Tag Archives: Jesus

Who Do YOU Say I Am?

 Scripture: Mark 8:11-28

The final command that Jesus gave to his disciples before his ascension was to “go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded….” We call it the Great Commission.   Luke reports it a little differently in Acts 1:8 and has Jesus final words to his disciples being this:   “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  

Different words—same essential message.   Disciples of Jesus are to tell the world about Jesus the Risen Messiah and the Kingdom of God he proclaimed.

The basic question is:   How do we go a about doing that in a world that seems uninterested?

We’ve tried inviting them to church.   No longer works well in the present day of millennials and younger folks.

We’ve tried advertising.   Doesn’t seem to work well any more.

We’ve tried scaring people with messages of eHell and damnation and God’s wrath. They were just turned off– -We have found that and faith and fear doesn’t seem to fit together.   In fact, faith is what cancels out fearo.   And the scare tactics do not attract but drive peopleaway. They don’t have much to do with telling people about Jesus.   So scare tactics are counterproductive.

We’ve tried TV and the social media, including web-pages and blogs.   Not working.

We’ve tried changing our music and worship services to “contemporary” rather than “traditional”.   We’ve tried praise bands and loud music while throwing our pipe organs out the back door.   Turns out it didn’t make much of a difference.

 

WHAT WE HAVE NOT TRIED IS PROCLAIMING THE KINGDOM OF GOD THE WAY JESUS DID IT.   What way is that?   Let’s look again at our text for today to answer that question:

            When Jesus asked his disciples the questions in the text today:   Who do people say I am?   And who do you say I am?—-it was near the close of his earthly ministry.   These disciples had followed him, lived with him on a daily basis,   ate with him, shared ministry with him, listened to his teachings.   In the gospel of Mark, Jesus does not ever refer to himself as the Messiah.

            Jesus had kept a low profile on being the Messiah up to this point.   He wasn’t interested in self-promotion and big advertisements in the local papers & Tv..   He published no bumper stickers to place cars advertising who he was.   He hadn’t handed out t-shirts or hats with his face on them.   Jesus, according to Mark’s account, had kept a strict “don’t tell a soul” policy. Jesus referred to himself in Mark as “the son of man”.  

So Peter’s response was based on one thing only—-his experience of JesusWhat Jesus did.   How he acted.  What he taught by his daily life.     From his daily experience of being Jesus follower, Peter discovered who Jesus was—-from his actions more than his words.   When Peter said:   “You are the Messiah!”   it was based on Jesus actions—not just his words. It was based on what Peter had seen as he followed Jesus.

            When Jesus heard Peter’s words, he then began to explain to Peter and the disciples what it meant to be the Messiah   Peter still didn’t fully understand.   He saw Jesus as the messiah—but according to Peter’s definition of “messiah.”   What does “messiah” mean? It harkens back to the Jewish understanding of an “anointed one”.   Anointed by God for a special purpose.   Peter got the word right but substituted his own definition of messiah for the one that Jesus was. It is the Hebrew word for “Christ” (christos) in Greek.

            In the O.T. “messiah” was used to refer to Kings as God’s anointed ones.   As such, in many people’s minds that meant one who God anointed as a conquering hero like David, flushed with success.   But Isaiah gives the word a “different meaning” as he describes the Messiah as being a “suffering servant”.   For Jesus, the “suffering servant” is the vision that is given in Isaiah was the one he sought to fulfill by his life and work.  

           I think in far too many of our churches today we see Jesus in a third way that we have concocted.   Jesus has become a religious market product in today’s world.   There are “Jesus Loves you” smiley beanbag babies; little plastic cross-shaped containers filled with bubbles;   religious pencils; “Jesus is the Light” key chains; “Jesus Lives” rolls of stickers; Lamb of God resin lambs; God erases sin erasers; religious tattoos; pens, posters, etc.   There are bumper stickers saying:

Warning¨ In case of Rapture this car will be driverless; or

“Got God?”

Eternity: smoking or non-smoking?

Jesus is coming, everyone look busy.

There are billboard signs beside our roads advertising Jesus.

 We think we are spreading the word about Jesus with these, but really the only result is they serve to make money for those who sell them. That is because they –do not define the Messiah, God’s suffering servant, God’s anointed   Is it any wonder that people are turned off by all of this?   His “marketing approach” is not a good one for telling the world about Jesus and Gode.  

 We don’t seem to be doing a very good job of telling people about Jesus and God with all the media and paraphanalia we are distributing.

 

Increasingly we hear from the younger generations but more and more from the older generations, that they are searching for God in our churches and not finding God there. They want to deepen their relationship with God.   They say they are “spiritual” not “religious”.   Remember the statistic I gave you last week—-90 of churchgoing adults report that they have never experienced God in church!

So What Do We Do??  

            There are two ways that we can get the word out about Jesus, the Christ, the anointed one of God and the gospel or good news that Jesus brought to humankind about God and his Kingdom:

            The first is by word.   If you were asked what the gospel is, what would your answer be?   If you were asked why it is good news for all people, how would you explain it?? Would you say that Jesus was sent from God with the revelation that God loves all of his creation and that God is not like some person “out there somewhere” but is present in nature and in our daily lives—-whether we recognize God’s presence or not.   Would we say that Jesus revealed a God of love?   Would we say that God is a forgiving God and is like a Father to his children?

            We have to know what we believe about Jesus and God before we can effectively communicate about them to others?

            The second way, and best way is by how we live in God’s Kingdom on earth that Jesus came to proclaim.  

            The sermon on the mount in Matthew communicates “the way” of Jesus.   That’s how we are supposed to be living   Nothing spreads the word better about Jesus’   proclamation of the Kingdom of God on earth and his revelation of God as a God of love and forgiveness than when we as his followers live according to the rules of that Kingdom.     We do this by loving the unlovely; by going the extra mile; by turning the other cheek; by feeding the hungry; by sheltering the homeless; by tending the ill and visiting the dying.

The early church spread rapidly because its followers practiced their beliefs and didn’t just preach!!

As Francis of Assisi said to his monks:   preach constantly, using words only when necessary.

