Author Archives: Sandy Bach

Seeing Jesus

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin[a]), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may come to believe[b] that Jesus is the Messiah,[c] the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.  (John 20:19-31 NRSV)

Where was Thomas?  Why was he missing from the group when Jesus showed up?

Perhaps it was his turn to get food for the group assembled behind the locked door.  He had to take the back roads, trying not to be noticed  by the authorities.  His circuitous route delayed his arrival.

When he finally arrived, later than usual, he must have been so disappointed.  He’d missed something momentous!  Rumors had begun that morning about Jesus’ resurrection, but he didn’t believe them.

Now his friends and colleagues have more to report.

“He came into this room despite the locked door.”

“He greeted us just like he used to, ‘Peace be with you.'”

“He told us to continue his ministry.  That God had sent him and now he was sending us.”

“He breathed on us.  We received his Spirit!”

“He reminded us that we have the power to forgive sins or not.”

Thomas couldn’t hear any more of this.  This isn’t right.  People don’t resurrect.  He saw the dead body.  There was no sign of life in it.  It didn’t happen.  The disciples are mistaken.

“I need proof!”  The conversation ended abruptly.

For the next week, the disciples prayed and made plans and prayed some more.  They worshiped, while outside they heard the sounds of the pilgrims to Passover packed up to return home.  They discussed how to go about moving Jesus’ ministry forward.  While, outside soldiers marched passed keeping Roman peace.

And Thomas yearned.  He yearned for the experience of Jesus that his comrades had experienced. He felt as if he’d missed the boat.  His mind shut down to the possibilities of  miracles and new things.  He became confused and dissatisfied.

We know all about yearning, don’t we?  We yearn for an end to abuse of any kind; for an end to terrorism; for diseases to go away and stay away; for political leaders to come together for the good of all; for the end of mass migration from dangerous conditions.

We yearn for peace.  Peace that surpasses all understanding.  Peace that Jesus gave his disciples that day.  Peace of mind.  Well-being.  Peace with our neighbors and enemies.

It finally happened for Thomas.  Jesus appeared.  Despite the locked doors, he appeared and greeted them as always, “Peace be with you.”  That’s when Thomas saw with his heart and fell to his knees.”My Lord and my God.”

As the soldiers marched past the disciples’ hiding place searching out insurrectionists, he received Jesus’ peace.  In the midst of fear over the future, the disciples received peace.  Bolted doors and closed minds couldn’t hold peace back.Thomas yearned to see Jesus just one more time.

We don’t know where he was during Jesus’ first visit to that locked room.  What we can surmise is that it served to increase his yearning.  Despite his disbelief Christ entered in with his message of extraordinarily good news and breathed peace.  Thomas’ response was filled with awe and submission.

Wherever you are in your journey, know this: Jesus can enter locked doors, locked hearts and locked minds; Jesus breathes peace while the world breathes hate and retribution.

Whatever you yearn for,  know that Christ enters in breathing peace.

All glory and honor be to God.Amen.

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God Moves…Out of the Tomb

NOTE:  There are several people in the following all too familiar reading.  As you read, consider the viewpoint of one of the women (Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, or all the rest) or Peter or one of the disciples.

24 But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body.[a] While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women[b] were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men[c] said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.[d] Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. 10 Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. 11 But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. 12 But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.[e] (Luke 24:1-12 NRSV)

The women arrive at the tomb.  They expect to find a body to prepare for final burial.  What they get is two men in dazzling clothes, an empty tomb and a reminder.

What they get is resurrection.

Unexpected.  Unbelievable.  Confusing.

What does it mean?

The women are perplexed and then terrified.  When they report back to the men, they’re met with disbelief.  Peter runs to the tomb and returns home amazed.

What does it mean?

It means that everything has changed.

Should they grieve or celebrate?  What happens now?  Will the apostles return to their fishing boats and their tax collector’s booths?  They feel as they’re standing on shaky ground.  The future that held grief holds…what?

