Revelation 1:9-20 – I Am Fully Alive

Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica in Ottawa, Canada

I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, which said: “Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.”

I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone like a son of man, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.

When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.

“Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later. The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches. (New International Version)

“Let every man and woman count himself immortal. Let him catch the revelation of Jesus in his resurrection. Let him say not merely, ‘Christ is risen,’ but ‘I shall rise.’”

Phillips Brooks (1835-1893)

Easter Sunday may have come and gone, but the church remains in the season called “Eastertide,” which extends forty days until celebrating Christ’s ascension to heaven. This means that Easter is not just a one day affair; it is a joyous time of focusing on new life and exulting in the resurrected Lord. 

The Apostle John had a vision of the resurrected Jesus in his glory. Although John was quivering in his sandals, the Lord assured him that he need not be afraid. Christ is not dead but living.

Jesus is alive! Since Christ is risen, God’s people are united with him in his resurrection. That means the church is alive. Yes, the church is a-l-i-v-e, alive! 

The term “dead church” gets bantered around quite a bit these days. But that is really an oxymoron; a genuine Christ redeemed Body of believers cannot possibly be dead; they are alive! 

If a church is dead, it is not a church. It could be a country club, a benevolent organization, and even a moral institution, but a church is not a church if it is dead because Jesus is alive, and his Body is anything but dead.

Christians have life in Jesus Christ. We are alive forevermore because Jesus will never again die. So, then, we are to live as vigorous and vibrant believers. 

What things will you do differently since you know you cannot die? 

How will the knowledge of your eternal alive-ness impact you today and every day? 

The truth is: We have been raised with Christ to new life; we cannot die because death no longer has mastery over us. We can now live by faith in the Son of God who loved us and gave himself for us.

Just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.

Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.

In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Romans 6:4-11, NIV)

“The glory of God is a person fully alive, and the life of a person is the vision of God.”

St. Irenaeus (130-202, C.E.)

Humanity’s alive-ness is what most fully displays the glory of God on this earth. Christ living within the believer is a powerful and potent manifestation of God’s goodness.

Whereas we may think that great miracles are the best sign of God’s presence and power in the world, the truth is that being full alive, and living into the new life we possess, is a bright light which shows the way of transformation to a fallen planet in the vice grip of sin, death, and hell.

God’s generosity, wisdom, and love are supremely viewed with the changed life of an individual. Living life to the full in this post-resurrection era, influences how we treat one another because we nobly honor our fellow humanity as people bearing the divine image of God.

We, therefore, in our alive-ness, seek to understand one another because we know that each person around us is worth understanding. Our being fully alive moves us to cultivate a virtuous life, knowing that a life well-lived is the best witness to God’s glory.

Believers raised with Christ are filled with joy, realizing that living is in itself a great good. We hope to carry this joy into the world and bear witness to the beauty of each human life.

O God, as people fully alive, make us bold in love, courageous in hope, and whole in faith. May the blessing of God almighty – Father, Son, and Spirit – be upon the Church everywhere, today and always, through Christ our risen Lord. Amen.

Luke 24:36-40 – Peace Be with You

Jesus Shows Himself to Thomas by Rowan and Irene LeCompte, National Cathedral, Washington, D.C.

While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”

They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”

When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. (New International Version)

Christ’s disciples were abuzz. Two dudes showed up and told eleven of the original disciples that they had seen and talked to Jesus himself! This was a lot to wrap both their heads and their hearts around. Maybe they dared to hope it was true.

Peter and John encountered an empty tomb. Now these guys from Emmaus are giving this wild testimony of a risen Savior. Into the weird mix of doubt, curiosity, grief, hope, wondering, and outright confusion, Jesus materializes out of the blue and says, “Peace be with you.”

Already feeling unsettled and uncertain, the disciples had anything but a peaceful response to the presence of their Lord. Startled, troubled, and frightened they were, as if somebody had just dropped a skunk into the room.

Why the fear? Why not be overjoyed or overcome with sheer delight at seeing Jesus?

The disciples were caught off guard, as if they had zero expectation of seeing Jesus. Believing him to be dead, they immediately went to thinking this was some ghost. After all, the door was locked. Nobody could have gotten into the room without the disciples knowing it. (John 20:19)

As it turns out, faith and belief are not uniform static terms. There are layers to faith. Yes, the disciples really did believe, and their faith developed over time with Jesus. However, their belief had not yet come to full bloom. So, in this sense, they still possessed a lack of faith and were rebuked by Jesus for it. (Mark 16:14)

A full-orbed belief in the Lord Jesus Christ is more than words, more than making professions, and more than signing-off on a doctrinal statement of faith. Faith is shown for what it is through our actions. (James 1:19- 2:26)

Faith comes to fruition when the head, the heart, and the hands all align together and conspire to proclaim the gospel in thought, word, and deed. If they are misaligned or incongruent with each other, then that faith is inadequate. There is yet another level to the belief which needs to emerge.

