that he was scandalously anointed with a most expensive perfume. It was a short time after this moment with the men on the road that Jesus would again appear to his disciples and ask to sit at their table by asking ‘Is there anything to eat?’  It was at a beach table where Jesus sat waiting on the disciples to haul in their abundant catch and join him to eat – after asking them to bring some of their catch to add to the meal.  It was at a table where he sat with his intimate group of followers for a passover meal just before his arrest and crucifixion.  As they ate at he told them to use this, and future, occasions at the table to remember how he lived, what he taught, and especially what he accomplished for them.

Eat and Remember, Drink and remember.

It would at that last table that Jesus said he would not eat or drink with them again until his purpose and mission was complete.

Now, he sat with these two men, heading away from Jerusalem and Galilee, at their table.  A table at which they had invited him to sit.

As the two men began to recognize the inexplicable unknown abundance at the table, an abundance which was not about food but something much larger, something huge, they began to put aside their grief, fear, and disillusionment.  Without the weight of the pain, the men began to see, soon they realized that the abundance at their table was the presence of Jesus.

Jesus had been present with them all along.

Jesus was, and is, present.  Even when the men could not see him, Jesus was still present.

This was the second lesson- presence.  Jesus taught this lesson on presence while he, himself, was present.

Now, the men took the same road they had walked on before.  Last time they took the road away from Jerusalem, but now that same road was taking them back to Jerusalem.

Ill: Churches insisting on ‘trusting God’ and meeting during virus quarantine endangering everyone that attends and anyone who comes in contacting those individuals. Confusing the Presence with Arrogance.

Closing Story – Personal thinking about presence (on zoom). Being present  to recognize the presence.

Our Call

Look for (His) presence 

Be present

Enjoy presence

Peace Be With You

  04.19.20

Theme – The Tie That Binds – Considering Church

Understanding what ties/binds believers (the church) together.  First encounters following resurrection, apostles training, continued throughout the book of Acts, reveal to us the ties that bind. – “Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” Ecclesiastes 4:12 

Parting Words/Life Calling – Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Matthew 28:16-20 (will look again at this passage on June 7)

Divinity School Accelerated Intensive (Chosen Disciples/Followers Prepare to Lead Church)

Apostles now take a 40 day intense seminary doctoral class preparing them to lead the Believers, the church.  In this time he takes everything he taught and did, with the enlightenment of the now infilling of the Holy Spirit (John 20:22), and opens their minds to fully understand his words and actions from past three years.

The First Lesson – Peace 

First Words from God (through angel) and then From Jesus (and again to Thomas)

To women (don’t be afraid) and to men (Peace be with you).  In our passage today, as well as last week, we see each initial words be words of peace. Proclaimed to all – Angel said this to the women and then Christ said same.  Christ said to disciples and then again to Thomas.

The Explanation of Peace – not a change in situation -followers receiving this ‘peace’ are not returning to ‘peaceful situations’ – they are returning to same scary/chaotic circumstances they were living in prior to proclamation of peace.

External Living Through An Inner Assured Peace

For thus says the Lord: Only when Babylon’s seventy years are completed will I visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart,

Jeremiah 29:10-13 

Peace is the Catalyst of our Seeking Journey

Sometimes we need to be reminded/shown the peace, sometimes others need to be reminded/shown the peace.

Author Anne Lamott Talks of her worst, and best, days of life, in the midst of a drunken stupor, walking by a small church and wandering in to hear the choir singing inside and being confronted by a Peace she had never experienced – this was the beginning of her believer journey.

The Practice of Peace  

Peace is Our Core Determinate – It guides how we respond, how we react, how we deal with pain and turmoil, how we survive crisis and disaster, how we interact with others, how we  love, how we disagree, how we live.

Peace Cannot Share Space with Turmoil, Hate, or Anger (plus pride, arrogance, insecurity, self centeredness, selfishness, etc.)  – Possibly the three most dangerous detractors from Power, Politics, and Religion.

Peace is Necessary to Fully Know and Communicate Jesus to the World

Peace

The Impact of Light

Message – The Impact of Light 

04.12.20

Our life is filled with moments, small and huge, good and bad, moments that we often use to identify time and history, moments that changed us, our community, and our world.  US Surgeon General Jerome Adams compared our current crisis to the WWII attack on Pearl Harbor and the 9/11 attacks on New York and the United States.  Here in Oklahoma we would add the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995. Moments that seem to take us into, what seemed like, an eternity of darkness.

We knew that we were coming out of these tragedies, these moments, when we began to see light, we began seeing hope, we had changed, we were forever different – we began marking time by those events.  Events that changed us individually and as citizens of this world.  

