Thursday, August 17, 2017
12 From then on Pilate tried to release him, but the Jews cried out, “If you release this man, you are no friend of the emperor. Everyone who claims to be a king sets himself against the emperor.”
Jesus was an innocent man and Pilate was pretty sure of this. He knew the right thing to do and when he stood on the brink of making the best decision, he faltered. He tried asking questions but he really didn’t want to hear the answers. This was no real investigation and therefore Jesus kept quiet. It was all a facade to try and keep all of his constituents happy. Instead of doing the right thing he put his finger to the wind and made a decision.
The Jewish leaders knew exactly how to taunt Pilate, and that was by threatening his power. He was a representative of the Emperor and if he sided with Jesus, he would be no friend of the Emperor. Weighing his options, he decided it was better to stand against the Almighty God and put in his lot with Caesar.
Writing in the 6th century, Romans Melodus wrote this hymn about the incident:
“Crucify!” the murderer
heard the impious crying out,
And their will he fulfilled,
Handing over, without being compelled to,
The One whom he planned to have crucified.
For having heard that he would be an enemy of
The coward was frightened.
He would rather be the enemy of the Almighty
Than the enemy of Caesar,
Preferring his life over the Life.
Therefore he will certainly not escape blame,
Since, because of the lawless,
He killed the Living One. (Kontakion on the Passion of Christ 36.16)
Pilate chose to be the Emperor’s friend, “preferring his life over the Life” and he lives with the eternal consequences.
Jesus was ushering in the kingdom of God which meant that there were two colliding empires. The kingdom of God and the kingdom of this world continue to be at odds with one another, and we have a choice as to whether we will be friends of the Emperor, or loyal to our new citizenship in God’s kingdom.
Pilate lived in fear of what others thought about him. While we might like to believe that we are idealistic, we too live with the temptation to respond in ways in which others will think more favorably of us. Let’s be honest, we try to keep the peace and not step on other peoples’ toes, but sometimes we need to step on some toes. For Pilate, choosing to appease Caesar meant standing against God.
We are citizens of the kingdom and our calling is to follow Jesus Christ and therefore find ourselves in the same places where Jesus would be. Jesus never found power through political means, nor through appeasing those who held authority. Instead, Jesus challenged the authority figures of the day and made them feel uncomfortable. Jesus went to the margins and aligned himself with those who were being mistreated and spoke words of truth to those who were doing the mistreating. “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” (John 8:27)
There is no place for injustice within the kingdom of God. Injustice is the result of a misalignment and misuse of power. Paul reminded us that in the kingdom barriers have been destroyed and “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28) If any brother or sister is not being treated as an equal citizen in God’s kingdom, then we are playing friendly to the Emperor.
For Pilate to choose God, meant he could not choose Caesar. We are not to be a friend to the Emperor, but we are called to be faithful citizens of God’s kingdom, which may challenge us to openly shift our loyalties and live with the consequences.
Lord, please help me to have the courage to faithfully live as a citizen of your kingdom every day. Amen.
Monday, August 14, 2017
Jer. 17:1 The sin of Judah is written with an iron pen; with a diamond point it is engraved on the tablet of their hearts, and on the horns of their altars, 2 while their children remember their altars and their sacred poles, beside every green tree, and on the high hills, 3 on the mountains in the open country.
The ten commandments had been inscribed by the finger of God on stone tablets. This is where the law resided and yet, the prophets had foretold that eventually the law would be written upon the hearts of God’s people. Sadly, the law was not engraved upon their hearts, but rather, their sins.
With no regard for God, they proudly offered their sacrifices to other gods. The law of God was replaced in their hearts with the engraving of their own sin. So bold was the sin that it was engraved with a diamond point on the tablet of their hearts.
The altars became engraved with their sins as they continued to live contrary to the laws of God. Sacrifices had to be made over and over again until their sins had permanently stained the altars as a reminder of their wickedness. Atonement was becoming impossible.
That which became engraved on the heart became visible in the actions of the people. They seemed to take pride in their sin, wearing the effects on the clothing of their very lives.
Who would ever have imagined that the people of God would become so consumed with their own sinful way of life that they would be willing to suffer the consequences? Sadly, this is just what happened to the Israelites as they dug in their heels and with great pride continued to live in their sin.
