Tag Archives: Jerusalem

Palms and Persecution

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Matthew 26:14- 27:66

One of the twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, “What will you give me if I betray Jesus to you?” They paid him thirty pieces of silver. And from that moment he began to look for an opportunity to betray him.

On the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Where do you want us to make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?” He said, “Go into the city to a certain man, and say to him, `The Teacher says, My time is near; I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples.'” So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the Passover meal.

When it was evening, he took his place with the twelve; and while they were eating, he said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me.” And they became greatly distressed and began to say to him one after another, “Surely not I, Lord?” He answered, “The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me. The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born.” Judas, who betrayed him, said, “Surely not I, Rabbi?” He replied, “You have said so.”

While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”

When they had sung the hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. Then Jesus said to them, “You will all become deserters because of me this night; for it is written,

`I will strike the shepherd,
and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’

But after I am raised up, I will go ahead of you to Galilee.” Peter said to him, “Though all become deserters because of you, I will never desert you.” Jesus said to him, “Truly I tell you, this very night, before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.” Peter said to him, “Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And so said all the disciples.

Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and agitated. Then he said to them, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me.” And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.” Then he came to the disciples and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, “So, could you not stay awake with me one hour? Stay awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Again he went away for the second time and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” Again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. So leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words. Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand.”

While he was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve, arrived; with him was a large crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the elders of the people. Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I will kiss is the man; arrest him.” At once he came up to Jesus and said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” and kissed him. Jesus said to him, “Friend, do what you are here to do.” Then they came and laid hands on Jesus and arrested him. Suddenly, one of those with Jesus put his hand on his sword, drew it, and struck the slave of the high priest, cutting off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the scriptures be fulfilled, which say it must happen in this way?” At that hour Jesus said to the crowds, “Have you come out with swords and clubs to arrest me as though I were a bandit? Day after day I sat in the temple teaching, and you did not arrest me. But all this has taken place, so that the scriptures of the prophets may be fulfilled.” Then all the disciples deserted him and fled.

Those who had arrested Jesus took him to Caiaphas the high priest, in whose house the scribes and the elders had gathered. But Peter was following him at a distance, as far as the courtyard of the high priest; and going inside, he sat with the guards in order to see how this would end. Now the chief priests and the whole council were looking for false testimony against Jesus so that they might put him to death, but they found none, though many false witnesses came forward. At last two came forward and said, “This fellow said, `I am able to destroy the temple of God and to build it in three days.'” The high priest stood up and said, “Have you no answer? What is it that they testify against you?” But Jesus was silent. Then the high priest said to him, “I put you under oath before the living God, tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.” Jesus said to him, “You have said so. But I tell you,

From now on you will see the Son of Man
seated at the right hand of Power
and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “He has blasphemed! Why do we still need witnesses? You have now heard his blasphemy. What is your verdict?” They answered, “He deserves death.” Then they spat in his face and struck him; and some slapped him, saying, “Prophesy to us, you Messiah! Who is it that struck you?”

Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. A servant-girl came to him and said, “You also were with Jesus the Galilean.” But he denied it before all of them, saying, “I do not know what you are talking about.” When he went out to the porch, another servant-girl saw him, and she said to the bystanders, “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.” Again he denied it with an oath, “I do not know the man.” After a little while the bystanders came up and said to Peter, “Certainly you are also one of them, for your accent betrays you.” Then he began to curse, and he swore an oath, “I do not know the man!” At that moment the cock crowed. Then Peter remembered what Jesus had said: “Before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.

When morning came, all the chief priests and the elders of the people conferred together against Jesus in order to bring about his death. They bound him, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate the governor.

When Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he repented and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. He said, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” But they said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.” Throwing down the pieces of silver in the temple, he departed; and he went and hanged himself. But the chief priests, taking the pieces of silver, said, “It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, since they are blood money.” After conferring together, they used them to buy the potter’s field as a place to bury foreigners. For this reason that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah, “And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of the one on whom a price had been set, on whom some of the people of Israel had set a price, and they gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord commanded me.”

Now Jesus stood before the governor; and the governor asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus said, “You say so.” But when he was accused by the chief priests and elders, he did not answer. Then Pilate said to him, “Do you not hear how many accusations they make against you?” But he gave him no answer, not even to a single charge, so that the governor was greatly amazed.

Now at the festival the governor was accustomed to release a prisoner for the crowd, anyone whom they wanted. At that time they had a notorious prisoner, called Jesus Barabbas. So after they had gathered, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release for you, Jesus Barabbas or Jesus who is called the Messiah?” For he realized that it was out of jealousy that they had handed him over. While he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him, “Have nothing to do with that innocent man, for today I have suffered a great deal because of a dream about him.” Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowds to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus killed. The governor again said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?” And they said, “Barabbas.” Pilate said to them, “Then what should I do with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” All of them said, “Let him be crucified!” Then he asked, “Why, what evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Let him be crucified!”

So when Pilate saw that he could do nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took some water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves.” Then the people as a whole answered, “His blood be on us and on our children!” So he released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified.

Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters, and they gathered the whole cohort around him. They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on his head. They put a reed in his right hand and knelt before him and mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” They spat on him, and took the reed and struck him on the head. After mocking him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him.

As they went out, they came upon a man from Cyrene named Simon; they compelled this man to carry his cross. And when they came to a place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull), they offered him wine to drink, mixed with gall; but when he tasted it, he would not drink it. And when they had crucified him, they divided his clothes among themselves by casting lots; then they sat down there and kept watch over him. Over his head they put the charge against him, which read, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.”

Then two bandits were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left. Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes and elders, were mocking him, saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he wants to; for he said, `I am God’s Son.'” The bandits who were crucified with him also taunted him in the same way.

From noon on, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And about three o’clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, “This man is calling for Elijah.” At once one of them ran and got a sponge, filled it with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink. But the others said, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.” Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. After his resurrection they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many. Now when the centurion and those with him, who were keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were terrified and said, “Truly this man was God’s Son!

Many women were also there, looking on from a distance; they had followed Jesus from Galilee and had provided for him. Among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.

When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who was also a disciple of Jesus. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus; then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. So Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn in the rock. He then rolled a great stone to the door of the tomb and went away. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb.

The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, “Sir, we remember what that impostor said while he was still alive, `After three days I will rise again.’ Therefore command the tomb to be made secure until the third day; otherwise his disciples may go and steal him away, and tell the people, `He has been raised from the dead,’ and the last deception would be worse than the first.” Pilate said to them, “You have a guard of soldiers; go, make it as secure as you can.” So they went with the guard and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone.


 

I love to cheer people on – at sporting events, spelling bees, first steps, acceptance letters, job promotions, reading skills, musical performances – you name it.  Although I was never an actual cheerleader, I was cheering right along in high school without the cute outfits but with my own color coordinated set of pom poms. Waving my arms, clapping my hands and yelling words of encouragement help make me feel like I am influencing the outcome and part of the action – whether it makes any difference at all is mostly irrelevant to me!  I get energized from the experience of cheering and gain a sense of belonging that would be impossible for me otherwise.

Today is Palm Sunday in the liturgical life of the church.  On this day, Jesus went into Jerusalem on a donkey, the beginning of the last week of his life on earth.  The crowds gathered, having heard about this Messiah for the past few years as he traveled around teaching and basically changing the way that people understood their relationship with God and one another.  He was a lightning rod for sure, and you can believe that when word got out that he was headed right into town, people wanted to see for themselves.  Some probably jeered at him as he passed right by them, but Mark’s Gospel quotes the cheering crowd as saying:

“Hosanna to the Son of David!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

But like any good spectators, they changed their words of praise and encouragement quickly as the crowd made a dramatic shift when Pilate gives the people of Jerusalem the chance to choose whom to release.  Gone are the “blessed” shouts, replaced with the “crucify him” screams in unity.  This happens most obviously to us today as we see the stars that we ourselves have placed on pedestals fall from grace in their acts of humanity.  We quickly shift from chatting about their accolades to wanting to punish them for the very things that our friends, neighbors and even ourselves (GASP!!!) do every single day.

Here’s the thing though – Jesus didn’t commit a sin that changed the crowd’s minds about him.  He didn’t do anything wrong, but rather did everything right. And doing the right thing can get you in some big trouble when those around are hellbent on the wrong thing, or just threatened by the presence of light illuminating their weaknesses and casting doubts on the ways that we have always acted and believed.  Standing alone in his beliefs that were planted in the foundation of love rather than rules left Jesus on the roller coaster of our reactions from waving our palms to persecuting him for, well, nothing really.

My favorite definition of leadership is doing the right thing when no one is looking.  But that is much easier than always doing the right thing no matter who is actually present.  Jesus always did that and look what that got him, leaving the rest of us sinful creatures to fear the judgment of our peers, to worry about what others think of us, to want to be part of the crowd rather than standing alone in our beliefs.  But being a Christian in the world means that we are called to do exactly that – stand out in love, compassion, forgiveness, acceptance.  We are not to allow the “crowd mentality” to push us away from our core beliefs.  Jesus didn’t die to make it easier for us to live – he died to give us eternal life.  So in our earthly life, we are called to transform the world, which will sometimes have folks cheering us on and most definitely will lead to some jeers and alone feelings as we jump off the bandwagon when we know we should. Our faith doesn’t guarantee us an easy life or clear the path of all misery, but rather gives us the strength and courage to do our Kingdom work.  Palms or persecution will both be in our lives as well, but God has provided us the purpose and the path.

Lord, you sent Jesus to save us and we can’t begin to thank you for this gift of mercy.  We will not every deserve it, but we want to serve you in faith and love.  Be present in our trials and celebrations as we love and serve you, even when the world around us influences us away from you.  We claim your Son Jesus, and we commit to bringing others to Christ in all we do.  AMEN.

In Plain Sight

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Luke 2:22-40

When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, the parents of Jesus brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”

Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,

“Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel.”

And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed– and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.

When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.

