Sunday, April 30, 2017

Too good to wait, (Addendum to Luke 24)

As I listened to this passage again today under wonderful ministry in our church, more rich thoughts came to me.
Firstly, I thought about resurrection, a word that only applies to Jesus as far as I am aware. We use the word liberally today, especially at this Easter season. But when it actually happened, it was shocking, totally unexpected. I'm surprised if they even had a special word for it, Anastasia. I don't know the background of this word, but, as far as I know, Jesus is the only one it applies to, and they had to find words to express this amazing event.
I realized today, after those 2 disciples had that amazing walk to Emmaus, 7 miles on foot. ? 3 hours, who knows. They stopped at the village, invited the unrecognized Jesus into their home, and then came to the wonderful realization that it was the risen Lord who was breaking bread with them. And then he disappeared from their sight.
What did they do next?
Well they didn't sleep on it..., that very night they walked back to Jerusalem, well I'd say they ran, or jogged back, to tell the others, whom they had left earlier that day, that they had seen the Lord!!!
This news was too good to keep till the next day.

Secondly,  I thought about Jesus rebuke to those two disciples. He described them as foolish and slow to believe what the prophets have spoken. Strong words.
I think they apply to us today.
In those days, who would have literally believed in resurrection?  
They would have read Psalm 16 which states "You will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, nor will you let your holy one see decay", but who would take that passage literally, and then believe in Jesus resurrection? Only Jesus.
But we, today, do the same with scriptures regarding Jesus return. Is he really going to be seen across the earth like lightning in the sky? Will those who are dead in Christ rise up and meet Christ in the sky along with those who remain alive? Will a trumpet sound?
When it does happen, many of us will also realize that we have been slow to believe what the prophets, and the apostles have told us. 

Saturday, April 29, 2017

The Wall

There is a wall, invisible, but impenetrable. I cannot feel the wall. It is not physical.
I cannot cross that wall, but I can see through it.
I can see what life would be like on the other side of the wall.
I can see myself on the other side of this wall.
I can see others like me, on the other side of the wall
I have seen others walk through this same wall,
And others expected me to walk through, even encouraged me to try and keep trying,
But the wall will not allow me through.
I have tried to please the wall.
I thought the wall wanted me to change, so I changed.
I thought the wall needed my time, so I gave it my time.
I thought it needed my money, my talent, my devotion, my study and understanding.
I did all that I thought it needed, but still the wall kept me away from what I dreamt.
I tried reaching out to others on the other side of the wall, to befriend them, hoping they would see my plight and help me get through. But they could not see me or hear me.
Instead, the wall kept me where I was, working in an area of need, fulfilling the needs of others, succeeding in areas I did not wish to succeed in. Areas that were nothing like what I could see on the other side, through this invisible, impenetrable wall.
If only I could stop looking through this wall of misery.
I tried not to believe in the wall.
I tried to believe it was just me.
But I know the wall is there.
I am so certain, that I have almost stopped trying to go through. I even smile inwardly when others think, like I used to, that I belong on the other side of the wall, and think they should encourage me to go through, that it’s not there. But now I am certain. If the wall would  miraculously move, I don’t think I would try to go through it any more.
There must be a reason for this wall.
It must be for my good, for my safety.
And maybe, I never really belonged on the other side, I only thought that I did. Maybe I am not at all like those on the other side. They are truly different to me, they belong on that side, I belong on this side.
There is still a sadness in me about this wall. I hope one day to ask the wall maker why He put this invisible, impenetrable wall in my life. If it had not been invisible, it might have been easier for me.
But maybe on that day, I will be so overwhelmed with joy that I will have long forgotten about the wall.

Friday, April 28, 2017

The Road To Emmaus - A cheeky risen Saviour?

We know the story, but it is always good to look at it freshly.
Luke 24:13-35 describes 2 disciples, one Cleopas, the other unnamed, making their way on foot, from Jerusalem to Emmaus, a village about 7 miles from Jerusalem. At some point along the journey, a third person, a stranger, as far as they were concerned, joined them.
I'm guessing it to be a three hour walk, or longer, depending on how much of a hurry they were in and how rugged the country was.
These two disciples were talking about "everything that had happened". This implies the recent tragic, unjust death of Jesus. Maybe they were coming to terms with the loss of their highly esteemed teacher, trying to make sense of how God would allow such a bad thing to happen to such a good man. Maybe (like the friends of Job) they were questioning the true goodness of Jesus. Maybe they were going over the sense of failure in not standing by Jesus through his suffering, as the bible indicates that basically everyone abandoned him. What is clearly stated is that they mentioned the greatness of Jesus to this stranger and also their disappointed/broken hope that he would be the one to redeem Israel.

