“It is hard to read the headlines each day without a growing sense of alarm. We hear about terrorism, ethnic and religious tensions, wars and conflicts, corrupt governments, massive natural disasters, climate change, nuclear intimidation, and even child trafficking and slavery. Our post 9/11 world seems both frightening and threatening, and the majority of us struggle to understand it, let alone do something about it. The world’s problems just seem too big and too hard for most of us; it’s so much easier to retreat from them…
Today we celebrate the birth of the church. It was on Pentecost that the Lord sent the Holy Spirit on his followers, and they went from uneducated, scared men and women to those who boldly proclaimed the good news.
Passover is followed by Shavuot. This is the Feast of Weeks when the Israelites would bring an offering from the first of the wheat harvest. This Feast of Weeks was seven weeks, or 49 days. The Sabbath following – or the 50th day after Passover – was Shavuot. When the New Testament was written in Greek, the Greek word for fiftieth was used – Pentecost.
In Acts 2 we are told that the followers of Jesus were gathered together spending time in prayer and waiting for the promised Holy Spirit Jesus said He would send.
What a difference the Holy Spirit made.
Earlier Peter had denied Jesus and fled from the courtroom where Jesus was facing his accusers. After the crucifixion of Jesus, we find Peter with the other disciples hiding behind locked doors fearful that they also would be killed.
Then the Holy Spirit came.
Peter now became a bold witness of Jesus and when faced with positive harm, declared “we must obey God rather than man.”
As we celebrated Pentecost today, one statement the minister said really spoke to me.
“Do I really expect the power of the Holy Spirit to work in my life?
As I ponder this question, another one that arises is:
How would my life be different if I really expected – and allowed – the Holy Spirit to work in my life?
Something I will be seriously reflecting on this week.
We often look at the Beatitudes as a moral code. We see it as an ideal that no one can really live up to. Perhaps it is a goal that we strive to achieve so that God will grant us entrance to heaven some day.
As we head into another presidential campaign, we see politicians come out of the woodwork to announce their run for office in 2024. A big question is asked: “What is your platform? What issues are important to you? What will you do for the American people?”
Jesus came not running for a political office. In fact, He said His kingdom was not of this world. Yet, He had a platform. He had a plan for how His government would function. Sadly, the majority of his listeners did not sign up for his program.
Sadly, even today, we refuse to really take his ideas seriously.
“The work of the kingdom is in fact summed up pretty well in the beatitudes. Blessed are the poor, the mourners, the meek, those hungering for justice, the merciful, the pure-hearted, peacemakers, and the persecuted. These people are not only blessed, but more than that, even in their vulnerability and weakness, they are the ones precisely through whom Jesus intends blessings to flow to others. These sayings are about the type of people through whom Jesus intends to transform the world. When God wants to change the world, he doesn’t launch missiles. Instead, he sends in the meek, the mourners, and the merciful. When God wants to put things to right, he doesn’t scramble combat jets, he calls people to love and do justice. Through those kinds of people, the blessings of God’s reign began to appear in the world.” N.T. Wright
Oh that God would grant us a man/woman who would not mouth religious statements, but really live by God’s platform. Oh, that we would be a nation that would support such a candidate.
So many times, I think we have a “special” moment in our devotion time or listening to a good song or a good message. We get all excited and are ready to go out and save the world.
But, in reality, we often miss doing what Jesus has asked of us in our daily normal lives.
My son loaned me a book by Max Lucado called, “On The Anvil.” To be honest I have never read a book by Max Lucado before. In reading this book, which is a collection of some of his writings – all short, I loved this one. It speaks to our desire to save the world.
Thank you Max Lucado.
(Scene, Sunday morning assembly; silent prayer)
Max: God, I want to do great things
God: You do?
Max: You bet! I want to teach millions! I want to fill the Rose Bowl! I want all the world to know your saving power! I dream of the day—
God: That’s great Max. In fact, I can use you today after church.
Max: Super! How about some radio or TV work…or…or…or an engagement to speak to Congress.
God: Well that is not exactly what I had in mind. See that fellow sitting next to you?
God; He needs a ride home.
Max: (quietly) What?
God: He needs a ride home. And while you’re at it, one of the older ladies sitting near you is worried about getting a refrigerator moved. Why don’t you drop by this afternoon and-
Disturb us, Lord, when we are too well pleased with ourselves, when our dreams have come true because we have dreamed too little, when we arrive safely because we sailed too close to the shore.
