Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Is it finished? thoughts on John's Passion

It is finished.
Jesus said these words as he gave up his spirit and died.
That's how John says Jesus' life ended.
The cross was the end—or at least it was supposed to be the end for him.

This story of Jesus' cross has been in the air – it's been sung and spoken, painted and sculpted. Jesus cross has been portrayed in great dramas of stage and screen for 2000 years. It's been translated into more languages than I can count.

It's a story of such hope; but it's a story of hope that only comes after the deepest kind of pain. Jesus is the man of the cross. He is the God who would die for us—he is the one who would be killed both for us and by us. He is the God who came to the world revealing the full depth of God's love—only to be rejected by people like us. He came for us; he was rejected by us—and in our rejection we didn't just turn our backs on him—we called for his death.

And as he hung from his hands and feet on the cross he called out, it is finished. And for us that word of finality is really the beginning where we end and the power of God begins. Jesus didn't just lift us up from our pain—he entered into it completely. The cross is no model for self-improvement. The cross is actually failure. The cross is death, and sin, and the power of evil run full on into the world. The cross is ugly to look at and even worse is to look at Jesus, the man of the cross.

We like to make our crosses of gold and precious gems. But think of Jesus beaten and crowned with thorns, he is no stranger to grief and loss dying on the cross. He was pushing against the spikes for every breath now as his lunges likely filled with fluid. The last night he had so much to say. Now every word was a struggle. He called out, “It is finished” and then he gave up his spirit—the old king James said he gave up the ghost. We can relate. We have all had times when giving up was the only option.

The gospels tell us who killed Jesus and how it happened. And our lives speak about why he died and just what it really means today. The power of resurrection isn't to be underestimated—but neither is the place that the cross has in the story of new life.
The cross is the end.
But the cross for us remains a sign of hope because God would move and could move and does move. Christians aren't people who try harder and do better and get it all done on our own. Christians are people who walk in the way of the cross. We are people who stumble and fail. We are people who as hard as we try still need a savior.

And so we gather round the cross—to remember his death. And in remembering his death we remember the power of God that moves in our lives way beyond our power and our limits. Resurrection can come only after the finality of death. God's full power can only be known in your life when you have nothing left.

Peace, and thanks for reading, John

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

A holy God has come for you? Mark 9:2-9

God is holy. If ever 3 peopled knew that first hand it was Peter, James, and John. There's a story in 3 of the gospels, sometimes called the Transfiguration, about a day when these 3 went walking up a mountain with Jesus.

Up to that moment they knew that Jesus had power like nobody else—but on this mountaintop they saw Jesus' majesty and glory. They knew Jesus was a great teacher and healer; but what they knew of him up to that moment was blown away by what they saw and heard when God's glory was revealed. Their rabbi, Jesus, was front and center as it all happened. Jesus was glowing. 2 men of great significance in the history of Israel, Moses and Elijah, met with Jesus on that mountain top.

Peter, not knowing what he was doing, said something to Jesus about building a space for Jesus and the two great heroes of ancient Israel. And then a voice called out from a cloud. “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” And just like that everything turned back to normal.

At the start of the day Peter, James, and John knew there was just something holy and awesome about Jesus. On the mountain top they experienced God's glory and power like never before. Just as fast everything was normal again, and Jesus told them on the way down to say nothing about what they'd witnessed.

This story of Transfiguration makes God's holiness so clear. But it also reveals who we are as people. We are not holy and here is good news: a holy God has come for us. Jesus, holy and awesome God, came to save us. Jesus came so that we could be freed by his cross and resurrection from sin, death, and evil. He came not so we could work harder to become holy too. He came so that unholy and imperfect people like us might be free.

As church our mission is to share the story of a holy God who loves the world. Our mission is not to tell people to work harder to be more like God--no its to tell of a glorious God who would step into our world and our story. Our mission is to tell the world of new life and freedom for all who believe.
Peace, and thanks of reading, John

Thursday, December 21, 2017

The look in her eyes? Luke 1:26-28

An angel came to Mary with words of greeting. Hey Mary blessed/favored by God. The Lord God is with you.

I wonder what the look was in Mary's eyes. Luke says she was silent—but he says she was pondering perplexed by this heavenly messengers words.

We know there's a whole lot that we communicate with out words. And I wonder what Mary's face said to the angel that day as he spoke these words of heavenly messenger.
++Did her face show surprise or maybe fear?
Did the look in her eyes reveal confusion or wonder.
Maybe her face revealed a questions like “Who me?”

Mary didn't utter a word after that initial greeting and the angel continued talking to her—don't be afraid. The messenger called her favored and spoke of God's glory breaking into the world in a baby who she would carry into the world in own her body.

The angel spoke of a plan—hidden for all time—that was about to be revealed. A secret the world has long waited to have made known was about to become reality.