 

I want to close with this story about a lady being pulled over by a traffic cop in a busy city.   She said to him:   “Why did you pull me over?   I wasn’t breaking any laws.”   The policeman answered her this way:   I’ve been watching you for several minutes now. During that time about a lady being pulled over by a traffic cop in a busy city.   She said to him:   “Why did you pull me over?   I wasn’t breaking any laws.”   The policeman answered her this way:   I’ve been watching you for several minutes now. During that time you sped up and went by a car that had cut in on you too quickly and gave him “the universal sign of human friendship”.   Then at the next stoplight you banged your hands on the steering wheel in frustration and honked because the car in front of you didn’t leave quickly enough when the light turned green, then you sped by someone you thought was going to slow and yelled obscenities at them.    

            The lady said—“But officer, none of those are illegal.   I still don’t know why you stopped me!”

            The officer replied:   “Ma’am, I saw the bumper sticker on the back of your car that said “God loves you and so do I”   and I thought that this must be a stolen car.

 

OUR ACTIONS SPEAK SO LOUDLY AT TIMES THAT OTHERS CAN’T HEAR WHAT WE ARE SAYING!   Amen.  

 


 

 

 

 

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The Candles of Advent—Love

 

“Do We Really Want This Baby?

Text:  Luke 1:26-38

            Do We Really Want this Baby??    Due to the invention of the birth control pill and the legalization of abortion, that is a question often asked in our country these days.   Our discussions about abortion often generate a lot more heat than they do light on the subject.   Listening to the arguments, that can be vicious on either side of the question, you would think that in the U.S. children are very important!!

            I’m not saying that children are not important.  I am saying that sometimes we have mixed emotions in the United States as well as the rest of the world about children.

            On the one hand, we have couples who spend thousands of dollars at fertility clinics trying to have a child.  On the other hand, we have couples who want to abort their prospective children if they are the wrong sex, have some physical disability, or if they think they are “not ready yet.”   So what do we really think about having children.    In truth, when we look at it statistically in the U.S., Germany, and Japan we see a we see a baby bust, not a baby boom.   People are having fewer and fewer babies.   In the U.S., the total birth rate has dropped from 3.2 children per woman in 1920 to 2.1 children today.   In Europe, the birth rate is even more changed—from 2.8 children to 1.5 over the period of 1970 to 2000.  WHY?  Lots of “experts” give lots of reasons that vary from:

The cost of children in the U.S.—that exceeds $200,000 per child, not including college.

The fact that we have good retirement insurance and don’t need children to take care of us in our old age.

The shift from an agricultural/non-industrial culture which needed lots of children to help do the work and keep the family alive, to a technical/industrial culture which needs less children.

A world dominated by terrorism threats causes parents to hesitate to bring children into such a world.

Whatever the reason might be, these statistics raise the question as to whether we as a nation are less welcoming to children, less willing to bring them into the world than we once were.   

“Do we really want this baby?”   the sermon title asks.   That is a question that Mary might well have asked as we look at our text this morning.  In that text we heard how the angel Gabriel visited a young peasant woman named Mary, who was engaged to Joseph, a carpenter in her hometown of Nazareth.

            We often don’t realize how alarming what the angel said to Mary must have been to her!    “You will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus.”

            That wasn’t necessarily good news to a young woman getting ready for her wedding night to find out that she was going to be pregnant although she had not yet been with her husband Joseph.  !    Her first question was:   “How can this be?”   It might well have been  “What am I supposed to tell Joseph?”

            In  first century Jewish culture what she had just learned would be seen by her religious neighbors as adultery and was grounds for stoning and not just grounds for divorce or breaking the engagement!   An engagement or betrothal was as binding as marriage.   Mary’s life was endangered by this news!

            Mary questioned the news saying:  “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” and the angel answered her:  “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called the son of God.”   WOW!!  And the angel told her that the child’s name would be “Jesus”—the Greek form of the Hebrew word “Joshua” that means “He will save” in the Hebrew.   WOW!!!

            Mary could have said:  “No way, Gabriel!   I’m not going to touch this baby thing with a 10 foot pole!   Way too much at risk here—my marriage, my very life is at risk.   Sorry—find someone else.  I don’t need this kind of a burden at this time of my life!

            What Mary said was“Here I am, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word!”  In other words:  “Yes, Gabriel, I want this baby if that is God’s will for me!”

The same question comes to us this Advent Season as we read the announcement of the angel Gabriel– The question is:  Do we really want this baby Jesus? Are we really ready to birth and cradle this Christ child in our own lives?   Are we really ready to welcome the adult Jesus that he will grow into as a part of our world today?    Are we??

            Or are we more inclined upon hearing the claims and risks involved with accepting this Jesus into our world to hit the road and get outta town?   Because when we birth and cradle this Christ Child in our lives we will find that this baby grew up and that the Christ will challenges us to be transformed as a member of God’s kingdom on earth that he came to proclaim.  He will challenge us to also reach out our arms to others who will need our love and and the God of love that Christ proclaimed  in their lives.  And that might be inconvenient!   That might be risky!   That might we dangerous!  That might make demands on us we don’t want to meet!

            You see, if we truly welcome this Christ into our lives, our lives are going to be changed in a significant and total way, just as Mary’s life was changed significantly and totally!  

            It is significant that Mary said “yes” to the angel and to God and was willing to risk her reputation, her marriage, her very life, in order for the Son of God to enter the world.   She didn’t worry about her engagement, her social standing, her health, or her long-term financial security.   She didn’t spend a minute thinking about retirement benefits or whether she could use a child to take care of her in her old age.   Instead she said “yes” to a baby who would grow up to be called Jesus of Nazareth, and be called the Son of God who would proclaim the good news that God’s kingdom and rule had entered the world and who would reveal God to us in a new and wonderful way as a God of love.   Are we receptive to this rule of God in our lives?   Are we hearing the call of God through Jesus to be transformed?   Are we willing to embrace the Christ Child and the man, Jesus of Nazareth and allow his proclamation and his teachings and his example to make a difference in our lives?

            If we say “yes” to these questions,  we’ll find ourselves changed.   If our lives are not changed by saying “yes” then we really haven’t said it with honesty.   Because if we say “yes” then we will become a person who has Christ at the very center of who we are, just as Mary received the life of Jesus into the deepest and most intimate part of herself.   We’ll turn into a person who can say along with Mary:   “Here I am, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your will!!   Are we willing to say that?

What we are talking about in this sermon is the word that we don’t find in the Bible but that the church invented to describe the mystery of Jesus’ birth—-INCARNATION.    John’s gospel tries to describe it as “the word became flesh and dwelt among us.”  The prophet Isaiah spoke of the word as “Immanuel”—God with us.”     The incarnation means that our God, who stands outside of time—who is infinite (without ending)—-becomes finite (ending).   The God who is all powerful becomes all-vulnerable.   The God who brought the world into being now is born of Mary’s womb to bear the good news of God’s love for the world.  

