Jesus and/or Tradition?

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S (Scripture): John 10:22 The time came for the Festival of Dedication in Jerusalem. It was winter, 23 and Jesus was in the temple, walking in the covered porch named for Solomon. 24 The Jewish opposition circled around him and asked, “How long will you test our patience? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.”

25 Jesus answered, “I have told you, but you don’t believe. The works I do in my Father’s name testify about me, 26 but you don’t believe because you don’t belong to my sheep. 27 My sheep listen to my voice. I know them and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life. They will never die, and no one will snatch them from my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them from my Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.”

31 Again the Jewish opposition picked up stones in order to stone him. 32 Jesus responded, “I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of those works do you stone me?”

33 The Jewish opposition answered, “We don’t stone you for a good work but for insulting God. You are human, yet you make yourself out to be God.”

O (Observation): Jesus challenges his opponents once again to share in what manner He has done anything to cause them to want to stone him. He stumps them!

The Jewish leadership at the time felt that Jesus was insulting God. They couldn’t pick out any of Jesus’ actions, so they went for a subjective argument. “You insult God.”

Well, depends on your presuppositions, no? If you assume that your teaching trumps what is right in front of you, then yes, Jesus insults God. But if one were to take a different perspective one might find that Jesus can be the fulfillment of what God was working through.

A (Application): I’ve heard folks say that Jesus is great, even apart from the Old Testament. Well, might I suggest that Jesus is the fulfillment of our God’s thoughts and actions from throughout history – yes, including the Old Testament.

God formed the world and set people to work. They came together and fell apart. They followed God and they didn’t follow God.

Ultimately, God allowed God’s people to do their own thing. After all, God is not in the business of coercing those he loves to follow. As a result God’s people were scattered throughout the Middle East. Their religious center was shifted, but a remnant remained. They carried on the faith and developed quite some number of rules that either they or their ancestors set forth for good order and teaching.

With that in mind, surely Jesus causes feathers to be ruffled. But Jesus is also the reminder that God continues to stick by God’s people. The promises of old start coming into fruition.

The move Jesus makes is to remind God’s people that God has always loved al people. Previously, God showed that love through a certain people: The Jews. Now, God shows the world love in the person of Jesus.

The tradition challenges us. The history makes us think that nothing radical will work. We feel we must keep the institution. And so, we are challenged. Like the Jews of old, we must determine what holds true.

Do we hang solely on tradition? Do we scrap it all and follow Jesus – standing in front of us? Do we try to weave together tradition and our God, Jesus, standing before us today?

May we choose wisely and may God grant us grace.

P (Prayer): Lord, today we continue to pray for all who suffer from loss of life and injury in the wake of the Tree of Life Synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh, PA. Amen.


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.

Here’s a Box…Do you fit in it?

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S (Scripture): Mark 7:24 Jesus left that place and went into the region of Tyre. He didn’t want anyone to know that he had entered a house, but he couldn’t hide. 25 In fact, a woman whose young daughter was possessed by an unclean spirit heard about him right away. She came and fell at his feet. 26 The woman was Greek, Syrophoenician by birth. She begged Jesus to throw the demon out of her daughter. 27 He responded, “The children have to be fed first. It isn’t right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”

28 But she answered, “Lord, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”

29 “Good answer!” he said. “Go on home. The demon has already left your daughter.” 30 When she returned to her house, she found the child lying on the bed and the demon gone.

O (Observation): Jesus has just finished talking to a bunch of Pharisees who don’t like that his disciples eat with “unclean” hands. Jesus reminds them that what comes out of a person (based on the heart) is what defiles a person, not what is on the outside (religious inheritance, laws, rituals).

He turns to the crowd and reminds them of the same idea:

Mark 7:20 “It’s what comes out of a person that contaminates someone in God’s sight,” Jesus said. 21 “It’s from the inside, from the human heart, that evil thoughts come…”

As Jesus tries to go off for a few moments of solitude, he is encountered by a Syrophoenecian woman…a Greek. Remember, Jesus just got done telling the Pharisees and the crowd that no one is clean, Jew or Greek, for all fall prey to the heart’s desires…to evil.

So should Jesus engage this non-Jew with grace? This seems to be Jesus needing to put his money where his mouth is : ) A Greek wishes for Jesus to heal her daughter. Perhaps that is all the faith Jesus needs to see to heal the daughter. No creed. No statement of faith. Just acknowledgement and tenacity.

Jesus seems to be convinced that even though the “children” need to eat first, perhaps this woman knows the abundance of Jesus’ grace will so fill up the table that there will be plenty of crumbs to spare…and that is all she’s asking for. Just a crumb. To heal her daughter.

