pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Fill Us, Holy Spirit

Reading: Acts 2: 1-4

Verses 3-4: “… tongues of fire… came and rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit”.

Tomorrow we celebrate Pentecost Sunday in many of our churches. It is thought of as the birthday of the church. Two different groups were gathered in Jerusalem for two different reasons. The disciples of Jesus were gathered, waiting for the arrival of the promised Holy Spirit. Jews were also gathered, there to celebrate the Feast of Weeks. This annual festival fifty days after Passover was known as “Pentecost” in Greek. These two groups would be gathered under one roof as the loud noise, sounding like a “violent wind”, draws them together.

For the disciples who were gathered, they experienced something extraordinary. In verses 3-4 we read, “… tongues of fire… came and rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit”. With a tangible and very visible sign, that which Jesus promised arrived. The gift that will teach and remind also gives the gift of speaking in many different languages. This remains one gift that the Spirit gives to those who follow Jesus.

I am currently at Annual Conference – the yearly gathering of United Methodist churches. My Annual Conference consists of the UM churches in South and North Dakota. Last night we had our “Celebration of Life in Ministry” service. In worship we celebrate the ministry of those no longer with us. We celebrate those who have graduated and those becoming provisional members and those being ordained as elders or deacons. It is a wonderful night of celebrating ministry. It begins with a welcome from a clergy from another denomination. Last night it was an Episcopal priest that our Bishop met while visiting the Standing Rock Reservation. This special guest represents our ties as the larger body of Christ, together under “one roof” as the Bishop put it in his message. Near the end of worship our Bishop always invites those whose hearts have been warmed, those perhaps feeling a call to ministry, to come forward.

As the Bishop prepared to give the benediction, the Episcopal priest asked to speak. He spoke of how our two denominations are close – Methodism was “birthed” by the Episcopals. And he spoke of how his heart was full and was warmed by this movement of the Holy Spirit among us and in our hearts. He spoke of how we are under one big roof – drawn together by God. Yes, God was once again at work in a very tangible and powerful way, speaking once again into our hearts. This day I look forward to having the Holy Spirit speak in my heart once again. May it be so for you as well.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for filling my heart as well last night. Thank you so much for loving us so much that you work on being in relationship with each of us. Fill me up again today, Lord. Amen.

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Joyful Praise

Reading: Luke 19: 28-40

Verse 40: “I tell you, if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out”.

The parade that we observe today began with Jesus’ disciples singing joyfully as the approached Jerusalem. As His followers participated in a somewhat impromptu gathering, they did what Jews often did when approaching or ascending into the city: they sang a Psalm. The followers of Jesus were singing from Psalm 118 on this joyous occasion. Verse 26 reads, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord”. It has been implied that as the disciples neared the city, others joined in the singing and in the parade. Note the words in verse 38 from our text for today. It reads, “Blessed is the king who comes…”. It is a subtle but important shift.

In general, the Romans allowed the Jews to practice their religion. They were allowed to hold the three major festivals each year even though they drew large crowds. Large crowds meant possible rebellion so the Romans tended to be on edge during the festivals. Passover was approaching so the population of Jerusalem would be starting to swell. As long as the religious leaders kept the crowds under control, the Romans tolerated the festivals and regular practices of worship and sacrifice. Being able to keep things under control was essential to the religious leaders keeping their positions. Thus, as the crowd built, waving palms, singing, laying down a royal carpet with their cloaks, the use of the word “king” aroused the religious leaders. They asked Jesus to quiet the crowd. Jesus chooses not to. Instead, Jesus says, “I tell you, if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out”. It is a reference to how all of creation glorifies the Creator. It is a way to claim who He was without crossing too far over the religious leader’s line.

Today, on Palm Sunday, we too may get caught up with the crowd. There will be lots of smiles and some joyous singing in churches this morning as the palms are paraded around. That joy is good for us in two ways. First, it connects us to our King, to our creator, to our sustainer, to our redeemer, through joyful praise. It is good and right to praise the Lord. Second, we need some joy as we step off into Holy Week. The joy of today reminds us of the joy that comes in a week, on Easter or Resurrection Sunday. It is important to remember that in the end, we are Easter people. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: God, like the stones, may I cry out. May I join the crowd this week in joyful praise of you, my King. Sustain me with that joy as I walk through Holy Week, bringing me at last to Easter Sunday. Thank you, God. Amen.


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Lost But Found

Reading: Luke 15: 1-3 and 11b-32

Verse 32: “But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found”.