We have the beautiful privilege of living in a time when the Holy Spirit can write the laws of God on our hearts. Instead of being led and directed by sin, we can enjoy beautiful fellowship with our holy God which leads us to a fulfillment of the law of God within our hearts and lives. Unfortunately, we become tempted and can be drawn in a direction where we become so accustomed to sin that we begin to take pride in all the bad things that we can do. In contrast to those who may be living for Christ, we choose to go a different direction and flaunt our new-found “freedom” around those “church goers” until our ears are finally closed to any kind of rational conversation. Our pride and our sin take us far from the path of life which God has already prepared for us.
God’s people eventually turned a deaf ear to the prophets. They refused to listen to the voice of God and chose to go their own way.When we begin to believe that we are smarter than everyone else around us we will be led astray by a false sense of importance. This is all the deception of the evil one! The result is jealousy, anger, revenge and a destruction of interpersonal relationships. People who used to be friends and serve God together in the church instead pick on one another, magnifying every personal flaw, putting them on display for all the world to see. In arrogance we righteously declare our right to highlight the problems in others and thus we take a self-righteous pride in our sin for we refuse to acknowledge it is sin and live in the deception that we are actually helping to weed out a problem. In the meantime our sins become etched on our hearts.
Why would any of us want to have our sins indelibly written on our hearts and influencing our actions? I really can’t imagine but far too many are headed in that direction. Our behaviors are directed by that which is written on our hearts. No matter how hard we try to “fake it,” eventually the truth will come out because, when push comes to shove, we will respond from our heart.
Jesus paid the price so that the motivation for sin could be removed. The etchings of a diamond point can be erased by the holy love of God. The result is a change in behavior that bubbles out and touches a very desperate world, and there is no longer any pride in a life of sin.
Lord, may the diamond point of your Holy Spirit’s presence in my life continue to work in and through me. Amen.
Sunday, August 13, 2017
John 15:12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.
Jesus is acknowledging that there is no place for hatred within the kingdom of God. The revelation of God’s transforming work in the life of a believer will be the way in which they love others. Jesus’ self-sacrificial love provides new life and transformation for all who come to him. This kind of love, a love that dies on a cross for sinners, is the kind of love that is to be seen in the lives of Jesus’ disciples. The gospel writer wants us to recognize that the great love that will be expressed in the life of Christ will be his death for you and me.
Then we see that there is an invitation into friendship. Jesus loves us, and calls us friends. We aren’t slaves or servants, but we are those who have free access to the king of all creation. Jesus has been completely transparent with his followers and invites them into a relationship where he continues to share with them his passion for the lost and his desire that they participate in his mission. Love for Jesus will be revealed in the ways in which we love others.
There was no selective love in the command from Jesus Christ. We don’t have the option of choosing to love some and not others. The overwhelming nature of holy love found in the Trinity overflows into the lives of those who are in fellowship with God. We love the world as God loves us as a result of the overflow of God’s love. If we are not loving others, then we cannot be in love with Jesus Christ, it's that simple.
If we find ourselves struggling to love someone, it says more about us than it does about them. There will always be people in this world who will be different from us and who will annoy us in one way or another. Jesus never said it was easy to love others. I’m guessing the disciples had plenty of opportunity to drive him a bit crazy, but Jesus never gave up, even when betrayed by them. We have a choice when we struggle to love those who may be unlovable. We may choose to be critical and provide ourselves with all the excuses possible for disregarding this individual, or we can begin to ask God to search out the deepest recesses of our hearts so that they can be filled with holy love. There may be something about a particular individual that is annoying and irritating, but what we fail to see is that we allow their characteristics to become barriers to the flow of God’s love in our own lives. We are the ones who will suffer from the loss of God’s presence.
At the same time we examine ourselves to see whether it is simply our own prejudices that are creating barriers toward others. Far too often throughout history people have simply hated others for the sake of hatred. Or, people have refused to love others because of their own woundedness. Loving and embracing others is a humbling experience, one in which we intentionally consider the needs of others over our own. We may be trying to create a protective barrier, becoming critical of others in an effort to built up ourselves. It never works out all that well and the one who suffers is you.
There is no place for hatred or prejudice among God’s people. When we try to rationalize our inexcusable behaviors, we are not responding as the children of God. Considering the behavior of God’s people through the ages, there was no logical reason for Jesus to lay down his life, but he did. When we stand and sing, “I am a friend of God” may we remember that there is an expected response to that friendship that is revealed in love for others.
Lord, help me to love as you love. Shine your light on the dark corners of my heart that need to be filled with your love and may that love overflow to those who may be difficult to love. Amen.
