Go Away: Does Jesus Leave?

Is it really to our advantage if Jesus goes away?

One of the odd parts of today’s ready from the gospel according to John 15:26-27;16:4-15 is Jesus’ talk about going away. He’s promises that he is leaving. This seems to contradict other pieces of scripture, especially in Matthew, that Jesus is “God with us” and he will be with us until the end of the age. It’s easier (and more comforting!) to talk about Jesus’ being with us, right now. A Jesus who is with us is a Jesus who makes a difference. So what can we do with a Jesus who is about to walk out the front door?

One thing we can do is look at the context of this passage. Jesus is in the middle of his long sermon preparing his followers for what comes next. Jesus, in John, knows he will be killed. His reality is going to change. The people who experienced him in person are, after the Cross, going to experience him in a different way. Jesus, who ate, slept, and sweated just like the rest of u. But now he is becoming something new. That newness is a type of leaving. Jesus’s followers will need to learn how to hold onto Jesus once Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension are the current reality. Their old experience of Jesus will be replaced by something they didn’t plan or expect. And the new thing that will make this happen is, according to the gospel of John, the Holy Spirit.

It’s the Holy Spirit that helps all of us to experience Jesus in different ways. It’s the Holy Spirit that helps us see the Jesus who is (in the Spirit), right before us. It’s the Holy Spirit that gives us the faith to trust that God’s promises are meant for you and for me. And Jesus’ chooses to make himself known to us through the Spirit. We are here, right now, because the Holy Spirit brought us here. God needed you in this space, to hear the words of God’s promises, and to experience the community God has brought into being The Holy Spirit is how God connects, serves, and loves all of us. And the Spirit is the only thing that can inspire us to connect, serve, and love each other in the exact same way.

Each week, I write a reflection on one of our scripture readings for the week. This is from Christ Lutheran Church’s Worship Bulletin for Pentecost, 5/20/2018.

Evaesdropping

If you could eavesdrop on Jesus, what would you want to hear?

Today’s reading from the gospel according to John 17:6-19 is portion of Jesus’ final prayer during John’s version of the Last Supper. For the last four chapters, Jesus has been preparing his followers for his eventual death, resurrection, and ascension. He’s showing them how they will live when he is with them in a new way. Through acts of love (foot washing), community (a meal), teaching, and prayer, Jesus is putting together a vision of their life will look like. And so Jesus wraps up this section with a prayer that everyone hears.

As you listen to this prayer today, it might sound a bit like word salad. Thoughts, ideas, and phrases are repeated in an almost haphazard way. Jesus talks about what he has done, what he wants the Creator to do, and what he hopes his disciples will do too. The words spiral around, leaving us confused and a bit upside down. But this spiral does end. The spiral, unlike a circle, is taking us somewhere. When we are confronted by a text like this, we are invited to spend less time figuring it out and, instead, letting the words take us to someplace new.

In the words of Mark Hoffman, a professor at the United Lutheran Seminary, this passage “functions better as a meditative prayer than as a spoken text. It is like a fabric woven with repeating words and themes.” As you listen to the text and read it again at home, what words and themes speak to you? Where is the text taking you? Are you drawn to Jesus’ relationship to the world and his call to break out of your comfort zone? Or are you hearing Jesus’ truth, his call to be sanctified (made holy), or wondering what word God has given you? Either way, Jesus’ prayer in John 17 is not meant for us to read once and assume we have figured it out. It’s designed for us to eavesdrop on, over and over again, so that we can discover what life with him, right now, actually looks like.

Each week, I write a reflection on one of our scripture readings for the week. This is from Christ Lutheran Church’s Worship Bulletin for the Seventh Sunday of Easter, 5/13/2018.

Jesus’ Friends

Are you Jesus’ friend?

In the age of Facebook and workplace acquaintances, being “friends” is a strange thing. On Facebook, I currently have 753 friends (if you’re not my “friend”, feel free to friend me.). I actually do know these people. I met them at school, on blogs, through work, and even at street festivals in New York City. It’s actually fascinating to see, in numbers, just how big my network of relationships is – and this doesn’t include the countless people I’m connected to off-line. These are all people I know but can I really consider them my friends?