The bulk of our reading again today is the story of the prodigal son. It follows the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin. In these the shepherd and the woman do all they can to find what was lost. Like with the lost son, when what “was lost and is found”, they “had to celebrate and be glad”. These three stories of rejoicing in heaven and on earth are told in response to some muttering by some Pharisees and religious leaders. They had muttered about Jesus, saying, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them”.

For the self-righteous and judgmental religious folks sin was to be avoided at all costs. Sin is bad. Sin separates one from God. Sin makes one unclean and unable to participate fully in the temple. The Pharisees and religious leaders act as if sin is contagious. They are appalled when Jesus eats with sinners. They are also appalled when Jesus touches lepers or when He allows a prostitute to touch Him or when He calls a tax collector as a follower or when He calls one down from a tree to eat with him and his friends. At first I smirked at the idea of sin being contagious. Then I looked in the mirror and realized it sure can be! It often is. Gossip is a good example of this. The Pharisees and religious leaders feared sin so they walled up inside the four walls of the temple and they avoided contact – any contact – with those who were struggling with sin. Their message was: be right with God and then you can come to worship and hang out with us. This idea runs so counter to how Jesus did ministry. Yet today we continue to at least hint at the idea that you must look like, act like, live like, believe like we do to be a part of “us” in many societal groups and organizations and in many of our churches. So before we look down on the Pharisees and religious leaders too much, let us turn to the father.

The younger son realizes he has sinned. He humbles himself and decides to return to the father. He admits his sins and asks to be a hired hand, saying, “I am no longer worthy to be called your son”. The father had every right to say, “Yes, go find the foreman and he’ll find you a bed in the bunkhouse and he’ll put you to work”. He had every right. But instead the father says, “This son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found”. There is then much rejoicing over the one that was lost but found. The older son has trouble with this idea. The Pharisees and religious leaders probably did too. And too many times we do too.

We are so grateful when the Father forgives our sins and welcomes us back into the family as a child of God. May we go forth and do the same for another who is lost.

Prayer: Jesus, my redeemer, may I love and welcome all as you loved and welcomed me, a sinner saved by grace. Amen.


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Remember

Reading: Joshua 5: 9-12

Verse 10: “The Israelites celebrated the Passover”.

After crossing into the Promised Land, the Israelites set up camp. They have just witnessed another miracle. God led the people through once again. Although at “full flood stage”, the people walked across on dry ground. As soon as all had crossed over, the waters returned to flood stage. They built an altar from 12 stones from the river bed to remember this miracle. Then they set up camp and, “the Israelites celebrated the Passover”. This is another remembrance. The yearly festival is a celebration of how God freed them from captivity as slaves in Egypt and led them out of Egypt.

The Passover is a remembrance of all the details of the time when God acted on behalf of His people. This celebration reminds the people of both the power of God and of His love for them. As children of God we too celebrate and remember experiences and moments when God has acted on our behalf. We remember to remind ourselves of God’s love for us. This is why we celebrate Christmas, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter, Pentecost… These are powerful movements of God. These reveal God’s love for us. Like the Israelites and Passover, we celebrate these events each and every year. We also have movements of God that we celebrate more frequently. Churches regularly celebrate communion. All of these events that we celebrate remind us of God’s power and of His love for us.

As children of God, we all have personal experiences that also remind us of God’s love and power. Our God is a great God who acts in mighty ways. Some of the time, these are personal. God is involved in the details of our lives. We have moments and experiences when we encounter God in our lives. That night in the balcony at church, that afternoon in the emergency room, that morning atop the mountain, those days in worship. We can all remember times when our God came up close and became intimately personal. We store those away in our hearts and we remember them in our minds.

When were your moments? How has God been up close and personal with you? Take a moment or two to remember and give thanks to the Lord our God.

Prayer: Lord, you have been present in many ways. I thank you that over and over, at just the right time, you have come to me in real and personal ways. Continue to do so over and over again. Ever be my God. Amen.


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Light Shines

Reading: Psalm. 80: 1-7

Verse 7: “Restore us, O God Almighty; make your face shine upon us, that we may be saved”.

The Christmas season brings a wide range of emotions. For many it is a season of joy and celebration. We worship and rejoice in the birth of Jesus Christ. We exchange gifts as a reminder of the gift that Jesus was and is and as a way to express our love for one another. We enjoy a respite from work or school – an opportunity to recharge a bit.

