Friday, March 30, 2018

We Wish to See Jesus
(A Good Friday Meditation)

Throughout history people have looked for the meaning of life, have wished to see or know God. As Jesus was attending Passover and approaching his death, a group of Gentiles approached Philip and said, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Jesus’ answer to this request allows all of us “to see Jesus” more clearly.

The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.  Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. (John 12:23-26)

Six Centuries before Jesus, the Hebrew Prophet, Jeremiah, proclaimed:

The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. . .this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. . .for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more. (31:31-34)

Like Jesus after him, Jeremiah was helping us to see the face of God. To see a God who loves us as we are and will lead us more fully into God’s own heart. In Psalm 51 we see even more deeply into the heart of God and how God seeks to change our own hearts.

  7 For behold, you look for truth deep within me, and will make me understand wisdom secretly.
  8 Purge me from my sin, and I shall be pure; wash me, and I shall be clean indeed.
  9 Make me hear of joy and gladness, that the body you have broken may rejoice.
10 Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquities.
11 Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.
12 Cast me not away from your presence and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
13 Give me the joy of your saving help again and sustain me with your bountiful Spirit.

The Psalmist reminds us that God is not only with us, but that God is within us: that God is in our heads and in our hearts, that God’s presence is with us forever and that through the Holy Spirit God uses us to share that presence with all those around us.

“Sir, we wish to see Jesus, we wish to see God”

Perhaps a hymn attributed to fifth century bishop and missionary to Ireland, Patrick, sums up the desire and reality of seeing and knowing Jesus, better than anyone.

Christ be with me, Christ within me, Christ Behind me, Christ before me, Christ beside me, Christ to win me, Christ to comfort and restore me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ in quiet, Christ in danger, Christ in hearts of all that love me, Christ in mouth of friend and stranger. (St. Patrick’s Breastplate)

“Sir, we wish to see Jesus!”

Thursday, March 29, 2018

The Passion of the Christ--Not the Movie

Join me on a journey to Jerusalem at Passover in the year of our Lord 33. We see Jesus’ Triumphant Entry and how people praised him as the king who came in the name of the Lord and spread their cloaks and leafy branches along the road for him. All well and good, but I want to suggest that as important as this was, it was not “the Triumphant Entry” that actually took place on that day. I suggest that the “Triumphant Entry” actually took place from the West and stared Pontius Pilate rather than Jesus. Passover was an exciting, crowded and potentially volatile and dangerous time in Jerusalem. Jews from all over the Mediterranean and Middle East gathered to make their annual sacrifices, renew their faith and enjoy time with friends, old and new.

The Emperor of Rome made sure that Jerusalem was secured by legions of soldiers on foot and horseback. These soldiers along with Pilate, most likely on a strong white stallion, made up the “Triumphant Entry” into Jerusalem from the coast. Jesus and his motley crew, on the other hand came in from the East, with Jesus, not on a mighty steed, but on a donkey. Yes, on a donkey. I believe Jesus’ entry was, in fact, an act of protest, an act of resistance against the worldly and religious forces which were exploiting and oppressing the people of God.  As the people proclaimed “hosanna, blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord,” they were proclaiming that Jesus is Lord. And, if Jesus is Lord, Caesar is not.  Jesus proclaimed the Kingdom of God, and if God is King, Caesar is not. The very next day, according to the Gospel of Mark, Jesus enters the temple and drives out the Money Changers, the sheep and the cows and those who sell them.

This is exactly the kind of disturbance the empire did not want, and therefore the kind of disturbance the Chief Priests wanted to avoid. This attracted too much attention and could bring about persecution for all Jews. A plot was developed to have Jesus betrayed and executed.

As I reflect on Jesus’ act of resistance and his courage in his time, I reflect on resistance by some of his followers in our day. Martin Luther King Jr.’s resistance by his work with the Memphis Sanitation Workers in April 1968, and Archbishop Oscar Romero’s work for the poor of El Salvador in 1980. And just the day before Palm Sunday, a major act of resistance to bring changes to gun laws and save lives of Americans, participated in by millions of, mostly young people and lead by students from Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida,.

Jesus warned his disciples that he would be tortured and crucified by the powers of this world. Martin Luther King, Jr. proclaimed that as desirable as longevity was that there were more important things, and proclaimed, “I have been to the mountain top and have seen the Promised Land; mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.” Archbishop Romero worked tirelessly against poverty, social injustice, assassinations and torture. All three were executed or assassinated.

So far the March for Our Lives organizers have not been killed but they have been the subject of vicious lies, made up stories and photo shopped posts on social media. Yet they have not backed down.

Jesus was persecuted and executed because he proclaimed by word and example that the kingdom of God was for all people. He turned over tables and spoke truth to power. His church has been and will continue to be persecuted when we do the same. And yet, do the same, we must!

