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Friday, September 30, 2016

Jesus in the Everyday

“Jesus and his disciples were also invited to the celebration.”
John 2:2 (Common English Bible)

            Here is a remarkable miracle, and a remarkable story of Jesus. Remarkable because it places Jesus right in the center of Jewish life, during the celebration of a wedding, when he performs his first miracle – the changing of water into wine. Jesus’ first miracle was not healing someone who is sick, casting-out an evil spirit from someone possessed, or raising the dead. Jesus’ first miracle was performed in the midst of an ordinary dilemma that seems, in many ways, embarrassingly inconsequential. During a wedding celebration, the host of the party runs out of wine for his guest. That is the dilemma. But, informs the writer of John’s Gospel, “Jesus and his disciples were invited to the celebration.” And because Jesus was present, he saves the party.

            Before Jesus began his ministry, Satan provided several opportunities for Jesus to exercise his divine powers for the extraordinary. When Jesus grew hungry, Satan asked Jesus to simply turn stone into bread and eat. Certainly, Jesus could do that! Jesus refused. Then Satan suggested that Jesus “show-off” by throwing himself off a mountain, to be caught by the arms of angels. Again, Jesus refused. Jesus isn’t interested in using his capacity for the miraculous for self-aggrandizement or for his own creature comforts. That would miss the point of why Jesus came to earth. Jesus life’s purpose is to live for others.

            This miracle announces that there is no moment of life that we ought to get along without God. It goes without saying that the moments of desperation or grief we all experience need God’s help. But so do the moments of celebration and joy. This early glimpse of Jesus ministry, his presence at a wedding feast, shows Christ most completely at home in any circumstance and occasion of life. Before Jesus would face the darker side of life, this story vividly reveals a happy Christ who knew how to have a good time. This is a side of Christ that is often overlooked.

            Often the church seeks to spiritualize the work of Christ and conclude that he is only in the business of saving souls and renewing lives. The unfortunate consequence is the assumption that Jesus isn’t really interested in the commonplace events of life. Yet, this first miracle story announces something quite different. Jesus went to where life was, even ordinary moments, and brought blessings. Jesus is never out of place. This story catches Jesus being interested in everyday living, and taking seriously everyday conundrums. Jesus was invited to a wedding celebration and he accepted. And his presence transformed the occasion for everyone.

Joy,


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Friday, September 23, 2016

Remember

“Don’t forget the covenant that the Lord your God made with you...”
Deuteronomy 4:23b (Common English Bible)

            The word, “remember” has taken on fresh poignancy for the citizens of the United States. Recently, our nation observed the fifteenth anniversary of the terrorist attack in New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C.  Commonly referenced as 9/11, the entering High School freshman class this year is the first class to begin High School who was born after these attacks. It is all history to them. Why is it important to teach these young students what happened that September day before they were born? Foremost, it is important because it is a critical part of our shared story as U.S. citizens. That single incident has dramatically reshaped the landscape of how we live today. Secondly, the story keeps all of us wide-eyed of what occurs each day around the world and how our lives may be impacted.

            Here in Deuteronomy, Moses asks the people of God to “remember.” Remember their slavery in Egypt. Remember God’s leadership, and care for them, as they traveled from Egypt, through the wilderness, to a new land that will be their home. Remember, because all that history has shaped them as a people; has shaped them as a nation. If they are to have any understanding of their identity, they must remember who they were and God’s mighty acts among them. Just as important, their future is filled with uncertainties – as is any future – and the very act of “recalling” God’s presence and care in the past strengthens them for whatever they would face moving forward. “Don’t forget the covenant that the Lord your God made with you.”

            This is an important reason for our regular worship and personal reading of the Bible. Like the nation of Israel, we also must remember. In those times when our life has reached the depths of disappointment and struggle, it is easy to remember; to remember and call out to God for help. But when life is sailing from one beautiful shore to the next, difficulty is at a minimum and resources to meet any emotional or physical need are abundant, remembering God is difficult. Little by little, a notion expands upon our consciousness that God can be dispensed with. The tragic result is to face the future alone, with only our strength. Eventually, that strength will be insufficient.

            Perhaps a greater concern is that when a nation loses its faith, a sense that each of us belong to something bigger than the present moment, that nation ceases to be a nation at all. What is left is a lot of people milling around with no larger story arc than their own small lives, going nowhere. It is important to remember origins, to remember where we came from and how we got here. This memory dispenses the lie that we made something out of our lives from nothing. Memory becomes the source and impulse to new life; a life full of hope and promise for the future. And the nation that recovers a sense of responsibility, under God, discovers a divine purpose that strengthens the bonds that binds one to another and thrusts it forward into the future with confident expectation.           


