“Sunday is coming! “Running out of wine and the abundant best yet to come.” John 2:1-11, Epiphany 2C

They have no wine” (John 2:3).

As churches, we spend a lot of time talking about, worrying about and complaining about perceived scarcity: the energy we think we have run out of; the time we think we don’t have; the people we wish were part of our congregations (or were still part of our congregations) but are not; the money we wish we had, the things we used to do, etc.

As people of faith, we constantly wonder if we can ever be enough, can be good enough, or can do enough. We give lip service to God’s unconditional love and mercy for us and for the world, but we have a difficult time truly believing that grace is true, real and palpable. So we try to (to no avail) to live by our works and self-righteousness.

As those who live in the real world, we clamor for protectionism – we are suspicious of others and distance ourselves from the things we don’t know or understand. We cower from the world’s problems. We believe that people are out to get us or take things from us. We try to hide from real suffering around us or that we ourselves face. We distance ourselves from the challenges that seem to big or too difficult to change and believe maybe if we ignore them, they will go away. Deep down we know how fragile and feeble we are.

This story in John (2:1-11) offers an alternative.

Jesus is always one to show abundance. He says later in this gospel: “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10)  Whether it is changing water into wine in this story, multiplying the loaves and fishes in others, or his constant expression of compassion and mercy with people who do not deserve it throughout the gospel narratives; just when we think there is nothing left – Jesus surprises us with abundance.

It is fitting that this story takes place at a wedding. It is already a lavish feast. Since it takes place “on the third day” (John 2:1) this party serves as a sign of the heavenly feast that is to yet to come. As the story opens, the wine runs out, but there is neither blame nor shame directed at the hosts. There is no despair or lament over what once was or what could be. There is no retreat or a turning on each other.

What happens is remarkable.

There is a turning to Jesus for hope. There is a call to discipleship. His mother directs the servants to listen and, “do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5). There is a movement to action.

How many of us are willing to do to turn to Jesus, listen, follow and act when things get tough – rather than look inward on ourselves or turn on each other?

Jesus tells them to fill the large stone jars used for purification. These jars hold 20-30 gallons of water. That is 120-180 gallons. If a modern-day bottle of wine is .750 ml. (There are 3.79 Liters in a gallon), there was now between 600-900 additional bottles of wine for this wedding. That is a lot of wine! It is a ridiculous abundance we may find unbelievable to comprehend. John is telling us that ridiculous abundance is the sign that Jesus is among us.

Considering this party was well underway, the steward is also surprised by the quality of this new wine, “Everyone serves the good wine first…But you have kept the best wine until now” (John 2:10). Jesus not only brings abundance. He brings out the best.

-Do we believe Jesus to bring out abundance and the best in our own time and circumstances or do we believe the best days are behind us?

-What is keeps us from seeing him, and leaning into the abundance of love, mercy and grace Jesus gives us to us?

-Where do you need to look to Jesus, listen, follow and act?

-How might you encourage others to lean into Jesus’ ridiculous abundance and best?

PGS

Sunday is coming, “Jesus alongside us in the water” Luke 3:15-22, Baptism of our Lord C

“Now when all the people were baptized and when Jesus had also been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘this is my son, the beloved, in whom I am well pleased.” (Luke 3:21-22)

All the people. All of them who came. They were all baptized. The soldiers. The tax collectors. The crowd. All the people who did not belong under the political structure or the religious culture. Who were they? The unclean. The brood of vipers. The unworthy. This is who was baptized with Jesus at the river Jordan: all the undesirables.

There were no VIPs. There were no political officials of note. There were no religious leaders of good standing. Nobody credentialed. There was only John, who by his self-declaration was “unworthy” to be there too. He was not the Messiah. He knew it. His job was to point the way and “prepare the way of the Lord.” He practiced ‘a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins’ (Luke 3:3). He preached sharing and taking care of people with our food and clothing, of acting fairly and honestly in our work, of protecting people without abusing them violently or taking advantage of them (Luke 3:10-14). John called out injustice and the distortion of relationships (Luke 3:18-19). It was the kind of good news that eventually tossed John in jail and it cost him his life (Luke 3:20).

But not yet.

