September 11, 2017: Love or Hate? Life or Murder? 1 John 3:11-16

twin towers

For this is the message you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. We must not be like Cain who was from the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous.  Do not be astonished, brothers and sisters, that the world hates you.  We know that we have passed from death to life because we love one another. Whoever does not love abides in death.  All who hate a brother or sister are murderers, and you know that murderers do not have eternal life abiding in them. We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. 1 John 3:11-16 (NRSV)

Today being the 16th anniversary of 9-11, we may think for a minute of where we were in those horrible hours and how we felt.

We felt violated, invaded, vulnerable, and wondering where would the terrorists strike next.

It’s easy and very human to paint with a broad brush, to assume that everyone who is a specific nationality or of a specific tradition wishes us harm and that they will perpetrate it. It’s easy to return hate for hate.  It is much harder to pray for those who wish us harm and to see Jesus even in them.

As individual people it is not our place to rain down judgment upon those who commit evil acts. Yes, from a legal and moral standpoint we are permitted to defend our families and ourselves- as self defense is a human right- but only as a last resort.

As Jesus followers we are called to love. Love leads to life.  Hate leads to murder and death, whether or not it is justified.

Martin Luther spoke in great depth on the Ten Commandments, as the Law shows us how God wants us to live, as well as the boundaries He has given us for our behavior and our dealings with Him and others.

Therefore the entire sum of what it means not to kill is to be impressed most explicitly upon the simple-minded. In the first place that we harm no one, first, with our hand or by deed. Then, that we do not employ our tongue to instigate or counsel thereto. Further, that we neither use nor assent to any kind of means or methods whereby any one may be injured. And finally, that the heart be not ill disposed toward any one, nor from anger and hatred wish him ill, so that body and soul may be innocent in regard to everyone, but especially those who wish you evil or inflict such upon you. For to do evil to one who wishes and does you good is not human, but diabolical.

Secondly, under this commandment not only he is guilty who does evil to his neighbor, but he also who can do him good, prevent, resist evil, defend and save him, so that no bodily harm or hurt happen to him and yet does not do it. If, therefore, you send away one that is naked when you could clothe him, you have caused him to freeze to death; you see one suffer hunger and do not give him food, you have caused him to starve. So also, if you see any one innocently sentenced to death or in like distress, and do not save him, although you know ways and means to do so, you have killed him. And it will not avail you to make the pretext that you did not afford any help, counsel, or aid thereto for you have withheld your love from him and deprived him of the benefit whereby his life would have been saved.” – Martin Luther, from the explanation of the 5th Commandment, The Large Catechism

The 5th Commandment sounds easy on the surface: You shall not murder. But there is so much more to murder than simply refraining from killing people (murder meaning killing another’s body– excluding killing in war or killing in self-defense.) I’m not a Jeffrey Dahmer or a Ted Bundy- but I am just as guilty of violating the 5th Commandment regularly.  We all do it.  Sin is hardwired into us.

Murder is more than causing cessation of life in another’s body without a justifiable reason. Murder includes murder of character (that bit about “employing one’s tongue to instigate (harm)” or setting someone up for failure from afar.

Humans love gossip. We also love to have a pecking order in which A. is better than B. but B. is so much better than C. or heaven forbid, D.   We all do it, whether we consciously realize it or not, and it’s murder- murder of heart and soul and character.

Withholding love is the same as active hate. If we have the means to show love to others, and we refrain from doing it, we are still living in hate.

As the writer of 1 John says:  All who hate a brother or sister are murderers, and you know that murderers do not have eternal life abiding in them. 

That’s a hard truth to accept– especially when we feel compelled to help everyone, but only have the means and ability to help a few. It’s hard to love when others actively hate us and do cruel things or say cruel things about us.

The good news is that God knows our limitations and accepts our frailties.

As a Jesus follower we are called to do something radically different than what human nature expects.

Love one another.

Especially the weirdos, the haters, the tweakers, the freaks, and geeks. Love them even more.

July 18, 2017- Seize the Hope- Hebrews 6:17-20, Matthew 27:50-52

hope jesusIn the same way, when God desired to show even more clearly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it by an oath, so that through two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible that God would prove false, we who have taken refuge might be strongly encouraged to seize the hope set before us. We have this hope, a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters the inner shrine behind the curtain, where Jesus, a forerunner on our behalf, has entered, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek. Hebrews 6:17-20 (NRSV)

Carpe Diem. This Latin phrase means, “Seize the day.”  While making the most of every day is a worthy goal, as Jesus followers we are also encouraged to seize the hope.

The writer of Hebrews (who was addressing believers from the Jewish community) refers to Jesus as our high priest, an intermediary on our behalf who makes God available to us. Through Him the boundary that separates us from God is broken. We are “unholy” because we are all tainted by sin, but because of Jesus intervening on our behalf, we can enter the Holy of Holies and enter into the presence of God.

Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. Matthew 27:50-52 (NRSV)

Because of Jesus we can seize the hope. The curtain in the temple separated the Holy of Holies (the place where the Presence of God would come to earth) from the common person.  Only the high priest was ever allowed to go behind the curtain, and then only at certain times to offer sacrifices and prayers.  When the curtain was torn, the Spirit of God was set loose.  Because of Jesus there is no barrier. There is no holding back the Spirit of God. There is nothing holding us back from embracing and receiving the Spirit of God.  We have the hope that can only be found in Jesus- not just for eternal life but for life lived to the fullest, life surrendered to God and dedicated to His purpose for us.

