Connecting–Belief and Disbelief: a Reflection on Acts 2:17, 21, an excerpt from Brennan Manning, The Importance of Being Foolish: How to Think Like Jesus (New York City, New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 2005), 166-167, and John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15

The better you know yourself, you will make better choices.[1] There’s a story about choices and it goes like this:

A burglar broke into a house one night. He shined his flashlight around, looking for valuables when a voice in the dark said, “Jesus knows you’re here.” He nearly jumped out of his skin, clicked his flashlight off, and froze. When he heard nothing more, he shook his head and continued. Just as he pulled the stereo out, so he could disconnect the wires, clear as a bell he heard “Jesus is watching you.” Startled, he shined his light around frantically, looking for the source of the voice. Finally, in the corner of the room, his flashlight beam came to rest on a parrot. “Did you say that?” he hissed at the parrot. “Yes”, the parrot confessed, then squawked, “I’m just trying to warn you that he’s watching you.” The burglar relaxed. “Warn me, huh? Who in the world are you?” “Moses,” replied the bird. “Moses?” the burglar laughed. “What kind of people would name a bird Moses?” “The kind of people who would name a Rottweiler Jesus.”[2]

Being known by God and knowing God is the key to knowing yourself. And thus, better decision making when presented with a choice.

At the time of our reading from the Acts of the Apostles, a celebration was upon Jerusalem, one which took place every year, fifty days after Passover, the “Feast of Weeks.” The “Feast of Weeks” was the offering of barley sheaf. The people would gather at the temple to thank God for the harvest. During the “Feast of Weeks” the disciples were gathered along with all devout Jews who had made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem.  The Holy Spirit was poured out on all humanity just as Jesus promised. All who were gathered were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in tongues. Peter preached the good news. Many began to follow Jesus. The Church began.As Emmanuel Y. Lartey, Professor of Pastoral Theology, Care and Counseling at Candler School of Theology, Emory University, notes, “The community of Christ’s faithful people will be connected to God and one another by the Spirit’s work of guiding, leading, revealing, and reminding…Through the enabling presence of the Spirit, every need for care and support we have in all of life’s difficult and painful circumstances can be met.”[3]

Christians renamed the “Feast of Weeks,” Pentecost. Pentecost occurs fifty days after Jesus’ resurrection. The Church observes Pentecost, because of the miracle of God’s Spirit being poured out upon all humanity. The Spirit leads us into all the truth. The way we know truth is through the miracle of the Spirit called forgiveness. Through the forgiveness we receive from God, in and through Jesus Christ, and others…the forgiveness we give others and ourselves…truth sets us free. Brennan Manning inThe Importance of Being Foolish: How to Think Like Jesus writes,

We cannot possess the mind of Christ until we recognize ourselves as forgiven enemies of God and in like manner extend forgiveness and reconciliation to our own enemies. Jesus Christ crucified is not merely a heroic example to the church; he is the power of God, a living force transforming our lives through his Word: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).[4]

Receive forgiveness. Forgive others.

Choose belief not disbelief. You are known by God and can know God. The Holy Spirit is God living with us.Believe that the Holy Spirit is before you, above you, behind you, beneath you, beside you, and inside you. Call on Jesus and be saved. Believe and be filled with the Holy Spirit.

[1]Idea gleaned from Gregg Braden, The Turning Point (Carlsbad, California: Hay House, Inc., 2014), 15.

[2]Taken from “Timeline Photos”on Facebook, April 27, 2013.

[3]Emmanuel Y. Lartey in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors, Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 3 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 24.

[4]Brennan Manning, The Importance of Being Foolish:How to Think Like Jesus(New York City, New York: HarperCollins, 2005), 166-167.

Connecting–Lack of Renown is Wondrous: a Reflection on Psalm 1, John 17:6-19, and Acts 1:15-17, 21-26

In my life, I’ve struggled with ambition. Oh, ambition is important, but when it controls one’s every move, it’s dangerous. Until October 2010, who I knew, what church I served, and how successful I was in my career was an inner drive that truly was destructive. My self-importance became controlling, pride was deeply rooted, and “image management” ruled the day. Although I could not keep all the balls in the air, I tried. I was determined to be self-sufficient. And then I was fired for plagiarism in three columns I wrote for the monthly church magazine. Coming up on my eighth anniversary, it was the best thing that ever happened to me. Should I say that my “renown” as a Presbyterian Church (USA) minister caught up to me?

