Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Week 19: March 29 - April 3, 2016 - Luke 24:13-35

How can we recognize the risen Jesus in our daily lives?  In the story of Jesus' appearance to the disciples on the road to Emmaus, Luke gives us insight into this question.

On the same day that Jesus rose from the grave, He appears to two disciples who are walking seven and a half miles from Jerusalem to Emmaus.  Although Jesus appears to the two and talks with them, they do not recognize that it is Jesus.  Typically, we might wonder what is different about Jesus that keeps the two from recognizing Him.  However, I would encourage you to consider what is going on with the two disciples that blinds their eyes.

Verse seventeen says that their faces are downcast.  Other translations say they are sad.  The Greek word in this passage, skuthropos, means that they are gloomy, mournful, and even angry.  Have you ever been so down emotionally and spiritually that nothing looked the same...the sky looked grey even when it was blue...the world seemed dark even when it was light?  This is the outlook of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus.  They don't recognize Jesus because of their own attitude and outlook.

Into their gloom and doom mentality, Jesus reveals Himself to the two disciples in two ways that pull them up and out of their despair.

There are two key verses:

Verse 27 says, Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

First, Jesus shares the Word.  The Word-made-flesh explains the written Word.  He sets their understanding on a new foundation through the Word.  We, too, recognize the risen Jesus when we spend time in the Word.  The Word adjusts our attitudes, shifts our mentality, and focuses our emotions in the right direction.  Not only does the written Word bear witness to the Word-made-flesh Himself, but the reading of the Word brings the risen Jesus present to us.

Verse 30 says, When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.  This simple act made them recognize Jesus.  Why?  Because they had witnessed this very same action before.

Jesus did the same thing when He fed the 5,000.  And taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke them, and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd. - Luke 9:16

Jesus did the same thing at the Last Supper. Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, "This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me." - Luke 22:19

We, too, recognize the risen Jesus when we receive the bread of His body - taken, blessed, broken, and given -  in Holy Communion.  Not only does the bread bear witness to the sacrifice of Jesus on our behalf, but the eating of the bread manifests the grace and presence of Christ in our hearts.

So let us return to the question at hand.  How do we recognize the risen Jesus in our daily lives?  We encounter Jesus as a daily companion through the reading/meditating/applying of the Word to our lives and through the act of receiving Holy Communion.  The key is looking for Jesus with the eyes of the heart.  Our physical eyes can be blinded by difficulty, struggle, attitudes, and despair.  But the eyes of our hearts are illumined by grace - in the Word - in the Bread of Life - enabling us to see Jesus through difficult circumstances and painful experiences.

I close with the words of St. Augustine: "Everything in those Scriptures speaks of Christ, but only to him who has ears.  He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.  And so let us pray that he will open our own." AMEN

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Week 17: March 14-20, 2016 - Luke 23:26-49

Is there life after death?  Consider the tremendous promise Jesus makes to the criminal on the cross!

All four gospels tell us that Jesus was crucified with two criminals.  Matthew (27:38) and Mark (15:27) tell us that they were thieves.  John (19:18) simply mentions that there were two others crucified with Him.  In keeping with his focus on the poor, the outcast, and the lowest on the social scale, Luke gives the two criminals a place of prominence in the crucifixion story and highlights a promise that Jesus made to one of them.

In verse 42, the criminal makes a simple request: "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom."  Jesus responds with a three-fold promise: "Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise."

Consider the three aspects of Jesus' promise to the criminal:

1) Today - the end was near for the two criminals and Jesus.  They would all experience physical death from their crucifixions.  In the minds of the criminals and in most of us, the question is asked: "what comes after death?"  Jesus begins His promise to the criminal with a marking of time.  Today, now, in this moment - you will be with me in Paradise.  Not tomorrow, not next week, not in hundreds or thousands of years, but today.  Jesus points to a reality of immediate, continued existence after physical death.

Once, Jesus responded to the Sadducees' concerning a question about the resurrection.  He said to them, "And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God, 'I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob'? He is God not of the dead, but of the living." (Matthew 22:31-32)  Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had not lived on earth for almost two thousand years at the time of Jesus' statement, and yet, Jesus refers to them as "living".  Life continues after death, and Jesus points to this reality in His promise to the criminal.

2) you will be with me - Life is promised to the criminal, but it isn't a life void of meaning or relationship.  The criminal is promised that he will be with Jesus.  For those of us who love Jesus, there is no greater promise than to spend eternity in His presence.

This aspect of Jesus' promise reminds me of two other passages:
Psalm 23:4 (KJV) - Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
John 14:3 - And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.

3) in Paradise - Not only will the criminal be with Jesus that very day, but he will be with Jesus in Paradise.  Jesus' reference to Paradise hearkens back to the Garden of Eden in the early story of Genesis. Life in the presence of Jesus will be a restoration of the peaceful existence humanity shared with God in the Garden of Eden before the great fall.  Jesus mentions this in Revelation 2:7 - To everyone who conquers, I will give permission to eat from the tree of life that is in the paradise of God.

Eternal life is a mystery, but Jesus' promise to the criminal gives us insight into the reality of continued life after death.  Through faith in Jesus Christ, we are given the promise of spending eternity with our Lord (John 3:16).  Jesus' promise is a source of great hope and excitement.  All of us are dying.  Life on earth is temporary.  But life with God, that begins now through faith, will last forever. Thanks be to God!

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Week Sixteen: March 7-13, 2016 - Luke 22:24-30

What is Jesus really saying in this passage?  Is Jesus telling us how to be great?  Or, is Jesus giving us an alternative purpose and pursuit that is opposed to the pursuit of greatness?  Maybe it's both.

