Holy Week Blog 2015, Wednesday: When His Heart was Troubled

John 12:27-36, NRSV

27 “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” 29 The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” 30 Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. 31 Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people[e] to myself.” 33 He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die. 34 The crowd answered him, “We have heard from the law that the Messiah[f] remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?” 35 Jesus said to them, “The light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you. If you walk in the darkness, you do not know where you are going. 36 While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light.”


It had to be discouraging for Him. He taught them, did miracles among them, explained it seemingly every way he could, and still they didn’t really believe. He was facing the cross, and in a few short days all of them would forsake Him, and he knew it. And still He trusted. Still His prayer was for the Father to be glorified in Him– even (and especially) in His death. Still He’s drawing them to believe.

It’s impossible for us to really understand where Jesus is coming from here in this passage. All I think I can really say is that I’m reminded of what Romans says when it calls us to have the faith of Jesus… even (and especially) when we face trouble.

So.

Lord God, I pray for the faith of your Son. I pray when we face troubles, you would grow something in us that’s like Jesus. I pray that your name would be glorified in our lives. I pray for perspective, that you would show us a little bit of the bigger picture, so our light and momentary troubles could be seen as just that. I pray for the light, that you would indeed light our way forward. In the name of your Son, by the presence of the Spirit I pray.

Amen.

Blessings,

Mark

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Lentblog 2015, Day 34: Christ in Us.

Colossians 1:24-29, NRSV

I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church. 25 I became its servant according to God’s commission that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known,26 the mystery that has been hidden throughout the ages and generations but has now been revealed to his saints.27 To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 28 It is he whom we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone in all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ.29 For this I toil and struggle with all the energy that he powerfully inspires within me.


Kind of a back-to-basics message in this passage for me tonight. Paul waxes eloquent a little about his commission to bring the Gospel to the Gentiles… to share the big mystery that has been revealed after being hidden for so long. What’s profound to me is his statement in v.27  of what the mystery actually is: The Mystery is Christ in us. Paul talks a lot about people being “in Christ.” But here he speaks of Christ being “in” us.

The other main thing in that verse is this, methinks: The hope of glory is Christ, not us. Christ in us is the hope of glory. It’s not a human-made thing. It’s not us pulling ourselves up by the bootstraps, trying to better ourselves. The best stuff really does come from outside ourselves. If it is human-made, or somehow it becomes a thinly-veiled form of humanism or something, then it’s not the Gospel. The power of the Gospel comes from Jesus. Paul admits as much in v.29 when he says his stuggle is powered by the energy inspired by Christ.

That’s a good reminder of the fact this whole thing really does rest on his strength and not ours.

Blessings,

Mark

LentBlog 2015, Day 2: Grace and Peace

Ephesians 1:1-2

 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,

To the saints who are in Ephesus and are faithful in Christ Jesus:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

NRSV

Okey… So I think I’ve decided to begin at least with Ephesians during this season of Lent… thought I reserve the right to change mid-stream or go somewhere unexpected when I finish Ephesians.

The opening 2 verses of Ephesians are easy to overlook. They’re the signature, address, and salutation of the letter. They look pretty much the same as every other opening paragraph from Paul. He identifies himself as the author, says to whom the letter is written, and gives a blessing. They’re almost all the same in Paul, and it’s easy to blast past them.

But not tonight.

It’s the “grace and peace” that give me pause tonight.

The first thing Paul does is bless his readers. And he blesses them by wishing them grace and peace.

Grace is a biggie in Ephesians… in chapter 2 Paul reminds us salvation comes only by grace through faith. Peace is one I haven’t done much New Testament word study on, though שלם (shalom, shalem, basically meaning “peace”) is important in the O.T. Philippians talks about the Peace of Christ passing all understanding and guarding our hearts.  It’s not lost on me tonight that Paul wishes (or maybe pronounces?) grace and peace to his brothers and sisters in Ephesus.

I think the rest of v.2 is important… grace and peace come from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. I think sometimes we delude ourselves into thinking grace and/or peace really come from ourselves. Or at least what we do or earn or attain (in terms of peace, anyway).

For me, tonight, I find myself keenly sensing my need for both grace and peace. When I think about my life currently, “peace” is not the first word that comes to mind. So for Paul to pronounce grace and peace to his hearers, I hope I’m one of his hearers. And it helps to remember that both come from The Lord.

Lent is about a certain type of hunger. We fast things during this season, so that when we desire them, we are called to prayer. We hunger after righteousness etc. Tonight, I’m hungry for the peace that comes through grace. Maybe you are, too.

Blessings,

Mark

LentBlog 2015 Day 1: Joel 2:1-2; 12-17: On Confession, Repentance, and the Means of Grace

Hard to believe it’s Ash Wednesday already. I write this with not a little guilt, because I told myself I was going to blog a lot more this year, not just during Lent. And that didn’t happen. But here we are, anyway… another LentBlog begins. I’m a little behind the 8-ball this week- it’s been terribly busy- and I haven’t chosen a scriptural book to read during Lent this year.

