Sunday, January 25, 2015

Gone Fishin'

Jonah 3:1-5, 10
Mark 1:14-20

“How would you expect to find [a sense of] community while you intentionally withdraw from [that community] at some point [in some way]? The disobedient cannot believe; only the obedient believe.”  Dietrich Bonhoeffer

You may be aware that Bonhoeffer was a 20th century German theologian and Lutheran clergy who could have chosen to stay safe in the US during the Nazi era – but chose to go home where he felt he was needed, even at great risk to his own life.  He was executed by the Nazis on 9 April 1945.  It is this reality of Bonhoeffer’s obedience in abiding faith which gives his observations credibility in the 21st-century Church because Bonhoeffer was a true “fisherman” for Christ.

So Jesus wants to go fishing, and He invites these fishermen to come and “fish for people” with Him.  They seem to drop everything without question, surely much to Zebedee’s dismay!  I like the idea of fishing, and I love being on boats.  . 

Yet as much as I like boats and being on the water, taking a Caribbean cruise does not appeal to me in the least; and sitting still in a boat while waiting on fish to bite also has no appeal.  I know plenty of folks who love to fish even if they don’t get a bite all day, so it seems clear I don’t care much for fishing – in reality – as much as I might like the idea of fishing.

This may well be the prevalent state of mind and being of the Church as a whole.  We like the idea of Christ and being “saved” and going to heaven, but we don’t really believe it or care enough to completely submit to the life a disciple is called to.

Sadly, however, for too many churches it is not about what The Lord would have us to do, and it is not about those we are called to reach out to, or holding one another accountable.  The life of the Church today seems more about what we feel like doing, what we enjoy doing, what we are willing to make time for -  ostensibly on behalf of our respective churches but not purposefully in the Name of The Lord.  Bottom line is, if it ain’t our thang, it ain’t gonna happen by us – regardless of the need of the Church.  And we seem perfectly ok with this.

This sad reality suggests there is no real thought toward evangelism, reaching out in the Name of The Lord with The Lord’s message, “fishing for people”, the very mission of the Church itself; because we have been conditioned to believe there are those we hire for the task of evangelizing.  By the nature and meaning of the word “evangelize”, however, this cannot be strictly true because such a proposition implies only the evangelist knows of and believes the Gospel; that only the evangelist is justified before The Lord. 

So if Bonhoeffer’s observation is correct – and I think there must be a component of truth to it - the lack of a mind and willful desire toward evangelism and Divine Will may mean we simply do not “believe”.  Maybe we “hope”, but we do not really “believe”.  Not enough to be obedient.

We may care about our individual churches (to the extent that it does not ask “too much” of us, and allows us to do as we please when we please).  And don’t dare hold us accountable.  MYOB.  We may like the idea of a Savior when we are weak or needy, but we still miss the point if we are unwilling to obey The Lord and follow The Lord faithfully.  We don’t really believe – OR CARE.  Maybe we need to stop kidding ourselves. 

Or maybe we need to make some corrections.

Notice Jesus’ ministry does not begin with a call for a few disciples to “fish for people”; it begins with Jesus’ call to all to “repent and believe the Gospel”.  Jesus’ ministry begins not strictly with an admonition to “stop sinning” but with an encouragement to begin something new – within a whole new context, that context being the Gospel itself.  The Good News.  And note Jesus was referring to the Good News long before He was murdered!  Just like fishing, there is much to be done before we can even think about getting in the boat.

In reading this text it is also important to remember Jesus is very likely not talking to a bunch of atheists and agnostics.  This is a largely Jewish audience; they are “believers” in the most general sense much like 90% of Americans claim to be “believers”.  They may even think themselves to be very religious, very devout.  However, the question to be answered may be, ‘What exactly are they devoted to?” 

My guess is they were devoted to much the same things we are devoted to; making a living, taking care of loved ones, raising children, being happy, having “enough”.  They, like us, are completely devoted to the government, completely devoted to the Temple of The Lord – OR – completely devoted to self in trying to make both work somewhere in the safe and mushy middle.  This way they don’t run afoul of the Empire – AND – they can still feel good about their religious devotion ... even if that devotion is, by biblical standards, rather “lukewarm”.

Therefore in order to even be able to “fish for people”, first things must come first.  First there must be an assessment of faith in our level of care and concern for the Church.  By faith I do not mean an intellectual acknowledgement with a mind that has been taught religious principles, practices, and doctrine (i.e., ‘habit’); I mean a total devotion of mind and heart and soul.  It is the difference between the flesh which pursues and loves the things of the flesh, and the spirit which pursues and loves the things of the Spirit.  It is about the Body of Christ being real in the world today.

It occurred to me, however, that sometimes our own bodies do not always function as they should.  Our limbs and our organs, for any number of reasons, do not always function according to what is on our minds.  Even when we sleep or sit in an awkward position and a limb goes to sleep or we get a crick in our necks, things don’t function the way they should. 

You and I know the frustration when all parts do not cooperate, when we are hindered or incapacitated in any way.  Our minds say “Go”, but our limbs and organs sometimes say “No”.  Imagine, then, the frustration of our Lord when His whole Body the Church does not function according to the will of His Mind … His Heart!

The present and future of the Church are not dependent on more or better preachers or “programs”; preachers are a dime-a-dozen as are “programs”.  The present and future of the Church are not dependent on reaching the “right” people; “recruiting” only those whom we believe will properly fit in.  I say to you now that if the Church is not filled to overflowing with “misfits”, the Church is EMPTY!  The “live well” (of the “boat”) has only stagnant water it in and no fish, and the “stringer” is merely floating on the surface according to the will of the cultural current.

The present and future of the Church are entirely dependent on believers, those for whom The Lord has burnt a hole through the heart, those for whom the reality of the Presence of The Lord in the Church in the here-and-now is not simply a doctrinal concept.  And make no mistake: this message is not for “them” (whomever “them” is) – it is for “you” and for “me”.  It is not about what “they” (whomever “they” is) should be doing or not doing; it is entirely about what “you” and “I” must be doing – according to what we claim to be True, what we believe to be The Truth.

It is long past time for the Body of Christ to “go fishin’”.  It is now only a matter of whether we will need a bigger boat.  Amen.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

A Thought for Thursday 22 January 2015

“If you invoke as Father the One who judges all people impartially according to their deeds, live in reverent fear during the time of your exile.  You know you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish.”  1 Peter 1:17-18 NRSV

“You were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body.”  1 Corinthians 6:20 NRSV

“We cannot express what we have never experienced ourselves.”  Me

Praying for the gift of the Holy Spirit in this week’s prayer service at our church, it occurred to me in the devotion that we often cannot grasp the reality of our redemption because we have never experienced real persecution or bondage.  It is impossible to fully understand what it means to have been set free if we have never been physically bound or restrained.