The world has never seen anything like this before.

“We’ve never done it like this before.’  These are the seven deadly words of the Church.  The church watches their numbers move steadily downward.  Churches close while Mega Churches open.  Members come in the front door and leave through the back door.  Arguments ensue about worship style.  Contemporary bands versus organs and pianos.  Hymnbooks are replaced with screens and graphics.

“We’ve never done it this way before.”  Brave churches allow themselves to die.  They give up all the sacred cows: the old-style worship, the women’s Study Groups, the family night dinners, Sunday school curriculum that should have died twenty years ago.

Theses churches risk an early demise.  Doing church the old way isn’t working, so they give it up and turn to God for leadership.  In many cases resurrection happens!  They discover ministry outside their front doors.  A new vibrancy occurs that becomes electric.  Their excitement spreads and they enter into one new thing after another.

Resurrection.  A new thing.  Resurrection. We’ve never done it this way before.  Resurrection.  A future with the risen Christ that begins with amazement and terror.

When you read this scripture whose point of view did you take?  Was it the women?  Or Peter?  Or one of the disciples?

What did you notice?  How does that speak to you?  What did you read in this text that you never noticed before?

How might this change your perspective? your life?  your future?  Perhaps you’re ready to enter into a hazy future that will become clearer with each new step.

Easter people live that way.  Easter people allow the risen Christ to change who they are in order to serve the people Christ loves.  Easter people like who they have become and seek to follow Christ into new places.

Jesus is Risen.  We’re still confused at this new reality that is born every Easter morning.  Change will continue for these disciples and will cost them their lives.  Change will continue for us whether we embrace resurrection or hang onto the past.

We can wander away in confusion or we can continue to live and move and serve our risen Lord day by day.

Christ is Risen!

He is Risen Indeed!

Hallelujah! Amen!


Jesus Moves Us…To Empty Ourselves

Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them[a] with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii[b] and the money given to the poor?” (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it[c] so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. 8   (John 12:1-8 NRSV)

It’s a loud, raucous party.

Lazarus sits with his friends, including Jesus, celebrating his return to life. It wasn’t so long ago that he had died.  Jesus brought him back and now Lazarus spends his days with a fresh sense of life and joy.  His priorities have shifted.  His corner of the world is in need of repair and he does what he can to make it a better place.

Martha joyfully scurries from kitchen to table with baskets and bowls laden with food.  She calls out orders to the servants while laughing with her guests at the table.   The wine and food are flowing.  One would think it was the Messianic Banquet at the end of time!

Judas sits back eying everyone with suspicion. He thinks everyone around him is just as much a liar and a cheat as he is.  The purse is getting low and Judas has expenses to pay.  He needs to find a way to make more money.  Maybe he can hit Lazarus up for another donation.  He’s always good for a denarius or two .

Mary disappears for a moment and returns with a pound of expensive perfume.  She kneels at Jesus’ feet.  The party sounds subside as quickly as the cloying perfume odor fills the air.  Within seconds the guests are quiet and watching with a mixture of awe and wonder as she anoints Jesus feet.

Part of the surprise is her hair.  It shouldn’t be flowing like it is when men are present.  Most surprising is that she uses it to wipe the dirt and sweat and fatigue from Jesus’ feet.  You can tell from the expression on Jesus’ face that it feels very good.

He’s been tired of late.  The disciples have noticed him retreating more than usual to be alone.  He’s quieter than usual.  Since raising Lazarus from the dead, the authorities have been out to get Jesus.  He can no longer go out in public.  His life is on the line and everyone knows it.

So when they see his expression of enjoyment and relaxation, they’re happy for him.  They won’t disturb this strange scene.

Judas can’t take any more.  Where did she get the money to buy that perfume?  It should have been used for the poor — the usual talk of an embezzler.  He grinds his teeth with anger.  How dare she!

Who are you in this scene?

