God Works During this Sabath

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S (Scripture): Mark 3:1 Jesus returned to the synagogue. A man with a withered hand was there. 2 Wanting to bring charges against Jesus, they were watching Jesus closely to see if he would heal on the Sabbath. 3 He said to the man with the withered hand, “Step up where people can see you.” 4 Then he said to them, “Is it legal on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they said nothing. 5 Looking around at them with anger, deeply grieved at their unyielding hearts, he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” So he did, and his hand was made healthy. 6 At that, the Pharisees got together with the supporters of Herod to plan how to destroy Jesus.

O (Observation): By this time Jesus’ notoriety was building. He was healing people – and according to the church officials – without God’s or the church’s authority.

Jesus – extremely frustrated – asks the man with the withered hand to come up, front and center. Then Jesus puts the church leaders on the spot: “on this precious Sabbath…shall we do good or evil? Bring life or death?”

In other words, should we let this man suffer, still? When we know he could be healed?

Jesus doesn’t disrespect the Sabbath. He just wonders if the rules the church leaders have created for the Sabbath now promote their own agenda, rather allow the Sabbath to be a day for new life and renewal.

A (Application): How strange a time in which to be living. This is Easter Monday. Yesterday, we celebrated the Resurrection of our Lord (albeit online).

The 5 of us in my family (me, wife, our 3 children) had baskets of candy, watched a few worship opportunities online. Had a nice meal. Zoomed with 3 of our family groups.

It was the oddest Easter for us. It was the first time in over 12 years I did not rise early for a sunrise Easter service. I did not notice the small of eggs and sausages and bacon being cooked at church, like in my last call, where they made a huge Easter breakfast.

And as I sit this morning, I wonder about the point of worship and the gathering of God’s people.

Is this really a moment for me to feel the joy of the risen Lord? Don’t get me wrong, I am hopeful. I am not a pessimist. And I know this will all pass.

I guess I just mourn the loss of community this day.

I think of this quarantine time as a Sabbath, perhaps. A time for renewal and rest from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. And perhaps this time can better prepare me and my family to see that God can bring new life, even (and especially) while we are in this Sabbath time.

How is God stirring you this day? I sense my own frustration, but perhaps God can work all of this towards the good, eventually. Maybe God is doing the work in me/us already, but maybe I/we can’t see it yet.

I am not saying God brought this on us…just like I don’t think God made the man’s hand withered. I guess I’m saying that in the Sabbath, God can still work things for the good.

P (Prayer): Lord God, create in me a heart that is open to your will being done, in spite of this virus that keeps us apart from loved ones and strangers alike. Amen.

Our God Who Confounds Us

S (Scripture): (2 Scriptures today)

Psalm 48

12

Walk around Zion;

    go all the way around it;

    count its towers.

13 

Examine its defenses closely;

    tour its fortifications

    so that you may tell future generations:

14 

“This is God,

    our God, forever and always!

    He is the one who will lead us

    even to the very end.”

Mark 2 (Jesus Heals and Forgives the Paralytic Man)

1 After a few days, Jesus went back to Capernaum, and people heard that he was at home. 2 So many gathered that there was no longer space, not even near the door. Jesus was speaking the word to them.

O (Observation): The people of God at the time of the psalms point to God as one who overwhelms us through awe and majesty and glory. And this God will lead us to the end.

Jesus, early in the Gospel of Mark, is about to forgive and heal a man born paralyzed. This brings awe and majesty to God, but in a very different way. This does not reduce God’s majesty, but rather augments the way in which God acts: through forgiveness and healing.

What do God’s people see? Powerful acts of God come through the majestic city of Zion and now, through Jesus in a defiant act of forgiveness and healing – defiant, for it was not the accepted way.

