Jesus – the Great “I Am”

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S (Scripture): John 8:56 (Jesus said to the Jewish leaders) “Your father Abraham was overjoyed that he would see my day. He saw it and was happy.”

57 “You aren’t even 50 years old!” the Jewish opposition replied. “How can you say that you have seen Abraham?”

58 “I assure you,” Jesus replied, “before Abraham was, I Am.” 59 So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and left the temple.

O (Observation): The Jewish leaders were quite upset that Jesus would dare to equate himself with the great “I AM”! They were so indignant they wished to throw stones at Jesus! A visceral response to such a bold statement. They didn’t even try to think it through or pray about it. Just a knee-jerk reaction.

Jesus was right, but the Jewish leaders couldn’t let go of their systemic religious priorities: God is one! No other God comes before the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

God’s people were wrong.

A (Application): Feels nice to have 2,000 years of the Christian Church to look back and say to these Jewish leaders: “Fools!” Don’t you know?!?! This is Jesus, the one promised of old to Abraham, David, and the prophets. Jesus is the ONE to make all things new!”

But wait…we have had 2,000 years to decipher this truth.

And to this day, we still struggle with believing. In fact even Jesus’ disciples struggled.

So, what do we make of all this? Should we throw faith and belief away? Certainly not!

Perhaps knowing that God’s people got God wrong leads us to remember that we can also get God wring from time to time. Maybe we can be so wrong about how God works.

But we hold on to faith that Jesus is the I AM. Jesus is God in the flesh. He heals. He makes us one with God.

Perhaps that is enough. To know that I was baptized into a death like his, that I might walk around today as one forgiven and set free to love God and neighbor.

P (Prayer): Lord, may we receive your Spirit to help guide and direct us this day. Amen.

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Light in the Dark

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S (Scripture): Psalm 118

22

The stone rejected by the builders

is now the main foundation stone!

23

This has happened because of the Lord;

it is astounding in our sight!

24

This is the day the Lord acted;

we will rejoice and celebrate in it!

25

Lord, please save us!

Lord, please let us succeed!

26

The one who enters in the Lord’s name is blessed;

we bless all of you from the Lord’s house.

27

The Lord is God!

He has shined a light on us!

So lead the festival offering with ropes

all the way to the horns of the altar.[d]

28

You are my God—I will give thanks to you!

You are my God—I will lift you up high!

29

Give thanks to the Lord because he is good,

because his faithful love lasts forever.

O (Observation): The concept of new life from drastic or difficult circumstances was not a concept started in Jesus. No…this concept has always been present amongst God and God’s people.

Moses and The Pharaoh. David and Goliath. Elijah and the Baal priests. Ruth and Naomi sticking together. Esther and Mordecai facing the evil king, Ahasuerus. All the other prophets. And, in the end, the kingdoms of Israel and Judah…fallen.

Yet God’s faithful love remains forever.

And hope remains.

“The stone rejected by the builders is now the main foundation stone.”

A (Application): How many times do things seem hopeless for you? Are you beaten down? Mentally exhausted? Does it look like there is no end in sight to your suffering? Have you been rejected one too many times?

I invite you to consider faith in Jesus Christ, to allow the Holy Spirit to do a work in you. Jesus knows our sufferings, because he has walked the path of pain and suffering. He has taken on these burdens, to show us what God’s faithful and unending love can look like: like new life in the midst of suffering and death.

God seeks life, not death. If your suffering is a death to you, allow God to help you rise from the depths. See God giving you a new outlook. See God helping you take the next first step towards light and life.

Today, now, allow God’s unending love for you wrap you in the loving arms of God’s safety. Trust that God has given you the gifts you need to thrive in this life. Trust that God is surrounding you with those you need to make it this day. Trust that God will see you through this dark time, and will bring light and life in unimaginable ways.

P (Prayer): Lord, clear our pathway to you! Amen.

A House Divided

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S (Scripture):

2 Samuel 2:4 Then the people of Judah came to Hebron and anointed David king over the house of Judah…8 Meanwhile, Abner, Ner’s son, the commander of Saul’s army, had taken Ishbosheth, Saul’s son, and brought him over to Mahanaim. 9 There he made him king over Gilead, the Geshurites, Jezreel, Ephraim, and Benjamin—over all Israel. 10 Saul’s son Ishbosheth was 40 years old when he became king over Israel, and he ruled for two years. The house of Judah, however, followed David. 11 The amount of time David ruled in Hebron over the house of Judah totaled seven and a half years.

John 6:63b Jesus continues: “The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64 Yet some of you don’t believe.” Jesus knew from the beginning who wouldn’t believe and the one who would betray him. 65 He said, “For this reason I said to you that none can come to me unless the Father enables them to do so.” 66 At this, many of his disciples turned away and no longer accompanied him.

