Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Cross Bearer

With only a few steps left to the cross, the path of Jesus intersects with the path of Simon of Cyrene.  Some might say Simon was at the wrong place at the wrong time, but then, others might argue, he was at the right place at the right time.  Certainly, he was at the right place at the right time to be remembered in history as the last one on the road to the cross to give support to Jesus.  Everyone else was gone.  Alone He walked burdened with exhaustion and a heavy cross and then Simon was chosen.  No, he did not volunteer.  He was chosen.  Some might say he was chosen by the soldiers in charge of getting Jesus to the hill of execution, but who is to say he was not chosen by the Father God to serve His Son on the way to the place of sacrifice.
Matthew, Mark, and Luke all speak of this man who walked the last part of the way with Jesus.  Interestingly, he does not become an unnamed person along the way as some of those before him.  Obviously, someone went to some trouble to find out the identity of this man.  Or, perhaps, he was already known among those who followed Jesus.  It does appear that he was not a Jerusalem local so it has always seemed more likely that his role was the result of God being at work in a place which seemed empty of His presence.  We can only wonder at what words might have passed between these two as the made their way through the madness.  We can only wonder at what Simon must have felt as he looked into the eyes of this suffering Savior.
Being Simon of Cyrene that day must have been frightening.  What he did was not something he planned on doing when he arose that day.  But, there he was caught up in the crowd and becoming one who will always be remembered for serving Jesus.  Not many really did much of that in those days.  Those who might have were too concerned about their own greatness while others were so scared they ran into the darkness.  Always be aware that when we put ourselves in the presence of Jesus, God may find some way for us to serve Him that we never expected. 

Monday, March 30, 2015

The Mob

Any student of human nature would not be surprised if some of those who hollered, "Hosanna!" on Sunday cried out "Crucify Him!" on Friday.  There is something about the power of a group that causes individuals to act as they never would if acting alone.  On Sunday individuals got carried away by the contagious spirit of excitement over future possibilities.  On Friday individuals were seduced by the suggestion of one who proposed a thing unthinkable to a single person thinking only for himself.
What happened on that Friday in Pilate's court was the creation of a mob.  A mob has a collective mind that is controlled not by the individuals who compose it, but by the power of the one who prods and manipulates in order to see some evil worked while being protected by the obscurity of being one among many.  Thus, individuals in a mob do things together which one would never consider if a moment of acting alone.  Only the leaders in the shadows truly understand the purpose of the community being created in the darkness.
Such a group stands in the presence of Pilate and Jesus on that Friday of the cross.  Alone it is not likely one would have voiced a word about crucifying a good man like Jesus, but with a mob all manner of evil is possible.  When Pilate refused to take responsibility, the mob was poised to do so.  When Pilate wanted to vacate control, the mob was ready to take it.  Someone in the shadows whispered, "Crucify Him!" and soon the smoke like whisper turned into a wildfire impossible to stop.  Even as Jesus had seen the presence of the evil one in the wilderness after His baptism and many times on the journey to the Jerusalem, He surely knew as He looked into those individual faces of the mob that the evil one was once again on the prowl.  Terrible things happened when the human heart is given over to the influence of the evil one--even if for just a moment.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Curious One

While Pilate wanted no part of Jesus, the Word tells us, "When Herod saw Jesus, he was very glad, for he had been wanting to see Him for a long time, because he had heard about Him and was hoping to see Him perform some sign."  (Luke 23:8)  Herod was basically just curious about Jesus.  For Herod, Jesus was an entertaining diversion in the midst of a boring life.  But, Jesus proved to be such a disappointment.  Jesus would not answer his questions.  He just stood there in silence, looking at him and others who saw themselves as being the ones with all the power.  When the sport of it all ceased to be fun, Herod simply got rid of Him by sending Him back to Pilate.
Jesus had seen others like Herod.  All along he way there were those driven by curiosity and their desire to see Him do a trick or two.  And, also along the way were those who looked down on Him with the contempt belonging to one addicted to power.  Jesus knew their kind.  Sign seekers always need a greater and bigger sign and power brokers never have enough.  If getting more power requires destroying others, it is done without a second thought.  Such is the way of the world.
The world is full of people who are never satisfied and always needing more.  Not being able to be content is the symptom of the their spiritual malady.  This spiritual discontentment drives us to the bigger and better spirit upon which is built many churches.  At the same time it feeds the needs of many preachers and church leaders as they strive for greater and greater control over bigger and better churches.  There was really nothing Jesus could have said to Herod.  Herod was one of those who had no ears to hear truth.  He wanted his eyes tickled and his eyes amazed.  Like another ruler, his heart had been hardened.  Discontent does that to a person.  Let us pray our heart shows no symptom of such a spiritual disease.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

The Can Kicker

What used to be expressed by the words, "passing the buck" is now expressed with the idiom, "kicking the can down the road."  Regardless of whether we choose the older words or the newer version, it still speaks of a refusal to accept responsibility by giving it to someone else.  Pilate was skilled at the game of "kicking the can down the road."  Undoubtedly, he had done it successfully many times, but in the moment set forth in the 23rd chapter of Luke's gospel, the can always ends up back in front of him.  Jesus was Pilate's can that would not go away.
First, Pilate kicked the Jesus issue back to those who brought it to him., but they would not receive the word that there was no basis for their charges.  So, Pilate then sent Jesus to Herod and Herod, too, sent Him back.  Once more he told the angry crowd that the man Jesus was not guilty.  Again, the crowd railed against his judgment and then cried for the release of Barabbas instead of Jesus.  Pilate kicked the can all over the place, but it was still in front of him.  He knew the right thing to do, but would not take responsibility for the right action so Jesus was sent to the cross.  The cross was Pilate's solution to his problem.
When it comes to dealing with Jesus, kicking the can down the road ceases to be a viable option.  As much as we might like to get Him away from the front and center of our life when difficult choices confront us, He remains.  He simply does not go away because we find it difficult to choose the good over the not so good, or the bad.  Instead, He watches to see if we choose the way of the Kingdom or the way that makes it easy for  us and pleases those around us.  As it was with Pilate, so is it with us.  Our choices define us.

