“Eating with Jesus” Meditation

When I was a kid, I used to watch the Mystery at the Lord’s Table. It was like a great passion play that unfolded before my eyes. The pastor, who was larger than life himself, in the flowing white robes and stole of his office, intoned the words of institution in His big, bellowing voice. The host held for all to see, broken in front of our eyes. The chalice of the blood of the new covenant blessed and revered. My mother and I stood in line waiting to come to the table once again. Mom sang the hymns from heart while her hands were busy holding my shoulders down and restless hands in place. There at the rail I watched my mom do the same thing she did every Sunday.

Wait. Kneel down, raise her hands up.

Same way, without fail, every time.

Wait, Kneel down, raise her hands up.

I went through my confirmation classes and learned about the Mystery at the Lord’s Table in ways that a young person could understand. I took my tests and went to the altar surround by classmates and even though I had learned, I still didn’t understand what this all about. Like many my age, I was simply doing what the grownups were doing, graduating like I was suppose to do. But when I came to the altar for the first time I didn’t forget what I had seen every Sunday growing up.

Wait. Kneel down, raise my hands up.

Same way, without fail, every time.

Wait, Kneel down, raise my hands up.

When I got older I went to school to learn about the Mystery at the Lord’s Table. I learned the big words that people use to try and describe what’s happening there. Words like transubstantiation, consubstantiation and sacramental. I became the person on the other side of the rail in that Great Passion play I use to watch. I wore the white robes and stole of office, intoning the words of institution in my own voice. Funny how the Great Passion Play never changed even though I did, and funny how it didn’t matter what side of the rail I was on, I was still me and in the same need of forgiveness that I always had been. But in spite of or probably because of all of the big words running through my head and my desire to do my part well and not mess up my lines of the play, the Mystery became something clinical to me, detached, professional. But no matter what side of the rail I stood I never forgot what I had seen and known.

Wait. Kneel down, raise my hands up.

Same way, without fail, every time.

Wait, Kneel down, raise my hands up.

Like it so often does, it takes a child with their childlike faith to remind us of why we do what we do and how very important it all really is. One day, one of the children in my church came up to me before service, grabbed my hand in her little fingers, and asked me with the deepest of sincerity, “are we eating with Jesus today?” At first, I didn’t know what to say. All of those big words running through my head foolishly tried to come out and explain to this little girl what was happening that day during the Mystery of the Lord’s Supper. But God bless the Holy Spirit that he keeps grown ups from saying foolish things to children who actually know better than the grown ups do. I realized that this little Christian girl knew something I had forgotten, “Yes,” I said. “We are eating with Jesus today.”

Our Lord Jesus Christ on the day God delivered him to the cross was sitting with his friends sharing the Passover meal. This meal, above all other meals, brought the people into God’s presence and His saving story for all people. The slavery, the pain, the loss, the promise, the rescue, the hope, all remembered and lived out in that meal. The story of old, Israel’s story, humanity’s story, their story right now, our story as well- same need, same promise, same God. Jesus took the bread, broke it like his body would be broken, saying this is my body that will bear the affliction and pain of humanity’s story, their story, your story. I am with you in this bread; healing, binding, forgiving all your sins. Then He took the cup, raising it in prayer, saying, take, drink, this is the cup of promise given to you, for you, for all; God’s promise that even in the midst of all of the pain and suffering of life I am with you and I am making all things new. When you do this I am with you, present, real in my body and blood in the bread and wine, feeding you, healing you, making you whole.

 Remember what it is you are doing today and who it is you are eating with. This day, and every time and every place that the Lord’s Name is proclaimed in the mystery of this supper we are eating with Jesus. He is the one present at the table, feeding, healing, forgiving all your sins.

Kneel down. Let the very presence of Jesus in this place and time, the sacrificed one and the risen one, break your heart and lift your soul. Let his presence break our sinful pride at the knee and kneel down before the Lord of all and the Savior of all. Know that it is for our sins that all of this had to happen, that he had to die for me, for my sins, my brokenness, my blindness, my stiff-knee hard heartedness. Break your sinful knees and fall before the underserved grace of God.

Raise your hands up. This is Jesus’ body for me. This is Jesus’ blood for me. This is not something done long ago and far away. This is not something that is done only in heaven above far from me. This is my Jesus for me. This is personal, this is for me, thank you Jesus for loving me.

Same way, without fail, every time.

Wait, Kneel down, raise your hands up.

 

“Expectations” Palm Sunday Meditation

Sermon for the Feast of Palm Sunday, preached at Gethsemane Lutheran:

 The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” And Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written,

“Fear not, daughter of Zion;
 behold, your king is coming,
 sitting on a donkey’s colt!”

His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him. The crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to bear witness. The reason why the crowd went to meet him was that they heard he had done this sign. So the Pharisees said to one another, “You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after him.”

John 12:12-19

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 There they were, people from every corner of the known world, celebrating the Passover feast in Jerusalem. This was a day filled with meaning and purpose and high expectations.

The Passover feast was the day when they remembered God’s deliverance of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt and looked forward to the day of God’s ultimate deliverance of His people. Jesus triumphant entry on this day of all days, surrounded by crowds of supporters, would raise the people’s expectations high, that just like God sent Moses to deliver them from the Tyranny of the Egyptians so then maybe God had sent Jesus to deliver them from the Tyranny of the Romans who now ruled their country. They expected Jesus to be a great deliver who would save the Jews from their enemies.

For three years Jesus had taught, preached and performed miracles for everyone across the region. Just a short while before His entrance into Jerusalem Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead before the eyes of a large crowd of witnesses. Many from this crowd had continued to follow Jesus after that and now followed him into Jerusalem. They were filled with great expectation and wanted to see what Jesus would do next. They expected Jesus to be a great prophet and miracle worker.

For the crowds that day, the fact that Jesus rode in on a donkey raised their expectations higher. All of the Jews there would have known the story of Solomon and the day he rode victoriously into Jerusalem on a donkey and was anointed the successor of the Great King David and King over all of Jerusalem. They expected Jesus to be a great King, like King David and Solomon of old who would rule His people in peace and justice.

In those crowds there were many visitors, people who were simply travelling and visiting Jerusalem, they wanted to know who this Jesus was and what all of this was about. They didn’t have any expectations for Jesus at all but they could tell that a lot of other people did and they wanted to know why.

With all of these expectations they surrounded Jesus and cried out “Hosanna blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of the Jews, Hosanna!!!” The crowds ran to the nearby Palm Trees and cut down the branches laying them on the ground before Jesus, a symbol of victory and of recognizing the coming king. Many took of their cloaks and laid them on the ground as well showing their respect and honor of being in Jesus’ presence. “Hosanna,” they cried “Hosanna,” filled with high expectations for Jesus.

