"Live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear…" I Peter 1:17
The coronavirus is teaching us to be mindful of the invisible. Even as we worship online, we are members of the Church triumphant. Along with myriads of angels and saints only seen by our imagination, we commune in the family of God.
"They were amazed by Jesus, because he taught with authority"
Jesus gave the Holy Spirit to those he left behind so that they might have his authority to go into this hurting world and be compassionate. Anyone who knows Jesus can be “an authority” by simply choosing to love the people around them without compromise.
"the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing" - the Apostle Paul
Those who think that wealth = happiness, the stock market = economy, and smarts = wisdom, will have a hard time accepting the wisdom of the cross that Paul talks about or what Jesus was doing when he blessed the poor.
"Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world" - John the Baptist to his disciples about Jesus
If we read the Gospels, I think we see what John the Baptist saw. We know that maybe we should follow that Jesus. Maybe we should become his disciples. That leads us to the question, “Who can be a disciple of Jesus?”
[As they waited they] devoted themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus -Acts 1:14
What has our experience with the coronavirus been about? It’s been about waiting. In Acts 1:4, Jesus tells the disciples to wait. We will never be effective at anything in our lives unless we learn to wait.
"Take courage, all you people of the land. For I am with you," says the LORD of hosts.
In this modern era, it takes courage to speak about the reality of Heaven. Our bodies are mortal, from the moment of our birth we begin to die. Yet, our culture idealizes youth and riducules those who are content with the aging process. Often we are told that believing in heaven is silly, only a pie in the sky.
“You shall love your neighbor as yourself” -Matthew 19:19
Today we see “good” church-going people supporting systems that lead to human bondage. Often, undocumented immigrants are held as slaves, that is not permitted to decide their own future or leave a certain location, or paid for their labor, whether it be at a farm, a chicken processing plant, as landscapers or maids, or in a sex trafficking ring. Slavery still shapes our neighborhoods, workplaces, and schools. Until recently, the banking and real-estate system of our country prevented people of color from owning certain homes, thus denying these families the opportunity to build equity. Segregation is a denial of freedom and unloving.
[Real religion is] to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep neself from being polluted by the world.”
Religions is all about widows and orphans, James says. They were the most vulnerable members of first century society. Their position correlates today to those among us without adequate health insurance, those whose jobs or military service may be dangerous (leaving behind widows/widowers), those who fail to earn a descent wage, and those who must flee their country in search of refuge.
Jesus came at Christmastime to a world where religion no longer served the people. Mary sang her hope of a different order. What about today? We live in a time of social upheaval and political polarization of equal magnitude to that of the first century.
"Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly." - Matthew 1:9
We, like Joseph, tend to consider the opinions of our neighbors higher than our faith when we are faced with a moral choice. We criticize unwed teens, but do little to make our highschools better enviroments for relational growth. Further, the church does little to transform those neighborhoods where a normal and safe childhood is an impossibility.
Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.
But then a fool became Pharaoh. The ethical standards that Joseph taught were abandoned. The nation began to betray its allies. Economic systems were put in place that gave wealth to a few elites and impoverished the common citizen. Hebrews became slaves.
"Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple..." - Acts 2:46
The second chapter of acts describes the golden era of Christianity. But the most important thing we learn from reading Acts is that such things don't last. A golden age can end in two ways; either God says you're ready and sends the church out to transform the world. Or a golden age can end in nostalgia, apathy, and the failure to adapt.
In every parish that I served, I encouraged people to think of Pentecost as one of the three great holidays of the church. There is Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost. They are of equal importance and should be celebrated with the same degree of serious preparation. Christmas allows us to speak of the Trinity and the uniqueness of Jesus among men. Our systematic theology goes into high gear as we try to speak about God’s mission to save all of humanity. In Easter we rediscover the passion of God and the wretchedness of humanity. Our theology goes low, as we identify with the people who stood by his cross and then carried our Lord to the grave. Easter is a story filled with transition, the greatest example being the resurrection.
Do you believe that the poor actually have been chosen by God to be rich in faith?