Friday, March 27, 2015

The Mockers

The journey now becomes a story washed in our tears.  How can we read what was done to our Savior and not be moved to weep tears of deep sorrow?  Can we be so callous as not to be moved and stirred in the inner parts of our heart?  How is it possible now to read and behold Him and not be overcome with emotions that swell up to the point of overflowing the very banks of our soul?  "Oh, God, have mercy on us now if we can read and contemplate and see Your Son, our Savior, and not be overwhelmed by salty tears and a broken heart."
The Word reads, "Now the men who were holding Jesus began to mock Him and beat Him..."  Who cannot remember the pain of being taunted and made fun of by the cruel words of others?  Mocking is the insult that declares life is unimportant.  Mocking seeks to make people feel as if life is wasted and useless.  Mocking declares what has been done is of no value.  They mocked Jesus.  They heaped ridicule and hurtful words upon Him, words that were shouted to demean and devalue.  And while they sought to break His spirit, they tortured His body by beating it with a whip made to gash and leave the flesh tattered and bleeding.
Mocked and beaten.  Mocked and beaten for you and me.  And even worse was still to come.  How can we watch from a distance and not be moved in the depths of our soul?  How can we behold the One they tried to break and not see the reality of our own sins, sins which carried Him to that place.  "Ah, but Father, it was not our  sins, but my sins, and mine alone...Father, Father God, look at me with mercy...know my sorrow...forgive me...please, Father God, forgive me for my sins which took Him to that terrible place."

Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Place of Departure

Since there is not any pre-destinarian doctrine in my blood, it is impossible for me to believe that Jesus chose Judas Iscariot as a disciple so that he could betray Him.  It just goes against the grain of everything I believe about God to think that Judas had no choice in his decision to betray Jesus.  Is it not possible that Jesus saw in this man potential for the Kingdom just as He did the other eleven?  When Jesus called to Judas saying, "Follow me," were not the same possibilities for good in him that were in the rest?
As Luke tells the story of Judas' betrayal in Luke 22:47, he does something different from Matthew and Mark.  These two speak of Jesus receiving the kiss of the traitor, but Luke writes in such a way as to indicate that Jesus perceived Judas' intent to kiss him, but turned it aside.  The Word reads, "(Judas) approached Jesus to kiss Him, but Jesus said to him..."  The "but" seems to point to Jesus not actually being kissed by the one who came to betray Him.  But, kiss or no kiss, Judas' heart was still bent on following the evil course.  And the heart is what Jesus always sees.  He did that dark night.
Of course, Judas was not the only one who betrayed Jesus in those hours.  Simon Peter did it, too.  The other disciples were no different.  Of them  both Matthew and Mark report, "all of them deserted Him and fled."  (Mark 14:50)  And so, as the journey is coming closer and closer to its final steps, Jesus is left alone in the hands of adversaries and antagonists.  Enemies.  All along the way from the Mt. of Transfiguration to Jerusalem, the disciples stayed close.  All along the way the curious and committed composed the crowd that walked with Him on the road.  But, finally, He is alone with no one to stand alongside.  Everyone is gone.  There is not one, no not one, left.  Not even you.  Not even me.  Alone now and on the way to the cross. 

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Sleeping Heads

Long years ago while serving as pastor at the Perry Church, I invited my congregation to rise at 5 o'clock each Sunday morning to pray specifically for our worship services.  While there are always two or three folks who will commit to most any prayer program offered, I really did not expect much of a response to this early Sunday morning prayer experiment.  There were too many good reasons not to do it!  Much to my surprise twenty people responded and for the next two years there were always at least twenty of us rising early and praying from our homes for the church and its worship.  For me it was a powerful time of learning new things about prayer, but I must also confess there were some Sunday mornings when sleep overcame my heart wanting to pray.  When I woke up I always verbalized my weakness by thinking, "Well, at least I was in the right place trying to do the right thing."
After reading about sleeping disciples, I am not sure my excuse was acceptable to Jesus.  The disciples who accompanied Jesus to the Mt of Olives had learned that Jesus went there to pray.  Before He began, He strongly urged them to pray.  "Pray that you may not come into the time of testing," He told them.  (Luke 22:41)  And later when He came back to the place He left them to pray, He woke them and again said, "...Get up and pray..."  There was an urgency about the moment.  His own praying had brought Him to an awareness that the time was at hand.  Danger was near.  Temptation was near.  The evil one was near.  The struggle with the evil one was about to break out in the open for all to see.  Danger was about.  Those sleeping disciples could be swept away by it.  Prayer was their only protection.
Sadly, we still sleep.  If we do not fall into an unconscious snoring state, we pray in such monotonous mundane ways that God could go to sleep, wake up after His rest, and it would be like not missing a word.  Too often our prayer are predictable and powerless.  They are hardly the prayers that press against heaven's gate.  Yet, it is our best protection against the one who is as much our adversary as he was the adversary of Jesus that final Thursday long ago.  If we would only listen, we would surely hear Him saying to us, "Get up and pray."

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Behind the Woodshed

Parents discipline children differently now than they did back before I was a child in need of such moments in my life.  While I never was actually taken to such a place, when I was growing up I would on occasion hear a disciplinary threat which included some reference to the woodshed.  As I learned, some parents talked about trips behind the woodshed as the place where punishment for misbehavior of all varieties was administered.  Nowadays, children are, of course, not taken behind the woodshed, but sent to their room for timeout.  Times have a way of changing.
I have a feeling that the moment of discipline described in Luke 22:31 felt more like going behind the woodshed than going to timeout.  What Jesus said to Simon Peter must have sounded like a blistering and brutal rebuke.  It must have stung like that day when Jesus looked at Peter and said, "Get behind Me, Satan."  (Matthew 16:23)  When the Table time was finished, when the taste of broken bread and poured out wine still clinging to his mouth, Jesus told Peter that what he said he would do was the exact opposite of what he was actually going to do.  Instead of standing with Jesus, he would soon deny three times that he ever knew Jesus.
Like many of us, Peter did not understand what really in his heart.  Is our loyalty to Jesus a reflection of His blessing? Is it in proportion to His goodness?  Does our loyalty remain constant when it seems His blessings have been withheld?  Do we ever make promises to Jesus and break them?  Have our good intentions of service for Christ and those around us ever faded over the long haul?  Is our love for Jesus stronger by far now than it was in the beginning?  Do we sometimes shy away from speaking the name of Jesus for fear of what folks might think?  Be careful about asking Jesus to answer any of the questions.  It may be like going behind the woodshed.