Mary's response to the angel was simple: how?

Maybe you can relate to this question. How God?
We people look at our inadequacies and failures and how seems like a really great question to be asking. Trusting God isn't easy—it means seeing beyond what we think is reasonable or probable to the far horizon of God's limitless possibilities.

The angel came to Mary becuase God was on the move. We need the plan of God to be realized—we don't just need to hear words about love—we need to experience God's love and all the way that great love transforms our lives. And the angel's words for Mary was all about hope breaking in.

Jesus doesn't come because we have it all together—he comes because we have broken places and spaces in our beings. Faith sees past today to the promises of God. For Mary that meant looking beyond her circumstance and the impossibility of her becoming a mother and accepting this word of promise.
Peace and thanks for reading, John

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Looking for a savior? John 1

I'm Reading the gospel of John this year with a group at a local assisted living. Right at the start this man John the Baptist stood out. He came calling people to get ready because the savior is coming. But the people, much like us, have certain expectations of what the savior will look like and act like.

John came announcing a promise on God's behalf. And people thought he was the savior. He kept telling everyone that someone even greater is coming. And many people, hungry for a message of hope, ran to John. People started asking him if he was the one God had sent. And John said plainly no. One greater is still to come.

People today are looking for someone or something to make things right. We have this desire to find a savior. Fact is we people run to many different less than God saviors rather than trust in God. Some have wisely called them functional saviors. We run to so many other maybe could be saviors rather than let God come for us.

If you think about it you can name some of the less than Jesus saviors you've turned to over the years. We turn to functional saviors when fear is real and worry seems to overwhelm us. Think about what you run to when time is tough. We look for a magic bullet to make everything better for us. Money, relationships, alcohol, drugs, we can all name the less than God saviors we've turned to—and I think everyone has a list. History is full of leaders nations have turned to like Messiahs. We look for someone or something to make everything better. But nobody and nothing less than God can save us.

We can learn a lot from our friends and family in recovery—about naming the less than God saviors we've turned to—and we can also learn from them about the power of God to transform our lives once that functional savior we thought would help us inevitably fails.

John came announcing light. He came to announce Good News. Jesus comes for us when we need him to the most. He comes to give rest for our souls and to teach us again what it means to be loved by the one who made everything.

The truth is I want God to come—but I want God to come on my terms.
I want to domesticate God—telling God where to go and what to do.
And here comes John telling me and everyone that the light of the world is coming to illuminate everything and everyone.

Somehow hearing John's words about Jesus being greater than him makes sense. All the other saviors we can turn to just don't work. And John the Baptist has this great promise to share. He isn't the savior but he has great news. Jesus is coming and the promise isn't dependent on our problems all being solved. Jesus is coming to bring us healing and new life.
Peace and thanks for reading, John

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Thanks for tomorrow Luke 17:11-19

So thanksgiving's coming soon. And I've heard people talk about thanksgiving as a duty—as a sort of civic responsibility. Giving thanks often starts with remembering—looking back at a day, week, month, a year, a lifetime with gratitude towards God for all the good that's come. But sometimes looking back isn't going to provide much reason for gratitude.

In the gospel of Luke there's a story about 10 men; the gospel writer called them lepers. These men were considered contagious. They were feared, even thought of as dangerous. They had to stand back at a distance from their neighbors calling out in warning announcing they were coming. They had to yell “unclean, unclean” as a warning for others to stay away, far away (Leviticus 13:45).

When I hear people talk about thanksgiving as a duty and then I think of these ten hurting people it doesn't seem so easy to be thankful. These men wouldn't have been welcome to join the rest of the community in the thank offering. The were forbidden to go up to the temple or to sit at anyone's table. No one would invite them to join the congregation to give thanks. It's easy to tell someone they have to give thanks; but it's whole lot greater blessing to come alongside of a hurting soul and walk with them in their pain.


Jesus crossed paths with these 10 men. They called out in faith to him, “Jesus, Lord, have mercy on us” Jesus heard the deepest prayer of these hurting people. He called to them to go show themselves to the priest. And along the way—walking in trust that they would be healed—they were made clean.

Faith looks not at things that are—but trusts in the ability of God to transform. Faith in God means there is nothing in our situation in our stories that is beyond redemption. See there are some years thanksgiving is easy. Some times it's easy to look back at the recent past with thanks for the blessings of the past. Maybe your family is healthy—that cancer scare is fading away, the business is going good, you've reconciled restoring a broken relationship. Those days it's easy to look at the blessings right in front of you today and look ahead with joy and say thanks. It's easy to see reasons for gratitude when everything is going great and you've feel like everything has fallen into place and everything is just coming up roses.