When disaster happens, it is normal human practice to discuss the events and try to make sense of them and find a way forward.
But on this particular occasion as these two walked on, a third man, a stranger so it seemed, joined them and asked them what they were talking about. These two disciples were amazed that anyone would not have heard this news of Jesus. Even though they had no facebook, or internet, or television or newspapers, obviously news had a way of getting around in those days, and Jesus death was obviously a headline of the time, that everyone who had been in Jerusalem would have heard about somehow.

Getting back to verse 15, "they  were kept from recognizing him". The two disciples knew Jesus. They were disciples, who had spent time under his teaching. Not two of the twelve, but close enough to have been present when the women got back from the empty tomb with strange news. Close enough that Jesus wanted to meet with them personally post-resurrection.

Being "kept" from recognizing him, implies to me that it was no fault of theirs that they did not recognize him. It does not necessarily mean that Jesus looked different, though I suspect he did. But more than this, a spiritual force was present, from God, from Jesus, from the Holy Spirit, stopping them from seeing that this man walking with them was the very same man whom they were discussing, who had recently died, who could not possibly be walking and talking with them.
Not a zombie, not a ghost, not someone who stood out from others. Someone ordinary and everyday.
Is it possible that they were also somewhat blinded by their own lack of expectation?
I certainly don't expect to see people who I know have died. Especially when I have witnessed their death, or seen their deceased body.

But the Bible actually states that they were "kept" from recognizing him.
Why would Jesus keep them from recognizing him?
I can only make suggestions.
Maybe Jesus needed them to be of sober mind, so that they could concentrate on what he was explaining/expounding from the old testament regarding his resurrection. The understanding of the prophecies regarding Jesus rising are a very important witness to the truth and authority of Jesus, as God's Son and as the promised Messiah. If they had recognized Jesus from the moment he joined them, they would have been overwhelmed, and possibly unable to take in the importance of his Old Testament teaching.

Joseph, Jacob's son, in Genesis, who became second only to Pharaoh in all of Egypt, kept his identity hidden from his brothers for a time, when they came to Egypt searching for food, yet he could not hold back for long, and at the right moment, with tears, revealed himself to them.

Jesus carries the deception beyond his time of teaching, as they approach Emmaus, he feigns traveling further, as if he is on other business, not interested in spending more time with them. They, being impressed with his faith and teaching, urge, even insist he stays with them for a meal and lodging over night. They, for their part, are bearing witness to their hearts of hospitality, which the book of Hebrews reminds and exhorts us to practice, with the added bonus that some of us will entertain angels unaware, as we practice hospitality.
 As an angel is a messenger of God, one way of coming to know God's will for our lives, is to entertain strangers, who, if they are people of faith, angels or not, may well speak into our lives in ways that friends or family may not.
Anyway this stranger had certainly spoken into these two disciples lives. And they confessed that as he spoke with them, opening the scriptures, their hearts burned within them.

So the point I want to make is this.

On Sundays, as we hear the scriptures read out to us, and as the scriptures are opened up to us by our faithful ministers of God's word, do our hearts burn within us?

I hope that, with me, you will answer with a resounding Yes. OK not all sermons are as  moving as others, yet as I get older, it is rare that I don't have a sense of my heart stirring at some point during a church service or bible study or funeral or wedding or even listening to a sermon on line.
Even as I prepare songs for our coming service this Sunday, and read the scripture passages quietly to myself, including this one, I find my heart stirring, even burning.

What I am suggesting is that God is in fact present at these times. Yes he is always present. He in us, we in Him. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit indwell us and we indwell the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And Acts tells us that He is not far from anyone of us. By faith we believe this to be true, and it is true. We do not need the "burning heart" experience. Yet we do have that experience, and we thank God, not for the pleasant warm feeling, like a taste of sweet port. But for the fact that he truly loves us and chooses to open our hearts and minds to convince/ convict/ reassure us of the great truth of his great love for us demonstrated especially by Jesus as he willingly died for our sins.

And Jesus does decide to stay with them in Emmaus (God can and does change his mind ?!! or was he always going to? -yes I think he was) and He finally reveals himself in that special act of breaking bread; the one thing Jesus told us to do to remember him.
And then he is gone.
What a day. What a Saviour.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Go tell my brothers (John 20)

 There's nothing pretty about a dead body.
Yes initially, there can be a sense of peace, with the completion of suffering, and the face may loose the look of age or pain. But absent life is soon followed by decay, and fowl smell, unless steps are taken. Hence refridgeration, embalming or other practices followed by burial or other accepted forms of more permanently dealing with a corpse.

