Acts 2:42-47 – A Changed Community

We Are All One in Jesus Christ by Soichi Watanabe, 2009

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. (NRSV)

You’ve likely heard the old saying, “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.” It is a wise saying. Yet, what if we don’t know something is broken? What if we keep living our lives with something out of whack and don’t even realize it? Or, worse yet, what if we don’t care?

The ancient church after Christ’s resurrection and ascension was on a mission to live communal life together different from how they lived before Jesus came into their lives. Today’s New Testament lesson gives us a glimpse of what that life together consisted of.

“Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.”

Rumi (13th century Persian poet and scholar)

We know something needs to change when it doesn’t quite match up to the life depicted by our ancestors in the faith – a life of fellowship, of glad and sincere hearts, and of concern for the common good of all. We never just change or alter something for change’s sake or because we like or dislike something. No, instead, we adjust our lives according to whether it lines up with the relational dynamics of Holy Scripture.

I had just one grandparent when I was growing up. My Grandma was seventy-nine years old when I was born, and she lived to be ninety-seven. I always knew her as an old lady. Although quite aged, she had a lot of spunk to her, all ninety-five pounds of her. 

I remember Grandma had an old wooden cutting board in her kitchen. I don’t how old it was, but it was probably purchased from Methuselah’s Kitchen Outlet. It was cracked and nearly falling apart. The board had deep furrows in it from the thousands of cuts made on it. Grandma liked her cutting board.

For Mother’s Day one year my Dad bought her a nice brand-new cutting board. After thanking my Dad for the gift, Grandma proceeded to put the new board in the back of her cupboard and continued to use her nasty old cutting board. Whenever my Mom or sisters helped her in the kitchen, they were not about to touch that old board because it was like a bacteria trap with its deep grooves. 

Grandma didn’t care about anyone’s concerns about her cutting board. When my Dad finally asked her why she did not use her new cutting board, she simply answered, “Oh, it is much too nice to use.” We all knew that was Grandma’s way of saying that she liked her nasty old cutting board and nobody was going to tell her she can’t use it.

Sometimes folks, including Christians, can be like my Grandma, bless her stubborn old heart. They just like the way they do things, and really don’t see what others see who aren’t Christ followers. They fail to consider or realize that non-Christians have no emotional attachment to the cutting board. All they see is an antiquated old board they would never use and find it weird anyone would ever want to use it.

Christians may forget or lose sight of how overwhelming and even intimidating they can be with those outside the faith. Because Christianity is familiar to Christians, we don’t see what others see when they view us from the outside. 

I remember once walking into a beautiful new church building and sitting down and seeing a huge old pulpit that was literally falling apart. Since I’ve been around a lot of churches, I quickly discerned it was likely the old pulpit from the old church building. I asked someone, and it was. But as an outsider to that fellowship, I had zero emotional attachment to the pulpit, and it was a distraction because it just looked like a big old ratty collar on a new little puppy.

“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”

Mahatma Gandhi

The point I am making is this: The decision to change our lives, or not to change, must come from a motivation of biblical and human values. The Christian’s mission and purpose are the Great Commission (make disciples) and the Great Commandment (love God and love neighbor). We express those values through our daily devotion to teaching, fellowship, the breaking of bread, and prayer. Such life together is attractive and winsome to a watching world.

If people matter, including those who don’t think or believe like us as Christians, then we will make decisions based upon that value. Nothing need be fixed or changed if the mission is going forward with biblical values driving it. However, if people stay away, or know nothing about our shared life together, then we have a prime reason to change. If this has gone on for years, even decades, I suggest that the fellowship of people is eating meat prepared from a cutting board full of bacteria and it is making everyone sick.

Whenever a faith community is focused on trying to keep people from leaving, instead of reaching people with an outward focus, then that community has lost its sense of spiritual values.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Margaret Mead

The main verb contained within the Scripture verses for today is the word “added.” Those who accepted the message of repentance and faith in Jesus were baptized and about three thousand were “added” to their number that day. We then get a string of participles, that is, words connected to the main verb of “added.” The result is this: The Lord “added” to their number daily those who were being saved.  Please understand the text makes it quite clear that the driving force of Christ’s church is to reach people.

It could be we take the old cutting board for granted and simply expect other people to use it if they are in our kitchen. If that is the case, there is to be a driving motivation and desire for outreach. There are people aplenty who need the kind of deliverance Jesus provides.

“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”

Leo Tolstoy

If something is off in our faith community, then the biblical solution is to change our lives, change our practices, change our speech, and change our daily behavior by reaching people for Jesus and adding them to the fellowship.

Whenever Christians break bread together at the Lord’s Table, the communion reminds us of our highest purpose and values. Jesus came to this earth for those estranged and far from God and others. Through Christ’s life, death, resurrection, and ascension we are saved by grace through faith. This reality is made tangible to us in the elements of bread and cup. They are a visible sign and seal of an invisible grace. We are to come to the Table forsaking all personal agendas and embracing God’s agenda of redeeming humanity.

