Tuesday, May 26, 2015

At the Cross Road



OUR READING for the celebration of Holy Trinity Sunday comes to us from the Gospel According to Saint John. Within the text for the day we hear that a shift in strategy for authorities occurred after our Lord completed his attempt to cleanse the temple in Jerusalem. The temple powers wished to know who it was that threatened the transactions of the people. Consequently, Jesus is portrayed here as being engaged in conversation by the high, legalistic powers of his day. Of the darkness within the confusion, we read…

Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do, unless God is with him.”
 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
 Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”
 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born anew.’ The wind blows where it wills, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know whence it comes or whither it goes; so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
 Nicodemus said to him, “How can this be?” 
 Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand this?  Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen; but you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things?
 No one has ascended into heaven but he who descended from heaven, the Son of man. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”
 For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.  (John 3:1-17)

Which Way Does the Wind Blow?
Our author described a scene that no other gospel records. Within the telling, we hear that after Jesus had taken a whip to the money changers and certain cultic powers of the temple, a member of the religious leadership approached him. A man, the name of Nicodemus as given by the author, speaks to our Lord out of the darkness.
 Nicodemus proclaimed that he accepted Jesus as a teacher. He recognized Jesus’ rabbinical successes in doing mighty works of divine authority. Today we might ask ourselves whether the conversation came from Nicodemus out of sincere inquisitiveness, or was simply bait flattery laid to entrap our Lord. We know that later history revealed Nicodemus acted favorably in caring for Jesus’ even unto our Lord’s burial.
 However, we see here that no question was asked by Jesus in return. Instead, Jesus apparently sensed the separation between them. He immediately stated the necessity for a person to be born “from above” or “again” in order to see the kingdom of God. In reaction to this statement, we often get mired down in trying to decide whether the original Greek word, “anothen” was meant by John for “from above” or “again”... or both. The question is indeed important, for the heated query has led us along the path toward denominational differences in the church. While the translation choice of this text is important, however, what seems much more profitable for us here is to focus on what Jesus meant concerning the “kingdom of God”.
 You see, from the author’s perspective that seems far more important. Since Nicodemus was portrayed as a man who could not grasp the concept of a kingdom gracefully given, we may consider that by using him as a confused foil... John was informing the Church concerning that graceful realm.
 Note here! In spite of the man’s short-sightedness, Jesus revealed for us that one had to be born of water and the Spirit in order to see the kingdom. By saying this clearly in that conversation with the priest, Jesus recalled… and thus John echoed… what had been said clearly by the prophets. For example we refer to…

I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your filth, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances.  (Ezekiel 36:25-27)

 Therefore, both Nicodemus and those in the early church were informed of the need for the duality of gifts poured out… of water... and the Spirit. As Christians then, we need to be both cleansed by the waters of baptized purification and gifted by immersion in the Spirit. This was and is still necessary for citizenry and growth in God's kingdom.
 Examine the reading! Our author points us firmly to Jesus’ instruction that the presence of the Spirit cannot be contained or controlled by self-serving human power or ritual. Our Lord said that the Spirit (described using in the Greek, the word “pneuma”) blows freely where it will. So it is that those persons raised up and driven in the Spirit go where God wills, and are not moved merely by human decree. This statement thus loomed very, very large for the early churches. In the latter decades of the first century, baptized and committed Christians were being cast out from the synagogues because of their faith declarations. Because of the efforts of the Pharisees, who were yet powerful survivors of Roman oppressions... many faithful Christians were cast adrift from their roots in Judaism. Therefore Christians did not know where it was that they were going.
 By relaying Jesus’ words to them, John’s message thus resounded soothingly across the stricken early Church. You see, John described that our Lord stood firm in the past darkness, rooted by the Spirit in the storm-clouded present. To us today then, the disciple yet states in this scripture that Jesus works in our midst through the Spirit and points us toward our own bright future.

