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Sixth Sunday of Easter

God Is with Us

There are various ways of thinking about God. Atheists believe that there is no God. Have they given the matter much thought? The Apostle Paul writes:
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of those who by their wickedness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. So they are without excuse; for though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened.   (Romans 1:18-21
A second way of thinking about God is that there might be a God, but we are not sure. This is the belief of agnostics. The Apostle Paul faced this type of thinking in the city of Athens:
Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, “Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.   (Acts 17:22-23)
Having an unknown god left the door open to the possibility that there might be a real God. But who is this real God? Is he the and he has creator of all things? Many people believe this deep down in their hearts, whether they affiliated with a particular religion or not. But for some, God is a cold and distant God. He exists. He created the universe. But he is observing all that he has made from afar.
Paul continues his treatise on God:

The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said,

‘For we too are his offspring.’   (Acts 17:24-28)

The disciples of Jesus were concerned because he had said that he would soon be departing them. In today’s Gospel reading

”I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”   (John 14:18-21)

This is another way of saying: “In him we live and move and have our being.” This is a thinking about God that is beyond simply that God exists. Can we move into this thinking? God wants to engage us. Jesus told his disciples:

”If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.”   (John 14:15-17)

The prophet of old foretold this God:

“Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
    and they shall name him Emmanuel,”

which means, “God is with us.”   (Matthew 1:22-23)

This God is with us. He is for us. He upholds us. The psalmist wrote:

Bless our God, you peoples;
make the voice of his praise to be heard;

Who holds our souls in life,
and will not allow our feet to slip.   (Psalm 66:7-8)

Do we know this God? This is the God who bled and died for us so that we might be with him forever. He has given us this assurance through the resurrection. Paul continues:

While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”   (Acts 17:30-31)

The Apostle Peter explains:

For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit.   (1 Peter 3:18)

Jesus wants us to be alive in the Spirit. If we have the Spirit then we have hope that, event hough we die,  God the Father will raise us up to eternal life just as he did his Son. Paul writes:

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.   (Romans 5:1-2)

The current world around us is in such despair. Many people have lost hope. Do we have anything to offer them? Do we have any comforting message? We do if we believe the message that Jesus has given us. He is with us. He is in us. He has not left us. Do we know this God today? If so, let us offer hope to those around us. Peter writes:

Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do  it with gentleness and reverence.   (1 Peter 3:15-16)

We have “Christ in us, the hope of glory.” Let us tell the world. But if we do not have him, it is time to ask him to come into our hearts. We must acknowledge our sin and repent, sincerely from the heart. Then

If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.   (2 Corinthians 5:17-21)

God loves us. He is with us. He is for us. He has given us his Spirit. Let us show the world who this unknown God really is.

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Saturday in Easter Week

192Witnesses to the Resurrection

The disciples who had heard the testimony of the women concerning the resurrection of Jesus, did not believe them. Unbelief is one of our greatest sins. It keeps us from receiving word from God. And it also prevents us from boldly testifying to the resurrection of our Lord. We worry about appearing out of the norm. The resurrection of the dead is radical and we need to become comfortable with it.

Jesus has called us out of our comfort. He  wants to assign us with a radical mission:

Later he appeared to the eleven themselves as they were sitting at the table; and he upbraided them for their lack of faith and stubbornness, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen. And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation.   (Mark 16:14-15)

The Apostles Peter and John, when they discovered the truth of the resurrection, became very bold in their faith. Without their witness the Church would never have survived or grown. So vital is the witness of the Christian believer that Satan will do all in his power to thwart it. We see this in today’s reading from Acts:

When the rulers and elders and scribes saw the boldness of Peter and John and realized that they were uneducated and ordinary men, they were amazed and recognized them as companions of Jesus. When they saw the man who had been cured standing beside them, they had nothing to say in opposition. So they ordered them to leave the council while they discussed the matter with one another. They said, “What will we do with them? For it is obvious to all who live in Jerusalem that a notable sign has been done through them; we cannot deny it. But to keep it from spreading further among the people, let us warn them to speak no more to anyone in this name.” So they called them and ordered them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in God’s sight to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge; for we cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard.” After threatening them again, they let them go, finding no way to punish them because of the people, for all of them praised God for what had happened.   (Acts 4:13-21)

Today, are we believers in the resurrection of our Lord? Are we bold in our testimony? If we are then we soon discover how much the enemy comes against us. Now in America, Christians are beginning to experience persecution that only existed in others parts of the world. As times goes on the persecution will become more intense. What will be our response? Will we still be able to speak of Jesus with Joy? The psalmist wrote:

Open for me the gates where the godly can go in.
    I will enter and give thanks to the Lord.
This is the gate of the Lord.
    Only those who do what is right can go through it.
Lord, I will give thanks to you, because you answered me.
    You have saved me.

