August 19, 2015

Eat My Flesh

While teaching in the synagogue (see John 6:51-58) Jesus gave a shocker of a sermon. Eat my flesh and drink my blood, he said. The very idea of drinking any blood, let alone human blood, was repugnant to the religious leaders—the law forbid it. The Jewish audience was mad, they had heard enough, they were especially upset about the implications of what Jesus was saying.  In the ritual purity laws established in Leviticus, contact with some sources of uncleanness is prohibited, and with others, there is a procedure for cleansing. 

The belief is this—a violation of these laws meant that God’s presence in the midst of his people would no longer exist; they would be cut off from God. Therefore, what is unclean is an abomination to God and will not be tolerated. Of the violations, "blood must not be eaten,” was among the most serious. 

To the Jewish mind eating the blood of an animal was serious enough, so when they heard Jesus saying “whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life,” to them, the very suggestion of drinking “human blood” was unthinkable—it was blasphemy!

In their minds what they likely heard Jesus saying was: “Eat my flesh and be cut off from God; drink my blood and God’s presence will no longer exist in your life.”  What a horrifying thought. No wonder they were so upset.  Unfortunately they also missed out on one of the points Jesus was trying to make.

The point, William Barclay suggests: 
“To eat Christ’ body is to feed on the thought of who he was, 
until we ourselves are fortified, cleansed and transformed by who he is.”

The real shocker Jesus told his audience that day in the synagogue was not that we should (or would) literally be eating his flesh and drinking his blood… but that we should have a diet which consist of feeding and filling our hearts, souls, and minds with who he was in order to be transformed because of who he isbread that has come down from heavenblood spilled on a cross that washed our sins away. 

August 14, 2015

Let Us Have Peace

The earth is weary of our foolish wars.
Her hills and shores were shaped for lovely things,
Yet all our years are spent in bickering
Beneath the astonished stars.

April by April laden with beauty comes,
Autumn by Autumn turns our toil to gain,
But hand at sword-hilt, still we start and strain
To catch the beat of drums.

Knowledge to knowledge adding, skill to skill,
We strive for other's good as for our own—
And then, like cavemen snarling with a bone,
We turn and rend and kill . . . 

With life so fair, and all too short a lease
Upon our special star.  Nay, love and trust,
Not blood and thunder shall redeem our dust.
Let us have peace!

Poem by: Nancy Byrd Turner

August 11, 2015

Finding Hope

Having just triumphed in his contest with hundreds of prophets of Baal, Elijah finds himself the subject of a death warrant to be executed immediately (see First Kings ch.18 & 19). So Elijah did what just about any of us would do, he ran. He runs out of the city and goes a day’s journey deep into the desert. He comes to a tree in the wilderness, sits under it, and there he prays to God. 
In many ways Elijah in this passage is the perfect symbol of all those times in our lives when things are not going the way we would like them to go; times when we feel a dark cloud hovering above our lives and are completely exhausted. That’s the kind of day Elijah is having when he finds himself under a tree praying to God: “I can’t do this anymore. I’m worn out. I’m done… so he prays for death.
But just when he is ready to throw in the towel an angel of the Lord awakens him and says, “I want you to eat.” Elijah drinks some water and eats some bread and then goes back to sleep. When Elijah awakens, the angel urges him to eat some more so that he will be able to accomplish the work God has asked of him. 
Keep in mind this is Elijah’s first encounter with the angel of the Lord in the Bible. Elijah, here, is witnessing something he has never seen before, an angel, a messenger of God, and as Elijah begins to recognize this divine encounter as being from the Lord, he gains insight…he receives nourishment that enables him to walk more than just a little. He is able to journey for forty days and forty nights on bread and water; just the right amount of sustenance and nourishment needed to pick up and carry on.
This is a story about finding hope—even in the depths of despair, God met Elijah’s needs—even when we seem to lose hope and a sense of direction, there is the possibility that even in those moments we will still be able to hear or to see something we have never heard or seen before. If we open our eyes in faith, we can receive the kind of insights and the strength we need to find hope and carry on.