And there was Jesus, in the middle of all of those expectations. Jesus who would fulfill all of those expectations but not in the way that the people wanted their expectations to be met. The crowds had great and high expectations for Jesus but their expectations were actually to small. They expected a great deliverer like Moses but they only wanted one that would deliver them from the Romans. Jesus was there to be a great deliver that would rescue all of creation from the bondage of sin and death. They expected Jesus to be their own personal miracle worker healing only their illnesses, but Jesus came to heal the whole world, through the sacrifice of His blood. They expected Jesus to be an earthly king, but Jesus was the eternal king of Heaven and Earth through whom all things were created. Jesus had to be who we was meant to be for those people who had no expectations for Him at all, so they could know Him and be saved through faith.

Jesus couldn’t have fulfilled the small expectations that the people had for Him, because that wasn’t the world needed, the world needed Jesus to be what His Heavenly Father expected him to be, the Savior of the World. So in the midst of all of those human expectations, he sets his eyes like flint to what mattered most, the cross of Good Friday and the empty tomb of Easter. He moved from the palms to the cross to be not what the people expected of him but what the world needed from Him.

Because this story is our story as well, the great story of salvation given by God for all people, we can hear our own expectations of Jesus echoed in that crowd as well. Sometimes we expect Jesus to be our own personal miracle worker, sometimes there to heal our bodies from an illness but sometimes there to simply do what we want God to do for us. Making deals with God our simply expecting something just because we want it. Sometimes we expect too little from Jesus as well, not expecting him to really work and act in our lives and not completely expecting Him to be able to save us from our sins. Maybe he needs some help from us after all. Sometimes we expect Jesus to be just another good teacher, like other good teachers in history, from Ghandi to Buddha, but not really expecting Him to be truly the one who is good and holy and the true God from eternity. Maybe we expect Jesus to be the King of heaven and earth but we don’t really expect Jesus to be the personal king of my life. We expect Jesus to run the world and keep the pieces moving but we don’t really expect Him to rule my life and to actually have something to say about how I live. Or we might not actually have any expectations for Jesus at all, were just here, but we do wonder why do all of these people, some 4 billion Christians right now, have all of these expectations for Jesus?

On this Palm Sunday, Jesus is here as well. in the midst of all of our own expectations, but just like for the crowds 2,000 years ago, Jesus came to be the savior we needed not the savior we expected. Jesus came to heal us in both body and soul, not just limited to this life, but to heal our sinful disease so we can be whole and well throughout all of eternity. Jesus came to be good for us who are not good in ourselves and to bring us God’s goodness and love. Jesus came to be the king of our lives, but only done in love and grace, knowing that in the love and rule of Jesus is where we find our peace. Jesus came for all of those that have no expectations for Him at all, so they could know Him for who He is and be loved by Him and love Him back.

So even in the midst of all of our own human expectations, Jesus draws our own eyes to what matters most, not our own expectations, but the God’s expectations, met on the cross of Good Friday and the empty tomb of Easter. Jesus invites us this Holy Week to move from the palms to the cross to see the savior we don’t expect but the one we need.

 

“Dry Bones” Meditation

Hello friends! I am very sorry about this post coming out so late! My laptop was with the computer Doctor this week after having a panic attack and meltdown! 🙂 This sermon is from Ezekiel 37:1-14. I would recommend cracking open your Bible and giving it a quick read before you read the sermon if you get a chance. God bless, Phil!

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The images of the prophet Ezekiel are haunting and horrible, a valley of dry, dusty bones so numerous that no one can count how many have fallen. A great battle that no one survived, no one got out alive. There was not even a person left to bury the dead but they were left were they died. The ultimate end that makes one ask; “what was it all for and why all of the effort, when the end result is only the same?” The preacher of Ecclesiastes summarizes it this way.

 “Everything is meaningless,” says the Teacher, “completely meaningless!”

What do people get for all their hard work under the sun? Generations come and generations go, but the earth never changes. The sun rises and the sun sets, then hurries around to rise again. The wind blows south, and then turns north. Around and around it goes, blowing in circles. Rivers run into the sea, but the sea is never full. Then the water returns again to the rivers and flows out again to the sea. Everything is wearisome beyond description. No matter how much we see, we are never satisfied. No matter how much we hear, we are not content.

Not exactly happy cheery, I know, but an apt description nonetheless. The image is familiar to us, we live within it everyday. Generations come and generations go, but nothing seems to really change. Same struggle, same destiny, a world filled with dry, dusty bones, no one gets out of this life alive. Some days we feel just as dry and just as dusty while we are still walking around and living. We live and work, day in and day out, struggle and strive, and wonder sometimes quietly, sometimes out loud, “what is it all for, why all of the effort?”

In the midst of that valley of dry, dusty bones a voice is heard even if there are no ears to hear it. The Lord God says speak to these dusty bones, let your voice echo across the valley, prophesy and point them to something greater.

In our own valley of dry, dusty bones, we hear the echo of a voice speaking to us as well; prophesying and pointing us to something greater than the dust that surrounds us. We see the vastness of creation, fine-tuned in just the right way by the creator’s hand so that life can flourish and grow. We see love in a gentle touch, a selfless act, sacrifices given with nothing expected in return. Real love in a dusty bones world that that kind love really has no business being in. We see hope and meaning beyond the dust and beyond what our eyes can see and our hands can touch.

But all of these things: creation, love and hope cannot make these dry dusty bones of ours alive again. They can only point us in the right direction, to that which is beyond our valley of dry and dusty bones. To that which is all-powerful and all-knowing and eternal, that brings all of creation into existence from nothing. But also pointing us to whose very being is Love and in that love brings hope and meaning where there was no hope or meaning, that brings into existence that which did not exist.

But how can a valley of dry, dusty bones become a part of and know that one, who is love and hope and meaning. We see the pointers but we do not know the way. Besides, what can dry and dusty bones do but remain dry and dusty bones, laying in the valley all alone?

Love must come to us.

Prophesy to them, says the Lord to Ezekiel. “ I, the Lord God will cause breath to enter into you and you shall live and you shall know that I am the Lord!” That, who is almighty, all-knowing, who is the true source of love and hope and meaning from eternity, spoke and the breath of the Lord God caused those dry bones to live. The Word of the Lord made those dry bones live.

“I am the resurrection and the life,” says Jesus. “Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 8:25-26)

 No longer do we need to wonder where these echoes of a voice are coming from or where these pointers are directing us to you. No longer do we have to lie in the dust in despair, living on the outside but dead on the inside, wondering about who is out there but never able to know, knowing love is out there but never able to get there.

