May 19, 2020

 

Jesus is prophet, priest and king.  So noted the early Christian historian and scholar Eusebius (d. 340) 

We have also received the tradition that some of the prophets themselves had by anointing already become Christs in type, seeing that they all refer to the true Christ, the divine and heavenly Logos, of the world the only High Priest, of all creation the only king, of the prophets the only archprophet of the Father. The proof of this is that no one of those symbolically anointed of old, whether priests or kings or prophets, obtained such power of divine virtue as our Saviour and Lord, Jesus, the only real Christ, has exhibited … that until this present day he is honoured by his worshippers throughout the world as king, wondered at more than a prophet, and glorified as the true and only High Priest of God …” (Historia Ecclesiastica, I.3).

Jesus is prophet, as he speaks for the Father.  King, of the house of David, now ascended to the throne of grace.  And priest, offering himself as a sacrifice for the sake of creation.  Lofty titles, and lofty concepts.  This week’s Gospel text brings that loftiness down to something much more relational and community building.  Jesus offers a priestly prayer to the Father in three distinct sections, in the following verses:

1-5 Jesus work is complete: he reveled the Father.

6-8 The disciples are proof that Jesus revelation was received.

9-11 Jesus asks the Father to protect the disciples.

Here are a few points which give clarity to this rather dense passage of scripture:

●Jesus’ mission was to give people an opportunity to know God: “I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world” (vs. 6).

●Eternal life is defined: “And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent: (vs. 3).  And so that life is not a future promise, but a present reality.  

●Jesus’ mission is universal: “…glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all people [literally, all flesh] to give eternal life to all whom you have given him” (vs. 1-2).

● “The world” (ho kosmos) has two meanings for John.  It is creation, and worth saving; but it is also the powers that reject the truth.  In this latter sense, Jesus says “I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me…” (vs. 9).

●Yet, the disciples function as the model for all Christians.  And so, Jesus prays for us!

● The motto of the Jesuits could serve as the heading or title of this passage in John: Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam/For the Greater Glory of God.  Contrary to the modern understanding of “glory,” the Greek word doxa has a more nuanced meaning: reputation, honor, brightness.  In this sense, glory is akin to allowing God to be God.

And so, we see Jesus as priest, making intercession to God the Father on behalf of humanity.  At a time of global pandemic, with the world under such stress economically, socially, and medically, this prayer of Jesus has wonderful relevance.  God the Son intercedes for us, holds us in his heart, pleads for us, is concerned for our wellbeing.  And, notice where in Jesus’ ministry this prayer comes.  It runs through Chapter 17, ending with these words which lie beyond this week’s assignment:  “I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them” (John 17:26).  And then, Jesus’ passion begins, for Chapter 18 starts with Jesus’ arrest.  

In his final moments of freedom, Jesus thinks about the wellbeing of those whom he loves.  His prayer is not for himself, but for us.  We, it seems, are all he cares about.  And that, my dear sisters and brothers in Christ, is true love.
 
John 17:1-11 (Acts 1:6-14, Psalm 68:1-10, 32-35, 1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11)


We’re never alone … even during “social distancing”

 

Many of us have it easy during this period of social distancing.  Grace and Rob are home from college, and so the Blyths are isolating as a family.  Others are not so fortunate.  This week I spoke to a congregant who is about to celebrate an incredibly significant birthday.  She is safe and comfortable in her Assisted Living Facility but misses fellowship terribly.  The food is good, but it is not fun eating alone.  The dinning hall is a source of good company three times a day, and eating alone in one’s room is just not the same.  That awful feeling of being alone is one experienced by so very many people in the course of this pandemic.

Finding oneself alone or without the presence of a supportive loved one is the meaning behind the word ‘”orphaned” in verse 18 of this Sunday’s Gospel text: “I will not leave you orphaned,” Jesus tell his disciples.  (In the Ancient Near East, a rabbi’s disciples were frequently described as orphans after his death.)  This is a continuation of the Farewell Discourse, and one that gets to the heart of a crucial question: will the disciples be without the presence of God when Jesus is no longer with them physically?

Jesus assures his followers that the Father will give them “another Advocate (vs. 16).  The word Paraclete here translated as Advocate, means “called to the side of,” just as a counsellor or lawyer stands by his or her client, serving their best interest, and defending them from accusations leveled against them.  (In Scotland to this day, senior lawyers are called Advocates.)  1 John 2:1-2 describes Jesus as the first Advocate: “… if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous…”  So, the Holy Spirit is the second Advocate: the continuing presence of God in the world, and in the midst of the followers of Jesus.  This Advocate will be with them forever.  

Jesus tells his disciples: 

If you love me, you will keep my commandments.  And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.  This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you (John 14:15-17)  …They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them” (vs. 21).

Now, on the surface, this looks like a quid pro quo, a precondition to God’s love and grace.  But, look a little closer.  Jesus is not referring here to the Decalogue (the Ten Commandments).  Rather, he is speaking about his Gospel, the way of life that is lived in union with him (in other words, The Way).  Jesus’ commandments are acts of love: foot washing (John 13:1-20); laying down one’s life for one’s friends (John 15:13); and faith lived out in love – fed my lambs – as Jesus directs Peter (John 21:15-17).  It is love that connects Jesus to the disciples (they abide in him and he in them), and to the Father (“… those who love me will be loved by my Father,” vs. 21).  It is through the Johannine formula of believing, loving, abiding and keeping Jesus’ commandments that we share in his full identity with the Father.  However, therein is an implicit warning: turn away from the Son, and one turns away from the Father.

So, that which appears at first glance to be conditional (do this, and…) is actually a relationship of mutuality.  The Trinity (Father, Son and Spirit) are in relationship with each other in one person, and the believer is brought into that relationship of love through the Son, and experiences the ongoing presence of God through the Advocate.  This is the Divine Dance of which scholars such as Richard Rhor have spoken.  And, it is a gift (vs. 15) from God through faith.

