Lost and Found

Read John 20:1-18

He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”

Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” (John 20:15)

“The resurrection completes the inauguration of God’s kingdom. . . . It is the decisive event demonstrating that God’s kingdom really has been launched on earth as it is in heaven. The message of Easter is that God’s new world has been unveiled in Jesus Christ and that you’re now invited to belong to it.” — N. T. Wright

When Mary Magdalene first saw the empty tomb, her heart sank. The one man who believed in her; the one who had helped her believe, the one she had trusted, now was humiliated even beyond death. 

Mary cries. With her tears, she no doubt recalls the time she had spent with Jesus. The way in which he had received her. He respected her, like no man had done before. To so many others, she was a common prostitute, but to Jesus, she was a child of God. He could see in her the desire for change, the thirst for a new life and he helped her along this path.

Now he was gone. But not for good.

Easter Sunday, 1987. I was driving around aimlessly. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed a woman, scarf tied around her head, carrying a large bag. She didn’t know where she was going. I didn’t know where to take her. We were both lost. 

I took her to a downtown church,still smelling of exhaust with the woman in tattered clothes beside me. When we got inside I could feel the stares on us. An elderly gentleman in fine Easter attire ushered us to a quiet space, sat down with us over coffee. You could see the tension slowly lifting from the woman’s face as she began to feel welcomed. He was able to help her find her way home.

I walked out of church that day in tears. I, too, had found my way home. I found Christ not confined to a tomb. I found Christ living in the community of faith, ready to embrace me into his family.

Rich Man, Poor Man

“The rich and poor have this in common: the Lord is the maker of them all.” (Proverbs 22.2)

What is the difference between King Solomon and the beggars gathering around the temple? Donald Trump and a migrant worker? From a worldly perspective, there is much difference. There is a chasm between the rich and the poor from a human perspective. But, both rich and poor are made in the image of God. If we believe this, the ways we live in the world are bound to change. To live in a world obsessed with wealth, with the belief that all are creatures of God, no matter what you have, is to challenge the way things are.

There is a church I know built in a city neighborhood that had once been full of upper-middle class homes. In time, there was urban flight and many church members moved to the suburbs They considered selling the building, but instead were led to redirect their mission and ministry and focus on the needs of this changing community. They set up a food bank, a clothing shelter. They offered programs for single parents. Developed 12-step groups. Folks from the neighborhood came to receive services, and stayed to serve others.

One day I overheard a member from another church commenting on the growth of this inner-c church. “Sure they’re growing,” she said, “but with the wrong kind of people.” I shared this with the pastor and he got a big smile on his face, “Well then, we must be doing something right.”

Foolish Prophets

Read Luke 4:14-30

“Truly I tell you,” [Jesus] continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown. (Luke 4:24)

“As we see from the Scriptures, it had become a proverbial expression that if someone wanted to refer to a prophet, he called him a fool. — Martin Luther

Steve was a gifted high school student who was asked to serve on the music team of his church. He was reluctant, but agreed to pray about it. In time, he agreed.

Within a month of participating on the worship team, Steve noticed a disturbing trend. Team members were not there to lead worship, but instead to draw attention to themselves and impress their friends. Steve brought this to the attention of the pastor, who dismissed it as immature jealousy. Steve’s prophetic word was ignored and soon the music ministry collapsed.

Some say “familiarity breeds contempt.” One challenge of hometown living is allowing our children to become the unique persons God creates them to be. When we fail to do this, we overlook the Spirit of God who can do new things in unique ways. We also fail to hear what they might teach us about the world, about ourselves. Some of our best leaders and prophets move away because nobody in their hometown listens, nobody accepts them for who they become.

We don’t know what Jesus was like as a child, a teenager, or young adult. But we see that at 30, he is filled with the Spirit of God. He is a teacher who brings the kingdom of God down to earth. People who listen to him find great comfort and encouragement to lead holy and joyful lives; those held captive find release, the blind receive sight, the oppressed are set free. As Jesus teaches, those pushed down are lifted up.