Perhaps this is instructive for people today. While maintaining beliefs about the person and work of Jesus, and acknowledging Christ’s death and resurrection, some Christians live as though he had never risen from the grave. If Jesus were to suddenly show up and say, “Peace be with you,” like a startled puppy, they’d likely have an accident on the floor.

As Jesus had done so many times before in his earthly ministry, he invited the disciples to experience him in a real, tangible, visceral way. This is no ghost. This is a Christ who has physical flesh and bones. You can eat with this Jesus, real food and drink. Look at his hands and feet. Touch and feel them if you must. But, by all means, believe!

Jesus came to give them, and us, peace. Peace is more than a greeting, more than the absence of conflict or anxiety. It is to enjoy harmony with self, others, and God. Peace is wholeness and integrity of being, even when all is going to hell around us.

A child is born to us, a son is given to us,
    and authority will be on his shoulders.
    He will be named
    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.
There will be vast authority and endless peace
    for David’s throne and for his kingdom,
    establishing and sustaining it
    with justice and righteousness
    now and forever. (Isaiah 9:6-7, CEB)

The peace of God is closely associated with the presence of God. And so, conversely, the lack of peace is to experience a sense of divine absence. God’s peace and presence are inseparable. It is, therefore, no surprise that Jesus demonstrated his actual physical presence and spoke to the disciples about peace.

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked in fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

Again, Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” (John 20:19-23, NIV)

Chronic spiritual anxiety usually arises from the inability to perceive a generous and hospitable God having our backs and working on our behalf. Knowing God, who is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, leads to peace and settled rest. 

May the Lord bless you
    and protect you.
May the Lord smile on you
    and be gracious to you.
May the Lord show you his favor
    and give you his peace. Amen. (Numbers 6:24-26, NLT)

2 Samuel 6:1-15 – Be Careful How You Celebrate

Ark of the Covenant by Isabel Piczek 1982, St. Norbert Catholic Church, Orange, California

David again assembled all the best men in Israel, 30,000 in number. David and all the men who were with him traveled to Baalah in Judah to bring up from there the ark of God which is called by the name of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, who sits enthroned between the cherubim that are on it. They loaded the ark of God on a new cart and carried it from the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill. Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Abinadab, were guiding the new cart. They brought it with the ark of God from the house of Abinadab on the hill. Ahio was walking in front of the ark, while David and all Israel were energetically celebrating before the Lord, singing and playing various stringed instruments, tambourines, rattles, and cymbals.

When they arrived at the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah reached out and grabbed hold of the ark of God, because the oxen stumbled. The Lord was so furious with Uzzah, he killed him on the spot for his negligence. He died right there beside the ark of God.

David was angry because the Lord attacked Uzzah; so, he called that place Perez Uzzah, which remains its name to this very day. David was afraid of the Lord that day and said, “How will the ark of the Lord ever come to me?” So, David was no longer willing to bring the ark of the Lord to be with him in the City of David. David left it in the house of Obed-Edom the Gittite. The ark of the Lord remained in the house of Obed-Edom the Gittite for three months.

The Lord blessed Obed-Edom and all his family.King David was told, “The Lord has blessed the family of Obed-Edom and everything he owns because of the ark of God.” So, David went and joyfully brought the ark of God from the house of Obed-Edom to the City of David. Those who carried the ark of the Lord took six steps and then David sacrificed an ox and a fatling calf. Now David, wearing a linen ephod, was dancing with all his strength before the Lord. David and all Israel were bringing up the ark of the Lord, shouting and blowing trumpets. (New English Translation)

The Christian season of Eastertide is a grand celebration of Christ’s resurrection and the new life we enjoy in Jesus Christ. Since God is the center of all things, celebrations need to be mindful. Nothing in life is a matter of doing whatever the heck we want to do.

Even celebration has its boundaries and limits.

The narrator who originally compiled, told, and wrote the today’s Old Testament lesson wanted to communicate something significant about God and how to relate to the Lord.

God put the big kibosh on David’s hoedown. At that time in the history of Israel, the ark was the foremost symbol of God’s presence with the people. Within the ark contained the tablets of the Ten Commandments (the symbol of God’s Word); the staff of the first priest, Aaron, (the symbol of God’s choice); and a pot of manna (the symbol of God’s provision). Thus, the ark was a holy object, pointing to a holy God.

The ark of the Lord was built during the time of Moses, when the ritual laws were established concerning offerings and how to approach God in worship. There were detailed prescriptions for how to construct all the sacred articles for worship. (Exodus 35:30-40:33) 

The ark was at the center of worship, representing the presence of God among the people. For nearly five-hundred years before David, the ark had become a familiar object in the life of Israel, always there, continually the symbol of God to the people.

I’ve been a Christian for many decades. One reason I refer to the seasons of the Christian Year in the present tense, is so that it doesn’t become old hat to me. Although I just presided over yet another Easter Sunday in my long tenure as a pastor, I am still in awe of Christ’s resurrection and am eternally grateful and full of joy over new life in Jesus Christ. I always want it to be fresh, as if I’m stepping up to the empty tomb for the first time.