Fresh Breath of Freedom
Indeed, John said that they were called into a living faith, even as the power of the Spirit calls us today. Faith is a trusting citizenship that brings living freedom within the kingdom of God to all Christians. As citizens exercising these rights purchased by our Lord, we are no longer tied to such legalisms that adhere us slavishly to earthly temples. Like our faith ancestors in John's day who were convicted by God’s Law, we too are freed from condemnation.
 We also are called to follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit. As Christians we come to know the forgiveness of our sinful human filth down to the bottom of our souls... and are assured of the Resurrection of the body even unto life everlasting. This assurance is the power that forms the Church.
 Remember! Through this freedom given, the Holy Spirit gave us the written Word of God. Through Sacraments bestowed, the Spirit secured the saints of the Church despite rising persecutions. A right understanding of Holy Scripture was formed over-against egotistic Nicodemian confusions and many heresies.
 John described this Spirit connection for us. To illustrate, I ask you, “Did not Jesus point out to Nicodemus that our Lord’s being “lifted up” upon the cross would reveal the miraculous coming of the kingdom of God?” Surely the sacrifice of our Lord upon the cross and the issue of water and blood poured from his body, focused our souls upon the mountainous chasm existing between the gushing embryonic waters of sinful human birth... and the heavenly realm of spiritual rebirth.
 In the symbolism appropriated from my own automotive history, I hold up to you the image of a hilltop “cross” road. Understand that Jesus’ life, death and Resurrection highlight the mysterious intersection between “earthly things” such as water, bread and wine… and the very profound sacramental “heavenly things” of holy baptism and communion. In the cataclysmic crucifixion event we see his sacrifice upon the cross as the center of all redemption. We are privileged to know the innocent Jesus crucified for us as “the Way, the Truth and the Life”.
 “Why was this miraculous gift given?” we might ask. By our asking simply we avoid Nicodemus-like ignorance and learn that through the power of the Holy Spirit working through the Gospel of John we can know the simplicity of the Truth. In its simplicity the gospel has been prepared for us as John related an oft-repeated phrase. The reason for the gift was shown concisely as divine and perfect Love.  I repeat that John said..,

 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life.”

 By making that faith statement clearly and concisely... blessed John gave the church much more than just a catch phrase to be lifted up before the Sanhedrin, the Coliseum, or placed in front of cameras at a modern football game. Within these few words, John gave the everywhere and for all time core proclamation of the good news. The words proclaim Jesus Christ crucified for our sake. This central theme stated that even as we confess our sin and separation from God, we may be forgiven through Jesus Christ. We are freed from the penalty of death. We need not do a sacrificial ritual. We do not need to purchase salvation... or buy a modern temple a sacrificial lamb. We are forgiven not for our sake or works, but are provided reconciliation with God through Jesus Christ. Thus we can turn our lives to doing good works out of thankfulness for what God has accomplished for us.
 Christians brought into his church through baptism are called by John to live in the here and now and praise God. We are to serve him personally and collectively all the days of our lives, whether those days be fair or foul. I say to you, “Thanks be to Almighty God for his grace!”
 Certainly, God alone provides the intersection between the human and divine by the death and Resurrection of his Son. Almighty God, expressed by the Church rightly as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, thus deserves our words of praise and thanksgiving. I pray that you may echo this loudly in worship and carry this message out into this world of darkness. May the Light of God’s love guide you and be with you always.

For your viewing and increase in the Christian faith, we offer this video...


May the Blessings of the Holy Spirit Empower Your Ministry!



Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Spiritual Fire!

