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Following Jesus: Fear and Forgiveness

It was still the first day of the week. That evening, while the disciples were behind closed doors because they were afraid of the Jewish authorities, Jesus came and stood among them. He said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. When the disciples saw the Lord, they were filled with joy. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father sent me, so I am sending you.” Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven; if you don’t forgive them, they aren’t forgiven.”

— John 20:19-23 (CEB)

Easter night. By now, the Disciples have heard the stories of the women who had gone early that morning to the tomb a hundred times. The men who had seen Jesus on the road to Emmaus have returned to Jerusalem, and have told the others their stories.

“Jesus is risen,” was the resounding message.

Yet, fear was still the motivating factor for the disciples. They were locked in a room. Waiting for the Romans to come for them. Surely, they would be next.

There has to be a million questions running through the minds of the disciples at this point. Surely, this Jesus was more than just a man, but he was Messiah. And, Messiah meant the restoration of Israel. But, Rome is still in charge.

Jesus, they are not yet realizing, didn’t come to overthrow a political entity. It wasn’t about a land or even a particular type of people. Rather, Jesus had come to institute a new Kingdom. A Kingdom that wasn’t dependent on land or borders.

“Peace,” he proclaims to his followers. And, that is what he proclaims to us.

Peace. Not an absence of conflict, but rather a process where crooked is made straight, missing is found, and broken is repaired.

Fear had caused these followers to lock themselves into a room. Yet, Jesus comes in, proclaims peace, and then sends them out. Sends them out even though they were still afraid.

Fear is not sin. Fear is a natural human reaction when life is in danger. The problem arises when we decide to order our lives from the place of fear–when we decide that the right response is to lock ourselves in our rooms. However, Jesus doesn’t call us to lock ourselves in our rooms.

Or behind huge walls.

Or behind a giant military complex.

Or behind the doors of beautiful sanctuaries.

wpid-Photo-1-Şub-2013-0233.jpgNo, Jesus sends us out into the very world from which we try to insulate ourselves. He breathes on us the power of the Holy Spirit. A power that is to be used to forgive those who need forgiveness. To forgive even the Roman soldiers who hammered the nails. To forgive even the religious leaders who lodged false accusations.

The christian faith is not intended to be lived out on Sunday mornings in padded pews. Christian faith is lived out in the highways and the byways. It is lived out in the homeless shelters and the corporate offices. It is lived out in the “safety” of the west and the “risk” of the east.

To follow Jesus is to leave the locked room of safety behind. To follow Jesus is to go into every man’s world. It is to proclaim, through the power of the Holy Spirit, that our fear has been turned into forgiveness.

Lent 2013: Some Other Beginning’s End

As we have done throughout previous Lenten and Advent seasons, we are again blogging through the Lectionary readings in this Lenten season. This year, however, due to our travels in Central Asia, we have asked a number of guests to blog for us. These guests are individuals who are influential in our lives and work. We're honored to share this space with them-and with you–in this season of reflection.

An Old Testament reading from the book of Joshua.

While the people of Israel were encamped at Gilgal, they kept the Passover on the fourteenth day of the month in the evening on the plains of Jericho. And the day after the Passover, on that very day, they ate of the produce of the land, unleavened cakes and parched grain. And the manna ceased the day after they ate of the produce of the land. And there was no longer manna for the people of Israel, but they ate of the fruit of the land of Canaan that year.

— Joshua 5:10-12 (ESV)

And, now, the end has come. At least that's how it likely felt for the Israelites. They have been traveling–a journey that should have taken weeks at worst–for years. An entire generation has died. They've changed leadership. And, now, the end has come.

Well, sort of.

There was a pop song (Closing Time by Semisonic) that had the line, “every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end.”

And, that's where we find the Israelites.

They have entered the land. Canaan. The land to which God had promised to bring them. They've made it. The Jordan has been crossed.

But, this isn't really much more than some other beginning's end.

Years earlier (Exodus 15), they were wandering in the wilderness–that's far too nice of a word, they were in the desert. And, as we often do, they were concerned with their bellies.

“We're hungry,” they whined.

“You brought us out here to starve to death,” they accused.

Now, at this point in the journey they had been on the road all of a few weeks. While they didn't know it, they would have forty plus more years of this trip. But, nevertheless, they complained.

So, God agreed to rain bread down on them every night. They didn't know what it was, so they called it “What is it”. And, that was what they ate for the next forty years. Everywhere they went, every morning–except the Sabbath, because God wanted His people (and us) to worship Him by resting–it rained “What Is It”.

Later, they complained about the bread, and God sent them quail. So, here they are, roaming in the desert eating–literally–from God's hand. Bread and meat.

And, now, they've crossed the Jordan. They've entered that fertile land of milk and honey. And, God stopped sending “What is it”.

They ate of the fruits of the land. A new beginning at some other beginning's end.