Before there was official Church doctrine or dogma about what prayers to say and what things to do before being baptized into the Church, Peter and Paul were both speaking to people who likely had no idea about Jesus.  Maybe they had heard some things, but they did not really know about being set free if their personal circumstances had not really changed.

Yet the apostles are speaking to a reality that had taken place even as the people were not aware.  Taking it further, it can be said there were likely skeptics among the crowds who would simply not believe what these crazy men were saying!  Believe or not, however, and know it or not, “you were bought with a  price”.  That is, before we’ve even had a chance to learn more about it, this remarkable act of Divine Love took place whether we know it or believe it, whether we want it or choose to deny it.

Word of mouth is a powerful means of communication when a story comes from someone who actually witnessed something.  St. Paul saw none of what Peter had seen, and yet he put his life on the line to convey what he knew to be true!  That is the Spirit working within Paul, so Paul could preach not merely what he might believe but what he discovered to be true.

This is why praying for the gift of the Holy Spirit may probably be the single, most important petition we can lift up to The Lord.  We cannot appreciate nor feel nor express that which we know nothing about – and we need to know!  For the sake of the Church today and our immortal souls tomorrow, we need to know!

I encourage us all to make this specific petition central to our devotions because no book, no Bible, no preacher, no priest can make this real for us.  This is the unique and sole task of the Holy Spirit, the essence of the Eternal God; to show us, to teach us, and to comfort us in this reality.  Once we become aware, then a response is required.  The Holy God desires that all be saved on The Day of The Lord.  What will our answer be?

Come, Holy Spirit, come!


Wednesday, January 21, 2015

A Thought for Wednesday 21 January 2015

“None of us lives to himself, and no one dies to himself.  If we live, we live to The Lord; and if we die, we die to The Lord … So then each of us shall give account of himself to The Lord.  Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this; not to be a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother’s way … if your brother is grieved because of your food [action], you are no longer walking in love.  Do not destroy with your food [actions] the one for whom Christ [also] died … for the Kingdom of God is not eating or drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”  Romans 14:7, 12-13, 15, 17

I know there is a lot of skipping around, but I wanted to get to the main point of Paul’s discourse.  A literal reading of this passage, actually the entire chapter, reduces the point to whether or not food is clean or unclean (fit to eat according to the Law of Moses).  Food, of course, is not the point in itself just as St. Paul states pointedly: “The Kingdom of God is not eating or drinking …”

So rather than read the passage in terms of “food”, look instead at one’s [actions].  It is especially important to remember Paul is writing to a particular audience for their own correction.  He is not teaching the Romans (or us) how to straighten out someone else.  He is requiring that we first take a look at our own actions before we concern ourselves with the actions of others.

What stirred me about this passage were news reports yesterday about the persons killed and hurt, the buildings, churches, and homes destroyed by protesters responding to the French parody magazine’s (Charlie Hebdo) intentional “finger in the eye” of Muslims by deliberately (and with malice aforethought!) publishing a caricature of the prophet Muhammad on the cover of its magazine.  We Americans may not have had a problem with it (free speech and all), but Christians from countries around the world lost loved ones, businesses, churches, and homes because someone in France thought it might be a good idea to show terrorists they will not give in.

There are, even in a secular civil society, limits to free speech as it is often expressed, ‘Your rights end at the tip of my nose’.  And even though there is no love lost between the Western World and terrorists who act ostensibly in the name if Islam, unnecessarily provoking anyone to the point that innocent bystanders far removed are harmed is a direct violation of all St. Paul holds up as good.  And remember, St. Paul’s words have no meaning to Islam.  Then again, Paul was not writing to Muslims; he was (and still is) writing to ‘infant’ Christians.

“Therefore let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify (build up) another.  Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of [your rights] … [for] it is evil for one who [acts] with offense” (Romans 14:19-20).  It is not about laying down for or giving in to radical terrorists nor is it about those who so easily turn to violence.  It is about those who are harmed only because they were caught in the middle.  The magazine was published in France; those who died (there were ten confirmed deaths as of yesterday) as a result of the violence stirred by the publication were in Niger (Africa).  Our actions have far-reaching consequences, whether we intend it or not.

The people of the Church are compelled by the Spirit of The Lord and the Written Word to be agents of peace and faithfulness.  Terrorists (at home and abroad) will do what they will do for any reason or no reason.  This does not mean we have to roll in the feces with them. 

Grace and peace,


Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Prayer? Why bother?

John 14:12-14

It has been said it is essential that those on staff and in leadership positions of the Church, paid or not, must be a people of continual prayer.  If they are unwilling to pray, they are unable to lead.

While it is true that leadership positions in the Church require a special brand of devotion, it occurred to me there is no one who claims the name of Christian who is not in some position of leadership on some level – for what is leadership if not a measure of influence?  What do we do with our devoted lives if not try to influence others to follow Christ with us?   It happens when we freely choose to hitch our wagons to Jesus.  It is not true that we were ever guaranteed a smooth ride all the way to Glory Land with Jesus doing all the work!

Prayer is probably one of the most neglected of the disciplines of the Church, and I’ve often wondered why.  I have no doubt there are many individuals who pray in their own time and in their own devotions and according to their own needs, but the neglect of the Church is that prayer is not an intentional focus of the corporate structure; that is, a practice of The Church as a whole.

There are moments in the order of worship when there is prayer.  There is the opening prayer, the prayer of the offertory, the prayer of petition, and often a recitation of The Lord’s Prayer which we probably know by heart but understand only with our heads.  As a practice of the greater whole, however, The Church may have lost its prayer footing.  We need only to take note of the many denominations of Christianity which proves we cannot – will not – gather at a Common Table.

Growing up in the Roman Catholic Church, I was taught a “form” of prayer.  It was not only the written prayers as part of the Rosary; the “form” was as much a way of kneeling or standing (never sitting), the way we held our hands clasped together, and an appropriate environment (“closing the door” for the sake of quiet) as it was a way of expression.

Over the years we’ve made prayer to be so casual a thing to the point of taking it for granted.  Perhaps too casual to the point that we do not put too much effort or thought into it.  For instance I know many who claim to pray while driving a car.  To me, however, that is as dangerous as talking on a cell phone while driving – that is, IF we are praying properly.  “Properly” as in “closing the door” to the outside world, shutting out all distractions, and giving The Lord our total, undivided, and uninterrupted attention.  We cannot do this while we are otherwise occupied.

We also do not consider that when we pray, we are calling upon Heaven itself (or should be) to grant to us not merely our petitions but to also give us undivided attention (even as we often do not offer that same courtesy!).  This is to say, of course, that in prayer we expect to be in the Divine Presence of the Almighty, the Eternal God and Father of all creation, and the center of His attention in this profoundly intimate moment in Eternity.