ON PENTECOST Sunday, we hear the unbridled conversation of Jesus to his gathered disciples. Described as expressed during the night before his arrest and subsequent crucifixion, within the Gospel According to Saint John we find that Jesus instructed his followers for the long term. Therefore, the message we read not only applied to his disciples gathered with him during that time. but the message was spoken also to those who would come after... called to be our Lord’s future church. For guidance then today, we read…

“But when the Counselor comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness to me; and you also are witnesses, because you have been with me from the beginning… that when their hour comes you may remember that I told you of them.
 I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. But now I am going to him who sent me; yet none of you asks me, “Where are you going?” But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your hearts.
 Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convince the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no more; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.
 I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”  (John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15)

A Word for the Long Haul…
God sent Jesus as the answer to the separation caused by human sin. At the time, our Lord was about bringing together the Creator and those created. Jesus worked therefore to reconcile the gap between the Father and his people. In this lesson, we deal further with the great work of the Holy Spirit who was being sent into the world so that God’s word of salvation should be poured out. The Spirit would empower the gospel proclamation of the Christian church.
 The task of the Spirit was thus plainly taught by our Lord. Jesus explained that the Holy Spirit would convince the world concerning its sinfulness. The Spirit, termed here as the legal Counselor of God, would speak of God’s exclusive righteousness and point out the divine right for making judgment. In other words, the Spirit would teach that we are already rightly judged as guilty! Any readers or hearers who doubt this claim can read the commandments as found in the ancient scriptures (see Exodus 20:1-20).
 If we stand in the Spirit we find ourselves convicted by the Law. We are then driven by our separation to seek reconciliation with our God. Further, Jesus taught his chosen disciples that the Holy Spirit shall not only guide those who are convicted. but that His power would come upon them in fullness, Through the Holy Spirit, Almighty God as expressed by the Father and Son would guide their words and paths. The way into the future shall be revealed to them.
 Note here! The Spirit was said by Jesus to reveal both the will of the Father and the salvation supplied by the Son. Thus in Jesus’ statement to those gathered around him, we find the teaching that “all” knowledge needed for salvation would be completed. Thus the entire purpose of our Lord’s death and Resurrection was to be revealed to the future Church. In that way, the holiness and exclusivity of the scriptural, unchanging Word was placed eternally before us.
 This message comes to the modern Church both as the Word of God in written and spoken sense. However, be careful here that we do not get haughty and proud! Though God chose to reveal his will though the Word, it doesn’t mean that we of the Church always pay attention. While the Word is eternal and does not change… our willingness to be open to the Spirit’s teaching and properly understand may vary greatly. Given this human frailty, our right understanding comes only when we receive the text without imposing our sinful human will upon its interpretation. 