Disturb us, Lord, when with the abundance of things we possess we have lost our thirst for the waters of life, having fallen in love with life, we have ceased to dream of eternity, and in our efforts to build a new earth, we have allowed our vision of the new heaven to dim.
Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly, to venture on wider seas where storms will show your masterly, where losing sight of land, we shall find the stars, we ask you to push back the horizons of our hopes and to push into the future in strength, courage, hope and love.
Reading of the empty tomb, there is one story that I love the most.
Mary Magdalene is standing outside the empty tomb weeping in despair. All her hopes were crushed when Jesus died on the cross and was placed in a tomb. This man who had delivered her from the bondage of sin. This man who had made her feel a person of worth once again. This man who had showed unconditional love.
Not only was he dead, and with him all the hopes and dreams she and his fellowers had cherished, but now even his body had been stolen.
Who would have taken it? Why would they have taken it? Would they desecrate his body? How sad to not even have his body to anoint and properly bury.
Suddenly she saw a man standing nearby. She thought he was the gardener. Why did she not recognize Jesus? First, she clearly was not expecting a dead man to be standing before her. Perhaps in her tears her eyesight was even blurred. Perhaps Jesus had purposely temporarily allowed her not to recognize him.
How did he reveal to her who he was?
Not by telling her “I am Jesus.” “Don’t you recognize me?”
He simply called her by name.
At the sound of her name in his mouth, she recognized him. What a joy to think that to Jesus, Mary was not just another one of his followers. She was not just “Hey you.” This was Mary.
“I tell you the truth, anyone who sneaks over the wall of a sheepfold, rather than going through the gate, must surely be a thief and a robber! But the one who enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep recognize his voice and come to him. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. After he has gathered his own flock he walks ahead of them, and they follow himbecause they know his voice. They won’t follow a stranger; they will run from him because they don’t know his voice.”
“Those who heard Jesus use this illustration didn’t understand what he meant, so he explained it to them: “I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me were thieves and robbers. But the true sheep did not listen to them. Yes, I am the gate. Those who come in through me will be saved. They will come and go freely and will find good pastures. The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life. “I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me, just as my Father knows me and I know the Father.”
Whenever I read this story I am reminded of the time in my own life when Jesus spoke my name.
At fourteen my father, who I adored, left my mother, sister and me. He also left the church and turned away from following the Lord. I was devastated. He had been my role model. I saw him night after night sit at the kitchen table after supper and read his Bible. Following his example, I loved the Word of God.
Now, confused, brokenhearted, I sat down at my piano and began to play. Music has always been a source of comfort to me. I go to it when I want to celebrate, when I want to cry. Singing an old hymn, “Does Jesus Care” this teenager sang it as a cry to God. Did He really know me and my hurt? Was this little unknown teenager living in a small house in a small town known to Him? Did he care?
As I sang from my heart, tears running down my face, I suddenly felt someone standing beside me. There was no one at home then but myself. I knew no one had come in the front door. Yet, I knew someone was standing beside me.
In that moment, I felt him speak my name. Like Mary, I knew it was Jesus. I was afraid to turn and look as I felt so unworthy to look on him. I never turned. But as sure as I know I am sitting at my computer right now, I know Jesus was standing beside me. He was telling me he not only knew my name, knew my hurt and sorrow, but he cared.
“You have searched me, Lord, and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely. You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain. Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you. For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful; I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. How precious to me are your thoughts, God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand—when I awake, I am still with you.”
Our natural inclination is to expect rewards in measure with our performance. If we test well, we expect a good grade. If we perform well at work, we expect a raise or a promotion. We tend to extend this to ethics as well. We have a general belief in reciprocity-I loan my friend bus fare, and I expect she’ll do the same for me if I leave my wallet at home. And in reality, we’re usually fairly quick to admit we have the same tendency with our salvation. We BELIEVE God loves us unconditionally and that our salvation is by faith but we often BEHAVE as though we need to present God with a checklist of salvation-worthy deeds on Judgment Day. But it is good to sit and rest in God’s love. Nowhere else is love so unconditional, redemption so freely offered. Knowing that we cannot earn it, it is our honor to marvel in the midst of it…..Mosaic Bible
We just finished celebrating Resurrection Sunday. For many when asked why Jesus came it is simply to die and rise again. But why? Unfortunately for many the whole point of his death and resurrection is simply so we can go to heaven someday.
While that certainly is the Christian story, Jesus indicated there is more to his death and resurrection than a ticket to heaven.