We were on vacation on the island of Kauai about eight years ago and visited a local church for Sunday worship, as we try to do whenever we travel.  We happened upon the yearly visit from the Bishop of Hawaii, so the church was packed and there was a high level of excitement present at the gathering.  One of the great things about worshiping God in the Episcopal Church is the familiarity of the liturgy, no matter where you go, but there are still subtle nuances in each individual parish which make it a distinctive experience, and the Bishop’s visit was certainly a factor making this visit even more unique.  We were about halfway through the sermon when my husband leaned over and whispered in my ear…”Do you know who that is?” and he pointed to a gentleman sitting in the pew in front of ours.  Let’s start with this – I have a terrible memory.  I also need a lot of scaffolding to keep information safely in my brain and I couldn’t place this guy at all.  David tried to give me a few subtle hints, but I was getting nowhere.  Then he shared that it was Beau Bridges, the actor and brother of Jeff Bridges.  He was dressed in a Hawaiian shirt and shorts (as most of the worshipers were as well) and he passed the peace to us later in the service like he was just another guy and without any hint of his fame and fortune.  We chatted with him later and learned this was his home parish, and he welcomed us as parishioners should always welcome any visitors to their church.

But I didn’t recognize him at all.  David not only recognized him, but was able to name many of his appearances in movies and on TV.  Once I was told who he was and what roles he had, I was able to make the connection in my memory.  Without the help of my husband (whose ability to remember and recognize people from his past is LEGENDARY!) I would have never even noticed Beau Bridges.  For me, it took someone to make that connection for me – then I was a bit starstruck and distracted the rest of the service, admittedly.

Simeon knew that he had to meet God’s Messiah before dying.  He knew to go the temple the day that a little baby named Jesus was brought by Mary and Joseph to be presented as he was “guided by the Holy Spirit” to be there that day to meet him.  I am sure that Mary and Joseph knew that their roles as parents to Jesus were a bit out of the ordinary based on the experiences with the archangel and the whole “born in a manger” thing, but they still may not have understood at that time the significance their little boy would have on them and the world.  Simeon didn’t necessarily know that either, but the prayer he speaks following his meeting of a little child in the temple speaks loud and clear that he understood something huge had just happened to him and to the world.  That prayer has been so important in the life and development of the Christian church that it is found in our Book of Common Prayer, specifically in the service of Compline found here.

Lord, you now have set your servant free *
to go in peace as you have promised; For these eyes of mine have seen the Savior, *
whom you have prepared for all the world to see:  A Light to enlighten the nations, *
and the glory of your people Israel.  Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: *
as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen.

His parents seemed to be surprised by this spontaneous prayer from a stranger who recognized the significance of Jesus’ presence on Earth. Simeon hugged Jesus and then told Mary a great foreshadowing of her life as a mother and the powerful impact on the world that Jesus would have.  He RECOGNIZED both the greatness of Jesus’ life and the pain that would come to Mary as a result.  There were most likely others in the temple that day, but Simeon was the one who knew that this small child would change the world.  After Simeon, the elderly lady named Anna had a similar experience.  She appears to have spent her nights and days in worship at the temple around the clock, and must have seen folks coming and going all day long. But something was different about Jesus.  She wasn’t afraid to go and tell all who came after of the saving grace of Jesus in Jerusalem.

Beau Bridges was lovely and welcoming to us that day in church, but Jesus is so much more to all who turn to him.  As we look ahead to more severe winter weather, the picture for today’s entry is that of the flower called the Snowdrop flower.  It is a winter flower that appears around February 2nd for the first time, the day some refer to as Candlemas – celebrating the cleansing of Mary following the birth of Jesus when the baby is brought to the temple for the first time.  It looks like such a fragile flower but has an incredible design that encourages it to bloom in the darkest and coldest times of winter.

We don’t always feel equipped to face the dark and cold times that challenge us in our daily lives ourselves.  But the strength comes from somewhere beyond us and directly from the gifts of the Holy Spirit.  Simeon would have missed out on his lifetime opportunity if he had ignored the will of the Lord.  Anna’s deliberate existence in the very presence of the Lord gave her the chance to speak to others about Jesus in ways that wouldn’t have been possible if she hadn’t stayed the course.  God gives us strength to face our challenges and provides us all we need if we will just take a moment to recognize it, even if it is hidden right in plain sight.

Our help is in the name of the Lord, and we accept the call to recognize Your Presence in our lives.  The gift of your son was life-changing and in an enduring influence on our work in the world.  Thank you for always finding ways to reach us and have us see you in the face of others.  In your name we pray.  AMEN

Take the First Step

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Matthew 3:1-12

New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

The Proclamation of John the Baptist

In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said,

“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
    make his paths straight.’”

Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 10 Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

11 “I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

We’ve been stuck in the ice since Thursday night, victims of “Icemageddon 2013” in North Texas.  We have come together to laugh and watch movies, gone to our separate corners to have time alone and have skated across the driveway to use a hairdryer in an effort to free the teenager’s car encased in an ice tomb.  Our part of the world can get ice without snow and there is really no way to save the trees that have snapped and the cars that have collided when everything is covered in ice.  So we are pretty much just hunkered down, waiting until we can peek above the freezing mark which will hopefully come soon so life can get back to normal.