The stone the builders didn’t accept
    has become the most important stone of all.
The Lord has done it.
    It is wonderful in our eyes.
The Lord has done it on this day.
    Let us be joyful today and be glad.   (Psalm 118:19-24)

We find ourselves strengthen in our faith when we do express it to others. Not only that, but we encourage others in their faith as well. The Apostle Paul wrote:

Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.   (2 Corinthians 13;11)

He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.   (1 Thessalonians 5:10-11)

 

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Resurrection Sunday: Easter Day Principle Service

Hallelujah, the Lord Is Risen

On this Resurrection Sunday let us, once more, hear the good news:

Alleluia!  The Lord is risen!
The Lord is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

Let us here from those who were first at the scene of this glorious moment:

After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.”   (Matthew 28:1-7)

Why did Jesus appear to these women? Why did he not appear to his disciples instead? The women’s testimony was, at first, dismissed by the disciples. What they said was not taken that seriously. From the words of Peter in today’s reading from Acts, we learn that the women were specifically chosen by God to be witnesses of the resurrection:

You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ — he is Lord of all. That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”   (Acts 10:36-43)

Why did God choose these women? They were just ordinary people. They were just servants to the disciples. (Let us remember who the chief servant of all.) Despite all the hardships and persecution, thee women were faithful to the end. None of us are more special than others. None of us are great. But we have is a great message. It is the most important message in all the world. Accordingly, God choses faithful people proclaim – people who will not shrink back when the going gets tough.

God depends on people who have received the message and taken it into their hearts. The Apostle Paul writes:

But what does it say?

“The word is near you,
    on your lips and in your heart”

(that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. The scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”   (Romans 10:8-13)

The resurrection is a powerful message. Nevertheless, it is no more powerful than the eagerness of the person to receive it. But people must be given a chance to hear it.  Paul writes:

But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” But not all have obeyed the good news; for Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our message?” So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ.   (Romans 10:14-17)

We are just ordinary people. But God has called us to be witnesses of the resurrection of Jesus. But we may say that we were not there at the time of the resurrection. That should not stop us from believing. Thomas was there. He was an Apostle. But he did not believe at first. From the Gospel of John we read that the risen Lord spoke to him about us:

Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”   (John 20:27-29)

We have not seen, but we have come to believe. We believe because someone else told us about the resurrection and the Holy Spirit confirmed the message within our hearts. And someone else told them.

We have a high calling. It is a calling not to become important. It is a calling to speak an all important message. The psalmist wrote:

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
his mercy endures for ever.

Let Israel now proclaim,
“His mercy endures for ever.”

The Lord is my strength and my song,
and he has become my salvation.

There is a sound of exultation and victory
in the tents of the righteous:

“The right hand of the Lord has triumphed!
the right hand of the Lord is exalted!
the right hand of the Lord has triumphed!”

I shall not die, but live,
and declare the works of the Lord.   (Psalm 118:1-2,14-17)

This is our message. That is our calling. Jesus reigns. He will soon return. He is counting on our voice.

From Isaiah:

How lovely on the mountains
Are the feet of him who brings good news,
Who announces peace
And brings good news of happiness,
Who announces salvation,
And says to Zion, “Your God reigns!”   (Isaiah 52:7)

Let us spread good news of happiness:

Alleluia!  The Lord is risen!
The Lord is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

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Fourth Sunday in Lent

Spiritual Blindness

Today’s Gospel reading from John illustrates the darkness and the blindness that permeates our world:

As Jesus walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.”   (John 9:1-11)

Notice that some were having trouble believing that the blind man had actually been healed. Naturally, there might be some reluctance that a man blind from birth could be given sight. Yet, even after seeing the evidence of this, some wanted to explain it away.

I remember a man who received 3rd degree burns on his face and chest. He was looking under the hood of his car and the radiator cap blew off. He was not our parishioner, but we prayed for him. In less than 24 hours he was totally healed (to God be the glory). When he testified to this miracle at his church, no one believed him. He later came to our church and gave his testimony. He just wanted to celebrate what God had done for him. But his experience did not meet the expectations of others. Does our perception ever get in the way of God’s reality?

God asked the prophet Samuel to anoint a new king in place of King Saul. He invited Jesse the Bethlehemite and his sons to a sacrifice to the Lord. God would then select one of the sons of Jesse to be Saul’s replacement. Reading from 1 Samuel:

When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is now before the Lord.” But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”   (1 Samuel 16:6-7)

As we know, Samuel eventually anointed David, the youngest son of Jesse. Our perception does not always align with that of God’s. The danger is to be so locked in to what we believe and understand that we are unable to see beyond our perceptions.

Back to the man born blind:

The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight and asked them. “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”   (John 9:18-23)

The parents of the blind man must have understood that their son had been healed, but they were afraid to say so. For many, it is better to hold onto a reality that is accepted by others as the norm, than to believe in a reality that is actually real. This is when “group think” takes over. Our acceptance by others can rule out our independent judgement.

The rulers of the status quo will do all that they can to convince us to deny our truth and accept theirs:

So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.” He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” Then they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out.   (John 9:24-34)

It is one thing to be spiritually blind, but quite another to be unwilling to see the hand of God. Facts are not allowed to get in the way of their perception. That was the Pharisees. They dismissed the man because he did not fit their narrative:

Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him. Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.”   (John 9:35-41)

The Apostle Paul wrote the Church at Ephesus:

Once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light — for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly; but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says,

“Sleeper, awake!
Rise from the dead,

and Christ will shine on you.”   (Ephesians 5:8-14)

In John’s Gospel we read:

Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed.   (John 3:18-20)

Let us walk as children of the light. Let us open up our eyes and hearts to take in as much of the Spirit of the Lord as possible. We cannot grow as Christians in the dark. Jesus is calling us into his most glorious light. Our perceptions might change. We may even have to give some of our cherished beliefs. Nevertheless, this is a much better alternative to spiritual blindness. The light of Christ lasts for an eternity. The darkness of this world will soon pass away.

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