Toward Greater Understanding!
When we hear of the prophetic fulfillment of this message concerning the Holy Spirit’s outpouring upon the disciples, we often find that many persons today become startled. They are made aghast at the high “spirituality” described by Luke's description written in the “Acts of the Apostles”. This results in a communications breakdown between an ancient culture and our own modern scientific-era. We often hear this expressed in unbelief when the scripture is read that “tongues of fire” were seen.
 To explain this miraculous phenomenon out of my finite understanding, please notice that in ancient times all things that raised the human temperature were considered as spiritually-sourced. This was true whether the cause was physical, psychological or spiritual. For example, if a child became ill so that its bodily temperature rose even in a sustained minor degree… the heated condition was said to be sourced by a demon. This was the ancient thought world.
 At times, sweet parental care and primitive medicine of the day would drive a demon out. However, if a person’s high temperature, sweating and flushed face persisted or rose to the point of convulsions, it was said to be due to a host of demons or the work of the strong Devil himself. Beelzebub, the Devil…also named Satan, was said to have certainly produced the great malady. The illness was caused by the Evil One, was an evil event... and the sick person could worsen even unto death.
 Given this mindset, let me offer that the healings performed by Jesus were thus seen as personal release from the heated influence of temperature-raising demons. In those authentic healings, the offending spirits were interpreted as driven out since the person's temperature became lowered by the power of God's divine love given in Christ Jesus.
 Given this expression viewed from an ancient belief system, we can understand that if anyone spewed heated, passionate words that would redden a face in that society... they would also be accused of being under the influence of a demonic spirit. But what kind of spirit was at really work in this particular instance? Was the Spirit discerned properly as they guessed the source? What did people say drove the disciples to witness during Pentecost? Was it illness? Was it drunkenness?
 As was seen and described by Luke, the Spirit that empowered the disciples was different. The Holy Spirit that, “fire empowered” the disciples worked from excitement within the apostles to give birth to the Church. This divine power spilled forth in heated birth pangs so strong in the disciples that they spoke to many persons in various languages. Any nurse standing beside a woman giving birth without anesthetic can often testify to the occurrence of heated work and powerful speech. Most certainly there are commonalities among languages, that when worked upon heatedly... would communicate God's love poured out.
 Understand this! The intense power of God’s love overcomes all barriers, including language. The Holy Spirit of God the Father and Christ Jesus, expressed as the miraculous structure of the Holy Trinity, was the divine three-some which gave the disciples the words and actions to breach sinful human separations and establish the Church.
 How powerful was this event? Some present at the Jewish Feast of Pentecost said that Peter and the others were just drunk and touted that was why their spirits were heated. Others claimed that all had demons and the Devil was in control. The miracle that occurred, however, was that the followers of Jesus spoke about Jesus with heated passion. Others who gathered... whose faith in God had grown cold due to sin, listened to the good news of forgiveness before God. They were brought to believe that God could forgive them for the sake of Jesus Christ, and would bless them by warming them in that same Holy Spirit. People admitted sinfulness, and were impressed with the fervent love conveyed passionately by God through Jesus Christ’s sacrifice. By the Spirit’s teaching and speaking through his apostolic servants then, they knew that God had worked to deliver them.
 I pray that through my rather modernistic interpretation here of that wondrous Pentecost event, you may now see that the outpouring of Holy Spirit caused a great spiritual birth. That faith was given by God to both the disciples and many present in the crowd. Faith was given not because any were smarter, richer, pious or more powerful than anyone else. That faith was imposed upon them freely as a brightly shining gift. It was a fullness of faith that suddenly burst into flames as the excitement of eternal deliverance jumped from one to another. You see, knowing the Truth... as Christ Jesus was revealed, the disciples working by the power of the Holy Spirit founded the early Church. They could not help but express the power of God. God’s judgment from on high concerning their sin was felt, and His judgment drove hearing persons to repentance. With the testimony of Jesus crucified and Risen proclaimed, the Truth of reconciliation was presented and understood. The Holy Spirit thus fast formed the Church as a spiritual entity that would course across the centuries until now. 

In Our Day...
 You see, from its birth, the early Church was truly formed be a central and faithful witness. That witness was formed as a parental power so that we as God's people may also speak in child-like faith. Forgiveness is made available only through Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit spoke through the disciples that God had raised Jesus Christ from the dead. He is Risen and reigns eternally.  This is the gospel that we of the church are to proclaim yet today. He is Risen, and so too we shall be! This is the message we need to relay on Pentecost. We are to carry our worship into the throes of the center square. This was the apostolic message of the disciples. It is now our message to be preached openly until the day when we see our Lord coming toward us in the hazy clouds of the future. Come Lord Jesus… be our guest!
 May the Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord lift you up and set you on fire to be his witness in the world. AMEN, AMEN and AMEN.

For those that wish to do so, please venture to watch a Pentecost message....

May the Spirit of God, be with you forevermore!


Tuesday, May 12, 2015

As Those Made One!






For the Seventh Sunday in Easter, we read a continuation of our Lord’s priestly prayer made for his disciples. The prayer specifically requests unity for them in will and purpose…

“And I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me; I have guarded them, and none of them is lost but the son of perdition, that the scripture might be fulfilled.
 But now I am coming to you; and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. I have given them your word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.
 I do not pray that you should take them out of the world, but that you should keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.
 As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be consecrated in truth.”
                                                                                                         (John 17:6-19)

