“You need to know that I have other sheep in addition to those in this pen. I need to gather and bring them also.” (John 10:16, “The Message.”)
There is nobody that God doesn’t love; “amazing grace how sweet the sound.” In a world of barriers, fences, exclusive stories, and private parties, Jesus offers an alternative. The church of Jesus Christ is open to everybody, and if some people are not welcome then the church hasn’t heard and digested the saving grace of our Lord Jesus the Christ. Humanity values ownership and with ownership comes control. Yet faith in Jesus Christ means that we give up control to God, which for many is a hard thing to do. When we believe we have an exclusive on Jesus, then God intervenes and says “all are welcome in my house, in fact I am going to make sure to bring even more people in that you probably do not even know!” Imagine that; Jesus does not care if we think our table is full because in his eyes there is always room for one more. The church is not a country club reserved for a precious few; it is a community set on a hill that rises above exclusivity and welcomes all people, and all means all! Jesus welcomes all who seek him, and all who do not. The Word of God is available to everybody and as soon as the church closes its doors to people that may not look quite the same, act quite the same or think quite the same, it fails to be the church of Jesus Christ and is nothing more than a social club with a sign that says, “members only.” Thank you Jesus, that you accept “even a wretch like me!” You are loved, and you are welcome, whoever you are to the Lord’s house; you are sought out by God!
“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
It is as if Jesus knows when our faith is weak, when our belief only can be made real by being face to face. Maybe we only need a simple reminder, or maybe it is that our belief is made manifest by our Risen Savior especially when we are searching for relief from life’s twists and turns. Faith is interesting, when we need it the most our doubt seems magnified. It was once said that when we think God is far away, that is when God is so near. But we are human, we need proof, we need affirmation, we need to see the boat coming to rescue us rather than just the promise that it will arrive in time for us to be saved. Maybe that is why Jesus is so adamant about relationship, both with him and with each other. We were created to be part of a community, and a community that is set upon a hill for all to see, for all to be reminded, and for all to believe even what they have not seen. When we spend so much time trying to prove God’s presence, we miss the opportunity to see God face to face; maybe that is why those who believe are blessed, even though they have no proof of the presence of God. It is time that we accept the gift of our Risen Savior as a given, a blessing that will see us through our most challenging times though we may only see “through a mirror dimly.” The miracle of Easter is the affirmation of the presence of God, who promises to be with us, “even to the end of the age.” When Jesus told Thomas “do not doubt but believe,” maybe it was less about chastising him for the doubts he may have had and more about being relieved from the burden of proof. Thank you Jesus for the precious gift of faith.
Amazing God, thank you for the eternal gift we have received through the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Help us to fully understand the length, and width and depth of the grace we have received this day. Open the eyes of our soul to the new reality that this Easter event has opened for us, a reality not of hate and judgment, death and dying, but of hope, joy, peace, and everlasting life that can only come from you. You have given this gift so we may be a blessing to others, no matter who they are and what they may believe. In the world that surrounds us, our witness is even more important today. Living a life of grace empowered by your Holy Spirit does not mean that we are any better than anybody else but rather we have been entrusted with a precious gift that needs to be offered; it is your Word that is the cure for the sin-sick soul, the salve for the wounds and bitter crosses that seem sometimes to be overwhelming. We pray for those whose heart is hardened towards you, that their heart of stone may be transformed into a heart that pumps the blood of new life empowered by your Spirit. Help us to use the same power that resurrected Jesus from the dead to be a beacon of hope rather than a hammer of judgment. Cast our eyes to the hills of your never-ending love; as you hold us precious in your sight, may we also hold precious the lives you have created. Lord, our creator and redeemer, you are the answer to every trial and tribulation. May our Easter celebration never end; may our alleluias be ever upon our lips. May our prayer this day include a transformation of how we react to the events of the day and to those around us; you being the agent of change within us that sets us free from the bonds that hinder us from fully accepting you as our salvation and being in relationship with others, those with whom we agree and those that have different viewpoints than our own. If ever the world needs you, it is now. The empty tomb testifies to all who mourn that life truly continues to all who believes, as you said to Martha and is affirmed this day; “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” May our celebration be translated into outstretched hands that reach beyond ourselves to heal the sick, feed the hungry, quench the thirsty, welcome the stranger, cloth the naked, care for the sick, and visit those in prison. Thank you Jesus for the gift of your resurrection; Alleluia Amen!
“Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!”