This is the gift of Christmas—the gift of God’s love for the world that came as a flesh and blood baby—Jesus.    This Jesus was not some glow-in-the-dark-Christ- Child        Jesus, the very God incarnate, was a real, live, ordinary, crying, cooing, sleeping, eating, wetting baby.   And just as with all babies, his greatest need was to be held in human arms, touched by human hands, soothed by human words of love and reassurance.              

He in turn, as we was brought up with love by Joseph and Mary, would reach out in love and show us that God was a God of love.   That God cares for us.   That God is with us at all times.   And that challenges us, because as God seeks us through the incarnation, God’s love demands that we answer this question:   DO WE WANT THIS JESUS IN OUR LIVES?

            If we do, we will be forever changed, just as Mary was forever changed—-and we, in turn, will reach out to others,   not just in this season of advent, but in all seasons, saying:   “HERE WE ARE, SERVANTS OF THE LORD.   LET IT BE ACCORDING TO YOUR WILL!    ARE WE WILLING TO DO THAT?

            Let me close with a story that took place during World War II:   

            A soldier was concluding sentry duty on Christmas morning outside London.  It had been his custom in other years to attend worship in his home church on Christmas Day, but here in the outlying areas of London it was not possible.   And so, with some of his buddies, the soldier walked down the road that led into the city just as dawn was breaking.    Soon the soldiers came upon an old greystone building over whose entrance was carved the words:   “Queen Anne’s Orphanage.”   They decided to check and see what kind of celebration was taking place inside.   In response to their knock, a matron came and explained that the children were war orphans whose parents had been killed in the London bombings.

            The soldiers went inside just as the children were tumbling out of their beds.   There was no Christmas Tree in the corner and no presents.   The soldiers moved around the room, wishing the children a Merry Christmas and giving as gifts whatever they had in their pockets; a stick of gum, a Life Saver, a nickel or a dime, a pencil, a knife, a good luck charm.   The soldier noticed a little fellow standing alone in the corner.   He looked a lot like his own nephew back home, so he approached and asked,  And you, little guy, what do you want for Christmas?   The boy replied,  “Will you hold me?”   The soldier, with tears in his eyes, picked up the boy, nestled him in his arms and held him close.” 

That’s what Emmanuel, God with us, means.   .  That’s what Jesus taught us:  God does not keep us at arms length, but reaches out lovingly to us and hold us as the soldier held the little boy.  

            IF CHRIST IS BORN IN US THIS CHRISTMAS, WE TOO WILL REACH OUT WITH OPEN AND LOVING ARMS TO THOSE IN NEED—WE TOO WILL HAVE A HANDS-ON LOVING RELATIONSHIP WITH ALL AROUND US.   WE WILL SHOW BY OUR CHANGED LIVES THAT WE REALLY DO WANT THIS BABY JESUS!   Amen.

          Today we light the 4th Candle of Advent—the Candle of Love. And the birth of Jesus tells us:    IT’S ALL ABOUT LOVE!!    God so loved the world that he sent his only Son!    Jesus—that Son, told us that all the law and commandments and the prophets were summed up in this simple yet profound statement—-“You shall love the Lord Your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength—-and your neighbor as yourself!”   

Jesus  didn’t say just at Christmas time!    He didn’t put any limits on how much or how often!   And when he said “love”  he said  “love as I have loved you!”    Amen.

The Candles of Advent

 

It is a practice in many churches to celebrate the Season of Advent—a season when we look forward to the coming of the Christ Child— by lighting a candle each of the four Sundays preceding Christmas.   Each candle helps us remember something as we prepare for the coming of the Christ Child on Christmas Eve, when we light the Christ Candle remembering the birth of Jesus the Christ.   The first candle is a candle of “Hope”; the second a candle of “Peace”; the third a candle of “Joy” and the fourth is a candle of “Love.”

My posts for this month are built around an exposition of the meaning of each of these candles for our lives and the life of our churches.    I hope you will join me as we discuss each of the candles the next four weeks.

RESTORE US, O GOD:   Hope

Text:  Psalm 80: 1-7, 17-19

Theme:   God’s strength meets us in the midst of our weakness and gives us hope.   That is the message of Advent.

 

Despite all the modern day electronic communication technology today there is something missing in the lives of many people.  That is that in the midst of all of this electronic communication people feel very alone.      What is missing is  real “heart to heart” talks where we see the person we are communicating with, not on a screen we are “skyping” on;  but we are missing the ability to reach out and touch each other  and reassure and express your concern for them with a hug.  We are missing  the messages we can read in their eyes and the vocal nuances that help us look into our hearts and share with in a way that all the electronic media in the world does not allow us to share.  In a nutshell—-we are missing having a relationship with each other “face to face” as we have what the French call a “tete a tete—-head to head communication.

That is the way we can have the hope that the Psalmist is crying out for in our text today.  Through our relationship with God.   Only as we place our lives in a personal relationship with God can we have hope for God’s strength in the times of our weakness.

Listen to some of his words: 

Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock!

Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved.

But let your hand be upon the one at your right hand, the one whom you made strong for yourself.   Then we will never turn back from you; 

Give us life and we will call on your name!

 

Do you catch all the references to a “Face-to-Face” relationship with God that is desired by the Psalmist?     In that face to face relationship with God the Psalmist seeks and finds the strength of God in times of trouble.

This Psalm lays bare our need for God’s intervention in our lives and for a personal relationship with God.   The writer is not asking for a message of assurance.  This Psalm was probably written during the period of the Babylonian Exile and  he speaks for a people without hope– A people that fear they are being utterly consumed and lost—A people that feel alienated and alone.   The psalmist speaks of a need for hope in God’s favor, strength and love  because without hope, the people are not only not delivered from Exile, but are doomed to hopeless despair.

This Psalm then is a cry for relationship, for personal interaction, for “face time” with God!!

I believe the prayer of the Psalmist echoes the hopeful yearning of  people today.   “Let your face shine that we may be savedis the call of people today who are surrounded by technology but are still lonely for meaningful communication and relationship. It is the  hope  today we have as we seek to find strength for our trials in personal relationships with other people and the hope for a strength that we can find only in God.    It is the cry of people who may receive hundreds of texts every day on their smart phones but who still feel unheard and trapped by forces in their lives they cannot control.    It is the hope in the human heart which does not want simply to be told of love but needs to experience that love personally—from others and from our God.

