Cultural critic and wise professor, Gerald Early, once famously said, “I think there are only three things America will be known for in 2,000 years from now when they study this civilization: the Constitution, jazz music, and baseball.” Three quintessential American creations. We can’t know Jesus’ thoughts on the Constitution and baseball (although I’d like to hope that he would approve, although both are imperfect), but I do think we have some insights into Jesus’ take on jazz. It all comes down to the Hebrew idea of midrash.
Let me take a step back for a second. Just in case you are not familiar, Jazz is a musical genre born of African Americans in New Orleans of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Characterized by dynamic improvisational instrumental expression around many different and changing rhythms. A good jazz musician can hear the beat and the key and improvise in and out with beautiful and inventive ease. Take a moment and watch the video below of Mile Davis stunningly riffing and expanding upon the music around him in such a masterful way.
The Hebrew idea of midrash is similar, in that it takes the scriptural text, the context, the implications of the text, what is not said in the text, and what the possibilities of the text are and explores a dynamic dialogue with a holy text. The Talmud is a collection of Jewish scholars wrestling with the Hebrew Scriptures through the centuries and bringing new insights to their communities. When Jesus gathered with his disciples on the night before his crucifixion for the Passover feast, he was performing a new type of midrash! In Luke 22:15, Jesus says “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer”. He then took the bread and wine and instead of talking about the lamb that would be slain and the blood being put on the doorposts of the house to protect the first born of the Jewish households in Egypt, he astonished them by making this imagery about himself! He is pronouncing a new midrash of meaning upon an old Hebrew story. He is taking the rhythm of the Torah and bringing a whole new innovative understanding to the word of God through Jesus, the Word of God.
The justice of God displayed in the rescue of the enslaved Israelite people, is now at work in Jesus, bringing liberation to all of humanity enslaved to sin through his death and resurrection. Then when the Israelites arrived at Mount Sinai, they discover the joy of God – the heart of God’s desire for how humans will interact with God and each other as found in the Ten Commandments. Back to the New Testament, fifty days after Jesus’ death and resurrection at Easter, we have Pentecost, where the Church is born and the joy of God’s desire for humanity is revealed in the equipping of people to share God’s love beyond cultural boundaries to the entire world. So the Passover and Jesus’ Last Supper display God’s JUSTICE and Mount Sinai and Pentecost bring clarity to God’s JOY for how humans are to live in relationship. Do you see it? The midrash, the jazz of God.
So, we don’t know if Jesus played a musical instrument, but he certainly played a beautiful and holy jazz improvisation on the scared, well known themes of the Hebrew Scriptures. To be a good jazz musician, you must first learn your instrument and know the traditional songs and how to play them before you improvise. The greatest of jazz musicians were always incredibly disciplined in their approach to their craft. Similarly, Jesus knew his tradition well. Remember when he was just twelve and amazed all the temple priests with his questions and understanding? (Luke 2:41-52) Later, when Jesus was preaching the Sermon on the Mount, he said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.” (Matthew 5:17) Before he can fulfill the law in new and profound ways, he must know the law. Before he can improvise, he has to know his stuff! So, we too are also called to read, study and seek understanding of the Bible and Jesus’ life with disciplined dedication before we can be expected to riff on and explore how Jesus is alive in our own lives. And what a discovery that will be!
The music of the Spirit is out there. Can you hear it? It’s been playing since the dawn of creation and is waiting, beckoning for you to take up your instrument and join in with the band. Perhaps you need to work on your scales and chords, or maybe it’s your time to bravely share your creative improvisational skills in the ever changing, ever transforming, ever consuming, ever loving ballad of God. Jazz and Jesus – that would be something. Jazz, Jesus and you – well now, that’s what this whole thing is about!
“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
This passage from Hebrews speaks to the power of faith. If you were to keep reading the entire chapter, you would see that the text goes on to inventory a long list of biblical hopers who have lived according to God's promises. These powerful promises of faith both have inward and outward dimensions. The “assurance of things hoped for” speaks to the inward ramifications and the “conviction of things not seen” tell of the outward realities of faith. Faith has power to totally transform our internal and external worlds.