There was a positive vibe the morning Jesus entered Jerusalem; the streets were full of cheering people there to see this person they have heard so much about that will free them from the world that has been persecuting them for so long. On Palm Sunday the Christian church celebrates the triumphal entry of Jesus into the holy city of Jerusalem and marks the beginning of Holy Week. It seems odd that there was so much cheering, so much pandemonium, about somebody they apparently knew very little about. They cheered for the “one who comes in the name of the Lord,” yet Jesus was Lord, affirmed by his ultimate resurrection not many days from the time he entered the city. With all that Jesus witnessed over the past year, they should have known… So what if the people really knew Jesus as Lord and Savior, would there be such celebration? One would think if the people knew Jesus was the Son of God and that his empty tomb represented an eternal gift and indescribable joy then maybe the cheers would be more like, “blessed IS the Lord” who has freed us from our sin and has offered eternal life to all who believes. Well, we need to offer grace to those who cheered Jesus along, they had no clue what was to come in the upcoming week. They had no clue that Jesus came among them to free them not from political oppression but from the burden of sin. The folks who lined the streets had great expectations for the wrong thing. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “the peace of Jesus Christ is the cross.” Faith is not built on our expectations of Jesus but on the reality of who Jesus is; the Son of God. Today when we cheer, lets cheer the One who is our salvation, who has freed us from all that burdens our souls, the one, “who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross. Therefore, God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ IS Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:6-11) Amen and amen.
“I came so that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”
There is a bumper sticker that proudly exclaims, “He who dies with the most stuff wins.” The more stuff we have the happier we become, right? Happiness lies with the next coupon that saves us 20%. Life can feel like a hamster on a wheel at times; always moving but never quite reaching any particular destination. The abundant life that Jesus offers is one that takes us off the never-ending wheel and guides us on a path that includes hope, joy, peace, and the love of Christ that has no end. Consider all that we have in this life; some have a lot of stuff, others have very little. Still other people are just working endlessly to keep pace with those around them. A life of faith refocuses attention from the accumulation of stuff to the reality of living in God’s eternal presence. Stuff is ok, having good, clean fun is wonderful, but knowing that what God, through our living Savior Jesus Christ offers is not only here and now but eternal. Are you tired, “are you weak, and are you worn?” If so, maybe it is time to reconnect and refocus on the One who offers life in abundance. Celebrate the One who calls all “who are weary and carrying heavy burdens” to have relief and rest from a life that could just suck us dry if we are not careful. Sometimes we just need to let go and allow God in to guide our steps, to take us off the “hamster wheel of life” and celebrate a life that is new, alive, hope-filled, and joyous. Jesus offers each of us life, in abundance and rest for our weary souls.
“Now that you have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth so that you have genuine mutual love, love one another deeply from the heart.”
I Peter 1:22
As our nation racks its brain over the senseless violence that we have recently experienced, as we consider options that could lessen its probability, the answer has been with us from the beginning of time. This answer has been ridiculed, marginalized and even banned in the very places that are seeing the loss of young lives. We look to government leaders and gun control to solve growing violent behavior, and yes we as a nation need to address our current laws but gun control will not solve the epidemic if hearts and minds are not transformed by the saving grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. So what if we prayed, not just at the time of tragedy but all the time? What if the Christian church, whose basis is the grace of God, were taken more seriously not only by our nation but by those of us who profess faith in Jesus Christ? Some ridicule our Christian faith as a mental illness, but at what cost; abandoning the very solution to the problem that needs to be seriously addressed. A few people are offended by Christian prayer and so even the church backs off in the name of inclusivity and “sensitivity” to the belief or nonbelief of others. The truth is and the fact is the Body of Christ, the church, is the solution if we take this message to the street, a message of hope and “genuine mutual love.” A heart transformed by the Love of God will not incite nor inflict violence because its obedience is to something far greater than itself. A heart transformed by grace celebrates the sanctity of all life and respects the lives of others. How do we as a church and as a nation begin the healing and saving process? We “love the Lord [our] God with all of [our] heart, and with all of [our] soul, and with all of [our] might, and love [our] neighbor as [ourselves].” (Jesus) And most importantly, “keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and your gates.” (God, from Deuteronomy 6:4-9) Do not be ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, for in it is the revelation of God’s love in Jesus that is meant to be witnessed, especially in times such as these. May the church return to being a “thermostat” that transforms society rather than a “thermometer” that simply reacts to the challenges and whims of culture. (M.L King) “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with [us].” (#431UMH)
“He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.”
Have you ever traveled to a strange town and found yourself totally lost; nothing is familiar and questions of proper direction keep pouring into your head. The wilderness can be a scary place since there is much that is unknown that could be lurking with the potential of causing great harm. There are 2 options that are available to choose; you could pretend you are not lost and make it seem like you know the way forward, or you could admit you are lost and seek direction. Asking for help is admitting being lost and the acknowledgement that a proper way forward cannot be found. Once we put our ego away long enough to ask for help we start realizing we are in fact lost and that we do need help finding our way. As we walk through the wilderness of life, there are many temptations along the way that would really get us off track. If we try to find our way alone we will find ourselves lost, broken, and weakened to the point of making decisions that may not be the healthiest for ourselves and for those around us. Jesus does promise to be with us to the end of the age and does affirm that in the midst of the wilderness of life, he is there and will bind our brokenness and offer us hope that there is a way out no matter our broken spirit or just how lost we find ourselves. The first step to finding our way is to admit we are lost in the first place, to recognize that we truly need someone beyond ourselves to get back on the right path and heading in the right direction. Faith in Jesus Christ begins with acknowledging our “lostness” and the need to find the right path. Turn back to God, repent, and you will find healing for your spirit and rest for your weary soul. The wilderness is not a bad place when you are not facing it alone. Walk with the One that calls you by name, and you will know the grace that can only come from God. Thank you Jesus for walking with each of us through the wilderness of our lives and giving us hope that we are never walking alone.