Monday, March 23, 2015

The Blind Disciples

Like us, the disciples did not always get it right.  In fact, they could be just as little and as petty as anyone we have ever encountered, or even seen in the mirror.  On that final Thursday night before the cross, they gathered in an upstairs room for the Passover.  It would not be a normal Passover for any of them as Jesus transformed that meal which spoke of their heritage into a meal which spoke of their future.  In a new way Jesus broke bread and poured the wine.  Once again He told them of His sacrificial death.  When it was done the Word says, "A dispute also arose among them as to which one of them was to be regarded as the greatest."   (Luke 22:34)
It was an argument that had been going on for a long time.  They were hardly down the Mount of Transfiguration when it started.  Perhaps, it had been brewing even earlier.  Maybe what got it going on this particular occasion was Peter, James, and John talking too much about the mountain top experience in the presence of the nine not asked to make the trip.  Along the way they had argued.  Jesus heard their sharp tones with one another as they whispered around Him.  What a strange picture unfolds for us.  Jesus is on His way to die and those going with  Him are arguing about which one is the most important.  These disciples were so obsessed and blinded by their own pre-occupation with self that they could not fathom the agony within the One they called Jesus.  They could not see His needs for looking at their own.
Being a follower of Jesus does not mean the worst cannot be seen in us.  Sometimes we struggle as Paul struggled.  "I can will what is right, but I cannot do it.  For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do."  (Romans 7:19)  And sometimes like Jonah, we are clear about what God wants and we simply intentionally set our heart on another course.  Before judging the Twelve too harshly, a look in the mirror might cause us to look again at them and others like them with more mercy.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Communion Stewards

As I read the 22nd chapter of the Luke, I saw Peter and John in a different light.  I have learned they were fishermen.  I knew one was known for his temper and one for his love.  I knew they were strong leaders in the post Pentecost church, but I had never thought of them as the church's first Communion Stewards.  Communion Steward is the name we give in these parts to those who prepare the Holy Communion for the church as it gathers around the Table.  Verse 11 says, 'they prepared the Passover meal," so they unknowingly became the first Communion Stewards for such is how that first meal has been remembered by the church.
I have known a lot of different Communion Stewards in my 40+ years of ministry.  I discovered it was not a role passed around very much.  The person who did it tended to do it for a long time and sometimes even life.  Most of them were women although one was a man who took on the task after the death of his father who served the church in that role.  My guess is that he still continues.  And I must confess to having sat in the balcony before services began watching some of these servants place the prepared communion on the Table.  Often, it seemed that I was overseeing a holy moment.

Of course, like any preacher, I have prepared the communion for the body of Christ.  Most often those times were on special moments like Maundy Thursday or Christmas Eve when intinction simplified the preparation.  I can understand why someone might choose to be the Communion Steward for life.  It is such a blessed spiritual experience to prepare the supper began by our Lord.  It becomes a moment  for being overwhelmed by a holy stream that has blessed the church  and those who receive it for over 2000 years.  How blessed are we who partake and how much more blessed are those who serve by preparing for the rest of us.   

Saturday, March 21, 2015

The Man Doing Woman's Work

As Luke takes us into the 22nd chapter of his gospel, he stands us down right in the middle of a busy street in Jerusalem.  At first we only see Peter and John as they go about the bidding of Jesus.  But, there is someone else there, too.  While he is easy to miss in the story, he stands out like the nose on your face.  He is carrying a jar of water to his home which as everyone knows was work delegated to women.  And even though Jesus told the two disciples to look for just such a person, it still sets off all kinds of questions for those of us reading the story of the journey.
Anytime I read the Word and go off, either consciously or unconsciously, on some question tangent, I remember Dr. Robert Traina, a professor of Bible at Asbury Theological Seminary.  Back in the dark ages of paper, pen, and composition notebooks, he taught his students to study the Bible by asking questions. No question was too obvious and one was too trivial.  "Don't worry about the answer," he would say, "just learn to ask the questions."  With his prodding a single verse would generate page after page in that wire bound composition notebook.
So, with Dean Traina's teaching still hung up in my gray matter, I wonder about the man with the jar of water.  Like the two disciples who went for the colt, he is not named.  Why did Luke not name the host of the holy meal?  Did Jesus talk to him in another place at another time?  Or, had He sent someone ahead of Peter and John?  Is there any significance in the water he carried?  Was it supposed to be used for the neglected act of footwashing?  Did Jesus invite His host and his household to share the meal?  Ah, the questions.  They really are helpful as we search the Word of God.  They are like new windows that can be opened enabling us to see in a different and new way the Word of God. 