At one point He talked about being the good shepherd. He said, “I am the gate. Those who come in through me will be saved.”
But He did not stop at that statement. He added “They will come in and go freely and will find good pastures…My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.” The word here in Greek is perisson meaning “exceedingly, very highly, beyond measure, more, superfluous, a quantity so abundant as to be considerably more than what one would expect or anticipate.”
What is this richly satisfying life? In our self-focused society today, we might begin to imagine a large mansion, fancy cars and the latest fashion. There are many TV evangelists that promote this kind of thinking. I have heard that theory called “name it and claim it,” “blab it and grab it,” or “prosperity gospel.”
If Jesus is our example of what it means to follow God, then the abundant life is not about material things. If so, Jesus would have been the richest guy alive. Yet He said He did not even have a place of his own to lay his head. He depended on the generosity of others for his daily needs.
Jesus said that this eternal life is that we would know Him (John 17:3). Abundant life – a rich and satisfying life – is not about material things, not about a successful career, not about a large family, not about popularity – or any of the many other things our culture would suggest brings a richly satisfying life. Rather, it is an ongoing, growing relationship with Jesus.
How do we get to “know” God. Basically the same way we get to know anyone else. By spending time with them and sharing thoughts and concerns and dreams with them. It is a growing process.
When I married my husband, I thought I knew him. Now, after almost 39 years of marriage I realize how much more I know him today than on my wedding day. How did that happen? I have spent 39 years in conversation with him. So as we spend time in prayer, in reading God’s word, in just mediating on what we have read, we grow in our knowledge of God.
This ongoing, growing relationship with Jesus is what the abundant life is all about. While clearly Jesus died and rose again to give us access to forgiveness of our sins and the hope of eternal life in heaven someday, it is more than that. Abundant life begins now – as the death and resurrection of Jesus declares “Come walk with me and know me, have a relationship with me. In this you will find a richly, satisfying life.”
I post this every year – but I think the message never gets old.
First, the cross
We talk a lot about the cross and how terrible the death of Jesus was. The story of Peter’s denial of Jesus and the rest of the disciples fleeing from the garden where he was arrested are familiar to us. It is good that we take time to reflect on the agony, the pain, the shame that Jesus suffered for us on that Friday.
Then we jump to Sunday morning and the wonderful fact of the resurrection! The surprise, the doubt, the joy as they realized that Jesus was alive. Again, it is good that we celebrate this tremendous event, this foundation stone of our faith.
But, what was that Saturday like?
Have you ever wondered what that Saturday was like for the followers of Jesus as they hid behind locked doors? After the shock, the horror of his death, can you imagine the range of emotions they felt on Saturday? Sad, somber Saturday!
Of course, there was the sorrow they experienced at the loss of their friend. I cannot really begin to understand the pain his mother must have felt as she reflected on the suffering he had experienced. Perhaps she could not even sleep, or fell asleep only to wake up from a nightmare seeing him once again being viciously beaten.
There must have been great confusion. Questions as they remembered all the miracles he performed, all the parables he had told. Wondering how he could have come to this end. Had he not made tremendous promises? Had he not proclaimed that he was the only way to God? Had he not even raised a dead man after four days in the tomb?
There must have been great disappointment. What were they to do now? They had left their homes, their employment to follow him. They had been so excited about the kingdom he would set up, even arguing over who would sit on his left and his right hand in that kingdom.
There must have been great fear. Would the Romans come after them now? How could they get out of Jerusalem and back to their villages and their old life safely?
Had they really heard Him?
We have the advantage of looking back on history, on knowing how the story turned out. So it is easy for us to say, “Did they not really hear him?” After all he had told them that he would be killed and would rise again on the third day. Did any of them think about that and wonder if it could be true?
We have our Saturdays too
But before we berate them for not really hearing Jesus, not really understanding, not really believing what he said about his death and coming back to life, are we any different today?
When our Fridays of suffering and difficulty come and we face a sad, somber Saturday dealing with the problems we face, do we forget his promises? He said he would never leave us. He said we would have tribulation in this world, but to be of good cheer because in him we could overcome. He said he gave us his peace, not the peace of the world, but that peace that comes from knowing who is in control.
Today, before I rejoice at the resurrection, I ask God to help me in my times of sorrow, confusion, disappointment and fear. I ask him to remind me that Fridays come and we have sad, somber Saturdays dealing with the problems of Friday, but for the child of God, Sunday is always on the way!