Thus the  prayer of the Psalmist for God’s strength is echoed in different circumstances today by many people who feel that   are overcome by the stresses in their world and are losing or have lost all hope. 

Sometimes we may feel like we are “hitting the wall”  and spinning out of control.

We may face unemployment with the resulting loss of faith in ourselves and feel that future employment is hopeless.

We may  feel like the economy over which they seem to have no control, is eating us alive.

We may be faced with terminal illness for ourselves or a loved one.

We may be grieving the loss of a loved one.

All of these may cause us to feel hopeless.   But the message of the psalmist  is that we can find hope in all these things in our personal relationship with a God who loves us and cares for us, if we will open ourselves to His love and care.

One thing that I have experienced in my life is that we must face our losses and our helplessness, as the psalmist is doing, before we are able to seek God to restore us.  We must recognize that we cannot do it on our own.   We must come to the point where we see that we  have no hope by simply using only the resources that we have—-that they will not see us through—-then we are able to open ourselves to God and let God’s strength and love come to our rescue.    As Paul says in Romans 8:  “If God is for us, who can be against us?”  God’s strength then meets us in the midst of our weakness and gives us the hope that we so desperately need.   That is the message of  this candle of Advent.

A candle is made to give light, and the light of God’s love that the Psalmist proclaimed long before is portrayed again in the Gospel of John:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.   He was in the beginning with God.   All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.  What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.   The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it. 

Hope is found in the “shining face of God” today as it was for the psalmist.   It is the hope we find as we experience a relationship with God.    The light of the knowledge and love of God that Jesus brought into the world is the source of the hope that still shines in our darkness and the darkness has not been able to overcome it. 

The question for us is—-where do we see and experience God’s face shining today?   The good news for this dark time is that the light of hope   continues to shine in the darkness of our world today.      The darkness cannot overcome God’s light of hope.   God’s face will shine and reflect God’s mercy and forgiveness for a world “hitting the wall and out of control.”   That is the hope expressed by the candle of Hope this week.

The answer to the plea of the Psalmist in Psalm 80 and the answer to our plea today is a resounding “YES”!!   GOD SAYS:

Yes, I will give ear to your cry.  I hear you!  

Yes, I will come and give you the strength you need because I love you.

Yes, I will restore our relationship that has been fractured by your faithlessness.

Yes, my hand of love and strength will be upon you.

Yes, you have hope because I am there for you whatever happens to you.

This is the promise of advent—-that God’s strength will meet us in the midst of our weakness.   There is no place too dismal, no sin too bad, no transgression too terrible to separate us from the love of God who now comes to us through Jesus the Christ.  That is what gives us Hope to face today and tomorrow and the future.

We need to open our heart, our soul, our mind, to the God who is our hope—-in a personal and tangible way.  God sends the  message of hope for us, not  in a text, not by a star in the sky. He sent it through Jesus the Christ, and  it is the message that God wants to reach out to us in a personal and mutually loving relationship. so that His face can shine upon us and give us His strength to overcome our weaknesses.   That is the message of Hope we have if we will open our lives to his transforming love and presence.   Amen.

 

 

Post-Resurrection Christians in a Pre-Christian World

 

Text:     Luke 3: 1-6

 

Charles Dickens began his novel about the French Revolution:  A Tale of Two Cities, with the words:    “These were the best of times, these were the worst of times….”

Luke, the gospel that is every historians favorite, might have began his gospel with similar words.     If we could go back and see how life was lived in those times we might agree that they were “the worst of times”, while the coming of Jesus, the Messiah, signaled the coming of the  “best of times” with the inbreaking of the Kingdom of God on earth that he proclaimed.

Into the  “worst of times” came John the Baptizer—-preaching a “message of repentance” to prepare for the coming of the Messiah.  We might ask how  a “message of repentance” prepared the way for Jesus?    Was it because people were so bad and sinful?    No—–it is because we misunderstand the word “repentance” these days.   We have come to understand it as “feeling sorry for having disobeyed God” or “regretting the bad things we have done.   That was not the meaning of repentance in John’s day.   In the Greek the word is metanoia— and it’s meaning is “turning around”.    John was urging people to be willing to turn around and go in a different direction—the direction Jesus was coming to proclaim— to turn toward the Kingdom of God.    The Kingdom of God was breaking in on earth—-this Kingdom is not “heaven” or “pie in the sky bye and bye”—-the Kingdom that Jesus proclaimed was a new way of living—-a very different way of living.   We see glimpses of   the way of the Kingdom of God that Jesus proclaimed  throughout  the gospels .   Jesus proclamation of the Kingdom of God set  the business of living in this world in the conventional way on its head in many ways: 

  In God’s Kingdom, Jesus said:

  • Blessed are the poor”—-not the rich.
  • Blessed are the meek”—-not the powerful. The meek will inherit the earth instead of the conventional expectation that the powerful and rich will do so and then pass it on to their heirs.
  • Blessed are the peacemakers—-they, not the army generals as in Jesus time, will be called children of God
  • You have heard ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’ but I say to you Do not resist an evildoer. If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile.”THE KINGDOM OF GOD IS WHAT THE WORLD WOULD BE LIKE IF GOD RULED IN EVERYONE’S LIFE.

These are descriptions Jesus gives and many more of the way life in the Kingdom of God will be different.

The gospel writer, Luke, carefully dated the coming of the Christ by referring to who ruled at the time.   Let’s start our examination of “bad times in Palestine” by looking at those who ruled:

  • Emperor Tiberius:   The stepson of the great Roman Emperor, Caesar Augustus. He was never accepted by other Roman leaders because he was not considered a natural heir. He was neither well-loved nor respected.
  • Pontius Pilate:   had risen from a “middle-management” position to become procurator of Judea in 26 A.D.   He had a gift for antagonizing his Jewish subjects. He knew his hold on Judea was tenuous, so Pilate made up for that weakness by periodically unleashing his soldiers on the citizenry, crucifying hundreds at a time of those who challenged him.   He was feared and despised.
  • Herod Antipas:   A dangerous ruler, designated “King of the Jews” but ruling only with the power of Rome behind him.   He spent a lot money on building cities and pagan temples to impress the Romans—levying high taxes on the Jewish peasants to pay for them. . A paranoid ruler—-feeling everyone was out to get him—he murdered many of those around him he suspected of treachery or even those who spoke out against his evil ways such as John the Baptist whom he beheaded at this wife’s request and gave the head to her on a platter.
  • Caiphas and Annas:   Caiphas was Annas’ son-in-law and together their loyalties lay more with maintaining their shared place of power and wealth they had won from the Romans who appointed them rather than loyalty to God and God’s people.

