Thursday, February 28, 2013

2/28 E-News


Volunteer—Friday, March 1, from 9-2, is Read to Kids Day at East Brainerd Elementary. If you're interested, please contact Kimberly Wheeler ( to reserve your time and grade spot. Or you can call 855-6161. Books will be available, or you can bring your own.

Movie Night—Every other Saturday, there is a group that watches movies in the basement and talks about the spiritual themes in them. Tim Meyers leads the group. They meet at 5:30 on March 2nd for their next meeting.

UTC Board—The UTC Board is still in need of members. If you're interested in joining, or attending a meeting to see what they're like, let me know.

Community Kitchen Spot
There are a lot of hungry and homeless children of God and the community needs some help feeding them. If you would like to help out, please bring the following items to church this Sunday & put them in the grocery cart.
Black Pepper
Dry Milk

New Hope News

Sunday School—This Sunday, the adult class will study 1 Corinthians.

Worship Committee—This Monday @ 6:30

Building & Grounds—Meets Sunday following worship

Pray For:

Christine Dyer

Judy Smith's brother Nelson

Pray for those who do not know Christ.

A great story all the way around—a kind act turns into over $150k for a homeless man

Keith's Random Thoughts

I spent the weekend in sunny southern California. It was glorious for several reasons.

First of all, I now know where all the sunshine is. They're saving it up out there in case they run out. I tried to bring some back east, but I think we lost it in the turbulence somewhere around Kansas. While my definition of a good flight is any flight that lands without exploding, I'd have to say the Russian judge would have given that one a 2.4. Which is even higher than the French judge gave the flight from Atlanta to Chattanooga. I'd just as soon forget that one ever happened.

Secondly, the Hertz guy upgraded me to a Ford Mustang GT with a 5.0 liter V8. For a guy who loves cars & usually drives a Hyundai station wagon, this was pure joy. I drove to and from the conference each day with a silly grin on my face, laughing like a little kid every mile of the journey. (Except for the part where I cried when the Hertz folks had to pry the keys from my hands at the end of the trip. Parting truly is such sweet sorrow.) If anyone is pondering any gifts for National Parade Day (March 4th), I'd like one with a glass roof and the 6 speed.

Finally, and far more important than either of the two subjects above, I was nourished by the spiritually mature this weekend, and it was a blessing. When I visited a monastery in the fall, I asked God to show me the sins I needed to address in my life. What God did was surround me with a palpable sense of his love and then reveal to me some growing edges in my life (I believe God always works this way—reminding us of his love before calling us to labor for his Kingdom). While I have spent the period between November and February working on what God revealed to me, this was the next chapter—a time to examine my private thoughts and my priorities. Dallas Willard spoke about the key to a spiritual life is wanting a relationship with Christ more than we want anything else. He spoke clearly, plainly, yet deeply, and we all drank from the fountain of the Holy Spirit that sprang up.

I understood anew how paramount it is to be on our guard, to resist the devil and to seek Christ. It's truly hard to put into words, but I pray that what I heard this weekend will permeate every fiber of my being and every act of my life, that I might be transformed. I hope to hand over some of the things that I learned, that others might hear and see them and direct their lives to God anew. I pray for the wisdom to grow, slowly and steadily, towards the man God is calling me to be. I pray that I will seek the abundant life and recognize the lie behind every other temptation in this world.

Text for this Sunday
Isaiah 53:4-12

Surely he has borne our infirmities
and carried our diseases;
yet we accounted him stricken,
struck down by God, and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgressions,
crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the punishment that made us whole,
and by his bruises we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have all turned to our own way,
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
By a perversion of justice he was taken away.
Who could have imagined his future?
For he was cut off from the land of the living,
stricken for the transgression of my people.
They made his grave with the wicked
and his tomb with the rich,
although he had done no violence,
and there was no deceit in his mouth.

Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him with pain.
When you make his life an offering for sin,
he shall see his offspring, and shall prolong his days;
through him the will of the Lord shall prosper.
Out of his anguish he shall see light;
he shall find satisfaction through his knowledge.
The righteous one, my servant, shall make many righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities.
Therefore I will allot him a portion with the great,
and he shall divide the spoil with the strong;
because he poured out himself to death,
and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors.

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Luke 10:1-12

Dear Theophilus,
Thank you for your recent letter.  I admire your honesty, especially given the circumstances—your words are not dripping with honey to attract this seeker, but are rather coated with truth, although it is not an easy truth.  But I suspect that if you sold me an easy religion and I agreed to sign up, to devote my life, only to discover that the truth was radically different, I would be disheartened and unwilling to go on.  That, or I would choose to live a watered-down religion, which seems to this seeker to be just as interesting as no religion at all.  While the truth is not easy in this particular, I find myself intrigued by it—for something that asks this much of the believer must have some meat on its bones, and it’s complete demands do indeed point to a God who rules over no less than all of creation, and the reward for discipleship must be similarly impressive, although I can see the danger of Christianity becoming a religion that becomes solely focused on the reward of life beyond death and fails to pursue before death the type of life you’re referencing!
I have found another account of Jesus sending out disciples.  This particular account varies from the sending out of the twelve that we recently discussed primarily in the number who were sent out—in this case, Jesus sends forth thirty-five pairs of disciples, one pair to each town he intended to visit.  It’s interesting to think of the disciples are preparing others to meet Jesus—and perhaps equates well to the mission of the church now, as I understand it.  Those who follow Jesus are not capable of forcing a person to come to faith but are responsible for encouraging others to make the decision to follow Jesus, preparing them, in a sense, for an encounter with Jesus.  I hope I have not misrepresented this!
Jesus gives the seventy instructions, and these instructions are no easier to follow than the ones he gave to the twelve when he sent them out.  It’s interesting to think that so many more are willing to go, despite the hardships that will be expected.  This is quite a statement on the rewards of discipleship—that those who have counted the cost have considered it worthy of their lives.  If the mission of the twelve and the demands of Jesus had proved as overwhelming as they seem to be, then fifty-eight more probably wouldn’t be willing to sign on for the task.
Jesus describes those who still need to hear of God as a harvest ready to be brought in, but laments the number of laborers.  This must have encouraged the seventy in some way, for they surely counted themselves as privileged to be in this small number of laborers willing to go out into the harvest.  Although Jesus, in his strange way of talking to those who choose to follow him, tells them that they are like lambs going out into the midst of wolves.  Perhaps they, like I, admired his honesty, but I’d still offer that he could have chosen language that might be a bit more gentle!  Lambs in the midst of wolves does not seem to offer much hope, but Jesus does not dwell on the image.  He continues on to specific instructions, ordering the seventy to leave behind their purse and to carry no sandals or spend time on the road greeting others.  They are to remain singularly focused on their destination and not allow the distractions of others to carry their hearts and minds from the task before them. 
Any house they enter, Jesus tells them, should be offered peace, and that peace will dwell on any who share in it, but the peace offered to those who refuse it will return to the disciple.  This house should be their home while they are there (Jesus ordered them not to bounce from house to house), and the disciples should eat and drink whatever is provided, and in this way they will be paid for their work. 
Jesus tells them that when a town welcomes them, they are to eat what is offered by the residents, to cure those who are sick and proclaim that God’s Kingdom has drawn near.  Surely this bit of news must have excited them—for all the hardships they expected, the ability to cure the sick must have been a constant reminder that they labored for a higher purpose, that there was a reason they chose to endure.  What a sight and affirmation it must have been for those seventy, to watch a sick individual before them be healed! 
Jesus also prepared them for those places that would not welcome them, for he knew what it was like to be unwelcome.  He told them to go into the streets and tell them to announce that they will wipe the dust from their feet off in protest against them, and yet they, too, are to announce that God’s kingdom has come near.  Although, they are also to say to that town that Sodom would be a better place to be when that day does come, which seems to me a rather harsh thing to say, considering that Sodom had fire from heaven rain down upon it, but Jesus does not seem interested in being polite for the sake of niceties, and he demands conviction from those who follow him, too.
It’s interesting to see that in both cities that accept and reject him, the kingdom of God draws near.  It makes me think about my own situation—you have announced so many things about Jesus to me, and others have, through my own seeking, as well.  In this way, God’s kingdom has come near, whether I accept or reject Jesus’ presence in my life.  What I decide does not matter, for the initiating act lies with Jesus.  Through you and others, Jesus has reached out to me.  I now have to decide whether to change my ways or continue to follow the current path I am on.
The difficulty of discipleship does not intimidate me.  Perhaps this shows that I do not fully understand what is asked of me, but I will not be put off by a challenge.  No, the only question is the truth of the matter—for I agree that if everything is true, than the difficulty is worth the work.  The questions continue to rise up in my mind and heart, but I am also finding peace more often.  My heart desires to set these questions to bed and to decide.  You have given me much to ponder, Theophilus, and I hope you know that thoughts and questions of this man Jesus occupy most of my waking thoughts.  In this way, I suppose, the kingdom draws near.  In no way do I desire to represent a village where it will be worse than Sodom on the day that is to come, but I shall not let fear drive me to this decision, even an image as fearful as that!  I shall seek wisdom and let that be my guide.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Luke 9:51-62