Friday, March 20, 2015

The Givers

Still in the Temple, Jesus was watching people. Apparently, He was in that section of the Temple known as the Court of Women.  In that place were bronze alms boxes where those who came to worship cast offerings.  As Jesus watched and listened, He saw and heard the hard offerings and the soft ones.  In those days the difference was not between paper and coins, but between throwing a handful or a few coins into the offering box.  The rich came dressed in clothing which spoke of social status.  Their offerings made a loud noise as coins were thrown in with a loud flourish.  Their coins made such a loud noise that everyone looked to see the giver.  And so the rich got their reward. 
Jesus saw the rich giver, but He also saw the one who was poor.  He saw those who wanted to be seen and those who tried to slip in and out without being noticed.  But, more than anything else, Jesus was able to see and understand the heart of those who came to give gifts.  When the poor widow came, Jesus saw her.  In the midst of all the "oohs and aahs" caused by the extravagant attention getting giving of the rich, her offering hardly made a noise.  Her two copper coins sounded softly as they hit the sides of the offering box, or trumpet as it was called because of its shape.  Jesus saw and heard.  Her gift he praised saying that the rich gave out the abundance, but she gave out of her poverty.
Does this mean that the affluent ones can never give gifts to God which are pleasing to Him?  Since we are the affluent, what is Jesus saying about our gifts and offerings?  There are two key words in this teaching of Jesus:  abundance and poverty.  The rich gave out of their abundance meaning that no matter how much they gave, it was not enough to really miss.  It was the no-risk gift.
The widow gave out of her poverty meaning that she did not give from financial reserves, or from what was leftover after all her needs for today and tomorrow had been met.  Instead, her gift was an expression of trust in God to provide that which was needed.  Our question about our giving is best answered by looking not at how much money is given, but how much trust it really expresses. 

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Keepers of the Status Quo

After the Triumphal Entry, the journey was no longer about miles, but about days.  Once He entered the city, the cross was less than a week away.  Though no long distances were covered each day, still Jesus walked toward the hill known as Golgotha.  It was on this part of the journey that He encountered the Sadducees who questioned Him about a resurrection issue which was strange since they did not even believe in the resurrection.  While the Sadducees were a smaller slice of the religious hierarchy than the Pharisees, they were like them in in that they, to, were professional keepers of the status quo.

As professional keeper of the status quo, they stood squarely in opposition to Jesus.  This rabbi who would later be spoken of as the One who was the same yesterday, today, and forever was about radical change.  No one recognized this any more than the keepers of the status quo.  They were threatened by Jesus.  He represented losing control.  Everything He had been teaching called for a change from the way things were.  For the Sadducees there was security and power in making sure that everything continued to be done as it had always been done.

Keepers of the status quo populate the pews and the pulpits of the contemporary church.  For them the status quo is not so much about retaining rituals and traditions, but about embracing a mode of operation that causes the church to look like and be like a business in the secular world.  The modern day keeper of the status quo maintain that the best model for the church to follow comes from the secular world around it and not from the Word, or its author, the Holy Spirit.  Depending on the Word or the Holy Spirit speaks of taking risks of faith that keepers of the status quo will never tolerate.  And so, the church goes on doing things like it has always done which takes it farther and farther from being a spiritual community centered on the Christ. 

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Spies

Jesus had seen them and their kind along the road to Jerusalem.   They were always out there on the edge of those following Him.  When He looked to hold their eyes, they quickly looked away as if they were not really looking at Him.  Whenever the crowd responded with loud acclamation, they whispered to the one or two who stayed constantly at their shoulders.  He knew they were listening to His every word, but they acted as if they were somehow not really interested and invisible.  Instead of following Him as a disciple, they seemed only to be following Him, watching His every move, and noting His every word.
But, in Jerusalem, these men who watched from the edge on the road became more brazen.  They came into the circle of those who stayed closer to Him and they sought out His eyes as a way of threatening Him.  Though the inner circle of Jesus still might not recognize them for the spies they were, Jesus knew who they were, why they had been on the road, and why they were still there with Him in the Temple.  Jesus knew these spies reported to the Pharisees and other religious authorities, but He also knew they belonged to the evil one whose presence was growing more powerfully around Him every day.

We still experience the influence of the evil one in our Jesus gatherings.  Whenever the community of faith becomes divided by self centered cliques and political caucus groups, the evil one's work can still be seen.  Whenever people of faith use man made guidelines for order and discipline to create chaos in the church instead of using the Word to create unity, the evil one's work can be seen.  When the church allows itself to become divided and people start choosing sides, the evil one must think that, maybe, just maybe, he will win this battle this time.  After all, anything is possible when both sides act and speak as those belonging to him. 

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The Better Ones

On the road to Jerusalem, Jesus taught in village synagogues.  In Jerusalem, He taught in the Temple.  Not surprisingly, there were those present who questioned His right to do so.  "Tell us, by what authority are You doing these things?  Who is it who gives You the authority?"  (Luke 20:2)  These chief priests and elders who challenged Him saw themselves as those better suited, more qualified, more learned, and more righteous than the young rabbi from Nazareth.  As far as they were concerned , He had no right to speak when they were in the room.

The church has always seemed to be afflicted with people who see themselves as better than most.  There are always those present who see themselves as having more and being better qualified when it comes to knowing the right course of action, or being able to identify the real leaders.  This does not necessarily mean they are less spiritual for even the most spiritual fall prey to the temptation of thinking too highly of themselves.  Too many leaders in the church have no interest in washing feet.  Leave that to others for they are suited for better things.

I remember a time when I knelt before the Almighty as a disgruntled pastor, angry over being appointed to a particular place.  As I dared to be like Job and go one-on-one with the One who called me, I told Him, "I deserve better.  I deserve a better church than this!"  And when I finished my tirade, I heard from somewhere deep inside a Word coming forth which finally said, "You don't deserve any place!"  And so like Job, I hushed.  May we all be thankful we get from God not what we deserve, but grace and then more grace, and then even more grace.

Monday, March 16, 2015

The Institututional Guys

When Jesus shows up in the room, the church's institutional guys go beserk.  When He shows up, everything nailed down seems to come lose.  He does not play by the rules.  He has no regard for the power systems of the church, or the religious power brokers that maintain the religious status quo.  It was that way when Jesus went into the Temple.  Seeing the abuse and exploitation, He literally drove out those who had made the holy place a place of commerce instead of a place of prayer.  It was at this point that any toleration of Jesus by the Pharisees disappeared.   Prestige seekers and power brokers have no place for Jesus in their world.