These rulers in these “worst of times” for the Jews ruled over a culture that:

  • was organized into political entities that included city officials, territorial governors, and heads of state—-all of whom drew their support from the high taxes levied on the peasants
  • Was organized around the worship of many pagan gods.
  • Was designed to support the political and economic power of those who were rich and powerful who lived by different rules and standards than the common people.   Among those rich and powerful were the temple priests and the Pharisees and Sadducees.
  • A culture where about 1 to 2% the population of the Empire were rich and powerful; those who worked for and supported them about 5%  and the other 93% were peasants living a subsistence life or below—just enough to barely live on and survive.   [When Jesus taught his disciples to pray saying—–“Give us this day our daily bread” and “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors” he was speaking of the two most constant worries of the peasant class—-food and freedom from debt. If you had no food, you starved.   If you couldn’t pay your debts, including your high taxes, you were thrown in prison and if you had land it was seized by your creditor to satisfy the debt.
  • A Culture where the religious structure and leaders worked in concert with the political/governmental power of Rome to maintain their wealth and power and carry out their temple agenda that kept them wealthy.
  • A culture where many people were lost and perished every day—a violent culture.

 

DOES IT SOUND FAMILIAR?   The similarities to our country today are apparent:

  • We also are a country where the rich and powerful live by different rules and standards than the common people and where those with money and power have become popular status figures.
  • A country where 10% of the people have 60% of the total income with the other 40% of the money divided among the other 90% of the population.
  • A country that worships many pagan gods—-we just call them by different names—-money, power, pleasure, comfort, sports, etc.
  • A country where people with no conscience kill and rob on a daily basis.   Where life is cheap.   A country whose children kill and maim their teachers and fellow classmates. A country where multiple murders are committed in movie theaters and at marathons. We live in a country where violence is commonplace.
  • A country where the wealth of a Beverly Hills exists in stark contrast to the filth and poverty of a Watts in the same city of Los Angeles.
  • A country where the lonely and the aged, the poor and the mentally challenged, the children with no access to health care and not enough to eat, the homeless, and the misfits of society remain largely unseen and uncared about.   Programs to help them, such as affordable health care and extension of Medicaid benefits are the first ones cut from government budgets or discarded for political reasons.   We reduce food stamps and aid for struggling families in order to reduce the federal deficit—–while huge corporations that contribute to re-election of our legislators continue to receive tax breaks and other benefits they do not need.
  • We live in Kansas—-also a place where children go to bed hungry, without health care, and are homeless even though both parents work—-but for indecently low wages that can’t support their families—and we still support those who have made the lives of these vulnerable people worse and fail to speak out about the lack of fairness and the injustice of the wage system that gives business CEO’s 250% higher wages than those who work for them.
  • A place where religious leaders are too often in close collusion with political and governmental powers in order to get their limited negative agendas taken care of legally.
  • This is a country ruled more and more by men and women whose only aim is to do whatever is necessary to stay in power, whether right or wrong does not matter, —-like modern day Herod’s and Pilates

THE SPIRITUAL LEADERSHIP GROUP OF MY CHURCH RECENTLY DISCUSSED OUR NEED FOR A VISION FOR THE CHURCH.   SURELY PART OF THAT VISION MUST BE A VOICE CRYING IN THE WILDERNESS LIKE THAT OF JOHN THE BAPTIST SAYING “TURN AROUND FOR THERE IS A BETTER WAY THAN THIS WAY OF GREED AND SUFFERING THAT YOU ARE WALKING”—-IT IS THE WAY OF JESUS AND THE KINGDOM OF GOD THAT JESUS PROCLAIMED.” 

  IT IS THE MISSION OF OUR POST-RESURRECTION CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY TO PROCLAIM THE KINGDOM OF GOD THROUGH WHAT WE DO AND WHO WE ARE AS GOD’S PEOPLE.    We need to show them that better way through the lives we lead as Christians. .

There are many people wondering in the wilderness of drug abuse, of broken relationships, of too little income, of homelessness.   There are those who have given up hope and struggle from day to day to fight down the urge to end their lives.   There are those filled with anger who want to strike out at the world that abuses them and uses them.   These wanderers in the wilderness are young and old, rich and poor, male and female, all skin colors; but they all feel vulnerable in a world that seems to have gone crazy. They are trying to raise families in this world where even the schools are unsafe for their children. They are not aware of the Kingdom of God that Jesus proclaimed.   They are waiting for someone to show them, not tell them, a different way—-a way that will give them and their children hope and happiness and a new beginning. They are waiting for us to show them by our lives how to follow the Great Commandment of Jesus:   “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and strength and your neighbor as yourself.   That is a vision for the church—-To live the Great Commandment in the community that surrounds us.

For people are wandering around in this wilderness today, having lost their moral, emotional and economic way—–yearning for something better and not quite knowing what that something better is.   They are yearning for Jesus to show them the way—-a different way of living that leads to a society where all of God’s people are treated equally, fairly, and lovingly.   Jesus proclaimed that way.   He lived that way.   THE CHURCH IS JESUS’ BODY AND NEEDS TO SHOW THAT WAY TODAY.    AND WE CAN’T JUST “TALK ABOUT IT” WE NEED TO “WALK THE WAY!”

Listen to what one of the Millenial Generation wrote to you and me….Post-Resurrection Christians……

Do you know, Do you Understand

That you represent Jesus to me?

 

Do you know, do you understand

That when you treat me with gentleness,

It raises the question in my mind that maybe Jesus is gentle, too?

Maybe he isn’t someone who laughs when I’m hurt?

 

Do you know, do you understand

That when you listen to my questions and you don’t laugh,

I think, “What if Jesus is interested in my questions, also?

 

Do you know, do you understand

That when I hear you talk about arguments and conflict and scars from your past

That I think, “Maybe I am just a regular person

Instead of a bad, no-good person who deserves abuse?”

 

If you care, I think maybe God cares—

And then there’s this flame of hope that burns inside me,

And for a while, I’m afraid to breathe

Because it might go out.

 

Do you know, do you understand

That your words are His words?

Your face, His face to someone like me?

 

Please be who you say you are.

Please, God, don’t let this be another trick.

Please, let this be real.