Interestingly, in the middle of one of those moments that forever change us, we, today, observe the most historic of moment of mankind, a moment that lasted for over thirty years, a moment when we knew it was ending as we saw the light piercing the darkness. 

We call it Easter, we mark it by the darkness of the cross and the light of the resurrection.  

Episcopal Scholar and Vicar, Dr. Judith Jones describes this moment this way: 

 The Gospel that began with a man [named Joseph] afraid to marry his disgraced fiancé and a fearful king [named Herod] who tries to kill potential rivals – ends with overwhelming joy. Jesus’ command to the women becomes a command to all of us: Stop being afraid! God has defeated death. Rejoice, and share the good news!

Let’s look again at the people and events of the Story of Easter, the moment that the darkness was overwhelmed by the light, the story of the resurrection, the story of the moment that forever changed the world.

Our story begins with the women on a morning when darkness was the only way to explain the atmosphere surrounding them, and the feeling about everything in life, as the women left the safety and security of their homes.  Even though the sun could be seen in the horizon ever so slightly, it still felt like it was the middle of the darkest night.  It wasn’t just at this moment that the women sensed the absence of light, the light had become increasingly absent for days.

Even before Jesus was arrested, there was a sense of it.  Darkness.  The kind of darkness that kept you from seeing anything except for the nothingness in front of you. The light just seemed to fade, the peace and joy seem to disappear, as the week had progressed.

There had even been a sense of darkness, a hopelessness, present as Jesus had entered the city.  Almost everyone was lining the path as he entered, people were throwing their cloaks and palm leaves on the ground, children were waving the leaves singing.  It was a celebration but it had this darkness.

It had already become difficult to not look for the darkness, to not focus on it entirely.  

The men that followed Jesus had made it very clear that Jesus should not go anywhere near Jerusalem.  Jesus, however, had made it even more clear that he was going to Bethany with or without them.  He was going to raise Zazarus from the dead.

‘We will die for him,’ Thomas had proclaimed as he, and the other disciples, picked up their cloaks and followed Jesus.

Then, after Bethany, Jesus turned to go to Jerusalem.  Again, the disciples were incensed, they were outraged and confused, ‘why would Jesus go to Jerusalem when it was obvious his enemies were determined to stop him and his movement.’

The women had been drawn to the teachings of Jesus probably because of the way he lived while he taught.  He respected everyone, even the women, even the samaritans, even the gentiles.  He talked about God in loving ways, not mean spirited and brutal ways.

Jesus was a breath of fresh air for the many dismissed people like the women who were heading to the tomb that dark morning. He seemed to breath life one light wherever he went. 

He didn’t hesitate to speak truth, he accepted all with love and compassion, he was a friend, he was defender, he was hope, he was the light, he was life.

Now, he was dead, they had seen him die on the cross. They had followed as one of the religious leaders took the body to his own tomb.  They stayed there as long as they were forced to return to their homes.

Sitting in the loneliness at the tomb had been when the darkness had settled in.  They had sat there in their disillusionment, their grief, their hopelessness, their confusion – they, just the women, had sat at the tomb together yet very isolated, alone, and scared.

A new reality for the women, but it is also a new reality for us in the year 2020 more than ever before, as this sense of isolation, fear, and darkness that the women experienced being much more understandable to us in our world today.

They had sat there in the darkness assuming that the world would now be dark forever.  They assumed that the light was gone for good.

So, on this dark morning they did exactly what they did when they lost a loved one – they went to the cemetery.  They went to do what you do when a body has been placed in a tomb.  They went to anoint the body just as Mary and done with her precious perfume.  Now, however, they were not anointing the body of a corpse.

They were a little surprised that the men and others were not going with them.  They were also not surprised as the men had disappeared back before Jesus had been nailed to the cross. Who could blame them though, they were the most identified followers and friends of Jesus.

It was understandable that they were absent on this dark morning, they were scared, they were surely targets of the same people that instigated the death of Jesus.  Still, this is what you do when a friend dies, you go to the grave.

The Story of that morning that followed the Sabbath day, which had followed the day that Jesus was crucified on the cross, is truly a story of darkness. It is actually a study in the response to that dark and light of those people, and groups of people, that were impacted, not just by Jesus death but also by his life.  A story that explains their actions, on that morning, through looking at the entwinement of their lives with the life of Jesus in this moment.

There were guards at the tomb.  The governmental officials had placed them there after hearing, from those who opposed Jesus, that Jesus had spoken of being resurrected from the dead.  All the leaders knew that such a feat would be inscrutable and irrefutable so they made sure such a resurrection did not happen. 