Dear Luke,
Your understanding of discipleship sounds spot on to me—to follow Jesus means, to me, to be a complete undertaking, one that should engage the believer first thing in the morning and not let go all day.  The entire heart and mind are actively pursuing a life lived for his glory, and Jesus will continue to lean on us to enlarge our understanding of discipleship, to the point where we see each and every opportunity before us as a chance to grow as disciples.  It is a massive undertaking, a lifetime’s work, and the moment we rest on our satisfied laurels we begin to slip from the picture of discipleship painted by Jesus.  We never achieve that for which we strive, instead waiting for the fulfillment of our life’s work until we rest in the Kingdom of God with Jesus forever. 
It is a daunting task.  It is not easy.  There are many who take one look and decide that it is not for them.  There are many more who make verbal commitments, or who strive to commit, but can never actually offer their whole hearts and minds.  They live a half-hearted discipleship, one that reaches toward the sky but never contemplates actually leaving the ground.  It is a sad picture for me, of those who want the best but are afraid to risk anything.  If you are going to commit your life, Luke, do so fully, without regret, and trust God to care for you should you falter.  God’s love is strong enough to make up for our weaknesses.
This particular section of Jesus’ life seems to be packed full of curious incidents and difficult teachings.  What I am about to report is no different.  We talked recently about the Gerasenes, the people who sent Jesus away out of fear.  I have news of another village, a Samaritan village, who refused to receive Jesus at all.  It was coming near to the time when Jesus would be taken up, which will be made clear to you later, and Jesus had set his face to travel toward Jerusalem.  Messengers were sent ahead of Jesus to make things ready, for Jesus could not travel quickly due to the large crowds that hounded him.  This particular Samaritan village did not receive him due to the fact that he was set on Jerusalem, and if that were not odd enough, James and John asked Jesus if they should have fire from heaven come down and destroy the village.  That would certainly put a capstone on this odd section of stories!  It’s hard to imagine such a scene, and Jesus rebukes the two for even suggesting it.  Jesus was not afraid of using harsh words for those who opposed him, those who rejected his presence were not destroyed—although it probably would have raised the conversion percentage, I doubt that Jesus was interested in doing so by fear.  They simply went on to another village, probably one happy to receive a well-known healer and teacher, and the crowd must have followed along, ready to listen, ready to observe, ready to be amazed.
As they were on their way to this other city, a rather interesting conversation took place, especially considering your questions regarding discipleship.  Someone cried out that they would follow Jesus wherever he went, but Jesus replied by saying that foxes and birds have homes, but that the Son of Man has no such place.  Jesus called another to follow him, and he asked to be allowed to first bury his father, a reasonable request, but Jesus told him to let the dead take care of the dead and instead spend his time proclaiming God’s Kingdom.  One more pledged to follow, once he had said goodbye to those in his household, but Jesus only said that anyone who is fit for the kingdom of God won’t look back once the hand is on the plow.
Those should give you something to wrestle with when you’re thinking about discipleship.  Even I struggle with what these mean.  I certainly understand their surface meaning—that we aren’t to be so caught up with the affairs of the world, even our own families, that we fail to be disciples, and that we will be sacrificing material comfort if we follow Jesus, but it’s hard for me to grasp exactly how to live these out.  I cannot imagine abandoning my family, and I fear I might do great harm to the reputation of the Christian if I were to do so.  I am certainly fine with the idea of material sacrifice, but I will readily admit that the reality of it is something I shirk.  How do I live out this difficult calling?  I have much to learn, Luke, and I suspect that most honest Christians will admit the same.  We are an imperfect people, but our hearts are stretching towards Jesus, leading our bodies and our actions, even if it is often unwillingly, to consider giving more of ourselves to Jesus.  The discipleship which he commands is not a simple one to add in to other commitments—it is one that rules over all of life, and we cannot spend our time looking back, wondering what life would be like otherwise.  It is not even fit to delay it for the sake of emotional attachments.  Following Jesus is a whole-life task, and anything less than that is an incomplete discipleship.
I know it is intimidating, but I think that it is also comforting.  Would you be interested in a religion that asked for less than your whole heart and mind?  If everything that Jesus Christ says is true actually is true, than the sacrifices which he asks for seem entirely reasonable.  It’s worth the cost.  A religion that was content with only part of your heart seems to me a rather small religion that would worship a God that wasn’t interested in reigning over all of creation.  The God I worship is the God who created the heavens and the earth, and all that is in them, and he wants it all, including my life, which God created, to sing his praise.  I believe that Jesus Christ is God, and that following him is the best way to align my life with the life God wants me to lead.  Anything smaller is uninteresting to me.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Luke 9:43b-50