Please….

 

Do you know, do you understand

That you represent Jesus to me?

 

Walking the Walk

 

I’m a “people-watcher”.    I like to spend time while sitting in a car or in the Mall waiting for my wife to finish shopping  just watching people!     One thing that I watch is how they walk.   Have you ever done that?   Think about the way YOU walk and the way OTHER PEOPLE walk.   Can you tell who someone is from a distance by seeing how they walk?    Most people can.   Some stride.  Others Swagger.  Or Swing, or strut, or shuffle, or waddle, or ramble or amble, or scuff the soles of their shoes.   YOUR WAY OF WALKING IS ONE OF THE UNIQUE THINGS ABOUT YOU AND TELLS THE OBSERVER A LOT ABOUT YOU.

The Department of Homeland Security has noticed this also.   There are now two federally-funded, gait-recognition technology projects under development at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta.   “Gait recognition” aims to detect, select, classify, and identify any individual based on the way she or he walks.   This is seen as a possible way to detect known terrorists at up to 500 yards away.   It is still a “work in progress”, but is showing a lot of promise.

But this isn’t a new thing.    Both Jesus and the Apostle Paul pointed out that people look at whether we “walk the walk” more than how we “talk the talk.”   In other words, THEY BOTH STRESS THAT WHAT WE DO IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN WHAT WE SAY!

In the 21st chapter of Matthew, Jesus told the chief priests and elders in the temple a parable when they asked “by what authority do you do these things?”

Jesus told about a man who had two sons.   He went to the first son and told him to go to work in the vineyard.   The son answered  “I will not go!”    But later, the first son thought about it and changed his mind and went to work in the vineyard for his father.  The father also told the second son, “Go to work in my vineyard today”   The second son said:   “Yes, father, I will go.”    But he never did go to work in the vineyard that day.

Jesus asked those questioning him, “Which of the two sons did the will of his father?”  They answered:   “The first son.”   Jesus told them—-truly tax collectors and prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you.   IN OTHER WORDS—-THE SONS ARE JUDGED BY WHAT THEY ACTUALLY DID AND NOT WHAT THEY SAID!   And you will be judged in the same way, he told the priests and elders!!

In II Thessalonians 1:1-4; 11-112, Paul says something very similar.   He says that he and Silas and Timothy give thanks to God for these brothers and sisters because:   “your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of everyone of you for one another is increasing.   Therefore we ourselves boast of you among the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith during all your persecutions and the afflictions you are enduring.!

Why is Paul proud of his brothers and sisters in Thessalonica?   Because of their ACTIONS.   The love they show and demonstrate for each other that is seen by all.   The steadfastness they have exhibited as they endure persecutions and afflictions.   PAUL IS PROUD OF THEM NOT FOR WHAT THEY ARE SAYING, BUT FOR WHAT THEY ARE DOING!!

DO PEOPLE RECOGNIZE US BY HOW WE “WALK THE WALK” OF FAITH?

They’ll know we are Christians by our love” goes the song.   People who watch us determine what faith in Jesus Christ is all about, NOT by what we say to them but by WHAT WE DO TO EACH OTHER!   They will know we are Christians by the way we live, by the way we talk, by the way we “walk the talk.”   If our faith is real, observers will sense it—-they’ll see it!   If its real, they might even ask how they, also, might “walk the walk” of faith.

An ancient term used to describe Christianity was “THE WAY”.    We can’t “talk the WAY”—-we must “walk” the WAY.    It is the way of Jesus as we carry out his great commandment to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, AND YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF!”

Those who study communications tell us that if there is a problem in communication between verbal and non-verbal—-the non-verbal communication wins almost all the time.   90% of communication is non-verbal—-and therein lies the problem that we as followers of Jesus Christ need to examine today.   WE MAY SAY WE ARE CHRISTIANS, BUT ARE WE ACTING LIKE CHRISTIANS?     Are we walking the Christian life, or just talking about it?    Observers will believe what they see over what we might say.   Can those who observe us see any difference in the way we live that identifies us as folllowers of Jesus on the WAY?

This question is especially being asked by two of the present generations who are watching the church very critically—-the Busters and the Millenials.

The Buster generation grew to young adulthood in the shadow of their “Boomer” parents—-Boomers refers to the huge wave of children born after WWII.    The Busters, the children of the Boomers,  are the first generation to face the possibility that they may not achieve as much as did their parents.    The defining moment of their generation is often chosen by them as the tragic explosion of the space shuttle “Challenger.”    That was the moment when they watched the fragile illusion of “In Science we Trust” and “in Technology we trust” blow up in their faces.

The Millenials are those who became adults around the turn of the century—-who are 18-30 years old today—-the children of the Busters.   They therefore share many of the characteristics of their parents, as the “leaves don’t usually fall too far from the tree”.

  • They are very open to “honest” or “real” spirituality.   According to polls—86% of Millenials believe in God.   They don’t want to listen to talk about God—–they want to experience God in their lives. They believe that God is in the world and not just in church buildings—that God can be experienced in a variety of settings!
  • They distrust institutions, including the church, and will not get involved in an institution unless the institution is  actively involved in trying to meet the crucial needs of today’s society. They say they are “spiritual” but not “religious.”
  • They think “talk” is cheap—-the airways have been full of it ever since they were born. They want their talk translated into action.   They have excellent “Fake Detectors”.   They value honesty and can deal with contradictory ideas.
  • They are techno-savvy and are heavily into electronic technology as a key part of their daily lives.
  • They are inclusive and non-judgmental of all people—this applies to homosexuality, abortion, global poverty, environmental issues, immigration, other faiths, etc.
  • They exhibit an authentic spiritual longing for a better sort of Christianity that practices the teachings of Jesus.  They feel that Christianity is supposed to be a religion of love, forgiveness and practicing what Jesus preached and modeled.
  • Relational community, intentional practice, and experiential belief are important to them.
  • Even though they are connected electronically they yearn for connectedness in a community.
  • They have opted out of the “rat race” but not out of the “human race”.
  • They deal with paradox and with contradictory ideas well—they recognize there is no absolute truth and that things are not black or white but shades of grey.