The disciples had been arguing about which one of them could be low enough to betray Jesus. (Luke 22:23)  In the context of this argument, they begin to dispute which one of them is the greatest.  It's almost comical and yet sad at the same time to think about this scenario.  The dispute is about rank and order.  There are twelve of them.  One of them has to be #1, and one of them, sadly, has to be #12, right?  This passage reveals our human tendency to define a pecking order.  Who is greatest? Who is lowest? Who is average?

On a deeper level, the dispute is about much more.  It's about worth...self-worth.  Perhaps the thoughts of the disciples are something like this:  If I'm #1, if I'm Jesus' right-hand-man, if I'm second-in-command, it must be that I'm a better human being than the other eleven.  Maybe it even means that Jesus loves me more!  If I'm #12, if I'm the last person Jesus would call upon to lead, if I'm even low enough to betray Jesus, it must be that I'm a lousy human being.  Maybe Jesus doesn't really love me at all.

The disciples missed the point!  Think about it.  This dispute is in the upper room where they have just finished eating the Lord's Supper.  Jesus has just finished telling them that He is giving His body and blood for them.  His love for each of them is so great that it is almost incomprehensible.  But instead of receiving His love and basking in it, they began aiming at the superlatives.  It wasn't enough that He loved them.  They wanted to be #1.

So Jesus cut through the dispute by telling them how it is in God's Kingdom where there is only One who deserves to be #1.  Jesus tells them that in the Kingdom of God, the eldest is like the youngest, the leader is like the servant, and the greatest is like the least.  In other words, the values of the Kingdom are flip-flopped and turned upside down.

And the midst of their dispute...He gives them a statement of clarity about the whole situation:   I am among you as one who serves. (vs. 27)

So back to our opening questions:  Is Jesus telling us how to be great?  Yes, but not greatness from the world's point of view.  Greatness in the Kingdom of God.  Greatness as defined by Jesus' life.  He is also giving them an alternative pursuit.  Instead of pursuing worldly greatness which is wrapped up in pride, power, position, and money, pursue the life of a servant.  In serving, we become like Jesus who is the greatest in the Kingdom of God.  In serving, Jesus becomes present to us.  In serving, we find freedom from the rat-race pursuit of greatness. In serving, we escape the self-focused prison of the never-satisfied pursuit of greatness to experience the others-focused freedom of blessing others through service.

Andrew Murray's words on Humility provide us with a closing thought:  "Humility, the place of entire dependence on God, is, from the very nature of things, the first duty and the highest virtue of the creature, and the root of every virtue.  And so pride, or the loss of this humility, is the root of every sin and evil.  Jesus came to bring humility back to earth, to make us partakers of it, and by it to save us.  His humility is our salvation.  His salvation is our humility."

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Week Fifteen: February 29-March 6, 2016 - Luke 22:1-23

Why is Holy Communion so important?

Our Scripture passage from Luke this week invites us to consider this question.  No one could give us a better answer than Jesus in His own words.

Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.
-Matthew 11:28
I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. - John 6:35
This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me. - 1 Corinthians 11:24
Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. - John 6:56
The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. - John 6:63b

In Holy Communion, the ordinary becomes extraordinary, the physical becomes spiritual, and the mundane is invaded by the sacred.  All of these things transpire during Holy Communion because Jesus spiritually becomes present in the giving of the bread and in the drinking of the cup in Jesus' remembrance.

The eating of bread in Holy Communion becomes a means by which we share in the sinless, perfect body of Christ.
The drinking of the cup in Holy Communion becomes a means by which we share in an eternal covenant created with God through the sacred blood of Jesus.
Holy Communion is a means of grace through which the Holy Spirit feeds our hungry souls and nourishes us with the life of Christ.  Just as Jesus says in John 6:56, we abide in Jesus and He in us when we eat the bread and drink the cup of Holy Communion.

Luke places Holy Communion in the context of the Passover meal.  The Passover meal was observed annually by the Jews as directed by God (Exodus 12) in remembrance and celebration of their deliverance from slavery in Egypt.  Jesus shared in this meal with His disciples before going to the cross.  He took the unleavened bread and equated it with his body.  Leaven in Judaism is a symbol of sin.  The Jews were to rid their homes of leaven during Passover and eat only unleavened bread.  Jesus took the "sinless bread" and equated it with his own life.  He asked His disciples to eat the bread in remembrance of Him.  Jesus also took one of the cups of wine (four were typically shared in the Passover meal) and equated it with His imminent shedding of blood on the cross saying, This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. (Luke 22:20)  Again, He asked His disciples to drink it in His remembrance. (1 Corinthians 11:25)  The disciples, ourselves included, were not to simply remember Jesus as One who lived in the past, but in eating the bread and drinking the cup, they were to remember His presence among them in the present moment and feast in His grace offered to them without price.

The Apostle John doesn't place the Last Supper of Jesus in the context of the Passover meal.  Instead, the Last Supper is shared with the disciples before Passover.  Theologically, John is trying to tell us that the Passover Lamb who is slain on the day of Passover is Jesus, Himself.  John wants us to see that Jesus is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! (John 1:29)

One reason, among many, that Holy Communion is so important is that it is a Sacrament we can participate in regularly which spiritually connects us with Jesus and binds us in a covenant with God that is eternal.  John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, encouraged people to receive Holy Communion as often as possible for this very reason.

With grateful hearts, let us share in Holy Communion and rejoice in the transforming grace of Jesus that is offered to us at His table of grace!