Sunday, April 25, 2021

Good Shepherd Sunday: Calm waters and good news

As always on Good Shepherd Sunday, the readings and sermon focused on the Lord as our Shepherd who cares for us, who holds back the wolves of the world on behalf of the sheep. This morning's sermon had an unusual twist toward the end: things that a good sheep should do. My thoughts went in a different direction than the minister's, though that was an interesting aspect to consider. 

What does a good sheep do? It doesn't try to fight the wolves on its own without backup. It doesn't go far away from the shepherd. It listens for that voice calling back. It spends time belonging to the sheep. It enjoys the green pasture and the calm water. And as much as it should do these right things, it can realize that not all depends on one sheep alone. 

What if we find ourselves in a place where we are the shepherd to someone else? We learn their names. We provide for their needs -- including safety, security, and belonging. Otherwise why should they listen to our voice? The world has something of a scorched-earth feel right now. I think there is a place for a sanctuary: Oasis evangelism. 

Sunday, April 18, 2021

We cannot serve both God and _____

"No one can serve two masters." -- Jesus

Some years ago in the workplace, for a time it was not clear who was my immediate supervisor. When someone comes and tells you to do something, do they have the right? If you're too busy to take two assignments, who has to wait? Who has first claim on the time? The answer matters.

Jesus originally made the point that no one can serve both God and money. Still, I imagine he would want us to apply it more broadly; money might be a common competitor but it's hardly the only one. No one can serve two masters effectively, God and _____ (anything else). So what are other things that claim our allegiance? No on can serve both ...

God and ego is another way to complete that thought.
God and control.
God and partisanship.
God and ... something not as important, really.

"Seek first the kingdom of God ... all these things will be added."

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Times when human evil was reversed by God's grace

There are times when we look at certain problems in the world -- there is no shortage of them -- and it looks like evil winning. I find it encouraging to look at times when evil looked like it won, but God reversed it so that even the evil ended up serving the good. Here are a few times:

  1. Human evil: Joseph's brothers sold him into slavery in Egypt.
    Reversed: God uses Joseph's position to save his brothers and many others.

  2. Human evil: Caiaphas and Judas, among others, conspire to have Jesus executed on false charges. As Caiaphas said, "It is better that one man should die for the people than that the whole nation should perish." So an innocent man was brutally executed: crucified, died, and buried.
    Reversed: God raised Jesus from the dead, giving hope first to his own nation, and then to all nations.

  3. Human evil: Saul of Tarsus travels the far and wide to destroy the good news, having secured authorization to arrest people for faith in Jesus.
    Reversed: God explains it to him that he's on the wrong side, and so he (now known as Paul) travels far and wide to praise God and extend the good news.

  4. Human evil: Eventually Paul he falls prey to those who think as he once did, and is arrested for his faith in Jesus.
    Reversed: Paul uses his time in prison to write some of his more famous letters, and uses even his court appearances to show his faith.

In some ways it is unfair to discuss Joseph or Paul alongside Jesus; they cannot be held to the same standard. Yet at no time did a mere mortal have his outcome depend on his own action. Still, their human faithfulness -- the perseverance in hope, and in confidence in God the Father -- was vindicated, and God's light was more visible because of their faith.

Sunday, April 04, 2021

God has given faith by raising Christ from the dead

God has given moral guidance throughout the ages. God has shown his glory in all of creation. But at times this seems unrelated to me and to my life. Does my life matter at all, or is it "Meaningless, meaningless!" as someone wiser than me has said? But one wiser than Solomon has said differently. There is forgiveness both for me and for those who have wronged me. There is healing and peace. There is reconciliation and, through it, fellowship. There is hope in the face of death because God does not abandon us in the grave. God has raised Jesus from the dead. 

Sometimes in my mind, I imagine my eventual memorial service. Did Jesus do the same? His was a special case: only a few short days had passed since his death and burial; the friends and disciples who had traveled with him to Jerusalem were still in town. After his resurrection, Jesus sought his friends and disciples, and renewed his fellowship with them. There were reconciliations to work through, absent friends to seek. But mostly a roll-back of the bad news of death, with the almost-unimaginable good news of resurrection. When it's all of us, it will probably be easier to imagine. Until then, my life now is changed by the hope that it brings. 

Or as Dr Mariottini put it so well on his blog this morning

The experience of the disciples of Jesus following his death upon the cross is similar to the experience of every man and woman today. On Calvary, the only message that the hearts of the disciples could read was: "Christ was defeated." But, on the first day of the week, the day when Jesus came out of the grave, the true happy message of the Gospel came through: "Christ defeated death."

Christ is risen!