I generally prefer NOT to have a day off from school – a day that will have to made up on a beautiful spring Friday where the weather is perfect, I’m sure!  But I can’t even tell you how much this gift of time has been appreciated.  All the hectic holiday schedules were cancelled and the tempo of time has slowed down considerably. As I have reflected and studied this week’s Gospel reading from Mark, I am struck by the image created in my mind of John the Baptist.

I picture this really crazy looking guy showing up when least expected.  The Pharisees and Sadduccees are up to speed on the prophets’ stories and John seems pretty darn far fetched as the one who prepares the people for the coming of the Lord!  Dressed as an outsider and maybe even smelling a little ripe, John comes on the scene shouting of repentance and that the Lord is coming, taking people to the Jordan river to experience baptism, a completely new concept in the traditions of the faith at the time.

As John is calling out the religious leaders for their hypocrisy, I can only imagine their confusion.  That same confusion still exists today in those who proclaim their faith with television ratings and prosperity gospels, with our own hypocrisy in what we say we believe and the story our actions and words tell that conflict with those beliefs – the self-righteous were hustling to get baptized by John for sure.  But John throws cold water on this party as he tells about Jesus who will separate the wheat from the chaff (or the righteous from the lowly) and bring those who need mercy into the fold while banishing the rest of them (or us!) from the Kingdom of God.

So here are a few observations about this story and what we can learn from it in today’s world:

  • God doesn’t seem to select the high and mighty to tell of his kingdom.  He chooses the lowly, the ones who look and sound different from the usual leaders.  So listen to everyone with a discerning ear and a loving heart.
  • Get ready y’all!  Advent gives us the time to prepare for the celebration of Jesus’ birth and the future coming of Christ into the world.  Don’t squander the time we need to get ready for all God has prepared for us.
  • Don’t be the chaff.  Don’t be a wasted part of the world.  Add value to all you meet, love with reckless abandon, even when it is uncomfortable and don’t be afraid to listen to God’s message in your life.
  • If you aren’t living the life you know that God is intending for you, take a step toward that today.  One step forward brings you closer to God.  Don’t assume that just showing up at church will ever be enough to meet God in his desired relationship with you.  He wants to be known to us and makes himself available whenever we take the time to notice.

So, prepare the way of the Lord.  Make it easy to find you on the threshing room floor when the time comes, or the ice thaws once and for all.

Giver of life, you have given us all we need to love you and follow you. Thank you for your goodness and mercy.  Draw us nearer to you so that we may do the work you have called us to do in your kingdom.  Give us strength and courage to love and serve you, preparing ourselves for your coming into the world.  AMEN.

Growing in Gratitude

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Luke 17:11-19

New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

Jesus Cleanses Ten Lepers

11 On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, 13 they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” 14 When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. 15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16 He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. 17 Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? 18 Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”

Our daughter had the most awesome caretaker when she was a year old.  Her name was NeeCee and she was loved by each member of our family.  She did really creative activities with the three little girls that came to her house every day – like field trips in the stroller to the library and our family’s favorite – baking day!  She loved the girls like they were her own, but the very best thing she did was teach the foundation of gratitude.  At 14 months old, our little girl said “thank you” for every little thing she received because it was NeeCee’s expectation 100% of the time from the each of her kids, even the ones that belonged to the rest of us!

But saying thank you the way a toddler does is not what this story in Luke is referencing. First, let’s start with the 10 lepers.  10 lepers hanging out together and walking down the road – what a sight that must have been!  Lepers lived at the lowest rung of society during Jesus’ time, so they were most likely very desperate for relief from their probably painful and definitely disabling condition.  We don’t know from this story whether they were people of faith, or just people willing to ask for healing from any Tom, Dick or Harry.  But their display of belief becomes apparent as they do exactly as Jesus says when they ask him for healing (“Have mercy on us.”).

But why did only one of the healed lepers stop to show his appreciation to Jesus?  I mean, come on, they were HEALED and headed back up the social status ladder! I remember doing something really nice for a “close friend” when I was much younger and being shocked at the lack of gratitude showed to me for my sincere effort and sacrifice I made for this friend.  It ended our friendship because I was so downright bitter about the lack of gratitude, so I can only imagine how Jesus may have felt when only one took the time to say thanks.  It’s easy to look at this story and say that 1 out of 10 lepers had the decency to say thanks for the mercy, Lord.

I’m thinking that is not the best message to take away.  For me, I know that showing gratitude for my gifts can get lost in the excitement of receiving them.  I am often guilty of taking my gifts of grace and mercy for granted.  Jesus isn’t going around Samaria and Galilee and healing in order to get appreciation and we shouldn’t do our good works for others to fish for compliments either.  But there is a tangible effort in our relationship with others when we do take the time to appreciate them for what they do for us.  Our thanks is a great relationship builder with one another and most certainly, that holds true in our relationship with Christ as well.  Doing things for others is what we are called to do.  Showing our appreciation is the least we can do and one of the most powerful tools in relationship development.  And that holds true for our relationship as followers.  The appreciation can do much in the work of our relationship, showing our intimacy and closeness to keep mindful of our gifts of grace.