The Hebrew word “Torah” is translated “law” in Psalm 1. The word “law,” however, does not capture the full meaning of Torah. Torah comes from the verb “to teach.” With that etymology, Torah implies the practice of instruction. Instruction captures a relationship between teacher and pupil. To be happy, one must be in relationship with the instruction of God. God is our teacher. We are God’s pupils. As trees are in relationship with “streams of water” and prosper, so will the people of God prosper as they are in relationship with God. According to Psalm 1, the wicked have yet to experience their salvation. Therein lays the urgency of our relationship with the instruction of God. We are to love others. Why? “…the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.”[1]Loving others, then, provides an opportunity for those who are not happy, the wicked, to be encountered by God and just perhaps turn away from “wickedness” and turn to righteousness.

In Acts 1, the disciples are regrouping after Jesus’ ascension. They are still fearful, yet a bit more confident and “down one.” Judas had hanged himself. And so, they tended to their organization from a leadership perspective. They were mindful of their ancestral roots…the twelve tribes of Israel…the twelve sons of Jacob. After hearing Peter’s sermon, the 120 members of the community of faith recommended Matthias and Justus. They cast lots. Casting lots was a method used by the Jews of the Old Testament and by Christian disciples prior to Pentecost to determine the will of God. Lots could be sticks with markings or stones with symbols that were thrown into a small area and then the result was interpreted.[2]Matthias was selected. He was not well-known. We do not hear anything else about Matthias, this new disciple, in the New Testament. As Barbara K. Lindblad notes, “…we can be grateful for the witness of those who are so little known.”[3]

How easy it is to have disdain for the seeming “nobody’s” in our midst. How arrogant of us. Richard Lischer in his book Open Secrets: A Spiritual Journey through a Country Church, writes about his coming to terms with having a PhD in theology and being bitter about being assigned to a small rural church in the middle of no-where. Lischer notes that in his first sermon he quoted James Joyce, Heidegger, Camus, and Walker Percy. Looking back on that first sermon and over the course of his tenure, Rev. Lischer realized that he failed to honor the ordinary people of faith who sat in the pews. There were the times they helped one another put up hay before the rains came, grieved when a neighbor lost his farm, and together, walked the fields every April, blessing the seeds before planting them. These are all signs of “church” that were worthy of mention in the Sunday homily.[4]Our everyday life occurrences are opportunities to be “church.” In the gospel reading, Jesus says when praying to his Father, “I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one…As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctifymyself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.”[5] 

Often, we lose the roll of the dice, just like Justus. I imagine, Justus continued to love Jesus and share his testimony with others. Often when I lose the roll of the dice, I stew in self-pity. How could I be overlooked, as if the rolling of the dice had any objective reality? Brennan Manning in The Importance of Being Foolish: How to Think Like Jesus writes,

The heart of God is Jesus’s hiding place, a strong protective space where God is near, where connection is renewed, where trust, love, and self-awareness never die but are continually rekindled. In times of opposition, rejection, hatred, and danger, Jesus retreats to that hiding place where he is loved. So essential is this connection that Jesus encourages his disciples to take up the same practice of rest and respite.[6]

Yes, we must go to that “hiding place” but only for a season. And then reengage the world with the good news of Jesus for eternal and abundant life. Stuff happens my friends, but the testimony of God’s love for us and others goes on. Christ is risen. He is risen indeed.

[1]Psalm 1:6

[2]This definition of “casting lots” was adapted from the Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry website, carm.org.

[3]Barbara K. Lundblad in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors, Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 2, 529.

[4]Some ideas in this paragraph adapted from Richard Lischer, Open Secrets: A Spiritual Journey through a Country Church (New York: Doubleday, 2001), 75.

[5]John 17:15, 18-19

[6]Brennan Manning, The Importance of Being Foolish:How to Think Like Jesus(New York City, New York: HarperCollins, 2005), 123-124.

Connecting–Hard Rock Traditions: a Reflection on John 15:9-17 and Acts 10:44-48

In the late 1940s, Charles Templeton was a close friend and preaching associate of BillyGraham. Over time, however, Templeton developed intellectual doubts. He questioned the authority of Scripture and other core Christian beliefs. Templeton abandoned his faith and even attempted to dissuade Billy Graham. He resigned from the ministry and became a novelist and news commentator. Templeton also wrote a critique of the Christian faith, Farewell to God: My Reasons for Rejecting the Christian Faith. Lee Strobel interviewed Charles Templeton for his book, The Case for Faith. Templeton was 83. In the interview, Templeton revealed some of the reasons he left the faith: “I started considering the plagues that sweep across parts of the planet and indiscriminately kill, more often than not, painfully, all kinds of people, the ordinary, the decent, and the rotten…it is not possible for an intelligent person to believe that there is a deity who loves.” Strobel then asked Templeton about Jesus. Templeton remarked: “He was the greatest human being who has ever lived. He was a moral genius. His ethical sense was unique… Everything good I know, everything decent I know, everything pure I know, I learned from Jesus. He is the most important human being who has ever existed. And if I may put it this way, I miss Him.”[1]