67 Jesus asked the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?”

68 Simon Peter answered, “Lord, where would we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We believe and know that you are God’s holy one.”

70 Jesus replied, “Didn’t I choose you twelve? Yet one of you is a devil.” 71 He was speaking of Judas, Simon Iscariot’s son, for he, one of the Twelve, was going to betray him.

O (Observation): God is no stranger to adversity…to God’s own house divided.

In the case of 2 Samuel 2, Saul has been defeated and animosity has grown strong between Saul’s people and David’s people. The people wanted a king! They got one. In fact, when the first one (Saul) tried to rule apart from God, God dismissed him by anointing another king: David.

Both David and Saul were anointed. So, who should the people follow? Alliances formed and split the people of God. The northern kingdom, Israel, followed Saul. The southern kingdom (Judah) followed David. And thus, God’s people continued in their own “Civil War” in which God’s people continued to kill one another.

As for Jesus, one of his own hand-picked group of 12 will wish to have Jesus killed. At least, he will be willing to “sell out” Jesus to the thugs who wish to have him silenced / censored.

The result? More death…in fact, the death of Jesus himself. And in his wake would come the bursting forth of the Spirit.

Both of these stories remind us that God is no stranger to adversity and that we are sustained even in the midst of adversity and overwhelming odds.

A (Application): Today, I am struck not by own adversity, of which I have very little. I am struck by the adversity of those whom our American society places on the fringe.

People of color.

Women.

Disabled.

LGBTQIA+.

Indigenous People of America.

And so many more.

My friends of a more “conservative” bent think me ridiculous. How can I be so pathetic? How can I be so soft? “Everyone has equal rights.” “I’m not responsible for <insert group here> not getting that job / getting elected / getting that home loan / etc. What people did 50, 100, 250, or more years ago is not me.”

Instead of keeping our house divided, perhaps we could look to the ways that we can all contribute to make this world a better place. If that means using my white, male privilege to help others, then that is the course. I say this, because I have looked around and said, “God, why don’t you do something?” And God says, “I did. I created you!” Oh…dang…

What do I do with that???

What do you do with that???

P (Prayer): Lord, guide me and sustain me. Amen.

Ain’t Nothin’ Gonna Break My Stride

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S (Scripture): John 6:47 Jesus responds to the Jewish opposition: “I assure you, whoever believes has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your ancestors ate manna in the wilderness and they died. 50 This is the bread that comes down from heaven so that whoever eats from it will never die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever, and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

O (Observation): The Bread of Life. Living Bread. What vivid images are brought to mind. The bread is “living” insofar as it brings life to those who partake of it. Eternal life!

Jesus was surely disturbing those of the faith with this new teaching. Jesus was trying to help them see that the Law (doing what is righteous) drives one to the Gospel (salvation, forgiveness). Eating bread sustains for a time. Eating the Bread of Life lasts forever. And this is a free gift!

A (Application): So why do we – as Christians – make such a fuss over how we understand the Bread of Life to work? Why does one style of Communion distribution work better than another?

Or, why does one type of baptism “count” while others don’t? Is that not a stumbling block?

Why does one group of Christians – doing God’s work – feel it necessary to condemn another group of Christ-followers who are also doing God’s work?

Perhaps our call as Christians is to focus a bit more outward, instead of inward.

This outward focus is embedded in our vision statement at the congregation I serve: “We are called to walk closely with God, discover the gifts God has given us, and welcome and accept all people.” As that last part states, we strive to welcome and accept all people. That’s a wide range of folks, so we narrow it down to make real from time to time. Whether this be LGBTQ+ community, those with disabilities, the homeless, etc. we find ways to live out our vision in our community.

We may receive condemnation, but as long as we receive the Bread of Life, nothing stands in our way of doing God’s work here in this place.

P (Prayer): Lord, sustain us for you are the Bread of Life. Amen.

What Do I Do Now?

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S (Scripture): John 6:26 Jesus replied, “I assure you that you are looking for me not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate all the food you wanted. 27 Don’t work for the food that doesn’t last but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Human One will give you. God the Father has confirmed him as his agent to give life.”

28 They asked, “What must we do in order to accomplish what God requires?”

29 Jesus replied, “This is what God requires, that you believe in him whom God sent.”

30 They asked, “What miraculous sign will you do, that we can see and believe you? What will you do? 31 Our ancestors ate manna in the wilderness, just as it is written, He gave them bread from heaven to eat.”

O (Observation): The crowd of 5,000 has had their fill of loaves and fish. Now they believe another sign is required for them to do God’s work.

The work, Jesus says, is much more simple than even that. Simply believe that Jesus (God’s Son) was sent by God. They don’t like that though. They feel the need to DO something.

