Fifth Sunday of Easter: The Gospel Passage – Beyond the Cross

When he [Judas] had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once.” (John 13:31 – 32)

The events of Holy Week have been set in motion . . . . we have heard it again. But I have to ask, “Why are we hearing it again?” Maybe you are asking the Revised Common Lectionary that too? After so many years, five and counting, of commenting on the RCL I have become accustomed to it being the source and authority of what to write and comment on. Others use the RCL to make their way through the Christian year, plan worship services, and guide their meditations & reflections. There are other sources of scripture readings that list what to read when. The RCL is the one that comes most readily to my mind.

Of course according to the RCL we are still in Easter “mode”, so harking back to Judas, Jesus, and the Last Supper is not to much of a stretch. And if we put the emphasis on the “glorifying and being glorified” portion we can set aside the circumstances – mostly. In essence, the events that have been set in motion will glorify Jesus and the Divine. Jesus is glorified because of his association with the Divine, and the Divine is glorified because of Jesus’ willingness to be obedient unto death. And as Jesus speaks further, we can see/hear/read that his thoughts and reflections are beyond just the events of the next few days.

“Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (Verses 33 – 35)

As I was writing this I remembered the article I had come across as I was preparing to write about Holy Week and Easter – the article by my former college bible professor. The image of an angry and vengeful God that Christ’s sacrifice was supposed to appease does not seem to be in line with a God that is glorified because of Jesus Christ. But as I think that idea through, it collides with other understandings of Jesus’ death and the need for his death.

Maybe it is just as well to move on to the “new commandment” of love, loving others as Jesus and the Lord God the Divine loved us. And that through that love we are known as disciples of the Divine. Yes, I think that is the better emphasis! Selah!

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Fifth Sunday of Easter: The Epistles Passage – Revelation as a possible template for the world to come

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” (Revelation 21:1 – 2)

The perspective of the writer of Revelation is that Jerusalem will play an important part in the world to come. That is because in his current world Jerusalem was (is) very important. Other faith traditions in the same way hold certain places as highly important and critical (no doubt) to the way their faith tradition views what is in the future. For example, Roman Catholics might (they don’t, but they might) believe that the world to come will have the Vatican as the central location. Do you see what I mean, beloved reader? Do you understand what I am saying? In Revelation there is a “new Jerusalem” because the faith of the writer of Revelation would mean very little if Jerusalem was not reborn. So if (and I suspect I am accurate) biblical commentators say that the “new Jerusalem” is but a simple of the world to come, they do an injustice to the faith beliefs of the writer of Revelation. Not that they intend to, but by appropriating what the writer of Revelation has said, and translating/transposing it to the biblical commentator’s faith perspective, the original sense of the passage is lost. New Jerusalem is the re-imaged and renewed city that Jesus entered and wept over. It is where Jesus taught and confronted those who did not see or refused to see his true identity. The Jerusalem that “condemned” Jesus is no more. The Jerusalem that pines for Jesus and awaits Jesus has descended.

“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” (Verses 3 – 4)

In our modern times, beloved reader, where do you think the city that will be central to the world to come will be? Will it be the current Jerusalem? With the conflict in that part of the world, I am not sure. Where then? What place is so central to faith that it will be the mecca for believers in the world to come? Rome and the Vatican? That leaves out to many faith traditions.

“And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” (Verse 5)

It may be a sad realization that there is no place on this earth that could be/would be reborn as a holy city. Further more, according to my own personal perspective I could not imagine a “world to come” that would not have a sea. You see, each of us have our own idea of paradise; what the perfect place, a heaven on earth would be like. It is NOT the location, nor the accommodations that make, or will make, a heaven on earth. It is this!

“Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life.” (Verse 6)

Selah!

Fifth Sunday of Easter: The Substituted Acts Passage – When to refrain from judgment calls

Now the apostles and the believers who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also accepted the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him, saying, “Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?” (Acts 11:1 – 3)

While some things may be very different today than from the early Christian church, here is a constant. Often, too often, when you reach out to someone who is not part of the mainline belief group, someone is bound to criticize you. It happened to Jesus, and it happened to his disciples. And it happens up to and including today – in fact, it is very much an issue in our modern times. The “them” and “us” division is strong and very critical in the church, and in all the denominations.

