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,

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,

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.

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