Friday, August 11, 2017
Jer. 7:5 For if you truly amend your ways and your doings, if you truly act justly one with another, 6 if you do not oppress the alien, the orphan, and the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own hurt, 7 then I will dwell with you in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your ancestors forever and ever.
The unfaithful Israelites had broken the heart of God. Now, the prophet Jeremiah wept over what he saw among his people. With great courage he stood in the entry to the temple and preached this sermon. It was a real challenge to the religious leaders who had allowed the people of God to stray.
The call is to repentance. The people have not been following God’s commands and they are having to live with the consequences. Jeremiah recognizes that the people are headed toward destruction but repentance provides a pathway to restoration.
Restoration comes from repentance, not only of the heart, but in action. The reality is that the motivations of the heart are revealed by our actions. The motivations of the heart had resulted in injustice on the part of the Israelites. The call to repentance required a reinstitution of justice in the way that the Israelites treated others. This was the mark of their fidelity toward God. Love for God was to be revealed in love toward the other. The aliens, or immigrants among them were not to be oppressed. Instead they were to be treated with loving respect. God had always intended the Israelites to be an evangelistic people and this would be revealed in the way in which they treated those who were not a part of their original community. If they loved and cared for them justly, they would become a part of God’s community.
Our global community is made up of those on the move. People constantly move in and out of contact with the church, but the call to justice for the alien within the kingdom of God remains the same as it was in Jeremiah’s day. If the church is to be an evangelistic people, she must learn to love those who come to us from different lands. As people migrate because of geo-political issues, we must remember that we are to welcome the stranger. They may be the evangelistic future for the kingdom.
Jeremiah knew that the orphans within the community needed to be loved and accepted. Far too many people died early in life leaving numerous children without a support system. When society may have abandoned these children, God’s people were to lovingly care for them as if they were members of their own family. Whether orphans or children in a foster system, they were not to be second-class citizens in God’s kingdom.
The widows were at the mercy of those around them, especially if they were left without children to care for them. This was part of the network of society which was intended to bring strength and structure. Justice demanded that those without financial means were to be cared for by those who had resources.
The blood of the innocent was never to be shed. Far too often the weak or the innocent became scapegoats for the powerful. It became easier to blame someone else for troubles rather than take responsibility and the innocent suffered. Repentance required God’s justice when it came to dealing with those who had no voice. The powerful were to use their influence to speak up for those who could say nothing. The innocent were to be defended.
Finally the Israelites were to act justly toward God. No longer were they to seek out foreign gods and give themselves in worship to them. They were hurting themselves by this behavior. Their infidelity to Yahweh had horrible consequences, not because God was vindictive, but because they intentionally removed themselves from God’s sheltered protection.
The “If -Then” statement of repentance ends with the promise of God. If the people will repent of their ways and doings, then God will dwell with them in the land that they had been promised. They were on the precipice of losing everything, but there was still hope. Filled with love for God, Jeremiah bore the burden of calling his people to repentance. At the risk of his own life, he chose to be faithful and the call to repentance and justice rang out among the people.
The “If-Then” statement continues to be valid and true. If the church and her members are not remaining faithful to God in all things, then repentance and justice in action is demanded toward those who are desperately in need. This is the requirement of repentance.
Lord, may the voice of Jeremiah carry through the ages and speak to us today. May we live in faithful obedience to your commands, repent and turn from ways which may lead to injustice. Open my eyes to see the places in which I have not been faithful. Amen.
Wednesday, August 9, 2017
A New Perspective on Martha
John 11:17 When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus[d] had already been in the tomb four days. 18 Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles[e] away, 19 and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. 21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life.[f] Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” 27 She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah,[g] the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”
Mary has always been portrayed as the spiritual individual and Martha as the one who was too busy working to pay attention to Jesus. This visit we get a different view of Martha who is anxiously awaiting the arrival of Jesus. She has been waiting for days for him to come because her brother was so ill. Sadly, her brother dies while they await Jesus and now the sisters are struggling in their grief. Each responds to grief in their own way and we can imagine that Mary is so consumed that she can't even come to meet Jesus. Instead, it's Martha who runs out to meet with Jesus along the road. It is in this place that they have a very interesting conversation.
The faith of Martha is revealed in this dialogue. She doesn't sound like a grief-stricken sister, but rather someone who is filled with faith in Jesus. She believes that Jesus could have healed her brother. Martha had seen Jesus perform many miracles and she believed that healing Lazarus would have been easy work for Jesus. What we begin to see is that Jesus trusted her faith enough to test her through a very painful journey.
