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Posts tagged ‘Jesus’

Being Short

Zacchaeus . . . was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature.  Luke 19:3 (CEB)

I know what it’s like to have trouble seeing over the crowd.  Even though I’m not exceptionally short – average 5’5″ – there are a lot of people taller than me.  So I can understand Zacchaeus’ frustration in wanting to see this famous rabbi who was passing through Jericho.

Some might say that Zach didn’t have the right to be around Jesus since he was a tax collector and had cheated so many people.  It’s doubtful that he even had friends, especially not Jewish friends.  Tax Collectors were considered some of the worst sinners because they collected the taxes for the Roman government and over charged the citizens so they could keep the rest.

Rome didn’t care how much they charged as long as the government got their share.  So, even in his “outcast” and “shunned” state, Zach still wanted to see this man named Jesus about whom everyone was talking.  He climbed a tree.

When my younger brother was around nine or ten years old, he was always climbing trees, and we finally asked him why he kept climbing them.  His answer was that he could see so much more – it was a “cool view.”  Zach climbed so he could see more – actually so he could SEE Jesus.  There’s nothing more frustrating than not being able to have a glimpse of a famous person!

Yet, Zach got more than he bargained for because Jesus stopped right below the tree and called Zach down.  His day had started out so normal, ordinary, and common but his life totally changed when Jesus encountered him.  Jesus even knew his name – we don’t know why he knew it, but he did.  Think about what that meant to someone who had been scorned and even hated!

Zach changed his way of living by returning four times what he had taken to those he defrauded and gave half his possessions to the poor.  The indication from the Greek is that it was not a one time thing, but an on-going commitment.  Zach went from being a nobody who was trying to be noticed to a somebody who really didn’t care anymore if he was noticed.  Meeting Jesus changed him and his life.

When was the last time you recognized Jesus speaking to you?

How have you changed since welcoming Jesus into your life?

In what ways have your priorities changed?

How will you carry on that change?


On a Journey

“. . . magi came from the East to Jerusalem.  They asked, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews?  We’ve seen his star in the east, and we’ve come to honor him.”  Matthew 2:1b-2 (CEB)

There is so much about this passage that brings up questions for many of us:

Who were these magi (and what IS a “magi” anyway)?

What did they see in a stars?

How did they figure all this out?

Is this a real story or Matthew’s interpretation of a Savior for ALL the world?

Is it a segue to the slaughter of the innocents or the holy family’s escape to Egypt?

I’m sure there are plenty of answers, but it seems to me that we need to look beyond historical significance into the journey itself.  Three (or maybe more since Matthew doesn’t really say how many) wise ones set out on a journey.  They didn’t know what was in store for them, they only knew that there was something significant that motivated them to travel many miles to try to find a special king.

They stumbled into the paranoid King Herod which set up a series of events following their departure, but their intention was to find a king.  Imagine their surprise when they found a humble home with a two year old child being held by a peasant girl and guarded by her carpenter husband.  The scriptures don’t tell us what they thought and lead us to conclude that it didn’t matter.

The mission they had taken up was to find this “king child” and honor him.  Were they changed when they set out for home?  Did their lives take on a new meaning?  Did God in Christ touch them so they were never the same again?  We don’t know how their side of the story ends, but we know that their journey is a lot like ours.

From the moment we “meet” Jesus, we begin a journey.  Sometimes we turn away and reject him as not real, not the “true” thing.  Sometimes folks look elsewhere for their god.  Others start on the journey and stay with it for a while, but then wander away.  Some are on the journey, but they don’t know what they are looking for in the end.

Many have stayed on track, though.  Many faithful folks have started and taken the journey to kneel in front of the Christ child and to follow him to the cross and beyond.  That doesn’t mean that they haven’t taken detours along the way, but they have returned and continue to praise Jesus and try to live the kind of life that he taught and lived – to the best of their ability.

Maybe you know some of those saints who, although imperfect, were changed forever once they encountered Christ.  I invite you to pause and think about them right now.  (Pause)  What have you learned from them?  What example have they set?  What of their qualities would you like to incorporate into your own life?

As we celebrate Epiphany – God breaking into our world in Jesus, the Christ, and, as we start a new year, how will we all keep on keeping on the journey with Christ in our hearts?  It’s a new kind of way to make a New Year’s resolution!  Happy New Year!

What’s so “good” about Good Friday?

Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.’  Having said this, he breathed his last.”  Luke 23:46 (NRSV)

Good Friday was a day I dreaded when I was growing up.  I was raised in the American Lutheran tradition (now part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church).  In the Midwest, we didn’t have a February or April vacation like we do here on the East Coast of the United States.  What we did have as a spring break was a long week-end around Easter.  On Maundy Thursday, we were dismissed from school early, and we had Good Friday and Easter Monday off. 

