Our scripture reading for this week, Acts 4:5-12 recounts the aftermath of an amazing feat carried out by Peter and John. In chapter 3 we read the story of how these two disciples of Jesus encountered a man who had been crippled from birth. He was taken to one of the city gates each day in order to “beg” for money. As these two disciples approached the man, he expected them to give him money. However, Peter said to him, “I have no silver or gold; but what I do have I give you: in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, get up and walk!” They took the man by the hand, helped him to his feet and he began to walk!
It did not take long before the Temple leaders heard of this miracle and they called Peter and John before the Sanhedrin and they began to interrogate them. “By what power or by what name have such men as you done this? Peter pulls no punches with his answer. He boldly tells them that what they did, they did in the name of “Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, and whom God raised from the dead!” (4;10b REB)
Isn’t it amazing that the Temple elite were unhappy that this man had been healed? They were much more concerned about where Peter and John got their power than they were about the healing of this man. Remember that it was healing on the Sabbath Day that had gotten Jesus into trouble before and now it seems as though Peter and John are in the same boat (so to speak!).
Today, have you ever been chastised for doing the right thing? I hope not but that often happens. There are times too when we become jealous of other people—either their success or their abilities and we too wonder, “from where did your power come?” I hope that we also learn a valuable lesson from Peter and John and that is to speak boldly about Jesus Christ of Nazareth! As this story comes to a close, the Temple leaders can see the result of what these “uneducated” men have done and they had nothing else to say in reply to them. Speaking the truth works, still today! Amen.
In my Revised English Version of the Bible, the title for this week’s scripture reading is “How Christians Live Together.” There have been many times that I have said, “Show me a church in conflict and I will show you a church that has lost their purpose of going to make disciples!” The author of this short letter opens with a comforting statement, “Consider how great is the love which the Father has bestowed on us in calling us his children!”
Think about that just for a minute – because of the great love God extends to you and to me, we are now considered to be “his children.” Now, with that said, once we declare that “Jesus is lord of our lives” (Romans 10:9-10) we become one of God’s children. Since we are now a child of God, we also become a part of God’s family and families don’t always get along! There are times when families disagree and sometimes those disagreements can become fatal. However, as a part of God’s family, we may disagree on some things but in the end, we know that God is always with us and that one day we will “dwell in the house of the Lord forever!”
When Trudy and I were married, we combined two households into one. She had two cats and one dog and I had three dogs and two cats! Two of my dogs were relegated to a very nice kennel while one of them made his way into the house. Needless to say, there were times when this menagerie did not get along! However, over time, they all learned to accept the differences and they actually became very close “friends.”
The same holds true with church families. We may be a little different but we should have one goal in mind—caring for “the least of these” while at the same time making disciples. I love the fact that at our communion table, all are welcomed, no one will ever be turned away. We all serve the same God and have the same requirements in doing so. The next time you think a bad thought about a fellow Christian, remember that we are all God’s children and God loves each one of us equally! God does not have favorites…amen.
Easter is over and so is March Madness! Many times, after a significant event such as Easter is over, we feel a let-down. The Season of Lent is a 40-day preparation just for Easter and then in one day, it is all over! Do you ever have problems with what we could call the “post-Easter blues?”
In our scripture reading for today, I believe that is what we read about in the story of Thomas. In John’s Gospel, the disciples have locked themselves in a house for fear that the Roman soldiers were going to come and take them away to be crucified as well. Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb only to find it empty. She hurries back to the house and tells Peter and the disciples whom Jesus loved, that someone had taken Jesus’ body.
The two men run to see for themselves but they return to the locked house, not sure what had taken place. Mary has a face-to-face meeting with Jesus and she is told to go tell the disciples that “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” (John 20:17b) Notice that the message Jesus gives Mary is NOT that he has risen form the dead, but that he is returning to “his Father and your Father!”
As John continues to write, we are given a somewhat chilling scene. Jesus just appears in the room with the disciples and he shows them his hands and his side. They now have “proof” that this really is Jesus. Jesus then breathes on them giving them the gift of the Holy Spirit and the ability to forgive sins. But Thomas was not with them—he did not experience the risen Christ as the others did. When Thomas does come to the house, the group tells him that they have seen the risen Christ, but Thomas does not believe them. Maybe it is because they had played too many practical jokes on him or maybe he needed to see as the other disciples had seen.
For whatever reason, Thomas needed proof and a week later, Jesus gave him that proof. I think we blame Thomas for doubting, but the truth is, he needed the same proof that the others had already had. Jesus comes again, giving Thomas what he needs. Jesus does not belittle him because he too needed proof. In fact, Jesus does just the opposite. He offers his hands and side as proof and he tells Thomas to “be unbelieving no longer.” (v27) Today, Jesus still provides for you and for me what we need (not what we think we need!). Today, we too, need to proclaim as Thomas did, “My Lord and my God!” Amen.