A (Application): What boxes do we draw around the ones who can receive God’s grace? Who’s inside of that box? Who’s outside of that box? Are we willing to accept that God works in the hearts and minds of those who don’t know Christ the same way we do?

What if we grew up in the Church? Does that mean my privilege precludes others from receiving grace? Like it’s a set size of a pie, and I need to get my slice before someone else? If they came late to the party, oh well…that’s there fault. I don’t think so.

Jesus reminds us that our external affiliations (I.e. religion, denomination, heritage, etc) does not give us a special place to the exclusion of others. We are all open to receiving grace and giving grace. Jesus’ abundance of healing and grace is our witness.

So give the grace. There is more where that came from.

P (Prayer): Lord, give us grace to give to others. Amen.

What Do You Do With the Truth?

S (Scripture): Romans 3:9 What then? Are we better off? Certainly not, for we have already charged that Jews and Greeks alike are all under sin, 10 just as it is written:

“There is no one righteous, not even one, 11 there is no one who understands, there is no one who seeks God.
12 All have turned away, together they have become worthless; there is no one who shows kindness, not even one.”

O (Observation):  Paul continues to show that even though Jews and Gentiles alike receive mercy from God, neither has an advantage over the other, except that the Jews simply received the possibility of salvation first.   

And the fact that God’s righteousness covers our faults doesn’t mean that the Gentiles or the Jews should feel superior over the other.  Rather, both have sinned in their own way. 

A (Application):  Division.   That seems to be constantly on my mind these days.   Who’s right?  Who’s wrong?  What is truth?   Why do some people feel like they own the truth?  Is it for the sake of control?   Is it because having a certain “truth” makes someone feel more comfortable?  Like they have somehow “arrived”?

Division gets under my skin and I’m learning more and more how to not let it control me and then anger me (and apologize when I get too zealous).   

How do we know what we know?  And how do we know if it is truth?   I’m not really sure time is the answer, because it can take us hundreds or even thousands of years to prove something is not truth (earth ain’t flat; sun is center of universe, not Earth; etc.)!   

So, do we believe in anything?  Yes!  But perhaps how we carry that truth is just as important as the truth we carry. 

To the Jew: boast in grace, not in your Jewish lineage.  

To the Gentile: boast in grace, not in your freedom apart from the law.  
To the 21st century Christian: boast in the fact that God knows you, and not just in what you think you know about God.   

P (Prayer):  Lord, make me humble.  Amen. 

Unity or Uniformity?

S (Scripture): Romans 1:1 From Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God. 2 This gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures, 3 concerning his Son who was a descendant of David with reference to the flesh, 4 who was appointed the Son-of-God-in-power according to the Holy Spirit by the resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord. 5 Through him we have received grace and our apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles on behalf of his name. 6 You also are among them, called to belong to Jesus Christ. 7 To all those loved by God in Rome, called to be saints: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

O (Observation):  Paul is thick.  Like fudge brownie mix thick.  These verses are so packed with meaning and relevance.  For today…a 30,000 foot view…

Paul knows that Jews and Gentiles are starting to believe in Jesus Christ, made to be the Son of God, the first of all to be resurrected, and that all who believe in him (as the Messiah and Son of God) are given grace and responsibility (apostleship) to share this news with the whole world.   

The Church in Rome (like many places in Paul’s day) is a mix of Jews and Gentiles who believe in Jesus as the Christ, and so Paul goes about addressing BOTH of them in this letter to the Church in Rome.  He mentions that Jesus is a son of David in the flesh (a part of the Jewish lineage from Abraham) and yet he appeals to the Gentiles, too, noting that the Gospel is extended to them, as well.  

In sum, Paul is addressing Jewish and Gentile Christians of the Church in Rome.  

A (Application): What to do with Paul?   He’s trying really hard to bring a word of peace to a divided church.  He’s making the case for Jewish Christians to respect Gentile Christians and vice versa. 

You’ll have to keep reading through Romans to see what I mean.   Paul calls on Jews to respect the fact that their faith (or even Abraham) is not their ticket to salvation: God’s grace is the key factor.   And he will tell the Gentiles, just because you don’t have to follow the traditions of the Law, doesn’t mean you get to do whatever the heck you want.  You must still respect that the struggle of good and evil still exists.  

The Church in America is very much divided today.   Who follows what traditions?  What is required of the Church and its people?   How do we seek unity without uniformity?