A (Application): Good Friday is upon us. I see two stark images from these texts. In the psalm, God’s city is majestic and holy. Where Jesus is on the cross, the city has been overrun by politics and an earthly emperor. In the Mark text, a crowd gathers for the awe that Jesus brings, and now, so few gather around Jesus on the cross – only his dedicated followers are with him – plenty of room.

And yet these starkly contrasting images blend together in a beautiful tapestry.

Bold, majestic, beautiful Zion. This is our God.

Emptied, suffering, dying. This is our God.

Both for our sake. Both to point to the true nature of our God – mighty, meek, gentle, healing, sacrificing.

This is Good Friday.

May we be blessed.

May the emptiness fill us this day.

P (Prayer): Gracious God, empty us of selfish desires and full us with your love. Amen.

Why Celebrate Jacob?

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S (Scripture): Genesis 27:30 After Isaac had finished blessing Jacob, and just as Jacob left his father Isaac, his brother Esau came back from his hunt. 31 He too made some delicious food, brought it to his father, and said, “Let my father sit up and eat from his son’s game so that you may bless me.”

32 His father Isaac said to him, “Who are you?”

And he said, “I’m your son, your oldest son, Esau.”

33 Isaac was so shocked that he trembled violently. He said, “Who was the hunter just here with game? He brought me food, and I ate all of it before you came. I blessed him, and he will stay blessed!”

34 When Esau heard what his father said, he let out a loud agonizing cry and wept bitterly. He said to his father, “Bless me! Me too, my father!”

35 Isaac said, “Your brother has already come deceitfully and has taken your blessing.”

O (Observation): The story of Jacob and Esau – and how Jacob steals Esau’s blessing and birthright – is quite mind-blowing.

Esau is born just seconds before Jacob. And so, Esau is due the birthright and the bulk of his father’s inheritance (their father is Abraham).

But instead, through a bit of intentional trickery, Jacob pretends to be Esau and successfully pulls it off. Jacob receives Isaac’s blessing.

This enrages Esau. Of course it would.

We know – in the end – that indeed Jacob is a part of the lineage of God’s people…all the way down to Jesus himself. When we refer to God, we say: “The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,” not “The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Esau.”

Why?

Well, as the story goes, Jacob and Esau meet up years later, and reconcile their differences.

Perhaps the giving of the blessing (being irreversible) is the key. As if God did the blessing. An irrevocable blessing.

Perhaps God can make God’s mission no matter what…even through thievery…and maybe that is the point.

A (Application): So, this is a troubling dilemma. Steal and be rewarded? Well, the cynic can look at this story in a cynical light and reach that conclusion. This is why the cross is foolishness.

The blessing that Jacob receives is a valid blessing from Isaac…not because he stole it, but because God takes our faults and our lack and redeems us!

Jacob is not without fault. Eventually, God confronts Jacob at the Jabbok River, just before Jacob meets up with Esau later on. They literally wrestle with one another.

In the struggle, Jacob is renamed: “Israel”!!!

What is God redeeming in your life now? How is God redeeming it? Is there pain? Is there a new vision being reveled to you? Is there a letting go of something you are too stubborn to release?

God works in mysterious ways. We are all capable of being redeemed. In fact, the price of our redemption is free. We simply come to God with a broken heart and God will redeem.

P (Prayer): Lord, our hearts break. You heal. Help us to see that being a follower of Jesus comes with suffering and yet, redemption. Amen.

No Need to Look Over Your Shoulder

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S (Scripture): Matthew 9:18 While Jesus was speaking to them, a ruler came and knelt in front of him, saying, “My daughter has just died. But come and place your hand on her, and she’ll live.” 19 So Jesus and his disciples got up and went with him. 20 Then a woman who had been bleeding for twelve years came up behind Jesus and touched the hem of his clothes. 21 She thought, If I only touch his robe I’ll be healed.

22 When Jesus turned and saw her, he said, “Be encouraged, daughter. Your faith has healed you.” And the woman was healed from that time on.