Perhaps Lazarus’ story resonates with you.  You’ve experienced hard times in one way or another and you’ve come out the other end ready to reinvent your life.  Ready to pour yourself out to make a difference in your corner of the world.

Many of us probably identify with Martha.  The organizer and worker who loves serving.  Sure, sometimes she overdoes it.  Us Martha’s are like that.  Still, she enjoys pouring herself out to feed others and provide a festive atmosphere.

And then there’s Mary.  Not very good in the kitchen although she’s good in a pinch.  She’s a bit introverted and quiet.  Everyone knows her as the “spiritual” one in the family.  She’s bright.  She’s insightful.  She knows scripture as well as any rabbi.  There’s something about Mary that’s hard to explain.  There’s something about Mary that draws people to her.

We don’t like Judas.  Mainly because we’ve known liars and cheaters.

I worked with a non-profit organization, serving in a refreshment stand to make money for special projects.  We knew we were losing money, but we couldn’t figure out who it was.  The keeper of the treasury seemed to be careful and diligent.  He even reported that he had been so busy working, he had put a $100 bill in his pocket for safe keeping and forgot to put it in the cash drawer before he left that evening.

One night someone else was asked to watch the cash drawer.  Ray was furious.  I stood next to him drawing pop into cups.  He groused and growled.  Suddenly, he pushed me out of his way and I nearly fell to the dirty floor.  He was wrapped up in himself that he didn’t notice what he’d done to me.  Soon after, he was asked to relieve the person at the cash drawer.  Ray was suddenly happy and lighthearted.

He was the embezzler.  He managed to steal over $1,000 from our treasury.  He was a broken man who needed money to make him feel secure.  He was a fake and a phony.  He acted as if he was better than the rest of us.  He really didn’t feel that way, though.  He was too broken.  He was our Judas.

Judas is furious.  You can see that vein in his neck pulsing madly.  His lip curls and he calls out, “Why wasn’t that perfume sold and used to support the poor?!?”  All eyes turn to him.  Even Mary stops what she’s doing in embarrassment.

“Don’t go there, Judas!” Jesus responds.  “She’s honoring me as I head to the cross.  Leave her alone.”  Mary returns to wiping his feet.

“Look everyone.  You know the poor will always be with you.  And you’ve worked hard with me to alleviate their suffering.  I want you to continue doing that.  But, for this evening, in this extraordinary time, let Mary poor herself out for me.”

Jesus’ crucifixion is only a few days away.  He knows what will happen.  This is probably the last good day of his life on earth.  In a few days he’ll pour himself out for Mary and Martha and Lazarus and, yes, even Judas.  In his resurrection, he’ll invite you and me to pour ourselves out for him and his kingdom.

We resist.  That expensive, lavish perfume.  A year’s salary spent on perfume to wash someone’s dirty feet.  We worry about that.  We worry about wasting our time, so we get to work like Martha did.  We worry about a lack of money and start cutting back on mission budgets in order to pay the utilities.

As Lent comes to a close and we enter into Holy Week, I wonder how your Lenten Journey is.  I wonder if you’ve learned something new about yourself.  I wonder if you’ve stumbled along the way.  Did you give up?  Or were able to stay at it?  Whatever the case, it’s good that you put the time and energy into the process.  You’re better off for the effort, no matter the outcome.

There’s a time to be frugal and wise stewards of God’s provision.  There’s a time to hear Christ’s hope for each of us.  Christ hopes for us a life of extravagance with each other; to poor ourselves out for repairing the earth from hunger and want and hurting to filled and loving and beloved.

Jesus was extravagant in healing and feeding and living.  He calls us to be extravagant with our time and energy and resources to pour ourselves out for him.

When we pour ourselves out for him, we are repairing this broken earth.  This pouring out is available to all of us.  Even the broken Judas’ among us.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.,


God Moves…Down the Road

Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

So he told them this parable:

“There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. 13 A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. 14 When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. 16 He would gladly have filled himself with[c] the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. 17 But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! 18 I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”’ 20 So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. 21 Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’[d] 22 But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24 for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.