“And remember I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
It has been about 2,000 years since Jesus walked the dusty roads of the Middle East. Cultures have come and gone as have kingdoms and principalities. How is it then that the ministry of Jesus the Christ has endured for so long? How is it despite the lament that the church of Jesus Christ is no longer relevant to the society in which we live, the Word of God that Jesus proclaimed is still the most important message that people need to hear? What we are called to let people know about transcends societal norms of the day and rises above cultural relevance. The most counter-cultural message the world has ever heard is the most enduring because it is the most needed. Jesus offers a message of hope and calls us, in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, to relate to one another with “hearts filled with grace.” We are called to witness, to let them know, that they are not alone and that they do not need to depend on their own will but the will of God, which promises to be with them, in spite of a world darkened by self-centeredness and judgment, “even to the end of the age.” People need to know that they are loved by God no matter where they find themselves in life. The Word of God endures because it is counter-cultural and because it is irrelevant to cultural norms. There are only two expectations God has for you; to “love the Lord your God with all of your heart and with all of your soul, and to love your neighbor;” on these two “hang all the law and the prophets.” By the way, in the realm of God which has no end, there is no “them” and “us,” only “we.” We have been offered a promise that nobody else can offer; the promise of eternal life. We need to remind ourselves every moment of the eternal affirmation through the promise made to us by Jesus; “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” The Word of God endures forever because it has been from the beginning and will always be the “Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last.” Witness this message of hope and love with a heart “filled with grace” to a world in desperate need of the healing presence and saving grace of Jesus Christ, the most relevant and powerful message the world has ever known. Thank you Jesus for the privilege of witnessing you.
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”
There is an old hymn that goes something like this; “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so…” It is comforting that in our opinion-laced, judgment-centered world that Jesus offers each of us something that is in short supply; grace. Jesus wanted to let his disciples know that they are not servants or employees that clock in and clock out, rather they are friends that are cherished and beloved. The gift of friendship Jesus shares with us allows us to be ourselves around God, to unwind and bear our heart and soul to the One that redeems us and calls us God’s own. “O what a friend we have in Jesus….” As Jesus reaches out to us and gathers us in, we are called to witness the same grace as Jesus offers to us. God knows people need someone who they know cares and is invested in them, just for being who they are or where they find themselves. Grace is all about truly being invested in the well-being of somebody else. You are needed by someone because you are needed by God to share the Good News of Jesus Christ that offers grace upon grace no matter the circumstance or your opinion of how a person should be, look like, or how they may dress. Jesus was far more concerned about people then programs, procedures, or decorum; more concerned about their needs than socio-economic status, academic achievement, political affiliation or neighborhood in which they live. The love of God transcends the judgment of others and offers friendship; the last breath of Jesus hanging on the cross befriended a criminal who was hanging next to him. You are needed by God to share the grace of God with all of God’s people. Jesus defines us as “friends” because we are needed by him. You are needed because somebody else just needs a break and understanding that they are not alone in this life and in the life to come; you need to let them know, for the love of God…. Thank you Jesus for the privilege to serve.
“Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”
II Corinthians 9:7
It is truly a rare person that takes joy in paying their bills; bills are a reality of living in our culture. Sometimes we worry if we will be able to pay our bills, other times we can, still other times we know we cannot pay some of our bills at all. All this worry about bill paying can, and does, adversely impact both our physical health and emotional well-being. Giving to the ongoing ministry of Jesus is profoundly different; our giving is not bill to pay but a thanksgiving to God for the blessings we have received. God doesn’t force us to offer gifts to the church nor does the church pressure people to give, as St. Paul wrote, “give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion.” The gifts we offer to God are purely given out of gratitude for all the grace God continues to shower upon us. The joy of giving is the knowledge that our faithful stewardship truly makes a difference in somebody else’s life. Think of giving as a commitment to the ongoing ministry of Jesus Christ, using what God has entrusted to us. The spiritual discipline of giving is like any other discipline, the more it is practiced the more a part of life it becomes. When our priority is serving God through our Risen Savior Jesus Christ, our giving becomes an absolute joy. We promised God to participate in the ministries of Jesus Christ through our giving; the resulting miracle of our faithful stewardship is an increase in God’s blessing in our lives and in the lives of others. Giving is a joy that lightens our load and increases our commitment to God. No matter how large or small the gift, the heavens celebrate in your generosity and shares in your joy. Thank you Jesus for all the gifts we have received and the privilege of joyfully giving back to you.