I choose to focus on the one healed person who turned back and recognized his gift of healing.  The other lepers probably partied all night long celebrating their good fortune in healing.  They may have thanked God for that gift as well.  But I bet the one who took the time to appreciate Jesus had the deepest blessing of a relationship with Christ – which in the end, is better than any physical healing anyway.  His gratitude did much in the way of working in faith with God.  Our challenge is to find ways to show appreciation to our friends, families and strangers, as well as to our Lord and Savior.  It seems to be the very minimum expectation and goes the longest way to having that deep relationship we want with God.

Healing God, you give us the grace mercy we never deserve through the loving gift of your son our Savior.  Help us to find the time and the strength to be grateful for our many gifts.  We want to deepen our relationship with you and know that our gratitude will help us grow closer to you every day.  AMEN.

The Fire of God’s Love

pentecost

Acts 2:1-21

New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

The Coming of the Holy Spirit

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”

Peter Addresses the Crowd

14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15 Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16 No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

17 ‘In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
    and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
    and your old men shall dream dreams.
18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
    in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
        and they shall prophesy.
19 And I will show portents in the heaven above
    and signs on the earth below,
        blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
20 The sun shall be turned to darkness
    and the moon to blood,
        before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

The image of fire invokes strong responses from people.  Being warmed by a fire on a cold winter’s night is a comforting feeling; seeing a fire burn through a hillside during fire season strikes fear in our hearts. The heat of a fire can keep you alive and it can take away your life in a flash.  Vivid images, both positive and negative, come from just hearing about the word fire.

The Bible is full of stories about fire and the way God uses it to get our attention.  Moses and the burning bush, where God makes a very clear point about what he wants Moses to go and do for the people of Israel.  The story in Daniel of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego coming out of a furnace completely unscathed after Nebuchadnezzar attempts to get all to worship him, only to find himself declaring to the people that all should worship God alone.  And the story above from Luke’s writings in Acts, describing a confusing and maybe quite terrifying day when the Lord sent the Holy Spirit to live among the people, with each person present receiving tongues of fire on them.

We can’t begin to understand the power of God and when we try, we always will fall short because our human minds just can’t comprehend the power and glory of our Father.  But I would venture to say that he uses fire in those three examples to get our attention.  Quite successfully, don’t you think?  I’m sure that God can create any sort of imagery possible, but these three examples were transformative to those who witnessed them.

On the day of Pentecost, seven weeks (about 50 days) after Jesus’ resurrection, over 100 of his disciples were gathered together to pray.  Jesus was already gone to be with the Father and a loud rush of wind entered the place where they were.  Were they scared?  I bet they were!  Wind…then fire?  Then everyone speaking in different languages and onlookers (who were those folks, I wonder???) thinking they were drunk at 9 in the morning!  Then Peter addressed the crowd, reminding everyone of the prophet Joel’s words about God sending his Spirit to help spread the knowledge of God to all. I am pretty sure that quieted down the doubters!

All the different languages, the rush of wind and the fire – pretty hefty imagery.  And for good reason – those 120 folks were to go out and evangelize to the world and that legacy continues today to Christians everywhere.  It does little good in furthering God’s kingdom to rest on our faith while others wander through life without knowing the love of God.  Evangelism is a pretty scary word for many Christians (especially us Episcopalians), but it really is pretty simple.  Live God’s word in your life.  Love your neighbor.  Tell how Jesus has changed your life.  Pray for others.  No need to yell and scream, to judge or condemn; just love.

I may not have a visible tongue of flame visible around me, but I am called to do the same things as those folks on the day of Pentecost over 2000 years ago.  Go out in the world and share the Good News.

Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love.  Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created, and you shall renew the face of the earth. O, God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit, did instruct the hearts of the faithful, grant that by the same Holy Spirit, we may be truly wise and ever enjoy His consolations, Through Jesus Christ Our Lord.  AMEN

Troubling the Water

stpeterswindow

John 5:1-9

New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

Jesus Heals on the Sabbath

After this there was a festival of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.

Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth-zatha, which has five porticoes. In these lay many invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be made well?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.” Jesus said to him, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.” At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk.

Now that day was a sabbath.

This picture is of the stained glass window just behind the altar at our church, St. Peter’s, McKinney, TX (http://www.stpetersmckinney.com/).  In today’s sermon by Fr. Michael, he discussed the meaning of our window – the focal point of the church.  There is a great story there about how the church once faced the other direction after being rebuilt by fire, and that the window was covered by the choir loft for years before the church was reoriented to the south wall.  If you look closely at the picture above, you can see that there is an angel coming down (head is down and feet are up in the window) and the bottom of the window is the water being “troubled” by the angel.  Fr. Michael also pointed out something I had missed completely on the first read through of this passage – verse 4 is missing above.  He explained that there was some controversy about this verse not always consistently found in early Biblical writings and this is the text for verse 4:

for an angel of the Lord went down at certain seasons into the pool, and stirred up the water; whoever stepped in first after the stirring of the water was made well from whatever disease that person had.