25 “Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. 27 He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ 28 Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ 31 Then the father[e] said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’” (Luke 15:1-3; 11b-32 NRSV)

Prodigals are spendthrifts.  They are reckless, lavish, extravagant. 

This scripture has more than one prodigal.

The prodigal friends of the younger brother.  They used him as long as he had money.  When the money ran out so did they. 

The younger son shamed his father.  He might as well have said, “I wish you were dead!”  His father sells some of his property to give to his playboy son.  Within days he’s out of there!  He wants out of this family, out of this backwater town.  He can’t get far enough away. 

He has a great time.  For awhile.  Eventually, his greed and lavish living catch up with him and he ends up in Babylon.  Dirty, poor, living with unclean pigs. 

Some would say he got what he deserved.

The elder son is steady, dependable; does everything right; has decorum.  His life is one rule after another.  Have-to’s rule his life:  I have to do this, then I’ll have to do that.  He’s prodigal with his lack of love.  He has no joy.  He’s greedy for love and feels he’ll only find it in his inheritance. 

Now we come to the father.  The one who was shamed by his younger son.  The community looks upon him with a lack of respect: he shouldn’t have handled his son with kid gloves.  No wonder he left his father. 

Every morning the father gets up and looks out the window.  Waiting for his son’s return, praying for it.  He gazes with his nose pressed up against the window pane.  The elder son scoffs at him as he heads out to the fields.

One day he sees a glimmer in the distance.  He looks carefully and lo and behold it’s him!  He’d know that body language anywhere!  The father shames himself, again, by hiking up the skirts of his robe and running like a fool to meet him.

The younger son, starving, sick, worn out, falls into his father’s arms.  Together they stumble towards the house.  The servants catch up with him and begins issuing orders.

“Get him a bath.  And get the good robe out– no, no, not that one.  The one I use for special occasions.  A ring. He needs a ring.  You’ll find one in cupboard.  Go get it.  Hurry.  There’s no time to waste.”

Then the invitations go out and the fatted calf is on the spit.  Friends begin to arrive and hesitantly welcome the young man home.  As time passes, the celebration heightens. 

The elder son arrives home late that night.  He arrives home late every  night.  After all, the farm’s been left up to him.  If it weren’t for him the farm would be in ruins. 

That’s when he hears the music and the party  noises.  He receives word from a servant that his brother is home.  His anger rises.  How dare he!

The father shames himself, once more, by leaving his guests to go after his elder son.  “There’s plenty enough for all of us!  We had to celebrate for your brother was lost and now is found!”

Prodigal friends.  Lavish with someone else’s money only to leave him high and dry.

Prodigal younger son.  Lavish with his inheritance.  Greedy to see the world and have people like him and his playboy lifestyle.

Prodigal elder son.  Greedy with his love.  Grasping every penny.  Hoping his brother never returns. 

The biggest surprise is the the prodigal father.  Lavish with his love for his family.  Forgiving of sons who wish he were dead.  Waits and waits for the lost one to return.  Cares nothing about the gossip from the neighbors because he has more important things to attend to.

The prodigal father.  Waiting while you and I get over our anger because someone came out on top who didn’t deserve it.  Waiting for the sinner in us to show up and fall into his arms.  Forgiving and giving beyond our wildest dreams.

God.  Moving down the road at a double trot to catch us.  Moving out into the backyard to remind us who we are and to whom we belong.  Moving out into a God-hating world to give us God’s most valuable possession: his Son.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.


