Sunday, March 31, 2013

Easter - Resurrection of the Lord

Today’s Scriptures: Lectionary selections from the Revised Common Lectionary Year C
Acts 10:34-43
Isaiah 65:17-25
Psalm 118
1 Corinthians 15:19-26
John 20:1-18
Luke 24:1-12
Today’s Reflection:

He is risen.
He is risen indeed!

Today we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord and the final victory over death. As important as this is for us, the scriptures today help us to see the full meaning of a resurrected Lord and the beauty that comes from a restored creation. On Easter Sunday we find it very easy to focus on the rising, but the day is truly about so much more: what comes after the resurrection is what matters!

Isaiah first mentions the new order of things to come. The new heaven and new earth come with a new set of rules which sound much like the original rules of creation before sin interrupted natural order of the world: all of creation functioning in harmony with the rest of creation. Acts and Corinthians reaffirm those ideas and extend the salvation to all mankind.

We sometimes forget that in the garden, God created mankind as a companion. It was only after sin separated mankind from God that some were separated from him. The birth, life, death, and resurrection of Christ restored that connection between humanity and God. Overcoming death and sin restored the vision God had for his creation in its entirety.

The resurrection means much more than Christ overcoming death. It brought us back together with God. It gives us the vision of what is to come. God’s plan is for the perfect balance of all creation. Easter moves us toward that more perfect world. Today we remember the resurrection and look forward to the promises it makes possible.
Revised Common Lectionary Daily Readings, copyright © 2005 Consultation on Common Texts.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Holy Saturday

Today’s Scriptures: Lectionary selections from the Revised Common Lectionary Year C
Job 14:1-14
Lamentations 3:1-9, 19-24
Psalm 31:1-4, 15-16
1 Peter 4:1-8
Matthew 27:57-66
Today’s Reflection:
Every now and then I get caught up in a science fiction series. A well-crafted alternate world offers so many options that are normal for that universe but unimaginable in ours. Jesus’s teaching that he would rise from the dead on the third day did not pass the religious and political leaders unnoticed. While none of them likely believed in any type of resurrection life, they certainly did not want any of Jesus’s disciples to be able to claim it. They insisted that the crucified Jesus stay dead.

The Jewish faith has not always endorsed a life in Heaven following death. The passage in Job hints at that belief. Dead is dead. Living a long-life to influence people in the community and descendants were the legacy that kept one alive after death. Between the time of Job and Jesus, while those ideas continued, the belief in an eternity entered the faith.

The passage in 1 Peter reinforces the teaching of an ultimate judgment for all those living and dead. Through that judgment all will face the spiritual eternity.

Following the crucifixion, the religious and political leaders wanted to limit the damage that could come from Jesus, dead and alive again. If he did return and people saw him it would remove all of their authority. Fearing this, they were happy to turn his body over to a wealthy man with a secure tomb in the hills. It was a sealed tomb, more to keep wild animals and grave robbers out than to keep the dead in, that well served the function of keeping Jesus dead and buried. Beyond putting the stone over the entrance, the guard of soldiers sealed the stone in place. It was the exclamation to their actions of the week, “and STAY dead!”

I cannot help but wonder how much they actually believed Jesus’s teaching. They better than most knew the prophecies. They also had the most to lose in the fulfillment of those prophesies. They faced the same challenges we face today: we know what God wants, but it does not always work in our self-interest. At the end of Holy Week, after learning much more about who Christ is, we are compelled to consider which choice we would make.
Revised Common Lectionary Daily Readings, copyright © 2005 Consultation on Common Texts.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Holy Week - Holy Friday

Today’s Scriptures: Lectionary selections from the Revised Common Lectionary Year C
Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12
Psalm 22
Hebrews 10:16-25
John 18:1 – 19:42
Today’s Reflection:
A few months ago a friend of mine was mugged and assaulted as he walked through his neighborhood. When I arrived at the emergency room to be with him, I was shocked to see the swelling and bruises on his face. Despite this my discomfort at seeing his wounds, I recognized him and felt great sympathy for his situation. I never want to get beat and kicked the way he was; seeing his wounds proved quite enough for me. Today we remember the abuse and execution of Christ.