Dear Theophilus,
Your description of life as a journey from the mountaintop to the valley is certainly apt in my case.  As a child, I imagined that I would leap from mountaintop to mountaintop, my feet never brushing the valley floors in between.  As I grew, I realized the absurdity of that fantasy and have grown to accept the valley floor as a place of learning.  Had Jesus spent his ministry dwelling on the mountaintop with Moses and Elijah, so many of these wondrous stories would have never have occurred, and many would never have come in contact with him.  While we would certainly have a glorious image of Jesus, I don’t know if it is an image that many would feel comfortable approaching.  I know I struggle to see myself as worthy to approach a man who forgives prostitutes, as we discussed earlier, let alone one who spends time in conversation with Moses and Elijah. 
Yet, in all of the time he spends healing, he is always teaching, bringing the listener back to the primary reason for his ministry.  He doesn’t heal or do miracles for amusement, but rather with a purpose, to direct the attention of the crowd back to God.  I am so amazed by Jesus as a teacher, as a man with a singular purpose.  I can certainly see why so many who don’t worship him still find the space to admire him—he never deviates from his task.
After hearing of the strange and wondrous healing that you described in your letter, I sought out more information to follow up on the curious saying of Jesus that you related.  I couldn’t imagine that Jesus would simply leave the crowd with such words, and sure enough, I discovered that he carried on teaching while the crowd was still amazed at the sight of this boy, healed from this awful demon.  There isn’t much more, and the crowd did not grasp its meaning, for it was hidden from them, though I do not know why, and out of fear they didn’t ask him about it.  Jesus told them simply, “The Son of Man will be betrayed into the hands of others.”  You or I can say now that we would immediately ask Jesus the meaning of this, demanding to know who would be doing the betraying and work to prevent it.  But that is all the gift of hindsight—in reality, we’d probably stare at each other and try to decipher it on our own, not wanting to disturb Jesus, expecting him to make this more clear on his own time.  I wish he would have continued on teaching about this, but instead an argument broke out. 
You’d think that, by now, with all we’ve covered, the disciples would have a fairly good grasp on what it means to follow Jesus.  I know that I’ve certainly learned quite a bit, and what I’ve learned challenges most of the assumptions about what it means to get ahead in life.  However, in this case the disciples clearly have not picked up the lessons that Jesus has taught.  While Jesus is busy healing a boy, the disciples are bickering about which one is the greatest.  I think I’ve heard small children having a similar argument, but it paints the disciples in a pretty poor light to imagine them having this argument! 
Jesus, however, knew just the thing to defuse the situation and put all of the disciples in their proper place.  Listening to them having this absurd argument, he picked up a little child and made sure each disciple was listening as he told them the confusing truth that the greatest among the disciples is the one who is the least, and that the one who welcomes a child in Jesus’ name is the one who welcomes Jesus.  It doesn’t make much sense at first, but I think Jesus is trying to help them see that it’s not about getting ahead and achieving what so many people call success.  Following Jesus means welcoming children and giving away love without expectation of receiving anything in return.  Anyone who has ever been around a child knows how demanding they can be and much of a one-way relationship it can often be, but it’s for the child’s good that we sacrifice.  In the same way, giving away love freely may not feel rewarding, and it may not get us noticed, but it’s the most important thing we can do.
This seemed to quell the argument the disciples were having, and John couldn’t help but put forward a question that had been brewing in his mind.  I wonder how much of the timing of this question was motivated by him trying to shift the focus of the conversation away from the disciples’ petty fighting.  John told Jesus that a man was seen casting demons out in the name of Jesus, and they had tried to stop him since he didn’t follow Jesus along with the rest of the disciples.  Jesus, however, told the disciples not to stop him, since he wasn’t against the disciples.  I interpret this, Theophilus, to mean that Jesus may use many individuals, even surprising to disciples, to spread the news of the Kingdom. 
It’s a curious sequence of events, and it illustrates, to me at least, that Jesus isn’t easy to pin down.  Many people I know want to define him by a small set, but Jesus resists such easy defining.  To this day, Jesus gives us plenty to consider and ponder, making us stretch for an understanding of how best to follow him.  As an outsider looking in, I appreciate the fact that Jesus is multi-faceted yet singularly focused—my entire mind has to be engaged to follow him, and I can’t ever start believing that I have it nailed down.  Even the disciples squabbled over what it means to follow him!
Let me know if I’ve been led astray in my understanding of discipleship.  I consider you the expert in the field, and hope that you will shed some light on this enigma of a man.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Luke 9:37-43a

Dear Luke,
That certainly is an incredible tale, wrapped in uncertainty.  Had it happened in the middle of Jerusalem on a crowded market day and there were thousands of witnesses, it would be easier to believe, but occurring, as it did, on an obscure mountain with only three witnesses, each of whom has a vested interest in the community seeing Jesus as divine, does make it hard to believe.  It’s so out of the ordinary that even I have a hard time wrapping my mind around it.  I believe that it happened, but cannot for a moment begin to understand what it would have been like, felt like, to be there in that moment.  It certainly links Jesus back to the giants of the early Jewish faith, helping us see that Jesus stands in the same faith tradition as Moses and Elijah and so many others, but it’s a wondrous scene that transcends what this feeble mind can understand.
One would think that after witnessing such a scene Peter, James & John would never be able to look at Jesus again the same way.  How do you see a man glowing with brilliant intensity, talking with men long dead, and then have a normal conversation with him days later?  What else could you talk about?  I can’t even imagine.
I think about this mountaintop experience and wonder how it changed the lives of these three disciples.  I wonder how hard it must have been not to share it with the other disciples.  Wouldn’t they have had to mention it?  How can someone have seen something like that and not tell?  I can picture the three of them gathering in secret just to discuss it, to reminisce, muttering in whispered tones about the way his face looked, about the fear in their hearts when the cloud crept upon them and the way their hearts trembled when God spoke to them.  I don’t believe there is a human heart that could contain this story and not talk about it with someone.
As life goes, the sensation of the spectacular experience did not last long before the reality of a broken and sinful world once more reared its head.  The very next day, having returned from the mountaintop and rejoined the remaining disciples, there was once more a great crowd surrounding them.  The solitude of the mountaintop must have been even more rewarding, considering that their constant experience was that of a mass of humanity pushing in on them.  I’m sure there were many shouting for the attention of Jesus, but one man’s voice managed to carry over the others, perhaps by sheer force of willpower.
“Teacher, see my son, my only child, I beg you.  He will be seized by a spirit and scream, and then his whole body will began to quake until his mouth foams.  This spirit bludgeons his body and hardly leaves him.  I cried out to your disciples, but they were unable to defeat this spirit.”
While we would expect Jesus to answer with compassion to such a situation, he does not.  Perhaps he, too, has been changed by his mountaintop experience, and he no longer sees the constant struggles against evil the same way.  Perhaps he is just tired of the incessant demands from the crowd, or maybe he wants people to see a bigger picture of faith.  For whatever reason, Jesus accuses not just the crowd but the entire generation of being faithless and perverse, and he asks them how much longer he must be with them and tolerate them.  The crowd must have been taken aback, and the man might have been just ready to leave in defeat when Jesus tells him to bring the boy to him.
As the boy came, the demon, perhaps sensing what was about to come, threw the boy to the ground and began to abuse him, but Jesus would have none of it.  The spirit was rebuked and the boy, now healed, was returned to his father.  While the crowd surely rejoiced at the sight of the tearful reunion, some must have continued to ponder exactly what Jesus meant by his rebuke of the crowd.  It must have lingered there, even as they were amazed at God’s power and greatness. 
Luke, this feels to me such an odd story to occur just after the transfiguration you described, and yet isn’t that how life so often is?  One moment we’re in the clouds, the next we’re dealing with situations that we never could have imagined, ones that drag us back down to earth.  We can’t live on the mountaintops—but we must let the experiences we have there transform us, so that when we return to the valleys we are not the same.  I will not pretend that I have had many spiritual mountaintop experiences, as I spend far more time, it seems, in the valleys of life, but I will always carry those special moments in my heart, and the memory of them keeps me going through the valleys, reminding me of the reasons that I believe and driving me onward, trusting that I will return to the mountaintop once more.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Luke 9:28-36

