March 5, 2019- Shrove Tuesday, Extravagance and Love – John 12:1-8

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Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. So they gave a dinner for him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at table. Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.  But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?”  He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it. Jesus said, “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial. For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.” John 12:1-8 (ESV)

Shrove Tuesday is also known as Mardi Gras (literally: Fat Tuesday.)  Being the day before Ash Wednesday, which is the beginning of Lent, in liturgical traditions, (especially Roman Catholicism) Shrove Tuesday is traditionally a day to eat up all of one’s sumptuous food and to live it up before embarking on the somber, penitent, fasting season of Lent.  Of course, the Mardi Gras tradition is also one of theoretically getting all one’s sinning out of one’s system so one can be “shriven” or forgiven all their sins.  Of course, we all need to remember our baptisms and confess our sins daily.  We may be God’s saints, but as long as we are in these bodies on this earth, we are also sinners in need of God’s grace.

Jesus was sinless, so He had no sins to get out of His system before the Passover- or at any other time. The only sin problem Jesus ever had is when He took on the sins of the world- so that He could defeat the curse of death, cover us in His blood, and forgive our sins.

He was treated to a dinner with His disciples and friends. Mary saw the opportunity to be extravagant in her care for Jesus while He was with them.  Before He had to embark on His lonely journey through Passion Week, taking on the burden of our sins, and ultimately dying for us on the cross, He was cared for and richly anointed.  She had no idea what lie ahead of Jesus in the following days, but she responded to Him out of love.  Mary did not realize that she was preparing Jesus for the journey ahead of Him and she was anointing Jesus for His burial.

Yes, there are times for prudence and frugality. There is always a need to care for those less fortunate than we are. It can be said in this text that Judas had an ulterior motive for pointing that out. Charity does not always come from a heart with pure motives. There are also times in our lives in which we should celebrate and be extravagant with each other.  We do not know how long we will have our loved ones with us.

Traditionally Lent is a time of penitence and sacrifice. It is not just a time to give up bad habits or to get rid of unnecessary things.  It is a time to contemplate the life and Passion of Jesus.  It is a time to consider taking up good habits such as regular Bible study, giving, or serving others.  As we enter the season of Lent- whether we participate in Fat Tuesday traditions or not- perhaps we could make time to appreciate our loved ones, while they are with us, and we with them.  We do not know where this life’s journey may take us.

 

February 20, 2019- Jesus and the Words of Eternal Life- John 6:52-71, Matthew 16:24-25

Jesus and Peter

The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.  For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” Jesus said these things in the synagogue, as he taught at Capernaum.

 When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, “Do you take offense at this?  Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?  It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.  But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.”

After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.  So Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you, the twelve? And yet one of you is a devil.” He spoke of Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the twelve, was going to betray him. John 6:52-71 (ESV)

Many of Jesus’ early followers wanted to make Him a bread king- a genie who would grant everyone all the food they could eat, riches and bodily healing. The theology of glory is appealing, and it persists to this day. The airwaves are full of prosperity preachers hawking miracles in exchange for your “gifts and tithes.” Unfortunately, the real Jesus, God Himself, the Lord revealed in Holy Scripture, is nowhere in the false teaching of prosperity promises.

Jesus is not going to bring any of us a Mercedes Benz, a color TV, or a night on the town. He will bring us people who will benefit from our vocations- people to serve, love, comfort and encourage.  We will bear burdens and we will suffer for Jesus’ sake, even though there will be great joy even in the sadness and suffering.

The big problem with the theology of glory and the attempts of the people to crown Jesus the bread king is that Jesus did not come to fill bellies and grant temporary wishes. Following Jesus means setting our own desires aside.  Following Jesus means putting other peoples’ good ahead of our own.  Following Jesus can lead to persecution, suffering, and in certain circumstances, even martyrdom in this life.

Jesus came to give us real, lasting life. He invites us and brings us into life beyond this world. Even so, He did not come to give us an easy life on this earth.