It’s in our darkest moments that we sometimes grow the most.  As one biblical scholar points out, “there is a kind of death before there is life—often there is a breakdown before the breakthrough.”

The Washington Monument

July 30, 2015

Love Thy Neighbor

Up to this point in the conversation the question and answer session between Jesus and the lawyer sum-up the essence of not only Judaism, but indeed of all religions—love God, love your neighbor.  But then the underlying question the lawyer really wanted to ask comes; a question to test the character of Jesus; a question which ultimately tests the character of each and every one of us: “Who is my neighbor?” (see Luke 10:25-37)

It’s an interesting question.  It’s a question in which our answer may depend on the kind of relationship we have with God.  Who is it that I am to love as I love myself?  Who is it that I am to show goodwill toward?  To pray for?  To assist? 
The Scripture states that the lawyer asked Jesus this question as a means of justifying himself, as a means of showing that he, a teacher of the law, was doing all that God has asked him to do. It has been suggested by some biblical scholars that what the lawyer here is really asking Jesus is, “Who is not my neighbor?”  Who is it that I am allowed to ignore?  Who may I neglect?  Perhaps even hate (just a little).

To put it another way, the Lawyer was asking—what is the "minimum” 
that I can get by with and still keep God’s law of love?

That, some of you may be thinking, is a terrible approach to keeping God’s law of love.  Who should I love, and who can I get by with “not” loving?  Yes, it does seem like a horrifying approach to keeping God’s law of love, but such was the kind of reasoning that lay behind the lawyer’s question. 

Such is the type of thinking that infiltrates all of our minds from time to time. How often do we write people off because they are different?  How often do we focus our time and attention on the type of people that we feel deserve our help, while deliberately ignoring or neglecting others because of who they are?

Who is my neighbor? That’s not the question. What do I need to change?  What do I need to be doing differently in my life in order to become a Christ-like neighbor? That’s the real question we should be asking ourselves.  

July 23, 2015

Poem on Faith

"Unshrinking Faith"

O’ for a faith that will not shrink,
Though pressed by every foe;
That will not tremble on the brink
Of any earthly woe.

That will not murmur or complain,
Beneath the chastening rod,
But, in the hour of grief or pain,
Will lean upon the Lord our God.

A faith that shines more bright and clear
When tempests rage without;
And when in danger know no fear,
In darkness feels no doubt.

Lord, give us such a faith as this,
And then, whatever in life may hone
We’ll leave this place with hallow bliss
To the place we call eternal home.

–W. H. Balhurst
Ocean City, Maryland

July 13, 2015

Repentance & Reconciliation

One of the goals God’s word longs to accomplish within us is to open our eyes.  When we hear Scripture being read we are being invited to see the bigger picture, to move beyond our own personal world and to enter into a more divine, more mysterious world. From the beginning God has commissioned human beings to help accomplish this work, to bring people into a greater awareness of the big picture.  In the Old Testament God called prophets.  In the New Testament God sent Jesus; Jesus sent disciples (us).
One of God’s greatest joys is revealing to us what he is doing for us. One of the exciting things about following Christ is how far he tries to take us in our Christian journey.  When Jesus comes into our life he does two things: He reveals what our lives are supposed to be, and he enables us through love and forgiveness to receive God’s message of hope and assurance. Jesus wanted badly to put people in touch with this message.  In the New Testament we see this time and time again.
In Mark’s gospel (Mark 6:7-13) Jesus sends out twelve disciples. He sends them out, to do what?  In verse twelve we find the answer. “They went out and preached that people should repent.” Repentance is a tricky word, simply put it means a change of heart, a new direction, a new way of seeing.  When we see, when we look at life in the way God challenges us to view it, there is healing.

As one scholar put it, 
“repentance is signaled by
a new desire for
and experience of
the presence of God.”

