Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Unwelcome Good News Luke 4:14-30

Not every prophet is welcomed—especially when they have to speak to the people who assume they know the prophet already. When Jesus went home—to Nazareth he met rage and the deepest hurt of the people.

Luke tells the story of his moment in Nazareth, his hometown up in the hills. He was maybe a days walk west of Lake Galilee. He went into the synagogue, just like he did every week. Luke says it was his custom. It was a religious act—a ritual that meant something to him and others in his generation in Nazareth. Jesus stood up and read from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. These words from an ancient prophet proclaimed hope and the coming of God's anointing Spirit. Isaiah promised good news – good news for the poor, release for the captives and sight returning for the blind.

Jesus rolled up the scroll. He handed it back to the person who served as leader in the synagogue. And what he had to say next spoke to the people's deepest hopes and expectations.

σήμερον πεπλήρωται ἡ γραφὴ αὕτη ἐν τοι̂ς ὠσὶν ὑμω̂ν
at this hour these word are fulfilled in your hearing
Luke 4:21
Imagine the smiles and the looks of satisfaction in the eyes of the hometown crowd as Jesus spoke. He was reading some to the sweetest words of a beloved old book. What he read it was like a healing balm for hurting souls. God knows we need to hear these words of hope.

The people had heard about miracles in other cities. And in that moment they waited wondering what Jesus could do in their town. He spoke directly to their expectation. And his words had bite,
λέγω ὑμι̂ν ὅτι οὐδεὶς προφήτης δεκτός ἐστιν ἐν τῃ̂ πατρίδι αὐτο
I say to you that no prophets is acceptable in their parents land/town
Luke 4:24
Quickly he was naming miracles that came for foreigners and even the enemies of his people.

He spoke of help coming for a foreign woman and child while the people of Israel suffered The people knew the story. Elijah, a great man of God, came to this widow in Zarapheth and her to share food with him. She was planning to cook a last meal for her and her son. But the prophet convinced her—a foreigner—to help him. She took her last meal and last oil and cooked him a little cake. And her jug of oil and jar of meal never ran out. It was a miracle but a huge question was left—why would God help her and her son when the people of Israel knew suffering (1 Kings 17).

Now Jesus spoke of even more troublesome miracle. Naaman—the general of the neighboring super power Syria came looking for help and Elisha healed him. Sure there were others in Israel with skin diseases—but God's servant Elisha was the one who gave Naaman directions how he could healed (2 Kings 5).

Jesus named the truth: God had done great things for people beyond one nation. His words pushed his own hometown crowd too far. The truth of his words brought out deep seated anger And the enraged crowd pushed him to the edge of town. They were ready to push him of the brow of hill—and Jesus slipped through the crowd.

Preaching the Good News often means speaking of God's love that is greater than human love. Some will not want to hear that their is good news for all the worlds hurting. Some don't understand the breadth and depth of God's love. Some think God is like them because they are so limited by the sin of racism, classicism, anti-semitism, and all other kinds of hate and ism. To be like Jesus means boldly prolcaiming good news. Preaching the power of God means announcing hope not just for those I like or love—but for all the hurting of the world.

May we have courage to speak so boldly to the world,
Peace and thanks for reading, John.

Monday, January 14, 2019

saving the best John 2:1-11

Jesus first followers knew first hand what it was like to just be with Jesus. They walked with him and ate with him. They heard him teach with power and authority. But there was a first time they saw his power and believed.

John's gospel tells the story about the first sign--the first miracle that made it so clear that God is up to something, something good, in Jesus.

Jesus mother was attending a wedding. Jesus and his first followers were there too. As the day went on the wine ran out. Mary, Jesus mother, told him the news. His response seems terse.

τί ἐμοὶ καὶ σοί, γύναι; οὔπω ἥκει ἡ ὥρα μοu.
What it that to me and you, woman; it is not my time/hour
Mary seemed to know what he could do, even if Jesus said his time/hour had not already come. There's something about their relationship that we start to see here. Mary had faith in her son. Even if Jesus said it was none of his business or hers Mary believed that Jesus could change this situation.

