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Lectionary Series: Luke 15:1-7

Luke 15 1- 7

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”


Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.”

Romans 5:8

“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Sometimes as people of faith it’s difficult at times  for us to remember just where it was that Christ found us; because of this we are often to quick to judge others and, therefore, fail to answer the call to evangelize or shepherd the lost.  The author of Luke reminds us in this parable just how important we are in the eyes of God.  God, Our Father, calls after his children.  He seeks us out when we are lost that we may return to his love.

Far too often I find myself at a loss to understand the ways in which the righteous followers of Christ fail to chase after Our Father’s lost sheep.  Instead, we take it upon ourselves to construct increasingly higher fences to keep what we see as “righteous” in and what we see as “lost” out.  What we fail to see is that inside these fences, we have become the lost.  We have become the lost because we have forgotten the necessity to humble ourselves before Our Father and, in doing so, journey with Our Father to gather his sheep that have lost their way.

Truly, as Christians, who are we to judge whom is or is not in fact “lost”. For if any of us were truly lost, whom would be left for Our Father, the Good Shepherd, to find and there would have been no necessity for Christ’s teaching.

Fortunately, for us, Jesus does not give up on any of his children, even at those time when the world and dare I say the church also has done just that.  As Christians, our duty is not to decide what is righteous. More importantly it is not our duty to surround ourselves solely with righteous people. On the contrary, our duty is to seek out the unrighteous and invite them to join in community with us.  As Christians, how can we expect to do God’s work, if we constantly reject those that are in the most need of Christ’s love and grace.

My challenge to all believers is to look in the mirror and humble ours hearts before God.  It is essential for every believer to remember daily the sin in which Christ found us and the sin that still exists within us all, for we all imperfect.  In our imperfection we find common ground in our need for daily salvation.  And our desire for our own salvation must go in hand with our desire to bring salvation to others.  God’s grace brings us to our knees; only on our knees can we look up at the world and see the world as Our Father sees it.

Lectionary Series: Luke 13:1-9

purity

 

Luke 13: 1-9

“At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. He asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them–do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.” Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’ He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’ “

 

Sin, Suffering, Forgiveness, Patience & Grace.  This is the core message the author of Luke wishes to convey in his Gospel.  The gospel writer poses the question to us do we suffer because we are sinful.  His answer is not necessarily.  Still, he calls his audience to have a repentant heart because he knows that sin leads to death.

The gospel writer adds that death does not always come to the most wicked. Sometimes the innocent fall victim to the sinfulness of those around them.  Still, the gospel writer takes the opportunity to call his audience into repentance.   Maintaining a right relationship with God is the only way to guarantee Life in the Spirit.

The gospel writer records this message both to show the correlation between sin and death, but also as message of comfort that God will forgive those with a repentant heart.  Notice that the question about the fig tree at the end.

The fig tree is unable to bear fruit and the gardener is ready to give up on it.  But Jesus intervenes and tells the man to care for the tree and wait another year before finalizing his decision.

The gospel writer wishes to portray the Christ’s patience and grace.  At some point in our walk, most of us have been that fig tree — spiritually dormant and unable to bear fruit.

Then something came along that  brought us back to life.  Suddenly, we were no longer in the desert, but burning with the Holy Spirit and ready to set fire to the world.  It’s easy to fall dormant to the spirit, or find ourselves alone in the desert.  This is why it’s essential that we seek out our own “gardeners” to love and care for us and become “gardeners” to those around us.  Bible Study, Worship,  Prayer and Fellowship are all tools that help us to remain fertile in the Spirit and bear the fruit of bringing others to Christ or simply being a blessing unto others.

We are all going to make mistakes. We are all going to fall into sin at one point or another in our lives. But though we will answer to God on the Day of Judgment, God’s grace covers a multitude of sins.  When we fall into sin, we shouldn’t roll over and wait for death.  Instead we should seek God with a heart of repentance and afterwards work harder to maintain our “spiritual soil” so that we bear fruit instead of fall victim to the spoils of sin and temptation.

Love Part II: Love as Commandment, Commission

“If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.”

 Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, “But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?” Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” — John 14:14-23

“Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” — Matthew 28:16-20

How many times have you heard a parent or significant other say to you, “If you loved me you would …”. When you heard it, you probably got upset because someone was asking you to do something that you didn’t want to do.  You thought to yourself, why should love be a result of action? Why can’t love just — be?