Isn’t it interesting that today as we celebrate Easter, it is also April Fool’s day? This is the first time Easter and April Fool’s has occurred together since 1956! In fact, since 1700, 318 years ago, Easter and April Fool’s fell on the same day only 11 times! Since this unusual occurrence happens today, maybe we need to look at this and see what we can learn from it.
April Fool’s Day, although not an “official” holiday, is a day when we finally feel we can shed the doldrums and darkness of winter, and finally begin to think about things like getting out to play golf or enjoy a good baseball game without being wrapped in blankets! And, if the weather forecast for today is correct – “April Fool’s!” (And who said God does not have a sense of humor!) April Fool’s day is a time that we poke fun at each other and play little tricks on each other. Some of those “tricks” are simple like just walking up to someone and saying, “Your shoe is untied!” and when they look down we say, “April Fool’s!” Some people get a little more creative. Someone once took whole onions and dipped them in caramel, put a stick in them and passed them off to co-workers as caramel apples! That may not be to funny!
Today is also Easter and possibly the greatest April Fool’s joke ever! Imagine how surprised those who went to the tomb of Jesus were on that first Easter morning. They came for various reasons, but when they arrived they found the tomb empty – April Fool’s! Jesus was not there – he had risen just as he had promised. Later, Jesus appears to his closest followers. And, instead of poking fun at them, he gives them, and you and me instructions as to what we are to do next. Will we actually do what Jesus said, or will we too, become the ultimate April Fool?
Today we celebrate Palm Sunday – the day Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey or a small horse depending on which translation and which Gospel you read. Palm Sunday may seem a little odd in this season of Lent. During Lent, we contemplate our lives – what we have not been doing or what we could do better. And here, on this Sunday we join in the joyous celebration of the arrival of Jesus!
We almost stop the solemnity of Lent to enjoy the triumphal entry as Jesus comes into Jerusalem with one thing in mind—to die for you and for me! We can almost hear the people as they shout “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the kingdom of our father David which is coming! Hosanna in the heaven!” (Mark 11:9b-10 REB) We can almost put ourselves there with the very large crowd of people who have lined the streets. We can hear the shouts and we see the palm branches and cloaks laid on the road in honor of the coming king.
However, we can clearly see from this passage that the people were looking for David’s kingdom to return. Remember David—the warrior king? The people who lined the road that day were suffering under Roman rule and Roman oppression. They hailed Jesus as the conquering hero from the line of David who was going to defeat Rome and establish once again the great dynasty David had begun. But that didn’t happen. In the next couple of days, Jesus does not bring down Roman rule. It will be just four short days until this same crowd changes their shouts! Instead of shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” they now will shout out, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Oh my how quickly things can change when we don’t get what we want!
As this journey through the Lenten season continues, let us not become a part of the crowd shouting “Crucify him!” Rather let us be the ones who shout, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” Amen.
I grew up on a small farm in Upstate South Carolina. My dad always planted a very large garden and one of the things I really loved doing was helping take care of that garden. My dad had rigged up a make-shift irrigation system just for the garden. He had a gas operated pump that we put in a small stream that ran very close to the garden and each day, when it didn’t rain, I would go down and start that pump and let it irrigate the garden for a while.
Needless to say, our garden grew rapidly but so did the weeds! One of my jobs in helping care for the garden was to hoe the weeds or pull up the weeds so the beans, corn, tomatoes and other stuff could grow to their full potential. What amazed me the most was planting corn and okra. The seeds for both those looked dead! They were hard and dried out and yet, inside those seeds there was life. However, in order to get that life out of the seeds, we had to bury them in the ground. Then the seeds would germinate and they would pop open and a new plant would grow. I learned from a very early age that if you plant the seed too deep, the seed will not germinate and grow. If you don’t plant the seeds deep enough, the birds will dig up the seed and eat them! The seeds have to be planted just right and then amazing growth happens. Form one seed of corn a stalk grows that produces two ears of corn with well over 100 kernels. From one okra seed, one stalk grows countless pods of okra!
None of this growth happens however, unless first we plant the seed in the ground. The same holds true for our Christian faith. We have to plant the seed in others so that it will grow. We cannot keep our faith to ourselves, we must share it with others. That is the way God intended for us to be. Being a Christian is not a passive thing! We are required to “go make disciples” and we cannot do that sitting still. Now, this week, go plant some spiritual seeds!
We are half way through the season on Lent as this Sunday is the third of six Sundays in Lent. I am sure that most of you have heard the phrase, “you are a piece of work!” Now, some idioms are confusing and this is one of them. Is it a good thing or a bad thing to be “a piece of work?” Well, that depends!
Most of the time, when we refer to someone as a “piece of work,” it is a negative connotation. In my 36+ years of umpiring baseball, I knew several coaches whom were referred to as being a “piece of work!” They would either push the rules to the breaking point or would argue easy calls and they would quickly develop the reputation of being a “piece of work!”
