December 21, 2019 Advent 21, Luke 21- The Widow’s Mite, Destruction, War, and the Coming of the Son of Man

widow's mite

Read Luke 21.

Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box,  and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. And he said, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them.  For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.” Luke 21:1-4 (ESV)

At this time of year we are often concerned with giving gifts.  Most of us are giving out of our abundance.  It’s neither good nor necessary to give lavish gifts we can’t afford to people who already have too much stuff to begin with.  It is good to give generously and to those who have a genuine need.

God doesn’t need anything of ours.  Even if we were to have the resources to build a fine cathedral or to give large sums of money to the church, we don’t give in order to earn favor with God.  Jesus has done that for us as a gift.

Giving is an act of faith.  Some of us are capable of giving much, but others of us can only give a widow’s mite.  The motive behind our giving is our faith.  Do we trust God with all that we have and all that we are? (the answer is no, we can’t…)

The rest of the chapter is not very cheery.  Jesus foretells the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, and of the things that will come to pass in the end times.

And while some were speaking of the temple, how it was adorned with noble stones and offerings, he said, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” And they asked him, “Teacher, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when these things are about to take place?” And he said, “See that you are not led astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is at hand!’ Do not go after them.And when you hear of wars and tumults, do not be terrified, for these things must first take place, but the end will not be at once.” Luke 21:5-9 (ESV)

It can be said that there have not been too many periods of time that the world (especially the Middle East) has been peaceful.  Since Jesus walked the earth there have been countless empires that have risen and fallen.  There have been wars, skirmishes, tumults and takeovers, coups, assassinations, intrigues and so much more man-made evil and violence. We long for peace and we pray for justice and mercy, only to see more wars, corrupt governments and injustice go merrily along.

We hear those who come to the table with false gospels- the false gospel of prosperity, the false belief that there is salvation in “social justice,” the name-it-and-claim-it, “best life now” self-help preachers, or the cults led by false prophets such as Jim Jones or David Koresh who claimed to be God, but were anything but. Jesus has warned us against those pseudo-christs that cannot save.

Christian people will face persecution for speaking out for Jesus.  In some places believers are martyred simply for standing up for Jesus and not backing down from their faith..  Jesus has warned us about this also:

This will be your opportunity to bear witness.  Settle it therefore in your minds not to meditate beforehand how to answer, for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and some of you they will put to death.  You will be hated by all for my name’s sake.  But not a hair of your head will perish.  By your endurance you will gain your lives. Luke 21:13-19 (ESV)

The Holy Spirit will give us the words to say if we are persecuted for our faith.  Jesus is faithful.  In the grand scheme of things, He has promised to keep us faithful to Him.

“And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” Luke 21:25-28 (ESV)

There will always be war and dissent in this world, at least until Jesus returns.  The natural disasters, wars and other unrest will only escalate until that day. Yet our hope, Jesus is coming to redeem us and remake our world. For believers, this will be a day of great joy.

“But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth.But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.” Luke 21:34-36 (ESV)

As we come closer and closer to the celebration of Christmas- the Incarnation, Jesus coming to earth as a helpless child, we remember that Advent is also about being ready and awake for Jesus’ return.  He is the One Who holds us up and makes us able to stand. We pray that in Christ we will stand firm and that we will join the everlasting celebration on that day when He returns in glory.

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.

 

 

September 14, 2017 – Snakes, Sin and the Son of Man, John 3:13-17, Numbers 21:7-9

The_Brazen_Serpent_(Bible_card)

No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.  And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

 “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. John 3:13-17 (NRSV)

 

The people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you; pray to the Lord to take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.” So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live. Numbers 21:7-9 (NRSV)

Humanity has a fascination with snakes. In some traditions snakes are seen as sacred, in others they are reviled as evil. The serpent is even portrayed as a catalyst to the Fall in the Genesis narrative, though it was Eve’s decision to allow the serpent to succeed in tempting her, and Adam’s decision to follow suit.  The cause of the Fall always comes back to humanity, and our attraction to sin.

Interestingly enough, God sends a plague of snakes to the Israelites as they are wandering in the desert and disobeying Him. In all three of these narratives, (Genesis, Numbers and John) the snakes are symbolic of our sins. Like with the snakes, the consequences of our sins will come around to bite us and bring us death. It’s not so much God’s decision to punish us, but in disobeying Him and going around the boundaries He has set for us, we bring the consequences upon ourselves.

Mary serpent

In Catholic iconography, there is a popular rendering of Mary, Jesus’ mother, standing on a serpent. The imagery here suggests that at Jesus’ conception the serpent (our sin) was trampled and defeated.  The implication is that in God choosing her to be being Jesus’ earthly mother, through her, God gave us the means to reverse the long-ago (bad) decision of Eve in the garden.

It is interesting that John makes the comparison of Jesus crucified on the Cross with the bronze serpent Moses held up. When those who were bitten by snakes looked up to Moses’ bronze serpent God healed them.  If we look up to Jesus, hung from a tree and weighed down with all our sin, we find healing, life and salvation.

Hopefully we all have memorized that iconic verse, John 3:16- For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.

He loved the world enough to put the burden of the whole world’s sin and failure on His shoulders.

How do we respond to the love of God in Christ, poured out on us in His Blood that flowed from the Cross?