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Archive for April, 2013

Moving into the Neighborhood

Look!  Look!  God has moved into the neighborhood, making his home with men and women!  They’re his people, he’s their God.  He’ll wipe every tear from their eyes.  Death is gone for good–tears gone.”  Revelation 21:3-4 (The Message)

It’s interesting to read the lectionary choices from Revelation over the course of this Spring.  In many of them, we find “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”  It seems appropriate for our era somehow, and yet, it is appropriate for nearly every era, every decade, every century. 

Each generation has felt the need for God’s presence, comfort, healing, and love because we live in the human condition.  We are sinful by nature, and we have been given the choice between good and evil – we can go either way.  Fortunately, in my observations, more people really DO chose good over evil, although none of us is exempt from making bad choices.  There will be times when we seek selfishness over generosity or self-centeredness over reaching out.

This particular passage from Revelation 21 tells us that God is “moving into the neighborhood.”  So often we think of God as this ethereal being “way out there somewhere,” when in actuality, God is with us here on earth.  I know the Revelation passage promises that God will come to dwell on earth, and we need to hear that, but God has already dwelt on earth through the incarnation in Jesus of Nazareth.

God continues to live on earth through the power of the Spirit as well as the incarnation of Jesus – the Church.  The challenge is that church’s become so off track.  There goes that human choice thing again!  There are church folks who become offended because someone says something that hurts them – what about forgiveness?  There are church folks who want to control everything because they think that they have all the right gifts or all the right answers – what about the “body of Christ” in which everyone is called to share his or her gifts in whatever way they are able?

Churches become places for fighting and bickering, and often over silly things like the color of carpet being put down in the sanctuary or what curtains look like or how to maintain the gardens.  What is our focus really?  Maybe if we took the idea that God is “moving into the neighborhood” a little more seriously, we would stop focusing on the things that don’t last and begin focusing on the things that do.

In other words, maybe we would begin behaving so we can be in mission and ministry more effectively. Our job as followers of Jesus Christ is to reach out, to bring healing, help wipe away every tear, offer hope, care about others, bring a kind word or action when others condemn or judge, draw the circle of God’s love wider and wider until everyone is included.  We are the ones who lay the foundation – in partnership with God – so that God’s home on earth can grow and expand. 

God is moving in to the neighborhood, let’s do our part to build up rather than tear down, to help rather than judge, to offer a cup of cold water to someone who most needs it.  Let’s accept our responsibility for making a difference.  May it be so!

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Wiping Away Tears

“…for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” Revelation 7:17

This week I have sought hope: Hope for our world where bombs explode killing spectators at the Boston Marathon; hope for no results from threats of war and nuclear bombs; continued fighting in words and actions in various places in our world; bullying in school, at work, at home, and in the marketplace; domestic violence; children starving in our country and abroad; poverty, hunger, fear, oppression, power-plays, and any number of social problems; domestic violence; racism – we can make the list as long as we wish. It’s devastating and depressing.

Jesus was no stranger to these things. Human nature hasn’t changed in 2000 years, and it won’t change in the next 2000 years if the world is around that long. We can let it get us down and push us to hide somewhere, or we can meet the world face to face and decide that we will not let it get to us. We can be the messengers of hope in the way we act in response to all the negatives in our world.

The Book of Revelation has some pretty strange images in it, but ultimately it tells us that, in the end, God wins. Terrorists and fear mongers can do us harm physically, but they cannot take away God’s presence in our lives. They cannot take away the fact that God has our souls. As Easter people, we live lives in the present knowing that when we leave this earth, we pass from one home to another.

I also have hope when I read about the dozens of people who jumped into action to help those who were hurt this week at the Boston Marathon. These people didn’t think about themselves but about others and helping them to get to a hospital or out of harms way. That gives me hope. I have hope when I read about citizens all over the world who are holding the victims of the bombings in their prayers and reaching out to show how much they care. These are the thousands of folks who far out-weigh a cowardly act of terrorism.

God will wipe away every tear from their eyes – there is hope. The Lamb will shepherd the people – there is hope. God’s children will be the hands and feet of Christ, sharing the love of God with others – I have hope. We will help to wipe away the earthly tears, and trust in God’s wiping away the tears of pain and hurt and suffering when we pass through the door from earth to heaven. We are part of building the kingdom of God on earth, and we counter-act the evil through our acts of love, compassion, kindness, and caring. We make a difference because of God.