“Then Peter began to explain it to them, step by step, saying, “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. There was something like a large sheet coming down from heaven, being lowered by its four corners; and it came close to me. As I looked at it closely I saw four-footed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles, and birds of the air. I also heard a voice saying to me, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’ But I replied, ‘By no means, Lord; for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ But a second time the voice answered from heaven, ‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’ This happened three times; then everything was pulled up again to heaven.” (Verses 4 – 10)

For those of us grounded in a grocery store/prepared/pre-packaged mentality, this must have seem very strange. But I believe if one just sets substitutes the idea of endless rows of foreign food, the point of the vision will become clear. The other thing to remember is the immediacy of this vision ending and the household where Peter was having the visitors come to it.

“At that very moment three men, sent to me from Caesarea, arrived at the house where we were. The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. He told us how he had seen the angel standing in his house and saying, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon, who is called Peter; he will give you a message by which you and your entire household will be saved.’ And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?” (Verses 11 – 17)

What does a Christian believer look like, beloved reader? What is the psychological make up of a authentic Christian believer? What mode of dress should they be wearing? What should their customs be? What language should they speak? What job skills should they have?

Some of the judgment calls we make about people are based on what Jesus the Christ exemplified to us – caring, compassion and the whole list of the fruits of the Spirit. But some judgment calls come from our own human background and personal experience. We see uncleanliness where the Divine sees inspired diversity.

“When they heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God, saying, “Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.” (Verse 18)

In my work life I have worked with many diverse populations. I have tried not to make judgment calls, but . . . . you know, like is drawn to like. In my faith life I make no judgment calls; everyone I meet is a child of God and worthy of the relationship that the Divine has extended to me. The task, beloved reader, is to make the way we relate to the rest of humanity confirm to the way the Divine relates to us. And if, beloved reader, you truly believe you can judge people by outer appearances and your own standards, then I gently suggest you re-think the way you perceive the Divine relating to you! Selah!

Fourth Sunday of Easter: The Substituted Acts Passage – Striding forth in confidence in the Lord

Now in Joppa there was a disciple whose name was Tabitha, which in Greek is Dorcas. She was devoted to good works and acts of charity. At that time she became ill and died. When they had washed her, they laid her in a room upstairs. Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, who heard that Peter was there, sent two men to him with the request, “Please come to us without delay.” ((Acts 9:36 – 38)

I was wondering, beloved reader, why the disciples felt that Peter was needed. Was death, I wondered, so unknown to them? Or was it the death of a truly good believer that had them stymied? I can imagine then wondering, “Is death still permanent even for believers? Is there something we must do to ensure she is taken to heaven? Could she be healed/risen from the dead as Jesus was healed/risen from the dead, and as he raised up from the dead others? And if so, who could be able to heal her? What are the parameters now?”

“So Peter got up and went with them; and when he arrived, they took him to the room upstairs. All the widows stood beside him, weeping and showing tunics and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was with them. Peter put all of them outside, and then he knelt down and prayed. He turned to the body and said, “Tabitha, get up.” Then she opened her eyes, and seeing Peter, she sat up.” (Verses 39 – 40)

I can imagine further the position that Peter felt he was placed in. Was he nervous and unsure? Or did he believe that he, through the power of prayer, could turn back death and bring those who had died back to the living? In this account Peter does not seem to be unsure or hesitant about the outcome. But also like Jesus (in at least once instance) he asked those there to leave.

“He gave her his hand and helped her up. Then calling the saints and widows, he showed her to be alive. This became known throughout Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. Meanwhile he stayed in Joppa for some time with a certain Simon, a tanner.” (Verses 41 – 43)

What miracle have you done lately, beloved reader? Raised anyone from the dead? Healed someone who was gravely ill? Cured someone’s cold perhaps? Do not be dismayed – I have not done anything like this lately either. It is not a usual aspect of our society to be able to heal in miraculous ways as the disciples/apostles did.