If this is all true, then, what should our prayer posture be?  Should we stand?  Must we kneel?  May we sit?  Should our hands be folded together, or should we open our hands and lift our palms to Heaven?  Can we pray while driving or doing anything that requires our attention?  Finally, can prayer be as casual as a conversation we would have with a loved one?

The common answer to these and many more questions hinges on our state of mind, especially when we get hung up on praying “in Jesus’ name”.  Even that “sign off” has become as habitual as The Lord’s Prayer itself – just something we say to perhaps make it “official”, something we say but give very little thought to.

The reason and need for prayer can be summed up in the Scripture reading (John 14:12-13): “that the Father may be glorified in the Son”.  By what means?  “Whatever you ask in My Name, that I will do … so that the Father may be glorified in the [WORD]”.

So prayer is not strictly a matter of form or even content.  Prayer is an intent.  Prayer has been given to us and taught to us through the ages for one reason and one reason only: “that in the Name of Messiah, the Father may be glorified.”

We must re-embrace prayer, therefore, the way in which it was entrusted to The Church.  Rather than to think strictly in terms of personal petitions and hoping The Lord will find glory in submitting to our will, we would do well to first consider that if we are going to pray “in Jesus’ name”, we must do so with the primary intention of glorifying the Father – just as Jesus sought to do with every step, every healing, and every blessing.

When we do this, when we learn to do this, I suspect our lives and the life of the Church will change … and for the better!  So let us pray, so let us do.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

A Thought for Tuesday 20 January 2015

“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.  But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’  For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.”  Matthew 9:12-13 NKJV

The Pharisees had just challenged Jesus after He had called Matthew to join them, and they were all seated together.  The Pharisees wanted to know why Jesus would deliberately choose to “eat with tax collectors and sinners” (vs 11). 

It is an honest question given that the Jews had strict rules about who should be allowed to mix and mingle with them.  Moses had warned the Israelites repeatedly, before they were to enter the Promised Land, that they could be easily enticed to turn their backs on The Lord and follow other gods. 

It is also a question Christians are compelled to ask as well.  We do have a commission to “teach” and we do have an obligation to introduce our Lord to the wider world outside of our own.  Yet we are also as committed to the reality that we are lead sinners out of the lives they are living and into a life with Christ and His Church – not to get stuck in the mud with them. 

So there is that fine line between fulfilling our task as ministers of the Gospel and keeping ourselves pure and fit for holy service.  So it follows that Jesus quotes the prophet Hosea in understand The Lord’s people are called, first, to be a people of mercy and compassion.  The religious rules (i.e., “sacrifice”) have no meaning apart from the lives we are called to lead.

This means we can be the most devout Christians on the face of the planet in attending to Scripture studies, tithing, and worshiping faithfully. None of these things have meaning, however, apart from understanding what mercy and compassion are about.  It is the difference between what we do and who we are.  We must worship, we must tithe, and we must attend to the study of the Scriptures; but these are merely “things” if they do not in themselves define the essence of who we are called to be

So who are we?



Monday, January 19, 2015

A Thought for Monday 19 January 2015

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’”  Martin Luther King, Jr

Dr. King was not only a leader of the Civil Rights movement; he was a voice of conscience for this nation’s Christians many of whom were largely unwilling to hear what he had to say because he was a black man.  Indefensible, of course, but largely true.  As the religious leaders of Alabama suggested to Dr. King and the Movement through a newspaper ad (and which prompted Dr. King’s now-famous “Letter from the Birmingham jail”), things were just fine in Alabama and “outside agitators” were only stirring the pot.

This many years later, however, it is clear things were not fine.  This many years later great strides have been made for Civil Rights though it should be noted there is much more to be done.  Yet while we cannot deny the reality of racism which still exists in many segments of our society, we also should not deny that Dr. King’s burning question is one that transcends race and should be at the forefront of any discussion held at any church across the land – because the question is not strictly about race or race relations.  It is very much a question Jesus would be asking, it is the question posed today by the Holy Spirit, and it is (as Jesus and the epistle writers maintained) the essence of the Divine Law in which the people of The Lord are commanded to “love your neighbor as yourself”.

Churches do and must have discussions about resources, paying the bills, etc., but The Church (as the Body of Christ) must be thinking more directly toward responsible “stewardship” of available resources primarily for the sake of “others”.  Rather than to consider ourselves our own primary audience, The Church must always consider why The Church was called forth in the first place.  It was not for self-aggrandizement, it was not for self-satisfaction or internal entertainment, and it was not strictly so we could have a place to gather each Sunday.

If The Church is not asking itself this question before every committee meeting, before every prayer meeting, before every worship service, before every gathering in the name of Messiah; then The Church is denying itself, its mission, its holy task.  It isn’t about give-away programs; it goes much deeper and requires more thought, more prayer, more introspection, and more personal involvement.  But if we members go to any of these functions of The Church only with the idea that The Church somehow owes us something, we are not being biblically honest.

Shall we go about The Lord’s business?  I think we must if we claim to “love” The Lord.

Come soon, Lord Jesus!


Sunday, January 18, 2015

Standing in the Gap

Psalm 139:1-18
1 Corinthians 6:12-20
John 1:43-51

"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”  Martin Luther King, Jr

It occurred to me a few days ago that the phrase championed by evangelical Christianity, “I am a sinner saved by grace”, presents a few problems.  The statement is a summary understanding of what is written in the second chapter of Ephesians as Paul reminded the Ephesians that “The Lord, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ … by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is a gift of The Lord” (4-5, 8).

Yet what is problematic about such a summary statement as we have created for ourselves is that, first, the statement comes dangerously close to suggesting we are still actively, perhaps joyfully, and certainly willfully engaged without sorrow in a life of sin, which is always displeasing to The Lord.  Secondly, many who are outside of the Church, outside of the Covenant do not understand the word “grace” and are thus likely to focus on our boast of being still sinners – saved from nothing.  Lastly, the summation suggests that The Lord saves us IN our sin even while we are willfully and mindfully engaged in that sin.

Above all else, the statement is fundamentally wrong, in my humble opinion, because sin by its very nature separates us from The Lord.  The Lord does not sanctify sin.  We not only “miss the mark” of striving for spiritual perfection as we must, the statement suggests we have surrendered ourselves not to the will of The Lord which is the mission of the Church - but to our own will.  The statement denies our need to “walk circumspectly” (Ephesians 5:15) - that is, to think as justified persons as we are going about our business rather than to act purely according to our impulses and personal desires.  The statement also denies our real need to pray and to repent as necessary disciples of spiritual growth.