Dear Theophilus,
While the call of discipleship for the apostles was certainly a difficult one, calling them to give up their lifestyles and many of their connections to their previous lives, it was not a call without brilliant moments of confirmation, of clarity that existed, it seems, for the sole purpose of reminding the apostles the importance of their mission, the identity of Jesus.  I have received news of such a story, and it is so dramatic I am scarcely able to believe it is real, despite the assurances I have received from others.  If this story was isolated from the rest of our account and told to me without any other information, not enough testaments in the world could convince me of its authenticity, or I would suspect the witness’ state of mind.  But within the context of this story, and standing next to some of the amazing things Jesus has done, I must wonder if this event is just as true as the others and, if it is true, what effect that has on me.  I trust that this account will serve as a confirmation of much of what you believe, while those of us who still wonder about the place of faith in their lives will have to do something with this account, either discarding it or discrediting it.
Roughly eight days after the challenging sayings you relayed in your letter, Jesus, Peter, James and John went up the mountain to pray.  I do not know why the rest of the disciples were left behind, or how they felt about it, but I would have twinges of jealousy if I were them! 
Something incredible happened while Jesus was praying.  Words can scarcely describe it, and even now my hand shakes as I write this—it is so extraordinary as to be incomprehensible.  From what I have gathered, the appearance of his face was altered, and his very clothes begin to shine with a brilliance that we can scarcely understand.  I picture it as looking directly into the sun, and yet Peter, James and John were able to watch this, albeit with expressions of wonder and curiosity plastered on their faces. 
In the midst of this, two men appeared, names that are familiar to you.  I don’t know how the disciples were certain of their identity, but I don’t doubt that they were right, or else Jesus would have corrected them later.  They were Moses and Elijah, two pillars of the Jewish faith, paragons of integrity and leadership, speaking with Jesus in his glory about his departure, which Jesus was about to finish in Jerusalem.  This is yet another conversation of which the content has vanished, and yet I would love to hear what these men were conversing about.  I do not expect the disciples to remember all of this, for surely their minds were stretched enough by the visuals. 
Speaking of the disciples, they were very tired, but they managed to stay awake to witness this event, and just as Moses and Elijah were about to leave Peter spoke out, daring to interrupt this scene that was unfolding before his eyes.  Peter told Jesus that it was good that they were there, and offered to build three houses, one each for Jesus, for Moses and Elijah.  Peter didn’t truly know what he was saying, but I believe that he wanted to dwell in that moment forever, to hold onto it and not descend back down the mountain, where ordinary life went on as usual. 
However, before an answer was given to Peter, a cloud consumed the scene, and as it surrounded the disciples they were terrified.  Their spirits were already on edge, and this seemed to push them over.  Perhaps they feared it was the end for them, or maybe the unknown of it all was just too much.  A voice spoke out from the cloud, a voice with no body they could see, and yet none of them questioned who it was.  They were hearing the very voice of God saying, “This is my Son, my chosen.  Listen to him!” 
As the disciples were still trying to take this in, the cloud vanished, and Moses and Elijah with it.  Soon it was just Jesus, and the entire scene was as though the events had never happened, which I suppose is what many believe.  The disciples told no one about these things in that time, suspecting (probably correctly) that they would be viewed as crazy and discredited.  I don’t blame them—how do you describe the voice of God, or the vision of Moses and Elijah?  How do you tell people that you witnessed Jesus’ face glowing?  People would think you were crazy, and I probably would, too.
I can’t say that I understand all of this, Theophilus.  It’s like a giant puzzle already, and this piece has so many corners and edges that I don’t know where to put it.  It should be a huge confirmation of what many suspect about Jesus, a reminder that he’s more than just a brilliant man, and yet it is so hard to believe that this is true.  I want to believe it, but it’s so extraordinary, so singular, that for my human mind to grasp the meaning of it is asking too much of me right now. 
I hope you understand my position.  I am not antagonistic towards the story, and I don’t want to discredit the disciples.  Everything about this story, though, is outside the realm of my experience, and to somehow believe it as true is a huge leap of faith for me.  Be patient with me, friend, and perhaps in time I will learn how to fit this cumbersome piece into the puzzle.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

2-21 E-News


Volunteer—Friday, March 1, from 9-2, is Read to Kids Day at East Brainerd Elementary. If you're interested, please contact Kimberly Wheeler ( to reserve your time and grade spot. Or you can call 855-6161. Books will be available, or you can bring your own.

Movie NightEvery other Saturday, there is a group that watches movies in the basement and talks about the spiritual themes in them. Tim Meyers leads the group. They meet at 5:30 on March 2nd for their next meeting.

UTC Board—The UTC Board is still in need of members. If you're interested in joining, or attending a meeting to see what they're like, let me know.

Community Kitchen Spot
There are a lot of hungry and homeless children of God and the community needs some help feeding them. If you would like to help out, please bring the following items to church this Sunday & put them in the grocery cart.
Dry Cereal

New Hope News

Sunday School—This Sunday, the adult class will study Romans.

At Work on Purpose—Starting February 21, there will be an evening seminar about how best to be Christians at work. If you want to learn more about the organization behind the curriculum, click here. Please speak with Andy Sanislo if you're interested and/or planning on attending.

Pray For:

Walt Suber & Sybil Bryant! It's their birthday weeks!

Pray for those who do not know Christ.


Keith's Random Thoughts

If my research is correct, the last time a pope resigned it was to end a schism that had resulted in there being three popes. Fortunately, this papal resignation is under much better circumstances. I will say I am rather impressed with the pope's choice—I think it takes tremendous wisdom and courage to admit that you can no longer adequately perform your duties, especially with the whole world watching. For the record, the Catholic church has yet to contact me about accepting the role.
The curious thing is to see what the Catholic church will do next. Will they elect a representative from Africa or Latin America, where the church is booming, or will they stick with what they know, a European pope, who may perform his duties well but perhaps not represent the future of the Catholic church? Time will tell...
Change is hard for all of us. It's easy to do what we're comfortable doing, to keep moving forward in the same way we always have. But the Holy Spirit calls us to look forward, to be willing to trust God wherever he may lead us, no matter how prepared or anxious we may feel in the face of that future. God will not abandon us in the days to come, even though they may be unfamiliar.
As New Hope peers into the future God has in store for us, how is God calling us to be faithful? This may look different than it has in years past, and that's ok. Let's be willing to trust God, to live boldly and without restraint, falling in the grace of God and trusting him to uplift and support us. Through our faithful service, God's Word will be proclaimed. Through our works of love, others will glorify God.
While the decision of the Catholic church seems far bigger than our own decisions, let us approach them with the same seriousness. May each action, thought and word be done with utmost attention to God's leadership, and may we follow where God leads us, rather than choosing the same comfortable footsteps out of habit.