JESUS MAY HAVE BEEN THE FIRST BUSTER/MILLENIAL.   Consider some of the evidence:

  •  He never did join the rat race of his day.
  • He wasn’t into the religious institutions of his day.   Rather he resisted much of what passed for “religion” in his day.
  • He was itinerant—-much of his preaching and teaching was done in the countryside and villages of Galilee.    He didn’t try to build large churches.   He didn’t care about “members” or numbers of members—-he chose only 12 disciples to be his close friends and shared his life with them.
  • He assumed his public ministry late in life He was probably about thirty years old, but in a culture whose life span was about 40 years of age.   .
  • He was inclusive and reached out in compassion to those who were on the margins of society—the social outcasts, lepers, tax collectors, prostitutes, the poor, the widow, the orphans—-and defended them against the “uppity” and “in crowd” of the rich and powerful.
  • He was critical of the domination system that rewarded the few at the expense of the many. So his biggest problem was with the Roman authorities and the religious institutions and authorities of his day.
  • As someone has put it—-Jesus majored in forgiveness and minored in dogma.

IT IS THIS JESUS THAT CONFRONTED THE MEALY-MOUTHED QUESTIONS OF THE PRIEST AND ELDERS AND CHARGED THEM WITH AS “ALL-TALK, NO-WALK” TYPE OF SPIRITUALITY.

There are many people hurting in the world today.   Hurting because of drug abuse, broken relationships, too little income, homelessness!     There are those who have given up hope and struggle from day to day to fight down the urge to end their lives.   There are those filled with anger who want to strike out at the world that abuses them and uses them.   These wanderers in today’s wilderness are young and old,  rich and poor, male and female, all skin colors; but they all feel vulnerable in a world that seems to have gone crazy.   How is the church of Jesus Christ speaking to their needs?   Are they even on our radar?We need to ask ourselves: ARE WE SO BUSY TRYING TO SOUND GOOD, LOOK GOOD, FEEL GOOD AND MAKE GOOD THAT WE DON’T ACTUALLY EVER DO GOOD?,

 

SO—-HOW IS OUR FAITH WALK WITH OUR LORD?

The current younger generation is calling the church to become what it says it is.   They may have problems with organized religion, but they recognize Jesus as one of them.   Are we offering this Jesus to them through our churches and our lives?  If we do, and we show them Jesus in our actions, they will join with us in our work for the Kingdom of God. This generation is open to spiritual growth.   The key to reaching them is the key to reaching every generation—-IT IS TO LIFT UP JESUS IN THE FULLNESS OF HIS LOVE FOR HUMANITY AND TO DEMONSTRATE JESUS IN THE FULLNESS OF OUR LOVE FOR HUMANITY.

And we look today at too many people who call themselves Christians, that are focused only on themselves, who are caught in traffic on the fast track, who are cut off from community because they are too busy or too indifferent to get involved.   THE BUSTERS & MILLENIALS LOOK AT THOSE CHRISTIANS AND SAY—“WE DON’T SEE YOU DOING MUCH!   We’re hearing a lot of talk, but where is the action?   What you are saying about loving Jesus and following him and the Great Commandment to “love God with all your heart, soul and strength and mind, and your neighbor as yourself?—-we don’t see that in your ACTIONS from day to day.”   Guess which these observers will believe—they will believe our actions not our words.

LOOK AT WHAT PEOPLE DO, NOT AT WHAT THEY SAY, Jesus taught.

Jesus offered a Way to experience God as a Father who loves and cares for his children—-directly with no priests and sacrifices or rabbi’s involved.

He saw the religious authorities as “talking the talk” but not “walking the walk.”   Jesus skewered the traditional religious authorities as being “all-show” but “no-go”. He uses the culturally unclean and  reprehensible “tax collectors and prostitutes” as examples of obedience to God in this week’s text, because they listened to him and changed and transformed their lives, while he saw the religious authorities, the traditional symbols of piety and obedience as morally wrong and spiritually empty.   Those religious authorities therefore sought to kill him and eventually did so.

Are people observing us “walk the walk” and not just “talking the talk”—-or are we causing confusion by the gap between what we SAY and what we DO?

Is our faith walk recognizable?   Both up close and at a distance, or even when our backs are turned away?   Can it be seen and known over time?   Is it consistent?

Can people catch sight of our faith walk and begin to understand it over time—-how we behave, how we act, what we do, speak volumes about who we are and whose we are to those around us.   It identifies the quality, reality and the depth of our faith in God.

ARE WE KIND, MERCIFUL, GENEROUS, PATIENT, CHARITABLE, COMPASSIONATE, UPLIFTING, SHOWING LOVE CONSTANTLY EVEN TO THE UNLOVABLE? .

God’s hope for the church is like Paul’s hope for the church in Thessalonica.   Paul observed their faith, love, patience, endurance and resolutions that were visible for all to see.   Their walk with Christ was clearly identifiable.   So must the church today clearly walk with Christ in the eyes of those who see us day by day.

If our faith is truly about love, then we are called to live that faith, and to walk the walk of love every day to the best of our ability.   People in the community around us will see our compassion, our charity, our strides in feeding the hungry and reaching out to the outcast.   They will see our endurance.   They will see us reaching out to the unloving and the unlovely in Jesus name.   They will witness our love for one another as we seek to support each other in troubled times, or when we visit an elderly shut-in, or someone in the hospital or take the time to help someone in need.

You see the words of this poem are really true.   It is one that the present generations demands and echoes and responds to:

“I’d rather SEE a sermon than hear one any day,

I’d rather one would walk with me, than merely tell the way.

For the eye’s a better pupil and more willing than the ear;

Fine counsel is confusing, but examples always clear….

And the best of all the preachers are the one who live their creeds,

For to see faith put in action is what everybody needs….Amen!

 

 

 

 

Remember Who is in Your Boat!

How many of you have experienced some really bad turbulence when you were flying?   I will never forget a flight I was on a few summers ago.   I was flying from San Antonio back to Kansas City after spending a week at Trinity University in San Antonio reading Advanced Placement American History essays for the College Board and Educational Testing Service.   Slightly after we had passed over Fort Worth we unexpectedly hit some of the worst turbulence I have every experienced.   Even the pilot was caught off-guard, as he had just given the O.K. to serve a meal.   Suddenly the plane went every which way, dropping so suddenly that dishes flew everywhere and one of the flight attendants was thrown upward, hitting her head on the ceiling of the plane and sustaining a serious injury.   It was a totally frightening experience!

If we have experienced such an episode in our lives, it may help us identify with the 12 disciples of Jesus in a boat on the sea of Galilee when a violent storm, common to that sea, erupted around them.

We read the story in Mark 4:35-41:

When evening had come, Jesus said to them, “let us go to the other side.”   And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was….