Do you have doubts and questions about Jesus? Relating to and not isolating ourselves from others and challenging situations creates testimony, telling God’s story, in your story, through everyday encounters. God joins us in our condition. God does not hold back. God testifies through those who are simply willing to love others, particularly the difficult and unlovable. God’s testimony in and through our brokenness is greater than our brokenness. The Holy Spirit interrupted Peter’s preaching. The message was going to break out of its singular focus on the Jews and go to the Gentile world. Noel Leo Erskine writes, “The new revelation made possible by the inbreaking of the Holy One was clear: The Gentile believers belong as much to the household of God as Jewish believers. Gentiles do not have to become Jews. God accepts them as they are.”[2]Peter was confronted with the hard rock tradition of exclusivism. That is, really wanting to reach the Jews, and if he had to, make Gentiles as much like faithful Jews as possible, by enforcing upon them specific Jewish traditions.

Some traditions are helpful. Others are not. Gathering family together for birthdays and other celebrations is important. Hazing in fraternities not so much. Tailgate parties for our favorite college football games is a favorable tradition. But deciding who is the “right kind” of person for the group not so much. The Masters. Misguided bachelor and bachelorette parties, not so much. Many of you are aware of the name, Daryl Davis. Daryl attracts attention because he is a regular at political demonstrations. Listen to this account of Daryl’s presence in Charlottesville, Virginia to meet Billy Snuffer, an Imperial Wizard of the Rebel Brigade Knights, a sect of the Ku Klux Klan:

According to CNN, in early December [2017], Davis traveled to Charlottesville, Virginia to meet with Snuffer who was there with other Klansmen attending a hearing of an associate facing a gun charge during the infamous “Unite the Right” rally from last August, where a woman was killed by a driver who rammed his car into a crowd of counter-protesters. Davis wasn’t exactly there to support Snuffer and his friends, but he did want to engage them in conversation in order to understand them. But his attempts to do that tended to elicit strong reactions from onlookers, because Daryl Davis is African-American. As it turns out, Davis has been at this for a while. As a bluesman dabbling in country and western music, Davis has traveled across the south, east and Midwest, playing music and meeting people. Playing at a bar in 1983, he was once complimented by a patron who compared his playing to Jerry Lee Lewis. After explaining to the man that Lewis learned his craft from black blues and boogie-woogie players, they eventually became friends—despite the fact that the man revealed his membership with the KKK. Since then, Daryl Davis has been dubbed “the Klan Whisperer” as he soldiers on in a mission to challenge the beliefs of Klansmen through friendship and conversation… Racism in America is a complex problem with a myriad of systemic, interconnected causes and consequences. Nevertheless, Davis’ example serves as a gentle reminder that the path toward progress requires a measure of humility and a willingness to listen.[3]

We need to break out of traditions which exclude and have eyes for “the other,” those who at first glance, just don’t fit in. In Peter’s case, as one biblical commentator notes, “The Holy Spirit was working a powerful transformation among the early Christians. Their perspective of who was “in” and who was “out” was being changed not by their own doing, but by the intervention of the Holy Spirit. The boundaries of the “inner circle” kept widening to the point that the assumed boundaries were no longer legitimate.”[4]

Should we not be for all people? The church is, at least on paper, to be a community “of welcome and laughter, of healing and hope, of friends and family and justice and new life.”[5]God is our teacher. We are God’s pupils. We are “wired” to love God and others. Brennan Manning in The Importance of Being Foolish: How to Think Like Jesus writes,

Compassion for others and joy over their repentance reign in the mind of Christ…Jesus’s gentleness with sinners flowed from his ability to read their hearts and to detect the sincerity and essential goodness there. Behind people’s grumpiest poses or most puzzling defense mechanisms, behind their dignified airs, coarseness, or sneers, behind their silence or their curses, Jesus saw a little child who had ceased growing because those around him had ceased believing in him.[6]

Let’s love others as God loves them. As we are being the best neighbors, evidence of God at work overflows. Christ is risen. He is risen indeed.

[1]Much in this paragraph has been adapted from Lee Strobel, The Case for Faith(Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 2000), 7-23. 

[2]Noel Leo Erskine in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors, Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 2, 482.

