Worship
One More Thing PDF Print E-mail
Written by Pat Ireland   
Sunday, 16 May 2010 20:26

First Presbyterian Church, Cottonwood Falls, KS

One More Thing: Ephesians 1:11- 23 et al

Graduation Sunday, May 16, 2010

Rev. Pat Ireland, Pastor

 

Ephesians 1:11-23

11In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of God who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, 12so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. 13In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; 14this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.

15I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason 16I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. 17I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, 18so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, 19and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. 20God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. 22And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, 23which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

 

A long time ago, when music was on vinyl and my boys were sons, we had record of stories and poems from Cricket Magazine.  One of those stories about a little boy in New York City venturing for his first walk to Central Park.  Even back then the city was a big and potentially dangerous place, where even crossing the street might be a major challenge.

 

So, this story is about a little boy getting ready for the adventure.  He has to take a day-pack of course: lunch, a drink, maybe an extra jacket or hat.  All the while his mother is advising him, and remember this is not a book, but a record, you know that Mom talks with  New York inflections and accent.

 

Finally he is all packed and about to set when his mother says, “And one more thing…” and proceeds to caution him about crossing the street.  He listens and begins to open the door and again mom stops him with, “And one more thing…don’t talk to strangers.”  Sure, sure, he’s getting impatient and is almost out the door when again mom says, “And one more thing… don’t put your mouth on the drinking fountain.”

 

Well, you get the idea, the story goes on and on with one more thing, so much so that “One more thing” spoken with the appropriate inflection has become a part of our family’s language.

 

Paul, spent months and years with the churches he established, yet there was always one more thing to say, so even after he left he wrote letters.  God has something to say to mortals, and after centuries of prophets and kings and rituals, there was still more to say, so God sent Jesus.  After three years with is disciples there was till more to say, so Jesus after his ascension sent his Spirit back to be among us.  (We call the event Pentecost and we’ll celebrate it next week.)

 

This week, after watching our seniors all grow up from preschoolers, we celebrate the graduation and commencemedt and I’m thinking there is “one more thing” we’d like them to remember.

 

Let Us Pray:  Holy Spirit guide the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts that we might not only remember but hear the “one more thing” you offer us each and everyday.  Amen

 

Today is Ascension Sunday.  Luke, alone, explains why the Risen Christ is no longer roaming the world in a crucified body.  He tells us that Christ was taken up into heaven to his former glory as a part of God’s providence and rule.   There are all kinds of meanings in that packed sentence but there is just one more thing I want you to remember about the ascension.

 

God came to us in a body, that body was raised from the grave, and that body was taken up into heaven, as if it were too important to discard.   So, one more thing:  Your body is important!  You are not just a Spirit, you are a whole person, body and soul, God came to live in a body to show you how to live in a body and even the body of Christ can be killed if we don’t protect and nourish it.  So take care of your body and remember that you are a part of the body of Christ, and every body is essential in bringing the reign of God into the world.  …

 

Paul (who had out of body experiences) was the one who developed for us that Body of Christ metaphor that we use so much.  In the second lesson today, an excerpt from a letter to the church in Ephesus, he tries to explain some of he has come to believe based on his experiences with the Risen Lord.  Unfortunately he is a very literate Greek thinker and so it doesn’t translate easily into comprehensible English.  So let me summarize briefly.

 

Paul understands that believers were always destined to be a part of Christ.  If Christ is the Son of God, you also -as a part of Christ- are a child of God, not through any action of your own but according to God’s eternal purpose.   So our newest catechism asks:  Who are you?  And the answer is:  “I’m a child of God who loves me.”   Let’s try that again:  Who are you?:  “I’m a child of God who loves me.”

 

Paul therefore, calls us heirs, inheritors of redemption.  (I found a little note in my bible reminding me that redemption is a legal term of Jesus time and it meant the payment paid to purchase a slave’s freedom.)   Paul says we are adopted/redeemed/purchased in order to praise God!

 

An older catechism asks:  “What is the chief end of Man?”  And answers:  “To praise God and enjoy him forever.”  So, here’s one more thing for you:  Your purpose is to praise/love the creator and to enjoy God’s creation.  That’s easy with starlight skies and glorious Kansas’ sunsets, it’s not so easy with some of God’s characters, present company included!

 

That’s why we are marked in baptism with seal of the ‘promised Holy Spirit.’  And we spend our lives growing into our place in the family, nourished and guided by that Spirit.  (Of course, what I’m skipping is the long years you spend learning the language of the Spirit. That’s a course of study in which most of us are still beginners!)

 

OK, so that’s where Paul is coming from and he then says he remembers the church in his prayers.  That’s something we can do for our graduates… and for one another.  We can, and do, pray for one another.

 

Paul prays specifically that you’ll receive a “spirit of wisdom and revelation.”  God desires that each one of us be aware and in communion with the divine.  That’s why Jesus is called “Emanuel” – God with us.  Jesus came to reveal to us God’s desires for human beings.  In Jesus, we see how to be fully human, abundantly and eternally alive in God’s love.   That abundant, eternal life is our inheritance as children of God, and it is an inheritance from which we can already draw!

 

And one more thing!  God, Jesus, the Spirit is full of power and love.  The brilliant lightening, shifting of tectonic plates and eruptions of volcanoes are small tokens of the power that creates and shapes the galaxies.    Paul says: “God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places.20

 

Now, here’s what we’ve been learning about Paul at Wednesday night Bible Study.  When Paul says that “Jesus is Lord” he is co-opting the language of Rome.  Clearly there can only be one top guy, one Lord.  So, if Jesus is Lord, then Caesar is not!  If Christ is King the rulers of the world are dethroned.  That is why Paul proclaims that Jesus is the name above every name!

 

OK, that’s your review lesson for today: • you are a child of God who loves you.

• Your body is important, take care of it. You are a part of the body of Christ in and for the world.

• Your purpose is to love, praise and enjoy your father, mother, brother God whose power is always working for good.

 

Now, I’ve gathered some things into a traveling bag for the graduates.