Merriam Webster provides the following definitions for the word love (noun):

(1) strong affection for another arising out of kinship or personal ties <maternal love for a child

(2) : attraction based on sexual desire : affection and tenderness felt by lovers

(3) : affection based on admiration, benevolence, or common interests <love for his old schoolmate

Love is a verb.  It requires action.  Relationship expert, Sheryl Paul, has this to say about love:

“If love isn’t only a feeling, what is it? Once the honeymoon wears off, love is primarily a verb, and to love someone is an active experience. Love is action. Love is commitment. Love is making your partner a sandwich even when you don’t “feel” like it. Love is recognizing that intimate, committed relationships are crucibles inside which both partners will be asked to grow emotionally and spiritually and learn about the barriers that prevent them from loving.”

God requires that we demonstrate our love for him and appreciation for his wonderful gift of creation and more importantly life through the action of obedience.  He doesn’t ask us to be obedient because he wants to control, but because he loves us too.

God’s commandments of us and the commission he calls us to are things that everyone of us can and should aspire to.  God commandment and commission can be summed up in three parts:

1) Love God — God created you. God gave you life.  God is looking for out for your best interest as a good parent should. We have one unique gift to offer God in return for all God has done for us and that is our love for God.

2) Love Each Other — Yes, it can be difficult, especially when others are cruel to us, hurt us, even oppress us.  God’s commandment is that no matter what we think of a person or how bad that person treats us, love that person anyway.  Love has the potential to overcome hate, but not if we stop it from trying.

3) Teach others to Love — The Great Commission that Matthew records in his Gospel can be broken down to these simple words, teach others to Love.  The Great Commission is not about words on a page, but rather about the power comes from putting those words into action.  Humans require love and praise and nurture and compassion to be happy and prosperous.  God wants us to know that we are all loved, and valued. We all have worth in God’s eyes.  We are priceless and precious. Jesus laid down his life for us, in part, so that we would never forget that.

Lectionary Series: Luke 13:31-35

Luke 13:31-35

“At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” 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. 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.’ 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! 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.’”

Jesus appears desperate upon learning from the Pharisees about  the plot to kill him. Jesus is desperate not because he is fearful of his certain death, but out of the compassion he has for his people.   “I have desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings.” says Jesus.  As the prophet Isaiah, the Messiah is condemned by his own countrymen.  Though he is condemned, Jesus stands firm in continuing his ministry. ” I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow.”

And on the third day I will finish my work,” Jesus adds. This saying of Jesus confirms that Jesus will stay until the work is done, and also is a prediction of his resurrection.  “See, your house is left to you.” These words mark the beginning of the split between Judaism and the followers of Christ.  “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.”  Christ’s words here are two-fold.  First, his words fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy that the those who are not followers of the suffering servant will be blind to his ways, and secondly and more importantly that those who profess Christ as savior will be made aware through the Holy Spirit of Christ’s presence in their doings.

My thoughts:

Like Christ, we should stand firm in the face of persecution.  As Christians, it is likely that even “in our own house” among other Christian believers we will be persecuted for doing the work of Christ.  Challenges to our own merit or the merits of our work that comes at the hands of other believers is certainly troubling.  But we can take comfort that those of us who “come in the name of Lord” and our doing God’s work, act with the eyes of our hearts wide open.  The Lord will provide shelter to those who go about his work, and leave those who do not to fend for themselves, as they chosen their own will over the will of God.

Love Part I: Love as Sacrifice

God is Love? But what does that mean?

What is “Love” in the Bible? To some, the answer is obvious, but for others, such as myself, the answer must be rooted out? Just how important of a question is it? Well the word love appears roughly 551 times throughout the bible, the fourth most re-occurrence of any word.  The three words that appear more often in the bible are God and Lord which when combined, account for more than 10,000 occurrences.  After God and Lord, the next word that occurs most often surprisingly is Heart which appears 570 times.  Since Love is often said to come from the heart, I find this tidbit of information amusing to say the least.

But what is Love? How does the Bible define love? Honestly, there’s not one way to define love in the Bible, as the word is used to express many different forms of love.  Cooper Abrams of bible-truth.org likely offers the most comprehensive definition of Love in the Bible describing Love as a, “purposeful commitment to sacrificial action for another.”

Biblical Love is deeply rooted in sacrifice.  Most Christians will tell you that the first verse that comes to mind when asked about Love is John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” The sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross for the atonement of sin represents the ultimate sacrifice of love. John reminds us later in 15:13 that, “greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”

1 Corinthians 4 and 5 tell us that, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.” Perhaps, the reason we have such a hard time describing love is because the secular world tends to have a different understanding of how love works.  As Abrams again reminds us, “In our day, most define love as some type of feeling. We “fall in love,” or two people meet and it is “love at first sight.” But the world’s love is a selfish matter. If you are attractive to me, be nice to me, meet my needs and love me [,and] I in return will “love” you. The world’s love is based on getting something from some[one] else. The world does not give love where is does not benefit themselves. If you do not please me then I have no love for you. Thus for the world love must be earned by making someone else feel good.

