pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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The End?

Reading: John 11: 1-27

Verse 17: “On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days”.

Each time I read this passage from John 11, I have the same initial reactions. Why didn’t Jesus heal Lazarus from afar? This is clearly within his options as Jesus has done this before for another who was ill (John 4). Adding depth to the question is the relationship that Jesus enjoyed with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus – they were good friends. If he were to heal anyone from afar, wouldn’t it be a good friend? Jesus does “heal” Lazarus after all. But that is for tomorrow’s part of the story.

Today’s passage largely centers around the idea of time. Here we see Jesus operating in one aspect of time while the disciples, Mary and Martha, and all those mourning operate in another aspect of time. Once in a while we step into Jesus’ time, but most often we live like the rest of the people in the passage. Mary and Martha send out the call for their good friend, Jesus, to come heal their brother Lazarus. They want Jesus to come now. They think Jesus needs to come now. The disciples probably think Jesus should leave now. Jesus stays two more days before beginning the journey to Bethany.

We often want things now too. We, as a general rule, do not like to wait. We all want COVID-19 to be over last week, right? We have all wanted the new job, the wedding or due date, the first day of college… to be here now. If we are ill or suffering, we want God to intervene now. We are also familiar with being on the other of the spectrum. If Lazarus were our brother, we would want death to come never. Yet it does come. In Martha’s words we hear words we have spoken or at least thought: “Lord, if you had been here…”

When Jesus arrives we learn that Lazarus has been dead for four days. The time for healing has surely passed. At least in Mary and Martha’s minds, in the disciples’ minds, in all the mourner’s minds, even in our minds – unless you know the end of the story. Jesus does. He knows the end of our story too. He reveals it in verses 25 and 26: “I am the resurrection and the life… whoever lives and believes in me will never die”. Jesus is not just talking of our earthly time. He is also speaking of unbounded time – of God’s time. Believing in Jesus brings true life to this side of time. But he is also saying that our last breath here is only the end of our earthly time and life. The moment of death is just the beginning of our eternal life with God. This is the resurrection that all who believe cling to. It shatters our limited understanding of time. Thanks be to God for this “ending” to our story.

Prayer: Father of all, thank you for your eternal claim on me and upon all who call your Son our Lord and Savior. It brings hope in today and on the hardest of days. Thank you, Lord. Amen.


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Turn Back to God

Reading: Joel 2: 1-2 and 12-17

Verse 13: “Rend your hearts and not your garments”.

Joel was a prophet who worked to call the people back to God. His beloved nation has been invaded and destroyed by a great swarm of locusts. The swarm has come, of course, for a reason. Joel calls the priests to lead by example – to put on sack cloth and to grieve what has happened. The nation lays shriveled and dry in the aftermath of the swarm. The souls of the people are in the same state. This is the context that we use to turn to today’s passage from Joel 2.

Joel is not looking for lip service, a weak apology, or for someone to just go through the motions. In verse one Joel gives us a sense of urgency, declaring, “Blow the trumpets… sound the alarm”! Why? Because the day of the Lord is close at hand. In our Lenten journey we should have the same urgency. In our pursuit of holiness and justice and righteousness, we should be charging down the gates as we look within and strive to be more like Jesus. Whether it is April 12 or whether our day comes sooner, we too should sound the alarm and we should work to be made ready for the day of the Lord.

In verse twelve we hear God’s call to return to him with fasting and weeping and mourning. Does the state of our soul lead us to these practices? When we honestly look within we may be lead to tears. In verse thirteen Joel calls for us to“rend your hearts and not your garments”. Don’t just tear the superficial clothing, but dive deep and get to the core, to the heart of the matter. When we do so, we too will experience the God described by Joel: gracious, compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in love. God is not a destroying God but a restoring God. In faith may we turn back to God, asking the Holy Spirit to be at work in our souls. In faith God will respond, joining us in sacred assembly. God meets us there because God is loving and faithful and gracious. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for reminding me once again today of your grace and compassion, of your abundant love. The gentle reminder encourages me to seek deeply within, to search honestly for what must go. As a refiner, purify my heart, cleanse my soul. Make me more in thy image. Shine within me so that I may light my world today. Amen.


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Blessed

Reading: Matthew 5: 1-12

Verses 11-12: “Blessed are… rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven”.

Today’s and tomorrow’s passages come from the opening teaching of the Sermon on the Mount. The section for today is called the “Beatitudes”. This translates to ‘supreme blessedness’ or ‘utmost bliss’, depending on your dictionary. As one reads through the list given by Jesus, one might wonder how you are blessed in some of these verses. Some might even think, ‘I’d rather skip that blessing’! Others yet will look at the list and think, ‘When’?!

