Sunday, January 29, 2017

Why We Should Abandon Pride and Selfishness

1 Corinthians 1:27-28, 31 (NRSV): Humble Redirection
27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are . . . . 31 in order that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
Throughout the Old and New Testament, a common theme permeates God’s message to his people: The arrogant who boast of their own works, power, and riches fall victim to pride and lose their way to God. The humble and meek, however, look toward God as their strength and power and proudly “boast in the Lord” (31).
Paul reiterates this theme in his first letter to the Corinthians. As a group, the people of first-century Corinth are self-centered intelligentsia who pride themselves on their culture of philosophy, education, and autonomy. Athens, the epicenter of intellectual Greece, is only 65 miles away from the port city of Corinth. Paul reminds them, moreover, of the power the cross, a power that is antithetical to their worldview and even scandalous to their way of living.
As the Incarnation of God, Jesus humbly took on the weak nature of humanity to redeem a sinful world that through millennia proved it could never redeem itself. The “foolish,” “weak,” “low and despised,” and “things that are not” culmiate in the humility of Jesus Christ, a humility that we, too, are called to imitate. And through this imitation, we jettison our selfishness and pride only to be filled with the love, peace, and hope of Jesus Christ.
As we go out to serve others this week, let us keep Paul’s message in mind, especially his focus on humility. For Paul echoes Jesus’ own teachings in Matthew chapter 5: It is the meek, the merciful, the poor, the peacemakers, and the persecuted who, in Christ, are truly happy. When we model simple lives of self-giving to others, we change the world.
May the Scottish theologian William Barclay’s prayer bring us peace and hope:
O Father, give us the humility which realizes its ignorance,
Admits its mistakes, recognizes its need, welcomes advice,
Accepts rebuke. Help us always to praise rather than to criticize,
To sympathize rather than to discourage, to build rather than to destroy,
And to think of people at their best rather than at their worst.
This we ask [in the name of Jesus Christ]. Amen.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Why we Should Listen to and Follow Jesus' Call

Matthew 4:18-22 (NRSV): Being Called
As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, [Jesus] saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.
When I was 19 and in the service, I was stationed in South Korea for a while. In the loneliness of living in an isolated, foreign environment, I felt an indescribable yearning for God and began attending a weekly non-denominational Protestant service. Each Sunday I went to chapel, and upon returning to my barracks, I would reflect on how the emptiness I once felt was gone. As each Sunday approached, I could almost hear a calling in my heart to return to the worship service. And each week, through grace, I answered that call. Once I got back to the states, however, the noise and confusion of life would stifle that call for many years, but I vividly remember the feeling of fulfillment that each Sunday brought. As I reflect 25 years later, that call was coming from Christ. He was personally inviting me to discipleship. And in the fourth chapter of Matthew’s gospel, Christ calls each of us to that same relationship.
This scene from the beginning of Matthew’s gospel depicts Jesus calling forth the first disciples --  James, John, Andrew, and Peter.  But in order to understand the unorthodoxy of this, we should consider the text’s historicity. Dr. Marielle Frigge, a professor at Marymount College in South Dakota, argues that Jesus’ actions in this chapter oppose first-century Jewish tradition. The practice of the times, she states, was for the student to seek the rabbi, not the other way around. Jesus, as Dr. Frigge argues, reinterprets Jewish teaching practice and tradition. And that Matthew’s gospel was intended for a Jewish audience, a statement regarding traditional change was significant and would have a marked effect on the hearers. First-century Jews would have been shocked into listening to and considering their own call to Jesus.
The effect does not change for us today. Jesus says to Andrew and Peter, “‘Follow me . . .’”(19), and he calls out to James and John, too (21). Our Master, Teacher, and Lord calls out to each one of us as well. This is the same call I heard 25 years ago in that distant barracks room. Will we, too, answer as the first disciples did by dropping all things and following Christ? Will we, as Matthew reports, “[i]mmediately [leave our] nets . . .” (20)?
As we mend the nets of our daily lives, let us listen carefully and heed Jesus’ call, for it can be too easily drowned out in the busyness, stress, and noise of the world. And as we make the right choice to drop everything and follow Christ, keep in mind that this does not mean abandoning who we are in the world -- moms, dads, teachers, grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends, companions, and neighbors. It means we embrace those roles in Christ, baiting our lives with the sweet fragrance of love and self-giving to those we encounter and serve.
I pray that our Lord Jesus Christ enliven our hearts and open our ears so that we can hear and respond to his call in love, allowing us to drop our nets and follow him in all we do in this world. Amen.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