There are so many times in our lives where we have eaten at the hand of God. Where He has miraculously fed us from His table. Yet, there comes seasons when God allows us to eat of the fulfillment of the promise.

We, too, at the fulfillment of the promises of God to us, eat of the fruit of the land. A new beginning at some other beginning's end.

There many years later, in that Promised Land into which Joshua has led the people, Jesus stands at a table. Arms opened and palms up–the posture of prayer in this part of the world–and says, “Do this in rememberance of me.”

A new beginning at some other beginning's end.

And, now, we find ourselves like the Israelites being fed from the hand of the Messiah. Proclaiming His death anew, as Paul put it, each time we remember our Messiah over the table.

Longing with each bite of bread and each sip of wine for the Messiah to come again and rescue us from life.

Life that's hard.

Life that isn't fair.

Life that often leaves is screaming: “What is it?”

And, this is where I sit tonight. Thinking–and praying–for friends and family in the thick of it. Not quite at the end of an old beginning. Still eating the manna in the desert. Screaming to God: “What is it?!”

A set of new grandparents fighting a battle with cancer.

A girl struggling to understand how to forgive that which seems unforgivable.

A young mother in pain from a back injury.

A worker mourning the death of a colleague in another distant land.

A couple trying to hear what their next steps should be after being asked to leave a nation to which they have given their lives.

A family with a newborn baby born with many complications that is spending more time in doctor's offices and hospitals than anyone should have to spend in a lifetime.

A family mourning the loss of a child who died way too young.

A group of women who gather as a home fellowship and pray for their husbands to come to be followers of Jesus.

A man who is feeling the tug of Jesus to leave the nets, the boats, and the fish to follow Him to a distant shore.

And, I pray that in the midst of their deserts they clearly feel in their hand the hand of the Father who walks beside them.

I pray that their eyes are opened to seeing the work He is doing.

I pray that their ears hear His gentle voice saying, “just hang on.”

I pray that the Kingdom will come.

I pray that they will cross their Jordan River, will take a deep breath and will eat of the fruit of the land.

And, there in that moment of joy, that they will find some other beginning's end.

The bread and the wine at a Passover Seder

The bread and the wine at a Passover Seder

 

Standing At The Manger

Our waiting is nearly over. Our four week march is nearly at its end. We find ourselves only a few short hours from the manger.

Angel choirs are in final dress rehearsals.

Shepherds are waiting in the wings.

Rooms are filled in Bethlehem.

And a stable–full of animals–awaits a King.

Emmanuel is quite nearly with us.

In just a few hours, we will know once and for all that Messiah has come. Just as prophets and priests have foretold for centuries. The proclamation will ring out from that angel choir to those shepherds–the least of these–that in Bethlehem–that most unlikely of places–a Messiah has come.

And, He is named Emmanuel.

God is with us.

On this night before the dawn, we stand at the edge of a new beginning. As we stand here, we think of the many who have been waiting for this moment. Preparing all their lives for this moment.

And, our minds turn to those who most need Emmanuel in this moment.

We think of spouses and children who for the first time will not have that significant other or beloved parent to stand in this place with them.

We think of parents whose children rest on a precipice of their own–lingering somewhere between heaven and earth. Somewhere between the now and the not yet. Hovering silently in the hand of a Creator who loves as only a Father can.

We think of parents who have in this very season of Advent buried their children. Children killed in wars, or in senseless tragedies. And, we think of children who have buried their parents.

We think of families who for one reason or another must be apart from one another on this evening.

We think of those huddling in corners of homes–as such as they might be–in Gaza, Israel, Syria, Mali, Nigeria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Kashmir. Not knowing if morning will bring the dawn of a new day.

We think of those in the darkest of dark lands–North Korea–who have never known anything other than longing.

And, yet, somehow–together–we all stand at the edge of a manger and gaze in longingly.

For, it is this night of nights that will change everything.

Messiah will come.

Emmanuel will be reality.

And, as we stand here, we know that on the other end of the story stands a cross. And, further beyond, an empty tomb.

And, there in that quiet manger will lie the Embodiment of that which we’ve thought about as we waited through these four candle-lengths of Advent: Hope. Peace. Joy. Love.

It is only the cross–and the empty tomb beyond it–that changes the despair of separation, sickness, fear, hatred, sadness, and confusion.

Even at Advent–and its culmination that we experience tonight–we know that we are people who hope. We know that we are people at peace. We know that we are people filled with joy. We know that we are people who love.

Because, we are Easter People.

And, this is the tension in which we live. We are people who pause to wait quietly for Emmanuel all the while knowing that not only will Emmanuel come, but that He has indeed already come–and will come again. And in this tension, we struggle to understand–so many un-understandable things–while we lean back on the promise that as Easter people we live not only from Christmas to Easter, but we live all the year round with the knowledge of faith’s great mystery–Christ has come. Christ has died. Christ lives again.