Through the hours leading to his death, Jesus continues to teach lessons and demonstrate who he is. Through the interrogations and torture he resisted using the full power of his “Godness.” At a word he could have called down forces and an angelic response that would have made atomic explosions look modest. Jesus’s final lessons reinforced the condition that he was the ultimate sacrifice that bridges the gap between all humanity and God. He lived love in a way that very few ever do. While we remember this sacrificial love, we too are challenged to love so completely.
Revised Common Lectionary Daily Readings, copyright © 2005 Consultation on Common Texts.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Holy Week - Maundy Thursday

Today’s Scriptures: Lectionary selections from the Revised Common Lectionary Year C
Exodus 12:1-14
Psalm 116
1 Corinthians 11:23-26
John 13:1-17, 31-35
Today’s Reflection:
Recently a friend of mine announced the beginning of his “birthday week” on Facebook with “opportunities” for his friends to celebrate with him. For many people I know their birthday is the biggest celebration of the year: it is one day that is all about them (and the millions of other people born on that date). For me, Maunday Thursday is the best day of the year. We get to celebrate essential ministry of Christ as demonstrated by the exchanges in the upper room. There is no gift to give but service to those around us. The greatest lesson for me lies in realizing that sometimes I have to let others serve and minister to my needs.

As is usual on Maundy Thursday, the passages include the Exodus history of the Passover meal which is what Christ celebrated with his apostles in the upper room. The Passover reminded the Jews of God’s loving care for them and his power over the enemies as he spared the lives of those protected by the blood of the lamb. The plagues of Egypt had been severe and annoying to that point, but nothing like the deaths of firstborn to strike at the heart of those who held the Israelites as slaves.

The passage in Corinthians provides the directions most churches follow in offering Communion or the Last Supper

In the John passage, Jesus takes the final moments with those closest to him to share final essentials to his ministry. In his actions and lessons, he demonstrates the servant leadership aspect of being Christ. All through the week we have seen different expectations of what it means to be Christ, but as Jesus washes the feet of the apostles and breaks the bread and shares the wine with them, Christ the servant leader emerges as the expectation for all Christians. While sometimes wet caught up in the theology of complex interpretations of what the words of Christ meant. Debates rage between faith and works advocates. In the upper room, Jesus condenses it all into the theology of the washrag. We are not greater than anyone around us (neither are we lesser) and serving one another demonstrates (works) the love we have through Christ (faith). We are often taught that leadership comes by dominating others. As believers, we know from Christ that meaningful leadership comes by serving and being an example. For Christ to spend his last night teaching and practicing such humility, I know that I too, must practice that same humility. It is how the world will know I am a Christian.
Revised Common Lectionary Daily Readings, copyright © 2005 Consultation on Common Texts.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Holy Week - Wednesday

Today’s Scriptures: Lectionary selections from the Revised Common Lectionary Year C
Isaiah 50:4-9
Psalm 70
Hebrews 12:1-3
John 13:21-32
Today’s Reflection:
If I were to ask believers about the things God does for them, protection from shame would probably not make the survey. The passages today make reference to worldly shame and dishonor God’s followers have faced since the beginning of time. God’s ways are not the ways of the world. Though the world subjects the faithful to punishment/persecution it considers shameful, the people who are truly faithful experience reward rather than shame. Such persecution continues, as often as not, from within the Church as believers challenge others who do not believe exactly the same way. Just as the perfection of our faith and the end of our ministry does not come until we reach Heaven, the rewards that overcome the persecution we face during life come as a part of eternity. In this life, we will continue to be tormented for our faith, but as Christ and the cloud of witnesses attest, we possess the strength to survive until that time.
Revised Common Lectionary Daily Readings, copyright © 2005 Consultation on Common Texts.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Holy Week - Tuesday

Today’s Scriptures: Lectionary selections from the Revised Common Lectionary Year C
Isaiah 49:1-7
Psalm 71
1 Corinthians 1:18-31
John 12:20-36
Today’s Reflection:
One of the common expectations for the Messiah in the time of Jesus was as a warrior who would rescue the nation from the occupying Romans. Isaiah, Psalm 71 and John all reflect this belief among the Jews across different periods. Jesus disappoints those who were gathered around him as he explained the Heavenly order for the events to come by using a wheat grain to illustrate his point. As a people oppressed, they sought someone who would bring relief in their lifetime. They did not want to wait for eternal rewards and they most certainly did not want a sacrifice. Nevertheless, Jesus continued under the direction of God and gave the people what they needed rather than what they wanted.