And, by the way, after about a year of sitting in my Grandma’s cupboard, my Dad took out the new cutting board, put it on the kitchen counter and threw away the old board. It was about time.

Mark 16:1-8 – On Big Rocks and Even Bigger Questions

Deposition, Burial and Resurrection of Christ by Guy Roddon (1919-2006)

When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. Early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomband they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”

But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was exceptionally large, had been rolled away. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.

“Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’”

Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone because they were afraid. (NIV)

“Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” So asked the three women on Resurrection Sunday when they came to anoint the dead body of Jesus. Turns out they didn’t need to find the security officers, so to speak, to come and unlock the door. The tomb was already open. What is more, lo and behold, the women did not find a dead body. Jesus was not there – he is risen!

I sometimes find myself asking the same kind of question the women were asking each other: 

Who will move this huge object (or objection!) to what I want to do? 

How can I get to Jesus so that I can do something for him? 

Who will take care of the immovable obstacles that stand in my way? 

I must admit, these are questions born more of a small faith and a limited understanding than of knowing the power of God.

It also turns out the plan the women had for taking care of Christ’s lifeless body was completely irrelevant. Which causes me to ask even more questions of myself:

Are my questions completely off the mark?

Do I have my ladder up against the wrong wall?

Is my plan of caring for Jesus an adventure in missing the point?

Is it Jesus who plans on showing up and caring for me?

Perhaps it all comes down to our expectations. The women were most certainly not expecting a risen Lord! They had absolutely zero expectation of encountering an angel who would tell them Jesus is alive. They did not anticipate their question would end up being completely unnecessary. 

Maybe believers and lovers of Jesus are asking a set of misguided questions based in our puny creature perspective on life, church, and world. Perhaps we are not grasping what God’s power has already accomplished and/or what God already has up his sleeve. 

It could be that all we really need to realize is that God has gone before us, clearing all impediments so that people can see and experience the risen Christ. Methinks our expectations are far too low for a God who has the power and will to raise people from death…. 

Because the way has been opened to a new and vital relationship with the Lord Christ. That massive immovable boulder has already been moved. Whereas we thought it was some big issue to deal with, just by showing up at the tomb we clearly see that isn’t the issue, at all.

“It means,” said Aslan, “that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation. She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backward.”

C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

So, here I go again with another set of questions:

How many times have we gotten things all discombobulated in our heads and misinterpreted what’s going on just because we didn’t show up and find Jesus is not dead but alive?

When have we severely underestimated the power of God by believing we must operate in our own power and do things for God because Christ is as good as dead to us?

Are we still expecting Jesus to care about buildings, budgets, and butts in the pew because those things (we think) are within our power and control?

Do we even bother to ask Jesus what he cares about, or do we simply superimpose our wishes upon him as if they are his?

Are you yet sick and tired of me asking questions and offering no answers?

That’s because the answer is already there. Jesus is not where you are expecting him. There is power at work for which you are unaware.

The truth is that we can now encounter and explore a fresh reality with Jesus as the Author and Pioneer of our faith. We need only listen, follow, and leave the moving of big rocks to God.

When our faith stands at the grave, grieving for a stone that’s rolled away, forgive us, Lord. When our faith is short of understanding though the truth is there to see, forgive us, Lord. When our faith, beset by doubt, sees no further than an empty tomb today, forgive us, Lord. Bring to our minds the cry of Mary, “I have seen the Lord!” and grant us faith to believe! Amen.

1 Corinthians 15:50-58 – Keep the Easter(tide) Coming

He Is Not Here by He Qi

What I am saying, brothers and sisters, is this: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled:

“Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
“Where, O death, is your victory?
    Where, O death, is your sting?”

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. (NRSV)

Throughout my years of conducting Easter Sunday services, I inevitably have someone mention to me after the glorious resurrection celebration how much they enjoy Easter music and cantatas. Then, the conversation oftentimes ends with some sort of statement on how it is too bad we only sing such songs once a year.

Here is my proposal: Then don’t just sing them once a year. Instead, rejoice with resurrection singing and gusto to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ, for the next several weeks.

“I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” – Jesus

John 11:25-26, NRSV

The hopes and expectations of Christians are realized in Christ’s resurrection. The good news of Easter cannot be contained or limited to a single day (Easter Sunday). That is why, according to the Christian Calendar, Easter is only the first of fifty days of celebration called “Eastertide” which leads to the day of Pentecost. Eastertide is a season designed especially for exploring the new life we have in Jesus and the joyful Christian life we can all experience.

Just as we would likely not think of taking only one vacation day in the year for renewal, so it is necessary to take more than one day to enjoy Easter. If nothing else, Eastertide gives believers an opportunity to let Christ’s resurrection percolate in our hearts so that we end up becoming people in real life who exhibit an alive spirit.  And, God knows, we could use much more of that in our congregations and our world!

“The message of Easter is that God’s new world has been unveiled in Jesus Christ and that you’re now invited to belong to it.”