Mary and the Christ Child -- AyaSofya, İstanbul

Mary and the Christ Child -- AyaSofya, İstanbul

So, we pause–in the midst of our struggles and lack of understanding–to breathe deep in the presence of a Baby that will change everything. We bow silently at the side of a manger–a roughly hewn stone–and here we lay at the feet of this Child all of our hopes, dreams, fears and needs. And, at this manger, we know that all things will be made new.

Because, we are Easter People.

Christ has come.

Emmanuel.

With us now. With us then. With us forevermore.

So, breathe deep, my friends.

Light all five candles.

Listen quietly as the angels begin their proclamation.

Our waiting is over.

 

Advent 2012: Preparing The Path: Set Apart For Something Bigger

As we did throughout Advent 2011 and Lent 2012, we are blogging our way through the Advent 2012 Lectionary Readings. We love this time of year, and sharing with you in this way. Our overarching theme during this season is “Preparing the Path” and our prayer is that as we march together toward the manger, we will prepare the way for Emmanuel.

A reading from the Epistle to the Hebrews.

When Christ came into the world, he said to God,

“Sacrifices and offerings are not what you want, but you have given me my body. No, you are not pleased with animal sacrifices and offerings for sin.”

Then Christ said,

“And so, my God, I have come to do what you want, as the Scriptures say.”

The Law teaches that offerings and sacrifices must be made because of sin. But why did Christ mention these things and say that God did not want them? Well, it was to do away with offerings and sacrifices and to replace them. That is what he meant by saying to God, “I have come to do what you want.” So we are made holy because Christ obeyed God and offered himself once for all.

— Hebrews 10:5-10 (CEV)

Todays scriptures bring us to the crux of the matter. Why did Christ come?

Why the angels told a teenaged girl that she was going to have a baby?

Why the trek to Bethlehem?

Why the manger?

Why the feast at Cana?

Why the calling of a team of twelve unlikely guys?

Why the entry into the city on a donkey’s back?

Why the bread and the wine–the body and the blood?

Why the arrest in Gethsemane?

Why the sham of a trial?

Why the cross?

Why the tomb?

Why the resurrection?

It becomes clear in today’s text.

To make us holy.

The message of today’s text is this: All the animal sacrifices and offerings in the world, could never add up to the voluntary sacrifice of the Son of God.

Jesus told His disciples that He came not to do away with the law, but rather to fulfill the law. He came to be the one sacrifice for all. He came to shift us from sacrificing animals to sacrificing ourselves.

In His death and resurrection, Jesus set us apart for something bigger than us. He set us apart for a mission that is so mind-boggingly big it makes no logical sense. He set us apart to make His name great in all the world!

As I write this, some friends are in a small village in the west of Turkey. The rumor is that this village will be one of two locations in the world (the other is in France) that will survive the Mayan Apocalypse. It is estimated that nearly 60,000 people will flock to this peaceful village of about 600 residents. And, in the midst of these 60,000 people, a handful of people are sharing the Good News.

They are sharing that great mystery of faith:

Christ has died.

Christ has risen.

Christ will come again.

It’s a mission bigger than our friends. It’s a mission bigger than the 60,000. But, it’s a mission that Christ set us apart (made us holy) to accomplish.

And, so, with dreams bigger than ourselves, we march on toward the manger. We march with full knowledge that on the other side of Christmas stands a cross. Yet, thankfully, our knowledge doesn’t end there. For we know that the on the other side of the cross sits an empty tomb.

And, on the other side of the empty tomb stands a Messiah with a command:

Jesus, undeterred, went right ahead and gave his charge: “God authorized and commanded me to commission you: Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life, marking them by baptism in the threefold name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you. I’ll be with you as you do this, day after day, right up to the end of the age.”

— Matthew 28:18-20 (The Message)

 

Advent 2012: Preparing The Path: Confident and Joyful Expectation

As we did throughout Advent 2011 and Lent 2012, we are blogging our way through the Advent 2012 Lectionary Readings. We love this time of year, and sharing with you in this way. Our overarching theme during this season is “Preparing the Path” and our prayer is that as we march together toward the manger, we will prepare the way for Emanuel.

A reading from the Gospel of Luke.

John spoke to the crowds coming to be baptized by him. He said, “You are like a nest of poisonous snakes! Who warned you to escape the coming of God’s anger? Produce fruit that shows you have turned away from your sins. And don’t start saying to yourselves, ‘Abraham is our father.’ I tell you, God can raise up children for Abraham even from these stones. The ax is already lying at the roots of the trees. All the trees that don’t produce good fruit will be cut down. They will be thrown into the fire.”

“Then what should we do?” the crowd asked.

John answered, “If you have extra clothes, you should share with those who have none. And if you have extra food, you should do the same.”

Tax collectors also came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?”

“Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” John told them.

Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?”

John replied, “Don’t force people to give you money. Don’t bring false charges against people. Be happy with your pay.”