  • Note:   To be a disciple of Jesus was to be always on a journey, it seemed.

A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was being swamped.   But Jesus was in the stern, asleep on the cusions…

  • Note:   Jesus is in the boat with the disciples.   He journeys with them.   They don’t have to “go it alone.”    Although we must also note that Jesus’ presence doesn’t always guarantee smooth sailing—–as it does not guarantee smooth sailing for us today at all times.      There is a terrible storm and the disciples fear for their lives.   Jesus, however, is unperturbed by the storm and sleeps through it until he is awakened by his fearful disciples.
  • And note that the journey can become perilous when we are with Jesus.   Being a disciple of Jesus is not always a calm and peaceful affair—-for his original twelve or for his disciples today.   Some of our greatest adventures with Jesus may be in storms, in the dead of the night, when it is dark, and we’re feeling lost….

And they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”

  • This is the central question of this text:   “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?   And , of course, the answer is Jesus does care!

Jesus shows his care by his actions….”He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace, be still!”   Then the wind ceased and there was a dead calm.   He said to them, “Why are you afraid?   Have you still no faith?”

  • Jesus does not just SAY he cares—he ACTS to show that he cares.   He calms the storm, rebukes the wind and waves, and saves those who without his care might be lost.
  • Jesus also wonders why the disciples are afraid and did not have faith, after all this time with him.    “What’s with your phobia?” is a more literal Greek translation.  Yet despite lack of faith, Jesus does not desert those who dare to travel with him.   He is not choosy about his travel companions!
  • Note also that it is only when the disciples seem to think that all is lost do they think to turn to Jesus.   Isn’t that true for all of us?   Only when we are up against the proverbial brick wall do we discover the saving grace of Jesus was there for us all the time?   Jesus cares and is always there for you—-that is the message of this text.

We have many and various storms in our lives today, don’t we?    The storm may be the discovery of a serious illness that suddenly slams us down.   The storm may be the death of a loved one that comes unexpectedly.   The storm may be the alienation and rejection by a friend or mate whom we love and respect and felt the feeling was mutual.   The storm may be the failure of a business or a church that we put our heart and soul and material goods into.   The list could go on and on.

So how do we try and meet the storms in our lives that assail us?

  • Most of us react like the disciples—we try to take care of it ourselves.   Our natural inclination is to want to control events and fix the things that go wrong in our lives.
  • At some point, though, our own humanity stares us in the face and fear marches through our body and soul.   This is the fear that leads to despair and hopelessness. THAT IS THE POINT WHERE JESUS MEET US WITH A WORD TO THE STORM.  “Be Quiet!”   “Be Still!”  ONLY WHEN WE ARE UP AGAINST THE WALL AND IT SEEMS HOPELESS AND WE CAN’T HELP OURSELVES DO WE THINK TO TURN TO JESUS!
  • And we realize at that point that Jesus has been there with us all the time, if we had but recognized his presence in our lives!

JESUS IS IN THE BOAT WITH US AS WE GO THROUGH LIFE’S STORMS—-HE CARES!    Amen.

Choices

Life is a matter of choices.   There is no way to avoid choosing because not to choose is to make a choice.   Victor Frankl, a German Jew and psychologist, was placed in one of Hitler’s worst concentration camps during World War II.   He wrote after the War, in his book Man’s Search for Meaning,  that the one thing that the concentration camp could not take away from the inmates was their power to choose what attitude they would have.

All of us have been created by God and given the power and ability to make choices:  We can:

  • Choose to love—rather than hate.
  • Choose to smile—rather than frown
  • Choose to build—rather than destroy
  • Choose to keep going—-rather than quit.
  • Choose to heal—-rather than wound.
  • Choose to give—rather than grasp.
  • Choose to act—rather than delay.
  • Choose to forgive—rather than to blame.
  • Choose to hope—rather than despair.

Each of us bear the consequences of our choices.   In the long run, we shape our lives and we shape ourselves by our choices.   The process never ends until we die; and the choices we make are ultimately our responsibility.

In addition, our choices affect others in various ways.   We can see this as we examine the events of “Holy Week”—–the final week that Jesus was in Jerusalem before his crucifixion, and the choices that were made and their consequences:

  • Jesus made choice.  He chose to ride into Jerusalem on a donkey as a symbol of peace in direct contradiction to Pontius Pilate riding into Jerusalem the same week with horses and soldiers. He chose to teach in the temple and to challenge the religious authorities of the day—the priests and scribes who cooperated with Rome to rule the Jews and extend their power and their wealth.   Jesus  chose to drive the money changers and sellers of sacrificial animals out of the Temple.  This choice cost him his life. His actions in “cleansing the temple” were an economic threat to the power of the chief priests and scribes who profited greatly from the business in the Temple.  At this time they began to plot how they could kill Jesus.
  • Judas made a choice.    We have no way of knowing what the motives were for his choice, but he chose to betray Jesus to the authorities for 30 pieces of silver.   It was a choice he later bitterly regretted, but once made it could not be undone.  He ended his own life because of that choice.
  • Peter made a choice.  While waiting by the fire in the courtyard of the high priest, Peter was identified by a servant girl as “the man that was with Jesus”.   Peter chose to deny that he even knew Jesus three times.   Peter went out and wept bitterly after he made the choice..
  • Pontius Pilate made a choice.    Although his examination of Jesus found no reason for him to be executed,  Pilate  chose to give in to the demands of the religious authorities and the mob of people they had gathered to support them..     Matthew tells us that he took water and washed his hands saying “I am innocent of this man’s blood.   It is your responsibility”.    His choice led to the crucifixion and death of Jesus.
  • The religious authorities and their supporters made a choice.  Pilate offered to release one person.   Barabbas or Jesus was the choice they were asked to make.   They chose to crucify Jesus and to release Barabbas.

We also have choices.   On what basis do we make them?

  • Do we, like Jesus, choose according to what we discern is God’s will?
  • Do we like Judas, choose what is most monetarily rewarding to us immediately?
  • Do we, like Peter, let the fear of the crowd influence our choice?
  • Do we, like the chief priests, choose to maintain our power and our economic well-being even if someone dies?
  • Do we, like Pontius Pilate, choose to “wash our hands” of the choice and let others make our choice for us?

 Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethesemane the night before his death that the “cup” of his looming crucifixion might be removed from him.    He ended the prayer with, “nevertheless, not my will but yours Father.”    

Choices made on the  basis of prayer and the discernment of God’s will  will be  good choices!