Jesus gives us the theology of the cross. We must follow Him to His death if we are going to follow Him to His resurrection. That is a hard truth for us to come to terms with at times.

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Matthew 16:24-25 (ESV)

The apostle Peter doesn’t always get it- at one point Jesus even said to him, “get behind me, Satan,” (Matthew 16:23) but Peter gets it here: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”

Jesus has chosen us- through the preaching of the Word, through the waters of our baptism, and He feeds us with His own Body and Blood in the meal of Holy Communion. He isn’t going to make our earthly life easy, but as we learn in Psalm 23, He walks through this life with us.  He will not leave us. Through faith in Christ, by the grace of God, we belong to Jesus.  We are invited, called, and set free to follow Him.

 

 

March 28, 2018- Judas in the Mirror? John 13:21-30

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After he had said this, Jesus was troubled in spirit and testified, “Very truly I tell you, one of you is going to betray me.”  His disciples stared at one another, at a loss to know which of them he meant. One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him.  Simon Peter motioned to this disciple and said, “Ask him which one he means.”

 Leaning back against Jesus, he asked him, “Lord, who is it?”

Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.” Then, dipping the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot.  As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him.

So Jesus told him, “What you are about to do, do quickly.” But no one at the meal understood why Jesus said this to him.  Since Judas had charge of the money, some thought Jesus was telling him to buy what was needed for the festival, or to give something to the poor.  As soon as Judas had taken the bread, he went out. And it was night. John 13:21-30 (NIV)

Who among us has betrayed a friend at some time or another? Whether we betray others to save our own hides, or for personal gain, or even from our own fear, the sin of betrayal has a special kind of sting to it.  It is a violation of an intimate understanding between friends, a breach of trust.

Jesus is fully human as well as He is fully God.  Judas’ betrayal had to be painful for Jesus just as it is painful for us to be betrayed by a friend or a family member.  The ones closest to us have the greatest power to hurt us, because they are the last ones who should.

It is easy for us to think that we would never betray Jesus the way that Judas did- selling the Holy One of God down the river for less than the equivalent of what it would take to fill up a Toyota Camry. The reality is that any one of us could have been Judas given the right set of circumstances.

We sell out Jesus every day. We betray Him in our actions. Like Peter we try to stay strong and we plead our allegiance and our love for Jesus, but in our moments of crisis we deny Him. (Matthew 26:69-75) Like the disciples, we aren’t able to stay with Him and pray an hour in the garden without falling asleep.  (Mark 14:32-42)  In our fallen humanity we are not even able to come to faith in God, let alone stand strong for Jesus.  The Holy Spirit must intervene on our behalf.

The good news is that Jesus still loves us. He still went willingly to Caiaphus and stood before the Sanhedrin, who had plotted to kill Him.  He was handed over to Pontius Pilate and was chosen for crucifixion by the people, while Barabbas was set free.

Thankfully Jesus does not betray us. He is faithful even when we are not.  We can always trust Him and we are set free, knowing that because He took our place on the Cross that we are free to share in abundant and joyful life now, as well as we enter into His eternal life.

We want to stand strong with Jesus. We want to pray with Him in the garden, but we are weak.  Jesus walks the path with us and for us because we cannot endure it alone.  He alone was able to bear the cost of our sins- and the sins of this fallen world.  He will not betray us.

 

March 2, 2018 – Betraying Jesus- Mark 14:37-42

sleeping disciples.jpgHe (Jesus) came and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep awake one hour? Keep awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words. And once more he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy; and they did not know what to say to him. He came a third time and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? Enough! The hour has come; the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand.” Mark 14:37-42 (NRSV)

Jesus had to have had some level of frustration with Peter and the rest of the disciples. All He wanted was for these guys to stay awake and pray with Him as He anguished in the Garden of Gethsemane.  Instead all of the disciples had found some way to abandon Jesus- if not by nodding off then it was by trotting off and selling Him to the authorities for today’s equivalent of enough money to buy a few gallons of gasoline.