The Corinthians passage argues that God’s order does not need a warrior to succeed. In fact, it would not have succeeded as a military action. During Lent, a similar Isaiah passage explained God’s knowledge over humanity’s knowledge. 1 Corinthians 1 brings that argument to salvation through Christ. The salvation through Christ changes people at the core of who they are, something that would not have happened if Jesus come with a military force. Military conquest does not change the heart. The permanence of spiritual salvation far exceeds the short term relief provided by military victory. With the weakness of human understanding, we can be thankful for a God who provides for our needs rather than our wants.
Revised Common Lectionary Daily Readings, copyright © 2005 Consultation on Common Texts.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Holy Week - Monday

Today’s Scriptures: Lectionary selections from the Revised Common Lectionary Year C
Isaiah 42:1-9
Hebrews 9:11-15
John 12:1-11
Today’s Reflection:
If Holy Week had a theme, the one for 2013 could be the definition of Christ. The scriptures examine his purpose and the role he plays in the God/human interchange. We come to know a servant and a king, a warrior and a sacrifice, and a God and a man.

Isaiah describes the functions Christ will accomplish while Hebrews names Jesus “high priest” and “mediator of a new covenant.” Identifying Jesus as the high priest held particular significance for Jewish readers. The high priest served as the intermediary between the people and God. Hebrews, without using the word, describes Jesus as the sacrifice that replaced all others. As both the high priest and the sacrifice, Christ alone could implement the new covenant that leads to eternal life. Unlike the high priests of antiquity, Jesus does not serve a limited term; he continues to be our connection to God. This Holy Week we can celebrate the direct go-between we have in Christ.
Revised Common Lectionary Daily Readings, copyright © 2005 Consultation on Common Texts.

Annunciation of the Lord

Today’s Scriptures: Lectionary selections from the Revised Common Lectionary Year C
Isaiah 7:10-14
Psalm 45
Hebrews 10:4-10
Luke 1:26-38
Today’s Reflection:
The Annunciation of the Lord is traditionally celebrated on March25. Because it falls during Holy Week, the Roman Catholic Church celebrates it April 8 this year. The Scriptures for the day fit the theme of the week, so I am posting it on the traditional date.

From the time the Messiah was promised to Israel, scholars interpreted the prophecy in many different ways. Some read the prophecy as a commitment to a Godly Messiah who will come as a holy man to lead the people. Others looked forward to a warrior Messiah who would vanquish the occupying forces and build a mighty nation. A few saw in the prophecy a sacrificial Messiah who would provide atonement for the sins of the people. Today’s Scriptures allow each of the interpretations as we celebrate the Annunciation of the Lord.

Two thousand years after the fulfillment of the prophecy we still seek to know and understand Jesus. We find in the Gospels, Epistles, and the Revelation evidence for each interpretation of the Messiah. This Holy Week as we see different aspects of Christ we learn that Jesus is far more complex than the baby in a manger or the street preacher hung on a cross. Almost everyone has their own vision of the Christ they follow/reject (yes, even non-Christians have a view of Christ). We spent the Lenten season developing our spiritual practice so we are ready to consider that there are more aspects to Christ than those we have held in the past. With the annunciation and scriptures each day providing insight into Christ, we have the opportunity to understand that we worship a far more amazing God than we knew before.
Revised Common Lectionary Daily Readings, copyright © 2005 Consultation on Common Texts.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Sixth Sunday in Lent - Palm Sunday

Today’s Scriptures: Lectionary selections from the Revised Common Lectionary Year C
Psalm 118
Luke 19:28-40
Today’s Reflection:
Palm Sunday has always baffled me. So much celebration fills the day. In the days that follow we remember the deepest despair in the church: our Savior is executed. After 2000 years we know the outcome and that despair does not dig nearly so deep into our souls as it must have for the apostles and the other followers of Jesus, yet as we consider the events, we do experience some degree of the overwhelming sorrow those believers must have felt.

In the context of the day, the one verse that stands out most for me in the Psalm is twenty-four, “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” The rejoicing bit can be a challenge. Every day we are flooded with the not-so-good news of the world around us and challenges faced by friends and family. Nevertheless, the Lord gives us reason to rejoice through the good things he has given us as named throughout the Psalm and other passages. Rejoicing may challenge us, but it when we do it right, it turns around those otherwise dreary times.

Growing up on a farm, I know well the perils of riding an unbroken colt. For that reason, this passage in Luke has always been one of my favorites. The history, Psalms, and prophets all contain tales of God’s power over nature, but few of them are such common man-v-beast tales as Jesus sending for, and then riding a never-before-ridden colt. Even more amazing is that the colt remained calm as the crowds shouted praise, and waved cloaks and palm fronds in the path of the approaching Jesus. Even a well-trained horse could prove skittish in such a circumstance. All this celebration, of course, disturbed the Pharisees. Jesus’s answer that the stones would take up the cry if the disciples stopped did not make them any happier. That power over nature that Jesus, as God, had reminds us on this Sunday, just what was involved in the coming week. On this day when Jesus was riding his popularity with the crowds, the events that end the week seem impossible. When we see a Jesus who commands nature, even inanimate objects, to do his will, we begin to understand just how much of a sacrifice it was for Christ to let himself be taken, tortured, and crucified.