The statement also denies the importance of something much greater, as I shared last week.  It denies the point in our justification in which we are to become active partners with The Lord and with one another in our spiritual growth and in the mission of The Church.  The statement denies our need to “leave behind the elementary principles of Christ … and go on to perfection” (Hebrews 6:1).  It denies any need for effort, any need for discipline, on our part in order to grow.

Therefore the statement (and thus my personal disdain for “bumper sticker theology”) is not helpful for the growing Christian who should be mindful of The Holy Spirit’s real presence in our lives, in The Spirit’s Temple which is our mortal bodies (1 Corinthians 6:19), our mortal minds, our immortal souls!  The statement prevents us from thinking more broadly, more outwardly, and more inclusively especially toward those who should be thought of by the Church not as “outside” but rather as “not yet inside”. 

When we find ourselves so narrowly focused only on self with no regard for those we are commissioned to reach and teach, we deny the real presence of the Holy Spirit in His very Temple AND the reason The Spirit is present in the Spirit’s Temple in the first place!  When this happens, if we are honestly and spiritually introspective and discover we are still imprisoned by our personal desires and human impulses, we discover we have actually been delivered from nothing … and we have already lost sight of what matters most.

So what does matter most to us?  It could be different things for different persons, of course, but this is true only because we do not have the unified and sanctified Mind of Christ.  We do not think as THE Church commissioned to a common task of “making disciples”.  Rather we think as a bunch of individuals who happen to go to church – if we go at all.  We do not think of The Church as an instrument of The Lord’s grace, an extension of The Lord’s mercy to all the world; we think of it only as our personal “toy chest”, filled only with things we like and enjoy, things that bring joy and delight only to ourselves.  We do not think of The Church as The Lord’s “tool chest” filled with instruments suitable for “repairing” a broken world. 

“All things are lawful for me, but not all things are beneficial.  All things are lawful for me, but I will not be dominated by anything” (1 Cor 6:12). 

It is not clear what “law” St. Paul may be referring to since we know the Law of Moses does not make “all things lawful” nor does Roman law.  It may be that St. Paul is attacking some sense of “bumper sticker theology” unique to Corinth expressing a newfound “freedom” in Christ, and yet a slogan as careless and as shallow as “I am [still] a sinner [yet] saved by grace”. 

There may be a fundamental truth in such a statement even as the statement as a whole can be fundamentally well off the mark, but Paul is beginning to fill what appears to be a substantial “gap” between the Truth as revealed in The Word, and a “truth” created by the ‘infant church’ in Corinth.

It is the same “gap” we find ourselves standing in today; the significant gulf between what we have been called to be – and what we actually are.  If we are indeed active and engaged “sinners” yet still claiming salvation in that impulsive and thoughtless life of sin, we are lost and don’t even know it. 

If we believe the Law of Christ, the Law of grace gives us unlimited and unchecked freedom in which “all things are lawful for us”, we may well be delivered from the sins of our past – BUT – our current state of sin in which we see no need to repent means only that we are walking directly toward The Bottomless Pit from which there may be no rescue, no salvation.

Yet the psalmist (139:7-10) writes that there is no depth at which our God and Father cannot reach us; “Where can I go from your Spirit?  Or where can I flee from Your Presence?  If I ascend to Heaven, You are there.  If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there.  If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there Your hand shall lead me and You right hand shall hold me!” 

We can run, but we cannot hide. All things are not “lawful” for us, but all things are permissible within the human freedom we often take for granted.  It is what we do with that freedom which defines the nature and the depth of a relationship we may choose to have with our God through His Son who is the Head of the Church.  If we are concerned only with what we can do when we choose to do it, there is no relationship with Christ anymore than there exists a relationship between husband and wife when one or the other goes and does with no thought or concern for the other!

We can do better and indeed we can be better, but we cannot do or be if we are unwilling to move beyond that “gap” in which so many new and complacent believers become lost.  We must act within the strength, faith, and courage of conviction in knowing our God and Father will not sanctify “The Gap” – but our God will sanctify and richly bless the Journey out of that Gap!  We must decide to move – and together we shall.  For like ancient Israel, we will move and grow together – or we will perish together.

Therefore “choose life, that you and your children may live and that you may love The Lord your God, listen to His voice, and hold fast to Him.  For The Lord is your life and the strength of your days” (Deuteronomy 30:19-20).


Thursday, January 15, 2015

A Thought for Thursday 15 January 2015: "The Narrative"

“The magicians could not stand before Moses because of the boils, for the boils were on the magicians and on all the Egyptians.  But The Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh; and he did not heed them, just as The Lord had spoken to Moses.”  Exodus 9:11-12 NKJV

The question which is problematic for Christians and Jews alike is the same: Why did The Lord harden Pharaoh’s heart?  To suggest the standard answer many of us have settled on - so The Lord could really prove Himself to Pharaoh and the Israelites - may be close to the truth; but it does not help to explain why so many innocents would be forced to suffer because of the stubbornness of one man.

There are also questions as to whether The Lord intentionally hardened Pharaoh’s heart – or – if the Pharaoh was so removed from the real world because of the world he had created for himself.  This perspective is disturbing to me personally, as it should be for many others with any sense of conscience, because it is not only Pharaoh who is stuck in this particular state of mind and being.  This perspective reaches across many spectrums and touches many of us because each of us has created for ourselves a little world in which we are safe – or so we think.

We are taught by the Scriptures not only to “share one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2) but also to “love your neighbor as you love yourself” (Leviticus 19:18).  In other words, the Word of The Lord does not allow us to create our own personal little worlds to the exclusion of those who need our help.  Yet we are overwhelmed with such great need at home and abroad and are left wondering whether whatever piddly thing we might do could possibly make a difference.  Often we justify our refusal to reach out in meaningful and life-changing ways by suggesting we are only “enabling” laziness.

Maybe so, but there is something much deeper we overlook in such a narrow vision.  To remove ourselves from the lives of those around us “enables” us to remain as “hardened” as Pharaoh was.  Let’s face it; if our own little world we’ve satisfactorily created for ourselves is threatened in any way, we can be as stubborn as any other! 

Rather than to be sideline spectators in the events unfolding in the Exodus narrative, then, let us be honest with ourselves and admit we are actually players in the same story unfolding even today when we settle into our own worlds while the greater world around us continues to deteriorate – especially for those who cannot do or speak for themselves.  In matters of justice and mercy, we became players when we were baptized into the Covenant.  It is a choice we made then; not an option we can exercise later!  It just may be, however, that we have found it much more comfortable and less dangerous on the sidelines.  It is much safer, of course, but this is not who the people of The Covenant, the people of The Church are.

Let us not forget that just as the narrative was written so long ago for our well-being and our learning, the narrative continues to be written today for future generations.  We have to decide where we fit into the narrative which continues to unfold, and what we want future generations to know about our God.

Come, Holy Spirit, come!


Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Seeking the Face of G-d

Psalm 134
Luke 22:39-46

There is nothing so difficult to grasp, nothing so virtually impossible to define on human terms as Divine Will.  Isn't it funny, however, that The Lord’s will seems so keenly in tune with the personal desires of so many?  And isn't it also curious that often what The Lord wills for some is difficult to justify by what is written in the Scriptures for all to know? 

I was taught long ago that seeking The Lord’s will is not an “event”.  That is, we will not find Divine Will as the result of a single prayer.  Like baptism itself, we are always on the cutting edge of a new beginning.  Of this we can be sure.  What we cannot be sure of is where The Lord’s will may take us.

I would also suggest that seeking Divine Will strictly for the sake of personal comfort or happiness may be off the spiritual grid; for our Lord Jesus prayed in such a way that even though He expressed His inmost fears and personal desire to be removed from what was to come, He nevertheless expressed Himself in such a way that The Holy Father’s will would ultimately prevail – because Jesus gave of Himself so completely, so entirely, and without condition.  In this sacrificial way, then, the Eternal God was able to give of Himself so completely!

Until we learn to push aside our denominational differences and pray together as The Body of Christ, until we find and exercise the discipline to stop and put our daily burdens aside and deliberately make quality time to come together and offer our prayers, I fear we may never find The Lord’s will for the WHOLE and HOLY Church.  The Church, much like our individual prayers, is too fragmented to be considered whole.  It should be noted that our brokenness is a source of consternation among believers and a source of ridicule among non-believers.

So let us, like our Lord Jesus did, resolve to face what may come - not according to what we think may work best for us personally or for our individual churches – but what may come when The Lord becomes convinced by our devotion that we can be trusted to know, that we really desire to know what The Lord wills for His people. 

Let us bring our petitions before The Throne of Mercy unafraid of what The Lord may have in store for us; for Divine Will may not be “comfortable” for us, but it will be “comforting”.  The Lord’s will may not “satisfy” a personal craving, but we are assured it will be “fulfilling”.

Before the Eternal God of all creation, then, let us pray that The Lord our God will show us the way.  Let us bless Him as He has surely blessed us.  Amen.

A Thought for Wednesday 14 January 2015

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her!  How often I wanted to gather your children together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!”  Matthew 23:37 NKJV

There is a context to this passage that is appropriate to Jesus’ lamentation.  In the past The Lord sent prophets to the people of Judah and to the people of Israel to call them back into their proper role as people of the Covenant.  Yet the more the prophets preached, the further away the people moved, determined as they obviously were to have it their own way.

Fast-forward some 2000 years, and we can easily see Jesus making this same lamentation.  The Church was established to represent Christ in the world, and it started off wonderfully!  The Acts of the Apostles reports “thousands” who answered the call of the Holy Spirit, “thousands” who responded to the apostles, to their teachings, and to one another (Acts 2:40-47).  It was all surely as The Lord had intended.

Judging by Peter’s sermon on Pentecost, it cannot be said he “tickled their ears” with fanciful words or shallow doctrine, playing to the people by whatever means necessary just to get folks to show up.  Peter preached what he was directed to preach, and he told the people not what they wanted to hear but what they needed to be told.  And we can probably imagine that when the people listened to Peter, rather than cheer Peter for “telling it like it is” to straighten “them” out (whomever “them” is!), they praised The Lord for caring enough to send these apostles.  The Word was not always a “happy” word, but it was always the “truthful” Word that highlighted the difference between Life and death.

How did the Church go from attracting thousands to losing thousands?   There is plenty of blame to go around although church pastors usually bear the greater burden.  For good or bad, true or false, this is the reality.  However, the reading of the Acts of the Apostles indicates that the apostles themselves planted the seeds, but it was the people themselves who attracted these “thousands”.  Remember in that generation, though they did bring in help, there were still only twelve apostles whose sole task was to preach and plant.  It was the people of the newborn Church who responded faithfully and practiced “radical hospitality”, welcoming and encouraging all by giving completely of themselves to the task of the Church while the apostles saw to the task of the Holy Spirit and followed The Spirit wherever they would be led to plant new seeds and new churches.

St. Paul writes of the many spiritual gifts given for the sake of the Church, and it is this whole formula that gives life to the Church.  There are no “professional” vocations (though some are due their wages) indicating one is more responsible than the next, for the Church is made up of believers, disciples devoted to the task of emulating Jesus and conveying the Gospel in the world today, each uniquely equipped to see to the whole task of the Church.

Only when people stop excusing themselves from the duties and responsibilities of the Church will the Church ever find its footing again.  The Spirit (and the spirit) is willing (“what a wonderful idea! I sure hope it works!”), “but the flesh is weak”.  It is not a matter of finding A way to attract new people, but rather of getting back to THE Way of glorifying The Lord.  Then we will rediscover – or discover for the first time – who we really are and what we are called to do. 

Come soon, Holy Spirit!


Tuesday, January 13, 2015

A Thought for Tuesday 13 January 2015

“My soul is troubled, and what shall I say?  Father, save Me from this hour?  But for this purpose I came to this hour.  Father, glorify Your Name.”  John 12:27-28a NKJV

Jesus is troubled perhaps because the reality of what He must do is beginning to bear down on Him.  We must always remember Jesus never gleefully went to the Cross!  He was as fully human as you and I, so He was quite capable of grief.  He was also, probably better than you or I, very in tune with the Father’s will.  Though this course He was on would not have been His preferred course (“Father, take this cup from me, yet not as I will but as You will”), Jesus would nevertheless go forward.

Divine Will in human minds is as much a moving target as a rabbit drawing predators away from her young.  We often confuse intense desire with Divine Will, convincing ourselves that because we want it so badly (regardless of what “it” is), The Lord must have “placed it on my heart”. 

Maybe, but we must not dismiss the reality that we have minds of our own.  We have our own ambitions and desires, many (maybe most) of which have nothing to do with The Lord, The Church, or service to our neighbor.  Marriages have broken up because one spouse or the other has confused “lust” (personal desire) with genuine love (sacrificial).  Disastrous decisions of all kinds have come because our own desires have clouded our judgment to the point that we have sought what feels right instead of seeking righteousness.  We seek “happiness”, failing to realize happiness comes as a result of finding and fulfilling true purpose.

What to do?  We cannot outrun our humanness.  We cannot deny that we have desires, and we dare not suggest that what is revealed in the Scriptures for us to know somehow does not apply to us in our particular situation – for The Lord does not show partiality.  Prayer sounds a little too simple for many because maybe most of us are geared toward action.   We know (or we think we know) what needs to be done, so we just do it.  But how often does The Church factor into our decision-making?  I don’t mean just being in church on Sunday.  I mean, the Life of the Church should reflect the Life of Christ.  How often do our decision-making processes take this reality into account when we decide what to do?