Text for this Sunday
Genesis 22:1-18

After these things God tested Abraham. He said to him, ‘Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ He said, ‘Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt-offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.’ So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac; he cut the wood for the burnt-offering, and set out and went to the place in the distance that God had shown him. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place far away. Then Abraham said to his young men, ‘Stay here with the donkey; the boy and I will go over there; we will worship, and then we will come back to you.’ Abraham took the wood of the burnt-offering and laid it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together. Isaac said to his father Abraham, ‘Father!’ And he said, ‘Here I am, my son.’ He said, ‘The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for a burnt-offering?’ Abraham said, ‘God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt-offering, my son.’ So the two of them walked on together.

When they came to the place that God had shown him, Abraham built an altar there and laid the wood in order. He bound his son Isaac, and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to kill his son. But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, and said, ‘Abraham, Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ He said, ‘Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.’ And Abraham looked up and saw a ram, caught in a thicket by its horns. Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt-offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place ‘The Lord will provide’; as it is said to this day, ‘On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.’

The angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven, and said, ‘By myself I have sworn, says the Lord: Because you have done this, and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will indeed bless you, and I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of their enemies, and by your offspring shall all the nations of the earth gain blessing for themselves, because you have obeyed my voice.’

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Luke 9:18-27

Dear Luke,
Your image of Herod and Jesus meeting secretly in a dark corner amuses me.  I’d never pictured such a conversation taking place, and I will side with those who doubt that it ever did, but I can imagine Jesus relaying the teachings from his earlier sermon on the plain that I relayed to you while Herod responds with utter confusion as to how such teachings would be possible to follow with his position and history.  Perhaps you are right and they did find some time to meet, and I would imagine I could learn something from what Jesus said to Herod, but I just can’t quite stretch my imagination far enough to believe that Herod would be humble enough to listen earnestly to a man with a background like Jesus’. 
It is with sadness that I view many of those souls who have looked upon Jesus with little more than fascination and interest.  Here is a man to whom I have given my life, whom I believe is worthy of my worship, and it disturbs me to see many who listen to him as though he is little more than a teacher.  I respect your investigation, Luke, and I believe that when you arrive at the end of your investigation you will feel the full weight of Jesus’ identity upon you.  There are so many who discard Jesus without more than a second thought, and there are even more who hear his words but do not allow the fullness of them to resonate within them.  They are unwilling to change or to heed his warnings and teachings. 
At one point, when Jesus was truly alone praying with the disciples, having somehow found a way to escape the persistent and dedicated crowds, he asked the disciples who the crowds said that he was.  It is an interesting question, one that could be seen as being posed by someone seeking information, but like so many other things with Jesus, once the cover was off one box, it led directly to the heart of life, to the question of each person’s relationship with God.
The disciples probably didn’t grasp where this was leading, and they replied with many of the names that had been proposed by those trying to understand just who this man was.  They supplied the names of John the Baptist, Elijah and other prophets that had long since passed away.  Many believed he was a figure who had been raised from the dead, a miraculous thing but not nearly as explosive as what I believe the truth is about who Jesus truly is. 
Jesus didn’t let this question of idle curiosity remain vague for long.  After a silence had settled once more over the small group, he asked them who they said that he was.  He had turned the general question into a specific query, and only one disciple spoke up, clearly and firmly.
“God’s Messiah.”
It was Peter who spoke these two words, and they rang heavily in the hearts of each disciple.  This was quite a confession to make, for if it was true, then the direction and purpose their entire lives had taken on since they had been called was confirmed, and what they were pursuing was not a fool’s errand but rather the single most important task that could consume their lives.  They were helping spread the message of God’s Kingdom, and they were spending time with a man about whom prophesies had been written for centuries.  He wasn’t just a great teacher or a powerful man, but rather a legendary figure who was before them in flesh and bone, more true than anything else they had ever encountered.
Jesus didn’t give them long for the words to settle in.  For some reason, he commanded them to keep quiet about his identity, going on to tell them that he would go through great suffering and rejection by elders, priests and scribes, and that he would be killed, only to rise on the third day.  Jesus did not speak these words lightly, but I cannot begin to imagine that the disciples could grapple with the full truth of them.  How could anyone, still grasping what it means for Jesus to be the Messiah, then come to terms with the impending death of God’s Messiah, who was standing before you, alive and well?  All these facts were too much for their minds to handle, but Jesus went on.
“Those who wish to follow me must do so carrying their cross, denying themselves and losing their lives for my sake.  This is the only way to save your life.  All the riches in the world will offer no profit if you lose yourself.  I tell you that when the Son of Man comes in glory and is surrounded by the glory of angels and the very glory of God, he will be ashamed of those who are ashamed of him in this life.  Some of you, however, will witness God’s Kingdom before your own deaths.”
Each word of Jesus’ was offered as a lifeline to a drowning soul, but it was not an easy one to claim.  You wrote me the other day relating the events of Jesus calming a storm on the sea.  In this account, he acknowledges that each man’s life takes place in the midst of a storm, and that true faith in God is the only way to be rescued, or else the storm will consume.  But the path is not an easy one to walk, and it is only fair to be upfront about that.  The disciples have been sent out into the world to proclaim God’s Kingdom and to heal, but there is a far more difficult side to life as a disciple.  It’s easy to skip this part, but Jesus doesn’t want the disciples to water down his message, to live a weak testimony, and he calls them to a challenging life, but first he accepts that he will suffer far greater challenges than they.  While I’m sure they could not grasp the enormity of all this, perhaps when his words came to fruition they were some comfort to them, knowing that he walked into the circumstances with confidence that could come only from God.
Luke, I will not promise you an easy life of faith, one that will always be comfortable.  I will not promise you this because Jesus did not promise ease to any of us.  To say otherwise in hopes of making a confession easier for you would be a disservice and lead you down a path Jesus would not want you to walk.  It is tough, and while I have not suffered nearly as much as Jesus did, I will say that faith is not always easy, and there are days when suffering is real.  The same may be true for you.  But just as Jesus promised the disciples true life in exchange for selfless discipleship, he offers you and me the same life.  It is waiting for us as a free gift, and if we choose to accept it, there are real consequences in our lives.  I will be in prayer for you, but know that it is not an easy path behind the door at which you currently stand, trying to discern if it is worth walking through.  But Jesus promises each of us that it is worth the brambles, the mountains and the storms that await.  Do not give up because of the challenge, for it shall not overcome you.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Luke 9:7-17