Love came to us.

Love came to our valley of dry bones. I am the resurrection and the life. Love breathed into us and made us alive in the Spirit. Even though you die yet shall you live. Love came to us so that we might be within the love of God eternally. Everyone who believes in Jesus shall never die. Jesus is God’s love come to us, meeting us in our valley of dry bones and breathing eternal life into us. Do you believe this? These dry bones, made alive in Jesus, respond to the love of God by loving and praising God for all that God has done for us. For saving these dry bones that could never save themselves.

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” God has come down to us in Jesus so that we can be a part of the love of God, live within that love eternally and share that love with others. Those who are in Jesus still live in a valley of dry, dusty bones. Those dry and dusty bones are walking around, living and breathing on the outside but dead in the spirit on the inside apart from the love of God. The pointers are still there, pointing to something greater and the echoes of a voice can still be heard calling out. But now, there is something else, God speaks and commands you, just like the prophet Ezekiel of old, it is your turn to prophesy to these bones, to tell them about the love of God in Jesus that makes these dry bones alive eternally. Tell them about how Love from eternity came to us to love us and to bring us into that love forever. Share the Word of God with them and watch God breath new life into dry bones because,

Love came to us in Jesus.

 

 

“Big God” Meditation

Sermon for Gethsemane Lutheran on the Fourth Sunday in Lent

I get to drive and travel a lot. Not as much as any of our professional drivers in the church, but still, quite a bit. This isn’t new for me, before, through much of the country for school, then in New Jersey and back and forth from Ohio, and in New Jersey to all sorts of places for church work I was doing, and now when I drive home. Usually, my habit is to pop in a book on cd and enjoy the story but just as often when I travel I do people watching. People watching in the airport is the best, because you get so many different kinds of personalities, agendas, race and nationalities all mixed together. They’re all so different in their way, but their also so very much the same. Just like all of the people in their cars I see driving by on 76, so different, but so much the same.

That’s the one human story spanning so much of time and history and my little story is found in the vastness of all of that humanity. Current world population estimates are at 7 billion with an estimate of between 9-10 billion living on this little blue ball of ours by 2050. A world, God willing, my grandchildren will know. But for me, 7 billion is simply to big of a number to put in my head, just watching all of the traffic on the highway and being a part of that endless flow of movement is enough to remind me that I am just one in an ocean of humanity. I wonder, what is my prayer to the God of all of creation in that sea of people? What am I that God is mindful of me?

If the reality of all of that is not enough to remind me of how small I am in this world, just take a few moments and think of all of nature on our little blue ball. From micro-organisms to creatures of the deep yet undiscovered, from animals that live in the world to those that are gone from the pages of time. Plants, animals, all living things together who find their start, and source and being in the God of all of creation. Then there is me in my little moment of time. What am I that God is mindful of me?

But what of this incredibly sheltered little ball of blue that we live on? Growing up, my mom always took me to the NASA Glenn Research Center in Brookpark. I grew up looking at the pictures of the planets in our solar system and models of the milky way. In January 2006 NASA sent the New Horizons probe to our planetary frontier and next year it will finally pass Pluto, a trip of 9 years and apprx. 3.5 billion miles. That is only in our solar system, not including the milky way galaxy that our solar system resides within and the billions of galaxies within the universe.

My mind cannot fathom that kind of scale. I thought it was a long drive to New Jersey for the wedding last weekend but it certainly wasn’t a journey of 3.5 billion miles! When I think upon the works that God’s hands have made and that all things find their source, substance and meaning in Him, I wonder what am I that God is mindful of me?

Christians use words to describe God like omnipotent (all powerful), omniscience (all knowing), and omnipresent (everywhere at the same time), that put within the context of all that there is, are right on about the attributes of God. But I don’t think we always mean it. We talk about God being all powerful and knowing and stuff but despite all that we have just reflected on about how big God is, not just sometimes, but most of the time, the god that we refer to is a much smaller version of the true God of heaven and earth and we are much too big than we should be. And we’re not alone in this.

The Gospel lesson today from John 9 starts off simply enough, “as Jesus passed by, he saw a man blind from birth,” the Gospel author wants you to know that the coming miracle is not a matter of mistaken identity or Jesus just getting something out of the man’s eyes, but this man was blind from birth, everyone knew him, they saw him everyday begging for handouts.

The disciples ask the first question about the man, trying to figure out why this man was blind, did he sin or did his parents? This is a very small god kind of question, like God is a little vindictive god, much like the Greek mythological gods. If a person displeased them, they would come down and poke your eyes out or make you push a gigantic boulder up a hill or turn you into a spider. They were asking if God poked this man’s eyes out. They had made themselves too big trying to hold judgment over the blind man and their god was much too small.

Jesus responds by telling them that the works of God will be displayed in him. The man’s blindness is only a small part of the much bigger story of salvation that is unfolding around him and to him. Then Jesus does something really, really big; he leans down, takes some dirt, spits in it and makes a mud pie that he then places on the man’s eyes. Jesus tells him to go wash his face in the pool of Siloam and he came back with his eyes opened and he could see. This was a big thing that Jesus did, a work of recreation upon the broken creation of humanity. What was blind now could see through the touch of Jesus.

This miracle was much too big for the blind man’s neighbors. They saw this man everyday but the first words out of their mouth are: “this can’t be the same guy, he looks and talks and acts just like him, but he’s not the same guy, he just looks, and talks and acts like him.” They just can’t believe that this could happen so they take him to the religious authorities. For them, their god was just too small for this kind of miracle to happen.

Dragging the poor guy to the religious authorities, his parents are there. But there god is just too small as well and they thought that the ruling authorities were much too big and powerful. Even in view of this miracle done for their disabled son, they didn’t want anything to do with it. Their fear was much too big and their god was much too small.

Then the religious leaders regale him and tell him that God can’t perform his saving and gracious works of healing and mercy on a Sunday! God can only perform saving work Mondays through Fridays from 8am- 4:30p and he’s closed on the weekends and every other Tuesday. They were much too big and their god was much too small.

The blind man that can now see because of Jesus says, “look, I don’t know about all these small god rules, regulations, about who’s in charge or who people think I am; but I know this, Jesus healed me. He did what only God can do, and God is much, much, much bigger than all of this small god stuff you are talking about.”

I find, way too often in my own life, than I’m a lot bigger than I should be and my god is a lot smaller than God is. I find myself sometimes making rules about what God can and cannot do, like God can’t heal on Sundays or like God can’t really heal that person, my god is too small for that. Or I get scared about what others might think if I openly and honestly talk about my faith. My fear and those “other people,” they get to be much too big and God gets to be much too small. I fret and worry about what the future holds and forget who it is that holds the future. I contemplate my own mortality and death seems so big, but how big is God?