Love in itself it a sacrifice in the sense that it is the willingness to give something of ourselves up for the pleasure or benefit of another. Biblical Love goes beyond simply sacrifice, by portraying Love as sacrifice without the expectation or promise of return.  Perhaps the greatest example of this outside of the crucifixion comes in the Book of Genesis (Genesis 22:1 2; 22-9-14):

  “Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, ‘Abraham!’ ‘Here I am,’ he replied. Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you. …  When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”

‘Here I am,’ he replied. ‘Do not lay a hand on the boy,’ he said. ‘Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.’ Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ramcaught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son.  So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”

Of course many might argue that God’s commandment to Isaac, to sacrifice his son, is not something that an unselfish loving God would do.  And I tend to agree with those people.  But certainly Abraham’s actions portray clearly what Biblical Love is.  Abraham doesn’t question God. Though he has the promise of God’s covenant, Abraham expects nothing in return should he follow God’s request of him.  God requests a sacrifice – a sacrifice that will certainly be costly for Abraham, a sacrifice that will test Abraham’s love for God.  Abraham complies with God’s request. He complies not because he is a monster, or a bad parent, or doesn’t care for his son, but because Abraham’s love for God is greater than any other worldly love Abraham has known.  Abraham has proved the power of his love through his willingness to sacrifice his only child.

My thoughts and challenge to readers:

To express our love for each other and for God, we must be willing to sacrifice. This doesn’t mean that we should necessarily be willing to give up our physical lives, as Abraham was willing to do with Isaac or as Christ did for all of us. But there are aspects within our lives that we can easily sacrifice to show our love for others. It doesn’t matter whether those others are Christian or secular, we should be equally as willing to sacrifice for them.  Here are just a few things that we can sacrifice:

Our Judgments

Our Pride

Our Material Comforts

Our Disdain and Indifference

Our Ignorance

I challenge you to go out into the world and love someone with all your heart with absolutely no expectation of that love being returned. Remember “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Lectionary Series: Luke 21:25 – 36

“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”

From Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary:

“We may view the prophecy before us much as those Old Testament prophecies, which, together with their great object, embrace, or glance at some nearer object of importance to the church. Having given an idea of the times for about thirty-eight years next to come, Christ shows what all those things would end in, namely, the destruction of Jerusalem, and the utter dispersion of the Jewish nation; which would be a type and figure of Christ’s second coming. The scattered Jews around us preach the truth of Christianity; and prove, that though heaven and earth shall pass away, the words of Jesus shall not pass away. They also remind us to pray for those times when neither the real, nor the spiritual Jerusalem, shall any longer be trodden down by the Gentiles, and when both Jews and Gentiles shall be turned to the Lord. When Christ came to destroy the Jews, he came to redeem the Christians that were persecuted and oppressed by them; and then had the churches rest. When he comes to judge the world, he will redeem all that are his from their troubles. So fully did the Divine judgements come upon the Jews, that their city is set as an example before us, to show that sins will not pass unpunished; and that the terrors of the Lord, and his threatenings against impenitent sinners, will all come to pass, even as his word was true, and his wrath great upon Jerusalem.

Christ tells his disciples to observe the signs of the times, which they might judge by. He charges them to look upon the ruin of the Jewish nation as near. Yet this race and family of Abraham shall not be rooted out; it shall survive as a nation, and be found as prophesied, when the Son of man shall be revealed. He cautions them against being secure and sensual. This command is given to all Christ’s disciples, Take heed to yourselves, that ye be not overpowered by temptations, nor betrayed by your own corruptions. We cannot be safe, if we are carnally secure. Our danger is, lest the day of death and of judgment should come upon us when we are not prepared. Lest, when we are called to meet our Lord, that be the furthest from our thoughts, which ought to be nearest our hearts. For so it will come upon the most of men, who dwell upon the earth, and mind earthly things only, and have no converse with heaven. It will be a terror and a destruction to them. Here see what should be our aim, that we may be accounted worthy to escape all those things; that when the judgements of God are abroad, we may not be in the common calamity, or it may not be that to us which it is to others.”

My thoughts:

This passage in Luke has often been interpreted by scholars as foreshadowing the end times or apocalypse.  Instead, I believe Jesus’s message is not one of impending doom, but a message a hope.  Yes, it is true that Jesus is preaching about the fall of Jerusalem, which fell in 70 AD to Alexander the Great.   During that time the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed not ever to be rebuilt.  For the Israelites, this marked the end of a culture and a way of life.