Today’s Gospel reading is a story of healing at first glance.  Jesus heals a long-sick man who is found waiting at the healing pools by the Sheep Gate (the place the sheep were brought in to be sacrificed).  But I want to focus on the troubling of the water.  In high school, I first heard the song, “Wade in the Water,” a negro spiritual (here is a link to one version http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t7FmBB3UUH0).  One of the lines says, “The Lord’s gonna trouble the water.”  This song was one of many songs used as a language secret to slaves from their owners to help slaves find their way to freedom.  Simon and Garfunkel sang “Bridge over Troubled Water which was a #1 hit on the Billboard charts in 1970, written by Paul Simon as lyrics intended to provide comfort to those in need.  The waters where the paralyzed man received his healing from Jesus were the same  – a place to give hope to the hopeless.  There is even a documentary about Hurricane Katrina called “Trouble the Water” that will debut at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, providing hope in one of the most devastating “troubled water” natural and man made disasters in our country’s history.

Obviously with this much well known focus on troubled water, this image is a powerful one.  If troubled water comes by sending an angel to create healing, helping slaves become free, giving comfort to those in need, then where can we find troubled water  or trouble it for someone else today?  Each of us has the opportunity at some point in time to be there for a person in need.  God calls us to do his work in the world and help people come to know the redeeming love of Jesus.  In the Episcopal church, we state our beliefs in the Nicene Creed every week during our worship.  The last portion of the creed sums up those beliefs about Jesus’ saving grace:

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, 
    who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
    With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified.
    He has spoken through the Prophets.
    We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
    We look for the resurrection of the dead,
        and the life of the world to come. Amen.
(BCP, pp. 358-359)

In summary, we (not in isolation intentionally!) believe in the Trinity and our community of faith; we are forgiven and will live forever with our Lord in a perfect healing, all because Jesus came and gave his life for us.  No more waiting in the pool for healing, no more slavery or need for bridges over the water – instead, living our life in Christ gives us the hope, grace and mercy to see past all conflicts and challenges and focus on our call to love one another.  All of us are in need of healing of one kind or another, and we can be that healing (troubled) water for each other.

Healing Lord, help us be a source of strength and comfort to those we meet and those we know and love already.  Help us provide hope to others in need and sustain us with your love and grace.  We love you, we worship you, we vow to be your hands in the world.  AMEN.

Finding Common Ground

Julius Shnorr, St. Peter's Vision

Acts 11:1-18

New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

Peter’s Report to the Church at Jerusalem

11 Now the apostles and the believerswho were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also accepted the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believerscriticized him, saying, “Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?” 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.’ 10 This happened three times; then everything was pulled up again to heaven. 11 At that very moment three men, sent to me from Caesarea, arrived at the house where we were. 12 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. 13 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; 14 he will give you a message by which you and your entire household will be saved.’ 15 And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning. 16 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.’ 17 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?” 18 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.”

This is a great story.  As a parent of a teenager, it is so interesting to hear her discuss the hierarchy of cliques in school.  There are the popular kids, the band geeks, the druggies, the loners, the wannabes, the do-gooders, the quiet ones, the athletes/jocks and those who don’t fit in anywhere.  From her perspective, the “popular” kids have life so much easier than anyone else.  They are smart, funny, attractive, date frequently and bad stuff doesn’t happen to them.  And I am sure that those popular kids have some of the same insecurities that all teenagers feel, but they have the disadvantage of believing their own press – that they are better than everyone else simply because of their status.

This reading has Peter back in Jerusalem with the “circumcised believers” who just can’t believe that Peter has spent time with those “uncircumcised men,” even eating with them!  Peter tells of a great vision from God, helping him understand that God cares nothing about the group you belong to and everything about believing in the Lord and Savior.

I love a good vision…the subtlety of looking for signs and discerning God’s will is hard for me.  When God speaks to me in a vision, it seems stronger than a nudge and more like a push or a shove!  Jesus spent his travels and teachings with the poor and meek; the religious hierarchy was not where he wanted to spend his time.  The Bible has stories filled with Jesus healing the sick – not the rich and sick, but the poorest of the poor.  Those who needed it the most and had nothing to lose by trusting in Jesus and his love for them were the leading characters in many of the miracles in Jesus’ life.  Yet still, the “circumcised” (read: the most righteous folks in the land or the “popular kids”) couldn’t believe that Peter spent time and energy on them.  What would it take? Why, a vision of course!!!!  And Peter was still worried about eating “unclean animals” himself. The vision made things pretty clear – Jews and Gentiles alike were all called to follow God and were not to be separated by the things that humans use to divide ourselves from each other.

In today’s world, we spend a lot of time seeing the differences between ourselves and those near and far.  We see the things that separate us as barriers to forming our community of believers.  This vision of Peter’s that he tells to the men of Caesarea makes clear that we are called to reach across the differences between us to love one another and lead people to Christ.  No one is to be excluded and all are welcome at the table.  Now, do we live out this declaration from God or are we standing in the way?

