Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Devotion - Wednesday, April 18

The plan for our Sunday morning bible study in the fall is to rotate topics from week to week.  On the 4th Sunday of each month we will talk about symbols and art.

The Roman and Orthodox churches are wonderful displays of the role of art in the life of the Church and Christians.  Fearing "graven images," much of the Protestant Church removed statues and murals.  

I remember my first worship experience in which icons were a part of the liturgy.  There was something powerful about gazing into the image and allowing my spirit to inform my thoughts.  I experienced the presence of God; I also received a glimpse of the depths of my connection to God, a connection too complex for words.

You are in university.  Every effort is made to increase the information stored in your brain.  Thinking is what you are doing all the time.  Except, perhaps, when you gather as God's children.  There and then, it is the convictions and the connections which give meaning and purpose.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Devotion - Tuesday, April 17

One of the lessons appointed for today is Colossians 1:1-14.  Paul opens this letter with words of encouragement.  These are folks recently introduced to the way of Jesus, so it is easy to understand how they might show growth with each passing day.

What about us?  Is there growth in our faith life?

We discussed this question on the Leadership Retreat.  Together we identified the ways in which growth might be measured:
  • Time spent with God and God's people
  • Depth of our confidence
  • Engagement with the needs of the world - through service
  • Interactions among our friend-group.
What would it mean for you to be able to say you were in a better place today than you were yesterday?  How can you more fully show your relationship with Jesus?

We know that living things grow and change.  Ours is a living faith.  It will change.  Will that change be consistent with our underlying ambitions; or will it be directed by the chances and circumstances of our life?

Monday, April 16, 2018

Devotion - Monday, April 16

Matthew 3;6 - "Then went out to (John) Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region around the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins."

Confessing is central to the followers of way of God.  We are taught to hide or cover or divert or minimize our transgressions.  We are encouraged to find ways to flip our short-comings in order to make them look like learning experiences.

A dear friend is helpful in her warnings that being continually told "You are a sinner!" can rob us of our confidence and sense of self-worth.  Good thing to remember.

Confessing does not automatically mean an injury to our happiness or confidence.  Confession allows me to see and to acknowledge those parts of myself which need attention, but I may not even be aware.  Confession gives me the assurance that changing path, taking a new way, being someone different is possible - it is even encouraged.

By regularly engaging in confession, I am better prepared to hear the critique (even criticism) of another.  I have experienced what happens when I become aware of my shortcomings and admit them - God is there to celebrate with me my repentance!

Confession is good for the soul.  It is also very good for our life together.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Devotion - Thursday, April 12

John 15 includes this verse:  "If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin."

It is an added expectation, for those who have heard the word of God.  We know what is right and pleasing.  We have no excuse for continuing to life as the world would have us live.  Yes, to those whom much has been given, much is expected.

Then there is the issue of how we define "sin," or what is sin.  Too often we associate sin with evil actions.  Too readily we assume we have no sin when we cease to do bad things and/or think bad thoughts.  This verse reminds us that another definition for sin is failing to believe and trust.  Sin is the condition of those who do not follow the word of Jesus.

Let me restate something I say often and will say till my last breath - Being a disciple of Jesus is a value-add.  My life is fuller, richer, more meaningful as a result of my relationship to God.  There is nothing - nothing - which matters which I am called upon to "give up" in order to receive the eternal life of which Jesus speaks.  Perhaps the toughest thing for me to give up is an arrogance associated with those previous sentences.  Perhaps I try to cling to my own understanding and efforts in these matters.

My life is better when I take on the extra burdens associated with having heard the word of Jesus.  My life is more meaningful and connected when I accept the opportunity to live as one to whom much has been given.

Jesus has spoken, and I have no excuse or reason for not doing as his words instruct.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Devotion - Wednesday, April 11

John 20:19 -  "When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews."

We lock doors way too often.  When a door is locked, it serves both as a physical barrier and also a psychological one.  Those outside can see our disinterest in having them enter.  Those inside do not need to worry about interruption or intrusion.