We must first look at the Beatitudes as a list of characteristics of those who are in a close relationship with God. As such, we have experienced some, we are living out some of them now, and have not yet experienced others. As one matures and as ones relationship with God grows stronger, we do experience more and more of the list, often with increasing depth. Second, we must remember what we have been focusing on the last two days – sometimes God’s ways appear as foolishness to the world. For example, most of the world would hear the start of verse four, “Blessed are those who mourn”, and not ever want to hear the rest. Not only will they say no one is blessed when they mourn, but they will add that no one really was able to comfort them in their deepest grief. And they are right. No one can. But God can. That’s the point of the Beatitudes. We experience the “blessed are…” parts and God supplies the “for they…” parts. This allows us, as Christians, to walk forward into difficult places and into trial and suffering assured that we do not walk alone. As we step forward in faith and in trust, we are made more and more into the image of God as revealed in Jesus Christ. The Beatitudes remind us that the path of discipleship is not always easy, but it is blessed by God’s presence. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Father God, thank you for the blessings that I have experienced on this list. It wasn’t always easy, but you were always there. Continue to be present to me and in my life. In turn, may I follow faithfully. Amen.


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Healing and Freedom through Trust in God

Reading: Jeremiah 8:18-9:1

Verse 22: “Why then is there no healing for the wound of my people”?

Much of Israel is in exile. They are living in a foreign land. The people want to be restored, they long for freedom. Jeremiah pleas with God to “listen to the cry of my people”. The people feel as if God were no longer there. Jeremiah mourns and cries right alongside the people. Today many people feel trapped and long for freedom. The things that enslave are many and are quite varied. Some feel that the systems of the world are entrapping them. For example, those struggling with the poverty of the inner cities and reservations cannot see hope. Those dealing with addictions live often with a sense of hopelessness. Those who return to the same sin over and over question God’s presence and power. No one wants to live in these valleys. All want to be restored. Every one longs for freedom and a future with hope.

The people that Jeremiah is serving want freedom, but are still being influenced by and are still clinging to the world around them. God remains angry because the Israelites are still worshipping foreign idols. They say they want God to free them but they are still holding onto those idols with one hand. We fall into this trap too. We pray to God to intervene or give guidance or direction and then we blast out the door to do our own thing. We ask God to help while still keeping one hand on the steering wheel. When we fail to allow God to be the one in control, when we take matters into our own hands, when we still trust at least partly in our abilities or in the ways of the world, we too will end up asking, “Why then is there no healing for the wound of my people”? Tears in heaven are shed because we cannot quite turn it all over to God.

Jeremiah sees this in the people and he mourns as horror grips him. He wishes his head were a spring so that he could cry more tears. In heartfelt prayer Jeremiah longs to pour out his heart and his sorrow to God. We too mourn at times. It may be for ourselves, for one we love, for our church, or for events in the world. When we do mourn, may we be like Jeremiah, asking God with all that we are, trusting in God alone to bring the freedom and healing that is so needed. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, my heart grieves for those hurting and for those who feel alienated. My heart pours out tears for the church. Help me to put my trust in you alone to lead and guide us. It is only through your love and power that we have a future with hope. O great Jehovah, make me fully yours. Amen.


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Who Knows?

Reading: Acts 9: 36-43

Verse 40: “Peter sent them all out of the room; then he got down on his knees and prayed”.

A dearly loved member of the community of faith gets sick and dies. Tabitha has been a wonderful example of loving others. The widows who gather around her body weeping give evidence to her ministry. She was “always doing good” and was one who often helped the poor. Sadness surrounds the community as they mourn her death.

When Tabitha’s fellow believers hear that Peter is in a nearby town they send for him, saying, “Please come at once”! Peter and the other disciples are already becoming known for the signs and wonders. Peter and John have blessed people with the gift of the Holy Spirit. Peter’s shadow passing over people has brought healing. In nearby Lydda he has healed a paralytic. Who knows? Maybe Peter can do something in Joppa too. Besides, didn’t Jesus raise people from the dead? Who knows?

Peter arrives in Joppa to a scene of deep sadness. But there is also hope. This is what led them to call him. Peter enters the room and sees Tabitha. We read, “Peter sent them all out of the room; then he got down on his knees and prayed”. He had witnessed the love they had for her. He must have sensed the hope they had in faith. But why was he here? Peter goes to God in prayer. God knows. We find ourselves in Peter’s place at times. We sense a need for God to move or to act. Do we kneel before God, praying for God to reveal His will? Do we open ourselves to imagine the impossible, trusting it to be within God’s possibilities?