And so, like the disciples, we never alone.  We are never apart from the love and the presence of God.  As Paul powerfully declares:

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 8:31-39).



The Disciples don’t get it!

Funereal – what an awesome word: “Having the mournful, somber character appropriate to a funeral.”  Yes, the tone of John 14 is somber, but our sense of it comes in no small part from the incredible number of funeral services in which it is included:

Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life (John 14:1-6).

Familiarity breeds contempt, as the old saying goes, so let’s visit this text for a wee bit to see if it might surprise us.  

Chapter 13 ends with Peter asking a rather plaintive question.  The scene in the Upper Room ends with Jesus washing the feet of the disciples.  And then Jesus goes out into the night, and to his fate.  As he departs, Jesus gives a new commandment of love, warning the disciples, “Little children, I am with you only a little longer…” (John 13:33).  At this, Peter asks, “Lord, where are you going?” (vs. 36), and “Lord, why can I not follow you now? (vs. 37).  Remember last week I spoke of God responding in love to human longing?  Here God in Christ Jesus does so again; that’s why Chapter 14 begins: “Do not let your hearts be troubled…”

This is a heartfelt farewell to those whom Jesus loves.  It is a recognition that hearts indeed break in the face of loss, shock and pain.  True, John’s familiar pattern is followed here: announcement; conversation; directions; promises.  However, don’t get lost in the weeds of literary analysis – this is a loving and affectionate goodbye.  

There are many dwelling places in the Father’s house, Jesus tells us.  Not palatial mansions – the old English “mansion” simply means house.  Interestingly, the word here translated as house can also refer to a “night stop” on a journey; or a tomb as a resting place after the struggles of life are over.  The point is that there is a place for us.  This is a human longing which Stephen Sondheim beautifully describes in his West Side Story song, Somewhere. The need to belong, to have a place where we are loved and accepted is powerful – the opposite of which is alienation (a form of death).  Yet, in grief there is not only the loss of a loved one, but a sense that we ourselves are lost in a life that we no longer recognize.  Landmarks no longer make sense, and the disorientation is dizzying.  Here Thomas speaks for us all: “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” (John 14:5).  In response, Jesus makes three I Am (Ego eimi) statements.  “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (vs. 6).  Ego eimi reflects Exodus 3:13 where the divine name is revealed to Moses:

“If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I am who I am.”  He said further, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I am has sent me to you.’” God also said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you’: This is my name forever, and this my title for all generations (3:13-15).

And so, it is God who is the way, the truth and the life. 

In the Acts of the Apostles, Christians are called People of the Way (for example, Acts 9:2).  This reflects the call for Christians to live a life that is centered on the Gospel of Jesus.  This life or way is a journey, mirroring the journey of the Hebrews from Egypt to the Promised Land; as well as Jesus’ journey from Galilee to Jerusalem.  Thomas Aquinas saw Christ as the Way according to his humanity; and the Truth and the Life according to his divinity.  In other words, the way leads to truth and to life.  

In John’s Gospel (in contrast to Matthew, Mark and Luke), sin is not simply something to be repented of.  Rather, sin is a result of ignorance and deception, which is overcome by Truth.  For John, truth is embodied in Jesus as he shows us God who is ultimate truth.  Jesus is the physical representation of what God has to say to us; the demonstration of God’s love for us.  And it is God who sweeps ignorance and deception away as truth is revealed.  It is God who gives true life, which is eternal and abundant, because it is genuine life.  This life is a participation in the very being of God.

So, when Philip asks, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied” (vs. 8), you can almost imagine Jesus facepalming in exasperation.  Clearly, the disciples don’t get it at all.  But they will.
 
John 14:1-14 (Acts 7:55-60, Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16, 1 Peter 2:2-10)


Psalm 23 begins with Ezekiel

 

Any talk about God’s people, and shepherds, cannot begin with the 23rd Psalm – it simply can’t.  The conversation must instead begin with Ezekiel 34:1-31:

“Mortal, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel: prophesy, and say to them… You have not strengthened the weak, you have not healed the sick, you have not bound up the injured, you have not brought back the strayed, you have not sought the lost, but with force and harshness you have ruled them.  So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd… with no one to search or seek for them…. For thus says the Lord God: I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. As shepherds seek out their flocks when they are among their scattered sheep, so I will seek out my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered… and will bring them into their own land… and the mountain heights of Israel shall be their pasture; there they shall lie down in good grazing land, and they shall feed on rich pasture on the mountains of Israel… I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak…  They shall know that I, the Lord their God, am with them, and that they, the house of Israel, are my people… You are my sheep, the sheep of my pasture and I am your God, says the Lord God.”

Here the prophet contrasts a bad shepherd with a good shepherd.  Notice, there is no praising the ability of the shepherd to bend the will of the sheep to theirs.  This is not an image of mindless obedience, or of corralling animals into pens.  This is quite wonderfully about the care and nurture that a shepherd shows for those under their care: “I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak.” 

There is intimacy and protection in this imagery: this is God responding with love to human longing.  This is typical of the “I am” (Ego eimi) sayings in John’s Gospel, each of which provide care or sustenance: Bread (6:35), Life (11:25), Light (9:5), Truth (14:6), The Way (14:6), The Gate (vs. 9), and The Good Shepherd (vs. 10, 11).  This is not a remote transcendent God, but rather an up-close-and-personal God (immanent).  This is a God active in the muck and filth of the sheepfold (life).  This is a God who searches us out and comes to us where we are.  No matter how hard we try to flee from God’s presence, God comes to us (as Psalm 139 describes) even if we flee into Sheol – even if we find ourselves in Hell! (Psalm 139:8).  The wonderous thing is of course, that God comes to us not to judge, but to save.  As Ann Lamott puts it:

“I do not understand the mystery of grace — only that it meets us where we are and does not leave us where it found us.” 