God of all, we reach out to you in love and praise your name for all to see.  We ask you to lead us to serve you among all people and love our neighbors as ourselves, even when the differences between us seem insurmountable.  Help us to see our common ground and build up your community of faith.  In Jesus’ name we pray.  AMEN.

Following the WRONG Shepherd

sheep-with-shepherd

John 10:22-30

New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

Jesus Is Rejected by the Jews

22 At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, 23 and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. 24 So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” 25 Jesus answered, “I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; 26 but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. 27 My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. 30 The Father and I are one.”

Sheep may not be the best candidates for the “Most Independent Thinker” award, but they know how to keep safe. Although we don’t come in contact with too many shepherds and their flock in today’s world, we know a few things about the relationship between the caretaker and the sheep. Like many animals, they grow accustomed to distinguishing human voice – they can recognize the nuance between their shepherd and the voice of a stranger. They stick together for the most part and will follow their shepherd where ever he or she may lead them. They don’t tend to rely on instincts outside of those that reflect the “herd” mentality – stay close to your leader and keep your friends and family close as well. Maybe they are pretty smart after all, since they tend not to wander off on their own to rely on their own survival instincts.

The Bible is full of sheep and shepherd stories and Jesus uses this role of leading people who follow him to teach throughout his many lessons. Now, I don’t know about you, but I really like the fact that I have free will to do with as I please. In fact, I am quite adept at doing exactly what I please, when I want to do it and how I want to do it! Luckily for me (and through an abundance of grace and mercy), things have worked out nicely for me most of the time. But when they don’t work out well, and I find myself away from the flock and feeling alone and lost, you can be sure that the reasons I find myself there can be traced directly back to my own wanderings. No one led me there and my reliance on my Lord is often nowhere to be found.

So how do we balance our God given ability to make our decisions with our need as Christians to follow our shepherd Jesus Christ? I think I would be the richest woman in the world if I discovered the formula for this that was 100% foolproof. Instead, we all have our good days and bad days (or good years and bad decades) of the results of this imbalance of power. It’s not like we don’t want to follow God’s will for us; not too many believers in Christ wake up and make the decision to deliberately ignore anything God might be saying to us! Instead, we have to make the time to follow Christ AND to use our free will in combination with one another. You’ve heard that story/joke about the man trapped on the roof of his flooded home and he passes on several opportunities to be rescued with a heartfelt, “No thanks, God will save me,” only to drown and hear God’s response to his question about why he wasn’t saved with: “I sent you a boat, a helicopter and several other opportunities and you passed up on them all!” God puts opportunities in our path and may even send us a slight (or strong even) nudge and it’s our job to follow the path.

The gift of everlasting life seems like an enormously generous offering in light of our smallish effort of just “following” him. Trusting in God and his will for us takes courage and guts, because many of the paths in front of us seem much easier than the surrender of following God. He promises us that the enemy will not snatch us from him when we put ourselves in his care. He has told us this again and again, yet we do not believe, just as the Jews in this story who want Jesus to tell them plainly that he is the Messiah (as if all the teaching and miracles have just not been enough yet). But our job is simple: Love God with all our heart, love the people of the world and follow his path to do his work on the earth. Simple, but not easy when we want to be our own shepherds.

Dear Lord, the great shepherd of your people, help us to trust in you with all our heart, all our mind and all our soul. We ask you to lead us in your ways and show us mercy when we stray from the flock. We want to follow you, love you and serve you. We ask this in the name of your son Jesus Christ. AMEN.

Passing the Buck

Luke 23:1-49

New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

Jesus before Pilate

23 Then the assembly rose as a body and brought Jesus[a] before Pilate. They began to accuse him, saying, “We found this man perverting our nation, forbidding us to pay taxes to the emperor, and saying that he himself is the Messiah, a king.”[b] Then Pilate asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” He answered, “You say so.” Then Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, “I find no basis for an accusation against this man.” But they were insistent and said, “He stirs up the people by teaching throughout all Judea, from Galilee where he began even to this place.”

Jesus before Herod

When Pilate heard this, he asked whether the man was a Galilean. And when he learned that he was under Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him off to Herod, who was himself in Jerusalem at that time. When Herod saw Jesus, he was very glad, for he had been wanting to see him for a long time, because he had heard about him and was hoping to see him perform some sign. He questioned him at some length, but Jesus[c] gave him no answer. 10 The chief priests and the scribes stood by, vehemently accusing him. 11 Even Herod with his soldiers treated him with contempt and mocked him; then he put an elegant robe on him, and sent him back to Pilate. 12 That same day Herod and Pilate became friends with each other; before this they had been enemies.

