Against The Flow

2 Samuel 12: 1-7

1The Lord sent Nathan to David. When he came to him, he said, “There were two men in a certain town, one rich and the other poor. 2The rich man had a very large number of sheep and cattle, 3but the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb he had bought. He raised it, and it grew up with him and his children. It shared his food, drank from his cup and even slept in his arms. It was like a daughter to him. 4“Now a traveler came to the rich man, but the rich man refrained from taking one of his own sheep or cattle to prepare a meal for the traveler who had come to him. Instead, he took the ewe lamb that belonged to the poor man and prepared it for the one who had come to him.” 5David burned with anger against the man and said to Nathan, “As surely as the Lord lives, the man who did this must die! 6He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity.” 7Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man!

Mark 14: 63-64

63The high priest tore his clothes. “Why do we need any more witnesses?” he asked. 64“You have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?” They all condemned him as worthy of death.

Comments

David had just committed adultery with Bathsheba and then sent her husband Uriah to the front lines of battle to be killed.  God’s faithful servant had just crossed so many lines that he became entangled and destructive and unfaithful to God’s ways.  What I want to point out today is Nathan’s response to the injustice he observed his King committing.  Though tactful, Nathan did nothing less than directly confront David with the reality of his sin and its terrible consequences.  Nathan’s actions fulfilled one of the vows we take in our covenant of faith and membership when we promise to “resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.”

Now let us look at a contrasting story.  In his book 24 Hours That Changed The World:  40 Days Of Reflection, Adam Hamilton points out that both Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus were supporters of Jesus and were likely on the Sanhedrin, the group of 71 Jewish leaders, that was responsible for charging Jesus with blasphemy and sending him to Pilate with the request that he be crucified.  Furthermore, he points out that there is no record of either of them saying anything to defend Jesus in his time of need.  Luke does tell us that Joseph didn’t agree with the course of action, but there is no record of a strong effort to oppose the motion to condemn the innocent man Jesus to death.

How are we doing resisting “evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?”  A friend of mine texted me a picture this week while marching with the Coalition of Immokalee workers to raise awareness for the improvement of farm labor working conditions and fair wages (http://www.ciw-online.org).  Even if we don’t choose to join a march for some large public cause, how do we stand up for the abused spouse we know in our neighborhood?  How do we work with the powerless and the needy?  Will we be Nathan or Joseph of Arimathea when we see wrongdoing?  May God give us the grace to shine the light of Christ into the darkness of the world so that all may see him and find salvation!

What If?

Matthew 27: 3-5

3When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. 4“I have sinned,” he said, “for I have betrayed innocent blood.”“What is that to us?” they replied. “That’s your responsibility.”5So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself.

 Comments

In his book 24 Hours That Changed The World: 40 Days Of Reflection, Adam Hamilton draws our attention to Judas’ repentance and subsequent suicide.  He imagines a powerful question: “What if Judas had waited three days?”  This question, in turn, raises other questions like “How would the risen Jesus have responded to Judas? What kind of witness and impact on the world could Judas have had?”  Hmmm…

Growing up in the church I always pictured Judas as a dark, shadowy, evil figure.  I don’t remember ever seeing him in my mind’s eye as a normal person with a mix of good and bad, with a desire to do right but the inability to execute sometimes.  Today, however, Matthew shows us that even Judas saw the error of his ways clearly enough to want to turn back to Jesus more than anything.  Even Judas recognized a deep desire to undo what he had done.  He repented, tried giving back the money he traded Jesus in for, and then, in his despair, went and hanged himself.  Even Judas had the desire to do what was right, he just felt it too late.  What if he had waited three days?  Forgiveness could have come.  New life could have come.  Redemption could have come from Jesus himself.

Sometimes when we do the wrong things we compound the consequences by holding onto the belief that we can’t be forgiven, that a second chance isn’t available, that we can’t recover from what we’ve done.  What if we wait a few days, asking for God’s forgiveness?  What if, instead of chaining ourselves to our failures, we let Jesus set us free?  What if we don’t follow through on our feelings of worthlessness and, instead, turn to Jesus to re-establish our worth in his eyes by his grace?  Repentance is not defined by the depth of our self-punishment, it simply means to turn around, to turn away from the path of destruction back toward the life-giving path of Jesus which is paved by grace and love.

Is there anything we continually punish ourselves for that holds us back?  May Judas remind us to repent, turn to Jesus, and accept his life-giving grace instead.