Seeking the lost and returning them to the community (forgiveness, mercy); tending to the hungry (works of love) and leading them to rich pasture (eternal life); lifting up the broken, and making them whole (restoration) – this is the work of the Good Shepherd.  

It is no coincidence that this text follows immediately upon the story of the bind man whose sight Jesus restored (John 9).  The man praised Jesus as Lord; while the religious authorities could only condemn Jesus for having healed on the Sabbath.  The blind man could see: the Pharisees (bad shepherds) were blind to faith. 

The bad shepherds come only to steal and to kill – literally “slaughter” (thyein) like the priest slaughtering the offering.  They are bandits (lēstēs) like Barabbas and the other messianic revolutionaries.  But the Good Shepherd brings life – abundant life.  True, we recalcitrant creatures often need a wee bit of “gentle” persuasion.  The phrase “when he has brought out his own” (vs. 4) actually has at its core the word ekballein, which means “cast or pushed out” (sheep can be a bit stubborn!).  C. S. Lewis describes his conversion to Christianity in a similar manner, describing himself as “The most dejected, reluctant convert in all of England . . . drug into the kingdom kicking, struggling, resentful, and darting his eyes in every direction for a chance of escape” (Surprised by Joy).   Sounds like the way in which many of us will enter the Kingdom!

We may look quite a sight when we enter the kingdom.  After all, the Christian life (like that of the Good Shepherd’s) is not pretty: it is lived out in sacrificial love – strengthening the weak, healing the sick, binding up the injured, bringing back the strayed, seeking the lost – and such a life takes its toll.  But I recall a poem given to me twenty years ago by a friend who served as a chaplain in Illinois, and it remains close to my heart today (especially today):

“I would rather clutch my invitation and wait my turn
in party clothes – prim and proper, safe and clean.
But… a pulsing hand keeps driving me over peaks ravines and spidered brambles
So I will pant up to the pearled knocker tattered, breathless, and full of tales”  

(Full of Tales, by Janet Chester-Bly).
 
John 10:1-10 (Acts 2:42-47, Psalm 23, 1 Peter 2:19-25)


Getting away from it all.

a phrase with multiple meanings.  It can describe everything from the need for a well-earned vacation, to the need to find a new church home.  It can be a need for a simple change of scene, or a desire for an entirely new life.  For two of the followers of Jesus it represents a melancholy journey through the depths of despair, following the crushing of all of their hopes and dreams.  These emotions are summed up in the poignant phrase, “We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel” (vs 21).

Can you imagine the heartbreak in the words “we had hoped”?  Such loss and bewilderment; an end to a future that appeared filled with unlimited possibilities.  Even the reports of the women who met Jesus in the garden are of no help, for the astonishment expressed in verse 22 is one of incredulity, not excitement.  Can you picture their faces as they pour out their hearts to this man whom they met on the road to Emmaus?  

Often, at our lowest point, when all seems lost, we convince ourselves that we are far away from God; and with each passing day we sense that we are drawing even farther apart.  Yet, notice it is as the men put distance between themselves and Jerusalem that Jesus comes to them!  The very hope that was lost, now draws alongside them on their journey of despair.  “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” Jesus asks them.  “They stood still, looking sad” (vs. 17).  Then, they begin to pour out their hearts to this stranger.  The men provide a wonderfully concise summary of Jesus’ passion and death.  The account is accurate; but they lack understanding.  Jesus then provides them with the meaning of his death.  Yet, although Jesus “interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures” (vs. 27), they still didn’t “see” with eyes of faith, for Luke records no reaction on their part.

The men invite Jesus to spend the night with them, and to eat with them.  At this turning point, the guest takes the place of the host by presiding at the table.  Jesus’ words and actions over the bread remind Luke’s readers of the feeing of the multitude (9:16) and of the Passover meal (22:19):  “When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them” (vs. 30).  Finally, “their eyes were opened, and they recognized him…” (vs. 31).  Standing face-to-face with Jesus, they did not recognize him.  Even as the scriptures were opened to them, they did not recognize Jesus.  But, in the “breaking of the bread” (vs. 35), they recognized him; they truly “saw” him.  

In this wonderful story, we learn so much about our Lord, and about ourselves:

● Life emerging from death (as one scholar puts it) is central to the Biblical saga. Whether that saga is one of slavery to freedom, or tomb to resurrection.

● The motif of “journey” is transformational – it is the unfolding story of salvation.

● The two disciples were met by Jesus as they were “talking and discussing” (vs. 15).  And Jesus still comes to us in those moments – even at SAKLC Bible studies!

● The two men had decided that life in a community of faith was over for them,yet it is back to that community (in the dangerous darkness of night) that they run with exciting news.  The message seems to be that community is worth persevering with.  

● We ought never underestimate the power of the Eucharistic meal.  It is the forgiveness of sins; communion with God in Christ Jesus; the “medicine of immortality (as Ignatius of Antioch described it); the symbol of the community’s life and witness (as another scholar describes it); and, we are taught, the means by which Jesus makes himself known to us (vs. 35).

In this time of COVID-19 – our hour of need – it is not only good but life-giving to hear that Jesus finds us at our lowest point, draws alongside us, blesses us with his presence, reveals himself to us, and brings a message of life and of possibility.  In short, Jesus points us to a future which belongs to God, which is held in God’s hands.



A multi-dimensional Thomas

John 20:19-31 (Acts 2:14a, 22-32, Psalm 16, 1 Peter 1:3-9)

I have fond memories of Sunday school as a child.  Nice songs, interesting Bible stories, and I didn’t have to sit in worship with my family until the service was almost over!  Oh, and, my grandad always had a hard candy waiting for me.  (I’m smiling as I type these words – what a wonderful memory that is.)