I was asked this weekend to preach an Ash Wednesday Gathering, and I chose the OT Reading in Joel as a text. I KNOW this is a no-no, and I will not be doing it again, because preachers who use their sermon texts devotionally are headed for trouble, but for tonight, I’d like to post what I’ve wrestled with a little from this Joel passage. Here is my sermon script for tonight. May it edify:


Joel 2:1-2; 12-17
There’s bad news in the congregation… Or at least there was among God’s people on this day.
It turns out God’s people don’t always live as God’s people… And these folks were really terrible at it.
They had a sin problem… See, they kept breaking commandment number one. They kept forgetting. They kept serving other gods. Serving themselves. Forgetting every single thing they had was from The Lord. Even their religious practices became nothing more than a thinly veiled “Look at me!”
They kept committing the same. Old. Sin. Day after day. Week after week. Even year after year. And it seems in this passage God has had enough. And that’s bad news.
We don’t do that, do we? We don’t ever get in a self centered rut, do we? None if us ever get stuck in a pattern of struggle, sin, confession… Struggle. Sin. Confession. Do we?
Here’s this passage from the Prophet Joel who comes along and says, “enough.” The day of The Lord is coming. And his judgement is about to fall on folks… Like us.
He elaborates for another 9 verses about how bad the Day of The Lord will be (the lectionary reading edits it out)  and thankfully he doesn’t leave us there.
He inserts the word, “yet.” Yet can be a really good word. Kind of like “but” (example a little) A lot can turn on “yet.” “Yet” is a hopeful word. A word that means there’s more to come, and the more that comes isn’t necessarily bad.
Yet. Yet even now. After all this. After all your struggle. After all your failures and faithlessness. Yet even now…
…you can return to The Lord with all your hearts.
Really cool word in the Hebrew here: “shuv” (say it, elaborate)
They never really returned…. They never really repented (and turned). They never really shuv-ed. Sure, some prophet would come along and point out their sin and they might even confess it… Might offer sacrifice… But they never returned. They never really repented. You can confess your sin all day long. Week after week. Month after month. And never be free. Confession has to lead to repentance and repentance must lead to transformation of our lives, or we get nowhere and we stay stuck. You must shuv. it is not God’s will that your spiritual life be an endless struggle, dealing with the same old junk over and over again. It could be that God wants to change us, replace our cold, hard hearts with hearts of flesh and then write his law on them so we can love him undividedly. Wholeheartedly. With integrity. And you don’t have to sit there and struggle. You must shuv.
Turn to someone and say, “it’s time to shuv to The Lord.”
How do we shuv?
-replace old patterns of life with new ones.
-call a fast. Assemble the people. Gather even the babies together. Repent. Shuv. Return. Rend your hearts, not your clothes.
-The season of Lent provides us with a perfect opportunity to do just that.
-here’s the key though…. There’s a catch: All this confession, repentance, fasting, soul searching, spiritual discipline… We must practice them as Means of God’s Grace. They are means to an end, and the end is transformation. you can Do all this stuff and if all it ever is is a thinly veiled “look at me and how Godly I’m trying to be” you will only wind up back at square one. Struggling again with no real change. It’s not you who changes you. It’s God who changes you.
And that’s why before we receive the ashes and begin this lent journey, we are going to come to the table tonight.

We followed this with communion, then receiving the ashes. I think it was helpful.

I’ll have a full devotional reflection tomorrow night.
Until then,
Blessings,
Mark

LentBlog Day 19: Heirs… through suffering.

Romans 8:12-16

Paul adds to the Spirit language here by referring to believers who live in the Spirit as “children of God.”

And he’s doing something really neat here, I think. He’s spent some time talking about being a slave to God instead of a slave to sin. He identifies himself as a slave to God in 1:1. But here, he makes a shift: this slavery to the Lord results in becoming children of God. Instead of bondage or heavy-yoke slavery, the Spirit is the spirit of adoption. Of son-ship and daughter-ship. And if we are children of God, we become God’s heirs… heirs to the kingdom.Image

And that’s great… it’s a wonderful promise that’s true. And it’s one of the things we hear a lot about, in a “nyah-nyah… Christians win in the end!” sort of way. In a “justice will be done in the end and my enemies will get what they deserve” kind of way. In a “all we have to do is hunker down and endure, because the rest of these pagans are going to hell eventually and we’ll get our reward” kind of way.

But that attitude tends to ignore verse 17:

  and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.

We will be heirs if we suffer with him? 

I read that tonight and it occurred to me… it really is just as Jesus said. The last will be first. To become the greatest we must become the least. To lead we must serve. Blessed are the meek, the poor in spirit, the persecuted. Blessed are those who mourn. Blessed are we when folks lie about us and get away with it. 

I guess I feel myself on the edge of something deeper here… Like we’re called to be Kingdom people not because Jesus is going to put the beat-down on the Muslims in the end or something. To be a follower of Jesus for more reasons than he just happens to be the winning team. The way to the resurrection (including our resurrection) goes through the cross. The Way goes through it and not around, under, or over it. 

And let’s face it: being last really stinks. So does being lied about. So does suffering. But it’s the way to inherit the Kingdom, and it’s worth it.

Blessings.