Sometimes we just plain know our loved ones are going to let us down. Whether it is something simple as forgetting to set out meat to defrost for the evening meal, or something more serious such as taking the car through the garage door, our friends and loved ones are not perfect.  Our spouses don’t anticipate our needs, they spend money on things we might think are wasteful, or sometimes they are emotionally cold.  Our kids fail to follow instructions, tend to sass back, fail to do their chores, and break things.  Our friends don’t always show up when we need them.

Jesus had to be heartbroken being abandoned and betrayed by His friends. Betrayal, as much as it stings, is part of the human experience.  All of us have both been betrayed by other people and we have all betrayed other people in various ways. Hopefully none of us succumbs to the temptation to sell one of our friends to the executioner for less than what it takes to fill up a Toyota Camry, but before we judge Judas too harshly, we should remember, we share the same root of sin with Judas.   We are sinners and we live with sinners.  Our spirits are indeed willing, but our flesh screws up.

The good news is that unlike our loved ones and those around us, Jesus is faithful. He does not betray us even when we are imperfect and in our sin and error, we betray others, and we betray Him.

We are like those friends of Jesus so much of the time. We try and we fail. We can’t stay awake to pray with Jesus or stand by Him in His anguish. It is too much for us to bear. Even so, Jesus is faithful to us.  He forgives us.  He walks with us through the valleys of shadow. He pulls us out of our weakness and comforts us when we have been betrayed.

 

 

April 12, 2017 – Holy Week Wednesday- Purchased With Holy Blood- 1 Peter 1:18-19

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“You must know (recognize) that you were redeemed (ransomed) from the useless (fruitless) way of living inherited by [your] forefathers, not with corruptible things [such as] silver and gold, but [you were purchased] with the precious blood of Christ (the Messiah) like that of a [sacrificial] lamb without blemish or spot.” 1 Peter 1:18-19 (AMP)

Interesting, the paradox of this week.  First, Jesus rides into Jerusalem seated on a donkey, fulfilling the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9 –

“Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” Zechariah 9:9 (NRSV)

Then just a few short days later, Judas betrays Jesus and offers him up to the high priests for the equivalent of less money than it would take to fill up a Honda Accord.

Jesus freely gave His precious blood, that has value way beyond any material currency here on this earth, to redeem us from the conditions of sin and death that humanity put in motion to begin with.

Somehow, it seems like a rather raw exchange.   Something in us wants to say, “Jesus, you got ripped off!”

There is a deep injustice here.  Jesus was sinless, yet He had to endure the torture and death on the Cross?  Crucifixion wasn’t really done in the neat and easy and clean way that medieval and Renaissance authors usually depict it.  The artwork is aesthetically pleasing, but not terribly accurate. It’s a lot more bloody and dirty and nasty than the sanitized painting above.  Mel Gibson had the gory details of Roman torture and crucifixion portrayed pretty closely in his movie The Passion of the Christ.

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Unfortunately we are more like Judas than we want to admit.  How often do we sell Jesus down the river for trivial things that have no eternal value?  How often do we overlook or miss an opportunity to be a part of His Kingdom to do something else?  How many times do we make decisions without thinking about whether or not our actions are pleasing to God?

“Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.” Matthew 10:32-33 (NRSV)

This statement Jesus makes is scary. We don’t acknowledge Jesus in everything we do 24/7, 365.  Sometimes our behaviors and actions and the words we use betray our faith.

The good news is that (paradoxically) Jesus forgives us when we ask Him.  He forgives us just for the asking, no matter how badly we have screwed up.  We are not forgiven because we are such great people.  Left to our own devices we end up like Judas- selling out Jesus for the most trivial and mundane of things, and sinning over and over and over again in spite of “knowing better.” Our salvation is made possible only by the greatness, love and mercy of Christ.