How Jesus is the Way

John 14:1-7 (ESV): Jesus is the Way
“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”
I often find myself searching for ways that I can be a more authentic Christian. Questions often surface, mental questions, that pose whether my life reflects an authentic walk with and witness to Christ. The answer to my questions is really not that complicated: Allowing Jesus into my heart is enough. With my cooperation, he will take care of the rest. But I often get confused, as do the disciples in the above passage, and it is in prayer with God’s word that Christ provides the answers.
In John 14, Jesus prepares his disciples for his departure, and he reminds them that there is a place for each of them where he is going. Jesus speaks bluntly to his disciples, and even though they are with him daily, they just don’t get his message. Thomas, speaking for all of the disciples, shows confusion and tells Jesus, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus, however, issues a clear reminder to not only the disciples that surround him in first-century Jerusalem but also the disciples that surround him in 2017. The way, the truth, and the life that should guide our every action and serious thought is Jesus himself -- his teachings, his love, and his examples of self giving. Everything Jesus exemplifies, teaches, and does is the path to him. Our lives should be spent in imitation of his love in this world. Jesus and the Father are perfectly in sync in everything Jesus does. Jesus exemplifies what it means to be in conformity to God’s will, and we, in turn, are called to be in conformity with the way exemplified by Christ.
The prolific Christian teacher and author, John R.W. Stott, writes in his final address at the Keswick Convention, July 17, 2007, about the challenge of imitating Christ in our world:
[Imitating Christ] in our own strength it is clearly not attainable, but God has given us his Holy Spirit to dwell within us, to change us from within. William Temple, Archbishop in the 1940s, used to illustrate this point from Shakespeare:
It is no good giving me a play like Hamlet or King Lear and telling me to write a play like that. Shakespeare could do it—I can’t. And it is no good showing me a life like the life of Jesus and telling me to live a life like that. Jesus could do it—I can’t. But if the genius of Shakespeare could come and live in me, then I could write plays like this. And if the Spirit could come into me, then I could live a life like His.
Therefore, I return to my original musings: How can my life be offered up as a more authentic witness to Jesus Christ? What is the most authentic way to Christ? Is it in a list of doctrines, a tradition, a worldview, a mindset, or a set of practices? The answer lies in front of me on the cross. It is Christ himself, arms spread out in the ultimate offer of love. The answer is Jesus.
I pray that each of us follow the true path of Christ in our lives, doing the best we can, through the presence of the Holy Spirit, to imitate his love in the nooks and crannies of the world.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

How True Happiness in Found in Service

John 13:12-17 (NLT): What Makes us Truly Happy?
After washing their feet, [Jesus] put on his robe again and sat down and asked, “Do you understand what I was doing? You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and you are right, because that’s what I am.  And since I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other’s feet.  I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you. I tell you the truth, slaves are not greater than their master. Nor is the messenger more important than the one who sends the message.  Now that you know these things, God will bless you for doing them.
Our joy is in imitating the Jesus in this world. It really is that simple. By imitating Christ in all the little places of our day, we bring His presence to others. It is what, as Christians, we are created to do --- imitate Jesus’ example of love and service.
In the above passage, the sacred writer narrates a portion of the Johannine version of the last supper. And most of us are familiar with John 13 from the Maundy Thursday services we have attended. We even may have taken our place at the foot wash basin to participate.  But if we pause and look carefully at what Jesus teaches in this scene, it is simple yet profound. Christ is modeling the humility and love that we are called to spread in this sometimes weary world.
In walking with Christ, we yearn to serve others. Jesus lived a ministry of service and self giving, not a ministry of power and dictatorship. Our role as disciples, then, is to follow the way and teachings of Jesus. And His humility and self giving at this last supper discourse set the standard. Jesus says, “Now that you know these things, God will bless you for doing them” (17). Our lives are truly blessed when we do the best we can to imitate the self giving, humble ways of Jesus. So the next time we offer a smile, welcome, assistance, care, time, or complement to the person in front of us, we, too, wash the feet of our neighbors.
Please pray with me:
Loving God,
Let our lives imitate Your love, let the small moments of our day be a radiance of Your light, and let the people we serve know and be drawn to Your presence and love in this world. Amen.
Have a blessed week!