Inwardly, the assurance of faith gives us confidence in troubled times that Divine promises for peace/shalom, justice, mercy, forgiveness, and God’s unwavering love for humanity can be trusted with your whole heart. Actually, the word assurance in the NRSV translation is taken from the Greek word hypostasis, which means the “very being.” The same word, later used to describe the nature of Jesus as both God and human. So: “faith is the very being of things hoped for”. We can have more than confidence, because the reality of these promises in the midst of our sinful and dark world is as if faith in God were an advancing force operating behind enemy lines.
Outwardly, the Apostle Paul reminds us that we are the “Body of Christ.” This means that those who say they trust that Jesus is the Messiah and follow his teachings are to be the living manifestation of him in the world. Which leads us to be agents of peace/shalom, justice, mercy, forgiveness, and love for neighbors as for ourselves.
Inwardly – in faith, we sing We Shall Overcome
Outwardly – with faith, we march at Selma
Inwardly – in faith, we hold to God’s promises of direct action to bring about the end of all crying and mourning.
Outwardly – with faith, we pray with those who mourn, serve tenderly, those who weep, work tirelessly to ease pain and burdens of the wounded.
Inwardly – in faith, our hearts are moved.
Outwardly – with faith, we can move mountains.
Inwardly – we trust in the mysterious transcendence of God, that is beyond our greatest imaging.
Outwardly – we discover the immanence of God, that is intimately close to us and the desire to share it.
But, this two-fold dynamic of inward and outward faith can break down in our attempts to be faithful. We are human, after all. We can either let fear creep into our inward feelings and/or allow exhaustion to overwhelm our outward expressions of faith. Fear can lead to the futile attempt to overcome it by clinging to a sense of certainty, whereas exhaustion can lead to one to fall into indifference. Certainty and indifference, not doubt, are the polar opposites of faith. I have said many times before that doubt is not the opposite of faith, but an evidence of faith because it is a sign of meaningful wrestling. Like Jacob struggling with God until he got a blessing, we too do not struggle with things that we don’t care about. Struggle is part of the faith journey. Remember that the new name for Jacob, that God gave him, was Israel. It means: to struggle with God and humanity and to be spared.
So, if you have doubts, that is okay. It does not mean that you have failed as being a person of faith in Jesus Christ. It means you are wrestling with something. Pay attention to what blessing God may give to you.
If you have made certainty of biblical interpretation and faith your goal, you will be disappointed. Sure, it may alleviate some temporal anxiety, but it cannot encapsulate the whole of God’s purposes. You can never be 100% certain of anything in this life. In fact, even Jesus said that the angels in heaven and even he did not know the “day and hour” of his return (Matthew 24:36), so how can certainty be a goal of faith? It actually wouldn’t even be faith then, right? Faith is trust. Faith is a risk. Faith is personal. Faith is an inward movement of our spirit in tune with the Holy Spirit.
If you have told yourself that to be faithful it is up to you to outwardly solve all the societal problems, you will soon be exhausted. You will get overwhelmed. You will grow indifferent. Faith is also an outward movement of our spirit in time to the beat of God’s justice song. When we know we are not alone in the work of transforming and translating God’s will on earth as it is in heaven, we begin to discover that the journey of faith and growth is a daily one and the destination is unclear. But do you have the faith of a mustard seed? It doesn’t have to be much. Maybe you’ve been beaten down by situations and relationships in your life that were not what you needed. You’re tired, depressed, ready to let go. Please know that the invitation of Jesus to his first disciples still stands for you! They asked him where he was staying and he said to them (and to you), “Come and see” (John 1:39). Jesus did not offer them certainty, but the opportunity to be in a transformative relationship. He offers you the same with the gift of faith that will totally renovate your inward and outward lives.
We have all been on a harrowing journey this year as we all struggle to stay safe and work from home if we are privileged enough to do in the midst of this pandemic. So, I thought it would be important to get back to the basics of our faith and preach a sermon series on the “Road Trips of the Bible.” Who wouldn’t want to just get in a car and drive somewhere and leave all your cares behind? Obviously we can’t do that right now, but I did want to explore many of the stories of the Bible where God takes people on a journey of faith. So far, we started at the end of Easter, with the story of the risen Jesus on the Road to Emmaus with two disciples. Then we came back to the stories of Abraham and Sarah, Jacob and Esau, and Joseph’s trip from being betrayed to becoming a blessing for the world. This Sunday, we start to take a look at the journey of Moses and the liberation of the Covenant People out of slavery.