On the other hand, I have had the pleasure of seeing up close and personal some exceptional athletes play baseball. Of the several exceptional players I worked with, Mike Pelfrey comes to mind. Mike played at Wichita Heights High School and at the high school level, he had the ability to throw a 98 mile per hour fast ball! From Heights, he went to Wichita State and his speed increased to 100 miles per hour! Not too many people can throw a baseball 100 mph and control where it is going – Mike could. He also was a very humble, very personable person – he really was a “piece of work” in a good way!
There was one other young man who really impressed me – Chad Pore. He was a catcher, and he and I had numerous conversations during games. Chad was not a super-star at the high school level like Mike. But, today, Chad is Director of Emergency services in El Dorado, KS. He is in charge of the first-responders on the ambulances and he is a real-life hero – another “piece of work” in a good way. Each one of us can become a “piece of work.” Will we be a good one or a bad one – that choice is ours and ours alone! Amen.
One of the central tenants of Lent is that we are to take these forty-days to think about the past year and to ask what we could have done different or better. In our scripture reading for today, Jesus calls his disciples to simply come and “follow me.” What do you think he meant by that simple request?
As a child, did you ever play “Follow The Leader?” The point of that game is to follow exactly what the leaders does and go where the leader goes. If you don’t follow exactly, step by step, you are out of the game! That is just what Jesus expected of those he called in our scripture reading for today as well as the others whom he called to be his disciples.
I think that sometimes we forget that we too are disciples of Jesus! We like to think that the command to “follow me” was meant for those whom we call Apostles—the inner-circle of twelve people who were singled out to be the first to actually “follow me!” However, today, if we really are disciples of Jesus, we too are expected to do just what they did. Step by step, one thing at a time, we too are to follow in the steps of Jesus.
Now, I am not suggesting that we pick up and move to Israel and literally follow in the footsteps of Jesus. While that may really be an exciting experience, that is not what Jesus meant when he said, “follow me.” What he meant is simply this: we are to live our life as a mirror image of the life Jesus lived. While that is not practical or possible, we are to come as close as we can!
As we continue this journey through the days of Lent, let us contemplate what it really means to follow Jesus, step by step. How can we improve on following him? What can we do better? After all, that is what Jesus demands of you and me!
You may be wondering about my sermon title “23 and ???” but if you watch very many commercials you should know that this is about DNA! Our DNA is, according to the dictionary, “the fundamental and distinctive characteristics or qualities of someone or something, especially when regarded as unchangeable.” It is a mix of 23 chromosomes and it is what well, makes you, you! It is why some people have blue eyes while others have brown. It is what causes birds to have two wings and giraffes have long necks.
Today, lots of people, Trudy and I included, are doing more research into our family history. So far, we have not had our DNA analyzed, although it would be fun! My family is interesting and Trudy has actually done more work on my family tree than I have. I do know that my great-grandfather fought in the Civil War and that one of my grandfathers (6 generations removed) fought in the Revolutionary war—on both sides! On my dad’s side, there is a castle in England that is part of our family history and one of my grandfather’s was knighted after returning from the Crusades!
But how do we determine our spiritual DNA or is there such a thing? God made a covenant with Abraham and Sarah that contained 4 points: I will make you a great nation, I will bless your name, all who bless you I will bless, and those whom cruse you I will curse. (Genesis 12:1-3) Notice that Abraham did not ask for this, God just offered it to him. Today, our spiritual DNA can be traced back to Abraham. Today, because of Jesus, we too, are now “Children of God” and we have Abraham’s DNA to prove it! Amen.
Some wise person once said there are three things that are important in real estate: location, location, location! In our scripture reading for today, location is just as important! Mark’s Gospel is what I like to call the “Readers Digest Condensed Version” of the Gospel story. In this very fast moving story, we read about three very important things that happen in the life of Jesus: his baptism, his temptations, and the beginning of his ministry.
Baptism comes first, so here is my question—if John the Baptist was baptizing for the “remission of sins,” why did Jesus (who was without sin) feel the need to be baptized? The answer is simple—Jesus set an example that we are to follow. In his closing words in Matthew’s Gospel (28:19-20) Jesus leaves us with instructions to do three things: go make disciples, baptize them and teach them!
Why then was Jesus tempted? Each day we are tempted, not by God but by Satan, just as Jesus was. Once again. Jesus gives us the perfect example as to how we are to handle temptations. Jesus relied on the scriptures and so should we. How many times each week do you spend time in God’s Word?
Finally, Jesus begins his ministry in Galilee, proclaiming the “good news.” Read the words Jesus says as he begins his ministry: “The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God has come near…” That kingdom is still just as near today as it was the first day Jesus spoke those words. How close to that kingdom are you? Amen.
This blog consists of reflections written by the minister each week for the Sunday bulletin. We hope that you enjoy the musings!