Here Jesus is comforting his disciples with the hope that the impending destruction of the temple will not be an end to the disciples way of life. Instead, the destruction of the temple should mark the beginning of Christ’s time which is eternal and will never pass away.  Jesus proclaims that this new way of life will be a way of life without fear and without worry, and that one only need to look as far as the fig tree, or any tree for that matter, to be reminded of Christ’s eternal kingdom. Jesus warns them, however, the Day of Judgement will eventually come to pass, and when it does, their hearts need be prepared. Jesus reminds his disciples to remain steadfast to The Word.

Grace Part V: My Final Thoughts

LoveThyNeighborAsThyself

The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” – Galatians 5:14

“Judging others makes us blind, whereas love is illuminating. By judging others we blind ourselves to our own evil and to the grace which others are just as entitled to as we are.”
― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship

 

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.’ These men without possessions or power, these strangers on Earth, these sinners, these followers of Jesus, have in their life with him renounced their own dignity, for they are merciful. As if their own needs and their own distress were not enough, they take upon themselves the distress and humiliation of others. They have an irresistible love for the down-trodden, the sick, the wretched, the wronged, the outcast and all who are tortured with anxiety. They go out and seek all who are enmeshed in the toils of sin and guilt. No distress is too great, no sin too appalling for their pity. If any man falls into disgrace, the merciful will sacrifice their own honour to shield him, and take his shame upon themselves.”
― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship

 

“Now, many benefits are bestowed on the unwilling, when their interests and not their preferences are consulted. And men frequently are found to be their own enemies, while those they suppose to be their enemies are their true friends. And then, by mistake, they return evil for good, when a Christian ought not to return evil even for evil. Thus, there are many kinds of alms, by which, when we do them, we are helped in obtaining forgiveness of our own sins.

 

But none of these alms is greater than the forgiveness from the heart of a sin committed against us by someone else. It is a smaller thing to wish well or even to do well to one who has done you no evil. It is far greater—a sort of magnificent goodness—to love your enemy, and always to wish him well and, as you can, do well to him who wishes you ill and who does you harm when he can. Thus one heeds God’s command: “Love your enemies, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that persecute you.”

– Saint Augustine, The Enchiridion

 

As Christians, it’s not often that we forget the price that Christ paid in dying for the forgiveness of sin. So why is that we seem to find it so difficult to return to the favor in our dealing with unbelievers? And why do we find it equally as difficult to accept Christ’s forgiveness for ourselves?  Refusal to accept or to return the Grace of Jesus Christ can be spiritually devastating for the Christian, for it leads to shame, and ultimately shame leads to despair: the despair of our own soul and the souls of those whom Christ has called us to evangelize.

Truly shame is a four letter words for the spiritually healthy Christian.

“Shame is a sickness of the soul. It is the most poignant experience of the self by the self, whether felt in humiliation or cowardice, or in a sense of failure to cope successfully with a challenge. Shame is a wound felt from the inside, dividing us both from ourselves and from one another.”   — Gershen Kaufman

Now Kaufman was a psychologist, but his words are even more profound when considered in theological terms.  Paul Tillich, in The Shaking of the Foundations describes this shame as despair:

“That fact brings us to the ultimate depth of sin: separated and yet bound, estranged and yet belonging, destroyed and yet preserved, the state which is called despair. Despair means that there is no escape. Despair is ‘the sickness unto death.’ But the terrible thing about the sickness of despair is that we cannot be released, not even through open or hidden suicide. For we all know that we are bound eternally and inescapably to the Ground of our being. The abyss of separation is not always visible. But it has become more visible to our generation than to the preceding generations, because of our feeling of meaninglessness, emptiness, doubt, and cynicism — all expressions of despair, of our separation from the roots and the meaning of our life. Sin in its most profound sense, sin, as despair, abounds amongst us.”

As Christians, we must remember that Grace is a state, but before it was a state it was an action.  Grace was the action carried out by Christ as he was mocked and beaten, forced to carry his own cross, and ultimately shed his blood for us on Calvary for the atonement of sin in this world.

In his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote, “Yes, I see the Church as the body of Christ. But, oh! How we have blemished and scarred that body through social neglect and through fear of being nonconformists.” His words are still true today more than fifty years later when as Christians we refuse to deny grace to others because we have perverted the message of the Gospel, particularly those surrounding the ultimate meaning and authority of Grace, and conformed those ideals to be in accord not with Christ, but with secular ideas. 

 Modern Christian society seems to have forgotten the importance of the words that The Apostle Paul wrote in Chapter 5 of his letters to the Romans, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” My challenge to all believers is to remember that as Christ died for us while we were still sinners, so too must we daily die for those that are still held captive by sin.   It is only through radical grace, and ultimately radical love through acceptance, not love and acceptance of sin but unto those in bondage to it, that we daily remember the price that Christ paid for us on Calvary. 

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