Jesus came to the wilderness. He didn’t begin his ministry in the Temple, or in a palace among the important people run by the powers of this world. He stood at the river Jordan, the crossing point into the Holy Land with outsiders and misfits and everyone else who did not belong. And he was baptized along with them. It almost sounds like an afterthought. They were all baptized. Jesus was too. Unlike the Gospel of Matthew and Mark where the voice of heaven seems to be directed solely at Jesus, as Luke describes this scene all who were baptized heard and could see it for themselves. The Spirit came. The voice called out the beloved. All the undesirables were part of it. You and I are too.

We often ask, ‘Why would Jesus seek baptism?’ After all, Christians tend to assert that Jesus was sinless. In that regard, ‘a baptism of repentance’ would be not only unnecessary but also problematic. Yet all four gospels claim Jesus’ baptism – and his ministry begins to take shape after this event. Perhaps what Luke is trying to reveal is not so much that Jesus is God’s beloved (which in the text he clearly is), but that God is up to something far greater in baptism than self-revelation. Jesus is with them in the water; crossing all who join him in baptism them over from left out to the included, from the unworthy to the beloved, from forgotten about to the remembered, from the unclean to the clean.

Repentance separates the fruitless branches. Jesus does clear the chaff from the wheat. The fire of the Spirit continues to purify us just as the water continues to clean us up and make us whole. We are not left as we were – forgotten on the outside or unworthy on the fringe but are made anew by the Jesus who joins us in the water – loved as we always were but that love is announced in public with the same blessing from the heavens for all to see and hear. The kingdoms of this world never like competition.

Like Jesus, as we emerge from those waters our ministry begins to take shape. Following this Jesus and living in his kingdom is dangerous to the powers that be, and we should expect nothing less than for them to reject us as we live a life of inclusion, generosity, care and integrity. It may make us outliers, push us to fringe, and leave us in the wilderness. Like John (and Jesus), it may even cost us our life.

Fear not. Jesus is alongside us in the water, waiting to lead us to cross over to the other side of the river and find our new community where we are welcomed and loved forever.

Take a look around for the other misfits and vagabonds who join you.

Who do you see there?

PGS

Sunday is coming! “The Wisdom of the Magi” – Festival of the Epiphany, Matt 2:1-12

In the Time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem.” (Matthew 2:1)

The coming of the Magi from the East spurs the imagination but also draws us into hard realities. The focus of attention and query often gets placed in the star: What was it? Where did come from? How did they know to follow it? Or, their “Eastern-ness”: Are they from Persia? Arabia? India? China? Their role: King? Wise Man? Sage? Magician? Astrologer? And their gifts: We know what gold is, but what is frankincense and myrrh? These are all interesting questions, but ultimately not Matthew’s point in telling this story.

Matthew 2:1-12 should be read within the context of the wider narrative of Matthew chapters 1-2. In this bigger story Matthew is telling about Jesus’ origins, several things come to light:

  1. Matthew tells Jesus’ lineage to connect him to the wider story of Israel in the Bible (Matthew 1:1-17). It is important to read through this list of names – it connects him to both Abraham and David, but also to Tamar, Ruth and Rahab.
  2. Joseph is reluctant to go through with the wedding with Mary since she is already pregnant (Matthew 1:18-19). It takes an angel within a dream (remember Joseph and his dreams from Genesis?) to open him to the idea that the child who will be born will “save the people form their sins” (Matthew 1:22), looking back not just to individual misdeeds, but the national wandering from God what led to centuries of exile and foreign occupation. Joseph does marry her, and is present for the rest of Matthew’s infancy narrative.
  3. The Magi are foreigners.
  4. We know nothing about them other than this short story. We do not know their names (Tradition gives them the names Gaspar, Melchior and Balthazaar); how they dressed (a legend tells of Persian invaders in 614 sparing the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem from destruction because of the art portraying the Wise Men were wearing Persian garb, so they left the building alone); or where they came from when they saw the star. Most of the things we think we know about them (including the camel in many of our Nativity sets inferred from Isaiah 60:6, or that there are three wise men) is added conjecture.
  5. King Herod is the power-center of the story. He is threatened by the presence of the Magi and what they represent: a rival who has come to usurp him. Gold, frankincense and myrrh are gifts to give a royal. Herod’s family made a deal with the Romans securing his power. One could see his rule as illegitimate. A child king and potential Messiah was a huge threat. After the Magi went home, Herod sent his henchman to eliminate that threat by slaughtering all the children in the area.
  6. Mary and Joseph (along with the child Jesus) escape to Egypt. Egypt was the place of slavery from which the Exodus narrative – the centering story in the Hebrew Bible is set. When Jesus returns to the Holy Land, it signals (from Matthew’s storytelling) a new Exodus is about to take place, and Jesus (like a new Moses) has arrived to lead the people from slavery to freedom. Matthew was most likely writing his gospel to a Jewish-Christian audience who would have understood the parallels.