In the ancient world, being a “friend” was a specific kind of thing. It was a word used to describe two kinds of relationships. One type was very political – a patron-client connection. Someone with power, wealth, or social status would form relationship (a “friendship”) with someone without that kind of status. They would be friends but the friendship was rooted in what either person gained from the other. The other type of relationship was more equal. It was a relationship where each person focused always on the well-being of the other person. This last definition is what we today think of when we think of our “friends.” But this also means that a friend is more than an identity or a title. A friend is someone who acts for the well-being of the other. A friend is someone who shows love. And this love is a willingness to give up everything, including our lives, for another person. This action isn’t restricted only to our family members or our spouse. According to Jesus (John 15:9-17), we are called to give up everything we have for anyone who follows Jesus – including someone we don’t even know.

Friendship, like love, is a difficult action. As Emily Askew writes, “love and friendship may seem self-explanatory for us in the twenty-first century…[but] love in this passage is not a psychologist state, nor is it anywhere described as an internal quality” (Feasting on the Gospels, John volume 2, page 176). Love is more than just a warm and fuzzy feeling. Friendship is more than just companionship and compatibility. Being Jesus’ friend means we are called to act like Jesus since he gave the world (John 3:16) everything he had. It’s Jesus, not us, who decides who follows him. And it’s through regular worship, prayer, and reading of scripture that Jesus helps us see the person next to us as someone who is our friend. And we are here to love all of Jesus’ friends – even when we don’t like them.

Each week, I write a reflection on one of our scripture readings for the week. This is from Christ Lutheran Church’s Worship Bulletin for the Sixth Sunday of Easter, 5/6/2018.

Other Sheep. One Flock.

I wonder what the disciples were thinking when Jesus spoke about “other sheep?” (John 10:11-18) Could they imagine who those others were? Would they want others to be included anyways?

The disciples were there during Jesus’ early ministry. They witnessed his acts of power. They saw Jesus literally walk on water. I’m sure they were impressed by what Jesus could do and what he said. As his ministry grew, political and religious authorities pushed back. Jesus was challenged in public and forced to defend what he was doing. The disciples, I’m sure, were forced to do the same. Scripture is clear that the disciples never truly understood what Jesus was doing. They struggled to understand what he taught and they were not clear about who he really was. But when the disciples were confronted by others, I imagine it gave them a false sense of righteousness, a belief that they understood exactly who Jesus was. At the same time, however, the disciples probably were very afraid. They didn’t know if they people they spoke to would welcome them or challenge them. The disciples would not know what other people, outside of Jesus’ inner circle, would do. Other people, then, would be unknown variables. And Jesus just his told his disciples that those unknown variables, the people who make the disciples afraid, will be Jesus’ followers.

It’s sometimes difficult for us to imagine the diversity inherent in the body of Christ. Faith itself is a gift from God and a gift that God gives to us in a very personalized way. God knows each of us and knows what our faith needs. This is amazing and wonderful. But it also means that what our neighbor needs might not be what we need. And that their shape and experience of faith might be different from our own. But regardless of our faith, and whether we identify as Lutheran Christians, Eastern Orthodox Christians, Roman Catholic Christians, Reformed Christians, Non-Denominational Christians, and more – we are all followers of Christ. And we are all invited to keep our eyes, our heart, and our focus on the Jesus who guides us all.

Each week, I write a reflection on one of our scripture readings for the week. This is from Christ Lutheran Church’s Worship Bulletin for Fourth Sunday of Easter, 4/22/2018.

Reflection – Children of God Sin

One of the striking claims in this passage from 1 John 3:1-7 is “no one who sins has either seen him or known him” (3:6). This seems to contradict what we heard last week: “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” (1:8). How can the author of 1 John say that the followers of Jesus do not sin and, at the same time, that we need to confess the sins we know we have?