The disciples are locked inside.  They are afraid.  Fear has brought them to this place.  They are no longer responding to the Good News; they have allowed themselves to be locked up.

As this passage was read on Sunday, I wondered about the things which so fill us with fear that we lock our doors?  I wondered if we were even aware of the locked doors which make it difficult for others to approach us. And, if we are ever remorseful that those locks are limiting our ability to be out in the world, among the very persons for whom Jesus gave his life.

In John 20, Jesus is able to overcome the locked door.  While they are filled with fear, Jesus comes to them and reminds them of the peace his extends.

Allow Jesus to move beyond and through the locked doors in your life.  Allow Jesus to give you the peace of mind which allows you to set aside your fear and open the door.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Devotion - Tuesday, April 10

Continuing to look back at the lessons from this past Sunday, I wanted to comment on the Second reading.  It is from I John 1:1-2:2.

Verse 8 is familiar to us; we use it quite often in our Sunday morning brief order for confession:  "If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us."

Christians should always seek to eradicate sin.  Christians are to avoid sin.  But followers of Jesus are also to be truthful to his word; and that word reminds us that sin will forever be with us.

There is but one solution to the sin that clings closely to us.  We turn to God, who is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.  And we ask God to forgive.

In our prayer of confession, we do not hide the sin present in our lives.  In our prayer of confession we ask God to forgive us and to aid us in seeing the sin we have striven so hard to hide from others that it may also have become hidden from ourselves.  God is always more ready to forgive than we are ready to confess, but how can we eradicate those sins which we refuse to acknowledge?

I John continues:  "If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us."

Sin will not destroy us or keep us from God.  Blindness to our sin will impede our ability to have God's word rule our lives.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Devotion - Monday, April 9

The lessons read in worship yesterday made a deep impression on me.  I have continued to think about them, and to pray over them.  I will be writing about them this week.

One more note of introduction:  The liturgy of the Church is carefully crafted and constructed.  There are many phrases repeated by the assembled, which are not often enough taken to heart.  Another advantage of printed liturgies is you can take these home, and re-read what you said in the confession, what you prayed for, and the affirmations spoken to you.

Now - Sunday's readings.  Acts 4:32-35.

The opening line affirmed that the "whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common."

When did the Church stop this practice?  When did Christians return to the ways of the world in which personal possessions are the norm?

I am as quick as anyone to say, "Well, you can't just do that..."  But when I hear myself saying such things, I do catch myself and wonder "Why" we can't do that.

As college students, you may not think of yourself as one with many possessions.  But think again.  And think about your aspirations and life-dreams.

This passage in Acts says this group of followers sold their possessions and the proceeds were redistributed as "any had need."

Before you dismiss these verses of scripture, consider what they might say to you about your life and your life-style.  Perhaps the experience of being one heart and one soul with others is yoked to how we see the things which have come into our possession.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Devotion - Thursday, April 5, 2018

The post-resurrection appearance in Matthew 28 is revealing.

We are told that the eleven disciples are in Galilee, where they see Jesus.  Matthew notes that when they saw him they worshiped him.  Then, Matthew adds, "but some doubted."

What did they doubt?  The are with the resurrected Jesus; they surely are not doubting his resurrection.  They are on the mountain where Jesus said he would met them; how could they doubt that he would make good his promises?

Jesus is on that mountain in order to send them out, into the world, to make disciples, baptize, and teach.

William Willimon, Methodist preacher and Bishop, asked in a sermon on this text if they doubted their ability to do the work that Jesus assigns them.  He asked if we doubt our own ability to be Jesus' disciples charged with teaching, baptizing, and making disciples.

The Christian message is rooted in the self-sacrificial love of an incarnate God.  The same God who did set aside the heavens in order to make His home with us now entrusts to us the telling of the story and the spreading of the good news.