 

Let’s see:    There’s an unbreakable cup.  I was reading last week about how important water is to your body.  Drink lots of it.  Also, let this cup remind you of Jesus’ story in Matthew that climaxes:  “…for I was hungry and you gave me food.  I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink I was a stranger and you welcomed me” 25:35  God will always provide enough to share.  Share the gifts God has given to you.  Be generous.  Be a source of comfort and friendship to others.

 

Oh, here’s a candle.  No, it is not for late night studying (although that’s a good idea).  It is to remind you of Jesus’ words from the Sermon on the Mount: “You are the light of the world.  A city built on a hill cannot be hid.  No one after lighting a lamp puts is under a bushel basket, but on a lamp stand, and it gives light to all in the house.  In the same way let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and glorify your father in heaven.” Matthew 5:14-16   Others will notice you!

Be aglow with love and compassion and filled with the joy of the “Light of the Lord.”

 

Let’s see.  Here is some rock salt and table salt to remind you: “You are the salt of the world; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored?  It is no longer good for anything, but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.” Matthew 5:13  Salt is a flavoring spice.  Don’t lose the part of you that is unique and adds spice and excitement to life.

 

I made you a little pillow to remind you that Jesus said:  “Come to me all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest” Matthew 11:28  When you are sad or lonely or things don’t go your way- remember; you are not alone.   Jesus will be with you to comfort and guide, just remember to rest in God’s love and be open to God’s leading.

 

These are seeds, wild flower seeds to be exact.  Jesus said: “But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understand it, who indeed bears fruit and yields.” Matthew 13:23    Never stop learning and growing in your faith.  Share your faith and bloom wherever you are planted.

 

Oh, one more thing, there’s a map.  The world, to quote, not Jesus, but Robert Louis Stevenson, is “so full of a number of things, we should all be happy as kings.”  Or in Paul’s words ‘you are heirs to the kingdom.’  Anyway, we pray that you experience many places and people while always keeping in mind who and whose you are.

 

Know that there is no place you can go that God is not with you!  At the same time remember Jesus’ s story about the wandering son and waiting father. “So he set off and went to his father, but while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him.” Luke 15:20    Though you travel through different experiences and places, God will always be near!  All you need to do is turn and run into his open arms.  Likewise may God’s people, the body of Christ, always welcome and care for you.

 

OK, I think we’re set for the journey.  Listen again to Mother Paul, this time as paraphrased by Eugene Peterson in The Message.

 

11-12  It's in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for. Long before we first heard of Christ and got our hopes up, he had his eye on us, had designs on us for glorious living, part of the overall purpose he is working out in everything and everyone.

13-14 It's in Christ that you, once you heard the truth and believed it (this Message of your salvation), found yourselves home free—signed, sealed, and delivered by the Holy Spirit. This signet from God is the first installment on what's coming, a reminder that we'll get everything God has planned for us, a praising and glorious life.

15-19 That's why, when I heard of the solid trust you have in the Master Jesus and your outpouring of love to all the followers of Jesus, I couldn't stop thanking God for you—every time I prayed, I'd think of you and give thanks. But I do more than thank. I ask—ask the God of our Master, Jesus Christ, the God of glory—to make you intelligent and discerning in knowing him personally, your eyes focused and clear, so that you can see exactly what it is he is calling you to do, grasp the immensity of this glorious way of life he has for his followers, oh, the utter extravagance of his work in us who trust him—endless energy, boundless strength!

20-23 All this energy issues from Christ: God raised him from death and set him on a throne in deep heaven, in charge of running the universe, everything from galaxies to governments, no name and no power exempt from his rule.  And not just for the time being, but forever.  He is in charge of it all, has the final word on everything.  At the center of all this, Christ rules the church.  The church, you see, is not peripheral to the world; the world is peripheral to the church.  The church is Christ's body, in which he speaks and acts, by which he fills everything with his presence.

Rejoicing that we are in the God’s presence let us stand and affirm together in song the faith that upholds and leads us throughout all life.

 

AFFIRMATION OF FAITH “African Creed” 

I believe, I do believe, truly I believe it; truly I believe it, truly I believe it.  (2x)

I believe in God, the Almighty Lord Creator; mighty Lord creator, mighty Lord Creator. (2x)

I believe in Jesus, the Savior of the people; Savior of the people, Savior of the people. (2x)

And I do believe in the power of the Spirit, power of the Spirit, power of the Spirit. (2x)

I believe, I do believe, truly I believe it; truly I believe it, truly I believe it. (2x)

 

 

 
Mother Love PDF Print E-mail
Written by Pat Ireland   
Sunday, 09 May 2010 11:36

First Presbyterian Church, Cottonwood Falls, KS

“One Only a Mother could Love”:  John 5:1-9

Rev. Pat Ireland, Pastor

May 9, 2010

 

John 5:1-9

1After this there was a festival of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 2Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth-zatha, which has five porticoes. 3In these lay many invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. 5One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. 6When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be made well?” 7The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.” 8Jesus said to him, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.” 9At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk.  Now that day was a Sabbath.

The 1891 a preacher, no doubt male, approached to this text something like this: "Observe the process: (1) Christ addresses the man; (2) Christ commands; (3) the man obeys.  It is the obedience of faith. (4) In the act of obedience he is healed.  Christ is the healer, but he is healed by the obedience of faith."

That was a good message in Victorian times and not one we should shun….

However, the words of a 21st century pastor have been rolling around in my head and heart this week.  The Rev. Dr. Homer Henderson suggests that this is not so much a story of obedience but of unmerited grace.

 

Let us Pray:  Loving God you gave us life.  Guide the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts that we might live it gracefully, abundantly and eternally.  Amen

 

According to an old legend, the Bethzatha Pool was supposed to have healing powers whenever its waters were troubled and agitated, presumably by an angel.  That’s why, there were usually all kinds of sick and ailing folks lying around the poolside.  They were waiting for a chance to get in the pool when the waters were agitated so they could be healed.  Our story zeroes in on one of those castoffs of society--a crippled man who had been lying down by the poolside for 38 years.

Jesus saw him lying there and realized he had been there a long time.   So Jesus asks the guy:  "Do you want to get well?"  The cripple answered, "I don't have anyone to put me in the pool when the water is agitated, and if I try to get in by myself, someone always beats me to it."