I have been getting a good response from people and in the Zoom Bible Study on Wednesday nights at 7:00 PM (ET). So, I’ve decided to expand this series to touch on many more journeys of ordinary people being called by God to live out the divine promise of blessing for the world. We are going to dive deep into these powerful stories throughout the Old and New Testaments that, I feel, gets at the whole meaning of what religion is supposed to mean. Let me explain.
The root word for “religion” comes from the Latin word for ligament: ligare. Ligaments are, as we all know, the connective tissue in our bodies that holds bones together. In its most elemental form, the word religion means to “bind back” or to “reconnect” that which has become disconnected. These stories of journey in the Bible display the passion in which God attempts to reconnect to us. The first eleven chapters of Genesis is all about how we are broken and disconnected from God – in the second creation account of Adam and Eve, the murder of Able by his brother Cain, Noah and the flood, the Tower of Babel. In all these stories, we see how we have become disconnected to God, to each other, to ourselves, and creation. Religion is the attempt to reconnect to God.
We probably all feel pretty disconnected right now, through staying at home and social distancing when we have to go out. We salute all our essential workers who are our healthcare workers, emergency responders, grocery store workers, sanitation workers, police and fire personnel, and so many more for their service to our society. We also know that many of them are struggling with all the suffering from risks that they are taking on our behalf. That sense of disconnection has always been with us, but now we just don’t have the thin veneers of cultural distraction to occupy our minds. We are like Adam and Eve hiding naked in the Garden after taking the fruit in the hopes to “see” as God does, desperate to cover ourselves.
God wants to journey with you though this crisis. The power of these ancient Road Trip stories found in the Bible is that they are so relevant to all our situations today. They involve a call to a promise from God that demands a response from humanity. Those brave enough to respond are not perfect, as the Bible attests to, but they embraced, struggled, and trusted in God even in the midst of the sometimes hidden nature of their call. Make no mistake; you too are being called by God to become what God’s dream for you can be. Maybe joining us as we dig into these ancient and timely stories of people responding to God can help you discover in a new way your own challenges, worries, and fears and know that you can overcome them with God at your side! That is what religion is about, anyway – finding God and learning who you can become.
Right now, it can feel like our world is a crashing tidal wave. Dousing us in the uncomfortable waters of uncertainty. We all feel more anxious for the future and are grieving the losses of what our lives were just a few short weeks ago. I pray that you are healthy, that your loved ones are well, and you have the privilege of working from home. But, many of us do not have that right now. Whatever is happening in your world right now, it is clear that feelings of depression and anxiety threatens to take many over the edge.
In many areas of our lives, talking about mental health has remained taboo (especially in the church.) This is wrong. We, as the church, need to know that none of us are perfected beings, but broken. To experience depression is not a reality that you should hide or feel ashamed. When your body is in pain, you go to a doctor. But somehow, we’ve lied to ourselves about our mental health and suffer alone with shame. Before this pandemic, back in normal times, so many were already at the edge. Now, so many are suffering and struggling, more alone than ever.
You’re not alone. We are seeing on our Road Trips of the Bible sermon series that God journeys with the afflicted, suffering, and struggling. Whether it’s the risen Christ with the dejected disciples along the Road to Emmaus, or with Jacob’s troubled past and conflicted call, or Joseph’s hidden call in the midst of rejection.
If you feel depression’s hold upon you, get help. My pastor, when I was in seminary, told me once, “We are made of dust and spirit. We are trained to provide spiritual care, but always encourage people to take care for their dust – physical or mental.” If you sense a growing depression in your mood, please know that it is, first of all, understandable and you do not have to suffer or live in fear. God is not punishing you. Please know that help is on the way! Be brave. Be a person of faith, who knows that your current situation will not hold sway over you forever. Faith is the willingness to relinquish your present situation to partake in God's dream for your future. God does not want you to suffer. It is not a sign of faithfulness to suffer in silence, only a misunderstanding of God’s love and hope for your life. The tidal wave of sadness and depression can recede. Talk with me. Talk with a counselor. Share your fears with God. You are not alone as this tidal wave strikes and batters you. Those waters will recede.