Someone once said to me, “You do realize our real lives have nothing to do with the church, don’t you?”  And that, I think, is how most of us “believers” think.  Church is a place we go on Sunday, but we rarely consider church as something we do, something we are in our daily living, in our work, in our relationships, and in our decision-making processes.  And this is probably because we have managed to separate our “personal Lord and Savior” (the wish-granter and excuse-giver) from His Body which is the Church – which necessarily involves much more than any individual.

It is not enough to acknowledge Jesus had an intensely personal relationship with the Father so that He would “just know” what to do because if Jesus was as human as He is Divine, then surely He had human impulses.  We know our human impulses have not always served us well, and these impulses have done little constructive for the Church’s mission. 

Our failure to pray effectively (or at all) does not make us “bad”.  Rather our failure to pray leaves us incomplete.  It denies the very “holiness” to which we are called, and it leaves us open to influences that draw us away from The Lord rather than to His Body the Church.  Seeking Divine Will in all things protects us from vulnerability to less-than-holy things and persons.   “You will seek Me and find Me … when you search for Me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13).



Sunday, January 11, 2015

In the Beginning

Genesis 1:1-5
Acts 1:1-8
Mark 1:4-11

“If you want a new life, first give praise for having the old one.”  Stephen Richards, author

Who has not ever wished they could have a do-over for their life at some point?  As we get a little older and a little wiser, we do finally come to realize that all the bumps and scars and bruises from past experiences – while often painful, maybe even shameful – have everything to do with right where we happen to be.  For good or for bad, there is no such thing as a “do-over”.  We make a move based on our own decisions, and then we are compelled to deal with what comes as a result of our choices.  It is only in golf where one can “take a mulligan”; which means if you don’t like your first shoot, you can try again.  In real life, however, we have to play the shot we lay.

Yet we also should realize – especially according to Christian theology – there is a “regeneration” of life which beginsbut does not end - when we are baptized into the Covenant of The Lord (Jesus DID NOT stay at the river!).  This regeneration, however, does not erase the past.  We cannot “unring a bell”.  We cannot take back the things we said, and we cannot undo the harm we’ve done.  So it has also been observed [by the late writer and theologian G.K. Chesterton], “Unless a person starts afresh about things, that person will certainly do nothing effective.”  In other words, same ol’ same ol’ - or “auto pilot” - ain’t gonna get it done!  Never has; never will.

We cannot – we must not – remain in the past.  Many would wish that the good things would always remain, but we know all too well that we lose loved ones.  Neighbors move away.  Our children grow up and leave home.  We get older and more frail with each passing year.  It is the way of nature; it is the way of mortals.

So, depending on one’s perspective, we are stuck with OR blessed with the reality that nothing remains the same, but I wonder if we ever consider that the “only real battle we face in life is between trying to hang on to the past – and – learning to let go” (Shannon L. Alder)? 

We certainly go through a mourning period when a loved one dies, but the dissolution of a marriage also comes with a necessary period of mourning just as the “empty nest” syndrome parents face requires a certain period of adjustment; but is this not what “mourning” is about?  We face the losses, of course, but it takes time to get used to the new reality – whatever it may be.  Even if we saw it coming a mile away, there is nothing quite like the shock of being suddenly forced to deal with it.  And dealing with it is probably what upsets us most because it demands adjustment on our part.  It shatters our little bubbles, and forces us to make new choices.

The same can be said of “regeneration”; when we suddenly or finally realize that the old life we once knew can have no place in our new lives.  Even if we personally did not think it was all that bad (“I was basically a good person”), when measured against the expectations our Lord has for His people, we slowly but surely realize how necessary it is for us to become active partners with The Lord in our transformation – and ultimately partners with our Lord and with one another in sharing the Gospel because that is what our transformation is about.  It’s not about “you” going to heaven; it is entirely about “The Lord’s will be done ON EARTH as it is in Heaven”!!  And whatever that may entail.

So in a sense we do start over, but only right where we are.  We do enjoy (or suffer) a new beginning, sometimes imposed against our will while at other times freely chosen.  Sometimes we endure the change kicking and screaming and fighting with every measure of strength we have (but not with much dignity!), but all the time we have to endure the changes.

This is especially true for Christians!  Too often we get stuck in that single moment of grace when we are “justified” before The Lord, forgiven for our past, and given a new lease on life.  When we are stuck there, we don’t progress.  We don’t grow.  We deny the reality that our “sanctification” (spiritual maturity) is ever before us.  We choose the simple hymn that “Jesus loves me, this I know”, and outright reject “Onward, Christian soldiers”!

Why is this so?  Because it is too hard.  It is unpredictable.  It is an uphill struggle between the inevitable changes we must face, like it or not – and our overwhelming desire to keep things the same.  You see, if all things remain always the same, if nothing ever changes and we become so comfortable in that familiarity that we finally become complacent about the greater world around us – including the Church - then what need do we have of Light?

It is not enough to simply acknowledge that The Lord created the heavens and the earth in six days and then rested on the seventh.  People seem to prefer the theory of evolution because science and bones and fossils are compelling.  As with most biblical issues, however, it may be the right questions are not being asked. 

It is important to acknowledge the Almighty Creator’s hand in “speaking” the world into existence, putting nature into motion, but also consider why it is important that The Lord, in His infinite wisdom and mercy, decided there needed to be a distinction between darkness and light.  Was it only so we could go on dates in the evening?  Was it only so we would not always have to commute in the dark?  There is a reason for the distinction, and that reason surely goes beyond a mere difference between day and night.  But we will never know that if we do not care to know.

So it seems to me that we can stay right where we are and deny the reality that things change (affirming darkness) – OR – we can learn to deal with changes thrust upon us in a positive way IN THE LIGHT of CHRIST and become active partners with our Lord and with one another in the Body of Christ to prepare ourselves for inevitable changes and the incumbent challenges.  I’ve said before that “status quo” is no status at all … unless we consider that “all but dead” is a legitimate status. 

“All but dead” is no status at all because our Lord Jesus teaches that The Lord our God is not “the God of the dead but of the living” (Mark 12:27).  So we remember the past – sometimes with fondness and longing, and sometimes with dread and regret – but the past is passed, never to return again.  Yet the Life we are called to is also not in the here-and-now but always forward.  “Tomorrow” always holds promise because that is where Life is; that is where The Lord is.

So give thanks for the past, but pray for and expect the future – for our “new beginning” is always right now.  Amen.

Thursday, January 08, 2015

A Thought for Thursday 8 January 2015

Stuff Happens

This premise, that things happen over which we have no control, is undeniable.  There are too many players on the world stage, each with his or her own mind, faith, desires, and ambitions, to deny this truth.  The truth itself is not in the statement itself, however; rather the truth is an acknowledgement of reality: stuff happens.