Then Jesus tells him, "Get up. Pick up your mat and walk around."

And at once the man recovered, picked up his mat and started walking.

 

Now who is this person down by the poolside?  Who is this crippled castoff of society? Most of the time, we hear this story we celebrate him and romanticize him as a combination of genuine faith in Jesus and the intestinal fortitude to pull himself up by his own bootstraps.

After all, didn't he believe Jesus and so was healed?  Didn't he obey Jesus when he got up, picked up his mat, and walked around?  This is the kind of person who really deserves to be healed.  One who decided to "trust and obey, to be happy in Jesus, because there's no other way."  One who played by the rules of both faith and practice and was healed!

Is that really what this story says?  Look carefully.  The text doesn’t say one word about his faith.  There is no hint that he believed in Jesus or anything else, except the magic water in the pool.  And if you read beyond the assigned text you’d see that he wasn’t even grateful for being healed!  In fact, when the religious authorities see him walking around carrying his mat, they ask him, "Who healed you?" and he says he doesn't even know!

Then when the authorities remind him that healing and mat carrying are illegal on the Sabbath- he squeals!   He fingers Jesus as the one who healed him and told him to carry his mat. "Jesus broke the Sabbath laws, not me!"

This is the one that Jesus healed!?  Who is he?

He's a real bum, that's who he is!  He had no gratitude, no faith, no humility, no guts.  He didn't deserve to be healed.  He didn't deserve anything.  We’re not even sure if he wanted Jesus to heal him.  Maybe he’d have preferred a hand out!

But this man, among all the others, is the one Jesus healed.   And he was healed, not by his own faith, but through what Fred Craddock calls “unprovoked grace.”   That’s a great term:  “unprovoked grace!”  Sometimes Jesus comes to us, Jesus heals us, not because of our faith or faithfulness, but simply because Jesus wants to heal us!   Remember, Jesus was born into Israel not during a time of particular righteousness, but into a time of particular need.  That is God’s way, bringing grace, comfort, healing, not because we are worthy, but because we are willing to receive God’s love.

This healing raises all sorts of questions about the indiscriminate nature of God’s goodness.  There surely were other’s sitting around that pool needing, waiting for, healing.  Why this man and not the others?  That’s the old “Why (or why not) me?” question which has no answer, except in the heart of God who is beyond mortal comprehension.

In today’s lesson we see a God, who works miracles, and not even faith is a precondition.  My mortal response is “that’s not fair!”  But God’s ways are not ours and, among other things, this lesson reminds me of that.   I remembering questioning my mother and she would quote a poem: “Yours is not to wonder why, yours is but to do or die!”  Maybe that’s applicable in our relationship with God!

In Jesus we see that God’s love is much more like the mother who stands by her kid no matter what, than it is the eternal judge or Lord of Hosts!  Jesus pictures God as the parent constantly looking to see if the prodigal is returning until one day he spots him far off and runs to meet him so he can escort him home.  In today’s lesson Jesus demonstrates motherly love as he heals a guy only a mother could love!

We were talking over dinner this week, and Kevin marveled at the graciousness of this congregation.  You host a preschool year after year, but seldom if ever, see any of the families in church.  We haven’t seen our highschoolers in weeks, months, maybe longer.  But we are looking forward to their return next week, so that we can wrap our arms and hearts around them once again and shower them with gifts.  Why? Because we love them as only a mother can love, not because of what they have or haven’t done, but because they are ours!

That is what this story is all about.  Unmerited, unprovoked grace.  Love that does not fade even with the other is unloveable!

Dr. Henderson notices something else in this lesson that is a bit more challenging.  Of the one who was healed he says:  “He didn't deserve to be healed.  He didn't deserve anything. This is the one Jesus healed. This is the one who had been on the welfare rolls for 38 years!

“Who is he?  He's one of those people…that Michael Katz calls "the undeserving poor."  The undeserving poor.  And Katz puts it this way in his book From the War on Poverty to the War on Welfare.  These are Katz' words:  ‘For the most part, Americans talk about the poor as them.  Poor people usually remain outsiders, strangers to be pitied or despised, helped or punished, ignored or studied, but rarely full citizens...on the same terms as the rest of us.... They are, as Vice President Dan Quayle once said, "Those people...."

Henderson concludes: “Those are the people lying around, down by the poolside.  Those people are the ones Jesus healed.”

To illustrate he tells the story of Steve, whom we are glad doesn’t live in Chase County. “Steve comes by the church regularly to get a handout.  Every time I see him, he has a different story about why he needs a little money.  He's a complete bum.  He's refused and wasted every opportunity to help himself.  He's no longer welcome in most churches.  He's no longer welcome around private and government agencies designed to help folks like him.  Steve just won't play by the rules.  He breaks all the rules.  In fact, several years ago on a Saturday morning during a Bar Mitzvah over at our local temple, one of the guests asked the rabbi when the temple started charging for parking.  And surprised, the rabbi went out to check on the situation.  Guess what!  There was Steve, charging $5 a car.”

But, Henderson concludes: Steve is the one Jesus healed down by the poolside!

Fred Craddock talks about this story as a parable of God's grace, a story of the undeserved, unmerited love of God. That's a radical idea, and it's right at the heart of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  It's the reason Jesus came to be among us.  It's the reason Jesus could teach: "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you," not because of who they are, but because of who you are as my disciples.

Henderson preached: “We talk a lot about the grace of God in church, that God loves us because of who God is, not because of who we are.  We say God even loves us in spite of who we are.  And, yet, when we talk about helping others, loving others as God has loved us, reaching out to those on the margins of our society, doing something about poverty, we're really talking about helping the "deserving poor," those we call the "truly needy."  So we pass laws that make it more and more difficult for those down by the poolside.