This wasn't about the death of a man, Lazarus, but about an understanding of the resurrection which would reveal Jesus as the Messiah. This was to be an illustration of what Jesus was attempting to teach all of his disciples. He had power over sin and death, not just temporally, but eternally. Amazingly, it's Martha who grasps this concept and articulates her faith in Jesus and declares him to be the Messiah, "the Son of God, the one coming into the world." She joins the ranks of only a few others, like Peter, who are able to verbalize their understanding of who Jesus really is, and the gospel writer uses her faith to solidify that of others.
Why is it that this story of Martha is often lost on us and we focus most of our attention on the first encounter where she is busy working in the kitchen? For far too much of history we have talked about people being a Mary or a Martha, with the focus on Martha being negative. We want to be with Mary, found at the feet of Jesus, soaking in the good news.
But maybe we should all want to be like Martha! What we learn is that Martha has a lot of skills and abilities but she is also very teachable. When she runs out to meet Jesus on the road she is driven by her love and faith. If she were still living in the past she would have been at home, worried about the food that needed to be organized and prepared for those coming to their home. She has been willing to relinquish that responsibility to others and she is focused on relationships. Love of God and love of others has already consumed Martha and now she is a different person.
The declaration of Christ as the Messiah would have had much more power had it come from some important official. Why in the world would Jesus choose Martha -- a woman with a reputation for being caught up in being busy? Because no one else would have chosen Martha! That's the beauty of the way in which Jesus reveals the work of the kingdom of God. It is the power of God which transforms and uses the least of these for the kingdom's sake. As a result, God is glorified.
The entire incident with Martha, Mary and Lazarus is used to glorify God and to reveal the power of the Messiah over death. Jesus knew that he could trust Martha to be faithful, even in the midst of horribly difficult circumstances. Instead of responding in anger, her faith was deepened and Jesus was lifted up. Can God trust us with difficult situations? Sometimes we have to go through very deep water, surviving in blind faith, to reach the other side.
Martha had no idea that Jesus would raise her brother from the dead. The depth of her grief touched the heart of Jesus and he wept. He hurt because she and her sister were hurting. But they loved him enough to trust him.
Let's not focus on the original Martha, but the Martha that she became. Transformed by the power of God, Martha became one of the very first disciples to declare that Jesus was the Messiah. This historical moment is often forgotten because we have allowed the narrative of who she was to overshadow who she became. We need to be willing to set aside our natural inclinations of who people are, and celebrate them for who they have become in Christ. Maybe this is a new perspective on Martha that should set us free to have a new perspective on all of those who are touched by Jesus.
Lord, thank you for the honesty of a woman who was willing to trust you in the midst of great pain and difficulty. Please, help me to live faithfully in your kingdom, seeing others with your eyes and celebrating what you may want to accomplish. In the midst of it all, may you be glorified! Amen.
Tuesday, August 8, 2017
Jer. 2:4 Hear the word of the Lord, O house of Jacob, and all the families of the house of Israel. 5 Thus says the Lord:
What wrong did your ancestors find in me
that they went far from me,
and went after worthless things, and became worthless themselves?
6 They did not say, “Where is the Lord
who brought us up from the land of Egypt,
who led us in the wilderness,
in a land of deserts and pits,
in a land of drought and deep darkness,
in a land that no one passes through,
where no one lives?”
7 I brought you into a plentiful land
to eat its fruits and its good things.
But when you entered you defiled my land,
and made my heritage an abomination.
8 The priests did not say, “Where is the Lord?”
Those who handle the law did not know me;
the rulers transgressed against me;
the prophets prophesied by Baal,
and went after things that do not profit.
The Lord speaks to the people of Israel through the prophet Jeremiah. It is in this passage that the emotion of a God in pain is heard. So great is the love the Father has for all of his children, and the desire to care for his children so deep that even God struggles to comprehend why they have turned their back on him. The passage is one of a wounded loving Father who tries to recount for his children all the good that he has done for they refuse to do so. The leaders, the elders and the priests refuse to repeat the stories of God’s faithfulness and the Father who dearly loves his children is left alone, wounded, and wondering why the children have deserted him.
Thinking of God in vulnerable terms may make us uncomfortable and yet, our heavenly Father loves us enough to share his emotions. We were created in the image of God and when we begin to see the depth of love and emotion which pours from the heart of God we realize that we may have just begun to scratch the surface of this relationship. God loves us more than we can imagine and desperately wants to be in a face to face relationship with us. God delights in spending time with us! God wants to care for our needs and walk every step of this journey of life with us.