And then, we grow up.  Yet the stories remain with us – which is awesome.  The problem of course is that as children we were given simplified, carefully selected (and sanitized) biblical stories.  The characters are one dimensional: David was a heroic king, Peter was a rock of faith, and Thomas was a doubter.  Little kids are not taught about David’s “romantic” life, nor his tendency to dispose of inconvenient husbands.  Kids are not exposed to the litany of Peter’s bloopers, where he time and time again gets the wrong end of the stick or fails to grasp Jesus’ meaning.  And Thomas is held up to kids as an example of what not to be – a doubter.  “Don’t be like Thomas!” is the Sunday school lesson.  

It’s time to put an end to such childish ways (as Paul would put it).  Thomas is multi-dimensional; just like us!  John’s gospel tells us so:

Courageous Thomas – faced with the prospect of returning to Judea (a place where Jesus only narrowly avoided being stoned to death) Thomas declares, “Let us also go, that we may die with him” (John 11:6).

Confused Thomas – as Jesus prepares the disciples for the time when he would no longer be with them in the flesh, and tells them than he goes to prepare a place for them, Thomas says, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” (John 14:5).

Confessing Thomas – in response to Jesus showing him his wounds, Thomas makes the most powerful, unambiguous statement of faith in all of the gospels, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28).

Let me see too! Thomas – having missed Jesus’ first visit to the house in which the disciples were hiding, Thomas only asks to see what the other disciples have already seen – nothing more, nothing less.  “He showed them his hands and his side” (John 20:20).  “Unless I see… I will not believe” (John 20:25).

Doubting Thomas?  It seems we all suffer from selective memory.  We don’t ridicule the disciples for hiding behind locked doors, do we?  In the other gospel accounts the guards have shown fear, and so too the women.  In John’s gospel the men are afraid also.  Afraid that the authorities will go after them just as they did Jesus?  Afraid that they’ll be accused of stealing the body?  Or, just suffering from emotional, physical and spiritual overload perhaps.  They’re only human after all.  And that’s precisely my point: biblical characters – in all their complexity – are very much like us!

Today, we sit behind locked doors in a potent cocktail of fear, confusion, boredom, isolation, disconnectedness, bewilderment, and mourning.  Yes, mourning all that we’ve lost these past few weeks; all that has been taken from us.  Contact, memories, experiences, goodbyes, friends… the list goes on.  Were we to look to the biblical characters of the Sunday school, we’d see only a plethora of people against whom we simply cannot measure up!  But look at the people whom God chooses, works through, and loves.  People like Thomas: courageous one minute, confused the next; desperately wanting to see (“me too!” he cries) then full of faith.  

There’s yet one more John 20/COVID-19 parallel to be examined a wee bit.  While most of us are sheltering behind locked doors, others are not.  In your mind, go back a few months, and create a list of those you then considered “essential workers.”  Now, compose today’s list of “essential workers.”  Did your first list contain grocery store clerks?  Pizza delivery persons?  What about bus drivers, shelf-stackers in pharmacies, delivery drivers, warehouse workers, taxi/Uber drivers…  These so-called “unskilled” workers join the list of more obvious “essential workers” such as doctors, nurses, law enforcement, first responders, and the like; all of whom leave their homes each day displaying courage in face of fear.  And here’s the thing… so too did Thomas!  All the disciples are hiding in fear, but Thomas isn’t among them.  Thomas was out and about, doing his thing.  That’s why he missed Jesus the first time around.   The rest were afraid and hidden, yet Thomas kept on living.  

In what is perhaps my first original thought in a very long time, I would propose that Thomas be assigned as the patron saint of COVID-19 essential workers.  The biggest doubter in history as out patron saint?  How insulting!  Ah, the sad limitations of a one-dimensional reading of Scripture.  There’s more to Thomas than meets the eye.  There’s more to us too.  We are the beloved of God, to whom Jesus says “Peace be with you (vs. 19, 26), and to whom John declares:  

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book.  But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name (John 20:30- 31).



Do not be afraid!

At the end of the wonderful movie Casablanca, Humphrey Bogart and Claude Rains walk together into the night, as Ingrid Bergman’s plane takes off.  (Don’t worry, they’ll “always have Paris!”)  It’s a happy ending, because rather than arresting Bogart for killing the evil villain, Rains instead orders his officers to “round up the usual suspects.”  

Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary” are the usual suspects.  These two have been with Jesus every step of the way.  They saw him die (Matthew 27:56); they helped bury him (27:61) and now they go to his tomb (28:1-10).  It only seems fair that these two women become the first Apostles (apóstolos meaning “one who is sent off”): “Go quickly and tell my brothers…” (vs. 10).

Before the women are “sent off,” the scene is a flurry of excitement and urgency (no laid-back tale this!).  Look at the words: suddenly; earthquake; his appearance was like lightning and his clothing white as snow; shook; go quickly; they left the tomb quickly; ran; suddenly; go!

Yet notice that nowhere in the New Testament is there an account or description of the resurrection itself. Not a single one!  Clearly, meaning and purpose is much more significant than the mechanics of it all.  And so, the angel acts as an interpreter in this text, as angels tend to do from Zachariah onwards.  And a scary angel he is: his appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow (vs. 3).  This is attention-grabbing in the extreme, almost like Jesus in his transfiguration.  No wonder the women are afraid.  In Mark’s Gospel, the scene ends suddenly and sadly, as the women are too afraid to fulfil their mission.  However, in Matthew’s Gospel there is also “great joy” (vs. 8).  Where fear reduces the women to silence (Mark 16:8) joy leads to proclamation.  

For us too, here and now, the focus is on fear, which can very naturally become overwhelming and lead to silence.  We are sick.  M. Scott Peck once wrote: “Sickness leads to chaos, which, through hard work and a touch of grace, leads to growth and resurrection.”  In sickness, patient and doctor work together over days, weeks, months, even years of treatment and therapy.  Watch someone learn to walk again; watch as another round of chemotherapy commences; watch as a new medication is tried and then adjusted.  Being sick is hard work!  Through grace, and hard work, growth and resurrection is possible: without which there is only silence, including the Great Silence of death.  