What might we make of the Wise Men in a North American 21st century context?

Three ideas:

  1. People are still seeking. In our information heavy, technology-driven, digital age we are inundated by easy answers and often neglect challenging questions. Now is a time to reclaim not only what draws us to the Christ, but what also may be motivating others to seek meaning and purpose in their lives. Many people seem stuck longing, seeking, wondering and hurting. What signs can you point to (and what might others be grasping for) that could draw people together rather than wedge them apart? Is there something in the Jesus story that might speak? Listen? Include? Epiphany means “aha!” Seek the “aha” moment with those around you.
  2. God often uses the outsider to proclaim good news. If the church is to have any future, it is essential that the faith communities many of us have both come from and inherited learn this essential truth: God is neither irrelevant or in decline. But our systems and institutions are. To “tune-in” to where God is leading anew we need to “tune-in” to our neighbors outside of what we may think is normative.
  3. Power does what power does. We should not be surprised or disappointed by this reality or naïve enough to overlook it. Power will often do what it needs to do to maintain its position – often at any cost – unless it is shown that it is in its own self-interest not to do so. History shows that the church (whoever is governing society) often does its best work when it is centered in a message of peace, hope and love (not force, power and control); acts as a voice of the voiceless, and cares for those in need and on the margins. We should expect pushback when we will not be dismissed, coerced or pushed-around or allow it to happen to others. There is a deeper and truer power at work among us than worldly influence rooted in joy, compassion and generosity. Look for it – and join in.

Blessings to you this Epiphany.

PGS

Sunday is coming! “Looking for boyhood Jesus” Luke 2:41-52 Christmas 1C

Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.” (Luke 2:52)

The gospels say very little about Jesus’ childhood. The story each of the four gospels share is centered on his adult ministry leading to the passion narrative. Only Matthew and Luke have birth stories, though John frames who Jesus is in cosmic terms. Mark introduces Jesus as an adult ready to bring good news. In each of these four stories, John the Baptist prepares the way for Jesus’ ministry as an adult to begin, and once Jesus emerges from the waters of the Jordan, the story takes off. Only Luke inserts this story about Jesus as a boy between his birth and baptism.

What is this story about?

Mary and Joseph are portrayed as practicing Jews who make the annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the Passover festival. Jesus is anchored in a community and in the traditions of faith of his parents. That they don’t know where he is during their return trip back home says more about the trust and relationships within the wider group they are travelling with, than any neglect on their part. Jesus grows up as an average Jewish kid from a small town, connected to the wider community of friends, faith and relatives.

Yet the story Luke is telling is that Jesus is anything but ordinary. His birth in a manger “is a sign for you” (Luke 2:12). The unique personhood of Jesus is highlighted as Mary and Joseph took him to the Temple as an eight-day old and they encounter Simeon and Anna who know Jesus is the Messiah (Luke 2:20-39). Luke highlights here that Jesus is smart and inquisitive, engaged in the scripture and the religious teachers were amazed at his understanding (Luke 2:46-47). He is no ordinary kid.

His parents are both astounded and angry with him. They had both been entrusted with caring and protecting this child and had lost him for three days. They scoured everywhere looking for him. One can feel their anxiety and shame as they blame him, “Child, why have you treated us like this?” (Luke 2:48).

Jesus remains unfazed by their question. Where else would he be but the Temple? What else would he be doing other than discussing the scripture with the elders? Why wouldn’t he be astounding them with his understanding and answers? Isn’t that the kind of preparation he is going to need for the mission he is on? Shouldn’t Mary and Joseph know that?

They had looked with fear and uncertainty. They must have felt like failures. If you have children or have ever been entrusted with their care; there is no greater responsibility.