When I read James, I find myself reconsidering the radical statement that some Liberation Theologians make, that being poor is a prerequisite for understanding Jesus. Throughout the Bible we hear an oft repeated warning, friendship with wealth never ends well. Those who have been born with it, need to flee into the wilderness — do a Saint Francis of Assisi style run — to be purged of its effect. Those who have earned it, must cauterize all thoughts that they are somehow better people because they played life’s game to achieve this sordid end.
One key difference between Jesus and Herod the Great was that Jesus had a succession plan. Herod the Great seemed oblivious to the fact that he would die. Jesus came into the world in order to die for sinners. Herod considered anyone who challenged him to be disloyal and a threat. Jesus forgave his enemies and invited them into his kingdom.
When we do Christmas, it is very tempting to skip the story of King Herod's murdering the children of the Bethlehem region. I remember one adroit fool suggesting that we could skip Matthew 2:13-23 in our Sunday lections because the event discribed doesn't appear in the secular histories of the time and could have been made up by Matthew. The only secular histories we have from this period are pro-Roman and okay with Herod's "lock innocents in cages" type of politics.
Not everyone sees the same thing. In each of the Gospel of John’s miracle stories, two people stand side by side, one believes and the other doesn’t. Like the wedding of Cana, the servants who pour the water that has become wine, believe and see. The master of the feast doesn’t.
“I will go over and see this strange sight..." - Moses
Moses at the burning bush became aware. Awareness is never optional. The pedestrian who is so glued to their iPhone that they step into traffic will one day be hit. God places these wake-up moments into our lives.
"Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him." - Matthew 3:13
When Jesus enters into Jerusalem, he is baptized again. This time by his suffering on the cross. He descends into hell and sets loose those who were held captive. Then on Easter he exits by way of the resurrection. This is our road map.
[God answered Solomon's prayer saying] I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart
God must not like our prayers because he keeps giving us the opposite of what we ask for. We ask for patience and we receive more frustrations. We ask for peace in our household and we receive more conflict. We ask for enough wealth to be secure and we find ourselves jobless and dependent upon the kindness of strangers. I get the feeling that God’s intention is to throw us fully into life, like a baby being thrown into the deep end of the pool. We pray, “Lord give us a firm foundation of truth,” by which we mean that He should make us smart enough to always be right. God responds, “Hey it’s time for your swimming lesson. Keep your head up and remember to breathe.”
But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner's fire and like fullers' soap.
How is Jesus like a refiner's fire or the fuller's wash-tub? In my own life Jesus appears as the refiner's fire when my problems and misdeeds have become too great for me to ignore. It is like what they say at AA, "I've come to believe that it will take a power greater than myself to restore me to sanity." That's when Malachi's Jesus becomes good news.
As God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.
You can live 2019 with the peace of Christ in your heart. Always be compassionate. Always try to understand as much as you can. Never let the ends justify the means, that is, don't forsake your principles or good behavior to get your own way.
In Luke 4, Jesus goes over the wall between us and those we consider foreign or different. He does this in two ways: First, by physically placing himself where he encounters the foreigner. Second, Jesus used the scriptures to show that all of the great people of the Old Testament went over the wall and lived with foreigners. Jesus' own stories, which have become our scriptures, always showed foreigners in a good light.
Lent, is a process. A process is any series of sequential events that are guided by a master, in this case God, to take raw material, or people, from one way of being and transform them into a more useful end product. A process always involves some experiences that break down the raw material, or us.
We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people's trickery, by their craftiness...
It’s helpful to imagine Paul in a prison cell as he writes the book of Ephesians, particularly chapter 4. To be imprisoned is to be divided off from humanity. So, Paul speaks about unity and provides a vision of what brings us together. He says that God considers us all to be one and that when we accept the Christian faith we all have the same baptism, even though some are sprinkled as infants and others dunked under the cold, muddy, waters of the Penobscot River. We are one, in spite of whatever wind of doctrine fills our sails. We are one, no matter what work fills our days, or what economic fortunes have befallen us.