Like I mentioned in my sermon last week, there has been a split in the churches that first wrote and used the gospel according to John. Two groups emerged arguing over the nature of Jesus. The author of 1 John believed Jesus to be fully divine and fully human – all at the same time. The other side believed that Jesus’ divinity is all that mattered. This argument about Jesus impacted how they lived their lives. If Jesus is fully human, then how we live our lives right now matters. If Jesus’ humanity is not important, than what we do today doesn’t really matter in the end. For the author of 1 John, sin (the way we deny Jesus and fail to trust him because we are too busy acting as if we are the center of the universe) impacts our relationship and experience of Jesus. For the other side, sin does not alter their relationship and union with God. This kind of belief encouraged a way of life that did not focus on justice, righteousness, or ethics. It’s a way of life that assumed we’re already “good enough,” and thinks that Jesus (and Jesus’ church) cannot show us a new way of living.

Today’s passage from 1 John begins by proclaiming who, through baptism and faith, you are. You are a child of God. You are, right now, living with a fully human and fully divine Savior who cares about you. You have been adopted into God’s family and God’s family cares about justice, mercy, hope, and love. When we live as authentic children of God, following Jesus and serving each other are just what this family of faith do. But, as imperfect people, we sin. We make mistakes. We fail. But when we admit our faults, we also admit who we belong to. Being with Jesus empowers, inspires, and helps all our relationships with other people because we all struggle. In spite of our identity as Children of God, we will sin. But we trust that the Jesus who lived, died, and rose for us, will keep his promise. The eternal life doesn’t begin only when we did. In Christ, our eternal life starts right now. And the core of that life involves loving God and everyone else.

Each week, I write a reflection on one of our scripture readings for the week. This is from Christ Lutheran Church’s Worship Bulletin for Easter, 4/15/2018.

A Reflection for Easter

Christ is Risen! Alleluia!

It’s hard to pick a “favorite” when it comes to the different stories of Jesus’ resurrection. But today’s reading from the gospel according to Mark 16:1-8 is near the top of my list. If you open up your bible at home, you might notice more verses after these eight. Yet we know that Mark originally ended at this point. Overtime, two different endings were added to the text. One was short, with the women telling others about what they saw (and completely contradicting the verse that came before it). The other ending is much longer, merging together stories from Matthew, Luke, and John. We know this original ending to Mark, with people too afraid to speak, troubled the early church. The early Christians felt compelled to show that the early disciples overcame their fear. And we know the women at the tomb did speak because, 2000 years later, we’re sitting right here.

So why end the story in this way? Because, I think, Jesus’ resurrection is terrifying, shocking, and downright amazing. This kind of ending doesn’t happen in our daily lives. The shock of the empty tomb is unexpected. And Mark loves the unexpected. The women, out of devotion to their teacher and with a desire to properly care for him in his death, arrived at the the tomb early in the morning. They knew Jesus died and they all knew what death looked like. They had their expectations of how Jesus’ story ended. But once they approach the tomb, every expectation was reversed. The large stone was rolled away. A young man, dressed in white, sat inside. The young man acknowledged their fear and surprise and he told them to leave this place and go forward to Galilee. The women run away in silence because none of this was expected. And that makes sense because Jesus was (and is) a brand new thing.

This brand new thing, however, doesn’t end with verse 8. Jesus continues. If we look at the opening verses of the gospel according to Mark, we read this: “The beginning of the good news…” Mark’s story was never meant to be an ending nor designed to contain everything about faith and Jesus. Mark (and all the gospels) are only a beginning. And this new beginning continued in Galilee, Turkey, Greece, and beyond. Jesus’ story continues wherever people gather to show and tell hoe Jesus made a difference to them. You, right now, are part of that story. And I pray that Jesus’ story of love, compassion, and grace will continue to shape your life in amazing ways.

Each week, I write a reflection on one of our scripture readings for the week. This is from Christ Lutheran Church’s Worship Bulletin for Easter, 4/01/2018.

A Reflection for Good Friday

Tonight’s worship is one filled with silence. We begin by entering this sacred moment without speaking. The service then starts abruptly, without the prelude of music we’re used to. The opening of tonight’s worship isn’t designed to break the silence. Instead, we’re invited to live into it. Every word we speak, song we sing, and prayer we offer is a moment filled by a heavy silence. It’s a silence that reminds us of who we are, who Jesus is, and why we share our life with a crucified savior.