Blessed is he who comes in the Name of the Lord! Blessed are we who follow him! Amen!

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Zeal for your house will consume me: Jesus goes to the Temple

Early in Jesus’ ministry, according to John’s Gospel, he and his disciples head to Jerusalem for the Passover celebration. Jesus encounters people in the temple selling animals for sacrifice and changing money into the “coin of the realm.”(See John 2:13-22)  Neither of these activities was inherently evil, and in fact, was necessary for worship in the Temple for people travelling long distances and from different countries with different currencies. Nonetheless, Jesus was not very happy. I suspect he saw that the commercial enterprise had overshadowed the importance of worship. Scripture tells us that Jesus was so upset that he wove a whip of cords and drove the sheep and cattle out of the temple, turned over the tables of the Money Changers and poured out their coins. The House of Prayer for all nations had become a Marketplace.

When we ask ourselves, “What would Jesus do, (WWJD)?” we must realize that the answer just might involve turning over tables and driving injustice out of the Temple. It might involve fighting injustice in the world and working for the peace and mercy of God’s Kingdom.

By placing this episode at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, John sets the theme of Jesus’ entire life and mission. Mark, Matthew and Luke place it at the end of Jesus’ life and here it leads directly to his execution.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor, also faced evil in the world and like Jesus, chose to “turn over tables and fight injustice.” In the late 1930’s Bonhoeffer had a teaching fellowship at Union Seminary in New York. Instead of staying in America where he was safe, he went back to Germany to work against the evil that was raising its head in his native land. He was arrested and imprisoned for his involvement in a plot to bring down the supreme leader, Adolph Hitler, who was destroying the German Nation and the world. In 1945, a few days before the prison was liberated, Bonhoeffer was hanged. He was 39 years old.

Bonhoeffer’s words reflect the life and the words of Jesus: “Silence in the face of evil is in itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak, not to act is to act.”

Now to another episode in Jesus’ life, recorded in Luke 4:17-21: “The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to Jesus and he read: ‘the Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor, He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, and to let the oppressed go free—to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’”
If Jesus had just stopped there, sat down and kept his mouth shut everything would have been fine. But no, he had to say something—“today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Most of you know the story, the people take Jesus out of the village to the brow of the cliff and attempt to throw him off and kill him.

Jesus, Bonhoeffer and many others have demonstrated by their lives and their deaths that proclaiming truth to power, fighting against injustice and for peace, and proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favor do not often turn out well for those engaged in these enterprises.

We are called by God to be like Jesus, to be like Bonhoeffer: WWJD? He might just turn over some tables—he might just replace the temple with the Kingdom of God—and he might just be killed for doing it.

WWJHUSD (What Would Jesus Have Us Do)? He might just ask us to turn over a few tables—he might just ask us to replace the status quo with the Kingdom of God. And yes, we too might just be killed for doing it.

“Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in us the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and we shall be created; and so you shall renew the face of the Earth. Amen.”

Friday, March 2, 2018

The God who Gathers, Rebuilds and Heals

Amidst the trials and tribulations and breakdowns of our lives, our God continues to gather His people together, to restore and rebuild and heal lives and nations and peoples. Psalm 147 celebrates one such occasion in the life of Judah, the Sixth Century BCE return of the exiles from Babylon and the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the Temple. It gives us a model of hope for all of us who are God’s people. I share a portion of that psalm with you.

Praise the Lord! How good it is to sing praises to our God; for he is gracious, and a song of praise is fitting. The Lord builds up Jerusalem; he gathers the outcasts of Israel. He heals the broken-hearted, and binds up their wounds. He determines the number of the stars; he gives to all of them their names. Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; his understanding is beyond measure. The Lord lifts up the downtrodden; he casts the wicked to the ground. 

God is a restorer and Psalm 147 offers us a vision of a world restored, no matter how deep the ruptures. This is a vital message for all people in our world today. In Chapter one of Mark’s Gospel, we see the same power of God working through Jesus to heal, rebuild and restore. “That evening at sundown Jesus healed Simon Peter’s Mother-in-law, who then cared for Jesus and the disciples. The people in the village brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons.” The next morning, even though “everyone was searching for him,” he called the disciples together and explained that it was time to head out to the neighboring towns “to proclaim the message there as well, for that is what I came to do.”

Jesus, like the Psalmist, preaches the Good News of the coming Kingdom of God, by gathering, restoring and healing. That is why he came into the world. Through the ultimate miracle of His death and resurrection, and the power of the Holy Spirit promised to us by the resurrected Christ, we continue to be healed today, so that God through us will continue to gather, rebuild, heal and restore. As God heals each of us of our broken hearts, bodies and souls, we receive the power of the Holy Spirit to bring healing to those around us, and to the whole world.

This is God’s Good News for us today!