The people were waiting. They were expecting something. They were all wondering in their hearts if John might be the Christ.

John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But One who is more powerful than I am will come. I’m not good enough to untie the straps of his snadals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His pitchfork is in his hand to toss the straw away from his threshing floor. He will gather the wheat into his storeroom. But he will burn up the husks with fire that can’t be put out.”

John said many other things to warn the people. He also preached the good news to them.

— Luke 3:7-18 (NIRV)

“What should we do?”

The question of the ages. We’ve heard what you said, and now we want to know, “What should we do?”

And, then, John prepares the path for the coming Messiah. He gives them an answer that leads to a great sacrifice.

Give.

You can’t wear two coats at the same time, so give one away.

Don’t cheat people out of money.

Don’t bring false charges.

Don’t live your life for yourself.

Here’s the voice in the wilderness, the son of Zecariah–the faithful servant–preparing the path for the coming Messiah. The King is coming, he would say, and when He comes so does the Kingdom.

Proclaiming the message of the Kingdom to a people expecting–hoping–for something. Hoping for rescue.

Hope. Confident and joyful expectation in the goodness of God.

Hope. Knowing that God is for you and in that knowing anticipating that God will act out of His goodness–His Character and Nature.

And, out of that place of Hope, the people wonder, “Is John the Messiah?”

That crazy man? Wearing camel skin? Gnawing on grasshoppers? Him? Messiah? Could it be?

But, John, almost reading their minds, tells them in no uncertain terms, “I’m not the Messiah. I’m not even worthy of untying His sandals.”

I wonder what the people were thinking after that. Here they are in a place of extreme hope. A place of confidently and joyfully expecting the goodness of God–the Messiah. A place of hoping that their rescue was nigh.

John, continues on with his message–the good news. The news that while he wasn’t the Messiah, He was indeed coming soon.

Here we are, two thousand years later, proclaiming that same good news. The King has come, and, with Him, He has brought Kingdom.

Yet, we live in the place of tension. We live in that same place of hope. That place between the now and the not yet. We live in confident and joyful expectation of the goodness of God.

We live in the place of hope that God is walking through the valley of the shadow of death with us. We’re not walking alone. We walk with Emmanuel. Because, we know, that God is truly with us. And, as the song says, “If our God is with us, then what can stand against us?”

 

Caleb at the Ancient Walls of Constantinople

Caleb at the Ancient Walls of Constantinople

 

Tea With A Stranger

One of the most beautiful phrases in all of Scripture (at least in my reading) is “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” (Luke 24:28)

The story preceding this phrase is a wonderful scene. Two men. Walking down a road. Downtrodden. Confused. Hurt. Insulted. Struggling to cope with what has become their reality.

Their Messiah, or at least the One they thought was their Messiah, is dead. Hope crushed. Dreams dashed.

It’s the ending that no one ever dreamt would come. This Man was supposed to be the Rescuer. He was supposed to be the one who would make all things right again. Who would, as John said, bring light into darkness [John 1].

But, tragedy strikes. And these two men are left to deal with it. And all they can think to do is walk home.

On their journey, they are face-to-face with a stranger. Together they walk and talk, and when they reach their destination, they–in true “warm culture” fashion–invite the stranger to stay.

“Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.”

Or, as Eugene Peterson puts it in The Message: “Stay and have supper with us. It’s nearly evening; the day is done.”

Glasses of Çay in Central Asia

Glasses of Çay in Central Asia

Or, as they would say in modern-day Central Asia, “Come in for çay (tea).”

Not a question. A statement.

Not a suggestion. A presumption.

The risk with this invitation is it’s ability to be life-altering. Intently, these men have listened as this Stranger has talked to them about the goings-on in Jerusalem. Intently, they have listened as He explained centuries worth of prophecies and Rabbinical thought. And, now, they ask Him to stay for dinner. Perhaps it is so that He can tell more stories. Share more thoughts.

But….

What these men didn’t know was they were inviting Jesus–the Messiah–to stay with them.

And, then, it happens. Reality itself changes. Their Messiah is alive and in the same room with them. Hope restored. Dreams renewed. Life revealed.

What a story. A simple walk and an unexpected dinner guest, changes everything about their present reality.

And, here we are today, some in dark reality, some in hopelessness, some in confusion, some in just moments of tiredness. And, there He is, the Stranger walking next to you. Wanting to talk with you about that reality.

Will you invite Him in for a cup of çay?

 

A Walk, A Lesson, A Meal, A Messiah – Lesson 5

(This series was originally posted in October 2011 on my personal blogsite.  We thought we would share it with you all this resurrection week.)

This week we are taking a walk with two disciples and Jesus.  During this walk, we will explore seven lessons from the story of the Road to Emmaus.  Our text for the week is from The Message translation of Luke 24:13-32.