I came across this song by Adam Young, called Tidal Wave, which shares his struggle with depression and the help he received from God. Check it out! (Lyrics below) Help is on the way!
Owl City (Adam Young) - Tidal Wave
I wish I could cross my arms
And cross your mind 'cause I believe
You'd unfold your paper heart
And wear it on your sleeve
All my life I wish I broke mirrors Instead of promises
'Cause all I see is a shattered conscience
Staring right back at me
I wish I had covered all my tracks completely
'Cause I'm so afraid
Is that the light at the far end of the tunnel
Or just the train?
Lift your arms, only Heaven knows
Where the danger grows and it's safe to say
There's a bright light up ahead
And help is on the way, help is on the way
I forget the last time I felt brave
I just recall insecurity
'Cause it came down like a tidal wave
And sorrow swept over me
Depression, please cut to the chase
And cut a long story short
Oh, please be done, how much longer
Can this drama afford to run?
Fate looks sharp, severs all my ties
And breaks whatever doesn't bend
But sadly then, all my heavy hopes
Just pull me back down again
I forget the last time I felt brave
I just recall insecurity
'Cause it came down like a tidal wave
And sorrow swept over me
Then I was given grace and love
I was blind but now I can see
'Cause I found a new hope from above
And courage swept over me
It hurts just to wake up
Whenever you're wearing thin
Alone on the outside
So tired of looking in
The end is uncertain
And I've never been so afraid
But I don't need a telescope
To see that there's hope
And that makes me feel brave
In the midst of pandemic, and in self-isolation, our attention is naturally drawn to those post-apocalyptic dystopian future parallels; such as zombie cult or alien invasion films, or any portrayal of life, as we know it, ending. We long for a return to the normal life we knew. I long to see you all in worship, in gatherings, and events that our church holds for the community. We are social in our nature, humans need that connection as we are all an image of God’s Triune Community of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – God as Three and One. Yet, I know that many things will be different after this pandemic finally ceases to be a health threat. And that is okay. Perhaps we will awaken to the reality that the Heavens have always been invading our world and that just might change how we live in this heaven infested world!
We are looking at this phenomenon as we explore the “Road Trips of the Bible” in my sermons and Zoom Bible study (on Wednesday nights at 7:00 PM). With just a few examples – Hagar and her son (the castoff concubine of Abraham), are heard by God and are provided water in their desperate hour to sustain them (Genesis 21:17-19). What about God providing a ram for Abraham to sacrifice, instead of his son? Thus, keeping the promise to Abraham of a great nation of blessing for the world. Jacob was running for his life and had a vision where he saw heaven and earth connected by a ladder or passageway. He awoke and said (my paraphrase): “God lives here! … I’ve stumbled into his house! This is the awesome entrance to Heaven” (Genesis 28:12-19). Moses and God have a conversation and receives the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20) to show the people how to relate to God and our fellow humans – how to live in both heaven and earth!
These are just a few examples of heaven invading our earth. God refuses to leave us alone. I believe that Jesus is the fullest expression of heaven having come to humanity itself. On the Road to Emmaus, Jesus encounters the two disciples who do not recognize him until he takes, blesses, breaks, and gives the bread. Heaven is present in our world; we just need to acknowledge that we are the taken/chosen, blessed beloved of God, who in our brokenness and vulnerability are able to be a gift of God’s heavenly presence in the world. Heaven invades our world through us!
Perhaps you have had an experience where you have known the closeness of God. When we were about to have our first child, Evie, I remember being in a diner with Doris and being overcome by actually seeing the faces of children in the people all around me. I was teary-eyed looking at all these people who were somebody’s son or daughter, receiving a heavenly reminder that we are all God’s children! I don’t know how long it lasted, but it had a profound effect upon my life as I experienced the expansive love of God in a new and tangible way. Perhaps, you have a story similar to Elijah, who did not hear the voice of God in the thunderstorm or the earthquake, but in the still, small voice – the tug of God upon your soul.