We will help to offer hope and wipe away the tears, and God will weep for joy. Have a blessed day.

Do You Love Me?

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?’  He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’  Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my lambs.‘ ”  John 21:15 NRSV

Simon Peter, the Rock upon which Jesus would build his church, was not without faults.  In fact, he often would take three steps forward and two steps backward, or so it seemed.  He just wanted to do the right thing.  Of course, he loved Jesus, and Jesus loved him.  But at the point in Jesus’ life when he most needed his friends, Peter included, Peter denied Jesus, not once but three times (see Matthew 26:69-75).  Imagine Peter’s shame and self-loathing after Jesus’ death.  He must have spent the next three days feeling guilty and like a failure.  He had let his friend down and broken his vow to never leave Jesus’ side.  His fear got the better of him.

So we might also be able to imagine what it would be like to be in your fishing boat and realize with a jolt of your stomach and pounding of heart that the man whom you considered to be your friend, master, and teacher was now alive and beckoning you to walk with him.  Most of us would expect to be “called on the carpet” for breaking promises and offer explanations about why we behaved so badly and not like a friend at all.

But Jesus showed Peter his continuing love, forgiveness, and grace when he asked him three times (sort of undoing the three denials one by one) if he loved him.  Each time Peter said that he loved Jesus, there was an instruction:  “feed my lambs,” “tend my sheep,” “feed my sheep.”  Peter’s commission to build the church and carry on the ministry of Jesus in the world stood firm.  In spite of his denial, fear, and rejection of Jesus, he was given another chance.  Jesus still saw in him the qualities of a leader who would build the church.

Maybe Peter had to go through the devastation of denying and experiencing Jesus’ forgiveness before he could really comprehend the great power of God’s love and how that love makes a difference in the world.  I suspect that is what we all need to experience in order to move past something in our lives about which we aren’t so proud.

Time and time again, God in Christ comes to us and asks us, “Do you love me?”  If we do, we are then invited and instructed, “Follow me.”  Following Jesus isn’t easy.  It can be scary, frustrating, and challenging because it means that we are called to live beyond what the world and society tells us.  We are to act and think and live counter-culturally which is VERY difficult.

And yet, time and time again, Jesus comes to us and asks, “Do you love me?”  When we answer, “Yes, Lord, I love you” he says, “feed my lambs,” “tend my sheep,” “feed my sheep.”  Care for others; care about others; and be my hands and feet in the world.  Do the work that God has called you to do as my followers.  May it be so.  Thank you, Jesus.  I love you.

Hope in the Midst of Challenges

I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”  Revelation 1:8

This passage gives me hope.  Over three weeks I have officiated at three memorial services.  Two were for women in their 90’s who had lived long and good lives, although they had their share of challenges.  The other was for a women in her 60’s who died very unexpectedly from an aneurism right before Easter.  She, too, faced challenges in her life, and one of them was struggling with depression.  Life hands us challenges all the time, and the loss of loved ones, a job, a relationship, income, mobility, health, or other experiences that come out way can be difficult.

The book of Revelation has a lot of rather bizarre images in it, but the ultimate message is that God is in charge and God will make things right.  How does that happen?  There are many folks who can’t see or won’t believe it.  Yet, over and over again, I have had parishioners tell me that they would never have made it through their problems without the strength of God in their lives.

God’s promise is that we aren’t alone, that Jesus experienced what we experience in our lives and understands, that God has been, is now, and will forever be there for us and for all generations.  We will face physical problems and emotional upheavals at times, but we keep on keeping on because of God’s love for us and the knowledge that Jesus, the Christ has overcome even death because God raised him from the dead.  We have hope because of the living Christ.

Revelation was written for people who were being persecuted.  The early Christians needed hope, and the vision of John that is recorded in Revelation was their hope.  It was subversive and disputed the Roman belief that Caesar was a god and lord of all.  It promised that those who rejected God would “get theirs” in the end.  In the end, we all have to stand before our Maker and be accountable for our lives.  We can live in the hope and promise that we have forgiveness of sins and salvation through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.  Our God is with us, encouraging us, leading us, teaching us, and helping us to put one foot in front of the other every day no matter what our circumstances.

That is cause for celebration!  God is God of the past, present and future and won’t abandon us!  Hallelujah!

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