[3]The source of this story is Mallory Simon and Sara Sidner, “What happened when a Klansman met a black man in Charlottesville” CNN (12-16-17). Jelani Greenridge posted this story on PreachingToday.com.

[4]Jeffrey D. Peterson-Davis in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors, Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 2, 480.

[5]N.T. Wright, Simply Christian (New York City, New York: Harper-Collins Publishers, 2006), 123.

[6]Brennan Manning, The Importance of Being Foolish:How to Think Like Jesus(New York City, New York: HarperCollins, 2005), 100-101.

Connecting–Repentance, Healing, and Inclusion: a Reflection on John 15:1-8 and Acts 8:26-40

Evidence is important, particularly when it comes to the claims we make about Jesus and his importance in our lives. Dr. Jerry Root, Professor of Evangelism andDirector of the Wheaton Evangelism Initiative, Billy Graham Center, relates the following story:

While my flight was delayed I met a woman in the Vienna airport. She was wearing a lanyard with a name tag and carrying a clipboard and obviously taking a survey for the airport. When she came to me I asked what her name was. “Allegra,” she replied. “Allegra, are you from Vienna?” She answered, “No, I grew up in southern Austria.” With that answer came the permission to ask, “What brought you to Vienna?” She said she was a student. This opened the door to more questions. Where did she go to school? What was she studying? After 20 minutes or so I knew [Allegra’s] mother abandoned the family to go to Canada with her lover, her father’s bitterness was toxic, and her brother also attended the University of Vienna, but that they were estranged. When I expressed my sadness for what seemed to be a good deal of estrangement from the people closest to her, she said it was far worse than she confided. She told me she had a boyfriend who went to study art in Florence for six months. He asked her to wait for him, and she did so. Her boyfriend returned the very day before I met Allegra only to inform her he met somebody better in Florence. I knew where God was wooing her…and the deep felt need where Allegra was likely to hear the gospel. [To this point] she had not asked me one question. I said to her that I knew she had a survey to fill out but that I had been sent to tell her something. She wondered if I was a plant, put there by the airport, to see if she was doing her job. I assured her it was nothing like that, but I had something to say to her once she finished her survey questions. She rushed through the airport’s survey, looked me in the eye, and eagerly asked, “What were you supposed to tell me?” Knowing that Allegra felt abandoned and betrayed, I said to her, “Allegra, the God of the universe knows you and loves you; He would never abandon you or forsake you.” I said it to her again: “Allegra, he loves you!” Sometimes, it takes three times before the words sink in, so I said it again: “Allegra, he loves you!” After the third time she burst into loud sobs…Through her tears, Allegra blurted out, “But I’ve done so many bad things in my life!” I responded, “Allegra, God knows all about it and that’s why he sent Jesus to die on the Cross for all of your sins and to bring you forgiveness and hope.” I was explaining the gospel to ears willing to hear and a heart willing to receive.[1]

Do we live our lives with the confidence that God is already at work in every person’s life?

The Spirit “moved” Philip to act and teach the good news. Philip stopped what he was doing and went down from Jerusalem to Gaza. On arrival, Philip sees the Ethiopian eunuch who was reading, aloud, a passage in Isaiah 53. Philip asks the Ethiopian eunuch if he understands it. Philip resists the temptation to avoid being involved. Eunuchs were neutered male human beings. They were castrated at a young age to perform social functions for royalty and not ever be compromised with female members of the royal house. Eunuchs were given lower sociological status, because they were “…seen as scarred, defective men, unable to be fruitful and multiply. Israelites who held strictly to Deuteronomic and Levitical law permitted eunuchs only marginal participation.”[2]Philip engaged the Ethiopian eunuch and led him to the good news. He told the Ethiopian eunuch that the prophecies in Isaiah are true. The Ethiopian eunuch wanted to be baptized. He saw water, stopped the chariot, went into the water and Philip baptized him. The Spirit “snatched Philip away” and deposited him in Azotus. The Ethiopian eunuch went on his way rejoicing. Philip preached good news everywhere he could.