God Moves…Over the Fence

55 Ho, everyone who thirsts,
    come to the waters;
and you that have no money,
    come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
    without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
    and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good,
    and delight yourselves in rich food.
Incline your ear, and come to me;
    listen, so that you may live.
I will make with you an everlasting covenant,
    my steadfast, sure love for David.
See, I made him a witness to the peoples,
    a leader and commander for the peoples.
See, you shall call nations that you do not know,
    and nations that do not know you shall run to you,
because of the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel,
    for he has glorified you.

Seek the Lord while he may be found,
call upon him while he is near;
let the wicked forsake their way,
and the unrighteous their thoughts;
let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them,
and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:1-9 NRSV)

“The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.”

I believed that in elementary school.  In fact, there were days when I felt as if I was the only child in the whole wide world who had a rough life.

Take my next door neighbor and playmate, Neil.  He had the coolest toys!  We always played at his house because his toys were neater than mine.   And then there was Sharon.  She had a horse.  Not just a pony.  A real live horse!  She rode it in shows and won awards and everything.

Babylon.  It’s a place we go to as captives.  We don’t want to be there.  It’s God forsaken.  “Is God still with us?” we ask.  “Has God forgotten us?”  “Will we ever return to the Land of Promise?”  We gaze over the fence.  The grass is surely greener on the other side.

We get to Babylon by a few different routes.  Sometimes life circumstances just happen.  Despite your careful driving, a patch of black ice sends your car up over the curb.  Sometimes, someone has made bad choices and their decisions inflict the pain on you.  The driver who ran into your car has no insurance.  Sometimes it’s our own bad choices that lead you out of freedom into the Babylon.  You’re the driver without insurance and you’re facing legal charges as well as medical bills.

Isaiah’s charges were more specific.  Judah had lost their focus on God.  The mandate to care for the widows and orphans, to feed the hungry, to do justice had been abandoned.  They believed they no longer needed God and quit depending on God.  While they weren’t looking, Babylon invaded Judah and carted the socially elite and the craftspeople back to Babylon.

Now they stand gazing over the other side of the fence.  The grass appears to be greener.  Where is God?

The truth is, God is crossing that fence to meet us.  God speaks to the exiles and to us through the prophet Isaiah saying, “Turn to me.  My food is spiritual nourishment; my cup will satisfy like no other.  And it costs you nothing.

“Quit wasting your efforts on what can’t provide lasting nourishment.  What God provides is healthy and good.”

God draws us close.  Listen to God’s words.  They are life giving.  God keeps the covenants made so long ago.  God judges and God is merciful.  God will cross those fences.

You see, those fences are what separate us from God.  Those fences are where our gazes should NOT be.  It’s so easy to draw our gaze away from God onto greener pastures and a past we grieve or a future we yearn for or an idol we crave.

God, in Christ, adjusts our gaze away from the impossible, the bright shiny idols, the falsehood of greener pastures.  God, in Christ, adjusts our gaze towards God who nourishes us with truth.  And that is the truth which sets us free.  The truth about our situation and who we are tears down those fences and returns us home to a richer, fuller life.  One that God will help us create.

As I look back on my childhood I realize that those green grass memories aren’t so green.  Neil’s mother had bad nerves and had to have a nap every afternoon.  We had to play quietly or go outside.  Sharon’s father was mean.  We never went to her house to play.  He was scary.  One day he got mad at my Dad and threw our pet dog over the fence for spite.

When the exiles returned to Jerusalem, they found the Temple completely leveled and would have to rebuild it.

The grass only appears to be greener on the other side.  And when we shift our yearning gaze the grass that  we think we need, we turn to God.  In God we seek wisdom that tears down those fences and nourishes us souls.

All honor and glory be to God.

Amen.


God Moves…Past All Obstacles

31 At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” 32 He said to them, “Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. 33 Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’ 34 Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! 35 See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when[ you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’” (Luke 13:31-35 NRSV)

I don’t know much about foxes.  I do know what happens when they get into the hen house.  In ancient Judaism they were a symbol of both deceit and maliciousness and intelligence and strength.  They were considered unclean and should be avoided.