God has never forced a relationship, but has always tried to lovingly point the way toward holy fellowship. We wound God when we turn our backs and choose to be satisfied by the things of this world. What is it that fills our time and space? The things that we allow to consume our lives become our gods. The responsibility for shaping the community of faith lies on the shoulders of the three groups of people listed. The leaders of the Israelites had a responsibility to tell the story of God and deliverance among their people. It was their job to keep the vision and mission of the people of God alive. They were to continually share about God’s faithfulness and never let the people forget their roots and to whom they were to be grateful. When the leaders stopped telling the story they allowed the vision of other nations to become their vision and they allowed Yahweh to take second place to the gods of other nations.
The elders no longer passed on the faith to the next generation. God had instructed the Israelites to teach their children in the home about their faith. The good news was to be written on their doorposts and a part of family conversation on a daily basis. They were to talk about the stories of God as they walked and went about their daily business. It is our responsibility to talk about God and God’s faithfulness to our families. Most of us have family lore about God’s intervention that can be shared with the next generation. We need to take the time to sit around the family dinner table and share the stories of God. (Research shows that we must take time to sit around the table and talk for this is where formation occurs) When the lives of children are filled from morning to night with media they don’t get to hear the voice of the elders sharing the stories of God’s faithfulness and God is wounded.
Finally the religious leaders were to have continued sharing the stories of God’s faithfulness. We used to have the old testimony services where people shared about the ways in which God answered prayer. What has happened to those times? Maybe we have become too uncomfortable sharing these truths with the church family but in the meantime we may be wounding God. The people forgot about God because in their religious practices they stopped telling the stories and testifying to God’s faithfulness.
Yes, God can be wounded for God loves us deeply. Loving God means we intentionally share the stories and vision of God’s faithfulness in the past so that those in the present will not turn away from the faith. Our wounded God in Jesus Christ bears the marks of suffering so that we will return and remain in a holy relationship with our loving Father.
Lord, please help me to be a faithful witness to your love. Amen.
Monday, August 7, 2017
John 9:30 The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. 31 We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. 32 Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. 33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” 34 They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out.
The man who had been blind from birth had accepted his fate. He would never be able to succeed in life and so he took his place begging to survive. Suddenly he finds himself as an illustration to the disciples. They are walking along on the Sabbath asking Jesus questions. Being the skilled teacher that he is he chooses to teach them by performing a miracle. The man born blind from birth was not suffering as a consequence of anyone’s sin, but rather his life was one which God was going to use for glory.
Jesus’ perspective on the Sabbath day was radically different from that of the Pharisees. Why not teach and glorify God all at the same time? He believed that this fulfilled God’s desire for the Sabbath day, while the Jewish leaders were fixated upon the rules which had been established for very specific behaviors. Instead of healing glorifying God, they had categorized this as work. Therefore, in their minds, Jesus was desecrating the Sabbath day.
Following up on what had happened the Jewish leaders questioned the man who had been blind from birth. His entire life was transformed for no longer would he be limited by no sight. His entire status within the community would be changed and he was given a future which he could have never imagined. Articulately he responds to the questions of the Pharisees and they are frustrated. Who is this man to be teaching them? His teaching is astounding as he walks them through a logical process of thinking which brings you to a conclusion regarding Jesus. This new source of teaching — a blind beggar who has been healed— is so clever in his teaching that he frustrates the leaders. They don’t want to be challenged in this way and rather than absorb his teaching, they send him on his way.
Through a life-giving relationship with our holy God we discover the beauty of spiritual growth. Our loving heavenly Father comes to us with eternal truths which can be taught in new, fresh and different ways. The teachers and/or the methodologies need never stay the same, nor static. That’s the beauty of our creative God, who loves to take us by surprise. We must continually submit ourselves to God’s authority and methodologies which are utilized to teach us.
The stubbornness of the Pharisees meant that they missed out on the beautiful gift that God had for them. When we allow God to open our eyes to the infinite possibilities around us we will discover the energy and excitement in new sources of teaching. Suddenly we will see the beauty of creation when we are out on a walk and we will want to glorify God. We will hear the voice of the new believer who has discovered a truth which we had not even imagined and we will rejoice in new hope. Everywhere we go and all that we do will point us in the direction of God, if only we will be open to these new sources of teaching.
Lord, may my ears, eyes, heart and mind be opened to all the ways in which you want to teach me. Amen.