Mercy

“Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?  As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.’

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:35-39 (NRSV)

We can thank God today that Jesus took the punishment that we deserve.  We can pray that the Holy Spirit will help us live in response to His priceless gift of salvation.

April 11, 2017 – Holy Week Tuesday- The Way that “Seems Right”- Proverbs 16:25

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There is a way that seems right to a man, and appears straight before him, but at the end of it is the way of death.” Proverbs 16:25 (AMP)

It’s easy to malign Judas.  After all, he betrayed Jesus to the high priests for what would (roughly) be about $42.97 in today’s money.

The Author of the Universe, sold for less than fifty bucks.

It’s no wonder there are no pretty stained glass windows with “St. Judas” in them.  Nobody is naming their kids “Judas” either – it would be as bad as naming them “Pontius Pilate,” or “Hitler” or “Stalin.”  The name Judas equates to evil and treachery because of the deed he committed.

But before I’m too critical of Judas, I need to listen to what Jesus said to the Pharisees and others who were itching to stone a woman caught in adultery:

“When they kept on questioning him, (Jesus) he straightened up and said to them, ‘Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.’ And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground.” John 8:7-8 (NRSV)

writing on the ground

Some scholars and theologians speculate that Jesus might have been writing names and deeds on the ground- calling out the would be stone-throwers to be mindful of their own sins.  Others suggest that Jesus might have been simply doodling on the ground.

If Jesus was naming names and deeds, perhaps He was saying something to the effect of, “Hey, Jack- I know what you did in Vegas,” or “Hey, Cindy, what about that money you embezzled from your employer,” or “I know every single sin you’ve committed since you first drew breath!”

If most of us were confronted with a frank and all-encompassing assessment of our sins, (known and unknown) we would be dropping the stones too.

As far as Judas goes, it’s hard to say what his motivation was in selling Jesus down the river for less than what a full tank of gasoline costs most people today.  Perhaps he feared the power of Rome, as the high priest and Pharisees did.  Maybe Judas disagreed with Jesus’ methods.  Or maybe his motive was more self-serving than that?  Perhaps he needed money to support a gambling addiction, or to satisfy a taste for fine wine.  Scripture doesn’t spell out Judas’ reasons, although it does tell us that Judas did occasionally pilfer a bit from the treasury box.

Maybe Judas thought that surrendering Jesus was the right thing to do, which is even more troubling.  Maybe it was poor judgment rather than malicious intent or a love of money that motivated Judas.

How many times have we done what we thought was the right thing at the time only to find out later that it was a dreadful mistake?  How many times have we rationalized a wrong choice, and told ourselves that the end justified the means?

The sad thing about history is that it tends to repeat itself.

hitler

Millions of people thought following Hitler- and going along with mass genocide- was the “right thing to do.”

Like Judas, and like all the people in the world remembered for their evil deeds, we make decisions that cause harm to ourselves and others.  Sadly, many times those who are remembered for their evil deeds thought that they were doing the right thing.

It is guaranteed if the only thing we do is “look out for number one” that we are going to make bad choices.  It is guaranteed that if the only thing we do is follow “common” wisdom and just do what everyone else is doing that we are going to make bad choices.

Even if we try to do the right thing, there are times when our judgment is going to prove dreadfully wrong.  There are times when following the crowd turns out to be a fatal mistake.  There is not always strength in numbers.

The only way that we can make good decisions and have good judgment is by submitting our heart and minds to God’s will.

I pray that the Holy Spirit would guide us when we have difficult decisions, and keep us on God’s path.

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. Psalm 119:105 (NRSV)

April 3, 2017 What About Judas?-Matthew 26:20-25

judas

When evening came, Jesus was reclining at the table with the Twelve. And while they were eating , He said, “Truly, I tell you, one of you will betray Me.” 