But I think of these ten men—they weren't welcome in town. They couldn't gather with family and friends. They had to stay by themselves on the outside far enough away that they couldn't even look in on the celebrations.

Jesus travels, like our own, bring us into contact with all kinds people in every kind of circumstance. You will meet some in their most desperate moments and you will encounter some in their time of greatest joy. And here's where the good news of Jesus meets us—right here in this world. These ten men knew they needed help and in Jesus they saw hope for a different kind of future. In Jesus they saw the possibility of a future beyond their disease and isolation. Faith is about seeing God's unfulfilled promises and still trusting that God's at work.

All these 10 men had was faith. And in the end that was all they needed. Amen.
Peace and thanks for reading,
John

Thursday, September 14, 2017

forgive another time Matthew 18

Jesus made a promise that has given me great deal of hope over the years—wherever 2 or 3 are gathered in my name I am with them (Matthew 16:20). As a young person growing up as a Roman Catholic this verse gave me a sense of God's power and presence that was so much bigger than just one group of Christians.

I was told by many that God was limited. Some mistakenly told me that only one church, namely their church, was the real church. But Jesus' words spoke of God's limitless presence for all believers who gather in Jesus' name. Jesus' promise went way beyond the walls of one congregation or the limits of one man made denomination. Jesus words are trustworthy and true—he is present—present with us when we act together and gather together as believes. God is with us just whether it's 2 or 3 or hundreds or thousands or more gathering together in Jesus name.

Here's the rub to the story. Jesus was talking about forgiveness when he made this promise to be present with just two or three people. And Peter stepped up with a question. He was asking just how far this call to forgive was supposed to go. Jesus was talking about forgiving those in the church who hurt us. And this is the spot when Peter asked Jesus just how far this forgiveness business was supposed to go,
“Lord, how many times am I supposed to forgive a brother – a member of the church—a member of your family—a member of your body who hurts me? Seven?
Seven sounded like a lot to old Pete. And it sure seems like a lot to me to. But Jesus said no.
Seven, try again. Try seventy times seven.

So Peter comes to Jesus with this question about forgiveness and Jesus tells a story about a king who could forgive a servant of great debt—meanwhile that same servant was unable to forgive. Jesus was making a point about forgiveness – that it's a ministry for all of us. Because everyone of us has been done wrong Jesus invites us to hear both the promise of forgiveness that we need as sinner and the challenge to forgive as we have been forgiven.

I think Peter was looking for a limit to how much forgiving he had to do. Instead he got a promise of great forgiveness to be found as he forgives.
Peace, and thanks for reading. John

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Revenge, Good, Evil, and the Will of God in Genesis 37-50

Imagine if you had a chance at revenge. Would you hurt those who had hurt you?
A man called Joseph faced just such a question.

Evil,
9 of Joseph's 10 older brothers perpetrated real genuine evil against him.
This was no accident or joke. They sold him into slavery. What they had done was evil and they knew it was. They could make self-deceptive excuses. They could lie and say they didn't mean to hurt him--even they had. They could try and stretch logic to morally equivocate saying that they sold him into slavery believing somehow it was not evil as killing him and getting his blood on their own hands. But that's just a semantic game that people play with themselves rather than having the courage to call evil what it really is: evil. See Genesis.37:25-29.

Imagine that a day came many years later when hunger placed these very same older brothers directly in Joseph's presence again. This time all the power in their relationship was flipped over. This time Joseph had power and what they most needed that day to stay alive: food for them and their families. And these brothers all bowed low to Joseph—just as he had dreamed would happen many years ago.

Good,
real compassion, care, and concern guided Joseph's actions.
When he met his brothers many years later Joseph recognized his brothers right away. He knew who they were and what they had done. But he chose the opposite of revenge. Joseph waited until emotion overwhelmed him before he revealed his real identity. When he finally revealed himself he spoke kindly to them. He told them God had sent him ahead to preserve their lives and the lives of many. Joseph welcomed his father and brothers and extended family into Egypt. They settled and lived well.

God used evil for good ,
Things were good for Joseph's brothers. It was good for them; buy when their father Jacob died fear came over these older brothers again. Would Joseph use his power over his brothers to hurt them now. They knew what kind of evil people could perpetrate. And here Joseph's words speak of a great mystery—how God can use the evil people have done to others for good.

Joseph's words to his brothers speak to the truth of evil in our souls and in our world. And his words also speak to the goodness of God for all people.
19 And Joseph said unto them, Fear not: for am I in the place of God? 20 But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive. 21 Now therefore fear ye not: I will nourish you, and your little ones. And he comforted them, and spake kindly unto them. Genesis 50:19-21 (KJV)
As a sinner saved by grace there's so much life in these words. God can use even our worst to bring about the best. And for that I give thanks,
Peace, and thanks for reading.
John