23 When Jesus went into the ruler’s house, he saw the flute players and the distressed crowd. 24 He said, “Go away, because the little girl isn’t dead but is asleep”; but they laughed at him. 25 After he had sent the crowd away, Jesus went in and touched her hand, and the little girl rose up. 26 News about this spread throughout that whole region.

O (Observation): Some scholars debate whether or not Jesus broke the religious purity codes in this episode. Most say he does not, but a fine line exists between being defiled and bring “in the clear” in this case.

Jesus is on his way to raise a young girl from the dead. Along the way, a woman who has been bleeding for some time – which makes her impure, by the way…according to the religious standards of the day – and Jesus receives this touch without condemning the woman. In fact, Jesus commends the faith of this woman.

This bleeding woman , not Jesus, proves that purity is more contagious than impurity. So she reached out to Jesus.

Jesus follows the call to raise a young woman from the dead. Again, a possible impurity awaits Jesus. Yet he engages and raises her.

New things are afoot…

A (Application): What does it mean to us to have the Gospel, but never use it? To have salvation, but no one with which to share it.

Many Christians think their call is to live better than others. I’m not saying we should all devolve into the worst people we can be; no! Rather I propose that we can all grow by sharing the Gospel more and more in the places most people won’t wish to go.

Sharing the Gospel means loving others as they are. Showing them that someone cares.

Sharing the Gospel means crossing boundaries that most take for granted, or that we assume should never be broached.

Yet in Jesus we have our hope and our example. With our salvation well in check, we can look to Jesus as our guide for making a way forward – living out the Gospel, without looking over our shoulder to see what others think. If we have shared the Good News, we have done our part.

P (Prayer): Lord, teach us to look forward to the work you have called us into, being not afraid to live out the Gospel truth. Amen.

Authority

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S (Scripture): Matthew 9:1 Boarding a boat, Jesus crossed to the other side of the lake and went to his own city. 2 People brought to him a man who was paralyzed, lying on a cot. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the man who was paralyzed, “Be encouraged, my child, your sins are forgiven.”

3 Some legal experts said among themselves, “This man is insulting God.”

4 But Jesus knew what they were thinking and said, “Why do you fill your minds with evil things? 5 Which is easier—to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? 6 But so you will know that the Human One has authority on the earth to forgive sins”—he said to the man who was paralyzed—“Get up, take your cot, and go home.” 7 The man got up and went home. 8 When the crowds saw what had happened, they were afraid and praised God, who had given such authority to human beings.

O (Observation): What a shock Jesus’ words must have been! “Your sins are forgiven”!!!! Jesus stuns the crowd. Why? Why rock the boat?

Jesus dares not mince words. Jesus has a mission. That mission includes not only physical, but also spiritual healing. Others have shown powers of healing. No one has proclaimed forgiveness of sins!

If Jesus can heal a person’s deeper, spiritual concerns, certainly Jesus can heal someone’s physical needs.

A (Application): The crowd recognizes one, most important matter: God has give. Authority to human beings…to forgive one another.

How often do we go to one another for forgiveness? Aren’t we too ashamed? Too worried about showing fault? Too…

Yet the result is freedom. Pure, unadulterated freedom. No catch. No gotcha.

The Gospel frees us of such worries.

We are free to stand up, take our mats, and walk.

We can receive words of forgiveness from one another.

P (Prayer): Lord, free me from the guilt my most grievous faults, of all my faults. Amen.

Disciples Bear Much Fruit

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S (Scripture): Acts 3:1 Peter and John were going up to the temple at three o’clock in the afternoon, the established prayer time. 2 Meanwhile, a man crippled since birth was being carried in. Every day, people would place him at the temple gate known as the Beautiful Gate so he could ask for money from those entering the temple. 3 When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he began to ask them for a gift. 4 Peter and John stared at him. Peter said, “Look at us!” 5 So the man gazed at them, expecting to receive something from them. 6 Peter said, “I don’t have any money, but I will give you what I do have. In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, rise up and walk!” 7 Then he grasped the man’s right hand and raised him up. At once his feet and ankles became strong. 8 Jumping up, he began to walk around. He entered the temple with them, walking, leaping, and praising God. 9 All the people saw him walking and praising God. 10 They recognized him as the same one who used to sit at the temple’s Beautiful Gate asking for money. They were filled with amazement and surprise at what had happened to him.