Because of Jesus we can seize the hope- and run with it, and spread it around. Hope in action speaks words of comfort and performs acts of mercy.  The things that would hold us back from living as God’s people are no longer there.

How can we seize- and share- the hope today?

May 17, 2017-The King of Glory and the Suffering Servant- Luke 24:25-27, Isaiah 53:1-5

deus ex machina

Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared!  Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?”  Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures. Luke 24:25-27 (NRSV)

Who has believed our message, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?  He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces, he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.

Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities, the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. Isaiah 53:1-5 (NIV)

The disciples were disappointed – and perhaps kept themselves from seeing Jesus because the real Jesus was so much different than their expectations of Jesus. They were looking for a warrior king, but they got someone who submitted to a humiliating death on a cross.

We want a deus ex machina kind of God.  We want God to show Himself to us as an example of that literary device that makes action movies so fun to watch.  We want Him to come to life in the form of someone swooping in from above in a blaze of glory- wielding a machine gun, magically solving all of our problems, and making the world safe for democracy.   The problem is that isn’t how Jesus works.   The King of Glory is really the suffering servant who enters into the messy reality of human life that Isaiah portrays so eloquently.

It would be so much easier if Jesus were that blaze of glory kind of savior. But He is the kind of savior who gets dirty with us, who walks with us, who carries our pain and suffering, and who knows what it is to be rejected and unloved.

anguish

One of the things that may keep us from seeing Jesus is that we don’t want to think that He is stuck in the mundane like we are. We don’t want to think of Jesus as being awkward, or ill, or poorly clothed, but He entered into the entirety of the human experience including suffering, humiliation and even death.

On the surface we might want to think of Jesus as a cosmic Dirty Harry, or as the ultimate deus ex machina, but He is so much more than that.  Rather than just being an external entity or a deliverer from afar, Jesus gets up close and personal. He enters into our experience.  Including the parts that we would rather skip.

How can we have a more realistic view of Jesus and how He manifests His glory in the world?

April 18, 2017 He Is Not Here- Luke 24:1-5

empty

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared.  They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them.  The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Luke 24:1-5 (NRSV)

We have heard the Easter story so many times that it seems “normal” to us. But if we really put ourselves in the place of the women who went to Jesus’ tomb how would we feel?  Frightened?  As if someone were playing a sick joke?  After all, the natural order of flesh is that dead is dead.  People don’t just spring back to life, especially after being dead for at least 36 hours.

My initial thought would probably have been that someone had taken Jesus’ body and hidden it as a cruel joke, in spite of the words from the angelic appearing men. After all, He wasn’t there, dead or alive.  The logical approach would have been to be like Thomas who didn’t believe Jesus was alive until he saw Jesus’ pierced hands and feet. The women may still have needed to see Him for themselves to believe that he truly was alive.  Doubt is part of faith.  There is nothing about belief that says that we are supposed to check our brains at the door. (1 John 4:1-4) There is an old Russian proverb that says, “Trust, but verify.” It’s important to discern even as you believe.

Yet faith often defies logic- the sick are cured, the blind can see, the impossible becomes possible. Even in the everyday there are countless pocket miracles in which we can clearly see the hand of God if we only look for it.  It is not so much about our faith (which is weak and riddled with doubt at best) but in the One in Whom we believe.

The power of the Resurrection is that life wins. Death has lost its power.  Jesus was supposed to be dead, but now He is not in the tomb.  The tomb could not hold Him.

What does that mean for us?

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

choice

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)

January 11, 2017 Elijah and the Angel – 1 Kings 19:4-12

elijah2

But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.”  Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, “Get up and eat.” He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and lay down again.  The angel of the Lord came a second time, touched him, and said, “Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.”  He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God. At that place he came to a cave, and spent the night there.

Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He answered, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.”

He said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. 1 Kings 19:4-12 (NRSV)

Elijah was one of the great prophets of God, yet in this passage he seems worn out, depleted, and feeling a bit hopeless.

Sometimes we feel like Elijah does here, as if all our efforts are for naught, and we wonder if what we do really means anything at all.

The important thing to remember is yes, God sees our struggle and He does provide rest and replenishment and strength for the journey.  God is not only the hero of the Biblical narrative, but also of our own personal story.

In the 23rd Psalm we are reminded that He gives us green pastures and still waters, and walks with us even through the valley of the shadow of death.

In the silence we find God.  Away from the chaos, when we look for Him, He is there, with comfort and peace when the storms have passed.

How can we rest in God and let Him be our hero today?

January 6, 2017 -Something New (That’s Been There All Along) Isaiah 40:4-5, Matthew 5:14-16

epiphany

One of the definitions Merriam-Webster gives for the word epiphany (other than the Christian holiday that is celebrated today, January 6) is:

A usually sudden manifestation or perception of the essential nature or meaning of something.

To have an epiphany is to see something that’s been in plain sight clearly and fully for the first time.  We know that God is with us, that in Him all things were and are and will be, but in Jesus we see God in His fullness.

“Every valley shall be lifted up,
    and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
    and the rough places a plain.
Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
    and all people shall see it together,
    for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” Isaiah 40:4-5 (NRSV)

The glory and just plain bigness and completeness of God is all around us.  We miss the rapture and awe of God’s creation and God’s world sometimes because we are so mired down in the day to day business (or should I say busyness) that we don’t see it.

life-moves-fast

Epiphany reminds us to open our eyes and ears and hearts and take God in and truly live- but also it reminds us to let Him shine in us and through us, so that He may be seen more fully in His world.

(Jesus said:) “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid.  No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:14-16 (NRSV)

How can we be the light of the world today?  Even if only in one other person’s world?