The Gospel of Matthew, written with a Jewish audience in mind, and therefore utilizes the phrase “the kingdom of the heavens” thirty-two times to underscore God’s rule and presence that is found over and over within the rich tradition of Old Testament. By looking back, Matthew shows us today that God is already here. Therefore, praying the Lord’s Prayer becomes a radical transformative cry for each of us to become “on earth, as it is in heaven!” Indeed, the heavens have invaded the earth – can you see the possibilities of how God can use you as an evidence of heaven/God’s presence in our dire world? What is God ready to awaken in you? Are you willing to find out?
Hope. It’s a word that’s loaded. In the midst of this pandemic, it can be hard to see or even get a glimpse of it. Or maybe, what we think we see isn’t it. Hope is not a naive wish or optimism that the future will just improve. At the other end of the spectrum, hope is not just some profane or deceptive idea to numb us to our very real struggles and pain. Hope, living with real hope as recognized in the Bible, is a profound trust that your present and future life is in and with God. That is what the Kingdom of God is: Hope.
Dallas Willard, in his book “The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life in God” makes the claim that the New Testament makes plain that this Kingdom of God that Jesus is always talking about is “not something to be ‘accepted’ now and enjoyed later, but something to be entered now (Matt. 5:20; 18:3; John 3:3, 5). It is something that already has flesh-and-blood citizens (John 18:36; Phil. 3:20) who have been transformed into it (Col. 1:13) and are fellow workers in it (Col. 4:11).” Our hope is not misguided, because Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection demonstrate the presence of this new reality, and is our invitation to align our lives with and in it.
So, the Kingdom of God is already present with the presence of Jesus, but not yet fully realized because God does not choose to override our freedom of will. Jesus entered human history through the life of an ordinary family. Then this extraordinary life offers something unexpected. He inaugurates us into an eternal kind of life right now, that flows through him. He does this first by bringing that life to bear upon our needs, then spreading it through our deeds – deeds done with expectation that he, his Father, and Holy Spirit will act with and in our actions. We are no longer alone, like Adam and Eve hiding and covering themselves in the garden. We can now become active citizens of God’s Kingdom. Reality as it can and should be.
Becoming a citizen of this Kingdom of Light, means that we can leave behind those dark and lonely places where we have made valiant yet vain attempts to merely survive and come into God’s healing, joyous, hope-filled light. This is a journey that we must all make. The good news is that you don’t have to make it alone. God is with you! Our church is with you, as we endeavor to be who we are called to be: the Body of Christ. Examples of these journeys from hopelessness to hope are all over the Bible. In the weeks to come, I will be preaching about these stories in a sermon series I am calling Road Trips of the Bible. Check us out on Facebook Live at 10:30 AM on Sundays and on our Zoom Bible Study and Check-in on Wednesdays at 7 PM to join the journey.
So, hope is not just another four-letter profanity that is some kind of cruel joke in our dark times. It is, as Andy Dufresne said in his letter to Red at the end of The Shawshank Redemption, “Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of the things. And a good thing never dies.” Indeed, our hope is alive in Jesus! And he is alive in us, to bring hope to a hopeless world! Let’s make it so.
We are all feeling the difficulty of this pandemic in different ways. The uncertainty around health and jobs are real and weigh upon us. Social distancing takes a hard toll on our souls, yet are necessary tools to help not overwhelm our healthcare system. Today is Maundy Thursday, the day we, Christian’s, observe the final meal (Passover) Jesus shared with his disciples. In our corner of the world today, this is commemorated as a pot-luck meal that we have shared with our partner congregation, Iglesia: Mision Bautista de Westchester, and neighbors, Trinity Lutheran Church, several times in the past. It was at this meal that we celebrate Jesus taking the known ritual of the Passover meal and making it about himself! The lamb was slain to put blood upon the doorpost to protect the firstborn of each Jewish household – thus saving the presence of God in their world, is now the role that Jesus embraces for all of humanity and creation. The doorposts of the universe are about to get coated in Jesus’ blood to protect everyone and everything and to preserve God’s holy, universal presence once and for all time.
Clearly the disciples did not grasp his meaning that night. The question for us, all these years later is: Do we? They had expectations of a new political Kingdom, where the Roman authorities would be removed and resoundingly defeated. But this would only be a giving into the temptation of Satan upon Jesus in the wilderness for worldly power and domination over nations. This is the sad and reliable story of human history. Violence only begets more violence. Yet, Jesus offers a new way of abiding peace (Shalom), freedom, compassion, and grace through his sacrifice.