When we think about the works that God’s hands have made, the mass of humanity, the vastness of creation, the deepness of space, I get a lot smaller and that’s a good thing. Because I don’t need to be that big. What good will it do for me to be big and God to be small in the end anyways? If I’m not bigger than all of the material problems that I face like bills, death and taxes, how on earth can I be big enough to handle all of the spiritual and eternal problems that are just as real?

No, I have to become smaller, but that is good, because God is really bigger than all of those things, and I need to let God be that big, to be as big as God really is. Because it is only the big, big, big God of heaven and earth that could and would send Jesus to open the eyes of a very small blind man and to save the soul of a very small man like me.

I am His, that is why He is mindful of me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Tough Hope” Meditation

This week’s sermon I wrote for Gethsemane Lutheran and it was delivered by my friend, Matt Connelly.

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Today’s lesson, written by the Pastor Paul to the church in Rome, reminds us about the toughness of the Christian hope.

Hope in itself is a funny thing because you can’t touch hope or feel hope with your hands or weigh hope on a scale. Even though there is no physical thing called hope we all believe it exists and it has very real and tangible effects on us and the world we live in. Maybe we can see most clearly the way that hope shapes and structures a human life and the world around it by looking at what happens when the opposite of hope happens – what happens when people despair.

When someone is lost in despair they can be anxious and pre-occupied with death and death-related topics. They will look down on themselves to the point of self-loathing and self-hatred. Someone lost in despair will tend to isolate themselves, change their behavioral patterns for the worse, losing interest in work, relationships and activities they once enjoyed. Anxiety and depression, drug and alcohol abuse, all are common coping indicators for someone that has lost hope. Despair is the belief that life is a series of failures, culminating with the final ultimate failure, death, in a world that is destined to be pointless and meaningless – all things failing completely.

In 2008 the New York Times ran an article about the tragedy of suicide bombers, titled- “Despair Drives Suicide Attacks by Women.” The article talks about the amount of loss these middle eastern women have endured losing husband and close family in the violence and being put under so much pressure in the male-dominated culture that there is no future or hope presented as being available to them. It said “Only women in despair, in desperate situations, would do this.”

In sharp contrast when someone has hope in their life they are usually directed and optimistic. They will tend to feel better about themselves and the world around them. Hope builds people up, helps them engage the community and gain new vitality in their work and responsibilities. The difference between hope and despair is as clear as white and black in a person’s life.

Sometimes it might be said that the most important thing then is to have hope, in whatever, it doesn’t really matter, as long you have hope in something to help you get through this life.

Maybe, “I hope that I can win this game, or get that scholarship or lose those pounds or get that promotion,” kind of hope. This kind of hope is empty and settled upon things that really don’t matter. Ultimately, hope has to be more than winning or losing a game, academic success or career success, or weight control, because a human life is much more than these things can ever be. These can be goals which we would like to achieve. I can even be optimistic about these things happening, but they are not hope in any real and true sense of the word. Try telling the woman lost in despair who is considering strapping on the suicide bomber vest that if she lost a couple of pounds she would be happy. What kind of hope would that be for her? No, if I place my hope in things that don’t really matter if they occur or not, that isn’t real hope. It can be a desire, a goal, an “I really want it happen,” but not hope. Hope is something different.

Hope has to be directed towards something or someone that will last, that can take the test of time, that can make a real and lasting difference to a life and to a soul. Hope has to be tough to be the kind of hope that can really help people because this world beats the hope out of people all of the time. It seems like the story of life; you’re told to walk this way and someone pulls the rug from underneath you; do this and you’ll be successful but you only end up getting farther in debt; just when you feel like your catching up something else seems to knock you down. The world that we live in is an expert in knocking the hope right out of people time and time again, and if our hope is placed in something that the world can knock apart then it’s not much of a hope at all.

In our Epistle lesson from Romans 5 Pastor Paul begins to tell us what this tough hope that will not let us down looks like.

“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

 First, just think of the kind of hope Paul is describing here. It is a hope that is hard earned and hard won. This hope does not primarily have anything to do with being optimistic, happy feelings or future goals, but instead:

  • This tough hope comes through the fire and disappointments of the world stronger.
  • This tough hope is not broken down by suffering but outlasts suffering.
  • This hope, instead of making us weaker, makes us stronger.
  • This tough hope produces people who are strong of character and solid in spirit.

Secondly, this kind of hope begins and ends with God. Hope, if it is to sustain us throughout this earthly life, cannot be a hope that is based in anything that is of this earthly life. We are frail and mortal beings living in a frail and mortal world filled with frail and mortal things. To place our hope in anything frail and mortal is to invite disappointment and despair. To place our hope in the God who loved us so much to send Jesus is to have hope in God’s eternal and unchanging love.

Finally, hope has to be placed with God or there is no hope at all. Remember, if there is no God or no eternity, then this world is simply a gathering of random events without purpose falling towards chaos and occurring without meaning or thought. Without God there is not even the possibility of real hope, just temporary cessation of discomfort until oblivion. But we were made for hope and God has placed eternity in our hearts. We long for something we have not seen but yet still we strive for, just like hope is a very real thing even though we cannot quantify it and boil it down in a test tube. We were made to be with God through all of life both now and eternally.

This tough hope is only properly placed in the eternal God of heaven and earth who sent Jesus to give us a hope that does not disappoint but lasts eternally.

I want to share with you a simple encouraging thought to illustrate this point. In June of last year “a new study by the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, has found that Christians are happier and more socially connected than atheists are on Twitter. The study says that it analyzed data from nearly 2 million tweets on the popular social networking website from over 16,000 users, with the aim of examining differences between Christians and atheists in natural language. Analysis of the results revealed that users who identify as Christians use more words that convey positive emotion and less words that convey negative emotion than nonbelievers do.” (Christian Post)

Not that I put much stock in twitter generally speaking but since social scientists have been monitoring the effects of faith and well-being the results have been consistent and it should not be a surprise. If your worldview is based in a random and meaningless life with no eternal future or hope your typical worldview will be more negative. But if your worldview includes the eternal God of love who shows that love in real and tangible ways through Jesus, your outlook on life will tend to focus on that goodness and hope even when the going gets tough.

But ultimately, our hope is not about happiness, but about the God of love found in Jesus Christ. The God who gives meaning to a meaningless world and hope to the hopeless. “Who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.” (Romans 4:17a) God gives us a hope that is tougher than this broken world, tougher even than death, because it comes from and goes back to our eternal and almighty God.