Jesus Sentenced to Death

13 Pilate then called together the chief priests, the leaders, and the people, 14 and said to them, “You brought me this man as one who was perverting the people; and here I have examined him in your presence and have not found this man guilty of any of your charges against him. 15 Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us. Indeed, he has done nothing to deserve death. 16 I will therefore have him flogged and release him.”[d]

18 Then they all shouted out together, “Away with this fellow! Release Barabbas for us!” 19 (This was a man who had been put in prison for an insurrection that had taken place in the city, and for murder.) 20 Pilate, wanting to release Jesus, addressed them again; 21 but they kept shouting, “Crucify, crucify him!” 22 A third time he said to them, “Why, what evil has he done? I have found in him no ground for the sentence of death; I will therefore have him flogged and then release him.” 23 But they kept urgently demanding with loud shouts that he should be crucified; and their voices prevailed. 24 So Pilate gave his verdict that their demand should be granted. 25 He released the man they asked for, the one who had been put in prison for insurrection and murder, and he handed Jesus over as they wished.

The Crucifixion of Jesus

26 As they led him away, they seized a man, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming from the country, and they laid the cross on him, and made him carry it behind Jesus. 27 A great number of the people followed him, and among them were women who were beating their breasts and wailing for him. 28 But Jesus turned to them and said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. 29 For the days are surely coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never nursed.’ 30 Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us’; and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ 31 For if they do this when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?”

32 Two others also, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. 33 When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus[e] there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. [[34 Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”]][f] And they cast lots to divide his clothing. 35 And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah[g] of God, his chosen one!” 36 The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, 37 and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 38 There was also an inscription over him,[h] “This is the King of the Jews.”

39 One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding[i] him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah?[j] Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into[k] your kingdom.” 43 He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

The Death of Jesus

44 It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land[l] until three in the afternoon, 45 while the sun’s light failed;[m] and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46 Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Having said this, he breathed his last. 47 When the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God and said, “Certainly this man was innocent.”[n] 48 And when all the crowds who had gathered there for this spectacle saw what had taken place, they returned home, beating their breasts. 49 But all his acquaintances, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.

Remember the childhood game of “Hot Potato?”  The goal of the game was to pass an item of some sort from one person to another while music played.  When the music stopped, the person holding the item (or “hot potato”) was out.  No one wanted to be holding the item when the music stopped!  That game reminds me of the passing of the buck as Jesus was brought before Pilate.  As Pilate begins his inquisition, he soon realizes that this is somewhat of a witch hunt; no real crimes have been committed by Jesus.  He asks if Jesus is Galilean, and when he learns that is true, sends him off to Herod, who just happened to be passing through the area.  I’m sure he did so with a big sigh of relief, thinking that now this problem of Jesus and what to do to appease the chief priests and crowds that have gathered has just been taken off his plate.

Herod has waited for this for a while – a chance to see what this Jesus can really do!  He has heard about the miracles and the great following of Jesus, but Jesus is no trained monkey.  He doesn’t perform miracles on command for Herod at all, much to Herod’s disappointment, I am sure!  So Herod and his authorities dressed him to mock him as a king, and then sent him back, passing the hot potato yet again.  I have this image of Pilate smacking his forehead and shaking his head, as this problem appears right back in his lap.  But instead of decision making, the job of Pilate in the first place, he turns to the crowd and asks them their thoughts.  Passing the hot potato, yet again.

The Disney movie “Shrek” has a mob scene at the beginning of the movie, where the townspeople are chasing after this cartoon ogre with pitchforks and fire.  As you watch the movie, Shrek’s loveable and caring sides come out, and you forget all about how the townspeople were gunning for Shrek from the start.  That “mob mentality” ruled the day on that sad Friday all those years ago.  The shouts to release Barabbas, a known murderer, and to crucify Jesus may have started with just a few of the folks in the crowd, but the adrenaline and frenzy of the crowd grew and grew, just like at a sporting event or rock concert.  Before you know it, you’re high fiving strangers after a play as if you actually had a hand in the action on the field.  From our 20,000 feet view of 2000 years of time passing, it seems incredulous that the very people who had witnessed Jesus living his life with love and extraordinary miracles would just turn on a dime and demand his death.  So Pilate passes the hot potato this last time, reluctantly agreeing to the wishes of the crowd, even when knowing that the decision had no basis on fact.

How many times do we as Christians pass the buck when God leads us to a place where we would rather not be?  “Not me, Lord; this is too hard, the burden too great,” we say to ourselves.  “Maybe someone else will help that guy out.”  “Maybe another person will support this ministry.” “We had a late Saturday night with friends – I think we’ll just sleep in on Sunday morning.”  You know we’ve all said one or more of these types of responsibility avoidance statements.  Pilate saw his hands as clean from Jesus’ bloodshed, because he only just did what the people demanded.  But when we avoid our responsibilities, commitments, and duties and the hands and feet of God in this world, they don’t go away.

As we enter this Holy Week, listen carefully and answer God’s call to us.  It may be a quiet whisper in the wind or a shout from a mountaintop.  Don’t deny Him when He calls.

Dear Father, we know you love us.  We don’t deserve the grace and mercy you pour out on us every day.  Give us the will to persevere and do your work to glorify your name, even when it seems to hard or the crowds are leading us elsewhere.  Thank you for giving your son to die for us.  We love you, Lord.  In Jesus’ name.  AMEN.