We know about Herod Antipas: a petty tyrant in cahoots with Rome.  His religion is conniving.  He’s rich and he’s cruel.

“That fox” likes to get into hen houses and take what he can get.  He stomps and even kills in order to get his way.  He uses the “chicks” to gain favor with Rome.  He will stop at nothing.

He’s a conniver.  Perhaps he’s told the Pharisees to warn Jesus away from his territory.  Jesus is way too popular.  Let him stray into Pilate’s arena.  Let Pilate deal with him.

We meet Jesus in this passage confronting obstacles: threat of death, politics, religious rebellion, selfish ambition, even violence.  He won’t let it stop him.  He confronts it with courage, evidently understanding that it’ll probably be the death of him.

Go tell that fox what I’m doing.  “I’m casting out demons and performing cures…” (verse 32.)  What are you doing, fox?  What are doing to repair this broken world?  How are you making a difference?  I’m hurting no one.  Can you say the same thing?

Then he turns around an gazes on the beloved city, Jerusalem.

His vision has been the same all along: healing, freeing, teaching.  He’s traveled through Galilee fulfilling this mission.  Now he makes his way to Jerusalem, the very heart of politics and greed and hubris.  The place where prophets come to die.  The city that was meant to honor and worship God.

That’s his goal: Jerusalem.  Humanity.  You and me.

Last week we entered the Season of Lent.  A season marked by lengthening days while we watch the Light of the World being snuffed out.  A special season of opportunity to spend time with the Christ, working out our own salvation.  What is in the way of your fully enjoying Jesus?  This is a good time to work on it.  How is it going for you?

My own work is moving slowly.  I’m trying to make the change only to fall down.  I forgot to invite Jesus in.  In morning meditation I try to give it back to God so that God can provide what I need.

This passage reminds me of something very important and something I need to hear as much as I believe you need to hear.  Thankfully this is the scripture reading for this week: a reminder of just how much God loves you and me.

It’s easy to read about God described as silent distant, judgemental.  It’s easy to find scripture proving that God is loving, kind and merciful.

But, yearning?  Right here in front of us we read about God yearning to gather us under divine wings.  Later, in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus will weep over Jerusalem and her destiny of total destruction.

God yearns.  God weeps.  God moves past all obstacles for all of us.  God moves past all obstacles, crossing over fences and boundaries to reach all of God’s people.

God, who is bigger than we can imagine.  This powerful God yearns for us.  Yearns to be in our lives.  Yearns to breathe new life into us.

I don’t know about you, but that brings me to my knees.  I’m humbled.  In response we bring to God our Lenten work.  We want to be closer to God to feel this yearning love.

It also scares us.  So much so that we hang onto our hangups and  idols for a little while longer.  It’s okay.  God is as patient as God is yearning.  Keep praying.  Continue to work out your salvation.  Do it knowing that on the other side of this chasm is a waiting and patient and loving God.

Blessed is he who comes in the name in the Lord.

May your Season of Lent be filled with the possibility of transformation and God’s yearning love for you.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.


God Moves…Into the Desert

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’”

Then the devil[a] led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil[b] said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered him, “It is written,

‘Worship the Lord your God,
    and serve only him.’”

Then the devil[c] took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, 10 for it is written,

‘He will command his angels concerning you,
    to protect you,’

11 and

‘On their hands they will bear you up,
    so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”

12 Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 13 When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time. (Luke 4:1-13 NRSV)

Jesus is still wet from his baptism in the Jordan River.  Water clings to his clothing; his hair is dripping wet.  And God’s words still ring in his ears: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” (Luke 3:22b)

Next thing he knows, the Holy Spirit that had descended on him during the baptism experience leads him into the wilderness: lonely, barren, rocky, and haunted by wild animals.  The outcome of the forty days will make or break Jesus’ new ministry.

“Since you’re the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.”