God, as the master gardener, has a better plan for our lives than we do. Growing up in the central valley of California and working in the grape fields one summer, I learned the ins and outs of tending a vineyard. The best grapes were always on branches closest to the vine. Distant branches were cut away. The same principle applies to gardening. Take pansies for example. Pansies grow better and are more beautiful when a plant is “deadheaded.” Pinching the first flowers produced by pansies will produce fuller plants. More blossoms will occur. I watched my mom do this practice every season. The point of this lesson in horticulture is that Jesus wants disciples to stay close to him. We will only bear fruit when we abide in, that is stay close to, Jesus.[3]

As we repent, that is prune sin from our lives, experience God’s healing, and know that we are included in God’s family. We are to encourage others by affirming that the good news of God in Jesus Christ is real. Brennan Manning in The Importance of Being Foolish: How to Think Like Jesus writes,

Of course, in our human condition we aren’t always able to put our minds and hearts on the path of Christ. But we know that these ripples on the surface of our souls cannot become tidal waves when we descend into the inner sanctum of our graced selves and enter into the prayer of listening to our God, who reminds us, “Quiet your heart and be still. I am with you. Do not be afraid. I hold you in the palm of my hand. All is well.”[4]

The power to love God and others is our birthright, having been reborn in the Spirit of Jesus. Let’s move out into God’s world, bearing the image of God. As we are being the best neighbors, evidence of God at work overflows. Citing William Blake, “The thankful receiver bears a plentiful harvest.”[5]Jesus is alive and at work. Are we listening to God and those around us? Christ is risen. He is risen indeed.

[1]Adapted from Dr. Jerry Root, “When Evangelism Really Isn’t That Hard” as found in Christianity Today(2-17-17). This story can be found at preachingtoday.com.

[2]Karen Baker-Fletcher in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors, Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 2 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), 458.

[3]Some ideas in this paragraph were gleaned from Nancy R. Blakely in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors, Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 2, 472, 474, 476.

[4]Brennan Manning, The Importance of Being Foolish:How to Think Like Jesus(New York City, New York: HarperCollins, 2005), 94.

[5]As seen in Forbes, March 31, 2018.

Connecting–True Christian Behavior Under Pressure: a Reflection on John 10:11-18 and Acts 4:5-12

Either the church is able to point to signs of healing power at work in the world because of what has happened in Jesus Christ or the community is without evidence for its claims. In a 2008 report,

Researchers for Pew’s U.S. Religious Landscape Survey analyzed the religious practices of more than 35,000 U.S. adults and found that they generally embrace their own faith while respecting—and sometimes even practicing—aspects of other religions. “Many religions—maybe even most—can be perceived as having an exclusivity clause: We’re right and therefore everybody else is wrong,” said John Green, a senior fellow with the Pew Forum. “What we’ve found is that many Americans apparently don’t invoke the exclusivity clause.” Researchers did not track which other faiths people might say lead to salvation, so a Protestant or Catholic might be thinking of, for example, fellow Christians like the Eastern Orthodox, or non-Christians like Jews or Muslims. Either way, respondents seemed more focused on pragmatism than conversion. “While Americans may have firm religious commitments, they are unwilling to impose them on other people,” Green said. “It may be a kind of attitude that works very well on a practical level in a society that is as diverse religiously as the United States.”[1]

A focus on pragmatism rather than conversion will not leave evidence that God is at work.

After spending the night in prison, Peter and John were brought before the Sanhedrin. The Sanhedrin, the supreme court of the Jewish nation, consisted of seventy-one elders, including the high priest. John and Peter had been arrested for speaking about the power of the resurrection of Jesus. They had performed a healing. The small band of disciples at the time of Jesus expanded to 120, then 3,000, and to 5,000 at the time of Peter’s examination by the Sanhedrin. The healing of the crippled man and the preaching of Peter threatened pragmatism. The question, “By what power or by what name did you do this?”is reminiscent of the question the high priest and elders had asked Jesus, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?”[2]In Judaism, there was no higher earthly authority than the high priest and Sanhedrin. Peter spoke with authority when he told the Sanhedrin that the crippled man is in good health because he was healed by the name of Jesus. He did not fear death. Peter knew that he must, this time, not deny truth, but proclaim it. There is power in the name of Jesus. The name of God brings healing. The Greek word sozo, from soteria, means salvation. Peter challenges the Sanhedrin’s pragmatism. Evidence that the Christian faith adds value to life is important.[3]

John 10 indicates that Jesus exists for the “other” sheep too. There is one flock. “Others” are the poor; those on the margins of society; some practicing Jews, Muslims, and Hindus; the rejected; the unchurched; the dechurched; the spiritually sensitive; and the incarcerated. We might not like the “others,” but it is true. They too could recognize the Jesus’s voice. As sheep we humans wander and go astray. Jesus, using the words “I am,” meshes his mission with the purposes of God. “I am” is the name of God. We must listen to the voice of Jesus, the good shepherd. As the good shepherd, Jesus’s voice will bring order, truth, competence, faithfulness, and evidence of God at work to our experience. Jesus, the good shepherd, gathers the flock.[4]