We make it more difficult for them to qualify for public assistance and health care.  We pass laws that make it more difficult for children who don't speak our language to get an education.  We support laws that perpetuate the status of gay and lesbian persons as second-class citizens, and so on and so on.  The bottom line as a nation and often as churches: we heal not because of who we are but because of who they are, not because we're called to be healers and instruments of God's grace as disciples of Jesus Christ, but because, and only if, they deserve to be healed.”

hen he asks a question whose answer is much more difficult than welcoming preschoolers or graduates.  Henderson asks, and I think the text does too, “Does all this talk about the grace of God have anything to do with how we live our lives, how we vote, how we decide our politics, or even how we perceive ourselves to be the church of Jesus Christ?”

If we picture God as loving us as only a mother can love, doesn’t that challenge us to offer to others the same love and grace?

I don't know about you, but I'm grateful everyday that God deals with me according to who God is, not according to who I am.  I don't have any trouble at all singing the hymn, "Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me."

I don’t have any trouble imagining God as the father eager for my return, or the mother who remembers me even though I might forget her.  I don’t have any trouble seeing that I am incarnating God’s love when I’m welcoming preschoolers or graduates.  But I confess, I have trouble when someone asking for assistance has asked multiple times before.  And I wonder if I am helping or enabling.

God apparently has no such qualms.  God’s grace is poured out indiscriminately.  The sun rises on the evil and on the good, and it sends rains on the righteous and on the unrighteous; and Jesus asks,  “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?  And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others?” Matt 5:44,46-47

The family of God includes the deserving (if there be any) and the undeserving, the loveable and not so loveable, the saint and sinner.   All are invited and welcomed to the family table, to be called, healed, comforted and challenged … to be fed!

Let us prepare to receive the gift of God by singing together.

“Here is Bread, Here is Wine” FWS 2266

 

 
The Nature of the Church PDF Print E-mail
Written by Pat Ireland   
Sunday, 02 May 2010 12:30

First Presbyterian Church, Cottonwood Falls, KS

The Nature of the Church:  Acts 11:1-18

Rev. Pat Ireland, Pastor

May 2, 2010

 

There are some stories that are so important they get told more than once: the exodus, the nativity, the resurrection for example.  This story is told twice in Acts and referenced in Paul’s letters.  It is a crucial story for Jesus’ resurrection family. Today we hear, not the original telling (found in chapter 10) but the retelling delivered to the elders in Jerusalem.

Acts 11:1-18

1Now, the apostles and the believers who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also accepted the word of God.  2So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him, 3saying, “Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?”  4Then Peter began to explain it to them, step by step, saying,  5“I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision.  There was something like a large sheet coming down from heaven, being lowered by its four corners; and it came close to me.  6As I looked at it closely I saw four-footed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles, and birds of the air.  7I also heard a voice saying to me, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’  8But I replied, ‘By no means, Lord; for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’    9But a second time the voice answered from heaven, ‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’  10This happened three times; then everything was pulled up again to heaven. 11At that very moment three men, sent to me from Caesarea, arrived at the house where we were.  12The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us.  These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house.  13He told us how he had seen the angel standing in his house and saying, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon, who is called Peter; 14he will give you a message by which you and your entire household will be saved.’  15And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning.   16And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’  17If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?” 18When they heard this they were silenced.  And they praised God, saying, “Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.”

This section of Acts is the heart of the book.  Chapters 10 and 11 are the pivot around which turns, not only this book, but the entire New Testament Church.  Remember, Luke and Acts were written by the same author.  Themes from the gospel carry over into the Acts:  concern for outsiders (women, lepers, Samaritans, poor, etc.), the subversive and challenging nature of Jesus’ teachings, and the roll of the Holy Spirit in the lives of people and the community.

 

Luke may be tracing the development of the church in what appears to be a historical manner; but history is not Luke’s primary concern.  There is no question that Acts is based on some historical detail, and that Luke has some historical interest.  Yet, the concern in Acts is still, as it was in the Gospel: the nature of God’s new work, the nature of the church.  The historical details are arranged and recounted toward that purpose.   That is why today’s story is at the heart of the book.  It’s like the meat in the sandwich!

 

Let us Pray:  Holy Spirit guide the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts that our community might be as open as God’s love.  Amen

 

For a Jew of Peter's time and place, dietary restrictions designated not only what food you ate but with whom you ate.  They comprised only a small part of a comprehensive holiness code that regulated personal and community life for the Hebrew people more than a thousand years before Jesus.

 

By one count there are 613 mizvot or "commandments" in the five books of Moses (the Torah). The purity laws of Leviticus chapters 11 all the way through 26 specify in minute detail clean and unclean foods, purity rituals after childbirth or a menstrual cycle, regulations for skin infections and contaminated clothing or furniture, prohibitions against contact with a human corpse or dead animal, instructions about nocturnal emissions, laws regarding bodily discharges, agricultural guidelines about planting seeds and mating animals, decrees about lawful sexual relationships, keeping the Sabbath, forsaking idols, and even tattoos. These purity laws encompassed every aspect of being human—birth, death, sex, gender, health, economics, jurisprudence, social relations, hygiene, marriage, behavior, and certainly ethnicity, for Gentiles were automatically considered impure.

 

Given our propensity for justifying ourselves and for scape-goating others, the purity laws lent themselves to a spiritual stratification or hierarchy between the ritually "clean" who considered themselves close to God, and the "unclean" who were shunned as impure sinners far from God.  Instead of expressing the holiness of God, ritual purity became a means of excluding people considered dirty, polluted, or contaminated.  In word and in deed Jesus ignored, disregarded and perhaps even actively demolished these distinctions as a measure of spiritual status.  And as Peter learned in his encounter with Cornelius, Jesus asked him to do the same.

 

In contrast to the purity system with its sharp social boundaries, the Resurrection community substituted a radically alternate social vision.  The new community that Jesus announced would be characterized by interior compassion for everyone, not external compliance to a purity code.  It would be radically inclusive rather than hierarchical and exclusive.  The resurrection community would be marked by inward transformation rather than by outward ritual.  Marcus Borg suggests that in place of "be holy, for I am holy," Lev. 19:2 Jesus deliberately substituted the call to "be merciful, just as your Father is merciful." Luke 6:36

 

God, Peter learned, is not a God of partiality or favoritism.  He warmly welcomes every person from any nation.  The good news that was "sent to the people of Israel," said Peter, was that the grace of God was clearly given "even to the Gentiles."   Peter realized that if the God of all creation did not exclude Cornelius and the Gentiles as impure or unclean, neither could he!