When we live a life of repentance, Paul said, we will be “filled with praise, recognizing the divine favor God has bestowed on us.” (Ephesians 1:3-14).  When we look out and see the world as God intended it to be seen, we will discover God is still speaking.           
Our lives don’t have to suddenly, drastically change when we repent.  All that needs to change are those things that I would call half-truths . . . those notches in our way of seeing things that are not in line with how God sees things.  When the disciples of Jesus are sent forth to preach about repentance, what God is saying to the world, in part, is that he wants heaven and earth to be closer, to look more alike, to have in this world some of the wholeness that exist in the next world.

That is the message Jesus was sending the disciples to deliver to those with ears to hear.  The message of God’s redeeming power. That God, in Christ, was reconciling the world unto himself, not counting the people’s sins against them, Jesus sends us forth with the message of repentance and reconciliation.  (2 Corinthians 5:19).

Photo of St. Louis, MO from inside the Arch 

July 6, 2015

A Dead Person

As Jesus approached the town gate, a dead person was being carried out—the only son of his mother, and she was a widow.  And a large crowd from the town was with her.  When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, “Don’t cry.”  Then he went up and touched the coffin, and those carrying it stood still.  He said, “Young man, I say to you, get up!”  The dead man sat up and began to talk and Jesus gave him back to his mother.  They were all filled with awe and praised God.   (Luke 7:12-16a)

          Perhaps her friends recognized the extent of her loss, for we read that a large crowd of them assembled to mourn.  As the procession carried the body of the young man of the city to the cemetery, still another group joined them, for they met Jesus and his disciples.  Jesus was always sensitive to sorrow and to human need.  He understood the situation immediately.  Then he moved to the side of the weeping woman and spoke quietly.  “Do not weep,” he told her.  His words surprise us when we read them, even as they must have surprised the widow. 
          Why shouldn’t she weep?  She certainly had reason enough to be sorrowful.  A funeral is an occasion for grief.  God does not expect us to conceal our feelings at times like these or to pretend to be tougher than nails.  Nevertheless, Jesus told her not to weep.
          If we listen closely, we can hear his voice, even now, speaking to us. “Do not weep. You cry because you only understand part of this experience of death.  Let me show you something more.”  Then Jesus turned and touched the casket. 
          He wasn’t the only one to touch it that day.  Loving hands had prepared the body for burial.  Others were carrying the casket in the funeral procession.  But no one else had touched it in the same way that Jesus did.  His was the touch of release, of power.  His hand brought the funeral procession to a halt.
          His touch had given sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, cleansing to the leper.  Now his touch turned an occasion of sorrow into an occasion of triumph.
          Then Jesus spoke.  “Young man, rise up.”  The young man sat up, began to speak, and was restored to the loving arms of his mother.  The tragedy had come to an end.  Her hopes and dreams were reborn.  Tears were replaced with smiles.  The power of resurrection became a reality to that grieving woman in an instant.
          That power is still a reality for us today.  Our experience of tragedy and loss is still the same.  Our tears flow just as easily today as they did for those back then.  Our ability to find release from our pain in the face of tragedy is no easier today than it was for them.
          Just as it was for them back then, there is another thing still the same, with us, is Jesus Christ.  Christ our Lord is still with us to help us face our sorrow with the strength we receive from placing our faith in him.  God gives us the strength beyond all understanding to help us overcome our grief by reminding us that death is not an ending to existence, but rather the beginning of a new kind of life.  The cross was not the end for God’s Son, for on the third day the tomb was empty.  He spoke of a place prepared for us after death, the Father’s house in which there are many rooms.
          Thus we experience the sorrow of separation, but we know we will not be separate forever.  A funeral gathering is thus a celebration of life, of faith in Christ and of hope in the promises of God.  If we listen closely, we can hear the Master’s voice telling us, “Do not weep.”  The power of resurrection is still among us.      
As the deep blue of heaven brightens into stars,
So God’s great love shines forth in promises.
Which, falling softly through our prison bars,
Daze not our eyes, but with their sweet light bless.
Ladders of light, God sets against the skies,
Upon whose golden rungs we step by step arise.