In the Resurrection, the hard work is done by Jesus through his suffering and death.  Humankind contributes nothing, brings nothing to the table.  Our works are conspicuously absent: the absence of friends now in hiding.  Abandonment is the order of the day.  Only deniers and betrayers venture out into the open; scourging, mocking, torturing and executing.  The motto of the ELCA is “God’s Work, Our Hands.”  That seems to me like a pretty good description of the crucifixion!  Truly, in this life-giving exchange, we are just beggars – as Luther puts it – this is most certainly true.

The women have space in their hearts for joy, even in the midst of fear.  “So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples” (vs. 8).  And it is as they ran that they met the Risen Lord: “Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him” (vs. 9).  And, it is through joy that we too meet Jesus, even while we are fearful or mourning or weeping.  Joy is the crack through which God’s love comes to us.  As Leonard Cohen’s poem and song outs it: 

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

God finds a way to reach out to us: do not be afraid.  Even while we are beggars: do not be afraid.  Even when confused and when all seems lost: do not be afraid.  The light of Christ comes in through cracks too small to see with the naked eye.  

Jesus is raised.  The Kingdom is among us!
 
Pr. Ken Blyth


Seismic shocks!

 
Matthew 21:1-11 (Isaiah 50:4-9a Psalm 31:9-16 Philippians 2:5-11 Matthew 27:11-54) 
 

Seismic.  What a powerful word; and one that could well describe the period of change in which we find ourselves these days.  The English word comes from the Greek seismós which means to shake.  And, that’s the root word behind eseisthē, which in the Triumphal Entry text in Matthew describes the “turmoil” into which Jerusalem is thrown (Matthew 21:10): “When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?”

Matthew takes great pains to show Jesus as the Messiah, entering into Jerusalem in a contrasting mixture of humility and yet as the fulfillment of the Hebrew Scripture’s promises of salvation and restoration.  Jesus is humble and yet he is the King (vs. 5).  Matthew omits Zechariah’s description of “triumphant and victorious” from the quotation in verse 5, to emphasize Jesus’ humility.  Yet the imagery is unmistakable:

From the Mount of Olives (from the east) shall come the day of the Lord which will save Jerusalem (Zechariah 14:1-11).

From the Mount of Olives “David” will return, for it was over that hill that he fled the Holy City to escape Absalom – weeping as he went.

The two prophecies quoted in verse 5 are firstly from Isaiah (62:11b) describing God’s vindication of the Holy City; and then  Zechariah (9:9) describing the defeat of God’s enemies and the restoration of Israel. 

As for Jesus’ mode of transportation, this must be a deliberate allusion.  After all, Jesus has walked for years on foot, and now needs an ass to sit on for the last two miles of his journey?  I think not!

Taking the donkey from its owner may be a form of requisitioning (angareia) which was a prerogative of royalty.

The shock to the religious system can be easily understood: Here is the Messiah, the new David, riding into town in the midst of the solemn Passover festival, yet with the people paying him homage in kingly terms: Hosanna (meaning “save us”) Son of David (vs.9); and waving palm fronds more commonly used at the celebratory festivals of Tabernacles and Hanukkah.  This shakes the authorities!

Yet, seismic shocks are not always negative.  In the Hebrew Scriptures such shocks announce the presence of God (Joel 2:10-11 and Psalm 67:8, for example).  In the New Testament, earthquakes signify great salvific events such as the death of Jesus (Matthew 27:51, 54) and the appearance of the angel before the women at the empty tomb (28:2).

We have much to learn from the text of the Triumphal Entry:

Humility can be earth shaking, and life changing.  A world accustomed to power (its accumulation and strategic use) will react strongly against “threats” such as humility and love.

God in Christ Jesus is always more than we anticipate or expect.  The crowds recognize in Jesus the fulfilment of First Century messianic expectations.  Those expectations will be challenged considerably when Jesus dies the death of a common criminal.  God is full of surprises!

In Matthew’s Gospel, the crowd personifies en masse, the disciple of Jesus.  But, don’t get big headed – the crowds that shout Hosanna, will soon shout Crucify!  Lutherans recite our reformation slogans, such as Simul justus et peccator (at one and the same time justified, and a sinner).  Yet, we can underestimate the powerful ways these are manifested in life.  “Hosanna” and “Crucify” show this in stark reality.

Seismic shocks can be incredibly destructive – of that there is no doubt.  The shock (turmoil) of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem led to Calvary.  On Calvary, Jesus suffered and died.  In the garden, by the tomb, the hearts of the women were broken, and tears were shed.  Yet, Sacred Scripture invites us to acknowledge the deep meaning of eseisthē: death, suffering, loss, yes; but also salvation, love, and sacrifice.

As we live in our time of eseisthē we have the opportunity to live, love and witness – not as ones with their heads in the sand, or through mere wishful thinking; but as ones who acknowledge God in the midst of turmoil.  Not God as the cause of turmoil, but as one joining us in its midst; sustaining us; surprising us with the ways in which life and light are revealed in the face of death and darkness; offering restoration when all seems lost.  



The raising of Lazarus

John 11:1-45 (Ezekiel 37:1-14, Psalm 130, Romans 8:6-11)

There’s a thin line between laughing and crying, isn’t there?  We know that to be true now, perhaps more than ever!  There’s also a thin line between grief and anger: as anyone who has ever shouted out curses toward God can tell you.  

When Jesus saw her [Mary, sister of Lazarus] weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved.  He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.”  Jesus began to weep. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” (John 11:33-36).

We know that Jesus isn’t weeping out of a regret that he hadn’t come to Bethany soon enough.  Bethany was a day’s walk away from where Jesus was when word first reach him that Lazarus was ill, and Jesus remained there two days, then spent another day walking to Bethany.  Lazarus was dead four days when Jesus raised him, so he was dead by the time Jesus first received news of his illness. 