 

Now, this was not an easy transformation.  It took a vision. Three times the sheet is lowered and Peter is urged to eat.  Three times Peter replies “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean.”  Three times the voice repeats: “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.”  Well that’s enough to get Peter thinking; but not necessarily enough to get Peter to change.

 

So God sends an angel to Cornelius.  Then Cornelius sends a soldier and two slaves to summon Peter.  We’ve had a vision and an angel, but wait there’s more.  The Holy Spirit is poured out upon the gentiles, just as it has been upon the apostles.  God pulls out all the stops for this is a serious and important message!  The future of the church depends upon it.  To whom is the gospel to be preached?  Who is it for?

 

But before we move into the future, let’s remember the past, the context of this story.  Jesus was a Jew who came to and lived among Jews who were bearers of a messianic expectation for God to intervene and make the world right again.  They were nurtured and defined by their separation from the uncircumcised and the unclean.  Admitting gentiles into the synagogue must have seemed like inviting foxes into the henhouse, and unclean foxes at that!

 

Observance of the dietary laws was not just a matter of obedience to law.   It was a matter of religious identity. It was a symbol of who Jews were as people of God.  A contemporary Reformed Jewish rabbi was asked if he kept kosher, the dietary regulations we are talking about.  He replied that he could eat pork if he wanted, there was nothing sinful or wrong with eating pork; it was not a matter of law.  However, he went on, he had chosen not to eat pork and to observe the other kosher restrictions as a way to honor those before him who had risked and given their lives that he might have the freedom to make that choice, to be Jewish.  For him, it was a matter of who he was as part of that community.

 

When Jews were driven from their homeland and scattered across the Greco-Roman Empire, it was their “laws” which identified them as a people!  Without the purity code, they would be just like everyone else!   The core issue was and still is:  How do we define or identify God’s people?  For Peter it had always been by circumcision and diet!

 

When I did graduate work in public administration at KU I learned two life lessons. “What is unseen is always more frightening than what is seen.”  Second a group forms, coalesces, when there is a perceived attack form the outside.

 

In the 80’s, one of my mentors was invited to an event at the Synagogue and was surprised to hear the Rabbi say that anti-Semitism was essential for the future of the Jewish faith.  Is it any wonder that Israel is building, with American aid, a 400 hundred mile long wall that is twice as high as the Berlin wall to separate them from the Palestinians?   We learn to define who we are, in part, by who we are not!   We are Presbyterians, not Methodists or Catholics.  We are children of God, not children of the world!

 

But Jesus came so that the world might be saved through him. John 3:17  When we draw a circle to define ourselves, we make a boundary that keeps folks out!  God keeps drawing the circle larger and larger to include all of creation!  This is not really about clean and unclean food.  It is about how we divide up the world into us and them!  The scandal was that Peter- one of us, fraternized with them!

 

The single most important message of this text is that Jesus the Christ is not only for insiders, but for outsiders as well.  Peter’s world was shaken when he realized that the ‘Holy Spirit was poured out on them, just as it was on us!’  On the one hand, in our brains, we can affirm this proposition easily, particularly when it rests on arcane distinctions that are no longer important to us.  On the other hand, practicing it, living into it may not come as easily as affirming it.

 

The Gospel doesn’t exist for the sake of preserving tradition, even good and valid tradition.  The Gospel exists for the sake of calling people into relationship with God, sometimes is in spite of tradition.

 

Like the early church, we are taking the Gospel into a world that is very different from the one in which we live.  We have to ask some hard questions about our own traditions, especially those that make us “insiders” while keeping others out.  Some things that have been important in the past may no longer be essential or even helpful.  Is it possible that some of the very things that have given us identity in the past have now become barriers to carrying out our God-given mission?   …

 

There may be great danger in responding to God with "By no means Lord, nothing profane has ever entered my mouth!"  We may say that from the best of motives but if it does not serve the mission to which we are called as the church, if it interferes with us touching the lives of people with the Gospel: we must let it go!  We need to hear the Lord say again, "What God has made clean, you must not call profane."

 

Kendra Dean, of Princeton Theological Seminary, reminds us:  “God has called us and given us the gift and the power of the Holy Spirit to go and imagine the world, as it should be, to live into it as it should be, the way God created it, to treat people as though they’re the people God made them to be instead of the people they’ve become.”

 

God had a different image of the resurrection community that even those closest to Jesus could imagine.  They were challenged by the work of the Holy Spirit, that was moving outside the institution, to accept God’s vision of what they were to become.  This was a real stretch for them, to socialize with gentiles!  It is not that Cornelius was a bad guy; he was a devout man who feared God, gave generous alms and prayed.  But he was a gentile!  He was different.  He was not one of us!

 

This is what makes the church, different that the clubs to which you belong.  In the clubs you, the members, recruit new people who will fit in and be congenial to the group.  In the church Jesus calls new members and the “club” is challenged to figure out how to deal with them.  We can ignore them and they’ll go away, but  ‘who are we to hinder God?’

 

Even more challenging, Peter didn’t wait for Cornelius to come to him.  He went out to Cornelius.  It’s bad enough when the odd ball walks in your front door, now the Spirit is suggesting that we should go to them!

 

The first century resurrection community made a radical decision.  The decided, after much debate and prayer, to include all those in whom the Holy Spirit was working!  They let go of all the old rules and expectations and allowed the Holy Spirit to shape them.  The question is: can the church of the 21st century follow their lead? The question is: can we?

 

Let’s do a short exercise:

•  Think of a group or person who might not be welcome in this congregation.

•  Think of the folks you just can’t imagine “fitting in.”

•  Think of a person you would least like to see coming in the church door.

 

Now picture in your mind that great white sheet being lowered from heaven.  It is way up there slowly coming toward you.   It is getting lower, almost to your head.  Now it is low enough so you can peak over the side.   In the sheet is the one or ones you can’t imagine fitting in!   And, not only, that, but the all the odd balls that the folks around you have been imaging.