If you were Mary or Joseph, how might it have felt to hear, “I must be in my Father’s house” (Luke 2:49)? Was that supposed to reassuring of their role in this divine story unfolding around them or was it an accusation of their disconnected human parenting? In either case – Jesus submits to them, bringing the divine and human together for the long road that is ahead. It may be only one story of Jesus’ upbringing, but in it we see all that we need to understand. This extraordinary boy grew up in an ordinary way to bring together what we often separate, dismiss, neglect and take for granted. When his ministry begins, we will see Jesus approach each of his encounters with others Luke reports to us in the same way – bringing together what is often divided by human means in the divine mission to include all.  The lost are found. Where else would Jesus be?

I wonder if Mary and Joseph realized this profound and extraordinary presence of God among them as they continued to raise Jesus and ponder these things in their hearts. In the midst of that seeking and finding – they loved him. Jesus loved them too.

Where do you go looking for Jesus?

Where has he shown up where you least expect?

What things do you ponder and keep close to your heart?

PGS

Sunday is coming! “The amazing things about Mary and her song” – Luke 1:39-56

My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” (Luke 1:47)

The Magnificat is an amazing song. It serves the church not only to highlight Mary and her importance in the story of Jesus; it also highlights (for Luke) who this Jesus is, what he came to do, as well as point all who follow him towards the activity of God’s mission is in the world.

An amazing thing about the Magnificat is its revolutionary content. Mary declares God’s sovereignty and love (Luke 1:47-50); the reversal of the mighty and lowly (Luke 1:51-53); and fulfilling the promises made to the people long ago (Luke 1:54-55). This declaration should unsettle all those who occupy wealth, privilege or power. Mary is neither intimidated nor timid. She proclaims a divine justice and mercy where God restores what is broken and will make right that which is unjust. In the center of that message is her own sense of agency. Mary was called by the angel to participate in the divine embodiment of our humanity (Luke 1:26-38). That God would use such an unlikely candidate to bring about salvation history is astounding.

Another amazing thing about the Magnificat is Mary’s fluency in scripture. Her song echoes Hannah’s song in 1 Samuel 2:1-10. It is highly probable that Mary would have had no formal education. In all likelihood she learned those stories and songs from her elders at home. It is pure speculation, but one could imagine her mother and the other women in young Mary’s life singing these songs of faith and telling those stories as they did their work and cared for the household. Humans are hardwired somehow to observe and learn the values and perspectives of our families of origin. That Mary knows Hannah’s song so well is a great testament to the people in her life and a reminder to all of us the importance of passing on of the faith within our homes through our most important relationships.

Yet Another amazing thing about the Magnificat is Mary’s humble origins. She is young, female, a peasant and in the most uninteresting part of the least interesting part of the Empire. One would expect a well-educated, experienced, connected, wealthy, powerful, male, person in the capital (or at least a major city) to be the conduit for a message of the divine to have the right platform to gain the widest audience in the ancient world. Mary embodies the very lyrics she sings – the lowly is lifted up.

Revolution.

Story.

Humility.

These are amazing things to sing. Yet Mary’s song has another amazing feature…

It is amazing that Mary and her Magnificat holds such a prominent place in the church’s life, faith and ministry. One would not expect such esteem with so many centuries of male-dominant, financially-secured, power-influenced religiosity running through the church’s institutions.

The Magnificat both keeps and expands Mary’s witness in the church’s liturgy and hymnody alike. Both she and her song are treasured. Her proclamation is sung on the people’s lips and placed in many people’s hearts as if Mary’s voice sings through them. Mary occupies a special place among the saints and in Christian imagination. Our Roman Catholic siblings recite “Hail Mary full of grace…” (Luke 1:28), “blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb…” (Luke 1:42) as one of the central prayers of faith. Protestants and other Christians could learn much from those prayers. She is regarded as God-Bearer, Mother of God and Queen of Heaven, and yet she perpetually remains the young peasant girl from Nazareth with a servant’s heart.

In a world full of destruction, despair, discord, division, disparity, derision and dehumanizing behaviors, our response is a call to devotion.

The Magnificat inspires the faithful of every walk of life and background to consider their calling and agency to bear Christ in the world.

With Mary and all who should be voiceless, we boldly sing God’s praises, long for God’s mercy, and proclaim that one day God’s justice will reign.

What will you sing about until then?

PGS

Sunday is Coming! “Fruit worthy of Repentance” Luke 3:7-18 Advent 3C

The crowd asked him,What then should we do?’” (Luke 3:10)

John is not one to mince words. He grabs the attention of his audience with judgment; calling for a change of heart and urging people to action. “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come. Bear fruits worthy of repentance” (Luke 3:7b-8).