I invite you, over the next 36 hours, to hold this silence. Before too long, the silence will end with the rolling away of the stone on a beautiful Easter morning. Easter has already come. We know that the silence will be broken. But we shouldn’t rush to Easter too quickly. The silence that marked Jesus’ final moments on the cross and his time in the tomb is a silence God chose to live through. There are moments of our lives that we cannot rush through. Instead, we need to live through them. Jesus chose to live the moments we cannot rush through. Because when God chose to live a human life, God lived through every part of it.

Each week, I write a reflection on one of our scripture readings for the week. This is from Christ Lutheran Church’s Worship Bulletin for Good Friday, 3/30/2018.

A Maundy Thursday Reflection

One of the stories I love to tell is about my wife’s grandfather. He grew up in England and moved to the United States after World War II. His dad was a preacher so he grew up in a variety of church communities. Many of his congregations practiced communion that might surprise us. Instead of serving bread and wine every week, they washed each other’s feet. And they did so because of this passage from the Gospel According to John.

When I tell this story, people react the same way: disbelief. The idea of washing each other’s feet every week is shocking in our context. Our feet are very personal and we don’t want to touch a stranger’s feet. But I think our real struggle is having someone touch ours. When Peter cried out to Jesus, we understand the raw emotion he displayed. When he tells Jesus to wash his entire body, we instinctively feel like Peter is right. Peter knew that Jesus was doing something problematic. In his culture, only slaves washed people’s feet. It was the person who had no control over their own body that was forced to clean other people’s feet. The feeling of discomfort was outsourced to the one who could not say no. And the one having their feet washed would know, even if it made them feel uncomfortable, that at least they weren’t a slave. By the simple act of washing feet, Jesus showed just how intimately connected we are to God. And Jesus modeled how God will always care for us.

I know that foot washing makes us uncomfortable. And some of us can’t easily remove our socks, tights, and shoes during church. That’s why tonight we are offering an additional option. There is a place in tonight’s service where you will be invited to wash each other’s hands. The simple act of pouring water on each other’s hands and drying them will be a sign of your commitment to one another. And we are called to that commitment because Jesus will always be committed to us.

Each week, I write a reflection on one of our scripture readings for the week. This is from Christ Lutheran Church’s Worship Bulletin for Maundy Thursday, 3/29/2018.

Something New To Learn: A Palm Sunday Reflection

There’s always something new to discover in every biblical story.

For the longest time, I’ve never asked an important question about today’s passage from Mark 11:1-11: what does hosanna actually mean? I’ve always assumed that hosanna was a word about rejoicing, sort of like a biblical version of the word “hooray!” That words seems to fit this context. Jesus arrives in Jerusalem and there is a crowd (of uncertain size) following him. They are waving branches and shouting as he rode into the city. They keep shouting that this whole scene and event is blessed. Hooray is the right word for this context. But hosanna isn’t just a shout of joy. It’s actually a prayer. And it’s saying, “Lord, save!”

Another translation, using the Hebrew words the greek words in this passage are based on, might be “I beg you to save” or “deliver us!” This are pretty forceful prayers. They are the prayers we say when we are under extreme duress. When we are suffering from anxiety, fear, oppression, or illness, we want to be saved. We pray that God will show up immediately. The crowd is doing more than just celebrating Jesus showing up. They are praying, and expecting, Jesus to save and deliver them. They expected Jesus to act.

But what did they expect him to do? Jesus is entering the city around the time of the Passover. The city of Jerusalem might have double or tripled in size with tourists and pilgrims. The Roman governors would re-establish their physical presence in the city. Religious and civil authorities would do whatever they could to keep the crowds under control. And as the story of Passover was retold, and the people re-experienced their release from the oppressive role of the Pharaoh, many wanted to make that story a reality by overthrowing the oppressive rule of Rome. On one level, everyone was expecting some kind of action to take place. What they didn’t expect was for someone to just be acted on.

But being acted on is exactly what happened to Jesus. He was arrested. He was put on trial. He was convicted. He was hung on the Cross. A prayer for saving is a prayer asking for God to act. Yet it was the Jesus who refused to act in the ways we expect that ended up saving everyone.

Each week, I write a reflection on one of our scripture readings/other readings for the week. This is from Christ Lutheran Church’s Worship Bulletin for Palm & Passion Sunday, 3/25/2018.