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Archive for November, 2013

Jesus, a King?

For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.”  Colossians 1:19-20 (NRSV)

Jesus, a king?  The word king brings up all kinds of images that we would probably not associate with Jesus of Nazareth.  Kings in Jesus’ day and often throughout history haven’t had a very good reputation.  What we often think of (not always, of course) is of a monarch who is powerful, sometimes brutal, doing whatever he can to stay in power (the same could be said of queens, I’m sure).  While there are kings who have ruled with compassion and were kind to their citizenry, there are many who lived lives in fear of being attacked, overthrown, or somehow losing their power.

That doesn’t describe Jesus at all.  Someone asked at our Bible study on this passage (Colossians 1:9-20) why we have Christ the King Sunday anyway because Jesus as a king just doesn’t seem to fit with his manner of living and way of interacting with the people.  As I have done a little research on this, I have concluded that Christ the King Sunday is a designation of the end of the Church liturgical year – a sort of “marker” or “segue” into the new year beginning with Advent. 

The entire liturgical calendar year begins with the first Sunday of Advent which is a time of preparation for Christ’s return or arrival and follows the life of Christ throughout the year.  So, we have Advent (preparation), Christmas (birth), Epiphany (visit of the Magi and reminder of the Light of God coming to us through Jesus’ birth), Jesus’ baptism and initiation of his ministry, calling the disciples, being Transfigured before them, Ash Wednesday leading into Lent, Holy Week, Easter, Ascension, Pentecost (traditional birth of the church), and then a long period of studying Jesus’ ministry and what it means to be a follower.

So, Christ the King Sunday comes as the culmination of all that.  Yet, according to the Colossians passage, there is much more to it that just being a bridge for the Church’s calendar year.  This is about Jesus, the incarnation of God.  This is about God entering the world that God had created and becoming human as a way of identifying with us, interacting with us, learning about what it was like to be human, and ultimately dying, being raised from the dead, and returning to heaven.

Colossians 1:15 says that Jesus was the IMAGE of the invisible God, the firstborn of creation.  Jesus brought us God-in-the-flesh and was part of the Triune God before all time.  Verse 18 reminds us that Jesus is the head of the Church, and we, as the Church, are his body.  Jesus took on the fullness of God (v. 19) and reconciled humanity to God’s self, and continues to guide and lead the Church even now and will in the future.  Jesus is past, present, and future – always and forever the ideal “king” who reigns in peace and love and grace. 

We are given the gift of this inheritance and along with it, the responsibility to be the hands and feet of Christ in the world.  As the Body of Christ, we carry on his work in the world.  Last week I saw a post on my Facebook page where Jesus and a young man of today’s world were sitting on a bench in a park.  The young man said to Jesus something like, “There are so many bad things happening in the world today:  wars, violence, sickness, and awful things.  Why aren’t you doing something about them?”  Jesus answered, “It’s funny.  I was about to ask you the same question.”  We have a responsibility to grow in faith and work toward justice in our world.  We don’t need to be crusaders and perpetuate violence (whether physical or verbal), but we do need to dig in and work toward ways of building communication, offering compassion, forgiving those who have wronged us, and finding ways to reconcile and make new in the name of Jesus, the Christ.

It’s a challenge offered to us every day of our lives as those who seek to be faithful disciples of Christ.  Especially as we move into Advent, may we build up the Body of Christ and keep our minds and hearts focused on where God in Christ is leading us.  We have such tremendous opportunities!  May we jump at the chance to make a difference for God in this world, starting wherever we have been planted. 

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Do Not Be Terrified

“When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.”  Luke 21:9 (NRSV)

This past week, we saw the horrible devastation and loss of life in the Philippines.  One U.S. army general flew over a residential area and reported seeing thousands of bodies on the ground and houses washed away or leveled to the ground.  Those who are left have no place to sleep, they have lost their homes and many of their family members.  People are starving, thirsty, and trying to figure out what to do next.  Looting has begun, and relief efforts are slow in arriving.  It must seem like the end of the world to them.

When we think back to last year, it must have seemed the same way to the folks in New York and New Jersey with Hurricane Sandy, or to those in Louisiana and Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina, or Japan following the tsunami, or the earthquake in Haiti, the attacks on the World Trade Center towers in 2011, or the Vietnamese people when a horrible war broke out in their country, or in Korea, or during World War II and the Holocaust or World War I or the American Revolution or the tribal wars in Africa or . . . or . . . or.  We could go on and on with the list of times when everything seemed to be crumbling around the people of that era.  Surely, they believed that it was the end of time.

The Jesus followers of the early church believed that Jesus would return any moment, but he didn’t.  All the signs were there of false prophets, earthquakes, famines, plagues, persecution, and devastation.  It must have seemed like the end of time and that Jesus would be coming back to establish the eternal kingdom on earth, but it still didn’t happen.

Jesus doesn’t promise that we won’t suffer; in fact, he assures us that choosing to follow him will actually bring us more suffering, alienation, and hardship.  What he does promise is that he will be with us.  Luke 21:19 hold this promise:  “By your endurance you will gain your souls.”  (NRSV).  The thing that always assures me is that Jesus knows what I’m going through in my every day life as well as what it is like for others to suffer.  He gets it!

He knows what it is like to lose a father to death (even though we don’t read about that in the scriptures, his earthly father Joseph clearly is out of the picture by the time Jesus begins his ministry).  Jesus knows what it is like to laugh, play, cry, grieve, be betrayed by friends, love others, be an outcast, be a leader, be abused, and any number of other human experiences because he WAS human.  He was God in the flesh, and because Jesus experience the full gamut of human life, God also understands what we are going through.  Jesus is with us all the way on this journey.  “. . . I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict.”  (v. 15 NRSV).

When the 9/11 attacks happened, people flocked to the churches.  Some were terrified and seeking answers.  Many have since wandered away, not satisfied or willing to make a complete commitment to Christ.  And yet, perhaps some seeds were planted so that the next time their world seemed to be coming to and end such as the death of a loved one, loss of job, or illness, they might have a sense of the presence of Jesus with them.

Our family is dealing with my mother’s Alzheimer’s Disease.  This past week, we moved her to a long term care facility.  For my dad, it was a heart wrenching decision, and for my siblings and me, it was so hard to see them going through this.  But they both have a strong faith that is helping them get through this – along with our support and care.  Last summer, Mom and I had a conversation during one of her moments of clarity when she told me she talked to God all the time and wanted to be with God.  She said that she would see her parents and was ready to go.  I pray, for her sake, that she will have her prayer answered soon.

For us, as a family, it may seem like the end, but through our faith and drawing together as a family, we recognize the presence of Christ in our midst as we take this journey.  The essence of who my mother is here on earth has gradually faded away, but her soul is strong.  My dad is strong, and at 90 years old, he has great wisdom and perseverance.  I see the presence of God personally in them and in my siblings who are all strong in faith, and I’m grateful for God’s love in our lives.

Do not be terrified, Jesus said.  My mom isn’t terrified.  For her, the return of Christ will be when she meets him face to face in the near future.  For the rest of us, it’s a matter of faith and trust.  We don’t know the future, but we do know that Jesus has already gone on ahead of us and has paved the way, and he is with us throughout our lives and through all of the world.  Thanks be to God!

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