What was true then, unfortunately, continues to be an issue for the church of our own day. The church of our day has two faces.  One is the Kingdom face which concerns itself with Christ centered spirituality.  The other is the institutional face which concerns itself with self-preservation.  Leaders of the institutional church are threatened when Jesus shows up with an agenda that threatens theirs.  To compensate without appearing irreligious, these institutional leaders lead the church down the road of getting things organized, creating a structure, and raising funds to give support to what some might be speaking of as the holy breaking into our midst.  The one thing impossible for leaders of the institutional church is to simply wait and trust in God to do things according to His plan and sense of time.  Instead, they hurry in and take control and make sure that everything is running as they perceive it should. 

Those Pharisees trusted not so much in God as the systems they had created which enabled them to be in control of what God was doing in their world.  We trust too much in ourselves, our creative powers, and the structures we have allowed to give our life meaning. One can only wonder where Jesus would lead the church today if He came and turned all our religious systems upside down.  Of course, there would also be the possibility of a second crucifixion.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Iceberg Ministry

After Jericho came Jerusalem.  As Jesus came to the outskirts of Jerusalem, He knew the journey and His life on earth was about done.  Before He made what we know as His Triumphal Entry, the Word says, "...He sent two the disciples, saying, 'Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden.  Untie it and bring it here.  If anyone asks you, 'Why are you untying it?' just say this, 'The Lord has need of it.' "  (Luke 19:29 ff.)  While some might wonder about the advance preparation made by Jesus, it also raises unanswerable questions about the identity of those two disciples.  Surely the gospel writers knew their identity, but no one bothers to tell.
At first glance it seems like such a mundane task that anyone could do.  Go get a horse.  Nothing difficult about that task unless someone thinks they are stealing it instead of borrowing it!  Actually, it was an important task.  Those two unnamed disciples were partners with God in fulfilling a Word of prophecy first spoken by Zechariah.  (Zech. 9:9)  Jesus understood the significance of the task and the moment and so surely it was a choice not casually made.  While it would have been nice if someone had bothered to tell us their names, not knowing puts them in a long line of nameless people who have accomplished important things within the plan of God.
It is still happening. Think for a moment about someone who is a missionary.  That person is the tip of the ministry iceberg.  Only 10% of an iceberg is seen above water.  The rest is right there but invisible.  The missionary is seen but the prayer supporters, the financial givers, the folks who enable the work are there as well.  Invisible and nameless they may be, but still important in terms of what God is doing.  Never think that was is done for Christ is unimportant, or that it does not count.  When God gets through with it, Kingdom work is accomplished. 

Saturday, March 14, 2015

The Small Guy

Jesus encountered many people on that road to Jerusalem, but no one was more excited and enthusiastic about seeing Him than Zacchaeus.  This man of Jericho heard Jesus was passing through his town and wanted so much to see Him that he cast restraint and self-respect to the wind as he climbed up that sycamore tree.  He may have been short in stature, but he was long in imagination and determination.  Unlike his Jericho contemporary, the blind beggar, Zacchaeus was not driven by a need for healing. Something else had taken control of this rich tax collector of Jericho who was known not as a blind beggar, but as a sinner. 
When Jesus saw Zacchaeus in the tree, He stopped dead in His tracks, and literally invited Himself to the house of this spellbound gawking tree climber.  Jesus surprised everyone.  The first to be surprised was Zaachaeus who figured on being not being noticed.  Zacchaeus' wife was surprised when he got home and told her Jesus and twelve other guys were coming for dinner.  Jesus was also something of a surprise to all those who saw themselves as better candidates for such an honor.  "(Jesus) has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner," was their common complaint.  But, surely the most surprised people in Jericho were the poor and the ones cheated at the hands of the crooked tax collector. On that day coins were put in their hands and words of restitution were put in their ears.

Two men had life changing encounters with Jesus on this last stop before Jerusalem. The blind beggar had sight restored to his eyes and the tax collector had new life restored to his soul.  One was called sinner because he was blind;  the other wore the name because he collected taxes and exploited people in the process.  But, it is obvious that Jesus saw folks differently than we do.  He saw them as those who were full of a desperate risk taking faith and overwhelming spiritual hunger.  When Jesus looked at them, He liked what He saw.  How strange that we place so much value on what others see in us, or what we see in the mirror when it is so little of what Jesus is hoping to see in us.

Friday, March 13, 2015

The Last Stop

The blind beggar of Jericho acted like it was his last chance for healing.  What he heard from the crowd was that Jesus of Nazareth was drawing near.  What he did not know was that this would be the last time Jesus would ever come to Jericho.  Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem to die and this made it the last chance for the blind beggar to be healed by this rabbi who had a reputation for healing.  Of course, the blind beggar had no way of knowing the significance of the moment, but then, maybe deep in his spirit he sensed the urgency of the day.  Maybe something inside of him was saying, "It is now or never!"
This sense of urgency is underscored as he cried out to Jesus for mercy.  The Word says he shouted.  The people around him told him to hush, to be quiet.  The Word says, "but he shouted even more loudly, 'Son of David, have mercy on me!' "  When Jesus finally heard and asked him, "What do you want me to do for you?"  the blind beggar did not hesitate.  He had lived in years of darkness hoping for such an opportunity and he would not let it pass.  "Lord, let me see again," he said.  (Luke 18:35 ff.)  And without a moments delay, Jesus spoke healing words and that old blind beggar was now a man who could see and, therefore, a man who had renewed hope of living a life dependent upon his own hands and not the hands of others.
While the word "chance" has never fit too well inside a theological framework that teaches that God is a God who works inside a plan and who is so at work in our lives, there is a sense in which we have the last opportunities, or last chances, to live the life of faith in a different way.  Every night might be thought of as our last chance to tell God we love Him.  We may be the last chance some person has to hear the word about God's love.  Today might be the last chance someone has to claim in a person way the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.  One of our biggest sins may be trusting in tomorrow to come when today with all of its opportunities (and chances) are fully upon us. 

Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Twelve

The Twelve were with Jesus every step of the way.  They were with Him on that final journey to Jerusalem, but then they were also those who had been with Him since the very beginning.  When they started the journey with Jesus, they had no way of knowing where it would take them.  They did know what they left to go with Him.  Each left a way of life.  Each left a livelihood that provided for their family.  And, while they likely saw family during those years, it was nothing like being there each day to experience what was happening.  Each left a life that seemed somewhat certain for a life that was totally unpredictable.  They understood something of the cost of what it meant to follow Jesus, but not nearly what He wanted them to understand.
Out there on that final journey, Jesus started driving home the reality of what awaited Him in Jerusalem.  It would be no ordinary Passover.  They were all going to the Holy City, but He was going there to fulfill the plan of God.  It was a plan that required Him to submit to the evil that not only lurked in the hearts of men, but that would cause Him great suffering, terrible pain, and finally, death on a cross.  As hard as such a word was to comprehend, His Word to them about rising from the dead must have truly been too much to grasp.
It always seems that following Jesus puts us in a position of being challenged to accept things about life that seem impossible to consider.  Sometimes years will pass before we are to understand things that the Spirit has been trying to teach us in our own hearts.  The Twelve came to a place of being able to look back and see that Jesus was straight with them and utterly dependable.  As we walk the journey with Him, we will surely learn such a lesson as well.  We may be slow to learn, but if we keep listening for the voice of the Spirit, we will surely come to the place of knowing what seemed impossible to understand.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015


If "location" is the important word in the real estate business and if "butter" is the important word in cooking, then "context" is surely the important word when it comes to reading and understanding the Holy Word.  Certainly, something important is missed if we come to the story of the rich ruler and ignore its context. (Luke 18:18)  The way the gospel writer Luke tells it, the rich ruler was standing right there on the road with Jesus when He pointed to the children and said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the Kingdom of God belongs."

When this moment of teaching ended, the young ruler asked his question, "Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?"  HIs question could be paraphrased, "Teacher, if a child makes it, how about me?  The one thing the young ruler knew he could not do was to become a child again.  Like Nicodemus and his conversation with Jesus about the new birth, the rich ruler missed the point Jesus was making.  It is true enough that none of us can return to our childhood, but being stuck in adulthood does not exclude us from the Kingdom.  What Jesus is calling us to do is to remember that in our spiritual life we are the child who has a loving and caring Heavenly Father.  Even as a child is powerless, so are we.  Even as a child has nothing, so it is for us.  Even as a child has no rights, none do we possess.  Even as a child must depend upon another for life, so it is for us and our Father God.

Possessing the spirit that enables us to understand how it really is for us is the truth to which Jesus is pointing as He speaks to the rich ruler about the Kingdom of God.  As we live in our adult world, the gospel that calls us to discipleship is a Word that speaks to us about the necessity of voluntary abandonment of ourselves to God.  Only a child shows that kind of trust, but tothose who live with this radical trust belongs the Kingdom of God.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Children

The first Communion service I remember is the one I had to leave.  My Mother, my sister, and I were visiting in a church and when it came time for the Sacrament to be service, the preacher announced that only members of that church could participate and that any visitors could use the next moments to leave.  I still can remember stepping out of the pew, into the aisle, and out the door.  For over forty years I have officiated at services of Holy Communion.   The memory of the first service lingered as an adult and shaped my conviction that no one would ever be made to feel unwelcome at the Table of the Lord.
Over the years there were discussions with parents about the right age for their children to come to the altar for communion.  In some traditions children only come after Confirmation.  And in some places parents simply acted under the assumption that a child should wait until he or she is old enough to understand what is happening.  To be honest is to admit there are times I am not sure I understand so let us put that aside lest none of us eat and drink the holy meal.  It has always seemed to me that a child of any age had a place at the Table of the Lord.  Who cares about age?  Who really cares about fulfilling some denominational requirement?  Maybe we do, but not Jesus.
Even on the journey to the cross, He had time for children.  He never is seen turning any of them away, but instead drawing them closer to Him and securing their place in the Kingdom.  There was something about a child that caused Jesus to see a Kingdom person.  We may not be able to shuck our adult bodies, but we can choose to live with a spirit that causes Jesus to see us as one who has absolute trust in Him to care for us in the present moment as well as in the eternity only just begun.  To such belongs the Kingdom of God.

Monday, March 9, 2015

The Thankful One

When Jesus told those ten lepers, "Go and show yourselves to the priests." He was directing them down the road of being accepted by the larger healthy community.  A healed leper needed to be declared healed by a priest before he could re-join society.  While some measure of obedience sent them down the road toward the priests, a healthy does of desperation caused them to hurry along the way.
As they walked each started noticing subtle differences in the color of their skin.  And as each looked around, it was obvious that one leper's experience was the experience of all of them.  The healing for which they had hoped when they cried out to Jesus for mercy was taking place before their very eyes.  If ever ten men danced and jumped and shouted in the middle of the road, it was those men.  When one of the group suggested they retrace their steps and catch up with Jesus to thank Him, the wild celebration in the road turned silent.  "Ah, He has gone too far.  Remember how He hardly stopped to speak to us," said one.  Another spoke up and his voice carried the day, "Nah, let's get some wine and put on an all nighter before we each go our separate way."  And so nine went one way and one turned back to find Jesus.
All along the way to Calvary, Jesus had received refusal and rejection from Samaritans.  Now, one, overloaded with thanksgiving, puts everything aside to seek Him.  Those who would have been expected to return with praise and thanksgiving were no where to be found.  Only the unlikely Samaritan came to find Jesus and fall at His feet.  When Jesus responded to the thankful Samaritan who was no longer a leper, He taught disciples then and now not to judge a book by its cover, not to count the worth of a person by outward appearance, but only by the heart.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

The Road Named Consensus

In a region between Samaria and Galilee, Jesus encountered ten lepers.  Custom required them to keep a respectful distance from the healthy community so the Word speaks of them "keeping their distance" and calling out to Jesus, "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us."  (Luke 17:13)  Their common illness not only separated them from the larger community, but it also gave them membership in the community of the suffering.  No one called out to Jesus for himself, but for all of them.  "...have mercy on us."
It is easy to imagine their collective disappointment.  Undoubtedly, they had heard that Jesus had healed others with leprosy.  They had even heard that He had touched the lepers before speaking healing words over them. (Luke 5:12)  But, He hardly broke stride as He walked along their part of the road.  Instead of touching them or saying healing words over them, He simply said, "Go and show yourselves to the priests" and then He was gone leaving them alone and wondering what had just happened.  Fortunately, their desperation was greater than their disappointment and the started to walk the road of obedience.