Witnesses comment on Jesus’ deep love for Lazarus.  Then, out comes the grief of knowing that his friend suffered; and that those who loved him suffered also.  Yet the Greek word embrimasthai, which is often translated as “greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved” (vs. 33) can also describe anger.  And, that makes sense, for as one scholar puts it, “Jesus is angry to be face-to-face with the realm of Satan, represented by death.”

The raising of Lazarus is a sign; and remember what I said about signs in last week’s devotional: signs point to something larger than themselves.  This account points backwards to the prologue to John’s Gospel: glory (vs. 4), light of the world (vs 9), believe (vs. 15, 26, 27, 40, 42, 45), the one coming into thee world (vs. 27).  And, this text is littered with additional favorite Johannine words: love (vs. 3, 5), last day (vs. 24) come, see (vs. 45) and even an “I am” (vs. 25).

Yet, the account of the raising of Lazarus also points forward.  The glory that is repeatedly mentioned here is not a glory that comes to Jesus because of the spectacular nature of the miracle (and spectacular it is!).  Rather, this sign accelerates the conflict between Jesus and the religious authorities, which will result in his death.  The death of Lazarus points to Jesus’ own death: there is the “glory.”

In fact, a dangerous storm is very much on the horizon in this part of John’s Gospel 

… some of them [the Jews] went to the Pharisees and told them what he had done.  So the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the council, and said, “What are we to do? This man is performing many signs.   If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation.”  So from that day on they planned to put him to death (John 11:45-48, 53).  When the great crowd of the Jews learned that [Jesus] was [in Bethany], they came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead.  So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well, since it was on account of him that many of the Jews were deserting and were believing in Jesus (12:9-11).   As one scholar ironically points out, “Apparently, being brought to life by the one who is the resurrection and the life can get a person killed!”

So, this passage is a distillation of the major themes John’s Gospel: looking backwards to the promises of the prologue and of Jesus’ public ministry, and forwards to glory of Jesus’ death and resurrection; to the righteous anger of Jesus in the face of the destruction wrought by death (the result of sin, which he will overcome); and as a revelation of Jesus’ love – here focused on Lazarus – yet representative of the love Jesus has for all of us who are in a relationship with him (disciples who “believe”).

Rather profoundly, this text is the bridge between Jesus’ public ministry and the Passover and Passion.  In this respect, the story of Lazarus is the first section of our bridge from Lent to Holy Week.



“The blue sky above never leaves”

John 9:1-41(Psalm 23, Ephesians 5:8-14)
 

He was walking along, minding his own business.  Jesus was strolling.  It starts as simply as that.  But, that’s often the way that profound changes come, isn’t it?  I bumped into a Lutheran pastor in my hometown in Scotland who was visiting from Chicago.  Four years later I married a woman I met in Chicago; and now we’re at St. Armands Key Lutheran Church.  You have, or know, similar stories I’m sure.

The account of the miracle of Jesus giving sight to the man who was blind is pretty concise and straightforward.  But that’s the point: this is a sign, and signs point to something larger, more important than themselves.  The detailed story that flows out of the miracle is interesting.  But, it too points to something deeper (and more interesting) than a back-and-forth between the Pharisees and the man who was formerly blind and his parents.  (Jesus even disappears from the story from verse 7 all the way to verse 35!)

There are greater, deeper things revealed by this Gospel text:

Life turns on a dime.

The man is healed through grace: he doesn’t ask to be healed – it is a gratuitous act of love on Jesus’ part.

Sin is not the cause of illness or disease.

The infirmity of the man is taken by God and worked for the good – in this case as a sign.

Religious traditions, such as the Sabbath Law, are secondary to the working out of God’s love.

The blind man heard Jesus before he saw him: he heard, and trusted the word he heard.

First the man heard the voice, then saw the man (Jesus), then saw/believed that he was from God.

Just beyond this week’s text (10:1-21) Jesus speaks of himself as the Good Shepherd, whose voice the sheep recognize, trust and follow (discipleship).

Trusting the word led to the restoration of sight.  Apparently believing is seeing, not the other way around! 

Seeing is revealed to be a spiritual sight: it is recognizing Jesus for who he is.

In the words of one scholar, “As a sign that He is the Light, Jesus gives sight to the blind man” (Raymond Brown).

Do you remember how it was only a few weeks ago that we first began to hear about a novel virus discovered in China?  A small bottle of hand sanitizer was the only addition to our shopping lists.  And now, we’re experiencing social distancing.  In-person worship has ended; schools are canceled; the Dow is in freefall.  

Some rogues on television are saying that this is a punishment from God.  Yet we learn that, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned” (vs. 3).  Some wonder if the danger we face is worth the cancelation of in-person worship.  Yet we read, “Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes… Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath” (vs. 14 and 16).  All around us, dark clouds seem to be gathering.  Yet Jesus promises, “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world” (vs. 5).  And, many ask where is God’s love? Yet we hear the eternal promise, “… the sheep hear his [the shepherd’s] voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out… I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep… I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep” (John 10:3, 11, 14-15).  

People of faith – looking at the world and at life through the eyes of faith – live with a profound hope, resting in a profound truth: “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me (Psalm 23).  This hope, this faith, this love, this light, is what underlies a statement such as that found in the book, The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse, by Charlie Mackesy: “Those are dark clouds,” said the boy.  “Yes, but they will move on,” said the horse, “the blue sky above never leaves”
 
Pastor Kenneth Blyth


“What a difference a day makes”

John 4:5-42 (Exodus 17:1-7, Psalm 95) 

The contrast between Nicodemus (the central character of last week’s Gospel text) and the Samaritan woman at the well is stark indeed.  Makes me think of Esther Phillips’ 1975 hit song:

What a difference a day made.  Twenty-four little hours brought the sun and the flowers,
where there used to be rain…

● Nicodemus is a man of power and influence, a respected religious leader, an insider.