That same day two of them were walking to the village Emmaus, about seven miles out of Jerusalem. They were deep in conversation, going over all these things that had happened. In the middle of their talk and questions, Jesus came up and walked along with them. But they were not able to recognize who he was.

He asked, “What’s this you’re discussing so intently as you walk along?”

They just stood there, long-faced, like they had lost their best friend. Then one of them, his name was Cleopas, said, “Are you the only one in Jerusalem who hasn’t heard what’s happened during the last few days?”

He said, “What has happened?”

They said, “The things that happened to Jesus the Nazarene. He was a man of God, a prophet, dynamic in work and word, blessed by both God and all the people. Then our high priests and leaders betrayed him, got him sentenced to death, and crucified him. And we had our hopes up that he was the One, the One about to deliver Israel. And it is now the third day since it happened. But now some of our women have completely confused us. Early this morning they were at the tomb and couldn’t find his body. They came back with the story that they had seen a vision of angels who said he was alive. Some of our friends went off to the tomb to check and found it empty just as the women said, but they didn’t see Jesus.”

Then he said to them, “So thick-headed! So slow-hearted! Why can’t you simply believe all that the prophets said? Don’t you see that these things had to happen, that the Messiah had to suffer and only then enter into his glory?” Then he started at the beginning, with the Books of Moses, and went on through all the Prophets, pointing out everything in the Scriptures that referred to him.

They came to the edge of the village where they were headed. He acted as if he were going on but they pressed him: “Stay and have supper with us. It’s nearly evening; the day is done.” So he went in with them. And here is what happened: He sat down at the table with them. Taking the bread, he blessed and broke and gave it to them. At that moment, open-eyed, wide-eyed, they recognized him. And then he disappeared.

Back and forth they talked. “Didn’t we feel on fire as he conversed with us on the road, as he opened up the Scriptures for us?”

— Luke 24:13-32 (The Message)

————————-

Jesus listens to their story, and then responds.  But notice that in His response He ignores the comments about the women’s story.  Instead, He goes straight to a lesson from 2,000 years of Jewish prophecy about Messiah.

Lesson 5: Sometimes we need Jesus to remind us of the past for us to understand the plan

Jesus takes the next several miles in their physical journey and gives them a theology lesson.  He gives them a lesson in prophecy.

Remember these men still thought that Jesus was going to be the One who would rise up an army and storm the ramparts of the Roman occupation.  This had to be something with which many of the disciples likely were struggling.  Jesus was the conquering hero, He can’t be dead.  Yet, they had watched Him die.

He takes them back to Moses and walks them forward through a couple thousand years of Messianic prophecy.

Basically, He’s telling them, “Look.  It’s all right here.  This was all by design.”

It was all by design.

God has a plan – for Messiah, for sin, for us.

Jesus reminds the two men of the past.  Here’s what the prophets told us the plan was.  All these things were part of the plan.  They were part of God’s plan for Messiah.  They were part of God’s plan for salvation.  They were part of God’s plan for taking us from less than nothing and making us into joint-heirs with Jesus the Christ.

God has a plan for us.

In Jeremiah 29:11, YHWH tells the people of Israel that He knows the plans.  He tells them that they are plans of goodness and prosperity.  This prophecy is in the midst of Babylonian exile.

He has a plan that we sometimes can’t see because of the circumstances surrounding us.  He has a plan.

Psalm 37 gives us several steps of the plan: “Do not fret”, “Trust in YHWH”, “Delight in YHWH”, “Commit your way to YHWH”, and “Wait for YHWH.”

Psalm 139 tells us that YHWH knew us before we were formed in the womb and He had a plan for us even then.

Proverbs 3:5-6 tells us to trust in YHWH with all our being.  Lean not on our understanding.  Follow Him, and He will show us the path.

Jesus tells Peter, James, and John: “Follow me, and I’ll make you Fishers of Men”.

There is a plan for your life.

You have to surrender to it.  You have to forsake your own highway, and step over onto the Road to Jerusalem.  You know, that road that looks like it might be a dead-end.

Sometimes we have to be reminded of our past to see our future.  Jesus takes some time and reminds them of the past.

Before we came to recognize grace moving on us showing us Jesus’ work on the cross, we were in bad shape.  Without grace we are pretty repugnant.  While God loves us, He can’t have relationship with us in that state.  We needed Jesus to die in order for the veil of the Temple to be torn.  We needed Jesus to die in order for the Holy of Holies to be open ground.  In short, we needed Messiah.

To assume that we’re “ok” on our own is to negate grace.  To negate grace is to cheapen the  gift of the cross.

Like these disciples from Emmaus, from time-to-time, we need to be reminded of our sorry state without grace in order to be spurred on to take the message of grace to the world.

Unless our situation is dire and hopeless, then grace is just a buzzword.  Grace doesn’t say, “You’re ok as you are”.  Instead, grace says, “You’re a new creation.”  It says that the old things are passed away and all things are new.