The guards were just pawns, doing what they had been told to do by powerful people who were scared.  They had, long before, chosen to only see darkness which calls for doing everything possible to keep others from seeing light.  Control is much easier if people only see, and know, what you what them to see and hold.  The guards, even with their own lives hanging by a limb, had no ability to stop the resurrection, it had already happened. Without them knowing, right before their eyes, Jesus had risen and left the tomb. When the angel rolled away the stone for the women to see, Jesus was already alive and no longer in the tomb!

It is ironic that it was a government official, a King named Herod, who had been scared, over thirty years earlier, that the baby Jesus was coming to take away his power.  Herod, at that time, had tried to stop Jesus by killing all the baby boys who could possibly be Jesus – however, by the time Herod took this action, Jesus was already gone.  Now, with the government officials, including another man named Herod, trying to keep Jesus dead by placing guards outside the tomb – once again, Jesus was already gone.

There was the story of the Jesus’ disciples.  This group had committed their lives to following Jesus for the past three years.  They banked their future, even their eternity, on him.  They followed Jesus because the believed in Jesus, they loved Jesus. The last moment they had all experienced together with Jesus was just a few days earlier when Jesus told them that, after he ‘rose’ he would go ahead of them to Galilee.

Now, in the darkness, they had forgotten about this promise, after all, they had seen him killed, as they watched the crucifixion from a distance, from hiding.  Now, they were hiding again, they were not on the way to Galilee, nor were they headed to the tomb.  They, like the women, were disillusioned, grieving, hopeless, confused, and scared.

Their fear was understandable, fear is completely expected when you can only see darkness.  Darkness is all you can find when you have forgotten the light.

And, finally, there was the story of the women.  In the greek language, when a group is defined as ‘male, it merely means that it has at least one male, however, a group of women is truly all women. This is the story of the women, the women who, on the morning following Sabbath, the first time they could go, they went to the tomb. It was the same women who had remained at the cross until the body of Jesus was taken down and moved to the tomb.  It was the women who had often provided for Jesus, listened to Jesus, learned from Jesus, and now were called by Jesus to be the first apostles.  As the angel explained to the women that Jesus had risen and left for Galilee, he also told them to go and share, then when Jesus met them on their way to tell the men, he told them to be the first witnesses to the fact that Jesus was no longer dead.

As they left the tomb, and then again as they prepared to leave Jesus, the were filled with fear and joy, filled with darkness and light.  The fear was as understandable with the women as it was with the men.  Jesus, however, told them to just go in joy, there was no need for fear.  Jesus gave them a choice, go in fear for what the darkness could do to them, go afraid for the unknown, or,  they could go in joy, looking at the light, allowing the light to overtake the darkness.  To not be afraid even though the earthly scary things were still earthly  and scary.

That is what light does, it lights up the darkness, it makes the darkness not seem so scary.   

Things to ponder from this historic moment:

  • Prior to the resurrection of Jesus, prior to the arrest of Jesus, prior to the entry into Jerusalem of Jesus, prior to raising Lazarus from the dead, Jesus proclaimed that he IS the resurrection.  He was not GOING TO BE, but ‘I AM’.  When the women arrived at the tomb, the angel proclaimed, ‘He is not here, He has risen!’ He IS our resurrection, He has defeated death.
  • Jesus proclamation before his arrest was that he would go ahead of them to Galilee after he arose, after He rose, he said that he would go ahead of them to Galilee.
  • Following the events of the cross all His followers could see was darkness, hopelessness.  They were only seeing with their eyes and not with their hearts. Each responded in their own way, many hid, others went about their life seeing to the body of loved one that had died.
  • Darkness causes Fear, but in Seeing Jesus and gaining a modicum of understanding of the resurrection they began seeing the light, they began experiencing Joy.  Jesus reminded them to live in the light and to not be afraid anymore – to quit looking for darkness when the light was in front of them. It was their choice.  To let their peace and hope be found in what they now know was true rather than what the world has defined as truth. 
  • Recognition of light changed their lives in that moment and forever.

How do we, then, live in the Light, how do we live in the Truth?  How do we make the choice?  The apostle Paul explained it this way: 

So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.

Colossians 3:1-4

Light or Darkness is always a choice of our mission – our mission is to seek, to search, and to find light, to find truth.

The impact of Darkness is Fear/Confusion – a focus on Self 

But the impact of Light is Joy/Peace/Truth –  a focus on God 

Darkness or Light

What is your choice in this moment?

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).

backstory heading

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.