We often place too great an emphasis on visible signs of authority. Prophets are people who speak God’s truth, regardless of social standing. They don’t need formal degrees or impressive titles. True prophets immerse themselves in the Word of God and regularly listen for what God is saying to them and, through them, to the world.

What might a modern-day prophet be saying to you, and to the world today?

How have you treated prophets in your life?

Open the eyes of our hearts and minds, Lord Jesus, to see those who speak for you and hear what you are saying through them.

Our Water, God’s Wine

Read John 2:1-11

… the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. (John 2:9)

“The matters we or the world might consider trivial, He cares about and wants to remedy. He longs to relieve our worries and has promised to supply our most fundamental needs.” ― Charles Swindoll

What do you do when the wine runs out? Is the party over? Do your guests leave? Do you start cleaning up the mess?

When the wine runs out the wedding in Cana, Mary does something about it. She makes the need known to Jesus. At first he seems annoyed. Maybe he is tired of her meddling. Maybe he is playfully chiding her. Whatever the case, he responds to her expressed concern in a miraculous way. Jesus turns sacred water into delicious wine. 

The question for us is, what do we do when our wine runs out?

The wine of romance from your wedding night: a beautiful night with stars shining, music in the air, the smell of roses….gone after 7 years of stormy days, hacking sounds and morning breath. The wine has run out. Do you leave? Or do you find some water and let Christ turn it into wine.

The wine of strength from your glory days: lights shining, all eyes on you, carrying the ball across the goal line with a roar from the crowd; now, darkness, alone you hold a pillow over your face. The wine has run out. Do you leave? Or do you find some water and let Christ turn it into wine?

The wine of popularity; all pews filled, building projects funded, children confirmed, everywhere holy, happy families. Now, more gaps than bodies, budget crunch, a handful in youth group; broken families, damaged lives. Do you leave? Or do you find some water and let Christ turn it into wine?

When the wine runs out, there is a guest among us who can do something about it.

What wine has run out in your life?

How might Jesus turn your water into wine?

Lord Jesus, you respond to our concerns in amazing ways. Send your Spirit into our hearts that we may boldly come before your throne of grace and lay out our hearts before you.

Get Ready by Giving

Read Malachi 3.1-4

Then the Lord will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness,  and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the Lord, as in days gone by, as in former years. (Malachi 3.3b-4)

We need to get ready for the coming of the Lord — not by offering the least that is expected, or the least we can get away with– but, by giving all we can. If we fail to do this, the coming of the Lord will be so intense, so demanding, we won’t be able to stand it.

Early in my ministry, I was diagnosed with a chronic illness that required hospitalization for several weeks. I was out of pastoral service for much of that year. It would have been perfectly reasonable for the church to move on without me, perhaps offering me some severance pay to fulfill a Christian duty.

But they did much more than this. They prayed for me daily, offered child care service so my wife could visit me, chipped into cover extraordinary medical expenses, and gave me a paid leave of absence until I became well. The church didn’t have to do these things, but I will be forever grateful they did.

Giving to God is much greater than this. Our lives become much richer, much more meaningful, productive and enjoyable when we give our best to God, just as God has given the best to us, in Jesus Christ our Savior.

 

 

 

True Wisdom

Read James 3.13-17

But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.  (James 3.13.17)

Lillian poured her heart into everyone that she knew and all that she did. Everyone knew her as Aunt Lil. She had two great loves: her family and her church. Her walls at home were plastered with photographs of children: nieces, nephews, cousins, and neighbors. At church, she was the organist and played piano for Sunday school. Whenever there was a need for more classroom space, for teaching supplies, for childcare, you could count on Aunt Lil to give…her time, her money, and her love.

When Aunt Lil died, she left behind a legacy…not through children of her own, but through wisdom lived and passed on.

Wisdom has nothing to do with craftiness, says James. It has no envy, selfish ambition, chaos, wickedness or complexity. Spiritual wisdom is not demonstrated in the ability to get ahead, to get what you want, to deceive others. Wisdom is pure, peaceable, gentle, flexible, merciful, bearing good fruit. It is fair; it has integrity. Through wisdom, righteousness is sown – right things are done.

