Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!

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God Invites Us Deeper

Reading: Lamentations 1: 1-6

Verse 2: “Bitterly she weeps at night, tears are upon her cheeks”.

One cannot hardly help reading these verses and being drawn into the sadness of the situation. God has been just in exiling the people because of their sins. Yet the barrenness and emptiness of Jerusalem evoke feelings of sadness and mourning in us thousands of years later. In our hearts we can easily empathize when we read, “Bitterly she weeps at night, tears are upon her cheeks”. Perhaps tears roll down our cheeks.

In our own lives we too will experience hardship, loss, death, change, separation, and maybe even exile. Sometimes these experiences come upon us not because of anything we have done or not done. We simply find ourselves present in the valley. These experiences can be hard and painful. They vary too. There is grief and sadness, for example, when a 92-year-old faithful saint passes on. Yet our reading from Lamentations feels more like the unexpected loss of a young child. In such instances we weep like the woman who cries bitter tears, not quite understanding the reality that she finds herself in.

At other times we have a hand in the calamity that brings us to the valley. There were many who went into exile and some left behind that were guilty of the sins that precipitated God’s action. When we have been guilty and experience hardship or worse because of our choices or actions, we must acknowledge the role we played before offering repentance and seeking reconciliation. This can be a process. Denial and blame shifting can prolong the exile. For Israel, the exile lasted a long time. There was much work to do. We too can remain there for a period of time if we refuse to admit our role or to acknowledge our imperfections.

Whether we are “innocent victims” or if we had a role in the hardship or failure or “exile”, these experiences offer us the opportunity for transformation and growth. In the valleys we are reminded both of our inability to solve all things and of God’s omnipotent ability to do anything. From the valley, God invites us into deeper relationship as we walk the shadows. God’s hand reaches out in love, seeking to heal and transform us into something new. In faith may we reach out to God, our rock and redeemer, our rescuer and restorer, our healer and our salvation.

Prayer: Lord of Lords, the valley is an uncomfortable place to be. The feeling of isolation and grief are hard to bear. Help me to walk with you, to lean upon you. I know you do not want me to bear them alone. Bend my face to yours, hold my hand tightly. Guide me through to once again walk fully in your light and love. Amen.

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God’s Plan

Reading: John 18:1 to 19:42

Verse 19:30 – Jesus said, “It is finished”.

Good Friday is here!  Jesus has been arrested and has been brought before Annas and Caiaphas.  Before this parade will move on to Pilate, Peter will deny Jesus three times – just as Jesus said.  Before the high priest Jesus asks, ‘What did I do wrong’?  Jesus reminds them that He taught in the temple and said nothing in private.  Yet early in the morning, Jesus ends up before Pilate, the Roman governor.

It is interesting that Jesus ends up here.  They are asking a political leader to offer a solution to their religious conflict.  On at least a few occasions, these same leaders have picked up rocks to stone Jesus.  It was an option.  It was a practice used by the Jews to punish certain sins.  The blasphemy they accuse Jesus of would qualify.  But the crucifixion fulfilled the words Jesus himself had spoken about His own death.  It was another example of how God was fully in control of what was unfolding.

Peter’s denials also fit into this category.  It seems odd that the one on whom Jesus would build the church would be the same one to deny even knowing Jesus.  God’s plan at work.  In a short time, the risen Jesus will ask Peter three times if he loves Him.  Three times to wash away the three denials.  Jesus restores Peter and now he is ready to be the Rock.  God’s plan even includes Pilate.  Pilate declares Jesus innocent.  His is an important statement.  Yes, an innocent man will die.  Jesus used the word ‘truth’ with Pilate and it must have stuck.  Pilate has a sign prepared and placed on top of Jesus’ cross.  It reads: “Jesus of Nazareth.  King of the Jews”.  It was written in three languages so that all could read it and take in the truth of it’s message.  All in God’s plan.

As death approaches, Jesus offers one last act of love.  He provides for His mother’s care.  It is a beautiful gesture.  Now that all is right in the world and now that all has gone according to God’s plan, Jesus is ready to die.  He says, “It is finished” and breathes His last.  The tomb awaits.  But He won’t be there long!

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Peter’s Response

Reading: John 21: 15-19

We don’t do awkward well. Yet from time to time it certainly finds us. Sometimes it is something we blindly and innocently stumble into. We can look back later and have a good laugh. But sometimes it is of our own doing, often tied to a misstep or poorly chosen words, and our awkward moment is not so fun.

Peter has the second kind of awkward moment. Jesus forces him to relive the night that Peter denied Christ three times. I imagine Peter was nervously waiting for this conversation. We’ve all been there – said or done something that we know we will have to face again at some point. Peter knew Jesus well. He knew Jesus to be a person who said what needed said.

So finally the eggshells are broken and Jesus asks the question: “Simon son of John do you love me?” Jesus chooses to use his old name instead if Peter. When Jesus renamed Peter it was because Peter meant ‘rock’ and Jesus said He would build His church upon that rock. But now, Peter is still Simon the denier. Can’t you see the relief on Peter’s face as he can finally tell Jesus that he lives Him again? Peter can finally begin to put the guilt and shame of that night behind him.

Then Jesus asks the same question again. Same response from Peter and instructions from Jesus. But Peter probably feels a little more awkward, a little more reminiscent of when he denied Jesus. Then Jesus asks him a third time. Did Peter hear the rooster crowing in his mind? Peter is obviously hurt. But Peter is steadfast – yes Jesus I love you. And again the same response from Jesus: feed my sheep, care for my lambs. Build my kingdom.

We too hear this call each time God places another before us: feed my sheep. We feel it each time the Spirit nudges us to engage one in need: care for my lambs. May we too have Peter’s response: yes Jesus I love you.

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The Call of Jesus

Judas betrays Jesus first in his heart, then later in action.  Was he forcing Jesus’ hand to prod Jesus into becoming the powerful, earthly king that Judas longed for him to be?  Maybe this was Judas’ goal and he cared little for 30 pieces of silver.  Or was Judas filled with greed and saw this as an opportunity to make a little money?  Maybe part of Judas thought Jesus would get out of this jam too. Either way, Judas was guided by Satan, the great deceiver.

But how could one so close to Jesus come to betray Him?  How could one of the twelve think that Jesus had come to sit on an earthly throne?  How could… But each of the twelve does deny or betray Jesus in the end.  Even Peter, the Rock, flat out denies Jesus three times in the courtyard.  All of the disciples scatter and go into hiding after the crucifixion.  Most don’t even go to the hill of Calvary to see Jesus draw the last breath and to die for the sin of the world.

Maybe this was just the lot cast to Judas, cast by powers far beyond him.  We know that Judas doe snot live long afterwards.  Was it guilt or remorse that drove him to take his own life?  Or was it him wanting to be reunited with the risen Lord?

When I think of my life, I realize how often I deny or betray Jesus.  I do every time I say that I want to be the one in control.  I do ever time I won’t fully hand over the reigns to Jesus.  I do every time I turn away from one I could help.  I do every time I choose not to see Jesus in the eyes of those in need.  Yes, sadly the list could go on. What does your list of denials and betrayals look like?

But thanks be to God!!  His mercy and love and forgiveness never fail.  God is right there to pick us back up, to dust us off, to give us a little hug and pat on the back, and to send us right back out there to be His light and love in our world.  May our eyes and ears and hearts be better attuned to hearing and answering the call.  Thanks be to God!!