Jesus has no problem seeing the hunger in people’s eyes.  There’s not enough food for everyone.  If he could fix that, the world would be a better place.  He’s tempted by the instant remedy: let’s take all these stones and change them into bread.

It’s a creative solution.  It makes use of all those stones that have little purpose and people would finally eat.  Instant solutions are tempting.

We see hunger and poverty all around us.  If only we could find instant solutions.  People would no longer need to suffer. We would no longer need to feel guilty about our abundance.  It would be a better world, wouldn’t it?.

Jesus responds to the temptation: “It is written…”  In his most difficult moments he remembers scripture.  He has memorized scripture and it is a part of who he is.  How often have you quoted Psalm 23, “Yea though I walk through the valley of death…”  When have you found yourself reciting the Lord’s Prayer?

Jesus responds, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.'” (Luke 4:4b)

This vision isn’t enough.  Feeding people is important: physically, spiritually and mentally.  His ministry will  need to be bigger.

“I’ll tell you what.  If you’ll bow down and worship me, I’ll put you in charge of all the kingdoms of the world.”  There’s his chance!  To bring real peace to the world.  To spread his ministry of Golden Rule love to everyone.

This is an easy trap.  We worship lots of worlds: our nation in relation to the rest of the world, our pocket books and check books, even our church denomination and/or building!  We put these in between God and us and they get in the way of our relationship with God.

No.  This isn’t going to work.  Jesus quotes scripture again.  Love God and serve God only.  This vision is bigger, but it’s still not enough.  Jesus needs something bigger.

Instant remedies are too narrow.  World domination adds to the problem rather than solving it.

“Okay,” the Devil tries again.  “Let’s go to Jerusalem and remind those in the Temple who’s in charge.  Throw yourself down and show them that God has your back.  The angels will stop you from being hurt and everyone will want to worship you.”  The Devil even uses scripture to prove his point just like Jesus is doing.

Jesus, tired and hungry and worn out by temptation and trial, must have seen through this one more easily than the others.  God’s Spirit didn’t leave him alone in the wilderness, but remained with him.  God had had Jesus’ back all along.

“It is written,” Jesus  returns to his scriptural roots.  “Don’t test God.”

Spend enough time in the wilderness and humility finds you.  Spend time being beaten down from the desire for instant solutions to pressing problems with no relief in sight.  In the wilderness, you find yourself wondering if God would be generous enough to call you home tonight.  Or contemplate taking your life because you can’t take any more.

Try praying over and over again, “God, I can’t take it any more. Please do something!  Anything!”  Spend enough time in that kind of hell, demanding that God stay with you because God is all you have left.  Humility fills your starving soul.

Jesus stands there watching temptation walk away until a more opportune time.  Filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, he returns to Galilee and begins his ministry.  Testing and temptation have strengthened him for the job ahead.

He now has a mission statement.  It comes from scripture, of course.  Most of his answers come straight out of scripture.  He shares his mission statement with his friends and family in hometown Nazareth:  “to bring good news to the poor…to proclaim release to the captives andrecovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19)

That’s a large vision.  It’s God-sized mission.

Dear reader, before I end this, let me share one more thing.  Jesus didn’t just surmount temptation, he allowed it to strengthen him and to develop his sense of God’s call.  Often we do the same, perhaps without realizing it.  Often we leave the wilderness stronger for our experience, even though we went through it kicking and screaming.

Gut, here’s the thing.  Sometimes we fail miserably.  Sometimes we succumb to the instant solutions or decide for the political answer.  Some times we put barriers between us and God.

When you do, remember a couple of truths.  First, you’re not Jesus.  Second, God hasn’t given up on you.

When we can’t do what Jesus did, we pray, “What would Jesus have me do?”  Return to scripture.  Return to the stories that make sense to the situation.

Most of all, pray.  As we begin this Lenten season, what wilderness are you experiencing.  Take it to God in prayer.  Then see what comes from it.  You just might be surprised to at the discoveries you make.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.


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