“We are beggars” Meditation

Meditation for the Second Sunday in Lent at Gethsemane Lutheran

“We are beggars, this is true.”

These are the last written words of the Great Reformer and founder of the Lutheran heritage of faith, Martin Luther.

During his lifetime he had a distinguished career both as a parish pastor and a Doctorate of theology at the University of Wittenberg. An expert in the ancient languages of Latin, ancient Hebrew and Greek he translated the entire Bible from the original languages to the common language of German. Wrote numerous books on the Christian life, many great hymns, a full commentary series on theology and every book of the Bible, and both the Large and Small Catechism, the Small Catechism that can be found in the hands of confirmation students for hundreds of years. He was an advisor to Monarchs and prince, was the catalyst for not only the Protestant Reformation but for political, social, economic and educational reform. He was a devout husband and a tender father who died with good and loyal friends surrounding him.

I consider if I can accomplish one fraction, of a fraction of what Luther accomplished in the Lord’s name I will be doing great.

Yet it seems that this man whom it would seem had so much to be worthy of recognition in his final written words before he would come to face to face with his maker simply wrote, “we are beggars, this is true.”

This great man, who certainly had his flaws and share of mistakes, still must have something in his hand to present to God, to commend himself before God, to show what he had done, to somehow be worthy even in small way of glory.

But instead Luther confesses that before the throne of God, he is a beggar, empty hands without a shred or crumb remaining to give to God to commend himself before Him. But more than empty hands a beggar in Luther’s mind would be so poor as to not even have a penny to call his own and covered in the dirt of a broken world with nothing to present to the Lord but dirt, poverty and empty hands.

Luther in his last written words taught clearly and simply what it means to be saved grace alone through faith.

We don’t normally think of it this way out loud but being saved by grace through faith alone is a terrifying thought because there is nothing, nothing at all that I am carrying with me as a back up plan, just in case the works of Jesus are not enough. Sometimes we really want to cling to something else, just in case I need it before I see God on His throne in Heaven.
• Maybe it’s my sense of being a decent human being
• Or the persistent thought that I’m not perfect but I’m certainly not an Adolph Hitler. Which one of us would God rather take?
• Or it might simply be the thought that I just can’t believe something bad could happen to me eternally.

But if there is anything that I cling to, to present to God, to merit in some way my place with God in eternity, then I have begun to rely on my own works or my own goodness to save me and not the merits of Jesus Christ death upon the cross alone.

And if I begin to consider adding anything at all to the grace of God for my salvation then that thing I bring in my hand can change the way I see how my relationship with God works. Instead of being by grace alone now it becomes a work as well, and “work” is the perfect word because if I work then I expect a wage in return for my work. I work— I get a paycheck, that’s how it goes. It’s not usually this crass but the thought of doing good Christian work and then somehow earning that big mansion in heaven. But what kind of work could I do to even merit a glimpse of heaven? A Martin Luther I am not and if he considered himself a beggar, what should I consider myself?

St Paul even goes farther when he says in Romans 4:17, “in the presence of God, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.” Apart from God’s grace the Bible oftentimes calls a person spiritually dead and how much farther can you get from not having anything to commend yourself before God than that?

The more I become I acquainted with the boundless depths of grace the more I see my own sin and helplessness and the more clearly I see my sin and helplessness the richer God’s depths of Grace are shown to me. Till we come to the full understanding that there is nothing at all in my hands to give to God to add to His grace. I am powerless and ashamed, with empty hands and no hope in myself apart from Grace alone. I am a beggar, this is true.

And this is grace: salvation given, maintained and sustained by God alone and received in faith which even that is not something that we do but a gift from the Holy Spirit. Grace must always and only be given and kept by God as an underserved gift that will last our whole life through and carry us into eternity.

But what then of the life I live right now, what of the good works I am to produce, how do these fit in?

Luke 7:36-50

One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.”
“A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

What are good works but the tears that flow unbidden from a grateful heart that has received the undeserved grace of God.

We are all beggars, this is true, but thanks be to God it is beggars that God gives salvation to.

“War of the Worlds vs. Jesus”

Today, God’s Word is directing us to think about God’s story of salvation and how we place ourselves in the great story of redemption that God has written for all of humanity.

When I say the word story, I want to make sure we are all on the same page. In one sense when we hear the word story we think of something being made up or make- believe. Like when someone at work is trying to explain away why they lost a client and their just trying to save their own professional skin, the boss might say that was a great story but tell me what really happened.

Or a story can be fiction that we make up just for the fun of it or to ask a question and to see what might happen if, such and such happened. For example, what if there were aliens and what if the alien mother-ship landed in a small town and started disintegrating people with it’s death ray? This one was the premise for the great “war of the worlds” written by H.G. Wells in the late 1800’s. This is called speculative fiction, a “what if” story. Some critics of Christianity have said rather shrilly that the Bible is just that, speculative fiction, made up by the disciples to support a philosophical idea.

In 1938, the soon to be great dramatist and future film maker, Orson Welles performed a dramatic radio show based on the War of the Worlds. There was a brief disclaimer at the beginning of the radio program but after that it was uninterrupted story told in the form of urgent new’s bulletins about the aliens landing and the military confrontation. This portrayal was so well done that people just turning their radios for the first time to the station thought that this was a real news story creating a small amount of panic in the streets.

The next day when they were confronted with it they just said it was a great story, sorry about the confusion. In the same vein, if the Gospel stories of Jesus were simply speculative fiction the disciples made up, when confronted they would not have continued with great joy praising God for the resurrection of Jesus, especially when they were be martyred and slaughtered in great numbers. Speculative fiction does not hold that kind of power, people do not lay down their lives for a good retelling of The War of the Worlds.

Story in our everyday lives is much more powerful and it doesn’t have anything to do with fiction. In our American history think about some of the pivotal historical moments that really shaped who we are as a culture and as people. The assassination of President Kennedy. For me it was the challenger disaster in 1986. Or for pretty much all but the younger ones the events of 9/11. When someone asks, “where were you when, 9/11 happened,” we would tell the story of where we were, how we felt, how it effected us and the people around us.” The story is real, it is based on a real event and telling that story is one of our ways of understanding ourselves and the world around us in that life-changing moment and sharing that with others.

That function of story that helps us understand our place in the world and how we are supposed to live is something that we all work within. Think of the great American story that generations told each other, “go to America, there is opportunity there, start with nothing, work hard and you can achieve the American Dream.” This was part of that good old, protestant work ethic. But for recent generations that story has changed, where there seemed there was opportunity there are only shut doors and working hard doesn’t necessarily mean success as it has been defined in the past.