Repentance’ means not to just say ‘sorry,’ hoping to be forgiven. The word ‘repent’ (metanoia) means to turn around – to see things in a new way, go a new direction, or change your mind. It is about life-change!

John’s intensity shines through his sense of urgency. He leaves us little wiggle room to escape, explain ourselves or justify our actions. Our credentials and heritage don’t matter. Our position doesn’t matter. Our sinfulness does. He warns that when Messiah comes – the ax is coming to cut down that which is rotten or unfruitful.

Yet, the people keep coming, and look who it is…

The crowd.

The tax collectors.

The soldiers.

All of them come to John looking for direction, asking, “What then shall we do?” (Luke 3:10). He is no contemplative. John will not ponder these things in his heart as Mary does. He stands in the wilderness and proclaims an honest, direct and forceful call to action.

John tells the crowd that if you have two coats, give one away to someone who has none, and feed those who are hungry.  (Luke 3:11).

“Repentance” (life- change) for the crowd means to look beyond oneself. Be generous. Take care of one another. Be your neighbor’s keeper. We can all learn from this change of perspective. Look to God’s abundance with gratitude as you live with one another. Relate to people with that same generosity, compassion and love.

John tells the tax collectors not to collect more than is prescribed (Luke 3:13). In those days, tax collectors made their income by taking extra than the government asked them to collect. They were wealthy because they exploited people. Since they worked for Rome they were viewed as conspirators, traitors and betrayers of their people; unclean before God because of their wickedness.

“Repentance” (life- change) for the tax collector means to be honest, fair and just – which may cost personal gain. What motivates our work? We can all learn from this change of perspective. Martin Luther said of the commandments against stealing and coveting, “We are to fear and love God so that we neither take our neighbors’ money or property nor acquire them by using shoddy merchandise or crooked deals, but instead help them improve and protect their property and income.” and “We are to fear and love God, so that we do not try to trick our neighbors out of their inheritance or property to try to get it for ourselves by claiming to have a legal right to it and the like, but instead be of help and service to them in keeping what is theirs.”  (Martin Luther, “Small Catechism (1529),” Evangelical Lutheran Worship. [Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2006], 1161.)

John tells the soldiers (the foreign Roman occupiers) not to extort money, threaten or falsely accuse people.

“Repentance” (life- change) for the soldier means being in positions of service, not just positions of power. We can all learn from this change of perspective. It means doing our best job in whatever it is we do; not just to serve ourselves, but with the best interest of others in mind, even in a hostile environment.

What might “repentance” look like for you? In your situation? Job? Status? Lifestyle? Relationships? Impact on those you may not know?

The heart of John’s message is life-change rooted in action. He calls his hearers to honesty, integrity, service and generosity (whatever their background) into a new life worthy of their calling and vocation. He doesn’t tell people to leave their jobs or life-situation, but challenges all who will listen with a new way of seeing, being and acting. While he speaks with authority; he proclaims that One is coming with more power than himself who will come with fire and the Holy Spirit.

Ultimately, John’s appeal is good news:

A life that is worthy of repentance strives for the kingdom of God; but not as the pursuit of personal achievement or by somehow trying to earn God’s favor. Rather, it is bearing fruit (doing good) by responding to God’s undeserved mercy and grace; holding tight to the promise of Christ and sharing that hope, love and peace that surpasses understanding with others in concrete ways.

-Where could you use some life-change right now?

-What are some concrete ways you can share the hope, love and peace of Christ through the relationships you already have?

-How might those actions change you, and prepare the way for others?

PGS

Sunday is coming! “John the Baptist: No random oddity” Advent 2C

He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance.” (Luke 3:3)

What conditions may have produced this odd character?

Luke outlines rather carefully in his “orderly account” (Luke 1:1) what is happening on the world stage as John (and shortly Jesus) begin their local ministry. Tiberius is the Emperor of Rome. Pilate is the Governor of Judea having direct control over the Southern part of the country. Two brothers: Herod and Philip rule the local Northern regions but remain subordinate to Rome. Annas and Caiahphas serve as High Priests in the Temple. One could cross-reference the dates of these leaders to locate both John and Jesus in history. Luke has gone to great lengths to ensure that we (and Theophilus [Luke 1:4]) understand the context of the story that is about to unfold (Luke 3:-3).