Joy,

Friday, September 16, 2016

Holding Onto Faith

“But Jesus overheard their report and said to the synagogue leader, 
‘Don’t be afraid; just keep trusting.’”
Mark 5:36 (Common English Bible)

            Faith is difficult to hold onto when a loved one dies. The Reformed theologian Karl Barth said that people come to church with only one question in their minds: Is it true? The promises of God, the saving power of Jesus Christ, the resurrection from the dead and eternal life: Is it true? This is the most fundamental question of faith. When those same people gather for a funeral service, gather to honor and remember the life of a loved one, the question is even more compelling: Is it true? Can God be trusted when death seems so powerful? Certainly, that is the question that occupies the thoughts of Jairus when he is told that his daughter has died.

            In this poignant story from Mark’s Gospel, Jairus seeks after Jesus; seeks to intercede on his sick daughter’s behalf and ask for her healing. It is an active prayer. Prayer is seeking God – whether for a stronger relationship or to claim God’s power. Jairus is seeking God, through the person of Jesus Christ, and seeks God for the benefit of a sick daughter. Yet, messengers have now shown-up reporting to Jairus that his daughter has died. “Why bother the teacher any longer?” But Jesus overhears their report, turns to face Jairus, and says, “Don’t be afraid; just keep trusting.” Apparently, death doesn’t seem as final to Jesus as it does to us.

            It seems that for many people, the time comes when they simply quit praying, simply give-up on trusting that anything can be different. Either they sense that they can’t have what they want or that the opportunity has past. After their request has been ignored, or denied, they don’t want anything else. God has failed miserably in the role of Santa Claus and they will not consider the possibility that God’s desire for them may be something far better than what they seek. Rather than keeping their eyes wide-open for what God may be doing differently in their lives, they simply stop trusting.

            Jesus seems to suggest here that when trust is lost, what remains is fear. Certainly for Jairus, news of his daughter’s death is cause to abandon hope. And when hope is gone, fear takes-up residence in our lives. But pay attention to what Jesus does in this story; Jesus remains calm: “Don’t be afraid; just keep trusting.” We miss the depth of meaning here if we expect the child will come back to life. What Jesus does is demonstrate a confidence that God still holds our lives, and future, in God’s powerful grasp, particularly when death seem victorious. Whether the child comes back to mortal life is not the issue. Jesus’ calmness exudes a confidence that God will come mightily to care for us if we would but surrender ourselves completely to God’s mercy and care. It is our continuing trust in that promise that strengthens our capacity to hold onto faith.

Joy,


Friday, September 9, 2016

Strength Out of Weakness

“Therefore, I’m all right with weaknesses, insults, disasters, harassments, and stressful situations for the sake of Christ, because when I’m weak, then I’m strong.”
2 Corinthians 12:10 (Common English Bible)

            Now this, of course, is a paradox – the notion that when we are weak, then we are strong. It is an assertion that appears to be contradictory or opposed to common sense. Rationally, we are either one or the other. We can’t be both at the same moment in time. Yet, this is precisely the assertion that the apostle Paul makes to the Christian church located in Corinth. Such an absurd idea would not be worthy of our attention had it not come from the hand of Paul. But here it is! And the early church has declared these words to be the inspired Word of our Lord. So a closer look is demanded.

            Any responsible study of this claim must begin where Paul begins, with the circumstance that drew from Paul this great paradox. He identifies the origin of this thought as a discomfort of “a thorn in my body” that Paul implores God, on three occasions, to remove. Remember, Paul was a man, who sought with considerable vigor, to destroy the Christian faith. Now, with equal vigor, Paul is advancing the faith he once sought to stamp-out. But there is some difficulty, some physical handicap located in his body, that weakens his effort. Paul never identifies the nature of the handicap. The only information Paul feels is relevant is that this difficulty is slowing him down from effectively preaching Jesus Christ. So he implores of God to remove the handicap.

            What is puzzling, at first glance, is God’s refusal to honor Paul’s plea. Appealing once again to the rational, wouldn’t God want Paul to be as strong as possible for the preaching ministry of Jesus Christ? That is certainly the thought process of Paul. So Paul asks for extraordinary strength for the preaching of an extraordinary Gospel. What Paul discovers, however, is that in the mathematical equation of God’s Kingdom, if Paul preached only from his strength, any power of Jesus Christ would be hidden. All people would see is Paul’s strength.

            Paul’s discovery becomes our discovery. Each of us has some weakness. The weakness may be physical, emotional, or social. The weakness may be some irrational fear or brokenness in our lives. And I quite imagine that each of us has prayed the prayer of Paul; has prayed that the weakness be removed. But imagine the logical result if we were made strong in all things – we would have no need for God. At least that would be the notion that would grow upon our consciousness. The tragic result of such thinking would be moving further from God, rather than closer. The truth of the matter is that we will always be incomplete without God. And it is only when we, in our weakness, lean into the power of God, that we become the recipients of God’s strength.


Joy,