But there is one unchanging story of humanity and worldview that never seems to change. That is the story of blessing and failure. God’s story of humanity in the garden from Genesis 3: God’s blessing of a whole world for humanity to live within, enjoy and be caretakers of. God’s story written for them to live freely within the blessing of God. Then the Fall from grace, when they see themselves outside of God’s story and want to write the story themselves, to be like God. Failure and separation from the eternal God and all of the consequences therein. In the epistle lesson Paul continues to talk about this same story about the sin of Adam, becoming separated from God’s blessings that he gave to humanity.

Throughout the history of humanity their has always been the story of great blessing and great failure. When people take God’s story that he gives to them: here is the world to be blessed in, care for, live and love, and twist it for their own selfish desires. God’s blessings are not enough, they say, I want more, I want something different, I want this way of living or that way of living. I want to write my own story and be apart from God’s story. I want to be God and the forger of my own destiny. And as much as this seems like the call of freedom it is only the sad tale of another broken story, another broken life, another broken spirit. But we still try to write our own story time and time again, generation after generation, a common sinful and broken human story.

Then in the Gospel lesson we see Jesus being brought into the wilderness after his baptism. We begin to see the same story here Jesus coming out of the water, the heavens parting, the voice of the father speaking his blessing. But then Jesus is taken into the wilderness, a place of desolation and temptation. We are pretty sure we know how the story is going to go, the same way the story of Adam and all those before and after have gone, this is the point of failure, the place where we try to write our own story apart from God’s story.

The great accuser comes to Jesus who had not eaten for 40 days and tempts him to “If you really are the son of God, turn this stone into a loaf of bread.” The devil that Jesus had the power to do just that if he wanted to. Jesus had the power to write his own story apart from God’s, away from the cross and the empty tomb. The temptation was very real. Just when we know how the story is going to go, Jesus rebukes the devil with God’s story. “It is written that man does not live on bread alone but from every word that comes from the mouth of God.” This isn’t how the story goes, this is different.

Then the devil takes Jesus to the pinnacle of the temple and tempts him again with a short-cut to glory and fame. This was in the middle of a feast day when many would be bustling around the temple courts and if Jesus threw himself off from the top of the peak and the angels in came to His rescue in all of their majesty the reaction from below would have outstanding. Another story written to keep Jesus away from keeping God’s story that would lead to the cross and the empty tomb. Jesus again doesn’t do what we expect and rejects Satan version of the story.

Finally, the devil offers Jesus a final alternative story to God’s story, dominion over the human world, ruling as an earthly king. Satan’s story would lead Jesus away from the cross and the empty tomb to earthly riches and power. Jesus could rewrite his story and not suffer and die upon the cross. But that would mean that all of humanity would be lost in their sins forever and their would be no redemption and no hope, just the human story of failure. For a final time Jesus says, “be gone Satan,” this is God’s story and not yours.

Because of God’s great love for us the story doesn’t have to end at failure and heartache, sin and separation from God because the best part of God’s story is the story of redemption and hope. The story of Jesus is the story of God coming into the story of blessing and failure and saying there is more to this story than just that. Jesus is the one who is both God from eternity and human in every way, living a life of perfect obedience to God’s story. There was not failure but obedience and trust. Then finally there was more to the story, there is the story of redemption from the cross and the story of hope given from the empty tomb. This is God’s story given to humanity in Jesus, it is the story of redemption and hope given because of God’s great love for us.

So now we find ourselves in the same story that humanity has lived time and time again, the story of blessing and failure. Our own lives attest to the commonality of this story for each one of us. It is also the same sad story of people trying to be God and trying to write their own story apart from God. That story is not a story with a happy ending but it is the same story of heartbreak, loss, hurt and separation from God both now and eternally. But God has a different story for us, because we are broken people it is the story of blessing and failure that we all live through, but because of Jesus it is story that doesn’t end there but in faith in Jesus it is a story of redemption in the cross of Jesus and hope everlasting. Blessing and human failure, Redemption and hope in Jesus. This is God’s story given for us and in faith he invites us to see ourselves inside this story so that we can know redemption and hope in the story that we live.

“Glimpse of Heaven” Meditation

Meditation for Transfiguration Sunday from Matthew 17:1-9

And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.” And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.
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Rise, and have no fear, Jesus says to his disciples after a glimpse of heaven.

But just a few moments before these words Jesus was transfigured and revealed not in His humanity but in His glory from eternity, a place that the disciples knew they wanted to stay- “Lord, it is good that we are here!”

But because nothing that is impure can be with the perfect purity of God, this glimpse of heaven became too much for them when the presence of God the Father spoke from the clouds and the disciples fell like dead men in the presence of God. When humanity is confronted with the purity of God’s holiness what else can we see but our own darkness in that light and if God does not bridge that gap between heaven and earth there is nothing else that we can do but to fall in fear before God.

But Jesus himself bridges that gap between heaven and earth for his disciples and for us, touching His disciples, no longer in His glory but in his humanity, and telling them to rise and have no fear because He was with them.

This little glimpse of heaven centered around Jesus would sustain these disciples throughout their earthly lives because they knew that it is Jesus who bridges the gap between heaven and earth, God and people. At the end of their lives Jesus himself will touch them and say, “Rise, and have no fear” and bring them fully into the glory of heaven they were only permitted to glimpse.

But this glimpse of heaven did not prevent the disciples from the struggle with doubt and uncertainty- Peter himself an eyewitness of the majestic glory surrounding Jesus swore to a servant girl three times that he never knew the man. So to the glimpses of heaven that we have been given in the revealed Word and testimony of the disciples will not take away all of our struggle with doubt and uncertainty in our own lives but they give to us a glimpse of what has been prepared for us by our faithful and loving God. Because our hope ultimately does not rest in these glimpses of heaven but in the faithfulness and love of Jesus who never abandons His people but brings us to be with Him eternally.

But from these glimpses, however small, we can learn much about the wonderful promises of God and what God has prepared for us.

• They remind us that God is God of the living, not of the dead. Moses and Elijah standing next to Jesus were really Moses and Elijah from of old. Moses and Elijah conversed and spoke with Jesus, this kind of simple reality does not happen if in heaven we are all happy amnesiacs with no sense of who we are or were or who is around us. People talk to people. People with real lives, real personalities, real memories, real work to do. Heaven doesn’t take away who you are. Moses was still Moses, Elijah was still Elijah, Phil is still Phil, you are still you.
• God does not make us wait to come into His glory. But from death to life is a transition from being with God here and being with God there. God is the constant, even though we change, God does not. Just as Jesus says to the thief on the cross who confessed His faith- “Today, you will be with me in paradise.”
• These glimpses remind us that in Heaven we are safe with God. There is no sin where God dwells, nothing will be there that can ever take us away from the God who loves us. “Nothing evil will be allowed to enter — no one who practices shameful idolatry and dishonesty — but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.” Rev 21.27
• In Heaven we are reunited with the saints in glory, who will know us and we will know them. Moses and Elijah knew each other and knew Jesus as we will know the saints who have gone before.
• In Heaven there is work to be done. “After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne,
 and to the Lamb.” They are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence.” Rev 7:15.