Bishop and scholar N.T. Wright points put there is more going on than just historical precision:

Behind that list names and places is a story of oppression and misery that was building up to an explosion point…The old prophets had spoken of a time of renewal, through which God himself would come back to them. They had only a sketchy idea of what this would all look like, but when a fiery young prophet appeared in the Judean wilderness, going around towns and villages telling people the time had come, they were ready to listen. Baptism, plunging into the river Jordan was a powerful sign of renewal.” (N.T. Wright, Luke for Everyone. [Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001], pp. 32-33.)

The conditions were ripe for something new.

Luke wants the reader/hearer to know this is not a random fanatic who drew a crowd. Beginning in chapter 1, Luke provides a background narrative for both the coming of John and for Jesus. The first story that Luke (and only Luke of the four canonical gospels) tells – is the angel Gabriel visiting Zechariah to tell him that he and Elizabeth will have a child, and he is to be named John (God is gracious). “He will turn many of the people to the Lord their God. With the spirit and with power of Elijah he will before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord” (Luke 1:16-17).  God is orchestrating the redemption plan. The groundwork is being laid for John to set the stage for Jesus.

What is coming?

Looking back to Advent 1C, we heard warnings of destruction and judgment, yet Jesus promising “Your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:28) “The kingdom of God is near” (Luke 3:31) and “My words not passing away” (Luke 21:33). These are tall orders in wake of the system of power in place, and the destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple in the recent memory of Luke’s hearers, and to the us all these centuries later – removed from the historical context, but still longing for hope and renewal in our own time and lives.

Prepare the Way

Our time and our lives are ripe for renewal just as they were in the time of John.  We look at the world and see the difference between the wealthy and the poor; the important and forgotten; the powerful and the oppressed; those who are high and those who are low; those who attempt to ensure their own safety and those surrounded by violence; those who are connected and disconnected; those who seem to get away with hate, abuse, injustice and greed and those who suffer for it. We are often left scratching our heads wondering,”How might we respond?” or “Can I do anything about it to change things?” or better yet, “Where is God in all this?” We feel the pinch of changing church participation and the strain it puts on our community, its leadership and shared resources and we fear the future. We wonder of our own lives matter or could make a difference. In a world full of noise we struggle to find our voice, and wonder if anyone is listening.

John reveals that sometimes what God is up to in our world comes to us in odd, unconventional ways; if we are but open to hear it, look for it, believe it and live it. John remains a key symbol of Advent because he represents a voice calling us out of our own wilderness into repentance (a life-change; new perspective; going a new direction); leading to hope, faith, joy and peace. He enters our story just when it feels darkest; not to be the Light, but to point to the Light that is coming (John 1:7-9). We are invited into that same calling us to “prepare the way” for Jesus to come in our lives, relationships and communities.

In the promise of our coming Christ, we are immersed into the way of love as fear is cast-aside and no longer has power over us. We are on the way.

What strange new things might God be doing in your life and/or community?

Look hard and carefully…Do you see them?

Are you odd enough to join-in?

PGS

Sunday is coming! “The beginning at the end.” Advent 1C, Luke 21:25-36

Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” (Luke 21:28)

Do you ever get the feeling the world is coming to an end?” said a friend in response to the major world events happening at the time – natural disasters, political strife, conflict between nations, anxiety, angst, turmoil, fear, doubt.

Jesus tells his disciples that unsettling things are coming. The promise he gives is – don’t be unsettled when they do; redemption is drawing near (Luke 21:28).  Luke’s hearers would have already experienced the destruction of the Temple and the sacking by of Jerusalem by the Roman army in the year 70. This cataclysmic event would have incited fear and panic as much as it did pain and suffering. It is easy to look at bad things happening in our world and/or in our personal lives as God’s judgement and wrath against us. (Just ask Job and his friends.)

The message Jesus offers to the gathered community in the first century rings out to us in the twenty-first century – when it looks like things are bleak – we should expect Christ to be with us – not to bring wrath; but salvation (1 Thessalonians 5:9).

How will we know when it is about to happen? Just like a fig tree growing leaves we know when it is spring. Look for the signs Jesus warns of – but also don’t get into the predicting business. That only incites fear and panic. Instead, hold steadfast; keep awake; be alert. Our faith calls us reach out to others with comfort and peace; especially when things look bleak. In that moment of perseverance as the world collapses – we catch a glimpse of the kingdom. We call it hope.

Where have you seen hope?