The Rwandan Genocide happened.  Stuff.  The Killing Fields of Cambodia happened.  Stuff.  The Holocaust happened.  More stuff.  The list of tragic events in the course of human history goes on and on.  We cannot question the reality that “stuff happens”.  Finding the truth of how these events come to pass, however, is a whole other matter.

“Fatalism” is a philosophic term which holds that “all events in the history of the world, and in particular, the actions and incidents which make up the story of each individual life, are determined by ‘fate’” ( 

According to this particular philosophy, things happen for a reason, as we are so fond of saying.  Maybe it is our way of coping when things beyond our control take place, whether such events affect us directly or indirectly.  Because we possess the capacity to rationalize and think things through, perhaps it is easy to embrace some form of ‘fatalism’ to help us explain that which is without explanation.  But is ‘fatalism’ consistent with biblical theology?

When ‘fatalism’ crosses the line into the theological, it becomes problematic.  We rightly acknowledge the Sovereign God, the King of all creation who is “large and in charge”; and we believe in the Redemption Story that continues to unfold and will continue until the last seal is open and the final trumpet sounds.  That is, The Lord causes things to happen toward this End.

What happens, then, when small things take place in our daily living?  Things we have some measure of control over?  Without advocating the purchase of lottery tickets, would we still credit the Sovereign God if we won?  I have no doubt many would give thanks for the sudden windfall, but what would happen afterward?  Oh, we are fond of saying we would happily give a tithe, but what next?  Well, if we are ‘fatalists’, should we bother planning; or would we believe the Almighty would suddenly show us the way without any effort or prayer on our part?  If we became gluttonous fools with that money (and far too many have!), could this be ascribed strictly, exclusively to Divine Will?

What about praying?  If we believe things happen for a reason, why bother with intercessory prayer if our beloved is suffering needlessly because of Divine Will?  Do we pray The Lord will help us to make sense of it all, or do we pray The Lord will suddenly and miraculously remove the suffering?  Or can we just say “stuff happens”?  Well, we don’t seem to believe in Divine Fatalism when we are directly and adversely affected.  Suddenly the course of events shifts (although the “stuff still happens”), but now “Satan is out to get me”.  Suddenly Satan is “large and in charge”.  Suddenly our God is, in a word, impotent and powerless over the evil one.  Surely we cannot find a biblical justification for this!

I think we give over too much too soon without a lot of thought or effort.  It is a wonderful idea that The Lord will handle everything for us – and one day this reality may come to pass – but we cannot deny the scriptural reality Divine Law which compels us to care for our neighbors, and the foreigners, the widows and orphans; of “spiritual gifts” given for the sake of the Church, for the sake of those who have yet to know of The Lord’s mercy extended in Christ; “gifts” which enable us to “go” and “do”, “gifts” which can help to enable us to make “stuff happen” that may not otherwise happen!  Gifts along with a healthy prayer life so we can know what to do with these gifts.

Stuff does indeed happen, but we must not be so quick to dismiss the reality of human effort and intentions, for good or bad.  Tragic stuff happens when “pride” rears its ugly head.  More tragedy unfolds for the weak and the marginalized among us when “avarice” (extreme greed) informs our actions.  Nothing happens, good or bad, by our hands when “sloth” (laziness) is our mode.  Do these things take place because of Divine Will?  Does The Lord cause us to be greedy or prideful or lazy or lustful?  And if we attribute these things to Satan as the cause when our lives take a turn for the worst, where did The Lord go?

Some things may remain a mystery in this life because sometimes it can be said we simply cannot handle the Truth.  It is always necessary, however, that we actively seek the Truth rather than to surrender ourselves to a questionable philosophy.  We serve a God who does ask of us and who does compel us to “seek Me with your whole heart” (Jeremiah 29:13).  There is no ‘fatalism’ in this Divine Invitation.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

A Thought for Wednesday 7 January 2015

“The works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries … those who practice such things will not inherit the Kingdom of God.”

“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.  Against such there is no law.  Those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.  If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.”  Galatians 5:19-25

“If we live in the Spirit …”  That is a big question and an overwhelming challenge because most of what is written as works of flesh are often sporadic and impulsive.  That is, these things come about when we allow our passions to rule our hearts and minds.  Others, however, are “practices”; that is, they are habits we allow to continue.  All of these practices, however, not only harm the individual “practitioner”; they do harm to others around us because these practices betray our witness AND do direct harm to others.  These practices may be who we are, but they are not who Christ is.

What the Spirit of The Lord calls forth from us, however, not only builds up the individual but also bears more good fruit from others because as it is so often said and observed, people believe what they see – not what they hear.  So when we “talk the talk”, we have set the stage for an audience waiting (maybe hoping) to see evidence of what we claim to be true; they are waiting for us to “walk the walk” and prove it is worth the trouble.  This is what makes all Christians – all who claim allegiance to Christ – “evangelists”, “witnesses”, ministers of the Good News.

St. Paul comes down pretty hard on the Galatians (and the Americans!) in the sense that while they may believe themselves “saved”, he nevertheless points out that those who do not confront their nasty habits and make necessary adjustments “will not inherit the Kingdom of God”.  We can call ourselves “saved” all day long, but our own proclamations will not “save” us when Christ comes if our practices make us look like minions of the evil one rather than disciples of the Risen Christ.

The Scriptures are very demanding of us who claim and embrace The Name, but the Scriptures also hold out our hope for “grace”; that is, mercy we do not earn.  This means that when we stumble unintentionally, grace will lift us up if we are willing to get up.  If our “practices”, however, have become so much a part of who we really are, that we are just “set in our ways”, we are in danger of the Judgment.  Grace helps us to make the necessary adjustments, but grace will not – cannot – absolve an unrepentant heart.

So we are compelled to ask ourselves not only this morning but each and every morning we draw a breath: who are we?  Whose are we?  It is not about what we say; it is entirely about what we do.  This our neighbors will believe.  This our Lord will believe.



Monday, January 05, 2015

A Thought for Monday 5 January 2015

“It came to pass in those days, when Moses was grown, that he went out to his brethren and looked at their burdens.  And he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his brethren.  So Moses looked this way and that way, and when he saw no one he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand.  And when Moses went out the second day, two Hebrew men were fighting, and Moses said to the one who did the wrong, ‘Why are you striking your companion?’”  Exodus 2:11-13 NKJV

We do not know how Moses came to know of the Hebrews as his “brethren”.  Recall Moses had been found in the river during the time in which the Pharaoh had ordered all Hebrew male children to be killed.  What possessed the Pharaoh’s daughter to defy her father by taking in the child is anyone’s guess, but a one writer emphasizes the word “saw”.  She “saw” the child weeping and “had compassion”.  Moses “saw” the Egyptian task master beating a Hebrew, so Moses looked about to “see” if he was being watched.  Yet when he returned a second day and tried to break up a fight between two Hebrews, he discovered he had been “seen”.  Clearly something was being “seen” beyond the moment.

