The “Jesus problem” is noticed…

As a church we’re working through a devotional that I personally prepared called “The Path of the Beatitudes: A Lenten Journey.” The devotional is available off Amazon as both a Kindle book and in large print on paper.

Today we are looking at Luke 6:6-11, which contains the story of Jesus healing a person with a withered hand. The story is an interesting one and certainly lends into the story of Lent. The last verse of our reading indicates that the religious scholars and Pharisees left the synagogue on that day looking for ways to do something about their “Jesus problem.”

The Lenten journey is one which ends in the events of Holy Week. There is no Lent where Jesus ends the season without suffering on the behalf of the people God loves. The desire of individuals to take care of this Jesus problem increases as the season progresses.

What’s interesting to me about this approach to Lent with the Beatitudes is that we see how a portion of Jesus’ teaching affects both Jesus’ life and potential the lives of the people who hear his teachings. Jesus offers healing to a person with a withered hand and the people walk away with sinister thoughts in their hearts.

I wonder how the person felt whose hand was healed upon that day. If it were me, I am doubtful I would have walked away grumbling about what Jesus had done. I would likely celebrate the unexpected blessing that came into my life.

This Lent, God may have something for us. God may give a blessing into our lives which we may not be expecting. God may give a blessing to us that we do not believe we deserve. God may bring a piece of radical healing into our lives, especially if we find ourselves struggling to find our place in this world.

I pray that God is with us all tonight and into tomorrow as we prepare to enter into worship. May God add blessing to our lives and may we celebrate it together in worship tomorrow.

Let us Seek: Ascension Day!

Happy Ascension Day! Luke 24:44-53 reads: (NRSV)

“Then he said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.’

Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God.”

English: "Ascension of Christ" by Benvenuto Tisi

English title: “Ascension of Christ” by Benvenuto Tisi

Today is the day when the Western church has traditionally celebrated the Ascension of Christ up to heaven. By coincidence, today is also the day that the Eastern church celebrates the Ascension of Christ! No, those dates do not always align! Here’s an article why the dates of Easter differ from an Eastern Orthodox perspective!

As we celebrate this Holy Day, here are a couple of things you might wish to think about as we celebrate:

  • Not many modern churches celebrate the Ascension of Christ with large worship services. In particular, Protestant churches have tended to shy away from this celebration. As a result, do not expect to find Ascension Day cards at the grocery store. As a result, a good family activity might be drawing a picture of what it might have looked like and mailing it to a loved one.
  • Despite not being regularly celebrated in Protestant churches, churches which follow the traditional liturgy of communion silently reference this event every time they celebrate communion. The liturgy refers to the resurrection in the eyes of many when it says “Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ will come again.” In reality, Christ cannot come again without having ascended. Sidenote: All three parts of this great mystery have an unspoken component in my eyes. Christ was born before he died. Christ is risen and remains alive. Christ has ascended and Christ will come again.
  • Ascension is an important part of the two major historical creeds of the church. The Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed both reference the Ascension. The poorly named Athanasian Creed also refers to the Ascension. Something about this event caused the early church to tie it into the most basic form of catechism within the church.

We hope you have a most blessed day and that you spend some time thinking about the Ascension of Jesus Christ! May God bless you on the journey through life today!

Let us Seek: Shipwreck ahoy!

For today’s blog I thought we could spend some time with one of the readings from the Revised Common Lectionary. Today’s readings include a beautiful passage from the Book of Acts. I believe that this passage has a good word for all of us. The passage I am referring to reads: (Acts 27:7-12, NRSV)

“We sailed slowly for a number of days and arrived with difficulty off Cnidus, and as the wind was against us, we sailed under the lee of Crete off Salmone. Sailing past it with difficulty, we came to a place called Fair Havens, near the city of Lasea.

Since much time had been lost and sailing was now dangerous, because even the Fast had already gone by, Paul advised them, saying, “Sirs, I can see that the voyage will be with danger and much heavy loss, not only of the cargo and the ship, but also of our lives.” But the centurion paid more attention to the pilot and to the owner of the ship than to what Paul said. Since the harbor was not suitable for spending the winter, the majority was in favor of putting to sea from there, on the chance that somehow they could reach Phoenix, where they could spend the winter. It was a harbor of Crete, facing southwest and northwest.”

The Apostle Paul has been a leader in the church for several years. Paul had also been a leader within the religious elite of the Jewish people before converting to Christianity. Paul was a leader who knew how to convince others to his point of view.

Paul still manages to end up on a boat that is headed into a shipwreck. Paul may be spirit-filled, wise, and a leader of others, but Paul is still on a boat that is going on a very perilous journey that will end in disaster.

"Shipwreck off a Rocky Coast" by Thomas Butterworth

“Shipwreck off a Rocky Coast” by Thomas Butterworth, ~1810 CE. Located in the “Yale Center for British Art”

Have you ever felt as if you are on a boat headed for disaster which you cannot control? We all have moments in our lives where things seem out of control. We all have moments where we could tear out whatever hair we have in frustration. Interestingly enough, most of us know that on occasion everyone faces these moments in our heads but we still refuse to believe it with our hearts.

When you read the Bible it becomes absolutely clear on many things, but let’s focus on one point in particular today. Bad things happen to good people. Whether you are Job, Abraham, Paul, or even Jesus Christ, life involves moments that are neither avoidable nor pleasant. Job was considered a peerless person by Christ (Job 1:8) but still loses almost everything. Abraham is called into a new life and a new covenant multiple times by God, but still needs to rescue his nephew from captivity (Genesis 14). Paul (as previously stated) was shipwrecked despite knowing that the journey ahead of him would lead to disaster. Jesus Christ was crucified–the cup of suffering was not taken away.

Jesus Christ also stated (Matthew 5:44-45) that we should “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.” While he was speaking of love, Jesus taught the same truth that I am trying to express in the midst of his lesson. The sun rises and the rain falls on both the good people of the world and on those with a propensity towards evil.

Being a follower of Jesus Christ does not mean that everything will be perfect. In fact, being a follower of Jesus Christ often means that you will face difficulties. The promise made to believers is not a promise that they will be free from challenge. The promise God makes through Jesus Christ is that we will not be alone in our challenge.

We who follow Christ are given hope through the love of God. We who follow Christ are given presence through not only the Holy Spirit but through the powerful presence of Jesus in our lives. Consider the words of John 17: (NRSV)

“Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

If Christ is the messenger, then we are the recipients of the love he carried into the world for us. That love is deep, powerful, and meaningful. The thunderstorms of life will strike, crash, and thunder around us, but we have the love Christ has planted in our hearts. Paul the Shipwrecked wrote this in Romans 8: (NRSV)

“I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.

What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written,

‘For your sake we are being killed all day long;
we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.’

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

My friends, Paul’s words speak for themselves. May you have faith and trust even as the boats of life carry you into the storms. May God help you, comfort you, and give you peace. May the peace of God that surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:7).