God is God with or without our faith. But Mary's insistance, that Jesus is able, tells us that she had a sense of the possible not just when the time has come. Jesus, Mary believed, could act in that moment. She turned to one of the servants saying,
ὅ τι ἂν λέγῃ ὑμι̂ν ποιήσατε.
Whatever he says to you do it.
His directions were simple, fill up the big jugs, the ones used for washing water. These 6 pottery crocks held 20 or 30 gallons each. The servant filled them and Jesus told them to draw some water out and bring it to the chief servant. When he tasted it he was surprised.
πα̂ς ἄνθρωπος πρω̂τον τὸν καλὸν οἰ̂νον τίθησιν καὶ ὅταν μεθυσθω̂σιν τὸν ἐλάσσω· σὺ τετήρηκας τὸν καλὸν οἰ̂νον ἕως ἄρτι.
Every one, first sets out the good wine, and when they have drunk a few, then the inferior; you kept the good wine till now.
The crocks held 120-180 gallons of water. That would be well more than 600 or even 800 bottles of wine. It was a sign--but Jesus wasn't announcing his presence with words. His actions revealed the truth. And his disciples believed in him that day.

May we be filled with faith and hope too.
May we like Mary believe in Jesus ability to move. AMEN
Peace, and thanks for reading.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

God's Christmas Gift Luke 2

I'm thinking about Christmas as much as I can (as a human being) from Jesus' point of view. As a child we set up a manger every year. My Dad kept adding a new figurine to the setting every few years when he found one at an after Christmas sale during his lunch hour. We unpacked and set up the manger under the Christmas tree every year. The little statue of Jesus was left out until Christmas Eve. The heart of the story was there--and we waited every year to put the little figurine into the hay.

This year as I come towards Christmas it's more clear than ever before that real gift isn't under the tree--the real gift is Jesus.


I don't know that I have words to explain what that means to say that Jesus is the real gift. I just trust, more and more as the years go by, that Jesus is the Good News. Jesus, at least for me, is the only reason that Christmas matters. A few cruddy Christmas times have convinced me all the more that Jesus matters these days above all. It's clear that the Good News is that Jesus didn't just come to Bethlehem. It's good news to know his teaching and miracles--but that's not all. It's good news to know of his suffering, death, and resurrection. But that's not all. For me the hope is know that Jesus is at work in the world today just like he was from the first moments of creation. Some days Jesus is a promise--and other days Jesus is a hope--but Christmas reminds me again this year that he's already here. Whether our days take us to work or to the bedside of a dying loved one the promise is still real--Jesus is here with us and for us. He's the Good News.

Over the years I've tried to find ideas and words to describe my faith. But the more I try the more clear it gets that all I have is Jesus. I've found something very helpful in a presentation given by an old teacher of mine. He said that the Gospel is not an idea--he offered apologies to Greek thinkers--here who look for ideas to debate. Instead the Gospel, he said clearly, is a person.

My favorite line in the Christmas story is the one that the angels shared with shepherd and Linus shared with Charlie Brown--
And the angel said to them, “Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. Luke 2:10-11 RSV
And Christmas at it's best is a reminder that the Good News is here for all the world and his name is Jesus.
Peace and thanks for reading,
John

Thursday, November 8, 2018

value and faith in God's economy Mark 12:28-44

The week before he died Jesus taught prophetically in the temple. He named names. He called people out. He told the truth about what he saw and heard. He called out the scribes, self professed experts in religion. These scribes, so called experts, told other people what they were doing, right or wrong, in terms of the religious law. But Jesus had a bone to pick with them. They might have had the right sounding words and maybe even the right outward actions—but something didn't add up. So he called out warning about them..

... “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, 39 and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! 40 They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.” Mark 12:38-40 (NRSV)
The scribes' actions and judgmental attitudes didn't match-up with the heart of God. They used religion as a pretext to disparage others and enrich themselves. They were frauds. And Jesus called them out.

Faith is lived out both in public and in private—it's a matter of trust in God rather than rule following and hoop jumping. Faith is lived out in spaces that only God sees—faith is found in our heads and in our hearts—in spaces that the whole world can see. This is the uncomfortable truth—there are a whole lot of people who want to be thought of as deep and spiritual. Jesus called the scribes out because their faith wasn't real at all.

And he did it all in the temple—in the middle of the most public place—where Jews like him went to worship. He had enemies now—but he was standing up for the truth—for the poor and the financially misused.
41 He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. 42 A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. 43 Then he called his disciples and said to them,
“Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. 44 For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” Mark 12:41-44 (NRSV)
This woman was the real deal. She had deep faith—the mustard sized confidence that God can move mountains. She had faith and even though she gave a little her great confidence meant she gave more than all the rich people putting in great sums of money.