It would be easy to say that miracles do not happen in our modern world. But that is not quite the truth. The miracles we see in the world around us do not look like the miracles in the bible. Yes, there are those extraordinary events where a result defies everything we know about the natural/physical world. We look on these and marvel, as I am sure the Christians did in the times of the New Testament. Somewhere between the time the New Testament was written and our age that we have firm memory of – the miraculous changed. It could very well be that what we accomplish with ease would be seen as miraculous to those who witnessed Tabitha/Dorcas walk of the room upstairs. In fact I will go further – contending with what is in our modern world and remaining ardent authentic believers is miraculous. Pause for a moment, beloved reader, and think about recent events in the world – the attack on members of humanity, the news of tragedy & suffering, and the constant onslaught of that news day after day. Standing firm in our faith and retaining hope for the future is a miracle! And striding forth to face the world day after day remaining strong in our faith is a miracle! Living confidently that Lord God will undertake for us is a miracle!

Yes, the inexplainable helps buoy up our faith. But living in faith day in and day out subsisting ONLY on internal faith is wondrous in its own way. Clasp that miracle to yourselves, beloved reader! Live confidently in the Divine! Selah!

Third Sunday of Easter: The Gospel Passage – Re-entering the story

After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way.” (John 21:1)

The writer of the gospel of John gives us a picture of Jesus “popping up” here and there, but not having a physical presence endures in space and time. Jesus, it would seem, has progressed beyond those human limitations. From perspective it is good and makes sense in that Jesus has left behind a physical human form; but he is less of a “Lord with us” and more of a Transcendent Divine. The disciples knew Jesus as friend and teacher who was with them and among them. This Jesus is different.

“Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.” (Verses 2 – 3)

I get the sense, and maybe you too beloved reader, that the disciples were a little bit at a loss of what to do now, and what was expected of them. Simon Peter, being a practical sort, decides to occupy his time with something he knows – fishing.

“Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea.” (Verses 4 – 7)

If this is reminiscent of earlier encounters with Jesus (Peter being called to be a “fisher of men” and Peter jumping out of the boat to try to walk to Jesus on the water) it is probably no coincidence.

“But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off. When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn.” (Verses 8 – 11)

Something has changed, beloved reader. This Jesus (yes, this may be the beginning of the many aspect of the Divine) is more pragmatic, cooking and tending a fire. And ensuring that the disciples have resources and provisions.

“Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.” (Verses 12 – 14)

If we were going to be mystical about this, it may go as follows. Just as there is the theology of a triune Divine, we have three aspects of Jesus that have been seen since his resurrection. I am not going to go as far as trying to discern which is which – it enough that there were two previous occasions, and this being the third and final(?) Might there have been a purpose for the previous two appearances? And if so, what needs to be accomplished yet in this third and final visit?

“When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.” (Verses 15 – 17)

It had been suggested to me that Jesus asks this question of Peter three times in order to expunge the three times that Peter denied him. And to confirm to Peter that the Divine has a specific task for him. And if this was done in the hearing of the other disciples, perhaps it redeemed Peter in their eyes also. It is my contention, however, that Peter was not the only one to have this task placed on him. Anyone who loves the Lord God the Divine is charged with tending the Divine’s sheep. Vagueness intended!

“Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.” (Verses 18 – 21)

Jesus has come once again to his disciples, to teach them a little more; and to draw them into the ongoing story of the Divine’s mission and purpose in the world. Selah!

Third Sunday of Easter: The Epistle Passage – When the story becomes theatre

Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels surrounding the throne and the living creatures and the elders; they numbered myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, singing with full voice, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” (Revelation 5:11- 12)

Working up to a crescendo – the writer of the book of Revelation builds up the expectations of his reader by adding accolade after accolade to the description of Jesus. Not a revolutionary or insightful comment, I know. Biblical commentators have set side by side the dream/vision aspect of the book of Revelation and the messages encoded in the dreams narration. It is a message to the churches that have sprung up as a result of missionary trips. Some faith circles have done well, and some have not. It is also a message and encouragement for the churches to remain strong in the face of persecution.

“Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, singing, “To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” And the elders fell down and worshiped.” (Verses 13 – 14)

As a writer myself, I can detect the fine hand of the author who is trying to mount up excitement and momentum in this ongoing story. And quite honestly, it is a bit exhausting to read – the “ands” tend to contribute to the inner narrative monologue which incremental raises the pitch and tempo of the voice.

While epistles to the believers dwell in the area of discussion and debate, the book of Revelation is visual and audio story tell painting a picture of the activities in heaven. And pressing on the point that THIS is what will come to pass.

I have lived long enough that I remember at least two “eras” when end-time literature was quite prevalent. The first was in my middle teen years, and it stirred me up for some time until I realized that the fevered pitch of the stories overshadowed day to day reality. I chose to put my faith in, well, my faith. And not worry about what the end times might be like. The second was the “Left Behind” stories. And those too stirred my imagination . . . . . until the plot arrived beyond this world and plunged into the world to come. At that point I said, “Nay, you are just story-telling now” and went on to other ponderings.

If important life lessons can be learned, then “biblical theatre” is good – just as we now have more films that are faith-based and exhort the audience to live out Christian values and agendas. But whatever the story is, and how ever well it is presented, we need to remember the source, and the Source. Selah!

Third Sunday of Easter: The Substituted Acts Passage – Pondering on our conversion stories

Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him.” (Acts 9:1 – 3)

You know beloved reader, Saul/Paul really did not change who he was – he just changed sides. The same perseverance that fueled his persecution of the new believers motivated him to preach and make converts to belief in Jesus Christ. When one takes about changing one’s life and being “reborn” it does not necessarily mean they are a totally “new creation.” It means their purpose and goal in life has shifted. But it is the same person with the same gifts and talents – just re-purposed for the Divine.

“He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” The men who were traveling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one. Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. For three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.” (Verses 4 – 9)

Now my perspective in the above comments may come from my own “conversion story.” Which really was not a conversion as much as growing into faith. At each critical stage of development in my life I re-committed myself to the Divine. Young child, older child, coming into adolescence, adolescent, very young adult, and then young adult. After deciding to attend seminary, it was less of a new step and more of a being steeped in faith. For others maybe it was a complete change and turnaround, just as Paul I am sure would tell his conversion story.

“Now there was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” He answered, “Here I am, Lord.” The Lord said to him, “Get up and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul. At this moment he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” (Verses 10 – 12)

Now it is at this point of the story where, for me, a deeper faith story comes to light.

“But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem; and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name.” But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel; I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” So Ananias went and entered the house. He laid his hands on Saul and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” (Verses 13 – 17)

We, as believers, may do the “easy” stuff of faith. But there are those called to risk a great deal . . . . or everything in the name and for the sake of the Divine. And I speak from experience when I say, you cannot always know how it will turn out. All you can do is be faithful to the call of the Divine. Saul/Paul was in dire straights – blind and dependent on those who he had originally sought to persecute. As you may remember, beloved reader, in the Jewish society of that time there was no possible way for someone who was blind to make their way in the world. Blind men (and women) were dependent on charity and alms, and family members who might undertake for them. Saul/Paul must have been frantic.

Ananias must have been equally shaken. To voluntarily go to where Saul/Paul was staying and identify himself as a follower of Jesus. Who knew if it might have been some elaborate plot to catch a “Christian”?

“And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength. For several days he was with the disciples in Damascus, and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.” (Verses 18 – 20)

And woe betide to anyone who tried to dissuade Paul of his faith in the Lord God and Jesus Christ. Adamant to the extreme. Unwilling to settle for half or lukewarm faith. All or nothing for Paul!

Who were you, beloved reader, before you came to faith? What is your conversion story? What skills and talents that you had before have you used in service of the Lord? Are you using the best of your skills and talents in service of the Lord? And finally, what skills, talents, and traits did you have to turn aside from because of your new faith? Important questions! May you continue your journey through the post-Easter season toward what the Divine has called you to, retaining the very best of yourself! Selah!