● The woman is a powerless social and religious outsider.

● Nicodemus cannot seem to understand what Jesus is teaching him, nor who Jesus truly is.

●The Woman at the Well hears Jesus, understands him, and accepts him as savior.

What a contrast!

The woman clearly understands the divisions that exist between Jesus and her people, the Samaritans (“How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” vs. 9).  The Samaritans were the Jews left behind during the Babylonian Exile, whose life and faith thereby diverged from those taken away.  An obvious division centered on the location of the dwelling place of God: Jerusalem or Mt. Gerizim.  By the time of Jesus, the animosity was well-established; hence the statement in the verses preceding this week’s text, “… he [Jesus] left Judea and started back to Galilee.  But he had to go through Samaria” (John 4:3-4, emphasis added).  As verse 9b puts it, rather diplomatically, by way of explanation, “Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.”

The Book of Acts (Chapter 18) tells of the conversion to Christianity of Samaritans through the ministry of Peter and John, following groundwork laid by Philip.  In John’s Gospel, that relationship of conversion begins with Jesus.  True, there is an initial misunderstanding: Jesus speaks of himself as the Water of Life, and the woman (quite naturally – they’re standing by a well!) thinks he’s speaking of H2O.  Jesus quickly clears up this misunderstanding: 

Everyone who drinks of this [well] water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water” (vs. 13-15).

If she were Nicodemus, the comeback would more likely be, ‘How can water possibly do that?!’  Instead the woman begins to accept Jesus as “the gift of God” of which he speaks in verse 10.  And, her use of “sir” as a form of address grows increasingly more respectful as the dialogue proceeds (vs. 11, 15, 18).  

Then it’s the turn of the disciples to get the wrong end of the stick (“They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman” vs. 27), and Jesus has to ask them to “look around/lift up your eyes” (vs. 35) and see the Samaritans as human beings yearning for a saving relationship in Him (salvation).  And, the Samaritans (arguably) recognize more profoundly that anyone else in Scripture who Jesus is: 

 … we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world (vs. 42).

This is the only instance in all of the New Testament in which Jesus is called ‘savior’ during his public ministry.  Apparently, the powerless, the excluded, the outsiders can recognize something that powerful, connected insiders cannot.  What a difference a day made.  Twenty-four little hours brought the sun and the flowers, where there used to be rain…
 
Pr. Ken Blyth


Did Nicodemus learn his lesson?

When we see someone whom we like or love mess up, our heads and hearts fill with a whirlpool of thoughts and feelings.  In addition to, “I hope they’ll be okay,” there’s often a thought along the lines of, “I hope they’ll learn from this!”  In other words, a mistake can be a learning moment, that leads to an older-and-wiser version of the person.  Such a hope is the basis of so many well-known phrases: 

●Learn from your mistakes.

●Fool me once, shame on thee; fool me twice, shame on me.

●The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.

●By seeking and blundering we learn.

●You don’t learn to walk by following rules. You learn by doing, and by falling over.

In the case of Nicodemus (John 3:1-17), we’re not sure if he ever learned the lesson that Jesus was teaching, but he came pretty close: “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God (vs. 2).  However, there’s a lot he doesn’t get; and, that’s okay because John’s Gospel is filled with a pattern which scholars call sign/dialog/discourse.   Jesus provides a sign, and then folks ask him about the sign in a back-and-forth, and then Jesus teaches them a deep truth.  Often, in the dialog exchange, someone fails to understand (after all, if they understood there’d be no need for the following discourse).  

Misunderstanding is a opportunity for learning; and the Gospel text invites us into that learning.  This is clear in verse 11:

Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony.

In this instance the first “you” is first-person singular (directed toward Nicodemus) and the second is second-person plural (directed toward us).  But what it is that Nicodemus doesn’t understand?  Firstly, Nicodemus is too literal: he hears the Greek word anōthem as being born “again” (hence the confusion about an old man leaving his mother’s womb a second time – John 3:3).  Instead, Jesus clearly means to be born “anew” or “from above.”

Nicodemus’ confusion about water is more understandable (“Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit” vs. 5).  After all, Christian baptismal theology took centuries to fully develop, so how could a first-Century Jewish leader understand such an allusion?  On the one hand, Jesus could simply be referring to the repentant cleansing that John the Baptist taught.  Or, Jesus could be referring to himself.  Some scholars point out that in John 4:10 Jesus is the Living Water (“If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water”.)  And, elsewhere this Living Water and Spirit are rhetorically brought together:

On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’” Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified (John 7:37-39).

So, what Nicodemus doesn’t understand is who Jesus truly is (not just from God, but actually God-in-the-flesh); nor the life-giving relationship that comes from knowing Jesus and receiving the Spirit that Jesus will give after his resurrection and ascension (the Paraclete).   

Jesus tells Nicodemus in verse 19 (just beyond the end of today’s text), “And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil.”  In John’s Gospel “light” describes belief in Jesus, and “darkness” unbelief.  Nicodemus has come to Jesus “by night” (vs. 1).  So, as one scholar puts it, Nicodemus has been judged by Jesus in His very presence.  

And what is belief?  What is light?  In what way are we to receive Jesus’ testimony (as described above)?  By receiving, believing, and trusting in the revelation contained in the one of the most familiar and oft quoted passages in all of Scripture, John 3:16 and 17: 

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.
 
Pr. Ken Blyth


Be true to yourself!