Mary was upset and confused with the absent body of Jesus. She assumed someone had moved it, and she was willing to move it back herself, if she were told where it was.
How a woman, single-handedly would drag a male corpse any distance is hard to imagine, but Mary, in her grief and confusion, was more than willing.
Why was she so early at the grave site in any case?
Different people grieve differently.
Part of her coping was to visit the site and possibly do some upkeep and some personal grieving.
It was only 3 days. The grief was fresh/raw/unsettled. Her love for Jesus was genuine and now his untimely death cut into her heart.

Resurrection was far beyond anything she could ever think of, or imagine.

Today, resurrection is far beyond what we ever think of or imagine.

We celebrate Easter, but our celebration, despite our genuine faith, is somewhat ceremonial, cultural, prescripted, routine, rushed, distracted, and possibly lacking in the fear, shock and wonder of what the actual resurrection caused at the time.
In the discipline of our faith, we take some time at some point to meditate on the truth and significance of Jesus rising, and the Holy Spirit evokes, edifies, provides and blesses these moments.

Jesus did not appear as a zombie; lifeless yet somehow alive.
Nor as an Angel, glowing with heaven.
He was mistaken for a gardener.

Now I'm not sure what a gardener looked like in those days. But today, someone working in a public cemetery as a gardener, would probably be wearing workboots, work pants and a fleuro top, with a hat for sun-protection.
Image result for parks and gardens worker

Not exactly an expected picture of holiness or resurrection.

He was not immediately recognizable.

I have experienced this, having aged and become bald, people who haven't seen me in quite a while sometimes need a second look, or to hear my voice before they recognized me.

Death and resurrection had changed Jesus. I won't say it aged him, but it did something. Maybe he appeared more alive and healthy than ever before. Certainly not a zombie. Certainly not a ghost.

And he did not leave his body behind. This is interesting.

He had transformed, but not regenerated. His earthly body, started to breath again, the heart started to pump again, the brain regained consciousness. Warmth and colour and life returned where there was a cold, stiff, dead corpse.

The linen wrapping was cast aside, and other clothing was in place. ? heavenly clothing, who knows. Gardner clothing?
 What did God wear as he walked in the garden in the cool of the day in Genesis 3? Maybe he also wore Gardener clothing.

The last interesting point I will make is that Jesus had a special part to his message for Mary and the others who saw Jesus. "Go tell my brothers".

Tell them what? That he has risen from the dead.  That everything he had worked towards was now completed. His lifetime goal was achieved. His battle for the world was now won. He had entered death and defeated it. His gift of his body for the forgiveness of sins had been accepted, and sins had indeed been forgiven.

Tell my brothers.

You mean those weak followers who abandoned you in your time of need?

Tell my brothers.

What? You haven't moved on from those ordinary fishermen? Haven't you now graduated to heavenly beings, angels, God, heaven and all that stuff ?

Go tell my brothers.

So you are still our brother, even though you are the conqueror of death and sin?

Go tell my brothers.

Jesus was not now overwhelmed by his own success, he was not now moving on from his humble background with his ordinary fallible disciples.
He still identified with his troupe of floundering commoners.
He still loved them.
He was actually bursting with excitement for them to know of his victory.

When something really great happens, who do you want to tell?

The people you love the most.

Go tell my brothers.

At this point in his resurrected life, he wanted to share the joy and strong heavenly confidence of resurrection, with his beloved earthly family.

Things had changed but not his reason for suffering, dying and rising.

To save those he loved.

Which includes us today.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Coming Out?

John 19:38-39 After these things, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, though a secret one because of his fear of the Jews, asked Pilate to let him take away the body of Jesus. Pilate gave him permission; so he came and removed his body. Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds.

Sometimes, I have encoutered the attitude that being a secret Christian is weak or bad. Here the Bible mentions two secret Christians.
The passage is not critical, simply honest. These men were secret Christians, for practical reasons.
Better a secret Christian who acts on their faith than a loud Christian who is all words.
“Coming out”, as a Christian, is worthwhile in the sense of affirming what we know to have happened spiritually in our mind and heart, and then remembering and trying to be consistent, in our ongoing walk of faith, with what we believe are Christian ethics. 
But we need not be "militant" in our Christianity. Peter (believed he) was militant in his faith, he cut off the ear of one who tried to arrest Jesus, but when it really counted, he denied ever knowing Jesus. 
On the other hand, with Joseph of Aramathea, and Nicodemus, we see Christians, people who love Jesus, going about the practical needs of our deceased Savior. Yes they feared those around them, but their love for Jesus was strong enough for them to do what was needed, and the scripture passage quietly, honestly, describes their actions, motivated by faith and love.