Good Friday meant spending three hours in church for the afternoon during the church’s tradition of 1-3 pm when Jesus hung on the cross.  I remember one of the songs we sang was made up of what I thought had to be a hundred verses, and we heard scripture, then sang one of the verses.  Good Friday was far from good for me as a young child, but then, I was basing it on the amount of time I had to sit during what I considered a boring and useless worship service.

I really didn’t get the significance of Good Friday until I was much older.  Oh, I knew that it was the day Jesus had died on the cross, but on Easter we celebrated his resurrection when he was alive again, so it was no big deal, really – right?  What was so “good” about Good Friday?

As a pastor I have had a number of people ask me that question, and I encourage them to think about what happened on that day and why we remember it.  It isn’t so much that it was a good thing that Jesus was tried and crucified, or that he was betrayed by one of his disciples and abandoned by the rest.  That’s something that’s really not so great.  Yet, most of us can probably understand the feeling of betrayal and abandonment in our lives.  Jesus obviously did, too.

What was the “good” thing was that Jesus’ death on the cross meant that we were reconciled to God, that his death opened the door for us to receive forgiveness of sins.  Sin is nasty stuff.  The world is a sinful place.  We all are in need of God’s grace and forgiveness.  In the gospels we read that, at Jesus’ death, the curtain was torn in two – symbolic of God’s presence being opened to the world, including Gentiles (and that includes most of us).  The Jewish thought was that God lived in the temple, and that the Holy of Holies was where God could be found.  Only priests were allowed to enter and only at certain times and after following certain purification rituals.  The priests were the intercessors for the people of Israel.

Jesus death on the cross ripped apart the idea that God was inaccessible to ordinary human beings.  Jesus was God in the flesh – touchable, accessible, even huggable.  He made God real to us.  When we look at Jesus, we see God which makes it a little more tangible for us.  When Jesus died, God symbolically burst forth into ALL the world, for ALL people.  God could not be contained in the Holy of Holies, not in human form, not in our own little boxes into which we try to put God, not into anything restrictive.  God is everywhere, and always available. 

What was “good” about Good Friday?  God in Christ broke the bonds of sin for humanity, and on Easter, we are set free even from death.  That’s Good News! 

The Start of Something Big

“When [Jesus] entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, ‘Who is this?’  The crowds were saying, ‘This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.’ ”  (Matthew 21:10-11 NRSV)

Crowd hysteria – you know what I mean.  It’s when someone famous or maybe even infamous arrives in our area, and tons of people go to catch a glimpse or wave, maybe even with the hope of getting an autograph.  For most of us, it’s probably not a huge deal, but we get caught up in the excitement and want to be part of the “goings on.”

During our life time, it’s probably a very LOW possibility that we will meet someone famous.  I remember being at Disney World in Florida and eating at one of the star restaurants there (because it came with our package) when there was a flurry of activity as a group of people entered the dining area and were seated.  I looked at the man thinking I recognized him, and then realized when I saw the woman with him that it was indeed former President Jimmy Carter with his wife and family.  No one bothered them, and of course, the Secret Service made sure they were able to eat in peace.

I like to bring up the fact that I went to college with Mary Hart who used to host Entertainment Tonight, and she even said “hi” to me once when we passed each other on campus!  But that was pretty much the extent of our encounter.  So, what is it about celebrities that make us all a-twitter?  Is it because we really see that they DO exist or that we watch them on the news or other television shows and they become familiar to us?  Maybe it’s a little envy that we, too, would like to be rich and famous (I don’t REALLY care about being rich or famous, but I would like to have a tenth of the money so I could help others!).

Since Jesus didn’t have the news media, television, and tended not to sign autographs, what was it that led people that day in Jerusalem to throw down their cloaks and palm branches for him to ride into the city as if he was a king?  Were they drawn along in the crowd.  That’s perhaps the most logical explanation since verse 10 shows them asking, “Who is this?”  They didn’t know.  What I didn’t realize in all the years I have preached on this passage (where have I been?) was that on the other side of the city was another parade taking place.

Pilate and his soldiers apparently had a parade and show of power, carrying their swords, decked out in full armor, riding their magnificent steads, and making a statement that Rome was in charge, and the Jewish holiday of Passover was only taking place at the “good will” of the Emperor.  Their show of power and might was to remind the people that they really didn’t have a lot to say about what was happening in their lives or their city or their world.  Rome was in charge.

Jesus’ entrance was not showy, but humble.  He rode a simple donkey, wore no armor, and smiled sadly at the crowds.  He knew that this was only the beginning of something much bigger than Rome’s show, than Passover, than anything that would take place in the week to follow.  This was the last week of his life, and he began it by sort of “thumbing his nose” at the Romans.  The ultimate message was that Rome would never prevail, and that God would.  In the end, God had and still has, the final say.  Good will always overrule evil and oppression even though it might not seem that way.

