Even as the author of Luke’s gospel shows us the countless ways that Jesus and his earthly family are quintessentially “Jewish,” he also shows us that Jesus had come not solely for the Jews but also the rest of the Gentile world.
Eight days after his birth, Jesus’ parents bring him to be circumcised, something that distinguished the Jews from all others. Yet even as Jesus is placed squarely in the rituals of Judaism, Simon, another Jew, beyond reproach, prophesizes over the baby.
“You prepared this salvation in the presence of all peoples.
It’s a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and a glory for your people Israel.” Luke 2:31-32 CEB
Luke’s Jesus is Jewish through and through and also going to be a conduit of God to the Gentiles. Luke places Jesus at a crux between the distinctive and the malleable. Jesus is both Jew and beyond Judaism.
Why this need to put Jesus rooted in Judaism but also open to those beyond its borders? Because the movement Jesus began moved to a more open rendering of the community boundaries as it grew and expanded beyond Palestine.
We take for granted the Jesus movement going into Gentile areas but at its insemination, it was considered a “Jewish” movement that went beyond its tribal, cultural and social boundaries.
Dear Lord, we take for granted Your presence in our lives. Yet there are some who do not know You. Help us to spread Your gospel long and wide throughout the earth as you intended it should be. Amen.
Jesus had a full emotional life, which we get glimpses of in the gospels, especially in Mark. During the Lenten season we get a hint at Jesus’ emotional life and what it meant for him to be indignant, angry, compassionate, fearful and loving and what that means for us today.
Almost from the beginning of his public ministry in Mark, Jesus is not an unemotional Savior. In fact, he is a very feeling human being as well as God.
In Mark 1:40-45 when the leper approaches Jesus asking him if he dares to declare him clean, Jesus “snorting with indignation,” answers in the affirmative.
Is Jesus indignant with this man who dares to come to him with this outrageous request? No he is irate with those whom the leper has just come from, those whom Jesus has him return to in order to show his cleansing as a testimony “against” (in the original Greek) their refusal to cleanse him, probably due to a lack of appropriate payment.
Should we be no less indignant at the systems that keep the poverty-stricken from full inclusion into mainstream society? Low wage jobs, lack of health care and affordable housing, are but some of the impediments that the poor face every day in order to live in a self-sustaining way.
Dear God help us to understand how systems of oppression exist to trod down upon your people. Help us to not partake in them and help us to bring them down much like your son preached and taught. Let us never forget our righteous anger against a system that would marginalize people because they do not have enough to pay the toll. Amen.
The ax is already at the root of the trees. Therefore, every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit will be chopped down and tossed into the fire. Matthew 3:10 (CEB)
In the above passage, John the Baptist speaks of trees that do not produce fruit and will then be chopped down and tossed into the fire. He said this to the Pharisees and Sadducees, the keepers of the synagogue and Temple, the places of worship.
Producing Good Fruit
How do the places of worship produce good fruit? During Jesus’ time good fruit was brought to the Temple and the synagogues. Tithes, alms and offerings were given. Too often, though, religious places held onto this wealth in terms of not just finances but also food. They could “produce good fruits” but often they didn’t, seeking instead to hoard the “fruits” for themselves.
John the Baptist began the message that Jesus would continue to teach and preach throughout his ministry – to turn away from building up the Temple’s wealth and turn toward building up the people of God, having them repent and believe in the good news. This is the message Jesus brought with him to the whole Earth starting with his birth into our human world.
“Produce fruit that shows you have changed your hearts and lives.” v. 8 CEB
Dear Lord, you came to live among us, showing us the ways of God. Create in us the ever thirsting need to produce “good fruit” from all that you have given us, both as a Church and as your people. Do not cut us down but deliver us from our greed and fear. Help us to hear the cries of the needy when we remember the cry of our Savior denied a place to lay His head on the day of His birth. Amen.
Pruning what is dead
As a gardener, there are certain things you have to do to keep a healthy garden. Most are obvious. Water your plants. Keep the garden free from vermin. Prune dead plants, leaves, vines, branches or flowers. “He [God] removes any of my branches that don’t produce fruit …” John 15:2a (CEB)
What is not so obvious especially to a novice gardener is that one must, at times, prune healthy flowers, leaves, vines or branches. Why would one prune producing plants? It seems counterintuitive.
More experienced gardeners know why. “ … he [God] trims any branch that produces fruit so that it will produce even more fruit.” John 15:2b (CEB)
The Pruning Principle
Pruning what already is producing helps to produce more. As you are successful in ministry in your community, keep in mind the “pruning principle.” When we become more productive and fruitful, we will continue to be pruned, in order that we might keep producing. Usually this pruning occurs to one’s ego. Success often breeds a sense of pride in our work, as well it should. But sometimes pride can overwhelm our sense of self and make us prideful. So the Vineyard Master comes and prunes us so that we remain open to the work of the Spirit in our lives to produce continuous fruit in our ministries.
Lord, help us to see that pruning is a good thing, even though it may be a painful process to go through. You are the vine and we are the branches to Your will be done with glory! Amen.