What we do often has a lot to do with what we see; that is, how we perceive a particular thing or person.  Usually a snap judgment is rendered, and we respond according to how we process our perceptions.  So how we process and respond to what we see or perceive depends entirely upon how we are conditioned to perceive.  For instance, we see a homeless person wandering about, looking through dumpsters for food and other items, but how do we process what we have seen?  Are we moved with compassion enough to respond accordingly, or are we filled with disdain for this “lazy” person who obviously brought his misery upon himself - without knowing anything at all about this person and his circumstances?

We are all raised in different environments by different persons, and we become a reflection of what we are taught and how we are conditioned to perceive the world around us.  If we never read or discuss the Scriptures, if we depend only on a priest, a pastor, or a rabbi to tell us what the Scriptures mean (if we bother with this at all), we will always come up short in our capacity to fully process the world which surrounds us.  We will respond only according to how we’ve been conditioned and influenced to respond.

So we are challenged by The Word to see the world through a whole different set of lenses.  We are compelled by the Spirit not merely to “see” something but to process what we see in accordance with what is written in the Scriptures for us to know.  We are compelled by our religion to see more broadly and to think more deeply, to grow beyond how we are conditioned – because if we cannot look upon others with any sense of compassion, we cannot fully appreciate the compassion with which our Lord has looked upon us.  Oh, we might be able to sing “Jesus loves ME, this I know …”, but can we appreciate the Holy Lens through which this Love challenges us to look?  How others are looked upon from Above?  If not, we know nothing worth knowing.   

Let today be that Holy Day in which we learn to process what we see according to The Word.  Let us discover what we’ve been missing all along.



Sunday, January 04, 2015

Light's True Radiance - Epiphany Sunday 2015

Isaiah 60:1-8
Ephesians 3:1-12
Matthew 2:1-12

Jesus said, “I am the Light of the world.  Those who follow me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).  Our Lord also said in His Sermon on the Mount, You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14).  And even though Jesus does not seem to place conditions upon those whom He refers to as “light”, He nevertheless follows up with insisting this “light” must not be hidden but must shine brightly for all to see, “so that all may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).

Pope John Paul II once observed, “In becoming flesh, the Son of God was manifested as light.  He is not just an external light in the history of the world, but a light within the human person, in his personal history.  He became one of us, giving infinite meaning and immortality to our earthly existence” (“Homily on Epiphany”, 6 January 2002,

So in both the Son of Man and humanity itself, we find the essence of epiphany; “illumination”, a “manifestation”, an “insight”, an “understanding”.  This is especially important for the Holy Church when we consider this newborn “King of the Jews” had cast a star’s light to the Gentiles, these “wise men from the east” who were somehow compelled by the star’s radiance to follow its light to wherever they would be led.  Into the unknown, these men moved from their “darkness” and into the Radiance which was before them.

This is pretty powerful stuff especially when we consider that the entire First Testament was written by Jews for Jews; and yet this entire Testament speaks of The Lord’s unending quest that no one – not even the Gentiles – should perish.  Speaking to His own people in exile, The Lord spoke through the prophet Isaiah: “Behold!  My servant whom I uphold … He will bring forth justice to the Gentiles … I will keep you and give you as a covenant to the people, as a light to the Gentiles …” (42:1, 8).

Of course New Testament folks will insist that Isaiah 42 is entirely about Jesus, a prophecy of the coming Messiah.  Perhaps so since it certainly reads that way when looking backward from the New Testament, but let us not overlook the hope that is being cast to the Gentiles through Israel, The Lord’s “beloved”.  Somehow The Lord’s chosen people are to fulfill their own Divine Calling by being “the light of the world” rather than to merely wait for that Light. 

Surely it can be said that Jesus, in His Sermon on the Mount, was very likely speaking to Jews rather than to Gentiles.  So even though Jesus does rightly claim to be the “light of the world” in John’s gospel, Jesus also reminds the people themselves that they still have a task as The Lord’s own people, “chosen” as they were from long before to “give glory to your Father in heaven … through your good works– that is, deeds of mercy and justice.

Today many are quick to point out that God’s people – whether Jewish or Gentile believer – have failed miserably at this important task.  Even the prophet Ezekiel seems to be speaking to us today: “When the righteous turn away from their righteousness and commit iniquity and do the same abominable things that the wicked do, shall they live?  None of the righteous deeds that they have done shall be remembered …” (18:24)

You’ve no doubt heard the saying that a thousand atta-boys are destroyed by one ‘uh-oh’?  I wonder if they were referring to Ezekiel.  Yet its truth cannot be denied, that somehow we are more inclined to remember the bad than to remember the good.  Speaking of the Church in general, our hypocrisy (actually, our humanity which can be denied by no one except the most blatantly arrogant) is very easily highlighted, but the enduring work of the Church – hospitals, orphanages, schools in the big-fat-middle-of-nowhere, ministries of all kinds, the very churches themselves – is largely ignored.  “The Light shines in darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it” (John 1:5, NKJV).

Yet NRSV offers the same passage interpreted with a whole different perspective, “The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it”.  One version (NKJV) makes a statement, an observation; but the NRSV makes a declaration, a proclamation … a Promise.  Try as they might, the enemies of the Church who insist upon personal comfort in darkness do not “comprehend” the Radiance of the Light which is upon the entire world, and even by their angry words and accusations will not “overcome” that Radiance.  Not if we’re faithful.  And I do not mean that we merely “believe”; I mean if our faith is manifested in our works according to our faithfulness.

This is our assurance that as we persevere in the Light of the World by being the Light of the World, we resolve to never again take for granted that which has been given to us: a charge, a commission, a holy task and privilege in which the “lamp” entrusted to our care is joyfully placed on the “lampstand” in all its Radiance and all its Glory – all by our works of mercy and justice.  Yes, even as we often fail to light the lamp as we should, we nevertheless persevere because we have seen the Light. 

We have tasted its goodness, and we have seen its glory – and we have embraced the certain reality that such blessing is not given in a void or to an empty promise – and certainly not given carelessly.  “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there until they have watered the earth … so shall My word be that goes from My mouth; it shall not return to Me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose and succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:10-11).

In this New Year – and with a renewed sense of purpose AND promise – let us become once again the Light into which we are called.  Let us embrace – again AND for the first time ever – the Hope that is within us, and let the works of justice and mercy of this church glorify our Father who is in heaven, the Holy One who has redeemed the entire world.

Let us resolve to be the Light’s True Radiance – now and forever.  Amen.