Saturday, April 27, 2013

Fifth Sunday of Easter

Today’s Scriptures: Lectionary selections from the Revised Common Lectionary Year C
Acts 11:1-18
Psalm 148
Revelation 21:1-6
John 13:31-35
Today’s Reflection:
“Everything old is new again.” My profession is one in particular that runs through cycles. Many of the trends that were popular when I began 22 years ago are coming back into the profession. Today’s scriptures present follow that theme as they explain the return to the original creation as directed by God.

Each of the scriptures either describe the creation as it was intended or laws that were put in place/removed to help mankind in their relationship with God and one another. Peter’s experience with the revocation of the food laws, Jesus boiling all the law down to “love one another,” showed that it was not about the letter of the law, but about the intent. God never intended the law to be a barrier between people and himself or between people and each other. By the time of Jesus, that is exactly what happened, so God gave the Holy Spirit to all who believe.

Instead of limiting the “chosen ones” to a genealogy, the believers in Christ became the chosen ones. Peter testified to the Spirit as the leader of the Church by explaining how the Spirit was present even with the Gentiles. The Spirit became the direct connection to God for people: God with the people. Peter’s experience with the sheet and voice ending the dietary restrictions symbolized the change to a Spirit led faith instead of a law driven one.

Psalm 148 and Revelation describe the creation as God intended it – and as it will be: God’s design will be. Sin and mankind interrupted that plan, but as it is with God’s plan – his will be done.

The central idea behind it all is the relationship between God and humankind. Through Christ and the Holy Spirit the relationship became direct again. By the Holy Spirit, we have a personal encounter with God.

Recreating the creation to operate as it was intended brings to life the saying “everything old is new again!” What a joy that we can proclaim this good news!
Revised Common Lectionary Daily Readings, copyright © 2005 Consultation on Common Texts.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Fourth Sunday of Easter

Today’s Scriptures: Lectionary selections from the Revised Common Lectionary Year C
Acts 9:36-43
Psalm 23
Revelation 7:9-17
John 10:22-30
Today’s Reflection:
It is amazing how many times I sit through a lengthy policy meeting only to find that when I talk to colleagues about that meeting a few days later, they heard completely different things than I heard. We all enter into the meeting with our own lens and perspective – and find it validated or under fire immediately. Things have not changed from the days of Jesus and his interactions with the people: they heard what they wanted to hear. The passages today continue the themes of the past few weeks, salvation, resurrection, and God’s direction – whether it is what we want or not.

I always refer to Psalm 23 as the “funeral Psalm” because it is recited at almost every service I attend. It is used for good reason as it provides a great deal of comfort in a time of so much grief. I like to keep it handy in times of stress. At times when I am tired. For those days when I am just frustrated. I just like it.

In the John passage Jesus is confronted with a group of Jews who want a straight forward “yes” or “no” answer rather than listening to the depth of Jesus teaching: make it simple. As this was in the temple, the group was likely sent by the Pharisees in an attempt to trap Jesus into saying something they could call blasphemy. Rather than succumb to the quest for simple faith, Jesus challenged them to listen to his teachings and consider his acts. He uses the symbol of a shepherd who controls his herd in the hills and in the sty with verbal commands. He affirmed the promise of God for eternal connection.

The Revelation passage tells of the completion of the promises found in John and Psalm 23. The saints are gathered together before God. All their cares are handled by the Lord, “the Lamb at the center of the throne….” Those who recognized Jesus as the savior and called on him (washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb) whether in good times or coming through persecution are gathered around the throne in such numbers that “no one could count.” The prophecy describes the fulfillment of the statement Jesus made in John that those who God called and gave to him could not be taken away.

In Acts we see the transformed Peter – from firebrand to gentle pastor – as Jesus commanded in the passages last Sunday. Upon being called to a nearby city where one of the stalwarts of the church has passed away, he restores her to life and health. Based on evidence from the passage, she had been a powerful member of the church who had done much to care for others in the community: a Christian who lived by her beliefs. In caring for the church and being the new pastor that he became, he “shows her to be alive” which follows the language describing the resurrected Christ appearing to the disciples.

As a Christian, it is easy to follow the direction God has for me when it is something I naturally agree with, but when challenged to do something or understand God in a way with which I am not comfortable makes it much harder for me to “do” his will. The Jews in his time, the disciples, and others all experienced what they wanted to experience: some got it right and some did not. We need to get it right by opening our eyes to see and our ears to hear the will of God for our lives.
Revised Common Lectionary Daily Readings, copyright © 2005 Consultation on Common Texts.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Third Sunday of Easter April 14

Today’s Scriptures: Lectionary selections from the Revised Common Lectionary Year C
Acts 9:1-20
Psalm 30
Revelation 5:11-14
John 21:1-19
Today’s Reflection:
Far too often in life, we find ourselves convinced that the long-range plans we have developed are flawless and beyond reproach - only to find our best laid plans collapsing around us as we observe, mouths agape, the carnage of our ideas. I cannot help but think of Robert Burn’s poem, “To a Mouse” with its line “the best laid schemes o’ mice and men.....” The more confidence we gain in ourselves, the more likely that confidence is to fail us. Today’s scriptures focus on two of the most powerful men in the Bible as they receive new directions from Jesus about the direction their life is to go.