But for some, this time of year is hard. A mother or father or child or sibling is not present at the regular holiday gatherings and their seat at the Christmas dinner table is empty. A void has been created by their passing and it seems especially sharp this time of year. In our seasonal joy let us not overlook or miss those who are struggling, those who are hurting. They could use an extra hug and some words of encouragement and love.

As the psalmist writes this Psalm, the people of Israel are hurting. He calls on God to “hear us” and to “awaken your might”. He wonders how much longer God’s anger will smolder. He longs for God to restore them. This is a hard place to be. This is where many folks are today. People feel alone this time of year. Many feel separated from God because of their grief. Many long for the dark to pass and for God to restore them as well.

The psalmist offers these words to the people: “Restore us, O God Almighty; make your face shine upon us, that we may be saved”. The people who were suffering needed to hear these words of hope and faith. We all know folks who need to hear them today. With these, may we share these words. To these, may we be these words.

Prayer: Lord, hope abounds in you. Light shines forth from you. Your hope and light bring life to our darkness. May I bring your hope and light to others today. Amen.


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Celebrate, Rejoice!

Reading: Esther 7: 1-6 & 9-10

Verse 3: “Grant me my life – that is my petition. And spare my people – this is my request”.

The Jews are living as a foreign people, living in exile, scattered throughout the land. In the midst of the foreign culture all around them, they are trying to hold onto their faith, their beliefs, their traditions. Over the years, the Jews have become a part of the fabric of society. One happens to win what is in essence a beauty contest and becomes the queen. Her Jewish faith is strong, but it is practiced privately. A man, her uncle in fact, also has kept his faith in God as an essential part of his life. In doing so, he refused to bow down to a high court official. This slight enrages the man, Haman, and he gets the king to sign an edict to wipe out the Jews. It wasn’t enough to just get revenge on the man.

As the date for the Jews’ destruction nears, Mordecai, the man who refused to bow down, enlists his niece, Esther, to help stop this evil plan. Esther also happens to be the queen. After fasting and praying for three days, Esther approaches the king and sets up a fancy dinner that includes Haman. It is in this setting that the king asks Esther what her petition and request are. Esther answers, “Grant me my life – that is my petition. And spare my people – this is my request”. King Xerses is outraged that anyone would dare to do such a thing to Esther and her people. Haman suffers the consequence, being hung on the gallows that he had made especially for Mordecai.

This is a great story of faith in God and of God saving His people. The story is remembered in a yearly festival called Purim. Corporately we also have great stories of faith that we remember each year – Christmas, Easter, Pentecost… We celebrate yearly to remember God’s love and care for us, His children. The story of Esther and many others in the Bible remind us of God’s presence and provision. This day may we rejoice in the stories of faith and in our own personal experiences of God’s hand at work in our lives. Thanks be to God.

God, thank you for the reminders of your steadfast love in stories like Esther’s. Thank you for your hand at work in our lives as well. Thank you for being my God and our God. Amen.


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Eyes of Love

Reading: Mark 15: 21-40

Verses 37-38: “With a loud cry, Jesus breathed His last. The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom”.

In Mark’s gospel we get a pretty abbreviated telling of the crucifixion and events surrounding it. It goes something like this: man carries cross, Jesus crucified, divided clothes, people mocked Him, got dark, Jesus cried out then died, curtain torn, some women watched. Mark’s story does have a few more words and details, but not a whole lot more.

It is odd to read through the crucifixion story a week before it actually happens. On Good Friday we will wrestle with it a whole lot more. Yet it is good to think of this day as we prepare to celebrate Palm Sunday this weekend. The children will parade around with palm branches waving, full of excitement, just like the first Palm Sunday crowd. The contrast with these two events is stark and sobering.

When we step back into our own lives, for most folks life is good. We have our routines and the little things that bring us joy. Then one day suffering comes our way. We cling to God and we get through it. After a time, we look back upon said event and we see it differently. We see how God loved and cared for us in the trial. We see what was pain with eyes of love and gratitude.

I think Jesus saw the cross this way – with eyes of love. He knew why He had come. It was to be this sacrifice. He also knew that resurrection was coming. He saw the other side of the suffering so He viewed this difficult and painful experience with eyes of love. “With a loud cry, Jesus breathed His last”. A simple end. Across town, “The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom”. The thing that kept people separated from the Holy of Holies, where they thought God dwelled, was torn wide open. All will now be able to enter God’s presence directly and personally. I suppose that was another reason that Jesus saw this event with eyes of love too.

As we celebrate Palm Sunday this weekend, may we also keep an eye on both the crucifixion and the resurrection. As we do so, we see all of the last days of Jesus with eyes of love. May it be so.