The events in Jesus’s last week did not happen by accident or without purpose. Everything led up to the climactic overcoming death and becoming the New Covenant. Events like the triumphal entry into Jerusalem show us just how much the crucifixion later in the week was a gift to us all – one that we cannot afford to underestimate or overlook on our way to Easter. We need to rejoice today, mourn Friday and Saturday, so we can truly rejoice knowing that we need do nothing more than believe to enter into our ministry with him.
Revised Common Lectionary Daily Readings, copyright © 2005 Consultation on Common Texts.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Fifth Sunday in Lent

Today’s Scriptures: Lectionary selections from the Revised Common Lectionary Year C
Isaiah 43:16-21
Psalm 126
Philippians 3:4-14
John 12:1-8
Today’s Reflection:
Every once in a while I discover something about a close friend or coworker that I never knew before. Out of the blue comes a hobby they had practiced for years or an illness from which they have recovered in the time that I knew them. I am suddenly forced to look at that person in a different light than I had before. While I considered them a close confidant, I did not know some prominent part of their life. If I were giving a sermon this week, I would title it, “The God We Thought We Knew.” The scriptures today deal with people coming to a new understanding about God as they learn new qualities of God they had not known before.

In Isaiah and Psalm 126 God’s power over man and nature is presented in the context of Israel’s history and the world’s future. Well known events of God’s intervention for his people are told and the Israelites count on that connection (protection) to continue, yet God’s plan is far larger than just the Israelites. Isaiah foretells a future when even the animals worship the Lord. Israel knew a very personal God who intervened on their behalf throughout history. In both passages the writer is confronted with a God with other plans: it will not just be the Jews worshipping God (Isaiah) and the relationship with God is so fractured that the Lord has removed his protection from them. The God they were so certain of was suddenly much bigger.

Paul shares some harsh revelations he was forced to accept when he realized who Jesus was. He went from being the perfect Jew to someone who had spent his life to that point on activities that were meaningless. Everything he had done so passionately he had done passionately wrong. He went from the righteousness of what he saw as a black-and-white law to a righteousness founded on faith that was an ongoing command. The righteousness through faith is a daily striving for a lifetime. We do not complete that journey until we come into our reward in Heaven.

Those closest to Jesus, his apostles, never accepted that he was a sacrificial messiah instead of a conquering ruler. The dinner leading into Christ’s final week demonstrated this as clearly as all the misguided questions and misunderstood teachings documented throughout the Gospels. Judas again serves as the scapegoat, but he represented the entire group who missed the message that the Messiah was a sacrificial savior. Whether they could not or would not see the purpose of the ministry while Christ remained alive does not matter at this point: the fact remains they did not understand who the man they had been following really was.

In this Lenten season as we refine our spiritual practice, the scriptures challenge us to consider the question: Is the God we serve the God we know or is God being revealed in a much bigger way? How we answer the question shapes the success of our spiritual journey.
Revised Common Lectionary Daily Readings, copyright © 2005 Consultation on Common Texts.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Fourth Sunday in Lent

Today’s Scriptures: Lectionary selections from the Revised Common Lectionary Year C
Joshua 5:9-12
Psalm 32
2 Corinthians 5:16-21
Luke 15:1-3, 11-32
Today’s Reflection:
“We’ve always done it that way,” grates on my last nerve when I hear it come from someone resisting a change I am trying to make. Of course, when someone else is trying to make a change, I am just as likely to respond with, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Change, especially a change of mind can be difficult. The passages for today focus on the change of heart and change of mind necessary to come into the right relationship with God. It is broke and we need to fix it.

In Joshua we find the Israelites celebrating Passover in the promised land after forty years of wandering in the desert. They were able to provide all the ingredients for the meal from the crops in the land and with that provision, the manna from God ceased. The relationship shifted from provider/sustainer and dependents back to God and followers – the relationship we continue to seek today.

The remaining passages all consider the idea of repentance and forgiveness. The psalmist rejoices in the relief of confession. After experiencing the weight of his transgressions, speaking of them to God removed that burden from him and he was able to resume worship again. While our guilt encourages us to hide our shortcomings, the relief of confessing the flaws takes away that guilt. Confession frees the heart to do its natural work: love.