Recognize grace and its impact, and you will see the Messiah plan.  See the Messiah plan, and you see Jesus.  See Jesus, and you will serve.

A Walk, A Lesson, A Meal, A Messiah – Lesson 4

(This series was originally posted in October 2011 on my personal blogsite.  We thought we would share it with you all this resurrection week.)

This week we are taking a walk with two disciples and Jesus.  During this walk, we will explore seven lessons from the story of the Road to Emmaus.  Our text for the week is from The Message translation of Luke 24:13-32.

That same day two of them were walking to the village Emmaus, about seven miles out of Jerusalem. They were deep in conversation, going over all these things that had happened. In the middle of their talk and questions, Jesus came up and walked along with them. But they were not able to recognize who he was.

He asked, “What’s this you’re discussing so intently as you walk along?”

They just stood there, long-faced, like they had lost their best friend. Then one of them, his name was Cleopas, said, “Are you the only one in Jerusalem who hasn’t heard what’s happened during the last few days?”

He said, “What has happened?”

They said, “The things that happened to Jesus the Nazarene. He was a man of God, a prophet, dynamic in work and word, blessed by both God and all the people. Then our high priests and leaders betrayed him, got him sentenced to death, and crucified him. And we had our hopes up that he was the One, the One about to deliver Israel. And it is now the third day since it happened. But now some of our women have completely confused us. Early this morning they were at the tomb and couldn’t find his body. They came back with the story that they had seen a vision of angels who said he was alive. Some of our friends went off to the tomb to check and found it empty just as the women said, but they didn’t see Jesus.”

Then he said to them, “So thick-headed! So slow-hearted! Why can’t you simply believe all that the prophets said? Don’t you see that these things had to happen, that the Messiah had to suffer and only then enter into his glory?” Then he started at the beginning, with the Books of Moses, and went on through all the Prophets, pointing out everything in the Scriptures that referred to him.

They came to the edge of the village where they were headed. He acted as if he were going on but they pressed him: “Stay and have supper with us. It’s nearly evening; the day is done.” So he went in with them. And here is what happened: He sat down at the table with them. Taking the bread, he blessed and broke and gave it to them. At that moment, open-eyed, wide-eyed, they recognized him. And then he disappeared.

Back and forth they talked. “Didn’t we feel on fire as he conversed with us on the road, as he opened up the Scriptures for us?”

— Luke 24:13-32 (The Message)

————————-

Jesus then asks the men what has happened in Jerusalem.  Dumbfounded, they take a minute and explain.

We thought….

We believed….

We saw him die.

Now, some of the women say He’s not dead.

We saw him die.

Lesson 4: We have to let experiences strengthen our faith

The two men believed that this man, Jesus, had to be the Messiah.  He had to.  That was the only explanation for the miracles.  That was the only explanation for the prophecies that had been fulfilled.  Prophecies that they had watched be fulfilled.

But, we saw Him die.

Oftentimes, we allow our faith to be overruled by our one bad experience, instead of strengthened by our many good experiences.

These men had the experience of seeing Jesus day-in and day-out.  After all, they looked like they had lost their best-friend.  They had likely traveled many miles with Jesus.

Maybe they were there when He healed blind Bartimaeus.

Maybe they were there when He fed the 5,000, the 4,000 or both.

Maybe they were there when He healed Jarius’ daughter.

Maybe they were there when He turned the water into wine.

Maybe they were there when the woman merely touches the hem of Jesus’ robe and is healed.

Maybe they were there when He raised Lazarus from the dead.

…Raised…from…dead…

Experiences.

All of those experiences – even raising the dead – were overridden by one other experience.

They had watched Him die.

He was dead.

Sometimes in our lives, we see God do miraculous things.  Yet, we write them off to “good fortune”, “luck”, “clean-living”, “chance”, “coincidence”, or “fate”.  When we write them off to something other than a miracle of God, then they cannot be used to strengthen our faith.

Think of all the times in the Gospels where we see Jesus do the miraculous only to find the followers (of which these men were two) in disbelief.  Look at the feeding of the 5,000 and the 4,000.  Jesus does it.  Big miracle.  Shortly thereafter Jesus tells them to beware of the “leaven” of the Pharisees.  And the disciples think He’s getting on to them for forgetting bread.

We have to let experiences build our faith.

These two men were ignoring all the experiences they had with Jesus except one.  They had watched Him die.

Maybe if they were focusing on Lazarus’ miraculous walk out of the tomb, then this conversation would have been different.  Maybe then they would have recognized Jesus.

Perhaps if we began to recognize the “mundane” as a miracle, then our outlook would be different, and we would recognize Jesus when He is in our midst?

Maybe it wasn’t just good fortune that the tax-rebate check showed up in the mail on the very day the house payment was due.

Maybe it wasn’t luck that you didn’t get sick when your kids were.

Maybe it wasn’t just clean-living that kept the person in the car behind you from hitting you when they slammed on the brakes in the rain.