A (Application): Why do we always feel the need to DO something to work towards salvation? Jesus says the work is simply starting with the belief that God is already at work.

Any work we do is based on the fact that God has already done the work of forgiveness and reconciling us to God. Jesus has taken the power of sin and has overcome it.

Now, we are free to move about the world following our callings for the sake of God’s work. We are set free from saving ourselves – Jesus does that for us. We are set free for meeting the needs of those around us.

In this, we have our freedom.

P (Prayer): Lord, keep me believing in your Son. Amen

How’d That Happen?

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S (Scripture): John 6:16 When evening came, Jesus’ disciples went down to the lake. 17 They got into a boat and were crossing the lake to Capernaum. It was already getting dark and Jesus hadn’t come to them yet. 18 The water was getting rough because a strong wind was blowing. 19 When the wind had driven them out for about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the water. He was approaching the boat and they were afraid. 20 He said to them, “I Am. Don’t be afraid.” 21 Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and just then the boat reached the land where they had been heading.

O (Observation): Jesus just got done feeding the 5,000 and they wanted to make him king. So Jesus got out of there. They didn’t get it.

The disciples were hanging out in their boat, waiting on Jesus. But a storm came up and drove them off the shore – without Jesus! (Oops! Sorry, Jesus…the rope broke : )

That didn’t stop Jesus. He just walked on the water to go out to where the boat was – in the middle of the lake!

Night time. Storm. Wind. Chaos. The makings of quite the scary story – not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually, as well.

The disciples still don’t know what to make of Jesus, yet…

And to top it all off, as things settle down in the boat, and they are ready to head to the shore – Voila! – there they are…on the shore of their destination.

How’d he do that?

A (Application): How’d that happen? What went right? Where did we go wrong? Every church leader I know asks these questions, hoping to make an impact for God’s Kingdom.

We reverse engineer things to try to figure out the right formula. And then we replicate over and over again. But the only constant I see is “change.”

We are never the same people in more than any one instant. So that means whatever we lead has to be lean and flexible, so that the vision and mission can exist without too much structure. Yet, some structure is helpful along the way.

The Holy Spirit works in many and various ways. In meetings, while you’re driving to work, while you (individually or collectively) are at your wit’s end. The Spirit works in our midst.

Just ask the disciples in the midst of their spiritual turmoil. How did Jesus do that thing with the walking on water and the boat being at the shore? Only God knows.

How do we do the Church on earth? Just do it! Let God Lead! Enjoy the ride!

P (Prayer): Lord, guide us and make us wise to your commands. Amen.

Open the Windows and Doors to the Autumn Air

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S (Scripture): John 4:19 The [Samaritan] woman said [to Jesus], “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshipped on this mountain, but you and your people say that it is necessary to worship in Jerusalem.”

21 Jesus said to her, “Believe me, woman, the time is coming when you and your people will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You and your people worship what you don’t know; we worship what we know because salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the time is coming—and is here!—when true worshippers will worship in spirit and truth. The Father looks for those who worship him this way. 24 God is spirit, and it is necessary to worship God in spirit and truth.”

25 The woman said, “I know that the Messiah is coming, the one who is called the Christ. When he comes, he will teach everything to us.”

26 Jesus said to her, “I Am—the one who speaks with you.”

O (Observation): Usually this story of the Samaritan Woman at the Well draws me into Jesus’ witness of crossing boundaries for the sake of the Gospel. And indeed, this does occur. And yet, a new thing has caught my attention in my reading of this lesson today.

Worship.

Where does it happen? The Temple, of course!

Of all the things she wonders about, worship (and where to worship) is important to her.

Jesus opens up the expanse of proper worship. Worship is not about a place, but an orientation towards something. In this case, the orientation is towards truth and spirit. God is released from the confines of the Temple, for “God is spirit.”

The Temple served a purpose for a time. The people wandered in the wilderness until a settlement was established. Organic moved to organized. But then the organization grew and became complicated – it got in the way of worship and mission for God. And the Samaritans, for example, were not welcome to worship with the Jews…thus producing a stumbling block to the movement of God’s grace in the world.

A (Application): Stumbling blocks. We (the Church) are good at creating stumbling blocks for others. Yet we are also so close to opening up the doors and windows to allow the refreshing autumn air into our homes and places of worship and more.

Breath it in! The crisp, fall air. God is up to something. Can you feel it?

Meet someone new lately? Catch up with an old friend? Or do you find yourself wrapping up tighter and tighter, pulling yourself away from the world?

We are all in different places. But I would invite you to be aware of the places in your life where God is trying to pry open your heart to experience the Spirit’s presence.

Maybe at the water fountain? The coffee station? The lunchroom? Where is God showing up and shaking things up?

P (Prayer): Lord, show us that you are here with us. Amen.