A missional church is one where “bearing witness” is the heart of the church’s ministry. “Bearing witness” is all about being the best neighbors. That is, followers of Jesus are engaging, not withdrawing when it comes to life’s greatest challenges. We engage the challenges of poverty, immigration, and homelessness. We see the needs of others as a priority. As followers of Jesus, we are called by God to be people obsessed with loving God and loving others. Connecting with God and others in true Christian behavior, which is all God’s doing, not ours, produces evidence, because it brings about resurrection. Brennan Manning in The Importance of Being Foolish: How to Think Like Jesus writes, “Life driven by our desire for security, pleasure, and power dims the Light within us and introduces unnecessary mental and emotional sufferings, which are often misconstrued as spiritual trials or the inevitable growth pains of life in the Spirit. This is erroneous discernment. They are born of our will, not the will of God.”[5]

Pragmatism is born of our will. Conversion is born of the will of God. Let us engage, not withdraw from “others,” our neighbors. Therein lies the context for acts of conversion, healing, and salvation to occur. When we act lovingly, the love of Jesus exudes from our words and actions. Evidence indicates the practice of being the best neighbors.” Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! True Christian behavior demonstrates resurrection in that death never has the last word or action.

[1]Adapted from a preachingtoday.com post citing an article by Adelle M. Banks, “Pew Report Shows Americans Are Religious in Unpredictable Ways,” Religion News Service, posted on http://www.christianitytoday.com (6-23-08).

[2]Matthew 21:23.

[3]Insight gained from Karen Baker-Fletcher, Thomas G. Long, Paul W. Walaskay, and Barbara Brown Taylor in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors, Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 2 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), 430-435.

[4]Some ideas in this paragraph were gleaned from Barbara J. Essex in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors, Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 2, 449, 451, 453.

[5]Brennan Manning, The Importance of Being Foolish:How to Think Like Jesus(New York City, New York: HarperCollins, 2005), 77.

Connecting–The Importance of a Shared Faith: a Reflection on Luke 24:36b-48 and Acts 3:12-19

Like the healing of the crippled beggar, being raised from the dead doesn’t happen every day either. Jesus was raised from the dead following his crucifixion. Yes, the resurrection, that story which is two weeks old now, forms the crux of our Christian faith. Jesus’ resurrection is a statement that the powers of death do not have the last word. Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias tweeted on November 20, 2013, “Jesus Christ did not come to make bad people good, but to make dead people alive.” Last Sunday, as the taxi took me from Edinburgh to St. Andrews, Yunan and I spoke about the truth of Easter. Yunan, a Somalian citizen of Scotland, was grateful for Jesus’ resurrection and the new life he found in him. He and his family were refugees, from the 1993 Somalia genocide, accepted into Scotland twenty-five years ago.

In 1958, the Jewish temple, the oldest synagogue in Atlanta, exploded because of detonation by dynamite, allegedly cited as a hate-crime. On the Friday following this devastating explosion, the Sabbath service was held. The temple’s windows were shattered and boarded up. Many doors were hanging from their hinges. But, the building was filled to overflowing, just like a high holy day. Rabbi Jacob Rothschild stood up and said, ‘So this is what it takes to get you to temple.”[1]What does it take to get people to church?

Churches in the 1stand 2ndcenturies were started by Jewish followers of Jesus. These congregations were multi-ethnic and multi-cultural. The Christian church in the 2ndand 3rdcenturies was spreading into Egypt, Ethiopia, and Turkey. Those Christians who were not of Jewish heritage were considered “guests in the house of Israel.” Peter was a Jewish, Semitic Christian. At the time of Peter’s sermon, Jesus was considered the child of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Acts 3 recounts the story of the healing of a crippled beggar outside the temple. That healing brought the crowd to John and Peter. This post-Easter encounter in Acts teaches us the nature and purpose of the church. There is a difference between going to church and being the church. It takes the fully proclaimed Word of God to connect the dots for Peter’s audience and for us. The people misunderstood the source of the healing for they thought it came from John and Peter. The people misunderstood the nature of life with God in that they saw brokenness as the rule and healing the exception. The people thought healing beckoned astonishment, but it begs for repentance. You see, healing draws the crowd, much like a dynamite explosion.[2]

Who is Jesus? He was crucified. And yes, resurrected. Oh, lest we forget, Jesus commissioned his disciples to change the world. Peter shared his own experience with Christ, warts and all, and called his Jewish audience to repentance. Repentance, the English word for the Greek word metanoia, means to turn around, to change direction. In this case, Peter asked the Jewish listeners to change their minds about Jesus. 3,000 believed. We need to turn around in our thinking about Jesus. According to Karen Baker-Fletcher, “Jesus incarnates the God of life among us.”[3]When Jesus appeared to the disciples huddled in that upper room in fear, he did not explain the intricacies of resurrection theory. He showed himself, not as “…a ghost or disembodied spirit but a living, walking, talking, and eating Jesus, alive as you and me.”[4]

People are drawn to places of worship in the high and low times of life. Think about it. Churches were filled when the great drought subsided in the 1930’s, President Kennedy was assassinated, World War II ended, Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, and terrorists attacked our country September 11, 2001. There is a hunger for resurrection. The faith claim of Christ’s bodily resurrection is a central aspect of Christianity. At the resurrection, something new occurred in Christ. And by placing our faith in the resurrected Jesus, something new occurs in us too.