I Am the Bread of Life
I have noticed in my travels that in nearly all cultures and even sub-cultures like the American South, bread is a staple in the diets of almost all people. It may take different forms and be called many things but it is in the final analysis bread.
How fitting is it that Jesus said in John 6:35 (CEB), “I am the bread of life.” Of all the food references he could have made, Jesus chose “bread,” not “meat,” not “vegetables” but “bread.”
Despite the warning against carbs and bread, it still remains a daily part of most people’s lives in a way that veggies and meat still do not. “Rice” rivals “bread” by sheer number in households, and even in places where “rice” is the main dish, there still exists “bread.”
When He says “I am the bread of life,” Jesus lands squarely in the middle of daily existence for nearly everyone. He is the sustainer of life, as long as you have bread and water you can hold out, but without one or the other life becomes very difficult. Like bread, Jesus is the very staple of a Christian’s life.
Bread will always be in our lives as human beings, despite all the carb warnings. It is too intrinsic to being human. Jesus too should always be in our lives. He is too intrinsic to being a Christian.
Dear God, Fill us with your amazing, sustaining bread. Let us take in your goodness for our soul. As you bring the rain and sun to grow the food for our stomachs, use the rain and sun in our lives to show us your comforting presence in the midst of our lives. For you alone are the holy one, the bread of life to our souls. Amen.
Sometimes I think God gets very frustrated with us. We set our sights on temporary things letting the eternal matters go by the wayside. But God in God’s Infinite Love, has Infinite Patience. While every generation thinks it will be the last one because the End is coming, we have yet to experience the End because God is showing His Infinite Patience. If it had been left up to us, we would have given up a long time ago.
But not God, whose mercies are new every morning. God, in His Infinite Patience, desires for all to return to God’s side.
Our goal is to create a beloved community and this will require a qualitative change in our souls as well as a quantitative change in our lives. Martin Luther King Jr.
Whoever isn’t against us is for us. I assure you that whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will certainly be rewarded. Mark 9:40-41 CEB
The question of who is in and who is out of the beloved community is one of the threads running throughout the gospel of Mark. What we find when we study Jesus in Mark is that those who are on the margins of society – the sick, the dying, the poor, the “unclean”, Gentiles, children, women, Galilean fisherman, prostitutes and the demon-possessed, are all at the center of the community. Always have been and always will be.
Glory to God, who is able to do far beyond all that we could ask or imagine by his power at work within us. Ephesians 3:20 (CEB)
We hear so much about declining membership rolls, shrinking budgets and older properties. It is at these times that we cannot get caught up in just “managing the demise” of our Church!
Now is the time for us to dream big…bigger than ever! It is time to think outside the box. It is time to hear all of God’s ideas, no matter how unusual, unorthodox, wide ranging or costly. As the writer of Ephesians reminds us, God can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine. With God’s blessing our Church need not disappear by the year 2025 or 2030 or at all.
We must not think about it is as bringing God to the people but instead we need to join God where God is already present in the world. God is changing lives. Whether we are a part of that or not as The United Methodist Church is up to us and how big we can dream and truly dare to imagine the ways we can make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
God, show us where You are already working in this world. Show us how we can dream as big as You do! Help us to not get caught up in the fear but to remain positive in Your presence. Let us be more like Caleb and Joshua. Amen.
Pray for Istanbul
First of all we extend our prayers to all those affected by the airport bombing in Istanbul, Turkey. My friend, Thomas Kemper, who is the General Secretary at the General Board of Global Ministries, was in the airport at the time of the terrorist attack. Praise God Thomas is ok!
We mourn with the families and friends of those who did not escape the events unleashed by a few extremists. While it is difficult to do so, we also pray for the families of those who perpetrated such horrible acts because Jesus commands us to do so.
In this time of relentless bloodshed both overseas and on our own soil, we will not be bowed by fear and hatred. We cling ever tighter to our hope and salvation, Jesus Christ and follow his example of faith over fear.
Even in the face of terror, we hold to the hope that light shall overcome darkness, love shall overcome indifference and hate, and God has already overcome all evil acts including the death of His son with resurrection power!
Dear God, we pray during this time of anxiety and shock. Help us to remember Your great Love for us and that you call upon us to do good and not evil. Help us to pray for our enemies and not seek to repay them” an eye for an eye”. Help us Lord to follow Jesus’ lead that may seem counterintuitive but is always righteous.
When we became Christians, we didn’t get badges, we received pardons.
God so loved us that He became one of us. As Jesus was dying because of us, he asked forgiveness for us. He pardoned us.
Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing.” They drew lots as a way of dividing up his clothing. Luke 23:34 (CEB)
“Teacher, what is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
He replied, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: You must love your neighbor as you love yourself. All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.” Matthew 22:36-40 (CEB)
We need to love ourselves as God loves us. We need to love one another as ourselves. We need to love one another as God loves us.
God’s love shows up as grace, forgiveness, trust, excitement and righteousness. Can we do the same with one another?
God you command us to love others as ourselves. But sometimes we don’t love ourselves very well. But your first command is to love you. In loving you, we learn how to love ourselves as you love us. Help us to love each other as you love us with the perfect love you have given us. Perfection is the goal, but the journey to it is life. Amen.