O (Observation): The Church. Not a building, but a people. Those early disciples were quite faithful, maybe even naive. Could their hands and mouths convey healing as Christ’s could?

In this instance, the answer is yes.

The blind man asked for money, daily. Yet Peter gave him his sight. In whose name? In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene. The disciples could heal!

A (Application): Being the church means producing disciples who make disciples. So many of us focus on Sunday morning and little else. The congregation I serve continues to dive into the many ways of connecting with the people in and around our community.

We connect through worship and Bible Study, service, fun, fellowship, and other ways. We are discerning how Jesus led his disciples and how to lead others down the same path as Jesus.

May we all learn this path and continue to follow Jesus and his way. That we might learn to preach, teach, and heal as Jesus did.

P (Prayer): Lord, guide our hearts through the right pathways. Amen.

The Forgiveness Cycle

Photo from The Book of Forgiving

S (Scripture): Joshua 10:6 Then the Israelites again did things that the Lord saw as evil. They served the Baals and the Astartes, as well as the gods of Aram, Sidon, Moab, the Ammonites, and the Philistines. They went away from the Lord and didn’t serve him. 7 The Lord became angry with Israel and handed them over to the Philistines and the Ammonites. 8 Starting that year and for the next eighteen years, they beat and bullied the Israelites, especially all the Israelites who lived on the east side of Jordan in the territory of the Ammonites in Gilead. 9 The Ammonites also crossed the Jordan to make raids into Judah, Benjamin, and the households of Ephraim. So Israel was greatly distressed.

10 Then the Israelites cried out to the Lord, “We’ve sinned against you, for we went away from our God and served the Baals.”

11 The Lord replied to the Israelites, “When the Egyptians, Amorites, Ammonites, Philistines, 12 Sidonians, Amalekites, and Maonites oppressed you and you cried out to me, didn’t I rescue you from their power? 13 But you have gone away from me and served other gods, so I won’t rescue you anymore! 14 Go cry out to the gods you’ve chosen. Let them rescue you in the time of your distress.”

15 The Israelites responded to the Lord, “We’ve sinned. Do to us whatever you see as right, but please save us this time.” 16 They put away the foreign gods from among them and served the Lord. And the Lord could no longer stand to see Israel suffer.

O (Observation): Once again, a classic example of a lack of humility, followed by a challenging experience apart from God, followed by cries for mercy by God’s people (to God), and God showing mercy.

A (Application): The Book of Forgiving, by Desmond Tutu and daughter Mpho Tutu, includes a great image of two directions one can choose after being a victim: choose to harm or to heal.

Choosing to Harm is a cycle: one rejects the shared humanity one has, works towards revenge and violence…then the victim becomes the perpetrator.

Choosing to Heal moves one towards forgiveness: tell the story, name the hurt, grant forgiveness, then either renew or release the relationship.

Now, this pathway is mostly about how we treat one another, but I want to consider laying this framework down over what God is doing in the Old Testament vs what God is doing through the person of Jesus Christ.

When God’s people see God as the one who “hands them over to the Amorites” I see this as a misinterpretation of what God is up to. In this case, God doesn’t hand anyone over…rather, God let’s God’s people call on their own gods.

God is choosing to be open to healing and forgiveness…moving towards the Forgiveness Cycle.

God’s people would rather see others as perpetrators and see themselves as victims…continuing down a Revenge Cycle.

Eventually God would choose to fulfill his promise to humanity by becoming one of us…putting on flesh, becoming the Incarnate One who would constantly represent and embody the Forgiveness Cycle.

