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Archive for May, 2016

What Makes Us Worthy?

“. . . the centurion sent friends to say to Jesus, ‘Lord, don’t be bothered.  I don’t deserve to have you come under my roof.  In fact, I didn’t even consider myself worthy to come to you.  Just say the word and my servant will be healed.’ ” (Luke 7:6b-7 CEB)

What makes us worthy?  How do we determine if we are worthy of something, someone, or some gift?  Who decides that?

Jesus had been summoned to a centurion’s house with the request to heal his servant.  As he walked to the man’s house, friends of the centurion came to Jesus with the message that the centurion didn’t feel worthy to have Jesus come to his house, and he didn’t feel worthy to even approach Jesus.

The healing ministry that Jesus had brought crowds and crowds of people who were seeking healing for themselves or others.  Most of them just wanted to be whole or well again.  Because Jesus often accompanied his healing with words like, “Your faith has made you well,” or “Your sins are forgiven,” he was often in trouble with the temple leaders who complained that only God could heal or forgive sins.

They didn’t understand that they were encountering God in the flesh.  Jesus’ power and authority came from God alone, not from human events.  He didn’t go to seminary or learn the art of healing touch from anyone.  His ministry started in the Galilee area where it continued for the larger part of his three years as an itinerant rabbi.

Jesus made waves because he ignored religious protocol of his day, and he healed in places and situations where the temple leaders would never deign to go.  Touching lepers, talking with tax collectors and prostitutes, healing the blind and lame, helping people to regain their dignity and be reinstated in their society was what Jesus did.

When the Jewish leaders who didn’t like Jesus became too threatened by him, they conspired to get rid of him, and they eventually did.  He died on a cross, carrying the weight of our sins – the sins of the whole world.  He died so that all of us could be forgiven and restored to right relationship with God.  His resurrection conquered death, and brought hope to the world.

That’s how we are made worthy, even when we are the MOST unworthy.  God forgives, loves, accepts, and welcomes us over and over again.  We are made worthy through Jesus because God loves us that much.

How do you accept God’s forgiveness?  Do you continue to beat yourself up even after you know you are forgiven?

In what ways do you offer forgiveness, acceptance and love to all God’s children?

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The Community of God

“. . . we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ . . . the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”  Romans 5:1b and 5:5b (CEB)

This coming Sunday is Trinity Sunday when we remember God, the three-in-one.  There are many ways of saying this interesting theological idea:  Father, Son and Holy Spirit; Creator, Christ, and Spirit just to name two.  What does this all tell us, anyway?

I think many of us struggle to understand, much less explain the doctrine of the Trinity.  When I was in seminary, my worship professor used to say that it is God in Community.

How do we explain that there are three Beings who interact with us in our lives, in our churches, in the world, and yet they are made of the same substance and all God?  It seems like a contradiction?

Years ago someone compared it to Water, Ice, and Vapor – made of the same substance but in different forms and with different interactions in the world.  I guess that helps.

Maybe it’s helpful to think of the Trinity as God entering our lives in a variety of ways and caring for us in many roles.  I mean, if you think of it, we all have different roles in our lives.  To some, we are daughter or son, mother or father, aunt or uncle, teacher, pastor, office workers, truck driver, salesperson, clerk at the store, or any number of roles that we are called to be.  Yet, we are one person.

It’s probably not the most helpful idea, but at least we have a sense that God works with us in all of life, in every circumstance, and throughout our lives.  We, as the Church, carry on the work of Christ in the world where we point to Jesus as Savior and head of the church.  The Holy Spirit inspires and leads us, reminding us of Jesus’ teachings.  God works through it all to create and keep on creating a world where God’s love can be felt and received.

The Community of God is Triune, and it is a large group of people around the world who live as God’s children to try to make the world a better place.  After centuries of existence, the Church of Jesus Christ still has a lot of work to do, but we aren’t alone!  The Triune God works with us and through us to keep on trying, keep on living as God’s children, and keep on changing the world one person at a time.

How do you experience God in your life?

In what ways have you been able to see the many ways God interacts with you?

How has your church reflected the Community of God to others?

Wind and Fire

Suddenly a sound from heaven like the howling of a fierce wind filled the entire house where they were sitting.  They saw what seemed to be individual flames of fire alighting on each one of them.  They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them to speak.”  (Acts 2:2-4 CEB)

God certainly made a powerful entrance through the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost!  One could hardly ignore the fierce wind and tongues of fire that ushered in the presence and power of the Spirit in the life of the disciples, and thus, the life of the Church of Jesus Christ.