• Look carefully, who is in that sheet?  Is it:

Noisy children?  Unemployed truck drivers?                   Liberals?

Same sex couples?             Pro-life … or pro-choice activists?  The stupid, un-educated, poor or dirty?

Bi-racial couples or children?  Palestinians/Arabs?

•Who is in that sheet?

• Now, Hear the voice of Jesus saying; these are my family.   I am calling them to new life.  Welcome them.

• Now, Ask yourself the question Peter asked: Who am I that I could hinder God?”

Let us pray:  Living Word, keep us from getting in your way as you continue to redeem and reshape the world.   Risen one, may the nature of this congregation be as welcoming and accepting as you, who died, not to condemn but to save.   Amen


 
Recognizing the Voice PDF Print E-mail
Written by Pat Ireland   
Saturday, 24 April 2010 17:59

 

First Presbyterian Church, Cottonwood Falls, KS

Recognizing the Voice: John 10:22-30

Rev. Pat Ireland, Pastor

April 25, 2010

 

John 10:22-30

22At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, 23and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. 24So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” 

25Jesus answered, “I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; 26but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. 27My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. 28I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. 29What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. 30The Father and I are one.”

 

My mother was fond of saying ‘your actions speak so loud I can’t hear your words.’  In today’s gospel lesson the religious elite press Jesus, asking if he is the Messiah.  Jesus responds:  ‘look at what I am doing and figure it out for yourself’.  The problem was they had a preconceived notion about God and were not open to this new work of God in Jesus.  In John’s terminology, they did not recognize the shepherd’s voice because they had become more responsive to the world than to God.

 

Let us Pray:  Holy Spirit guide the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts that we might recognize the voice of our good shepherd and follow him into abundant and eternal life. Amen

 

Jesus went to the temple to celebrate what we know as Hanukkah.  It’s a joyous feast that recalls God’s claiming of Jerusalem through the heroic faith of the Maccabees 175 years before Jesus was born.  Note the irony in this scene as John portrays the Word, Wisdom and Light of God walking in the portico named for the wise king Solomon unrecognized by the religious elite.

 

The Jews (that’s a shorthand for the temple elite) represent those who don’t recognize Jesus.  They want to know if Jesus is going to lay claim the title Messiah with all its expectations of salvation by overthrowing foreign powers.  The question is loaded because of its political ramifications.  Here are a people, living under occupation, celebrating a national holiday equivalent of our Fourth of July asking Jesus if he is the one chosen by God to liberate them!

 

Jesus refers to the testimony of his works.  These works, however, confuse the religious establishment because they are way outside the social and religious norms.  Jesus socialized and even ate with sinners!  He spared with his superiors as if they were equals rather than yield to their position.  He taught in the countryside and the temple and he violated the Sabbath!  They can’t recognize the acts of God precisely because they are outside their social norms.  On the one hand, disregarding the rules of an orderly society suggests that Jesus is crazy!  On the other hand: "can a demon open the eyes of the blind?"  The temple elite want a straight answer! v24

 

But you know that Jesus seldom gives a clear answer!   His answer makes more sense however, if we understand the image of the shepherd in Hebrew thought.

 

The Great King David was a shepherd before going into politics.  He understood the roll of shepherd as protecting and providing for the sheep and he brought this construct into his administration.  Similarly, he saw God as his Shepherd.  God was the one who provided for and protected him through the perils of war, politics and family.

 

So shepherd became a clearly understood metaphor for God’s faithfulness and the political and religious powers were supposed to incarnate that same faithfulness toward the people.  When they failed in their duty prophets like Ezekiel spoke out!

“Ah, you shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves!  Shouldn’t shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fatlings; but you do not feed the sheep. You have not strengthened the weak, you have not healed the sick, you have not bound up the injured, you have not brought back the strayed, you have not sought the lost, but with force and harshness you have ruled them.” 34:2-4

… “Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD: Thus says the Lord GOD, I am against the shepherds; and I will demand my sheep at their hand, and put a stop to their feeding the sheep; no longer shall the shepherds feed themselves.  I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, so that they may not be food for them.

For thus says the Lord GOD: I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out.  As shepherds seek out their flocks when they are among their scattered sheep, so I will seek out my sheep.  I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness.” 34:9-12

“I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord GOD.  I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy.  I will feed them with justice….thus says the Lord GOD.” 34:15-17

 

The problem is the temple Jews were not looking for a shepherd.  They were looking for a Messiah.  They wanted a Messiah to drive out the Romans and re-establish religious and political authority and autonomy.  They asked Jesus if he was their man.

 

He replied, ‘you just don’t get it!’  My works testify, witness to who I am.

 

The father and I are one!  Now, in John’s gospel, Jesus demonstrates that he is of the same mind and purpose as God by performing the works that one would expect of a good shepherd, or a faithful God.  He heals, feeds, frees, forgives and protects.  He gives life to God’s people!

 

Jesus is saying that “He and God are united in the work that they do.  It is impossible to distinguish Jesus’ work from God’s work because Jesus shares fully in God’s work.”

 

Jesus does not claim to be of the same substance as God, but of the same mind, the same purpose as God.  Now, this does not negate his divinity; it substantiates his witness to the God’s reign.   In Jesus we see God’s desires for all of humanity.  God desires that we be of like mind.   Hebrew law phrased it this way, “Be Holy as I am Holy.”  God’s people are to be set apart, separate, and distinct from the world and the world’s way.

 

Jesus reveals the character of God.  Similarly, those who belong to Jesus reveal Jesus’ character and those who belong to the world reveal the character of the world.  Jesus’ followers are to be faithful and caring of all creation as a good shepherd cares for his sheep.

 

So, Jesus, trying to respond to the question, says:  I’ve already told you, ‘I am the good shepherd.’  But you don’t get it because you don’t recognize my voice.

 

In that time, shepherds would work together for safety and camaraderie.  Several flocks might be mingled and grazed together in distant pastures.  The good shepherd knew sheep as an individual and literally called them by name.  The sheep recognized and responded only to the voice of their own shepherd.  This recognition came from a relationship of trust.  Sheep recognize and trust the voice that provides for their needs.