P (Prayer): Lord, help us to choose the Forgiveness Cycle. Amen.

Along the Way

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S (Scripture): Mark 10:46 Jesus and his followers came into Jericho. As Jesus was leaving Jericho, together with his disciples and a sizable crowd, a blind beggar named Bartimaeus, Timaeus’ son, was sitting beside the road. 47 When he heard that Jesus of Nazareth was there, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, show me mercy!” 48 Many scolded him, telling him to be quiet, but he shouted even louder, “Son of David, show me mercy!”

49 Jesus stopped and said, “Call him forward.”

They called the blind man, “Be encouraged! Get up! He’s calling you.”

50 Throwing his coat to the side, he jumped up and came to Jesus.

51 Jesus asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?”

The blind man said, “Teacher, I want to see.”

52 Jesus said, “Go, your faith has healed you.” At once he was able to see, and he began to follow Jesus on the way.

O (Observation): Jesus’ followers acknowledge a blind man, Bartimaeus, on the side of the road…calling out for the Son of David, Jesus Christ, to have mercy on him.

The crowd following Jesus, which included his disciples, tried to hush the man and dismiss him. They couldn’t be bothered. They were “on the way.”

Yet Jesus calls on Bartimaeus to be brought forward. Now the crowd encourages him.

Can’t they make up their mind? Discourage the blind man or encourage him. Either way, the man’s persistence pays off. And what is the result of Jesus healing the man? The man is now following Jesus along the way.

A (Application): How many times have you missed the opportunity to receive grace? Maybe you couldn’t find the strength to shout out to Jesus to help you.

How many times have others (from within the Church) silenced you or made you feel unworthy?

Somehow, through faith (made possible by the Holy Spirit dwelling in you) and through a supportive community of believers all around you, you can receive Jesus’ mercy.

You can be moved from sitting on the side of the road to becoming one who follows Jesus along the way. From the side of the road, to the journey with Jesus.

P (Prayer): Lord, give us faith and courage to cry out to Jesus. Surround us with a loving faith community. Amen.

The Leper

Content Warning: I make comments about self-harm and death by suicide in this blog post. If that is a negative trigger for you, please act accordingly. Maybe re-join me tomorrow, or simply prepare yourself. Peace!

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S (Scripture): Leviticus 13:45 Anyone with an infection of skin disease must wear torn clothes, dishevel their hair, cover their upper lip, and shout out, “Unclean! Unclean!” 46 They will be unclean as long as they are infected. They are unclean. They must live alone outside the camp.

O (Observation): I almost think that the ancient priests of the Hebrew people were to act like healthcare advocates. All of this stuff about skin disease…you wouldn’t believe it was in the Bible unless you read it for yourself!

It’s there though…in ink : )

The unclean persons – unclean with skin disease – were not only to separate themselves from the rest of the worshipping community, but then also – if someone was close to them in proximity – had to shout: “Unclean! Unclean!”

Imagine that…

Ritual cleanliness was this a way to keep diseases from spreading, but the social impact was much much worse than the physical.

A (Application): Social / Emotional health is a BIG concern these days. Kids cut their arms to show they are hurting. Kids take pills to put themselves out of their own misery. They feel so trapped. They don’t know what else to do.

Who is listening to them?

Who are they listening to to make them feel that way? Is it parents? Social media? Cohorts? Friends? Movies? Society as a whole?

To be an outcast – whether you perceive this in yourself, or if you have actually been pushed aside – is a terribly lonely state of being. Connection is very important for us to be healthy. Connection leads to understand and sympathy.

Jesus healed lepers. Not all appreciated it, but he did it nonetheless. He wants all to be in fellowship with one another. Jesus told the apostles they had the power to heal, and they did. But it soon stopped. We just couldn’t believe it was real.

Jesus believed it, though. And he lived it.