Maybe it wasn’t just chance that the car stopped running within rolling distance of the gas pump.

Maybe it wasn’t just coincidence that the person parked in the closest spot was getting into their car just as you pulled up.

Maybe it wasn’t just fate that the pine tree fell onto the yard instead of the roof above your daughter’s room.

Maybe it’s time we started thanking God for the “mundane”.  Maybe it’s time we started treating the “mundane” like it was a miracle.

Perhaps that would make it a tad easier to recognize Jesus.

A Walk, A Lesson, A Meal, A Messiah – Lesson 2

(This series was originally posted in October 2011 on my personal blogsite.  We thought we would share it with you all this resurrection week.)

This week we are taking a walk with two disciples and Jesus.  During this walk, we will explore seven lessons from the story of the Road to Emmaus.  Our text for the week is from The Message translation of Luke 24:13-32.

That same day two of them were walking to the village Emmaus, about seven miles out of Jerusalem. They were deep in conversation, going over all these things that had happened. In the middle of their talk and questions, Jesus came up and walked along with them. But they were not able to recognize who he was.

He asked, “What’s this you’re discussing so intently as you walk along?”

They just stood there, long-faced, like they had lost their best friend. Then one of them, his name was Cleopas, said, “Are you the only one in Jerusalem who hasn’t heard what’s happened during the last few days?”

He said, “What has happened?”

They said, “The things that happened to Jesus the Nazarene. He was a man of God, a prophet, dynamic in work and word, blessed by both God and all the people. Then our high priests and leaders betrayed him, got him sentenced to death, and crucified him. And we had our hopes up that he was the One, the One about to deliver Israel. And it is now the third day since it happened. But now some of our women have completely confused us. Early this morning they were at the tomb and couldn’t find his body. They came back with the story that they had seen a vision of angels who said he was alive. Some of our friends went off to the tomb to check and found it empty just as the women said, but they didn’t see Jesus.”

Then he said to them, “So thick-headed! So slow-hearted! Why can’t you simply believe all that the prophets said? Don’t you see that these things had to happen, that the Messiah had to suffer and only then enter into his glory?” Then he started at the beginning, with the Books of Moses, and went on through all the Prophets, pointing out everything in the Scriptures that referred to him.

They came to the edge of the village where they were headed. He acted as if he were going on but they pressed him: “Stay and have supper with us. It’s nearly evening; the day is done.” So he went in with them. And here is what happened: He sat down at the table with them. Taking the bread, he blessed and broke and gave it to them. At that moment, open-eyed, wide-eyed, they recognized him. And then he disappeared.

Back and forth they talked. “Didn’t we feel on fire as he conversed with us on the road, as he opened up the Scriptures for us?”

— Luke 24:13-32 (The Message)

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Jesus shows up on the road.  They don’t know who He is.  As far as they know, He is just another traveler heading back home from Passover in Jerusalem.  Yet, there’s something different about this Stranger who starts talking to our two friends.  He doesn’t seem to know what has happened in Jerusalem in the last few days.

Lesson 2: Don’t assume everyone knows about Jesus

The two disciples were making an assumption that everyone knew about Jesus.  They tell Jesus, “Where have you been?” “Were you not in Jerusalem?”  “The whole town is talking about it, and you don’t know?”  We cannot make the assumption that everyone knows about Jesus.

This puts pressure on the Christ-follower to live a life that points to Jesus – both in word and deed.  These two men were walking down the road having a conversation about who they had believed Jesus to be.  Others would undoubtedly have heard their conversation.  Yet, their conversation – of despair and disappointment – doesn’t appear to be one that would point others to Jesus.  They’re two friends chatting about the bad things that have happened.

“I can’t believe He wasn’t the Messiah.”

“Do you remember when he raised Lazarus from the dead?  The women said that he was alive.  Maybe?”

“Why didn’t He just use His power to stop them from killing him?”

“Why couldn’t we have spent Passover in Nazareth instead of Jerusalem?”

Doubt.

Frustration.

Disbelief.

Hope?

Their conversation was likely not one that would point others to believe in the Messiah.

How about your conversations?

How about your examples?

Do others see the Messiah in you?

You can’t live your life assuming that everyone knows who Jesus is.  You have to live your life – in word and deed – assuming that no one knows who Jesus is, and assuming that you are the only way they will ever find out.  Jesus calls us to be witnesses for Him.  Sometimes, this witness is merely in how we act.  At other times, it means we speak.  At all times, it means we keep Jesus as the central focus of our lives.

Lent 2012: 7.3 — Guest Post: Nathan Kilbourne

Throughout Advent, we posted blogs each week based on the Lectionary Readings for the previous Sunday. It was truly an awesome experience to travel through Advent with the universal church by praying, meditating, and responding to those texts. We loved it so much, we thought we’d do it again throughout Lent.