Dear Theophilus,
Your letter raises such questions in my mind.  I wonder how the disciples met this challenge that Jesus had set down, how successful they were relying on the community, how tempted they were to abandon faith and go back to an easier life.  Perhaps, after everything that had seen and heard, the thought never entered their minds and they simply endured the challenge, delighted with the powers Jesus had given them and excited to be a part of his mission.  Maybe they could do such amazing things that they never gave a second thought to their condition, but I can’t help but think that some of those disciples longed for the comfort of their own bed at times.  I know I certainly would have done so.
Don’t give yourself such a hard time, Theophilus.  I pray that you will be patient with yourself, and let some of that guilt slide off your back.  No one is perfect, and perhaps the call to discipleship is different today.  Jesus is no longer around to teach anyone, so you have to interpret his teachings and make the best decisions.  I don’t mean that you might not have ways and directions to grow, but you can’t expend all of your energy on self-doubt.  You will merely grow frustrated and negative if you do so.
I have gathered a report from someone whose voice I did not expect to hear until much later in this account.  Herod, the ruler, had heard about the things that were taking place across the region and was apparently perplexed by all that he heard.  He heard mixed reports from different individuals—there were claims that Jesus was John the Baptist, back from the dead, or perhaps Elijah or another old prophet appearing and performing such majestic works.  He knew that John had been beheaded, and he was one who believed in the finality of such things, so he was uncertain as to just who this man was.  It is even reported that Herod tried to see the man. 
I wonder if such a meeting ever took place.  There are rumors that circulate as to the outcome of his efforts, some that claim much embarrassment on Herod’s behalf, others that claim success, but I can substantiate none of them.  I think that is a rumor destined to drift away to the annals of history, never to be confirmed.  I like to think they did meet, some night under the cover of darkness, and that Herod was secretly converted over to faith.  I don’t know why I like to think this, especially when I have such a hard time believing it all myself, but I can imagine Herod and Jesus in some dark street corner having a deep conversation that stretches on for hours, Herod constantly asking for more and sitting in wonder like a child at the knee of his hero.  As I have said, I imagine that I would be converted if I was ever in the true presence of Jesus—from everything I have learned, the presence of Jesus seems irresistible!  But perhaps Herod failed, or maybe Jesus refused, and he spent his life in idle fascination, unwilling to commit to serious pursuit.  I’d say that it’s a sad story, but I fear that others may say the same about me.
I have found the closing chapter to the section you introduced in your letter.  The apostles returned to Jesus after their mission was completed and reported back to him all that was done.  If only the stories they had told survived to reach my willing ears!  I would love to hear what they did and how it affected them, but they retreated to Bethsaida to be alone, although that didn’t last long, for crowds soon heard about his presence there and followed him.  If I were in his shoes I would have been frustrated, for I’m sure that time was intended for Jesus to spend teaching the disciples and further unraveling the stories of what they had done, but he welcomed them with grace and taught them about God’s Kingdom, all the while healing those who were brought to him.  Jesus opened his heart, as he so often did, and allowed this interruption to be an opportunity for teaching and healing.  Those who dare interrupt me are often the recipients of anger and invective, but there are certainly many who are eager to remind me that I am not Jesus!
Near the end of the day, the disciples came to Jesus, engaged in his teaching, and encouraged him to send the crowd away so they could get something to eat in a nearby village.  They were so enrapt by his teachings, so eager to be healed and witness other healings, that they had paid little attention to provisions and were bound to be hungry.  The disciples were thinking of these practical matters while Jesus was busy addressing the soul, but they didn’t realize that Jesus could meet the physical needs of the crowd as well.  Jesus told the disciples a curious thing, ordering them to feed the crowd.  Perhaps they should have thought about this on a deeper level, since Jesus had recently given them power to do amazing miracles, but their minds were fully engaged on a practical level, and they asked Jesus how they were to do such a thing, since they had only five loaves of bread and two fish, and they could never have purchased food for such a crowd, seeing as how there were at least five thousand men, and more women and children! 
Jesus, seeing that his command to the disciples had fallen with a thud in their hearts, asked the twelve to have the crowd sit down in groups of fifty.  He then took that food the disciples had, the fish and the loaves, and looked up to heaven, blessed and broke it.  Some in the crowd were watching this, but most were so concentrated on getting the groups straightened out that they weren’t paying attention.  Even the disciples were engaged in this task and weren’t paying much attention.  I suppose that Jesus would have called everyone’s attention to his task if it were meant to be a teaching moment, but instead he quietly went about his prayer, and then distributed the food to the disciples to give out to the crowd. 
Now, I will admit that I can’t figure out how this happened.  To this day I am still wrestling with exactly how it works, but somehow, when Jesus handed out that food, there was enough to feed everyone and leftovers, enough for each disciple to have a basket filled with pieces.  Somehow, whenever Jesus handed some food out, enough remained to give to the next, and to the next, and to the next.  There was always more.  Jesus took that small quantity of food and fed thousands, and had leftovers just to prove that he could do it.  In Jesus, there seems to always be more than we need.  The disciples were worried the people would go hungry, but on that day in deserted Bethsaida, he fed them, body and soul, and they ate their fill.
Theophilus, I hope to someday dine at the Lord’s Table, where there is always enough, and where I am fed, body and soul, to the point that I don’t even notice anything else except the presence of Jesus.  That sounds like the greatest meal ever, and I hope this stubborn and uncertain heart will allow me to immerse myself in that meal.


  Do you know what's better than spending your morning being chased around the house by a toddler growling at you like a lion?


Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Luke 9:1-6

Dear Luke,
You describe your inner struggle so well as you put these stories to paper.  I often wish I had invested the same time and energy into the decision.  When others ask me how I came to faith, often awaiting a dramatic story about God’s direct intervention in my life, they leave disappointed when I tell them that someone asked me if I wanted to follow Jesus, and I said yes, because it felt like the right thing to do at the time.  I have later built structures under that faith, and I believe it now rests on a firm foundation, but my own journey into faith was rather poorly thought out and entered into without realization of the enormous commitment I was making.  Had someone told me at the time that I’d be handing over my entire life to a man who was crucified on a cross, I’m not so sure I would have leapt quite so willingly!
The story you relate about the healing of the woman and the girl makes me long for every detail of Jesus’ every movement.  I want to know each word that he said and every person he reached out to.  I know that you have related the story with a full account of the facts available to you, but my very soul longs for more, for a complete knowledge of the life of this man.  He fascinates me.  His every act draws me deeper into faith, and the more I learn the more I realize that I have so much deeper yet to go.
I believe the disciples were also transformed by watching his actions.  He was constantly teaching them, preparing them for their own ministries.  I can only imagine how much they learned during times for which we have no record.  They must have had so many questions as they prepared to do something completely new, to go out with a new message and tell others about Jesus.  It probably helped that stories of Jesus’ miracles had reached every corner of the land, but to go out on their own would surely have been a daunting task.
But send them out is exactly what Jesus did next.  He gathered them together and gave them power over demons as well as diseases, expecting them to use these powers not only to heal but also to announce God’s Kingdom.  Just think of what it would have felt like to be filled with such power!  Imagine how eager they were to go forth and test these powers out, to speak with authority over a demon or lay hands on a man who has been hurting for decades.  The disciples had abilities they had perhaps only dreamed about, and they were given free license to use them.  I wonder if they were nervous about proclaiming God’s Kingdom—it would be easy to use these powers to heal and cast out demons, but they were instructed to connect this power with God’s Kingdom, to make sure that the witnesses knew that they were healed because of God, and that God was calling them to renew their faith.  It would have been intimidating to think of the disciples attracting the attention of the Roman army or their adversaries, the Pharisees, but Jesus’ confidence must have bled over into them.
Jesus did not make this task easy, though, for he also instructed the disciples to take nothing with them on their journey.  They were to leave behind a staff, bag, bread or money.  They wouldn’t even have the comfort of an extra tunic.  This was a lesson for the disciples in depending on God and the community.  They weren’t sent out to live comfortably on their own—they were to go into a community and let the community support them.  They were told to stay in a house they enter, to build relationships.  If they find a community in which they are not welcomed, Jesus instructed them to shake the dust from that village off their feet as a testimony against them.  They would learn as they went, village by village, and the Kingdom of God would be spread through them.
So the disciples listened and they left, going through villages throughout the area, telling the story and sharing the good news, curing diseases as well.  Crowds must have turned out to meet them, and when they witnessed the power of God working through them, many must have gone off in search of Jesus, desperate to hear more.  The disciples gave the people a foretaste of what they would witness when they came before Christ, and many must have been changed by God working through them. 
What the disciples did on their journeys through the villages is no different than what myself and other Christians are called to do in our own lives.  We are called to let God work through us so that others want to meet God and believe.  I may not be able to cure diseases, but I can tell the story and share the good news of the Kingdom of God, hopeful that my own words will pique someone’s curiosity about Jesus.  It’s not easy, but I certainly don’t have it as rough as the disciples did—I have an extra tunic!  I hope that the comfort with which I am surrounded does not endanger my own witness or compromise my own faith.  I will admit to wondering about that, Luke.  Perhaps I have rounded off some of the sharp edges of Jesus’ teachings because I am unwilling to offer everything up to God and have the type of dependence on him that these disciples had.  I, too, still have much to learn.  Though my commitment was rather immature in the beginning of my journey of faith, I am growing, maturing, learning, and I pray that other disciples will continue to teach me, that my own faith may deepen and I may have this dependence that the disciples learned at the knee of Jesus.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Luke 8:40-56

Dear Theophilus,
It’s so fascinating to hear about the reactions of various people to Jesus throughout these stories we’ve been discovering.  Some people flock to him, while others want nothing more than to be rid of his presence.  He’s such a divisive figure, and for those of us who stand in the middle, unsure which path to pursue, we see why each side believes they are correct.  For those who flee from him, or those who beg him to leave their presence, Jesus is such an oddity, a frightening figure for them to consider, that the peace of their lives is disturbed by his very presence.  I know I have been unsettled ever since we began this project—and there are times I wish it had never come into my life.  I’m forced to reconcile what I know with what I previously believed, and it would be easier if Jesus left my life by the same door he entered.  On the other hand, Jesus is such a fascinating figure, and there’s something about him that draws me in, that compels me to want to learn more, to uncover every story and detail of his life.  I send out more and more letters, hoping to discover some unknown detail, some miraculous account or facet of his personality.  Each letter that arrives at my house is devoured, then read multiple times as I wonder at the miracle of it all.  I can’t tear my eyes away from the paper as I learn more about Jesus.  My life has been forever changed by this project, and while I occasionally envy those who are not confronted with this disruptive event, I would not give it up without reaching its conclusion for all the power in the world.
So while part of my heart stands on the shore of the lake in Gerasene and silently begs for Jesus to leave this place, much more of me cries out to him to come near so I can sit at his knee and learn from him.  Perhaps there is even a small part of me that seeks him out—and I can only imagine how great that impulse would be if there was a pressing need on my part.  We read and discuss these miracles of Jesus, but it’s even harder to imagine what it would be like to be sick in those days, to be filled with despair and then have hope break like the sun over the horizon.  Surely you would expend every ounce of energy and money to seek out Jesus, just so that he might touch you and make you well.  Theophilus, I’ve found a story of two such people interwoven, all of it, of course, revolving around Jesus. 
When Jesus turned his back to Gerasene, he left behind a group of people who were afraid of him, afraid of his power and afraid of what his life might mean for him.  When he returned, there was a crowd waiting for him, including a leader of a synagogue named Jairus.  What happened next would have brought tears to the eyes of any bystander, for this well-known man fell at the feet of Jesus and begged for him to come and heal his only daughter, a twelve-year old girl who was dying.  Surely a murmur passed over the crowd as people wondered what Jesus would do, and a roar must have gone forward as Jesus brought the man to his feet and followed after him.  Some probably ran on ahead to Jairus’ house in hopes of finding a place with a good view, while others peeled off an ran to the neighborhood to tell all what was about to occur.
The crowd was packed tightly around Jesus as they made their way to Jairus’ house.  The sense of anticipation was strong within the group, and no one wanted to miss a word or a movement.  Now, this interruption may be hard to believe, but I assure you, Theophilus, that multiple sources have confirmed the veracity of it.  I don’t quite understand it myself, but Jesus has proved to be well beyond my realm of understanding often enough that once more is not too much of a bother! 
I’m sure that Jesus was bumped and jostled by the crowd many times, but one particular bumped caused Jesus, and thus the entire crowd, to come to a screeching halt.  All stared at Jesus, particularly Jairus, a man whose hopes mixed with a sense of urgency.  But who was he to tell Jesus to hurry up?  At that point, Jesus asked, “Who touched me?”
None would admit to it, and Peter finally spoke what many were thinking when he told Jesus that the crowd was all around him, but Jesus insisted that someone touched him, and then added the curious claim that power had gone out from him.  I add that its curious because it seems odd that power would go out without him sending it, but Jesus clearly is certain that something definite has happened here, and while I suppose he asks these questions for a specific reason, to teach something, it’s an odd way of getting to it. 
Eventually, the overwhelming tension broke the woman guilty of the charge, and she fell down before him, telling a heart-breaking story that all could hear.  She had suffered from hemorrhages for twelve years and had been declared incurable by every physician she visited.  All the money she had went off chasing a cure, but none was to be found, and in the Jewish society, to be constantly bleeding means one is constantly unclean and thus unable to partake in society.  Once more, many in the crowd wept at her story, and some shouted praises when she declared that she had been healed the moment she touched Jesus’ cloak. 
The look of peace and joy spread across the face of Jesus, and all in the crowd leaned forward to catch the words meant for the woman:  Daughter, go in peace, secure in the knowledge that your faith has healed you.  It was overwhelming and still gives me pause as I write this, amazed at the transformation in this woman’s life because she touched the cloak of Jesus with faith in him.  The peace with which she left him must have been the first real peace for her in at least twelve years.
The parabolic joy of the crowd came crashing back to earth when Jesus turned his attention back to a nervous Jairus to carry on.  In this time, a figure appeared in the distance and rapidly approached, and surely Jairus’ heart sank when he saw the man running to find this group.  He must have feared the worst.  His worst fears, a thought he might have prevented considering until now, were confirmed when the man told Jairus that there was no need for Jesus to come because the girl had passed.
Before the message could pass from Jairus’ ears to his heart, Jesus looked directly at him and told him, with certainty in his voice, not to fear, only to believe, and that the girl will be saved.  In that moment, Jairus would have clung to anything, and so like a drowning man thrown a final hope, he grabbed that rope with ferocity.
When the group arrived at the house, a cloud of mourning had descended on the house, and many wished that Jesus had only arrived hours earlier.  Only Peter, James, John, Jairus and his wife were permitted to enter, to the crowd’s great disappointment, but they all pressed close to the entrance in hopes of catching glimpse of the miracle they expected.  Within the house there was much weeping and wailing for the loss of this beloved child, but Jesus told them not to weep and insisted the girl was only sleeping.  In their mourning they laughed at him, for they knew what death was and were certain that it had claimed the child.  Jesus, not to be discouraged or dismayed, took the girl by the hand and cried, “Arise, Daughter!”
I wish I could have felt the entire room transform as the girl’s spirit returned and her body got up for all to witness.  Not a soul in the house breathed—all stared at her as though they couldn’t believe she was really there!  So many things must have rushed through their minds, but before they could spit any of them out, Jesus commanded someone to give her some food.  He then gave Jairus and his wife the strenuous command of telling nobody what had occurred.  I haven’t the slightest idea why, and I don’t know what they were supposed to say to the waiting crowd that knew the girl was dead and would see her running about the way little girls do in a matter of days, but they weren’t to tell anyone, and when someone brings your daughter back to life, you do what they say!
These two healings intertwine and make for such an incredible story, Theophilus.  I am sure you have many questions, as do I—this is all the information I could gather that I could be certain of, and I do not wish to convey rumor or conjecture to you.  There is much here to ponder, but perhaps it is enough to sit back and simply marvel at the wonder of it all.  Miracles!  What a marvelous thing Jesus does here for this woman and the little girl.  Both are restored to new life through the gift of Jesus.  May these stories bring the same joy to your heart that they did to mine.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Sermon for 2-17-2013