Just Keep Swimming

Romans 5: 1-5

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.  And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, be we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, 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.

Romans 6: 3-5

Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

 Comments

We are a little more than halfway through the season of Lent, and at this point we may feel that our chosen spiritual disciplines are getting a little heavier.  For those who have chosen fasting, the feelings of hunger may be a little more annoying and intense.  For those setting aside time to pray and read Scripture, it may be more tempting to skip in favor of other “more pressing” matters.  This is a sign of our weakness, a sign of our need for the grace God gives us through these very practices.  In 21st century American suburbia, we are used to being comfortable, to doing whatever it takes to avoid suffering.  I remember Osama Bin Laden saying in a translation of one of his chilling video releases that Americans are soft, undisciplined, and unprepared for hardship.  As much as I hate to say it, he was right about that.  We aren’t used to suffering for much of anything, much less suffering for the sake of following Jesus.

But we know that by now, and what we need is a word of encouragement to keep going, to keep seeking God and the renewal of our hearts, minds, bodies and souls in Jesus Christ.  I chose the passages above to remind us why we are fasting, praying, studying, and serving during Lent.  These passages remind us that, in the hands of our God, the God of resurrection, our spiritual efforts, and even suffering, produce deeper life in God and transform us more fully into Christ’s likeness.  God produces new life in our struggles, and the hope we have of being made new in the likeness of Jesus will not fail!  We can be sure of that because of the love of the Holy Spirit which has been poured into us!  So press on in your faith and life my brothers and sisters!  Easter is but 24 days away!

 

Taking Risks

Luke 22: 54-55

Then they seized him and led him away, bringing him into the high priest’s house.  But Peter was following at a distance.  When they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat among them.

 Comments

On our way following Jesus today, let’s consider what we can learn from Peter.  He was a hard working fisherman, in tune with the rhythms of water, wind and seasonal fish migrations, a man without much book knowledge but plenty of practical knowledge.  He was outspoken, the first one to publicly say that Jesus was the Messiah.  He was a man of action who, when faced with Elijah, Moses, and Jesus enveloped in a cloud of God’s presence on the mount of transfiguration, decided to get busy building shelters so they could all stay awhile.  Some have interpreted him as impulsive or reactive.  He was the one who drew his sword and cut off the ear of one of the men who had come to arrest Jesus.  He was the first to defend his Lord and friend.  He was also the one who told Jesus at the Last Supper that Jesus would never wash his feet.  Then, when Jesus told Peter that he could not enter the Kingdom unless he let Jesus wash his feet, Peter exclaimed, “Then wash my whole body, Lord!”  When Peter was in, he was in all of the way!  He held nothing back.  When Peter was wrong, he was wrong all of the way, always willing to risk making a fool of himself to follow who and what he was passionate about.

In this part of Peter’s story, however, we see him waffling, his bold knees shaking in their attempt to follow his Lord and friend to the cross.  He had proclaimed earlier that day that he would not abandon Jesus even if it meant his death, and here he was denying that he knew Jesus at all.  Yet, his courage still showed itself, for he was the only disciple who followed Jesus into the courtyard of the High Priest to see what was happening to Jesus.  This put him at personal risk.  Peter was a complex blend of great courage and great fear.  What a compelling character!

One thing I think we all can learn from Peter as we follow Jesus is to be willing to risk failure, to risk making fools of ourselves for Jesus.  In our highly managed way of life in 21st century America, we have oodles of research studies that predict the outcomes of many of our decisions.  We spend a great deal of time worrying about safety and protection.  Sometimes these ways of thinking seep into our faith.  We want to see if we can manage God, plan for positive outcomes, and minimize the risk of failure.  Yet if the lives of the disciples are any indication, life with Jesus is one unpredictable, miraculous, risk-filled adventure!  And while they fail time and time again, the grace of Jesus hangs in there with them, restoring them, strengthening them, and equipping them more deeply with each failure for the great ways God would use them in the future.

It is powerful to see how Peter’s story develops after Jesus’ death and resurrection.  He is forgiven for turning away from Jesus.  He is commissioned by Jesus to become one of the primary leaders of God’s people as the Church is born in Acts.  He ends up dramatically impacting the eternal lives of many people for the Kingdom of God.  Peter tried and failed and repented and tried again by God’s grace, and was used in powerful ways by God!  May God give us grace to risk failure to follow Jesus!  What is Jesus inviting you to do that your fear of failure may be telling you not to do?  Do it!