Share that story with someone who needs it.

Advent is here. It begins at the end.

Can you see it?

PGS

Sunday is coming! “What world are you from?” John 18:33-38a

Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over… But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.’” (John 18:36)

This trial scene between Jesus and Pilate reveal two distinct worldviews.

Pilate sees the world in terms of the powerful and the powerless. The valuable and the disposable. Those who matter and those who do not. The wealthy and those to exploit. The conquerors and the conquered. Rome versus the world. Us and them.  Peace through victory. Might makes right. Submission or the cross. The crosses that line the streets as a reminder of who is really in charge. The invincible, eternal empire and those who will be long forgotten. This bizarre peasant rabbi insurrectionist without an army to defend him, who is wasting Pilate’s precious time.

And then there is Jesus, the word made flesh full of grace and truth (John 1). Jesus pointed to the ‘truth’ throughout his ministry – turning water to wine (John 2); welcoming a seeker in the night (John 3); engaging a Samaritan woman and her village (John 4); healing on the Sabbath (John 5); feeding 5000 hungry people (John 6); teaching in the Temple and angering the religious establishment (John 7); defending a woman caught in adultery (John 8); healing a blind man (John 9); declaring himself the good shepherd (John 10); raising Lazarus from the dead (John 11); entering Jerusalem to the shouts of ‘hosanna’ (John 12); calling his followers to love and washing their feet as a servant (John 13); declaring, ‘I am the way, the truth and the life’ while promising an Advocate to come (John 14); giving his followers a command to ‘love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends’ (John 15); reassuring them that when ‘the Spirit of truth comes he will guide you into all the truth’  (John 16); he prays ‘that they may be one as he and the Father are one’ (John 17); and even with his betrayal, arrest, rejection and trial – know who he is, who he is for ,and what he has come to do.

In Pilate’s world there are limits. There is a limit of power, wealth and prestige – there are the exploiters and the exploited. Only the successful, important and connected people are of any value. The powerful make the rules. The victors both make and write the history.  What is ‘true‘ is determined by those who matter.

For Jesus there is no ‘us’ versus’ them.’ Reality encompasses both spirit and flesh as the eternal and temporal come together. Love is more powerful than violence or hate. Forgiveness, hope and selflessness overcomes death every time. Truth is not defined or controlled by those who set the rules but is lived by those who know compassion and mercy. And those who know compassion and mercy, listen to Jesus’ voice.

Which world are you from? From which perspective do you engage others? Who is the Jesus on trial? Between Pilate  and Jesus – who is really on trial here? To which worldview do you belong? Which kingdom do you hope to call home?

PGS

Sunday is coming! “When the sky is falling…Trust God” Mark 13:1-8

“For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birthpangs.” (Mark 13:8)

Jesus may not be describing a dystopian future to fear as he is describing the real world in which we live. He is calling a thing what it is: the world is violent and unfair; full of forces more powerful than us we cannot control. Our present day news cycle reminds us of how dangerous and fragile the world is.

This scene takes place as Jesus and the disciples leave the Temple after a few days of teaching and calling out the hypocrisy and corruption of the religious establishment. The cross on Good Friday is only days away. The disciples comment that the buildings are beautiful – a hope built in stone that God is near and they will be God’s people forever. Jesus tells them that the Temple will be razed, the things built by human hands will pass away and all they take for granted will be destroyed. The birth pangs are coming.

What is the message?

Fear? Wrath? Helplessness?

No.

Trust God. Especially when the world is on fire and everything we know seems to be shattering into pieces…

Our sense of permanence is broken into pieces every time our temples lay in ruins.

Our sense of control is thwarted by every new disaster; every new tragedy; every new horror unleashed into the world.

Our sense of justice is challenged every time the innocent suffer and the guilty go free; the impoverished are squeezed as the greedy are rewarded; and the oppressors get away with exploiting the vulnerable.

Trust God.

Nature threatens us.

People threaten us.

Change threatens us.

Trust God.

Jesus does not teach us to avoid suffering or how to escape from life when it challenges our false sense of stability, security and scrutiny. He shows us how to face it when it feels like the sky is falling by living for others.

Do not be afraid. Pray. Act.

Trust God.

God is with you no matter what destructiveness threatens you. Jesus raises you to be part of a new community that brings life to a dying world. Stay attentive to today and all its troubles. Then love your neighbor with everything you’ve got.

PGS