 

Jesus says to his questioners that he has already told them plainly what they need to know.  The trouble is, he has told them with deeds rather than words.  Jesus role and identity cannot be reduced to a title- even if it is “Lord.”  Jesus’ role and identity must be experienced.  The sheep know and trust the shepherd, not because they have gone through any sort of rational, intellectual discernment; but because they have experienced the shepherd and his works.  In the same way a child knows and trusts his or her mother because of experience- not reason.  It is no accident that elsewhere Jesus says: “Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a child will never enter it.”  Mark 10:15, Luke 18:17

 

So too, we enter the kingdom of God through experience.  It was St. Anselm who called our talk about God “faith seeking understanding.”  We experience the Holy One first and then we try to articulate that which is so important to our abundant life.  We hear the voice of the good shepherd in one context and when we have named it we can begin to hear it in other times and places.

 

So: how, when do you hear Jesus’ voice?  We talked about it at session on Thursday.  We used different words but the question was the same.  Our question, one ask at Presbytery this week was:  Where is God/Jesus working, breathing, moving, whispering, nudging, pushing, pulling, encouraging, speaking to you in your life recently?

 

Our answers ranged from relishing the new life of spring to caring for another, to discerning a path for the future.  The good shepherd cares about all aspects of life and seeks to guide, IF we listen and recognize his voice.   Theologically, the heart of this lesson is that “My sheep hear my voice… and follow me.”  Jesus' sheep don't just "hear" his voice - they recognize it and follow.  Think of the people whose voice you recognize on the phone simply from them saying "Hello."

 

The challenge for most mainline Christians is recognizing Jesus' voice.  We’ve not been talked a lot about to listen to and recognize the voice of Jesus.  We’ve don’t stress how to have a relationship with Jesus, in which we feel secure, protected and personally known.  We are just beginning to use words like spiritual formation and discernment; while Evangelicals have talked about a personal relationship with Jesus all their lives.

 

But you know the voice of Jesus even though we you might now talk about it.  After all you responded to the Spirit’s prompting to get out of bed this morning!  You return week after week to be fed and nurtured by the Word.  It was the voice of the good shepherd who said, “Let’s do something” and the Random Acts folks gathered to feed the sheep.

 

Last week, the group prepared a meal for a stressed family.  When they went to deliver it, the family wasn’t home.  So, they went and bought a Styrofoam cooler; placed ice on the bottom and put the casserole, et al on the ice.  They left the box on the doorstep with a prayer that the dogs wouldn’t get it!

 

On Thursday, the mother told the preschool teacher that she thought the Presbyterians must have left some food.  She said the family had been at church, and they’d stayed especially late counseling another couple.  As they drove home, mom was fretting because she didn’t have anything for supper.  They hadn’t stopped at the grocery store and she was too tired to cook.  Well, you can figure out what happened when she got home and found dinner waiting on the doorstep, just needing to be warmed up.

 

You see, recognizing God’s voice is not some arcane, mystical discipline.  It is listening to internal promptings to love- the other and yourself.  It might be the call to lie down in green pastures, or drink of still waters.  It might the call to be nourished even in presence of enemies.  It might be the presence that accompanies you through the darkest valley.  It is surely the voice that reminds you that you are not alone in the universe that whispers, “I am with you.”

 

You know that voice!

 

But sometimes there are other voices clamoring for attention.  There is a voice that says, “Look out for number one.  If you don’t nobody will!” There is a voice that says: “Be afraid!” There is a voice that criticizes. There is a voice that nags or demeans. There is a voice that says you need more.

 

Meanwhile, the good shepherd whispers:  I shall not want (to quote the psalmist); I like you as you are (to quote Mr. Rogers); love yourself as the other (to quote Jesus);  enjoy! (to quote the catechism).

 

You know that voice!

 

My charge to you today is to be still and listen for that voice.  Pay attention to that voice.  Still the other voices whirling in your head.  (A theology professor in Austin called it your inner committee.)  Listen for the voice of the good shepherd calling you by name, leading you to green pastures and still waters OR prompting you, like Dorcas, to give clothes for the needy.

 

Listen for the voice that gives you joy and follow it.

 

And one more thing:  when you have heard that voice and/or followed the shepherd, make a note of it.  Write the story, in your mind or on paper.  Give words to your experience so that when you are asked: Why does it make a difference in our life to be a Jesus follower? You will have the answer and be able to share it with confidence, knowing that “God is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” Phil 2:13

 

 

 

 
That We May Have Life PDF Print E-mail
Written by Pat Ireland   
Saturday, 17 April 2010 16:34

 

First Presbyterian Church, Cottonwood Falls, KS

John 20:24-21:17:  “That We May Have Life”

Rev. Pat Ireland, Pastor

April 18, 2010

FIRST LESSON John 20:19-24Isaiah 11:1-10

19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.”

 

SECOND LESSON John 20:24-31 Reading by Theresa Coleman

I was ready to die for him. The last few weeks of his life were hard to understand. We had gone back to that place where John had been baptizing disciples when Mary, Lazarus’ sister sent word that Lazarus was ill.  When Mary sent for Jesus, I was ready to go and die for him. But instead Jesus raised Lazarus – and angered the ruling Jews.

I was ready to die for him.  Yet when the temple guard came and arrested him, we all scattered like roaches hit with a strong light.  We just ran away.

After he died that awful day, we gathered in the upper room and sat in stunned silence. What were we to do? Jesus! Why did you leave us?

We were scared. We went out one at a time to gather news and food. The city was a frightening place to be.  Once, when I had gone out, the rest of us had gathered together, but had locked all the doors in the house.  Jesus - how do I say this? –

They told me later that Jesus came into the room and stood among them, and said, "Peace to you."  He showed them his hands and side.  I heard that they became excited and jumped up and raced around.  Jesus said again “Peace to you.”  He then added, “Just as the Father sent me, I now send you.”

And then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

When I got back they told me, "We saw the Master." I think all the blood rushed out of my head – I felt like I was going to faint. I didn’t know what to think.  I had pinned all my hope on this man – I was ready to die for him.