Before His Departure…
Our gospel records a prayer spoken by Jesus to God the Father during his last evening before crucifixion. Our Lord’s foreknowledge of his impending arrest and death because of conflict with this world’s powers, seems to be the motivation factor for his lifting up of those who had been with him from the beginning. However, amid this prayer the gospel writer firmly conveys that Jesus was concerned about the unity of his followers. This may have been made in response to such conflicts as when James, John and their mother approached our Lord for a special request. They sought that the two men should be placed at his right and his left when our Lord came into his kingdom. The request showed competition for power and position amongst the disciples.
 In this sense, by this highlight, our writer most likely had a foreshadowing of the continuing internal strife coming upon the church in his own day. At the turn of the first century the church was heavy-laden by theological strife. Many factions were engrossed in the task of apologetics, the task of trying to explain the person of Jesus to the world. By doing so, persons seeking their own way were making distorted statements about our Lord’s deity in relation to the Father. John, our gospel writer, thus included in this high priestly prayer in his gospel that Jesus, as the only Begotten Son, spoke directly to the Father.
 We note rightly that our text starts with Jesus praying that he was soon coming to his “Holy Father” (In the Greek – “pater hagie”). Within the text, therefore, we have Jesus naming his Father as “set apart” and yet joined in complete unity with himself. In this text, therefore, I believe that John is addressing against the rumblings of heretical and apostate factions within the early church. You see, there were those who considered Jesus as just a man, others a lesser god, and yet others saw him as a god-man (Greek – “theos-aner”) who gave humans the illusion of humanity before going back into the heavens.
 Within records from the first century after John’s writing of this text, we find a wide range of heresies raised. The church struggled for several centuries concerning how to explain the doctrine of how the Son related to the Father, and eventually came the doctrine of the Holy Trinity as expressed fully in the creeds of the church.
 John highlighted that from the beginning of his ministry the disciples were chosen by Jesus. Therefore they were set aside. The group was defended by Jesus from the evil of the world by his giving of the gift of eternal life. That is, our Lord asked that they should be declared holy for the sake of his mission. This protection occurred for everyone, with only the exception of Judas. As for him it was written in the psalms…

All who hate me whisper together about me;
they imagine the worst for me.
They say, “A deadly thing has fastened upon him;
he will not rise again from where he lies.”
Even my bosom friend in whom I trusted,
who ate of my bread, has lifted his heel against me.
                                                            (Psalm 41:7-9)


 Also, within the earlier text of John 13:2, and 13:47, Judas had been described by John as a person influenced and taken over by evil. Within this request to the Father, therefore, our Lord voiced that he wished that though his followers remain in the world, they would not be lost to the world’s evil. He asked that the Father would “sanctify them”.
 In the Greek, the text “agiason autous”, means “keep them holy”. Our Lord thus stated that because the Father is holy and Jesus Christ himself was uncreated and kept in the same holiness, that those of his infant church should be so set apart as well. Therefore the disciples formed the early church working brazenly in the world. They would be killed, but not crushed by the world or its evil doings.

As Those Made One…
The emphasis that brings the lesson today to a close, therefore, is that just as Jesus was sent to minister to the hostile world, we of the church should be considered also as God’s “holy sent ones”. By the power of the Holy Spirit the apostles walked out into the world to proclaim the good news. So to should the church today. As the church working in a global society, yet rooted in congregations or house churches where two or three are gathered in his name, we Christians are all empowered to take heart. No matter whether we serve in harsh or friendly conditions, or speak before hostile persons, some of the world will attempt to manipulate the right declaration of the gospel to their own ends. These attempt to trash the church and sorely abuse its disciples. For their own selfish gain they assail the gospel message.
 However, know this! Through the many centuries since this gospel text was written, we of the church have endured great evil. Demonic powers work yet today within the world. Many factions within our modern society attempt to make the church irrelevant. Through this text then, please know that our work in the Spirit before God our Father for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord shall endure. this fact remains whether we serve the lowly or in the Caesarean palaces of the high and empowered. We are called to engage the world and not hide from the evil powers that roam within it. We are to declare Jesus Christ and him crucified and Risen. Surely, by doing so wherever we find ourselves in the evil range of this world, we shall proclaim repentance, forgiveness, and Truth. For Jesus is Risen! He is Risen indeed.