The work that we have been called to do on Earth to love God and to love each other and in doing so living full and complete human lives does not end but continues in eternity without the limitations that sin and mortality have placed upon us.

• Finally, they remind us that God is faithful to his promises to us. “Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ, not even death, but God has prepared a hope and a future for us.”

But this glimpse of heaven is not the end of the story, because heaven is not the final fulfillment of God’s promises, from Revelation 21:

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.
I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”

When the fullness of time is complete there will be:
• The last judgment- which is not really a judgment at all for those in Christ Jesus but a confirmation of who they are in Jesus.
• The reuniting of our bodies, made not from natural descent but from God’s will, created imperishable as Jesus’ eternal body after the resurrection is imperishable.
• Which will live, love, work, play, really be alive in the New Heavens and the New Earth where God brings His faithfulness and His desires for humanity to its natural fulfillment.
• And this New Heaven and New Earth recreated from the former things no longer exists from the natural order as we know it but from a sacramental existence with God who lends to it his eternal nature to sustain it eternally.

It is from these glimpses of Heaven and the fulfillment of all the promises of God, that we hear the words of Jesus speak to us today in the lives we live right now: “Rise, and have no fear” in this life.

• Rise, and have no fear- because God is faithful to His promises, he does not let you fall but lifts you up.
• Rise, and have no fear- because nothing can separate you from the love of God in Jesus Christ, God is with you forever. You might change but God doesn’t and God always keeps His promises.
• Rise, and have no fear- because with God’s eternity there is meaning in this life. If there is no eternity then all that happens to us is an endless cycle of death and decay in a universe whose ultimate end is coldness and lifelessness. There can be no meaning, no truth, not hope, no justice, nothing of moral value, no meaning in that kind of world. But that is not the world we live in, these glimpses of heaven tell us that God has prepared much more for us and infuses this life with real meaning and hope, justice and value because there is eternity after this life.
• Rise, and have no fear- because this life is filled with meaning and purpose, your life too has meaning and purpose. Live that life that God has called you to live because you don’t have to be afraid of what tomorrow holds because God is already there holding all of your tomorrows.

Rise and have no fear Jesus says to you today from this little glimpse of Heaven.

“Eye for an Eye” Meditation

Sitting in Panera on Friday, working on this sermon, a group of older men were joking around about one of their companions complaining about his back pain. They started calling out at him “survival of the fittest,” and “the weak will perish!” and hunched over his chair, he said, “your right, I’m a goner.”

In this same context of “survival of the fittest” and “the weak will perish!” but with much more serious connotations people have also quoted this passage from Matthew “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But it was also said with things like :
• “You hurt me, I’m going to hurt you more!”
• “I’m keeping score”
• and “tit for tat.”

It all means the same thing: retribution, revenge, recompense, you get hurt by someone, and you do what you have to do, and be sure to get even, and more than even, you make them pay for what they have done to you. I’m strong and your weak and I’ll show you just how weak you are! This is vengeance blinded by rage!

We all know how the story ends- the person that you sought recompense and revenge upon seeks that same revenge upon you. Back and forth, greater intensity and greater anger and hatred, till someone gets killed maybe emotionally, or financially, or physically and the war is over. But its not, because the other person in doing this revenge has lost their very heart and soul in the process and they are dead on the inside as well.

But the Bible says an eye for an eye, doesn’t that give me permission?

The history of the passage an eye for an eye does not set any precedence for this rage driven revenge. Knowing that revenge and desire for retribution is the norm in sinful humanity this passage sets limits on that desire. It follows in the daily and even legal interactions of people from an understanding of lex talionis or the “law of retribution.” This law provided a boundary and limited the scope for revenge, which without boundaries always tends to escalate and blow out of proportion. There was a principal of equivalence and even restraint in action especially in the legal context, but probably more importantly it treated every life and the body of every person as equal and valuable regardless of social, racial or economic status. (Gibbs 302)

That is the purpose of the law, whether it is natural, moral or legal, it is to restrain and convict us of the sinful tendencies that plague us, showing us to be sinful and falling short of the glory of God. But when Jesus speaks to His disciples about the life they are called to live in this relationship with Him, He goes beyond the requirements of the law and shows what life in the spirit of Christian love as God has loved us looks like.

“But I say to you, do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. (this was to be insulted) and if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.” Matthew 5:38-42

You can’t be serious we might say to Jesus. Maybe he just meant this in a spiritual, existential sort of way. But we have to remember that Jesus’ audience at the time were Israelites suffering under roman occupation and rule where to be insulted, ridiculed and constricted into forced labor was a common place occurrence. This was not a pie in the sky conversation Jesus was having but grounded in the experiences of the everyday person.

And in the face of this unflinching call of Jesus come the “what if’s” that we regularly throw at God (and at the Pastor): “what if someone broke into my house and was taking my possessions or threatening my family,” “what if someone wrongly sues me,” “what if I’m attacked?”

Then Martin Luther throws into the debate as well and says: “Christ is not telling me to give what I have to any scoundrel that comes along and deprive my family of it or others who may need it and whom I am obliged to help then suffer want myself and become a burden to others.”

This, with the multitude of other situations and “what if” scenarios start to give us the idea that Jesus is not giving us a one to one law for every situation in life, because life in itself is dynamic and events are unexpected and a Christian is called to negotiate this life in a manner that is befitting the name you are given, one who belongs to Jesus Christ.

But one thing we can be sure of is our sinful tendency to fall upon the other side of the line: when we are wronged, instead of enduring we desire to retaliate. When we are cheated, instead of persevering we fight for recompense. Instead of repaying evil with good we want to repay evil with evil. Crying out those words that fall so easily from our lips, “mine all mine!”

But when we do, are we not being merely human, and forgetting to follow in the footsteps of the one who saved us and called us to a life of greater sacrifice and love, a life lived in the Spirit. As Christians we must take seriously this call upon our lives and see that it is integral to how we live and how we understand our God. Think about the words of the Lord’s Prayer that we say so easily “God, forgive me my sins as I forgive those who sin against me,” but if we think about it these words should terrify us. In this petition taught to us by the Lord we are asking God to forgive us just as we forgive other people who have wronged us. What would that look like if God forgave us in the same way we forgave others. What would happen if God sought recompense from us for the broken and sinful life we live? What if God retaliated against us? Could one of us stand, would anyone be left or would we be utterly destroyed in body and soul?