Here is a relevant quote from Richard Rohr in his daily email from today (3/7/17): 

Unity is diversity embraced, protected, and maintained by an infinitely generous love. It takes grace and love and the Spirit to achieve unity. Uniformity can be achieved by coercion, shame, and fear. Unfortunately, most churches have confused uniformity with true spiritual unity for centuries. But church formed in this way is by definition not the church. As Catherine LaCugna says, “The nature of the church should manifest the nature of God.” 

Let’s keep on journeying through Romans this Lent.  Good fodder awaits.  

P (Prayer): Lord, keep us mindful of the “other.”   Amen.  

Seeing in a New Way

S (Scripture): John 4:19 The [Samaritan] woman said to [Jesus], “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you people say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You people worship what you do not know. We worship what we know, because salvation is from the Jews. 23 But a time is coming – and now is here – when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such people to be his worshipers. 24 God is spirit, and the people who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (the one called Christ); “whenever he comes, he will tell us everything.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I, the one speaking to you, am he.”

O (Observation):  One can focus on many parts of the story of Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman at a well.  Today, what grabs my attention – my kairos – is the focus on the locus of worship.  

The Samaritan Woman is confused by Jesus’ presence at this particular well.  She says that the Jews are to worship in Jerusalem, yet Jesus is saying that one can worship outside of Jerusalem.  Jesus says the locus is not a “WHERE,” but a “WHO.”   And that “who” is God the Father, who we worship in spirit and truth, for God is greater than just one earthly location. 

A (Application):  We can get caught up in our places of worship…our church buildings.  In fact, our congregation is paying off a small building loan which we used to make some major repairs.  And we are gathering funds for future building needs. 10%of what we gather will go to the ELCA Disaster Response program, too.  We are doing our best to be good stewards of this physical space to gather people to worship, learn, and serve others.  But we can cling too closely sometimes, too.  

When someone grows up in one place and doesn’t see the world (or even other regions in the same country) one can become biased towards a certain set of beliefs or traditions.   Those beliefs and traditions, when challenged, are hard to let go of.  We feel like we lose something of ourselves if we don’t hold on to those original beliefs and traditions.  And in a way, our identity is changed (which isn’t ALL bad).

The Samaritan woman had cause to be concerned and challenged by Jesus.  We have cause to be concerned when something spoken challenges us…but that’s not always a bad thing.  

From the letting go of some of our baggage comes new life.  Transformation is something that opens us up to seeing God anew.  In fact, our long-held beliefs could be holding us back from seeing what God is up to in our lives this very day.  

We worship God in many ways and we let God challenge our beliefs to open us up.   

What is the latest challenge for you?  What are you letting go of?  What have you let go of lately?  

P (Prayer):  Lord, help us to see anew.  Amen. 

Who’s the Foreigner?


S (Scripture): Exodus 22:21 You must not wrong a foreigner nor oppress him, for you were foreigners in the land of Egypt.

O (Observation):  The Israelites have recently received their freedom from bondage to slavery in Egypt.  God has given them a set of boundaries to live by – The 10 Commandments.   If they are to be God’s people, they would follow these commands.   

The verse in this devotion is one of the decisions God passed on to Moses.   

God gives this law so that God’s people will show mercy and hospitality to the stranger.  God reminds the people that they, too, were foreigners in a foreign land (in Egypt).  They weren’t treated so well in Egypt, as foreigners.  As a people “set apart,” a holy people, God’s people will look and act differently…especially when hosting foreigners.  

A (Application):  Showing hospitality to our neighbor is to be our default approach.   This does not mean that we should allow our neighbors to do whatever they want.  The verses surrounding this one show how everyone is to respect the well-being of the family and property of their neighbor.  

This verse simply highlights God’s desire for God’s people to care for the foreigner in their midst – to NOT treat him/her with less dignity or respect than anyone else. 

We have seemingly forgotten this concept in America, today.  

We treat foreigners with little respect, mimicking their accents, being dismissive of their traditions, and wanting to deport everyone with a Muslim affiliation.  

How sad.  I wonder if we realize that we were foreigners on American soil?   That Native Americans were here long before we were.    

The designation of “foreigner” shifts over time.  Now that we have inhabited this American soil for about 400 years now, we claim this land for “our own.”   We do have The Constitution and other mutually agreed-upon documents to help guide our nation, but we should not ignore the call to be hospitable to our neighbors. 

Fear seems to drive a lot of the mistreatment of foreigners.  So my request is that you get to know some of these “foreigners.”   Seek to know how they came to this country.  Seek out their life goals.  Get to know them. 

 Then, go to God in prayer, and allow God to help you respect the foreigner in your midst. 

P (Prayer):   Lord, help us to show hospitality to our neighbors…reminding us that we, too, were once foreigners.  Amen.