The biggest thing of all is that God overcame death so that we might have life.  That’s the start of something big that we remember every year at this time.  During Holy Week, I hope we all can journey with Jesus and see what he endured for our sake and how God overcame sin and death.  It makes our Easter celebration even more joyous to have taken the journey through the temple clearing, to the Upper Room, in the Garden of Gethsemane, at the trial of Jesus, and kneeling at the foot of the cross.  May this week be holy in many ways as we journey toward Easter and the celebration of the resurrection.  Amen.

Getting Ready for Vacation

So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.”  Colossians 3:1-3 (NRSV)

As I prepare to take a two week vacation, I found this passage from this week’s lectionary readings interesting.  There are times when I feel as if I concentrate so much on my work as a pastor that I miss things going on around me.  People are careful not to use foul language when they speak with me, at least in anything church related, so when I go to the grocery store or other stores, I regularly hear the name of Jesus Christ used, but certainly not in prayer.  (An even more repulsive and useless word is the “F” bomb, but that’s another whole story.)

So, maybe I set my mind on things that are above a lot – I mean 24/7 most of the time.  Yet, I see the world’s hurt and pain so clearly in my life and the lives of my parishioners, and regardless of preaching regularly on living counter-culturally, the world’s expectations and socially accepted patterns become the dominant force in the church.  I returned home from a meeting last night that held so much pain about something that had happened in the church – misconduct by parishioner on parishioner – that I’m afraid it will take months – maybe years – to recover. 

I’m not feeling adequate for the task.  We need someone savvy in counseling capabilities or a recovery expert – actually, we have one – Jesus, the Christ.  Scripture once again leads me to Jesus, to the greatest healer of all, and in conversations with several people, we were able to come up with ideas that might help start the healing process and bring the folks back together again.

I also have to remember that things like this take time, and some people will never recover from it in that church context, so they will go somewhere else, or, unfortunately, give up on church all together.  I’m not sure I understand why we can’t get the message to live in the world but not of it, but it’s also clear to me in reading all of Colossians 3:1-11 that these issues aren’t new – they have been around for thousands of years because humanity is often broken and hurting.

Jesus knows about being broken and hurting.  The Good News for us is that he overcame “the world” and can bring healing and wholeness to us, to our churches, to the world through us.  We set our minds on things above in order to understand the power of that kind of love and how it can change the circumstances around us. 

So, I’m ready for vacation in spite of all the work I need to do to get ready (it’s a month’s worth of work to go away for two weeks!).  But there are times when we all need a break from the usual routine in order to refresh and renew, to do something different, so we can keep on keeping on in the ways we live and love in the world.

Jesus took the time to be away, to refresh and renew – we have no greater example than that.  I will not write for two weeks, but I will be busy seeing my family and enjoying God’s beautiful creation.  Thanks be to God.

The “Cost” of Pentecost

Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”  Acts 2:21 NRSV

The Holy Day of Pentecost has been often overlooked or ignored as not that important, but it is important in that it recognized and signifies the birth of the church and issues a challenge to the church in all time.

We most often associate the powerful wind that roared into town and tongues resembling fire resting on the heads of the apostles.  In our churches we wear red, maybe bring in geraniums (for the red), have fans blowing to remind us of the wind, and retell the story with an emphasis on the first 13 verses of Acts 2.

Interestingly, the scripture readers for the day (sometimes including clergy) are terrified about all the names that are listed in those first 13 verses, so they miss emphasizing the remainder of the passage which contains Peter’s sermon and invitation to the assembly.

Just to back up a little, the apostles were given the ability to speak in different languages so that the ethnically diverse group of people in Jerusalem could understand the good news of the gospel in their own tongue.  This wasn’t a moment of what is known as glossolalia where people are filled with the Holy Spirit and speak in an entirely unknown language that has to be interpreted.  This is a gift of speaking in another language so that those who didn’t speak Aramaic would be able to hear the message in their own language.

Peter’s sermon reminded the listeners that the prophet Joel had envisioned this day when everyone – EVERYONE – would be able to praise and glorify God in Jesus Christ.  Peter’s boldness was nothing but a gift of the Spirit since he had denied Jesus after Jesus was arrested.  Peter’s newfound send of courage came from God and the church was born.

In our celebrations of Pentecost, we often concentrate on the church and the gift of the church.  Somehow it becomes all about us again, but the purpose of Pentecost and the birth of the church has to do with how the church points to God.  In the last verse of this section of Acts 2, which is written above, we are reminded that we are called to move outwardly – toward others, to invite others to know Jesus, to welcome him into their hearts and believe in him.

The United Methodist Church states that our work is to “go make disciples.”  So the church is not only called to nurture, teach, and grow together, but also to send each other forth in the name of Jesus, the Christ, in order to make disciples.  We open doors and plant seeds so that others can come to know Christ.  That is the purpose of the church.

Pentecost is a continuing event in the life of the church and in the world.  The Spirit is at work, and we are invited to partners with God through the Spirit’s work in the world.  May it be so!

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