John 21:15-19 
  When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my lambs.’ A second time he said to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Tend my sheep.’ He said to him the third time, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’
  Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ And he said to him, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep. Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.’ (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, ‘Follow me.’

Think about what happens when you apply to college. You get accepted, and then, when you arrive, they put you to work, right? Classes, classes, homework and then more classes. I will freely confess that I wasted much of my time at college—I forgot the reason I was there. They gave me work to do, but I often busied myself doing other things.
What happens when you get a job? You apply for it, and if you are offered the job, you show up on the first day and, surprisingly enough, they give you something to do. They have work for you. They don't encourage you to laze about and enjoy your pay without ever doing anything in response.

This is how life works, right—you sign up for something and, sure enough, you're given something to do. If you sign up for something and then never do anything, it's pretty easy to forget you ever signed up for it, right?

Well, it turns out that faith isn't that different from these situations. When we accept the gift of faith, he gives us something to do.

Here we are, in John 21. This is just about the very end of the Gospel. Jesus has been brutally crucified on the cross. The disciples and his family have suffered through an interminable period of suffering and anguish, mourning the loss of their beloved teacher and friend. Then, on that first glorious Easter morning, Jesus is raised from the dead. He appears to the disciples and confirms his resurrection. There is much rejoicing, and the community of disciples must devour every morsel of teaching he offers them. They recognize that he is more than just a great man—he is the Son of God, and he's offering life to everyone who believes in him.

No one is going to turn down that offer, right? We're all going to sign up—eternal life as a free gift? Transformation of our lives in Christ given without condition? Yes!!

So we accept his offer, right?

Then, he gives us something to do.

Peter is probably the apostle about whom we know the most. Again and again, he appears in the Gospels as energetic, although far from perfect. He's always willing to jump in with both feet, even if he sometimes lands in a difficult spot. It's Peter who identifies Christ as the Messiah. It's Peter who asks Jesus to help him walk on water. It's Peter who rushes in to defend Jesus with the sword in the Garden of Gethsemane. It's Peter who denies Christ in the courtyard, saving his own skin. Here, just before today's reading, it's Peter who dives in and swims to shore to be near the risen Jesus. Peter loves Jesus. Peter offers his life to Jesus, accepting the promises of resurrection and salvation.

And Jesus gives Peter something to do.

It's not just busy work, either. This is vitally important work. Feed my lambs, Jesus says. Tend my sheep, Jesus says. These are his beloved children, his treasured ones, and he is willing to let someone else help in the care for them. This is a task to be taken seriously. Let's not forget, as it is easy to do, that each and every person on this earth is made in the image of God. Each and every person, from the Pope to the President to the prisoner to the peddler of flowers on the side of the road, is fearfully and wonderfully made, knit together in their mother's womb, and precious in God's sight. We are God's beloved, his sheep, the ones whom God pursues when we get lost. Each person matters to God, and because they matter to God, they should matter to us, too.

So Jesus gives Peter something to do, and it's of the utmost importance. This is our highest responsibility—to care for what is precious to God, the most precious and valuable resource in the world—people. God's lambs. His sheep.

Friends, I think that God gives us something to do, too. Christianity isn't just about gaining access to the VIP lounge in the sky after we die. It's not just about being freed from the fear of death and hell. It's not just about heaven after death.
It's about a transformation of life before death, too. It's about the kingdom coming here and now. It's about how we live and how we treat one another. It's a Gospel of life, for life.

So our task is to feed Christ's sheep. To tend for his lambs. To love his precious & beloved children.

How are we going to do that?

First of all, we need to recognize that we are all made in God's image. None are better or worse than another. All have sinned and fallen short of how we are called to live, and all are worthy of our love. Jesus told us to feed his sheep, and he didn't qualify that statement with the idea that we could only feed the ones we liked or the ones that looked like us. He simply gave us a task to do and expects us to do it.

Secondly, we need to stop worrying about ourselves. Think, for a second, about where Peter has been. He was the one who denied even knowing Jesus Christ in the courtyard in order to save his own skin. He openly denied Jesus Christ, and probably hated himself for it. Surely, he doubted his own worthiness to be used by God. Surely, he wondered whether he could possibly be good for anything. Surely, Christ wouldn't want anything to do with him.
Instead, Christ offers him redemption. Christ lets Peter affirm his love once for every time he denied him, and then he sends him out into the world to care for Christ's most precious possessions. He even tells Peter that his very death will glorify God. Peter is redeemed from his sin.
So are you. You are not too far gone for Jesus. You are still worthy of use, no matter what is in your past. God can and will use everything that is offered to him, so stop focusing on yourself and focus on Christ and the monumental task that is before us.

How will we feed Christ's sheep? How will we tend to his lambs? God wants to use us all to reach out and let his love be known through our actions. Our faith isn't just about gathering us in—it's also about sending us out to the lost and the broken, that we might testify to his great love.

Let us pray