I said, "Until I see the nail holes in his hands, put my finger in the nail holes, and stick my hand in his side, I won't believe it."  And that was that.

Eight days later, we were all together in the room.  Jesus came right through the locked doors, stood among us, and said, "Peace to you."

Then he looked at me right in the face and he said, "Take your finger and examine my hands. Take your hand and stick it in my side.  Don't be unbelieving. Believe."

Me! A Jew!  Was he dead or not?  Could I touch him?

I held out my hand– I was shaking and I said, "My Master! My God!"  And at that moment, I knew! I knew he was God!

All my life I had been repeating the Shema --
“Hear, Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One….. And you shall bind them as a sign on your hand…” What was this he had in his hands, in his flesh?  My master and my God!  He is God’s Word made flesh!

Then Jesus said, "So, you believe because you've seen with your own eyes. Even better blessings are in store for those who believe without seeing."

He is God! It’s not that I was ready to die for him, he was ready to die for me!

Sh'ma Yisrael Adonai Elohaynu Adonai Echad. The Lord your God is One! Hallelujah!

THIRD LESSON John 21:1-17

1   After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way.  2  Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples.  3  Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

4   Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus.  5  Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.”  6  He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish.  7  That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea.  8  But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off.

9   When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread.  10  Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.”  11  So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn.  12  Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord.  13  Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish.  14  This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.

15   When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.”  16  A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.”  17  He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.

FOURTH LESSON Our final reading is from  John 20:30-31.  It is the original ending to John’s Gospel.

30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

 

MEDITATION

Unlike Mark, John’s gospel gives us not the empty tomb and three resurrection appearances, all so that we might have life, and have it abundantly.

Let us pray:  Holy and Eternal One, guide the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts that we might have life in your love.  Amen

 

You’ve just heard three resurrection stories, and I’m giving you permission to let your mind wander during this brief meditation.  For you see, the Spirit of the risen Jesus, our living Lord, will guide your thoughts if you allow it.  More than the literal message on paper, the Written words are a door/or window, for the Spirit to enter.  So I am going to lift up some offerings of the Spirit regarding these stories, and I invite you to receive that which the Spirit calls to your attention as a gift of love.

 

The risen Jesus begins by breaking doors locked in fear and breathes Peace upon the disciples.  Scholars call this John’s Pentecost.  Gifts of the Spirit are given with a commission.  Gift are given to be used.  The risen Jesus breathes peace on the disciples.

 

Take a big breath, hold it, exhale slowly.  Sense the peace in you and shared with others.  Our living Lord is in our midst.


Jesus said: If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

 

Is there someone you need to forgive?  Is there someone whom you’ve bound with expectations based on previous behavior?  Is it time to set them free?  Is it time to let the risen Christ breathe peace into your relationship?  …

But Thomas was out shopping or something and he didn’t see the Risen Lord.  The disciples tried to convince him, but like most of us, he needed a personal experience, one we can call our own.  We cannot live our lives based on the witnesses of others, we must as Paul says, “Work out work out our own salvation with fear and trembling.”

 

Because the Living One “is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for God’s good pleasure.” Phil 2:12-13

 

The Holy Spirit comes to each in a voice we can recognize and understand.  God wants to provide for our deepest needs.

 

The Risen One returns to the gathered disciples, not to build up the group, but the meet the needs of one, the one who was outside and is now returned.  The Risen One enters to meet the needs of one soul who is in need.

 

We meet on the first day of the week, gathering to us those who need support and reassurance so that the Risen One will again be manifest in our midst to reassure, comfort and confront.


Some time later, the disciples have gone back to work.  Though they have worked all night, their nets are empty.  Some have suggested that is because they were following their own desires rather than God’s.

 

Anyway, there is one on the shore who suggests another alternative.  Tired and discouraged though they are- they try again.  Did they already sense who the stranger was?

 

They lower the nets again, as directed, and they come up full!  So full they can hardly manage the catch.  Then, the one whom Jesus loved, recognizes who it is; and Peter, the guy whose idea it was in the first place, jumps ship and swims to shore.  The others are left to bring in the catch!

 

Called from work they are fed by the Risen One, who offers them bread as they enjoy the fruits of their labor.  Then a curious thing happens.  Jesus singles out the one who has denied him three times and commissions him three times, with “Feed my lambs, tend my sheep, feed my sheep.”

 

I spent lots of time in the car the last week.  I wondered if there isn’t a link between feeding, caring for sheep/people and forgiving sins.  I wonder if we really can care for others without forgiving them, and I wonder if we can really forgive one without caring for them.  I wonder if forgiveness is that which feeds us -and others- and I have a vision of grazing on the tender young blades of forgiveness sprouting through the scorched ground.

 

Jesus taught us to pray:  “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” We talked about it in Bible study before I left.  The author, Ellsworth Kalas, calls it “the prayer we answer ourselves.”  He reminds us that we determine the measure of forgiveness that we receive.  The prayer Jesus taught asks God to forgive our sins in proportion to the forgiveness we extend to others.  It is as if forgiveness is too great a matter to be treated casually; far too crucial to the very structure of the universe.

 

We, who say that Jesus died for our sins, must accept that our generous God is not casual about the business of forgiveness.   After all, he died to reaffirm the covenant of forgiveness and it is the first commission the Risen One gives to the disciples!  Further,  I suspect that it is only out of the Peace of Christ that we are able to forgive our debtors.  The process of forgiveness begins with God.  The commission to feed/forgive comes out of God’s gracious assurance that we have been forgiven.

 

Clearly this gift is meant to be passed along; and if it is not passed on, it somehow ceases to work in our own lives.  Perhaps, the hard heart that retains the sins of others is not a suitable habitat for the Living One.

 

John’s gospel opens: “In the beginning was The Word” saying, “What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.”1:4 At the heart of the gospel Jesus says, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”10:10 The book closes with: this is written “so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.”

 

The Risen One breathes peace and commissions us to forgive and feed.  I am proposing that there these are all essential to the life we are offered in the Word, the Son of God.

 

What do you think?

 

 

Last Updated on Saturday, 17 April 2010 16:40
 
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