“And Can It Be?” that you gain something by believing in Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord? Yes. You gain life, now and forever. “And Can It Be?” I invite you to agree with this prayer as it is said or quietly repeat after me: “O God, I’m a sinner. I’m sorry for my sin. I’m willing to turn from my sin. I receive Jesus as my Savior. I receive Him as Lord. From this moment on, I want to follow Him in the fellowship of His Church. In Christ’s name. Amen.”[5]Connecting with God and others, in our shared faith, brings resurrection.Brennan Manning in The Importance of Being Foolish: How to Think Like Jesus writes this about resurrection:

…we persist in…crazily choosing death over life… But God refuses to let us have the last word in anything…We think we can utter the last word, so God contradicts whatever “absolute word” we speak, whatever “ultimate thing” we do. The biblical narrative shows this clearly: God contradicts our death thrust, holds back our arm, opens a new door, shows us a new path.[6]

Like the descendants of Israel, we are chosen by God for salvation and life. This is our shared faith. This day, how are you rethinking your need for resurrection? Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! May our lives reflect resurrection.

[1]This story is told by Thomas G. Long in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors, Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 2 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), 406.

[2]Some ideas in this paragraph are gleaned from Thomas G. Long in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors, Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 2, 406, 408, 410.

[3]Karen Baker-Fletcher in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors, Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 2, 410.

[4]Stephen A. Cooper in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors, Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 2, 424, 426.

[5]“Sinner’s Prayer,” by Billy Graham.

[6]Brennan Manning, The Importance of Being Foolish:How to Think Like Jesus(New York City, New York: HarperCollins, 2005), 77.

Connecting–Transitions: a Reflection on John 20:1, 11-18 and Isaiah 25:6-9

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Pastor and author Tim Keller writes,

I always say to my skeptical, secular friends that, even if they can’t believe in the resurrection, they should want it to be true. Most of them care deeply about justice for the poor, alleviating hunger and disease, and caring for the environment. Yet many of them believe that the material world was caused by accident and that the world and everything in it will eventually simply burn up in the death of the sun…Why sacrifice for the needs of others if in the end nothing we do will make any difference? If the resurrection of Jesus happened, however, that means there’s infinite hope and reason to pour ourselves out for the needs of the world…N.T. Wright has written: the message of the resurrection is that this world matters! That the injustices and pains of this present world must now be addressed with the news that healing, justice, and love have won…Easter means that in a world where injustice, violence and degradation are endemic, God is not prepared to tolerate such things—and that we will work and plan, with all the energy of God, to implement the victory of Jesus over them all.[1]

In the sixteenth century, several individuals participated with God in further implementing the victory of Jesus over injustice, violence, and degradation. A huge transition began. Martin Luther, John Calvin, and Ulrich Zwingli banked their hope on God and God’s message that loving God and loving others is the bottom line of Christianity. Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli asserted the five solasas the bedrock of a connected and dynamic religious experience: Sola Scriptura…only Scripture;Solo Christo…only Christ; Sola Gratia…only grace;Sola Fide…only faith; andSoli Deo Gloria…only glory to God. Think about it. Our existence is not our own. None of us, other than putting one foot before the other each day, can control the number of our days, the affection of our relationships, or anything for that matter. Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias tweeted on November 20, 2013, “Jesus Christ did not come to make bad people good, but to make dead people alive.”