The surprising thing which happened next was not the healing of each one, but the way nine of them responded to their healing.  Even as they called out as a group to Jesus for healing, now as a group they embraced the spirit of an ungrateful heart.  One decided it was too much trouble to re-trace their steps to find and thank Jesus and the rest decided to go along with what was obviously a wrong choice.  Like to many people of our day, the nine men let consensus of opinion define what was the right thing to do.  In this case, as is often the case today, consensus of opinion led them down the wrong road.  

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Lover of Money

For awhile now this journey of Jesus to Jerusalem seems to be filled with nothing but encounters and conversations with Pharisees.  It is obvious that His main journey companions were the Twelve chosen disciples, but the Pharisees were constantly lurking on the edge of the crowd with a listening ear.  They listened not because they wanted to learn from His teachings, but to catch Him in saying something heretical.  One place the presence of the Pharisees can be observed is in the 16th chapter of Luke where the 1st verse records Jesus speaking to the disciples and the 14th and 15th verses records a conversation with a Pharisee.
In this encounter with the religious hierarchy, the gospel refers to the Pharisee as a "lover of money."  The conversation which follows is inside the context of this particular issue.  It in this particular conversation that Jesus tells the story of the rich man and Lazarus.  Tradition gives the rich man the name of Dives, a man who dies and ends up in torment.  Of course, Lazarus, suffers the same fate of death, but he ends up with heavenly angels.  Their eternal ending is the unexpected twist for the Pharisee who lives in a world where righteousness is evidenced by riches and unrighteousness by poverty.  As Jesus tells the story, the downfall of Dives was not that he had riches, or that he mistreated the poor, but that he could walk by a hurting man at his own gate without really caring about him.  He did not kick him, he just stepped around him.  What he had he used to maintain an extravagant lifestyle even though one was dying just feet away.
If the story does not frighten the affluent, we are in more trouble than we thought.  There is no way to look at who we are without seeing ourselves as those who maintain an extravagant lifestyle.  The suffering needy ones may not be in the front yard, but they are unable to make it into the gated communities of our world.  Some of those gates are iron, but some are made of other things that are not physical barriers, but remain barriers nonetheless.  What has always been easy for those of us who share the affluence is the writing of the check which makes us feel justified while stepping around the hurting ones around us.  It is difficult to understand how we can truly think of ourselves as followers of the One who willingly gave everything up on the cross.  Maybe there is a reason Lent calls us to a spirit of repentance.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Watchers or Walkers

If the tax collectors and sinners wondered what God thought of them, their reason for wondering was taken away that day when Jesus taught the parables about the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son. (Luke 15:1 ff.)  While He may have really had the grumbling self-righteous Pharisees in the cross-hair, these society called the unrighteous were listening.  What they heard was a verbal assurance that heaven rejoices when just one lost sinner repents.
Perhaps, this is why the unlikely ones were drawn to Jesus.  He did not mince words.  He did not speak with such ambiguity that sinners wondered what He was saying.  From Jesus they heard preaching and teaching which told them that God would not tolerate unrighteous sin in His presence, but they also heard this powerful word of divine love which assured them of a place.  It is not an easy road to walk, but such is where Jesus walked as He walked toward the cross.  Thus, we find ourselves with a choice.  We can be those who watch the journey.  Or, we can choose to become walkers on the journey. 
To participate in this Lenten journey requires honesty about who we are.  If we sense no desperation when we find ourselves in His presence, then it is likely we are still holding on to something we deem more precious than life in and with Christ.  A desperate follower is more likely to become a repentant follower who is beginning to see the cost of personal sin.  The cross is growing in view before us.  The longer we stay on the Lenten journey, the larger it becomes.  And the repentant follower is also the one who is beginning to understand the power of the love of the Christ who is preparing to climb the hill and be nailed to the cross so that our sins can be counted as naught before the Almighty Father.  

Thursday, March 5, 2015

The Intoxicated Church

The Word says, "Now large crowds were traveling with Him, and He turned to them and said..."  (Luke 14:25)  What is amazing is that so many came to listen.  What is even more amazing is that they stayed after He spoke.  Today we must tickle ears and push a watered-down version of the gospel to appeal to the crowds.  Today we preach, but we do so gingerly, leaving out what might be deemed offensive and hard to hear.  Today we measure our words making sure they have been sanitized to reflect the consensus determined standards of the culture.  We do it because we want them to come and to stay.
Jesus did not care about the crowds.  We do. He did not count heads and find Himself disappointed that the next gathering was smaller in number.  This is not to say He did not care about the hurts and needs of the many who followed Him.  After all, when the 5000 turned into the hungry ones, He fed them and saved the leftovers.  No, He really did care for each one.  He loved every single person, but He was not seduced by the whole of them.  Not like us.  Not like now.
Ours is an ecclesiastical world where bigger is always better and whatever price must be paid for bigger is not too high a price to pay.  Surely, it is better to get folks inside the building  and in the pews instead of not having the opportunity for them to hear the gospel.  The painful truth is that getting them there is so intoxicating that what is gospel truth is often watered-down, or some of it left out lest we be left with a few instead of a room full.  On the way to the cross Jesus preached, "...none of you can become my disciples if you do not give up all your possessions." (Luke 14:33)  Today's church proclaims a weaker version. 