They were very sad and began to say to Him one after the other, “Surely You don’t mean me, Lord?”

Jesus replied, “The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with Me will betray Me. The Son of Man will go just as it is written about Him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man!  It would be better for him if he had not been born.” Matthew 26:20-25 (NRSV)

Over the centuries there has been an ongoing question among Christian believers as to the fate of Judas Iscariot, the “traitor apostle.”

Early church fathers such as St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine agreed that Judas was condemned to hell for eternity. Judas was the only apostle who was replaced upon his death.  Judas had also died by suicide, a sin traditionally considered a “mortal sin”- which in Catholic theology is a sin that consigns one to hell if it is unconfessed and unabsolved.

The more compelling question to most Protestants about Judas is, “Did Judas have free will?” Did Judas really stand there and listen to Jesus tell him, “You will betray Me,” and then go ahead and do it, if he had the free will to choose otherwise?

To wonder about Judas’ ultimate fate (only God can see a person’s heart completely and fully) or to beg the question of Judas’ ability to choose right from wrong misses the point. As in all other narratives in the Bible, the question is where is God in this?  Did God create Judas only to use him to betray Jesus and then consign Judas to hell for doing what he was created to do?

The place to begin to learn from the story of Judas is to begin with the nature of God. There are three things we know about our I AM God, that He is:

Omnipotent-God is all powerful. God Who created the universe can do anything He chooses to do.

Omnipresent-God is everywhere at all times all at once.  He is just as much present right here and now as He is in the middle of a cornfield in 1863, and at every other possible someplace and some time. God is equally here right now, and five seconds from now, and five thousand years from now.  Time is not linear for God, and He is beyond the limits of space as well.  (The metaphysics that goes along with that is quite mindblowing if you think about it too long.)

Omniscient-God is all knowing. God already knows what is going to happen and what we are going to choose to do ahead of time.

 

Knowing these three things about God, then what are the lessons we can learn from Judas?

We can know that while God knows our heart and what we are going to do, we still have to choose. Our actions still have consequences.  Much as we can warn our children about the potential bad choices they will make, we often know when they are going to do exactly what we warned them not to do.   Jesus knew Judas’ heart.  Because Jesus is God, He knew the choice that Judas had already made- but it was still Judas’ choice.

God knows we are going to screw up. He knows where, when and how bad we are going to screw up, and even whether or not we will come back to Him in repentance.  But even in that repentance we have to choose.  A wise pastor once said, “It is to God’s credit that you are saved, but if you are damned, you chose damnation yourself.”

So we wonder if God is in control of everything, then why should we bother to pray, or to live as He has called us, or to pursue spiritual disciplines? If God just picks and chooses who the good guys are and who the bad guys are, what’s the point?

The point is that these good things, like prayer and service and forgiveness are for us, gifts that God freely gives to those who would receive them. The fact that God knows who will accept these gifts and who will reject them isn’t the point.  The point is that all of God’s good gifts of provision, forgiveness, grace, salvation and mercy are there for all who choose to accept them.  The consequences for us of rejecting God’s gifts are also very real.  He is not going to force us to live the way that is best for us.  He is not going to force us to accept His gifts.  God isn’t going to make us love Him by coercion.

innocent blood

We are sinners, as was Judas. Judas’ sin was no worse than our sins, because in all sorts of ways, we betray Jesus all the time.  Jesus suffered and died on the Cross to save ALL sinners, to pay the price for ALL of us.  Judas’ response to the knowledge of being a sinner is where the lesson lies.  Do we consign ourselves to be reconciled to God or separated from Him?  Do we choose to repent of our sins, accept the forgiveness and grace of God, and surrender our lives to Jesus, or do we wallow in despair and kill off anything in us that would be open to God and His will for us?

This is the lesson of Judas- how do we respond to God’s grace and freely given gifts? The question isn’t so much, “What about Judas?” as it is, “What about us?”