We often call this the birthday of the church – at least it’s the remembrance of the birth of the Church in the world.  As in many families, the Family of God has had it’s share of in-fighting, disagreements, divisions, and angry exchanges over the centuries.  Even back to the Council of Nicaea, the church founders argued over what was the correct interpretation of the scriptures and doctrine of the Christian Church.

There are times today when I just long for the Holy Spirit to “fix” it.  As my mother used to say rather loudly at times, “Why can’t we all just get along?!”  I suppose it’s still human nature to believe that our way is the only way, so that becomes translated into church polity, theology, and Biblical interpretation.

Yet, there are many, many signs that the Church is still doing the work of Jesus in the world.  In spite of our differences, we see many ecumenical gatherings and efforts to communicate with respect, honoring each other as brothers and sisters in Christ.  After all, it IS Christ who is the head of the church and the one who draws us together into the family of God.

“We are one in the Spirit; we are one in the Lord . . . and they’ll know we are Christians by our love.” is from the song They’ll Know We are Christians by Our Love by Peter Scholtes (found in the United Methodist Faith We Sing, #2223).  It is that unity (not uniformity) that keeps us moving forward as the Church of Jesus Christ.

That is the wind and fire that continues to flow through the world through churches (the people) who are working in the world to carry on Jesus’ work in feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, giving a cup of cold water to the thirsty, visiting those in prison, caring for the sick, showing compassion to the outcasts, ministering to the needy, etc.

WE make a difference, not because of our differences, but because of our unity in Christ.  Let us celebrate the diversity of gifts we have in the variety of cultures, nations, denominations, and beliefs, knowing that we truly are “one in the Spirit,” and that we can bring Christ to the world through BEING the church in the world:  wind and fire, come to empower us over and over again!

Where have you seen the church at work?

How have you been part of it?

“He Ascended into Heaven”

After Jesus said these things, as they were watching, he was lifted up and a cloud took him out of their sight.  While he was going away and as they were staring toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood next to them.  They said, ‘Galileans, why are you standing here, looking toward heaven?  This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way that you saw him go into heaven.’”  (Acts 1:9-11 CEB)

Right.  Jesus floated up into heaven and disappeared into a cloud.  It is a story I have heard since I was a child.  I guess I just accepted it as it was until recently.  Maybe I just didn’t spend a lot of time theologizing about it because the vehicle for Jesus to go to heaven didn’t really matter to me.

Maybe it really is what he told the disciples BEFORE he went into heaven, in Acts 1:8 – “. . . you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (CEB)  I wonder if we really read that commission as part of our charge to carry on Jesus’ work in the world, or if we miss it because we are so enamored with the way Jesus left.

I was reading some commentaries this week, and the phrase that came to mind was, “Beam me up, Scotty.”  Do you remember that?  The Star Trek television show was science fiction, but maybe it was inspired by Jesus departure from this earth?  After all, earlier in the story, Jesus had walked through locked doors and yet had a physical body.  The disciples could touch him, and he ate with them.  There was some strange molecular transformation that was apparently going on.

In the Star Trek episodes, Captain Kirk would be on some planet and need to return to the space ship where Scotty was in control of the instrument panel.  All he had to do was move a lever, and the captain would re-molecularize in the “beaming tube.”  Voila!  There he was.

Okay, so that’s a little far fetched!  Ultimately, the point of this story is that the disciples – including us – have been given our mission and ministry – to carry on Jesus’ work in the world.  He had to leave so we could become his church on this earth.  The way he departed isn’t really as important as the instructions he gave us.

At the end of Matthew, he said, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything that I’ve commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20a CEB)  The call is to bring the love of God in Christ Jesus to the world.  It is to trust that the Holy Spirit guides and leads us as we remember and live out Jesus’ teachings.

In the midst of nasty remarks, vicious rhetoric, and political divisions, our country has a lot of thinking to do about where Jesus calls us to be and how Jesus calls us to live.  In our churches, we have a lot of work to do to spread the good news of God’s love to others, and sometimes we need to start within the congregation itself.

Regardless, Jesus isn’t physically here, but he has sent the Spirit to inspire us, nudge us, help us to figure things out, and remember what we are called to be and who we are called to be as God’s children.  May we live faithfully following Jesus to the best of our abilities.

How have you “heard” the Spirit’s voice in your life?

Where does God call you to be in ministry – in your job, school, home, neighborhood?

In what ways can you bring God’s love to others?

 

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