This passage is like a minefield for preachers. Here's the woman giving in faith—and here in the same temple are the people who would financially abuse widows like her. And here's the rub—to live like her—to trust like her is all about the heart and head spaces that only God sees breaking into the public space that everybody sees. It's about giving trusting that God can use anything to make a difference. And for preachers here's the danger—we are called to give and to urge others to give generously. But we are called not to exhort others to give out of our own greed.

In God's economy a little bit, a few pennies, is worth more than a vast fortune.
In God's economy faith like the widows is the key.
peace, and thanks for reading,
John

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Take Heart thoughts on Mark 10:46-52

A blind man called Bartimaeus survived by begging along the side of a road in the ancient city of Jericho. One day Jesus passed by Bartimaeus. There was a huge crowd with Jesus as he headed on towards Jerusalem. Bartimaeus called out in hope to Jesus,

υἱὲ Δαυὶδ Ἰησου̂, ἐλέησον με son of David, Jesus/Jeshou have mercy on me.
He believed Jesus was the one who could make a difference. But some in the crowd gathered around Jesus were upset that this man would call out to him. They were shouting at him to shut up and just be quiet. But Bartimaeus wasn't about to be quiet. He called out again to Jesus.
υἱὲ Δαυίδ, ἐλέησον με. son of David have mercy on me.
Jesus heard his call and stopped. Bartimaeus' call for help was now part of the plan for Jesus. His need was no mere interruption. Healing and mercy were part of the journey that Jesus was taking. He called for Bartimaeus to come. The people in the crowd turned saying,
θάρσει, ἔγειρε, φωνει̂ σε take heart he's calling you.
In this moment need and hope met. Bartimaeus believed Jesus could change his life. He jumped up and left his cloak behind. It was like he was leaving everything behind, even his most basic protection from the elements in order to get close to Jesus.

I wonder what Bartimaeus felt and thought in that moment as he heard Jesus' question,
τί σοι θέλεις ποιήσω What do you wish/want me to do for you?
Bartimaeus spoke so honestly naming exactly what he wanted.
ῥαββουνί, ἵνα ἀναβλέψω Rabbi I want to see again
Jesus responded in to his call for help,
ὕπαγε, ἡ πίστις σου σέσωκεν σε Go; your faith has made you well
And that moment Bartimaeus could see and he started to follow him along the way. For Bartimeus it was so simple. He had no doubts and nothing to turn back to. He was ready to join Jesus in the journey that would take him from Jericho to Jerusalem.

One thing that bothers me about this story is the crowd who told Bartimaeus to shut up. I wonder what it was about this one man's call for help that bothered some in the crowd. It makes me wonder how I react, as a member of the crowd who wants to follow Jesus, when someone calls out for help. Do I listen? Do I join others in the crowd and just demand that the hurting be quiet? It makes me wonder what those of us who walk with Jesus can do to help the hurting to speak.

Peace and thanks for reading, John

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

How can this be? Thoughts on John 3

A man came looking looking for Jesus—something pulled him there. There was something about Jesus. So Nicodemus came at night and called Jesus rabbi, speaking with respect. He could tell God was at work in Jesus. No one could turn water into wine, battle with daemonic forces, or heal like Jesus did if God wasn't part of the action. Nicodemus said as much to Jesus. That's when Jesus spoke about being born from above and seeing the kingdom of God.

These words didn't sit well with Nicodemus. He wondered out loud, “How can you be born after growing up?” Jesus responded with words about water and Spirit. He spoke directly to Nicodemus' astonishment.

You must be born from above.’ 8 The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” John 3:7b-8 NRSV
Nicodemus was hearing words like he'd never heard before. And he wanted to know one thing:
How can this be? John 3:9
Nicodemus thought within a human framework—he looked at the situation and pondered Jesus words.

Jesus was bringing the kingdom of God in the world whether Nicodemus was ready or understood what it meant—the same thing is true in my life and it yours. Jesus has come for us not because we are ready or because we deserve his presence in our lives. Jesus has come on purpose—for the sake of the whole world.

Jesus spoke some of the great promises of God for the world. He spoke of a plan and an promise to save. Jesus is more than just a God who came to dwell among us. He came not just to descend from from heaven Jesus. He came to offer himself to the world—and our in our violence and rage we rejected him and lifted him up on cross to die—but when he was lift healing and salvation came for the world rather than destruction and rather. Jesus offered his life for the world sake of the whole world.