Do not doubt - that you have been given this charge, nor that you are equal to the task.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Devotion - Wednesday, April 4

I want to continue to discuss resurrection.  Continuing to read from I Corinthians 15, we are told that the body which rises need not be identical to the body which dies.

Paul writes of how a kernel is sown, but a stalk of wheat emerges.

This is a big part of my on-going message about resurrection.  Too often we think of heaven as "more of that which we have enjoyed most" in this life.  While that may be a great thing, is that what God is promising us?

The Revelation of St. John speaks of eternal life as a never ending opportunity to praise God.  Those who have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb are before the throne, singing their devotion.

The teachings of the Church would remind us that "The Saints," those who are already with God, spend their time praying - praying for you and for me and for the world.

Resurrected life is like nothing we have ever known.  It is knowing God completely, even as were fully known.  To speak of resurrection as more of that which we enjoy the most is to put ourselves as the center of the discussion, rather than the God who brings us life and gives us eternal life.

Like Paul, I desire this change in my life.  I pray for it and long for its arrival.  And whatever it is like, I know that it will wonderful.  Wonderful, because it (like the life God gave me 61 years ago) will be God's gift to me.

Devotion - Tuesday, April 3

In I Corinthians 15, Paul reminds us of the resurrection.  There seem to be some among the church in Corinth who are denying the resurrection.  Paul attempts to set them straight.

I need to hear Paul's words.  Those of you who are around me a lot know that my push-back to continual talk about "getting into heaven," or "being in heaven" results in my pointing out that Jesus sat aside the heavens in order to be here with us.  My concern is that some focus so much on heaven that they overlook how important it is to live here, and to do heavenly work among our neighbors.

That is my concern.  And this morning I wondered if it results in too little talk about our resurrection.  Paul's words help to set me straight.

The promise of eternal life with God is central to the Christian message.  The assurance that we will not forever remain in our graves means we will finally know God fully.  The Easter message is that Christ is but the first fruits of those who will follow.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Devotion - Monday, April 2

Christ is Risen!  Christ is risen indeed!

The account of Jesus resurrection in Mark does not include any post-resurrection encounters with Jesus.  There is an empty tomb.  There are three frightened women who flee and do not speak of what they had seen.

It is in the hours and days and weeks and months that follow that the resurrected Jesus appears to his followers.  This most often comes as a surprise.  They are doing other things, and Jesus is suddenly in their midst.

Whatever your experience of Easter Sunday might have been, I want to encourage you to look for the surprise visit of Jesus in your life.  I encourage you to be prepared, and thus vigilant, in looking for his presence.  Easter Sunday may be only the announcement of the ability of Jesus to show up at any place at any time.  Easter Sunday may serve as the transition point after which Jesus himself is no longer limited by time and space.

Christ is risen!  Be on the lookout for his presence in your life and in your day.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Sermon - Easter Sunday

Mark 16:1-8                                               

                                                               Providing the Missing Part

Something is missing, at the end of Mark’s Gospel.  I don’t mean the resurrection part.  That part is complete.  Friday night’s reading from the Gospel of John reminds us that it is Jesus himself who announces from the cross, “It is finished.”   And it is.  The work he came to do is done; it is over; all things have been accomplished.

That is not the part missing in Mark 16.  What is missing is what happens next – after Jesus has done his part.  What is missing is some idea of how this, the most amazing thing to have ever happened on the face of the earth, becomes the greatest story ever told among those who live on planet earth.  Something is missing.

Early on, in the history of the Church, folks realized that something was missing.  The oldest, most original copies of the Gospel of Mark end where we ended today, at the 8th verse.  But many contemporary Bibles will contain two other, optional endings.  A study Bible will always note that these alternative endings are that – alternative endings – added at some point later in time.  These other two, alternative endings were added for the sake of a Church which realized that an explanation would be expected.  But that isn’t the way Mark told the story.  He ended here.  He left something, intentionally, missing.