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Why Faith in Christ is Crucial

John 11:1-27 (CEB): Martha’s Faith
Jesus said to [Martha], “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me will live, even though they die. Everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
She replied, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, God’s Son, the one who is coming into the world.” (25-27)
In a world of naysayers, doubters, and advantage-takers, it is against-the-norm to be a person of faith. And when we see examples of faithful people in our world, their light contrasts with the darkness of others’ doubts. It was no different during the Johannine community of late first-century Palestine. People of faith were the important pillars of Christianity. They were the people who inspired the love of Christ to spread into the hearts of others. Martha, as we see in John 11, is a pillar of faith, even in the midst of her desperate mourning for her brother Lazarus.
In John 11:1-27, Jesus receives word that his dear friend Lazarus has died. He decides to hold off his visit for a few days because He will perform the final “sign” or miracle before His Passion. This sign, Jesus says, will glorify the Father and Him and be a means to solidify the faith of the doubtful, confused disciples: “Jesus told them plainly, ‘Lazarus has died. For your sakes, I’m glad I wasn’t there so that you can believe. Let’s go to him’” (14-15).
Jesus arrives in Bethany. Lazarus has been in the tomb for four days, and many Judeans, as a result, gather around the mourning family and act as witnesses to the miracle that is about to happen. Martha leaves Mary and the crowd to meet Jesus on His way. The sacred writer records their conversation, which illustrates Martha’s faith in Jesus:
Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died. Even now I know that whatever you ask God, God will give you.”  . . . .
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me will live, even though they die. Everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
She replied, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, God’s Son, the one who is coming into the world.” (John 11:21-27)

At the center of this miracle are Jesus’ closest friends -- Mary, Martha, Lazarus, and the disciples. This brings an intimacy to the sign. It is not just for a crowd of disbelieving religious leaders; instead, the sign bolsters the faith of Jesus’ inner circle. It is difficult to believe, sometimes, that even Jesus’ closest friends -- those who lived with him, ate with Him, and witnessed numerous of His healings and other miracles -- need another sign “so that [they] can believe” (15). Martha, however, is held up as a shining light of faith. She is the bright contrast to the disciples doubts and misunderstandings in John 11:12-16. Her faith in Jesus is made clear in verse 27: “[Martha] replied, ‘Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, God’s Son, the one who is coming into the world’.”
Doubt is the path of least resistance in our world. And I am convinced that it is one of the enemy’s key weapons against the Body of Christ. As is evidenced in this text, even Jesus’ closest followers doubt him. We must have faith in Jesus, however, for He gives His faithful eternal life. Martha, a simple Palestinian woman and dear friend of Jesus, is held up as a model of faith. She seeks Jesus upon the road, expresses her belief in him, and becomes the faithful pillar of this inner circle of friends.
How is our faith? Is it a vacillating presence dictated by a demanding, “see-it-to-believe-it” world? When faith becomes a struggle -- and let’s admit that it does -- recall the steadfast faith of Martha who in the midst of loss and pain cries out to Jesus, not in a demand but in faith and trust.
I pray that God grant each of us the grace to know Him better and to believe in Him with the trusting heart of Martha. Amen.

Have a blessed New Year!