But God is love. God does not give to us what we deserve. He does not forgive us as we forgive others. But God embodied his love in Jesus Christ and showed us fully and completely what it means to love and to forgive. In the quiet submission of the cross, his cheek turned to those who insulted him, his hands spread for the nails, his words “Father forgive, for they know not what they do,” his death given for our eternal life. What greater love is given than this?

When we are faced with the same questions in our own life we must see our enemies and those who would steal from us and persecute us through the eyes of Jesus Christ. What is gained or loss in this debate is not of material worth but worth in the spirit. What is at stake is eternity. What is at stake is the salvation of the body and soul.

If I, who am a representative of Jesus in this world, fight with tooth and nail and take an eye for an eye what am I saying about that other person’s value in the eyes of God, what am I saying about my own relationship with God?

But as a representative of Jesus Christ, am willing to be generous and am willing to sacrifice, to deny my right to take an eye for an eye, this speaks of the loving work of Jesus in this world and the worth of the person in the eyes of God.

This is a hard thing and it can only be contemplated with in an eternal perspective. St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 3: 21b, ff: “For all things are yours/the world or life or death or the present or the future, all are yours, and you are Christ’s and Christ is God’s.” In Jesus Christ all things are already yours because all things already belong to Jesus. In Jesus you have already been forgiven, you already have eternity, you already have blessings incomparable. If all things are yours in Christ and because of Christ you don’t have to fight tooth and nail for what is yours, because what is yours is eternal and can never be taken away from you. How does this change your life? How does it change the way you love others, especially your enemies and those who would hurt you?

The love of Jesus can change everything and turn how we live upside down. Think of it this way, there is enough ugly in this world, we are not that, we are the love of Christ. We get to love as God has loved and let Him take care of the rest.

“Honesty” Meditation

I’m sorry friends that this post was late coming. We just celebrated our week of birthdays with the kids and I’m still working from a sugar coma! Thank you Tammy for giving me some good motivation 🙂
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Let me share with you some things my kids have said after they got caught red-handed doing something they knew they shouldn’t be doing.

“It wasn’t t-h-a-t bad, really!”

“My brother did it too, why am I getting into trouble???

And this one they haven’t said yet, but I’m just waiting for it.

“All my friends are doing it!”

Now, we know what these kinds of things are when they come out of our kid’s mouths.

-Excuses- trying to excuse bad behavior, say it wasn’t really so bad, there was a reason.

-Justifications- trying to justify, that is make right, something that is not right.

I know, I’m picking on the kids, but us adults we have this kind of thing down to a science. For us, the excuses almost fall on a spectrum ranging from: “it’s not so bad and everyone is doing it, to the compromising “I know what I did wasn’t great but did you see what THAT person did?! To probably the least helpful statement, “well you think it is bad, but I don’t and it’s all a matter of opinion anyways, isn’t it?”

But all of these excuses and justifications ultimately fail us because if we are never actually wrong about anything, then we can never actually be right about anything either. If there is no right or wrong in this world, then it is all just a matter of opinion. If everything becomes a matter of opinion with no absolute right or goodness as being the highest goodness that we are trying to attain to, then what matters is how you look and if you are justified in the eyes of the people who hold similar opinions as you do.

This desire to be justified and look “right” in the eye’s of others brings us to Jesus’ discourse of “you have heard it said, but I say,” In Matthew 5:21-37.

If you read the full text in the Bible please remember that this is not an exhaustive list of every possible “what if” scenario, rather Jesus is revealing and condemning an attitude that is more concerned about how they look to other people rather than what God thinks about these things.

The first one 5:21-26 has to deal with sinful, hurtful anger.

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.

You can almost hear someone say this to justify themselves. “I just yelled at them, I didn’t hit them and I certainly didn’t kill them.” But does that make the yelling any less wrong or any more right?

The next is respecting other people’s bodies in 5:27-28 when it says: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart”

I have heard couples say this kind of thing. “I only looked at her, I didn’t touch her,” or “you can look but you can’t touch.” But again does this make the looking any more right or any less wrong just because you are not touching with your body but with your eyes and your mind?

Then promises made in marriage from Matthew 5:31-32. “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.”

The ancient concern here wasn’t so much if the grounds for the divorce were justified or not, what the man was concerned about was whether he gave his ex the proper paperwork at the end of the divorce. This paperwork basically said that you are cut off, I have no responsibility for you now, you can marry whoever you want. What this would do is make divorce and marriage a cheap thing because if the most important thing was that there was a proper piece of paper at the end, you could divorce and marry without much consequence.

Finally, Matthew 5:37 about promises made to everyone else. “Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.” There was an ancient debate about what promises to keep and to who you should keep those promises. Again, the question was not about the rightness of keeping your promises but how you could be justified in the eyes of your friends in breaking them. I guess that debate isn’t so ancient after all but happens today too.

Throughout the discourse Jesus is making a clear distinction when He says, “you have heard it said” which is the realm of human opinion, excuses and no moral absolutes, “But I say,” which is God speaking, the realm of honesty and absolute truth.

God says absolutely about sinful hurtful anger done in thought, word or deed is sin and comes from our sinful, broken condition. Not respecting another person’s body done in thought, word or deed as well is sin and comes from that sinful, broken condition. When we break our promises, there are good reasons and bad reasons for doing it, and it does happen, but the reality is, is that sin is still there and a part of human brokenness.

God is honest with us, he calls a thing what it is and that is a really good thing because ultimately whatever you call it, sin is still sin and its harmful to you and to the people you love. If you don’t call a sin, sin then you can never actually deal with it, always trying to ignore it, but it is still there and hurting you. But if you call sin what it is then at least you have a chance to do something about it.

Let me give you an illustration of this. Imagine there was a tragic car accident and one of the passengers loses a limb, an or a leg. The medics are travelling in the ambulance and when they arrive they run up to the victim. But when they get there they tell the person who has been horribly disfigured, “oh, its just a scratch, don’t worry about it, shake it off, you’ll be fine.” Now, we all know, that no matter what the medics called it, if that person is not given medical care that wound will kill them.

The same is true about anger, adultery, broken promises or any of the myriad, creative ways we selfishly break God’s commands and desires for our lives. When we are honest about this sin that is in my life, we can do something about it, make amends, confess our sins, always receive God’s forgiveness, and seek His help.

In this world of compromises and dishonesty and ever changing opinions the honesty of God is something that we need desperately. In all of the “you have heard it said,” voices out there telling us lots of different things, the voice of truth, Jesus’ voice, is the only one that is showing us the way home.

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