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

On the Way to Dinner

Jesus would eat with anyone.  He healed Simon's mother-in-law and then ate her food.  He ate with Levi, a tax collector, whom He called to be a disciple.  He ate with a few folks and a crowd of five thousand.  He ate with Pharisees and lawyers.  He ate with friends like Martha and Mary.  Luke 14 tells us of another dinner invitation from a leader of the Pharisees; however, on this occasion the theological fireworks started happening before the food even made it to the table.
As they were walking the road, going to the home of the leader of the Pharisees, there appeared in front of them a man with dropsy.  Only Luke, the physician, would be so specific about the man's illness.  No doubt the sick traveler saw the group of lawyers and Pharisees dressed in name brand robes and wearing the aura of self righteous superiority and started moving to the side of the road so he would not be in their way.   Since they had never been any help in the past, he saw no reason to expect anything from them, then or later.  As he had always done, he simply tried to blend into the background where no whispered words about his suffering being the result of his sin would touch his ears. 

He likely did not notice that a stranger was walking with those self-righteous appearing ones, but even if he had, he would have assumed the stranger was one of them.  But, the stranger was Jesus.  And, unlike the Pharisees and the lawyers with whom He walked, Jesus had the compassion of God in His heart and a good dose of common sense in His head.  Neither would allow Him to ignore a hurting sufferer simply because it happened to be a certain day of the week.  What happened there on the road that day is not limited by time or space.  Even as the struggling to live traveler became a man healed and full of strength for the rest of the journey, so can it be for us as we stand before the Christ with our own weakness and our own need. 

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Broken Down and Hopeless

When the Word reads as it does in Luke 13:10, "Now Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath,"  we are alerted to the fact that something is about to happen.  The gospel writer, Luke, tells many synagogue stories.  After His baptism and the wilderness temptation experience, Jesus went to the synagogue of Nazareth for the inaugural sermon of His ministry. (4:1)  In the synagogue at Capernaum, His teaching was interrupted by a screaming demon. (4:31) And there were many more synagogues besides these two. (4:44)  On one of those occasions, He healed a man with a withered hand (6:6) and further on down the road in still another synagogue, He healed a woman who had been crippled for eighteen years. (13:10)
She was not the kind of person who would take the initiative.  Eighteen years can really beat down a sufferer.  It can take away hope and put in its place a conviction that life can never be any different or better.  Not being able to look anyone in the eye only added to her loss of personal esteem.  She had long ago decided she was useless and if she ever forgot, she only had to listen to the whispers of people around her or watch the mimicking taunts of children.
But, Jesus saw here differently.  Jesus apparently had already started teaching when she arrived to slowly take her place.  Even though her place was likely in the back of the room, Jesus immediately saw her and called her to come to Him.  Surely, she must have felt the eyes of everyone as she directed her feet toward the sound of His voice.  When that journey from back to front, a journey which seemed to take an eternity, finally ended, she heard healing words, felt powerful life giving hands, and then she stood up straight to look into the eyes of Jesus.  It must have been like looking into the eyes of God!  What a sight that must have been for this broken down, hopeless woman.  And even though we may be broken down and hopeless, it can be the same way for us, too. 

Monday, March 2, 2015

The Dinner Guest

Jesus was not the only one invited to dinner by the Pharisee.  But, then there is no surprise in the Pharisee's decision to have something more than a private dinner with Jesus.  The Pharisee was the kind of guy who did things big and never small.  One of those invited was a lawyer.  It is obvious that the lawyer was eavesdropping on the verbal clash between Jesus and their host, the Pharisee.  But, the lawyer would not just be a mere eavesdropper, he had to speak, "Teacher," he said to Jesus, "when you say these things, you insult us, too."

Divine truth always assaults the ego.  Divine truth always brings us to a place of conviction.  Such is not a place frequented by the human ego.  Some of us are able to recognize conviction for what it is.  God has not given up on us yet.  The Holy Spirit is at work in our heart.  However, others see conviction not for what it is, but instead receive it as a personal assault on the ego which demands to be cared for, loved, protected, and always put  on a pedestal.  Such is surely why the lawyer felt insulted by the candid honesty of Jesus.

Beware being in the presence of Jesus and feeling insulted by what He saying.  When we hear ourselves being quick to defend a questionable action, or justifying wandering unholy thoughts, or when we hear ourselves questioning Jesus' ability to understand how it is for us, then we may be responding to the Word of the Lord in the same way as did that insulted dinner guest.  When we read what Jesus had to say to the lawyer, we quickly realize that being in his shoes is not a good place to be.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

The Dinner Host

While the custom is surely disappearing in our culture, Jesus recognized the value of sitting at a table and sharing a meal with those gathered around it.  He was not particular about those with whom He ate.  He was a dinner guest of Martha and Mary. He ate at the house of Zacchaeus, a tax collector.  He ate often with the Twelve.  And as we see Him on the road to the cross, we see Him saying, "Yes" to a dinner invitation from a Pharisee.
As we read the story of that dinner midway through the 11th chapter of Luke, it is impossible not to wonder if the food even got to the table.  Hardly had Jesus sat down and the Pharisee host was filled with a self-righteous judgment because Jesus did not submit Himself to a ritualistic pre-mealtime hand washing.  With the ugly judgmental spirit filling up the room, Jesus tells the Pharisee that he was a fool to think such a thing when he was so unclean in his own heart.  Imagine a dinner guest invited to our table calling us a fool!  It is no wonder those Pharisees found dark places to conspire against this One who was truly righteous. 
Of course, we know that Jesus only spoke the truth.  What is seen by others is often a far cry from what is in heart.  Appearance does not always mean reality.  And in moments of honesty we often realize that only restraint and public acceptance keep us from expressing outwardly the sinful attitudes which lurk in our hearts.  What Jesus said to the Pharisee is not what we want Jesus to say as He looks toward us.  We would rather hear of His love for us, but as One who is going to die for our sins, there is only time for honesty even it offends and hurts.