Sixto Rodriguez was a Detroit-based folk-rock singer-songwriter in the late 1960s and early 1970s.  Both of Rodriguez’ albums flopped, after which he entered into obscurity, working as a day laborer and contractor.  Meanwhile, an American tourist visiting South Africa shared an album with friends, and Rodriguez became a phenomenon during the apartheid era.  Consistently outselling Elvis and the Rolling Stones, he inspired an entire generation of South African musicians, almost single-handedly launching the counter-cultural movement in that very conservative and isolated country.  The rumor was that he died a tragic death, and so there was amazement in South Africa when it was discovered in 1990s that he was alive and well.  He subsequently toured the country giving sold-out concerts to adoring fans, before returning to his humble Detroit home.  Only when an Oscar-winning documentary (Searching for Sugarman) shared his amazing story did his wonderful music become known in America.

The wilderness account in Matthew’s Gospel can be interpreted in so many ways.  Jesus’ being “led up by the Spirit” (4:1) points to the intentionality of Jesus’ testing.  That Jesus fasted “forty days” (vs. 2) points us to the Old Testament and to the forty days in which Noah await deliverance from the flood (Genesis 7:4 etc.); the time Moses spent on Mt. Sinai while God delivered the Ten Commandments (Exodus 34:27-28); Elijah’s journey in 1 Kings 19:7f, and so forth.  But what is at the heart of this Gospel account?  One scholar suggests this: That trusting in God to allows God to be God, and one to be oneself.

The three “tests” Jesus faces tempt him to use his power for his own benefit: satisfying his hunger (vs. 3-4); overcoming his vulnerability (vs. 5-7); and glory without the cross (vs. 8-12).  Were Jesus to give in to the Tempter, God’s love, power, grace and mercy would be unnecessary (God could not be God), and Jesus could not be himself (our savior).  Trusting in God to allowed God to be God, and Jesus to be the Messiah.

What of Rodriguez?  Did his “descent’ into obscurity and humble living lead him to self-pity or self-destruction?  No; he raised a family and lived a life consistent with the message of the songs he wrote: love, justice, community.  In simple living, running several long shot runs for mayor, and serving his community, he lived the life he sang about.  In short, he remained firmly, resolutely, true to himself.

A consequence of sin is inauthenticity- not being the person God created us to be and calls us to be.  That is something to be aware of, as we journey through Lent.
 
Pr. Kenneth Blyth


Scary stories

Did you ever, as a kid, sit around a campfire sharing scary stories, only to return to your tent in complete terror?  Or on the way back to your cabin be confronted by a ‘friend” jumping out of the bushes pretending to be an axe murderer?   (With friends like that…)
 

Imagine just how scared Peter, James and John were on top of Mt. Tabor.  Just six days earlier Peter had made his great confession of faith: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God (Matthew 16:16).  Jesus’ sonship is central to Matthew, and so 16:16 is something of a climax.  However, no sooner has Peter declared this sonship for all to hear, than Jesus begins to speak of death:

From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised (16:21)

and to speak of the cross that must be carried by his followers:

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.  For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.  For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?

Scary stuff to a group of men who didn’t yet understand what kind of Messiah Jesus was to be.  And then Peter, James and John are on top of a mountain and Jesus is transformed before their very eyes, and Moses and Elijah appear alongside him, “and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!”  When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear” (17:5b-6).  You bet they were!

The men wonder if this is the end of which Jesus spoke – is this the moment of death?  Are they doomed?  Again, as elsewhere in Scripture, Jesus reassures them: “But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid” (17:7).

With all the allusions whirling around in this Gospel text, it’s easy to lose sight of something simple and wonderful.  True, Mt. Tabor sounds very much like Mt. Sini where Moses met God, and where Moses face shone brightly as a result (Exodus 24:16-17, 34:29).  And true, Moses and Elijah are together just as the climax of Malachi’s prophecy described (Malachi 4:4-5).  And yes, Matthew describes Peter calling Jesus Lord rather than Rabbi and being very differential toward Jesus (“… if you wish, I will make three dwellings here…”)  because Matthew is focused on sonship, not on teaching moments.  Yet, note the wonderfully simple response of Jesus to the immense fear his friends were experiencing: 

But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid” (vs. 7).

The touch that healed the leper (8:3) and raised a dead child (9:25) now touches his friends. This is not a moment of death, but of life.  This moment is not doom-ridden, but hope-filled.  Jesus has preached about the kingdom of heaven using three powerful parables (13:44-50) and now the disciples can see how near they are to the kingdom.  

The touch of Jesus, and the promise of the kingdom, describes a life without fear: a life lived in hope 
 
Pastor Ken
 

Matthew 17:1-9 (Exodus 24:12-18, Psalm 2, 2 Peter 1:16-21) 



Who is my God?

 
On September 19, 1796, the American Daily Advertiser published The Address of Gen. Washington to the People of America on His Declining the Presidency of the United States.  This was a valedictory to his “friends and fellow-citizens.”  Moses’ valedictory is found in Deuteronomy, of which this week’s text (30:15-20) is the final paragraph.  Some scholars see this book as akin to an ancient treaty (suzerainty); or it may simply be Moses’ last will and testament.  Regardless, this section stresses national unity and common loyalty – to each other (community) and to God (faith).
 
The verbs are powerful: obey, love, walk in his ways, observe (vs. 16).  Yet, there is a warning: idolatry will lead to separation from the land which God gave to the people he chose – this is death.  Instead, “choose life!” (vs. 19) – the imperative verb revealing power and urgency.
 
True, “idolatry” can refer to a straying towards other gods, in the sense of other divinities.  Or, it can refer to “extreme admiration, love, or reverence for something or someone.”  In other words, anything that acts in one’s life like a god – giving life, meaning or purpose – demanding one’s complete loyalty heart, soul and mind – becomes one’s god.  We may try to have our cake and it by having more than one god.  Yet, as Luther pointed out, while a person may keep two dogs, the one that is fed and exercised most will ultimately become the stronger of the two.  
 
A Christian must ask a simple question: who or what is my God?  And the related question: what is compromised by my choice?  And ultimately: am I losing my authentic self and life-giving relationship with God in the process?
 
Pastor Ken Blyth



 
 

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