Both the prophet Isaiah and apostle John address how transitions effect our relationship with God and others. Watching our parents grow older and assisting them through the transitions of technology, prescriptions, housing, banking, and basic daily activities are filled with lows and highs. As our children move through preschool, elementary, secondary, college or technical schools, and graduate education formats, we are proud and perplexed, in that we aren’t as needed, and relationships take on new dependencies and interdependencies. Being unemployed or experiencing a fractured relationship are both fraught with disappointment. Connecting with God and others is marked by transitions that have movements of valley to the mountain, death to life, and suffering to salvation.[2]

Isaiah demonstrates that God engages us on and in life’s movements of valley to the mountain, death to life, and suffering to salvation. That participation with God destroys all pretense and mechanisms we use to hide our true selves; wipes away our tears and disgrace; and saves us again and again and again. John, in the retelling of the women going to the tomb that early morning, reminds us not to weep for long over the lows and highs that life brings. Why? God calls us by name in and throughout all the transitions we face. As in the case with Mary, Jesus says to each one of us every day, “…Why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” And then Jesus says, “Steve…Laura…Teri…Jack…Trish…your name!” Life is a continuous process of Jesus entering into the movements of valley to the mountain, death to life, and suffering to salvation connecting us to him and others. In the transitions comes resurrection. Brennan Manning in The Importance of Being Foolish: How to Think Like Jesus writes this about the transitions of valley to the mountain, death to life, and suffering to salvation:

In John’s Gospel, the liar stubbornly blinds himself to light and truth and plunges into darkness. The devil is the father of lies…The conflict between the father of lies and the truth who is Jesus Christ dominates John’s Gospel. The Lord has not only vanquished the liar but given us a share in his victory through the Holy Spirit; the exaltation of Jesus Christ on the Cross releases the Spirit. The paschal triumph has not only expiated our sins and justified us before God but brought the outpouring of the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. The Spirit enables us to conquer lying, self-deception, and dishonesty, endears us to the truth of God, and leads us to savor eternal realities.[3]

Every joy, sorrow, blessing, curse, justice, and injustice is ordained by God. We are grateful to the One who knows the beginning and the end. Therefore, as a community of faith named Geneva Presbyterian Church: we are a congregation characterized by “a generous orthodoxy;” we are welcoming and supportive of all who are seeking a better way to live; we are a church committed to worshipping, learning, connecting, serving, and giving; we are a congregation blessed with resources, that is human, financial, and a church campus; and we are followers of Jesus who desire to inspire others to a better way of living.[4]The story is told,

Three individuals died and are at the pearly gates of heaven. St. Peter tells them that they can enter the gates if they can answer one simple question. St. Peter asks the first, “What is Easter?” He replies, “Oh, that’s easy! It’s the holiday in November when everyone gets together, eats turkey, and is thankful…” “Wrong!” replies St. Peter, and proceeds to ask the second the same question, “What is Easter?” The second person replies, “Easter is the holiday in December when we put up a nice tree, exchange presents, and celebrate the birth of Jesus.” St. Peter looks at the second, shakes his head in disgust, tells her she’s wrong, and then peers over his glasses at the third individual and asks, “What is Easter?” The third smiles confidently and looks St. Peter in the eyes, “I know what Easter is.” “Oh?” says St. Peter, incredulously. “Easter is the Christian holiday that coincides with the Jewish celebration of Passover. Jesus and his disciples were eating at the last supper and Jesus was later deceived and turned over to the Romans by one of his disciples. The Romans took him to be crucified and he was stabbed in the side, made to wear a crown of thorns, and was hung on a cross with nails through his hands. He was buried in a nearby cave which was sealed off by a large boulder.” St. Peter smiles broadly with delight. Then he continues, “Every year the boulder is moved aside so that Jesus can come out…and, if he sees his shadow, there will be six more weeks of winter.”[5]

 What is Easter? Do you believe in Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord? Billy Graham pointed thousands of people to Jesus and invited them to pray this prayer, as I do those of you who are uncertain about that relationship with Jesus. I invite you to agree with this prayer as it is said or quietly repeat after me: “O God, I’m a sinner. I’m sorry for my sin. I’m willing to turn from my sin. I receive Jesus as my Savior. I receive Him as Lord. From this moment on, I want to follow Him in the fellowship of His Church. In Christ’s name. Amen.”

Jesus calls you by name all the time. He finds you where and when you least expect him. Jesus is with you on the journey that has movements of valley to the mountain, death to life, and suffering to salvation. Let me remind you that by connecting with God and others, in transitions, comes resurrection.Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!

[1]Tim Keller, The Reason for God(Penguin Books, 2009), 210.

[2]I thank George Bryant Wirth for the trilogy of transition parings in this sentence. For more on these pairings, please see George Bryant Wirth in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors, Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 2 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), 359, 361, 363.

[3]Brennan Manning, The Importance of Being Foolish:How to Think Like Jesus(New York City, New York: HarperCollins, 2005), 12-13.

[4]For the five “We are…” statements above, I am indebted to the Rev. Michael Lindvall’s impact on my life personally and through his Pastor’s Vision for the Brick Presbyterian Church in New York City, New York.

[5]www.humormatters.com/holidays/easter