Are you the leper? Are you seeking healing? Are you seeking community?

P (Prayer): Lord, keep us in your care. Bring us together. Amen.

Point of Order

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S (Scripture): Mark 2:1 Jesus went back to Capernaum, and people heard that he was at home. 2 So many gathered that there was no longer space, not even near the door. Jesus was speaking the word to them. 3 Some people arrived, and four of them were bringing to him a man who was paralyzed. 4 They couldn’t carry him through the crowd, so they tore off part of the roof above where Jesus was. When they had made an opening, they lowered the mat on which the paralyzed man was lying. 5 When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Child, your sins are forgiven!”

6 Some legal experts were sitting there, muttering among themselves, 7 “Why does he speak this way? He’s insulting God. Only the one God can forgive sins.”

8 Jesus immediately recognized what they were discussing, and he said to them, “Why do you fill your minds with these questions? 9  Which is easier—to say to a paralyzed person, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take up your bed, and walk’? 10  But so you will know that the Human One has authority on the earth to forgive sins”—he said to the man who was paralyzed, 11 “Get up, take your mat, and go home.”

12 Jesus raised him up, and right away he picked up his mat and walked out in front of everybody. They were all amazed and praised God, saying, “We’ve never seen anything like this!”

O (Observation): Jesus challenges the legal experts’ vision of God’s work. They saw God working through the legal system of the Law alone. They couldn’t fit this forgiveness of sins into their religious structure. (And thus, they couldn’t fit this man’s healing in, either.)

The physical healing of the man seems almost to be an afterthought for Jesus: he chose to forgive the man his sins, first. The physical healing of the man was almost nothing compared to the issue of forgiveness. However, Jesus does bring the man healing so that those witnessing Jesus in those moments might understand that in Jesus they can see that Jesus holds dominion over the physical and spiritual realms.

Jesus was ushering in a clarification of the understanding of God’s vision. He wasn’t bringing in a completely new system of belief, just bringing focus. The prophets of old were about bringing God’s people back in line with God’s vision. Jesus was doing the same here.

The legal experts thought that the way to forgiveness and holiness was through the legal system of purification and sacrifices. Not so, anymore. And this threatened the well-being and security of the legal experts. They thought that they had this all nailed down (sorry, pun intended).

Thankfully, the WorkingPreacher.org site has a commentary on this text that I found useful. Here is a quote:

Jesus subverts ritual boundaries not so much by introducing something completely new, but by drawing on parts of the tradition he thinks are much more in line with what God wants for and from humanity, and by implicitly — and later explicitly — accusing his opponents of maintaining the established boundaries at the expense of human need.

Jesus is lifting up human need above all…above ritual and adherence to the Law.

A (Application): What are we using our religion for? To hold dominion over people? To give us a feeling of superiority over people? To look down upon others to make ourselves feel better? To feel like we are in control?

What are we afraid of losing if our rituals or customs need to change so that we are reaching people?

The trick in discerning our way forward is figuring out what is Gospel and what is indifferent to the Gospel.

So many times we put in structures and traditions that are inconsequential to the delivery of the Gospel, and yet, we fight for these things.

Seminaries, congregations, pastors…what are we doing? Are we about living into the Gospel? Are we about being God’s hands and feet?

Do we have to run over people to deliver the Gospel? Or do we invite people to witness the Gospel in their everyday lives and report what they’ve found? Do we challenge our folks to discern where they’ve seen God? Do we coach our people in ways to see God?

The message has always been the same. And as the Church, we are good at covering up the Gospel and dressing it up in all sorts of forms and fashions. But the Gospel…the Good News is always…(wait for it…)…Good News! And the way to tell if the Good News is really Good News…is that it is ALWAYS Good News!

May you find the Kingdom breaking into your life this day with Good News…even if it comes in the midst of difficult circumstances.

P (Prayer): God, bring your Good News to us with great clarity. Amen.