Perhaps this Holy week is the one where we are most able to relate to and dwell with the disciples in their bewilderment, anguish, questions, doubts and fears. They did not know that Sunday’s empty tomb was coming. They did not expect a bodily resurrection of their teacher and mentor. They did not expect that God’s plan for redemption would play out like this. They just couldn’t get their minds around that large of a God; that large a love.
So, as we gather around computer screens or cell phones and participate in Easter services this year while sanctuaries are empty, unthinkable just a few short weeks ago, let us be reminded how unthinkable it was for those grieving, dedicated women, who set out to anoint his body, and find Jesus’ tomb empty. May we, like them, encounter this risen Lord, Jesus the Christ – the Messiah in a new way, too! It is this risen Jesus who would equip their rag-tag group of misfit followers into God’s powerful instruments of peace to share with the world. If we can get that truth in this strange Holy Week, then we will understand the first Holy Week in ways we never could have before.
Holy God of transformative presence, grant us to be with you in your absence, obeying you even in the deep moment of your apparent defeat. In Jesus' name, we pray. Amen.
A couple of years ago, based on a recommendation, I read a gritty crime story, written and set in New York City of the 1970’s by Lawrence Block called The Sins of the Fathers. It is the first in a line of books about a depressed former detective, turned private investigator. There was a passage that struck me then and stayed with me all this time and seems especially fitting now, in our new COVID-19 reality.
“Take care. It seems to me that people have only been saying that phrase on parting for the past few years or so. All of the sudden everyone started saying it, as if the whole country abruptly recognized that ours is a world which demands caution.”
“Take care” – we all say it to friends and acquaintances alike. That phrase is now infused with new meaning today.
Taking care is our occupation right now. Our world is a world where caution is needed. Where patience is needed. Where faith is needed. Faith, in the Hebrew understanding, is not a conceptual idea (noun), but an act of trust (verb). IN the face of this world, where caution is needed, we can still trust in a God whose grace is sufficient.
“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” – 2 Corinthians 12:9
Please know that even in these difficult times of health concerns and social distancing, that God is concerned for you and not distant. God is often found when all our distractions and illusions of control and power are stripped away. Similar to the biblical character Job on the ash heap, we find our true situation that it was always about a God who gives us life, loves us, and longs to be in relationship with us. So, the best way to “take care” in these trying times is to: “Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you.” (Psalm 55:22)
Please take care by calling upon the God who is the creator, redeemer and sustainer of your life. Taking great care in our great God will help you find great and lasting peace.
I came across this video (below) while I was … well, you know … consuming content on my phone. It’s from an advertising company out of England, commenting on how to reach and engage potential consumers. This has become increasingly difficult for them since most of us (as they say) are “time poor and content rich.” So, in order to break through the noise, they say that an advertiser must be “relevant, evoke an emotion, be creative, and have a purpose.” Well, yeah, that goes for followers of Jesus too! So, how can Christians and the Church get the story of Jesus’ love, compassion, and mercy to cut through the everyday noise of our distracted society today? Watch this video and see my take below.
Jesus preached, “Don’t judge, so that you won’t be judged.” (Matt 7:1). This was as radical as it sounds today. They, like us, lived in a profoundly judgmental culture. Jesus is not saying that people are perfect, but is calling attention to our hypocrisy when we judge other, we conveniently forget our own sins. Living out non-judgmental lives will have a deep and lasting effect on those at the edges of the church. Taking a non-judgmental posture toward others is a beautiful expression of faith as we do not seek to control others and forget our failures. We, like the other, are not free from sin and in humbly acknowledging our moral failures; we grasp anew the nature of God’s forgiveness. So many people have walked away from the church because they have felt judged as inferior sinners by so called “Christians.” They are not. True followers of Christ don’t judge, but trust in the sacred gift of God’s mercy to forgive. We should all see ourselves as the grateful woman with the Pharisees house who washed Jesus’ feet with our tears and expensive oil (Lk 7:36-50).