N. T. Wright

If life, eternal life, and the necessity of being alive are all needs for us, then it only makes sense that we would want to take advantage of what Eastertide has to offer: A deliberate look at Christ’s resurrection, exploring its implications and impact for us. Simply assuming we all know about resurrection will not do, any more than my wife simply assuming I love her without looking her straight in the eye and telling her so. 

If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile (1 Corinthians 15:17). Without an Eastertide, there’s a sin-as-usual kind of approach to life with a sort of shoulder shrug that says, “Meh, what’s a guy to do?”  Instead, we have the hope of life everlasting because Christ has risen from death. We have the hope of individual renewal, corporate revitalization, and worldwide revival because there is a risen Savior.

Spring is the time of year which can give shape to the rest of our seasons. Christ’s resurrection gives us a reason to rejoice, hope, persevere, and serve gladly, knowing that our labor in the Lord is not in vain. 

Easter is not over. It is just beginning. 

Therefore, throwing parties for Jesus is in order. Celebrating life, new life, is not only fun but biblical. Maybe some people outside the church look at Christians as uptight and repressed because we are not throwing the best parties and celebrations. 

After all, we have the highest reason possible to celebrate loudly with great passion and joy. Our joy can lead us to paint the town red, whoop it up, raise the roof; splurge, and be effusive with our worship. Christians, full of redemption and reconciliation, break out of their staid existence to hail King Jesus not just today but all through Eastertide because Christ is risen!  He is risen, indeed!

Almighty God, who through your only begotten son Jesus Christ overcame death and opened to us the gate of everlasting life: Thank you for giving me a reason to celebrate with joy my Lord’s resurrection. May I be raised from the death of sin by your life-giving Spirit and give the best party in the neighborhood; through Jesus Christ who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Genesis 1:1-19 – It Is So, and It is Good

Day When God Created the Flowers by Unknown artist

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

And God said, “Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” So, God made the dome and separated the waters that were under the dome from the waters that were above the dome. And it was so. God called the dome Sky. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.

And God said, “Let the waters under the sky be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so.God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered he called Seas. And God saw that it was good. Then God said, “Let the earth put forth vegetation: plants yielding seed, and fruit trees of every kind on earth that bear fruit with the seed in it.” And it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation: plants yielding seed of every kind, and trees of every kind bearing fruit with the seed in it. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the third day.

And God said, “Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years and let them be lights in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars. God set them in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day. (NRSV)

There is so much which could be said about the opening of Holy Scripture, the first verses of the Old Testament book of Genesis. And much already has been said. I merely want to make one observation of the text and discuss its significant import for us….

God already had within himself everything needed to create.

“Duh,” you might say, “It’s God.” Yes, and we need to unpack what that means. I will phrase it a different way….

God called forth that which is already there.

The opening statement of Genesis is there to communicate a wonderful reality – that the Lord brought order from chaos. God took what was potential and actualized it. And the Lord gave us understanding through creation to discern what is happening….

Seeds are amazing. They have the potential to totally transform from tiny objects to large plants. Perhaps we take seeds for granted because we see the evidence of them everywhere. Yet, like God at creation, a seed already has within itself everything it needs to germinate, take root, break the ground, grow, and produce fruit. The end process of the seed’s maturation looks nothing like when it started as a tiny little kernel.

The seed simply needs to be called forth with the conditions of good soil and proper amounts of sunshine and water. The seed lacks nothing inherent to its very being. It already has everything it needs within itself.

We are creatures, called forth from the earth by God. Each one of us, no matter who we are, where we have come from, whether male or female, rich or poor, black or white, introvert or extrovert, happy or depressed, privileged or underprivileged, already have everything we need within ourselves to grow, thrive, mature, and flourish in this world. In other words, we lack nothing. We are not flawed. We are enough.

We are already spiritual. Our spirituality is as much a part of our DNA as our biological self. We just need the proper conditions to grow.

Sometimes when I meet a person for the first time and it is discovered I’m a pastor and a chaplain, they immediately believe that what I do is put religion into folks – as if people lack something that I must give them.

However, just the opposite is true of what I really do. I simply call forth the spiritual nature which is already present in a person. Many individuals are not aware of who they are, unaware of the magnanimous spirit which resides within them, a resilient and loving spirit which is there to support them just as much as their literal physical spine.

“If you treat people as they appear to be, you make them worse than they are. But if you treat another as if he already were what he potentially could be, you make him what he should be.”

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Let there be people who see beyond the five senses and embrace the sixth sense of knowing the inherent worth and majesty of humanity.

Let there be those who discern the potential of chaotic minds and hearts to become calm and rightly ordered around the love of God.

Let there be believers who embody light in all their relational dealings and are unafraid to face the darkness within.

Let there be compassionate ones who awash others with living water.

Let there be leaders who patiently and tediously tend to the garden of people’s souls, providing the proper conditions for spiritual growth and maturation.

Let us all call forth the good in one another, for God created and called us, “good.”

And that is our name: “Good.”