For 2000 years people have been called to hear and share the Good News that Jesus has come to redeem. He came not just for the self-righteous or the holier than thou. He came for the whole. He came to save and heal—and to follow him means to spread the news-Jesus came not to condemn the world but to save.
Peace and thanks for reading, John

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Life on the Vine John 15:1-8

Jesus made some very powerful I am statements in the Gospel of John. These I am statements echo back to the ancient Hebrew scriptures to the very name of God.
A God's name in Hebrew יַהְוֶה is a verb that's well translated as I was, I am, I will be.

So the Gospel of John keys in on time when Jesus speaks these words—when Jesus says, I am...
I am the bread of life
John 6:48
I am the light of the world
John 8:12
I am the door for the sheep
John 10:7
I am the good shepherd
John 10:11
I am the Son of God
John 10:36
I am the resurrection and the life
John 11:25
I am the way, the truth, and the life
John 14:6
I am in the father and the Father is in me
John 14:10
I am the true vine
John 15:1
I am not of the world
John 17:14

Often after Jesus said I am he had a word about who his followers, his disciples are too.

I am the living bread that came down from heaven.
Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh. John 6:51

I am the light of the world John
Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life. John 8:12

I am the good shepherd.
I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. John 10:14-15

“I am the resurrection and the life.
Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. John 11:25-26

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life.
No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” John 14:6-7

Today we key in on the last of Jesus I am statements in the Gospel of John
I am the vine,
you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. John 15:5

John wrote many chapters about the last night of Jesus life. It seems like Jesus had a lot to say the night before he died—and what he said mattered not only the night he before he died—it mattered for the disciples as the years went by. Jesus said these words as he sat with his friends and at at supper. But the promise matters today just like it did that night when he was betrayed.

I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. John 15:1 NRSV
Jesus is making a promise
a promise that you will be fruitful
but along the way to being fruitful you will be pruned—Jesus said his father is like the gardener.

A good gardener will come with pruning hooks, with saws, with sheres to cut away the dead parts of a vine—the gardners goal is not to destray the vine—but to see it thrive and bear lots of fruit. Think what Jesus promise means for you and me—that the father will be like a gardener in our lives means today. God's goal isn't to cause us pain—his goal is to help us share light and hope with the world. God's goal is to cut away the parts of our lives that are dead so that he can help us make a difference in this world. God's goal is for us to leave behind the old so that we can be fruitful witnesses to the power of God right now and in the days to come.

Where are you being pruned—
where's God at work digging at the roots of your life. Where's God using the fertilizer and the tools. I believe God's always working on us—through the Word that comes from outside of us—and through the Holy Spirit that writes that Word on our hearts and that moves us out into the world.
Abide inn me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. John 15:4-5 NRSV
He's the vine-
you are the branches
There are times when Jesus words echo through the years. And I think this is one of those times where the promise impacts us every time it's heard.
I am the vine you are the branches. Jesus is saying something about himself and about the people who follow him in this world.
He's saying He is the source. And he's saying that his people—you the church—you are the branches.

The church is not an institution – no it's God's body. The church is made up of people sharing a message of love and redemption that starts with Jesus cross and resurrection. The church is Easter people branching out into the world sharing hope and forgiveness in the name of Jesus the one who died and rose. Our message is resurrection—hope and new life are found in Jesus.

you as the church you don't go out alone. We are God's people connected by the Word, connected through the water of baptism, connected through the bread and wine of communion back to God. We are witnesses lead by the Holy Spirit to share hope and forgiveness.

Abide in me he says
—have you place in me.
This call to abide was such good news for the early church. They faced persecution. They faced grief and loss all because of the faith—but Jesus was making them a promise—they have a place that can never be taken away.

In our age there's a false gospel of prosperity. There's a false gospel that teaches that God's people will have no trouble and that God's people will get whatever they want just for the asking.

The first people to read these words from John's Gospel didn't have it easy. The real history of the early church—from the fall of Jerusalem to the martyrs who died in the Colosseum for the entertainment of the crowds who wanted blood that's the first church who read these words. The real history of the church teaches us that God is giving us a promise that goes far beyond today. Trust him—trust him to answer prayer—not always as you want or when you want. Trust him not to give you every earthly desire—no trust that he has a place for you forever.

Jesus spoke of the glory God receives when we bear fruit. And I think this is a great place to renew our imaginations to think and see what it means to be fruitful in this world. We are invited to join the creator of the world in the work of redemption. We are called to be co creators with God—to join God in the renewal. He is the vine—abide in him and you will bear much fruit.
Peace, and thanks for reading. bear much fruit.