2. Evoke Emotion
Jesus showed all the emotions that make us human: sadness, gladness, anger, pain. But the teachings and demonstrations of Jesus’ love are the most enduring. We are to love God and then our neighbor as ourselves (Matt 22:37-40). This will evoke a powerful response in a culture that seeks only self-preservation. Yet, even the religious legal experts knew this. So one wanted clarification on exactly “who” Jesus saw as his neighbor. Jesus responds with the story of the Good Samaritan, underscoring the idea that it wasn’t about neighbor as a noun, but being neighborly as a verb! Making the hated Samaritan the hero of the story deemphasized the “who” and made clear God’s intention on what we all are to “do.”
3. Be Creative
The two creation accounts of Genesis emphasize the goodness of creation. In the first creation account, God creates in seven days and at the end, blesses it, and pronounces that it is good. Did you know that in Exodus, God gives Moses seven detailed sets of instructions on how to build the tabernacle or the Meeting Tent? At the end, Moses blesses the tabernacle and pronounces that it is good. You see, the wandering Israelites now have a moving tent meeting where God can come and be present with God’s people. What a creative and powerful symbol of God’s presence in creation: God is looking for a body to embody! And just like God made creation, the Covenant people are told how to build a tent for God to inhabit. Their community meeting reflective of the cosmos! We as Christians, see a further progression of the story of God’s faithfulness and love with the coming of Jesus, God dwelling quite literally within one human. Creativity is at the heart of God’s unfolding revelation to humanity.
4. Have a Purpose
Jesus’ purpose was to usher in God’s Kingdom “on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt 6:10). Jesus said repeatedly that the “Kingdom of God was at hand!” Then after Jesus was crucified and resurrected, the church was started. Clearly the Kingdom of God is not yet completely present with all the pain and suffering in the world, but we are here to reflect the light of Christ into all the corners of the world. This light was eloquently expressed by Paul as the Fruits of the Spirit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against things like this. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified self with its passions and its desires.” (Galatians 5:22-24) Why wait till you die to enjoy the wholeness of God’s Kingdom? The purpose of your life should not be deferred till after this life. Jesus said, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10) He’s talking about your life! Living abundantly is God’s desire for your life. What that looks like for you, only you can say. What enlivens you? What are you passionate about? The church must be about helping people to give expression to the God given talents and passions that we all have. That is when earth begins to look like heaven!
Have you ever been in a situation where you were meeting someone, for the first time and only had a vague description of what they looked like? If you were lucky, maybe they let you know what they were wearing. As Christians, if we are going to follow Christ throughout our lives,, then it would be important to answer the questions, how do we recognize the risen Christ? Looking at the New Testament, that was an important question for the early church. In several passages we read about encounters and metaphors that help us identify how Christ is present in our lives.
Recognition of Christ is sometimes slow in coming. Consider the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. They travel for miles talking with Christ without recognizing their friend. Yet, it was only when they broke bread together that they recall, “Weren’t our hearts on fire when he spoke to us along the road and when he explained the scriptures for us?” (Luke 24:32). Consider Mary Magdalene, where she is the first to discover the empty tomb and the risen Lord, she does not recognize him, assuming that he is a gardener who has moved the body. It isn’t until he says her name that she truly sees who he is.
Have you ever been touched by the compassion of another? Perhaps the risen Christ was extending you compassion through that person. Have you ever had a profound conversation with someone about suffering, death, and meaning, a conversation that awakened intensity in your thoughts and a general feeling that put your whole life in a richer, deeper, wiser perspective? Perhaps the risen Christ was moving through that person toward you. Have you ever found a community that revealed an abundance of life (John 10:10), a way of living overflowing with grace and delight? Perhaps the risen Christ was moving through them toward you.
How do you recognize the risen Christ? We listen to what is awakened in our hearts through deep conversations. We attend to the voices of compassion we grow to trust. We participate in a community of abundant life. Then we know that Christ is risen indeed! Through this Lenten time, I will be preaching a series called: Encountering Jesus. We will look at several encounters that Jesus had and how they can lift our hearts, empower compassion, and reveal abundant community. Please join us as we Encounter Jesus together!
I'm a follower of Christ, husband, father, friend, pastor, story teller, asker of questions, inspired by biblical narratives, social justice advocate, sports enthusiast, drinker of over priced coffee and general seeker of God's redemptive possibilities. Yeah, that about covers it. (If you discover something else, let me know!)