I Am

Exodus 3: 13-14

Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’  Then what shall I tell them?”  God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.  This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’”

 Mark 14: 61b-65

The high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?”  Jesus said, “I am; and ‘you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power,’ and ‘coming with the clouds of heaven.’”  Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “Why do we still need witnesses?  You have heard his blasphemy!  What is your decision?”  All of them condemned him as deserving death.  Some began to spit on him, to blindfold him, and to strike him, saying to him, “Prophesy!”  The guards also took him over and beat him.

 Comments

So there is Moses, standing before the God of the universe who has just selected him to be the one to confront the most powerful man in the world, Pharaoh, who happens to think of himself as a god.  Moses’ mission is to command Pharaoh to let the slave labor (the Israelites) that is sustaining his whole kingdom, go free!  Moses realizes that his first difficulty is convincing the Israelites that God told him this so that, even if he convinces Pharaoh, they will follow him.  So he asks God to identify himself, and God’s answer is “I am who I am.”  God essentially says, “I am eternally present.  I am the source of all life, and the power you need to free my people!”

Fast forward to Jesus, standing before the high priest and the 70 elders, called the Sanhedrin, who are determining his fate.  He is asked point blank whether he considers himself to be the Messiah, the Son of God.  Jesus’ answer?  “I am,” essentially meaning “I am eternally present.  I am the source of all life, and the power you need to be free from your sin sickness and evil!”  The great irony here is that the very God who had given each of them life, who had saved his people from slavery to Egypt, who was present before them to save them from their sins, was perceived to be their enemy and was condemned by them to die.  Maybe they enjoyed their slavery to power and control as religious leaders more than the freedom Jesus offered?

Where is I AM present with power and grace at the ready to free us from slavery and lead us more fully into life?  Where do we push I AM away, unwilling to accept the freedom he died to give us because we are more comfortable in our slavery?  Hmmm…let’s pray, let the Holy Spirit speak within us, and ask for the courage to be free from ourselves to live fully in Jesus, our God who is eternally present, the source of all life, and the power we need to be free to live!

Out of Focus

Mark 14: 61b-65

The high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?”  Jesus said, “I am; and ‘you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power,’ and ‘coming with the clouds of heaven.’”  Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “Why do we still need witnesses?  You have heard his blasphemy!  What is your decision?”  All of them condemned him as deserving death.  Some began to spit on him, to blindfold him, and to strike him, saying to him “Prophesy!”  The guards also took him over and beat him.

 2 Chronicles 6:18

“But will God really dwell on earth with humans?  The heavens, even the highest heavens, cannot contain you.  How much less this temple I have built!”

 Comments

In our small group study Sunday night several of us were discussing how easy it is for the practices of our faith, which are intended to help us remember God’s work and help us connect with the living God, to become gods we worship!  We easily get hung up on things like music styles, types of instruments (don’t you know it is always about the music?), the way chairs are lined up, the sanctuary building, the types of prayers that are prayed, or whether we like the preacher or not.  All along these things are meant to be vehicles that transport us into the presence of the living God!  How easily we miss the point.

The tremendous irony in the gospel above is that Jesus is the presence of God wrapped in the Temple of human flesh, yet the religious leaders can’t recognize him because they are so fixed on the brick and mortar Temple they believe contains God’s presence.  Jesus brings his Kingdom and omnipotent presence literally under the noses of the religious leaders.  They can see God’s sweat, smell his hair, touch his hands, and hear his voice, yet they do not recognize him.  They are blinded by their traditions, by their misunderstanding of Scripture and by their desire to stay in control.  Sin has a way of blinding us to ourselves, a way of twisting our view of reality so that we don’t recognize God for God.

Those of us seeking to be faithful to Jesus must not abandon the essential practices of our faith (worship, prayer, communion, baptism, study of Scripture, relationships in community, care for the poor and needy, faith sharing, etc), yet we must not forget that the purpose for these practices is to connect us in a living relationship with the living God.  Our practices of faith are not about church buildings or the friends we make or the preacher or the music or how much we like the programs for our children, they are about our love relationship with the living God.

God, give us grace to pray and believe the prayer of Solomon as he dedicated the Temple to you, ““But will God really dwell on earth with humans?  The heavens, even the highest heavens, cannot contain you.  How much less this temple I have built!”