Acts 9 picks up the story of Saul, the sworn enemy of the Way and a Jew among Jews, as he heads from Jerusalem to Damascus with special directions for the purpose of persecuting anyone he finds who is following Jesus. His hatred of the Way was so deep he “breathed threats and murder.” I can only imagine that his companions struggled to keep up with him as the headed to Damascus at a brisk pace in order to get right into the hunt for those he could bind and return to Jerusalem for trial.

In John 21 we see some of the disciples doing what they did before the arrival of Jesus - fishing. Jesus calls them to shore and they share a meal together. Peter, the strong, fiery, impulsive member of the Apostles finds himself challenged three times by Jesus (the same number of times he denied knowing Jesus) whether he loved him. Of course, being the fiery one, at the third time, he responded in his frustration.

Saul’s march to Damascus was halted by a blinding light and the voice of Christ challenging his purpose. The ONE who fueled his passion suddenly called him to account for his actions and give him a new purpose in life. Instead of persecuting the fledgling church, he became the mouthpiece that took the church into places it would not have soon reached.

Each time Peter answered that he did love Jesus, Jesus followed that assurance with a pastoral command. Peter’s personality was not best suited for that kind of pastoral care, yet Jesus explicitly directed him to “feed,” “tend,” “feed” - gentle, quiet care of the flock.

Both Saul and Peter had different visions for themselves than were in the plans of Christ. As strong and powerful as they were, their lives were redirected by the transformative power of Christ. Whether motivated by hatred (fear) or passionate love God has in mind the ministry for each of us. We just have to watch, listen, and obey.

Revised Common Lectionary Daily Readings, copyright © 2005 Consultation on Common Texts.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Second Sunday of Easter - April 7

Today’s Scriptures: Lectionary selections from the Revised Common Lectionary Year C
Acts 5:27-32
Psalm 118:14-29
Psalm 150
Revelation 1:4-8
John 20:19-31
Today’s Reflection:
Following the weeks of Lent and then Holy Week, our lives have a way of returning to normal after Easter. After Easter services we collectively release a sigh of contentment, comment on how nice everyone looked in their Easter finery and how beautiful the Easter lilies were – oh, and the ham was especially good. Then Monday comes and we resume our pre-Lenten habits and routine. It is as easy to drop the spiritual disciplines we took up as it is to drop the latest diet (it can start right after this dessert). The apostles did not have that luxury as they were given a new command by Jesus when he first met with them in the upper room a week later.

The disciples hiding behind locked doors fearing that they were the next targets of the Jews represented the powerlessness the believers must have felt during that time. In his ministry, Jesus talked about and demonstrated much power (as did the disciples when they were sent out in groups) through God. Yet, now that he had been crucified, did the power still exist? The removal of the leader did so much to shake the confidence of the believers. Faith may be strong, but when physical events demonstrate an (apparent) mastery over the message the faith proclaimed, it becomes increasingly harder to maintain the faith.

In a flash it all changes.

Despite the locked doors, Jesus is standing in their midst, showing them the wounds in his hands and on his side. THEN the disciples rejoiced. He blessed them and gave them the Holy Spirit with the command to go into the world preaching the Gospel. He gave them the authority of forgiving sins. This authority empowered the believers to defy the persecution and commands to stop preaching. The Acts passage has Peter and others called before the council which is reproaching them for their continued teaching.

Between the resurrection of Christ and the time before the council, the apostles went from being powerless believers whose faith was shaken to the core to being the powerful believers who challenged the authorities who sought to persecute them. The strength that came to them from the Holy Spirit continues with us today. As Christians we have the authority to speak up for what is right and wrong and to resist persecution for the belief we have in Christ Jesus.

We have to be careful about the Thomas story in the John passage. Before we stop to scapegoat Thomas for his lack of faith, we need to remember just a few verses before that Jesus appeared in the room and showed the disciples his wounds. They had all seen and THEN rejoiced.  When Jesus comments about not seeing and believing, he is talking about us, not singling Thomas out from the other disciples. We are blessed because we continue to believe though the wounded Christ has never been in our presence. We are equally blessed to continue to receive the Holy Spirit and work out the will of God in the world around us.

As we move out of the Lenten and Easter times let us remember the gift and power that comes though the Holy Spirit and consider how quickly we want to give up the practices we grew during the last months.
Revised Common Lectionary Daily Readings, copyright © 2005 Consultation on Common Texts.