The Reverends Kilbourne

We are thrilled that our friend, Reverend Nathan Kilbourne, has agreed once again to write for us. Pastor Nathan and his wife Pastor Lynn are incredible pastors, people, and friends. In addition to serving on the Advisory Board of Led By The Word, Rev. Kilbourne serves as the Associate Pastor at Asbury United Methodist Church in Little Rock, AR. He is a graduate of the Duke Divinity School.

The next day the great crowd that had come to the festival heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, shouting,”Hosanna!

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord–the King of Israel!”

Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it; as it is written: “Do not be afraid, daughter of Zion. Look, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!”

His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written of him and had been done to him.

— John 12:12-16 (NRSV)

There is a great danger in confusing knowing about someone or something and actually knowing someone or something. As one ethics professor said to her students, “It is possible to make an A+ in this course in ethics but still flunk life.” In other words, it is not enough to have correct answers. Correct answers only get a person so far. Knowledge leads us to a certain point; yet, it is not an end in and of itself.

Rather in order for knowledge to be effective, one’s cerebral understanding must to be connected to real life experience of the particular subject. Said another way, if one’s knowledge only exists within the mind, within the classroom, or within (let’s say) a worship space, then it is possible to know “all things” and yet such knowledge will make little impact upon our individual and communal lives.

And yet, the great danger of confusing knowledge about someone or something and actually knowing someone or something is not necessarily the lack of relating knowledge to concrete reality. Rather, the great danger is to assume false mastery over the particular subject or person. When we believe we know about someone or something and have little or no experience with that subject or person, such disconnected knowledge leads us to assume we have sufficient knowledge. The great danger lying beneath is we end up subjecting the person or subject to our expectations or framework.

For instance, I love sports talk radio. To me, it is an enjoyable waste of time. One of the most entertaining parts of sports talk radio is the call-in shows. No matter where you are I’m sure you can relate. People call-in to discuss a game, ask questions, and so forth. However, there are those who call-in and believe they are the coach. Because they have read a few magazines or played pee wee football they believe they have mastery over the subject. They present themselves as if they have all the right answers. And yet their knowledge is often so disconnected from the day to day operations of a professional or college sports team, they truly have little idea of what they are saying. The same is true when we tell (not ask) our doctors we need a particular medication because we saw an advertisement on television or spent 15 minutes online diagnosing ourselves. Knowing about something is different than knowing something.

Knowledge is relational. It requires a dynamic, give and take, learning and unlearning relationship in order for it to be effective. To assume mastery is to fail in understanding knowledge. Knowledge is an ongoing pursuit tempered with humility. It is a willingness to continue to pursue a subject or person and allow one’s expectations to be transformed by the relationship one has to the person or subject being pursued.

The crowd in our Scripture lesson knows about Jesus. In Matthew’s version of the Triumphant entry (Matt 21:1-11), the crowds know that Jesus is a prophet from Nazareth! They even have all the correct answers and say all the right words. Of course, all signs are pointing to Jesus being the Messiah. And the crowds certainly know what the Messiah will do – He will free God’s oppressed people from foreign occupation. The scene even looks like a joyful royal entrance, like Solomon riding a mule into Jerusalem to claim the throne. The crowds even shout, “Hosanna, to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna!” Our long awaited King has come. One who will free us from foreign occupation and claim the throne of Israel. Hosanna! Hosanna! Hosanna! The crowds know about the Messiah. They know what the Messiah is supposed to do; in fact they are almost certain how Jesus is supposed to act.

And yet, knowing about someone doesn’t equal knowing someone. While it may have been a joy for the people to see Jesus riding into Jerusalem like Solomon did so long ago, while they had all the right words, and know Jesus has come to challenge the powers and principalities, how deflating must it have been when he began to speak about his own death (John 12:27-36). How deflating it must have been when Jesus with his own disciples lifted the bread and the cup and said, “Take eat, Take drink…this is my body, this is my blood.” Their salvation wasn’t coming as they expected. It didn’t fit their frame of reference.

The crowds eventually turned on Jesus. “Crucify him,” they screamed. Shouts of Hosanna quickly faded when they realized Jesus didn’t fit into their known world. You see, knowing about someone doesn’t equal knowing someone.

But Jesus did not come to claim a throne, but a cross. And Jesus had not come to fulfill their expectations but the expectations of the Father. The crowds didn’t know as they shouted, “Lord save us, we beseech you (in other words Hosanna), Jesus was going to answer their plea but in a way they would not understand. At least not until after he was glorified.

Knowing about someone does not equal knowing someone. Possibly this Lenten season, we should take the place of humility when it comes to knowing about Jesus and admit we don’t know it all. Knowledge requires a dynamic relationship, one of learning and unlearning, a give and take. We can only know Jesus as we are invited into his presence and we can be thankful that through the cross and resurrection, Jesus makes himself available. Do you know about Jesus or do you know Jesus? Hosanna, Lord save us we beseech you!