True wisdom has little to do with intelligence or expertise. It is a quality of life – living in harmony with God, with others, with yourself.

Families in Christ

Read Genesis 12.1-9 & Genesis 17

I picked up a newspaper this week and on the front page alone there were two stories of family in crisis.

There was a story of the family unable to pay the loan on their farm. The farm that had been in the family for years was now being auctioned off. The paper said emotions were high, the anger and frustration of people losing not only their livelihood, but also their home. A family in crisis.

Just below that was the story of a man who had been laid off at the Glass Works. He had been there five years, but he and his wife had just bought a home and were hoping to settle down and begin their family. All of a sudden, the bottom had dropped out. They didn’t know where they would turn. A family in crisis.

A family that has worked together to preserve and now must scramble to make ends meet. Sometimes the threats to our family life come from the outside. This is true for those faced with economic hardship. For laid off workers. For families that must take second and third jobs to make ends meet. The routines and schedules that used to make families click become jumbled and family time is squeezed in between so many other pressing commitments.

What hope is there for the family? If left to us, there is no hope. The good news is – we’re not alone. The God who created us and set us in families to live together has not abandoned us and left us to work things out on our own. God provides the support and direction we need to make family life work, even in the midst of crisis. Our God becomes involved in family life.

God becomes involved in family life. First, God calls people to be a blessing to families. When God makes a covenant with Abraham and Sarah, God does not just say, I’m going to bless your family but that your family will be a blessing to other families. God does not play favorites and choose select families to rescue from  the wicked ways of the world. Through one family, as others come to know the loving mercy of God.

Sarah and Abraham recognized that they were on a journey with God. Even in their old age, they continued to follow where God called them. There was no point at which they felt they had arrived, they continued to trust and look to God for guidance and direction.

Abraham and Sarah were real people, with real struggles of their own. Sarah was barren for years.  In her day, a woman unable to have children was scorned by the community, looked down upon by friends and neighbors alike.

Abraham, or Abram as he was then called, was a common wanderer. He was so afraid of others that he told his wife Sarah to pretend to be his sister so if they wanted her they wouldn’t kill him first. Abram was a common man, frightened by a world beyond his control.

And yet Abraham and Sarah trusted God and this trust rubbed off on others. They became a blessing to families who thought they had to make it on their own by living a life that pointed to something more, trusting in God. They were a blessing not so much because they told families how to live but they showed in their own family life that they depended on God.

There have been and continue to be those within the church who, like Abraham and Sarah, are a blessing to families. The church itself plays this role as we respond to the needs and concerns of all family members. As we point families beyond themselves to the household of God.

This function of the church, to be a blessing to families, is particularly important as people face new family situations. As couples are newly married, as step-families are formed, as single parent families look for ways to structure relationships, to provide their children with support and guidance. We, as the church need to recognize that families aren’t what they used to be and that support for families now is going to look different that support 20 years ago.

Another way that God becomes involved in family life is by calling the church to be a family in Christ. For some, the church family provides a home away from home, a safe place to be loved and accepted

I was talking with a pastor friend of mine who told me that growing up, she was one of the neighborhood kids dropped off at Sunday school. The church became a second home for her. When her own family life became chaotic, she turned to the church and found there a safe place to grow up and build trusting relationships. The church became a family for her and she has since devoted her life to service within the church.

At our best, we as the church can be the home away from home, the family that can be a blessing for other families, the family to turn to when life becomes chaotic. By ourselves, we could never pull it off. In our own families. In our church family. Pressures within and without to be something other than who we are.

But we’re not alone. God gives us the strength to face the challenges. God walks with us. God blesses our church family to be a blessing to other families. God calls us to be a family in Christ that doesn’t tear down, but builds up everyone within the family.

As you look at the paper, the news doesn’t look good for the family. As you look to God, in Christ, there is good news.