In the 2 Corinthians passage we again see a change of heart and the way it impacts the individuals’ worldview. The believer no longer focuses on things with humanistic perspective but with the perspective of Christ through the Holy Spirit. The writer talks of everything old being made new and it is when views shift to an eternal lens rather than the temporal lens of our physical beings and the limited time we have with earthly life. While the key idea is that change in perspective, the passage states and reinforces that the change comes about because of the way our relationship with God works through Christ.  The idea of reconciliation, when looking at the primary dictionary definition of the word definitely gives one pause when considering it in a faithful way. The primary definition is to make someone accept something they do not want. Christ did not come to force anyone into belief. He simply did not operate in that way. Looking deeper into the origins of the word and the remaining definition, give us the meaning we see in this passage. The remaining definitions include, “win over to friendliness,” “to compose or settle (as in a disagreement),” and “to bring into agreement or harmony; to make compatible or consistent.” Christ’s ministry and our ministry through him does just that – it brings people into agreement or harmony and compatibility with God from the point of being separated from the Lord. When we are in agreement with God, then everything does change. Our bodies may remain in the same physical form, but the way we see everything is different.

Finally in Luke we read the often cited tale of the prodigal son. The story has been probed for years by likely every theologian to scan the book of Luke. The story has many layers of relationships and there are as many interpretations of who the players represent in the tale. One line in the entire story stands out: “But when he came to himself….” That moment was the moment of repentance, the moment of confession of his shortcomings (sins). In that moment everything changed. All that came before set it up. All that comes after makes us feel warm and fuzzy. He realized his failure before God, confessed, and changed his life.

The Jews experienced the same sensation when they came into the promised land and had their own food. The psalmist felt it when he confessed his sin. The writer of 2 Corinthians knew the feeling upon accepting Christ. We too can know that relief when we reconcile ourselves to God. This Lenten season as we experience our sacrifice and practice new spiritual habits we may feel like we are carrying the slop for the hogs, but as it brings us to the moment that brings us right with God, those buckets may instead become pots of gold: everything has become new!
Revised Common Lectionary Daily Readings, copyright © 2005 Consultation on Common Texts.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Third Sunday in Lent

Today’s Scriptures: Lectionary selections from the Revised Common Lectionary Year C
Isaiah 55:1-9
Psalm 63
1 Corinthians 10:1-13
Luke 13:1-9
Today’s Reflection:
The Lenten season coincides with the start of gardening season - at least in my part of Texas. In recent months fruit trees have been pruned and garden beds readied for planting. Part of that preparation requires clearing out last year’s dead plants and fertilizing the ones that remain from previous years. The garden simply does not function well without this care. The passages today consider preparation we have to do in order to be faithful followers of Christ.

One of the most familiar passages in Isaiah, 55:1-9, has always comforted me in times of trouble and troubled me in times of comfort. Verses eight and nine provide a pathway to peace when we are overwhelmed by the nature of a circumstance and desperately seek answers. Any other time I read the passage I wonder if it is not just God’s trump card keeping us submissive pawns as he plays with his creation. His ways and thoughts are so much higher we will never understand. Many other passages that attempt to explain God’s actions offer us a chance to understand at some point in the future: these verses withhold such hope.

Fortunately these verses in Isaiah are not the only ones in the Bible that address the rationale for God’s actions. The passage in 1 Corinthians cites numerous instances when people (mis)behaved and God smote. We are encouraged to pay close attention to God’s actions in our lives because in even the most troubling time for us, God offers salvation from the trial. Much like the passage in Isaiah, we commonly turn to verse thirteen when we face overwhelming situations, and fortunately, it gives us the sustaining comfort we need. The closer we draw to him in his actions, the better chance we have.

Jesus was often surrounded by seekers - people with theological questions attempting to get the answers. In the passage in Luke they asked about the sins of some who had been executed by Pilate. Contemporary teaching informed that those who suffered suffered in response to the sin and their degree of suffering reflected the degree of sin. Jesus refutes this with several other examples and a parable. In an era of sustenance farming, the farmer [famer = God] could not afford to have a fruitless tree [tree = sinful humanity] in his orchard and ordered such a tree be cut down, but the gardener (gardener = Jesus) intervened and asked for a chance to work the soil [work the soil = Christ’s ministry] and fertilize [fertilizer = knowledge] to see if it would turn fruitful. We do not know the outcome for the tree. The outcome for us remains undetermined as well. As we have been loved by Christ and learned about his ways and expectations, our fruitfulness still varies. Some have born plentiful fruit and others have remained barren.

Many passages in the Bible offer comfort and create concern as they lead us to reflect on our relationship with God. The passages today, appropriate for the Lenten season, insist that we examine our relationship with God and determine what we need to do to make it the relationship God desires.
Revised Common Lectionary Daily Readings, copyright © 2005 Consultation on Common Texts.