Peter is led to call out, saying, “Tabitha, get up”. And she opens her eyes and sits up. Peter helps her up and calls in the widows and other believers. He “presented her to them alive”. Imagine. Just imagine. What would have been going through their hearts and minds? It is hard for us to imagine this happening. Imagine being there.

Jesus had told the disciples that nothing is impossible for God. He has told them that faith can move a mountain. It is with trust in the words of Jesus that Peter kneels and prays. Yes, he has some recent experiences to fuel his prayers and his faith. But we all do. We all have had experiences in our lives when God has done the unexpected or even the unimaginable. What seems impossible in life right now? Kneel and pray as Peter prayed. Who knows?

Prayer: God, I know that you are the God of all creation. You hold everything in your hands. You love us – you love me. May I live today with these truths guiding all I do and say and think. May it be so. Amen.


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A Day of Quiet and Reflection

Reading: Matthew 27: 57-66

Verse 59: “Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock”.

Today is a hard day for the followers of Jesus. It is a day of waiting. We read today of a brave man named Joseph who wanted to care for Jesus’ body at the end of the day Friday. He did not want the body left on the cross on the Sabbath. So Joseph gets permission from Pilate to place Jesus’ body in his own tomb. We read, “Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock”. In John’s gospel we are told that Joseph had a helper. In John 19:39 we read that Nicodemus, the one who secretly visited Jesus at night, helps Joseph. A seed planted by Jesus has obviously been at work in Nicodemus.

Also present are two of the women who were regularly in the group that followed and cared for Jesus. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Joses “were sitting there opposite the tomb”. They are present maybe for a couple of reasons. One is practical. The placing of Jesus’ body in the tomb was quick and temporary. The women intended to return after observing the Sabbath to properly care for Jesus’ body with the usual spices. They were also present to mourn and grieve. To be physically near the one who has just passed is something that can bring some peace and comfort. In these moments, what else can one do?

This day has traditionally been a day of waiting. For Christians, we know what happens tomorrow – the grave is empty! Today we wait with anticipation and excitement. But, for Jesus’ followers, this day is a day of mourning and a lot of “now what” questions. It is a day of stillness and quiet. It is a day of confusion and discomfort. We have all been through the day after losing someonene dear. We all know the emotions and the thoughts that run through our hearts and minds. We know just what Mary Magdalene and the other Mary and all of Jesus’ followers felt that day.

Today, may we too enter the stillness and the emotions of what it would be like to not have Jesus’ presence. In the stillness may we connect to the women outside the tomb. In the consideration of not living in His presence may we come to rejoice in the glory of living daily with the power and presence of the risen Christ. Today us a day of quiet and reflection. For us there is no sadness, for we know that Easter is coming. Hallelujah and amen!


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More in Love

Reading: Romans 12: 9-17

Verses 9 and 11: Love must be sincere…  Keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.

For Paul, faith was something that must be lived out in the world.  Faith cannot be just in one’s home or even just within the walls of the church.  Our passage’s key theme today is love and what that looks like in our relationship with God and within the context of community.  The love of Christ that Paul knew and was guided by is the same love that we know and are called to live by.

In today’s passage Paul weaves together the personal and the corporate aspects of Christian love and faith.  He begins with the foundational element: “Love must be sincere”.  Love cannot be faked nor can it be reigned in.  It must be like Jesus’ love: all out for all people.  Paul addresses what our corporate love should look like.  He advises us to be devoted to each other, to honor others above self, and to not be haughty but to associate with all.  Paul also instructs us to be there for one another – to celebrate the joys and to mourn in the sadnesses.  In other words, be a good friend.  For Paul that also includes sharing with all in need, practicing genuine hospitality.

Paul also speaks to our personal relationship with God.  He encourages us to “Keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord”.  For Paul, his love of Christ did not waver – it was always full-on, never stop love.  There was always another lost soul to connect to Jesus Christ.  He challenges us to have the same love.  To this end he offers some practical tips: hate evil and cling to good, be joyful in hope, be patient in the trials, and pray faithfully.  These were the things Paul practiced.  He knew that these practices would keep us in love with God.  This relationship with God is like all of our other relationships: the more we put in, the more we get out.

To a small degree we have the choice to love as God loves.  We, at times, can make the choice to love or to hate, for example.  But in general we are of the flesh and cannot always make the good or loving choice.  God’s presence and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit are the keys to a steady walk with God.  The more we choose to seek God’s presence, the less we rely on self.  The more we listen for and heed the voice of the Spirit, the louder that voice grows.  Day by day may we seek God’s presence and may we strive to hear the voice of the Spirit above the din of the world.  In doing so, we will walk more and more in God’s love and grace.  May it be so.