At least two things are missing:  First, some accounting for how the news slips out.  If the women are too terrified to speak to anyone, how does what they saw finally get shared?  Second, this ending is lacking any of the credible characters who have figured so heavily in all that has come before.  Where are the heavy hitters?  Where are Peter, James, and John?  None of the names quickly recited by Sunday school children are found here.  Three relatively unknown women are the only witnesses to the most amazing thing to have ever happened on the face of the earth; to the greatest story ever told among those who live on planet earth.  And they, out of terror, say nothing to anyone.

Mary Magdalene we know – or at least we think we know.  Luke, chapter 8, references her as the one from whom Jesus casts out seven demons.  One of those alternative endings to Mark picks upon this and repeats the reference.  But Mark does not mention Mary Magdalene at all until we get to Golgotha.  She is not a character in Mark’s story, until we get to the crucifixion. 

Sometimes Mary Magdalene is confused with the woman in the city, who in Luke, chapter 7, baths Jesus’ feet with her tears and wipes them with her hair.  The two characters are often confused.  But there is nothing in the Bible to support this widely shared misunderstanding.   Mary of Magdalene we know – or we think we do.

The other Mary, the mother of James, is such a minor character that even Mark knew we would need clues to her identity.  In writing the story, Mark notes that she is the mother of James.  (Mark’s earlier reference, in 15:40, notes that she is the mother of James the younger – not James the son of Zebedee.  There are lots of Mary’s in the Bible.)  Who is this Mary?  And why is she one of the blessed three to witness the empty tomb?

I spent more time that I should have trying to figure out who Salome is.  Quite honestly, I still didn’t know.  There are lots of conjectures, but little in the way of hard Biblical evidence.  Tradition says that she is the wife of Zebedee.  This, then, would mean she is the mother of James, and of his brother, John.  Tradition – but not scripture.  In the Gospel of Matthew, the mother of James and John is identified with a different name.  Want to guess what that name is?  You go it – Mary.

Present at the empty tomb on the morning of the resurrection are these three relatively unknown women – Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger, and Salome.  Missing are the heavy hitters.  Missing are the persons who will later preach all those great sermons on what it is that God accomplished on this day.  Missing are those who are well-known – well-known to the early church and well-known to you and me. 

Missing is some indication of how the news traveled from these three terrified and frightened women to the millions and billions who would come to trust in this story and make it the pivotal event in their lives.  Missing.  There is no clear link.  There is no outline for how this is to happen.

Sometimes, what is missing is the most important part of all.
Sometimes, what is missing is the most important part of all.

This is certainly true for Easter morning, right?  The thing which is most essential to the story is a missing corpse.  Jesus is not there.  He is gone.  He has been raised.  He has been removed from the place of death.  Gone.  Missing.  The most important part of Easter morning is what isn’t there.

Perhaps the same is to be said for this seemingly defective story, recorded for us as Mark’s 16th chapter.  Missing here is the clear delineation of how this story spreads.  Missing are the hot-shots, the big names, the go-to guys.   Missing.  Not present.  Maybe, just maybe, this absence serves a purpose other than confusing us.  This void identifies where the story is to go from here.  Missing is even the slightest suggestion that someone else is going to take care of all this.  The absence leaves the future in our hands.  If this story is going to be told, it is going to be up to us.  If this news is to make it beyond the three who run away terrified, it will be because those who know what happened to them decides to tell someone else.  Getting the Good News out is your job, and my job.  We can’t sit back and wait for the heavy-hitters to do the job – they are nowhere to be found.

Most of the time, we feel like add-ons, to the end of the story.  Too often, we read what happened and we think, “That is nice.”  Mark’s story of the first Easter Morning is designed to jolt us into action.  It is written in such a way as to make it clear that if this, the most amazing thing that has ever happened on the face of the earth is going to become the greatest story ever told it will be because you and I tell the story.  The only way that the good news heard and witnessed by Mary, and Mary, and Salome will be repeated is if you and I repeat it.

Christ has risen!  Christ has risen indeed!  Jesus has finished his work.  Now is the time for us to get down to ours.