Stained glass in the First Lutheran Church of
Washburn, North Dakota

Yet, we have all likely had the experience of something becoming so familiar, that we begin to lose sight of how important and valuable it really is. Not until we lose it, or something traumatic happens, do we wake up and take stock of its true significance. 

The Israelites had become lethargic and apathetic toward the worship of God, and it led to some disheartening and tragic circumstances. The people of God throughout the ages have always needed to be vigilant against the opiate of familiarity, dulling the senses to the importance of worship.

Moving the ark of the Lord to Jerusalem was one of the first acts David did as the king of Israel and Judah.  God was with David and brought him success against his enemies. David enjoyed a close relationship with God.  Even though David’s heart was in the right place, he made a huge miscalculation, which ended up offending God. 

David had the best of intentions in bringing the ark to Jerusalem and giving it a prominent place in the center of Jewish life. This was an exceptionally good plan. The problem, however, came in the manner the ark was carried from one place to another. 

God’s law laid out in careful detail how the ark was to be transported. Uzzah and Ahio were Levites charged with the ark’s care. Only the Levites could handle the ark and the holy objects of worship that went along with it.

Since it was the job of the Levites for hundreds of years, they knew better than to carry the ark of the Lord on a cart. God clearly told Moses that the ark was to have two long poles of acacia wood overlaid with gold inserted into four gold rings of the ark. The ark was to always be carried on the shoulders of the Levites with the two poles.

We are not told why Uzzah and Ahio were pulling the ark on a cart with oxen instead of carrying it in the prescribed way. Perhaps it was because the ark was incredibly heavy and no easy task to carry.  Maybe they decided it would be easier and more expedient to have the much stronger oxen pull the ark on a nice new cart; it would save a lot of energy transporting it over a long distance.

Or it could be that they were tired of moving the ark in the same old way they had always done it. Maybe it was old hat to them, and they were ready for something different.

For pragmatic people, Uzzah and Ahio’s approach makes a lot of sense. However, God was not okay with this arrangement. When the oxen stumbled and the ark was in danger of falling off the cart, Uzzah reflexively reached out to steady it.  That was the last act Uzzah ever did on this earth. God immediately put him down for his “irreverent act.”

So, here is the not so good idea: Evaluating the worship of God by common sense pragmatism, what we think will work best, and how we feel it ought to be done. Everything about worship is to pay attention to the holiness of God through our obedience. 

Whenever we avoid the prescriptions of Holy Scripture, however best the intentions might be, is not a good thing and people will get hurt. One can never justify an action that goes against God’s Word because people are praising God. Just because the heart is in the right place does not mean what is being done is okay.

David’s first response was anger, then fear. He gave his best effort, and it resulted in God’s disfavor. Perhaps David took for granted that the ark could be moved any old way he wanted to move it. 

Trouble with God happens whenever we value efficiency and expediency over obedience and submission.

The great error of Uzzah, resulting in his death, was trying to manage God. We do not take care of God; God takes care of us. God does not bow to us. The Lord doesn’t allow the creature to manage the Creator.

God wants a pure, unadulterated, and obedient worship celebration from people in the way God wants it to be done, period. It is not up for negotiation.

Holy God, we confess that we have too often forgotten we are yours. Sometimes we carry on our lives as if there was no God and we fall short of being a credible witness to you. For these things we ask your forgiveness and for your strength. Give us clear minds and open hearts so we may bear witness to you in our world. Remind us to be who you would have us to be regardless of what we are doing or who we are with. Hold us close and build our relationship with you and with those you have given us on earth, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24 – Jesus Is the Cornerstone

Jesus the Cornerstone by Gloria Ssali

O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
    his steadfast love endures forever!

Let Israel say,
    “His steadfast love endures forever….”

The Lord is my strength and my might;
    he has become my salvation.

There are glad songs of victory in the tents of the righteous:
“The right hand of the Lord does valiantly;
    the right hand of the Lord is exalted;
    the right hand of the Lord does valiantly.”
I shall not die, but I shall live,
    and recount the deeds of the Lord.
The Lord has punished me severely,
    but he did not give me over to death.

Open to me the gates of righteousness,
    that I may enter through them
    and give thanks to the Lord.

This is the gate of the Lord;
    the righteous shall enter through it.

I thank you that you have answered me
    and have become my salvation.
The stone that the builders rejected
    has become the chief cornerstone.
This is the Lord’s doing;
    it is marvelous in our eyes.
This is the day that the Lord has made;
    let us rejoice and be glad in it. (New Revised Standard Version)

God is the expert on turning our song of lament into a song of victory.

From the Christian perspective of the Lord’s resurrection from death, it is a great song of celebration. The horrid torture and death of Christ on Friday turned to wonderful rejoicing on Sunday with a risen Lord. Life is now different with an empty tomb. The stone the builders rejected is now the head cornerstone.

Our worship is transformed. Instead of offering the blood of bulls and goats, like the select group of the Old Testament priests did, we are now all priests who now offer spiritual sacrifices because Jesus took care of the sin issue once for all. 

Christians continually offer to God their worship of Christ and live a holy life in grateful response to Christ’s death and resurrection.

Jesus is our cornerstone, the center of life and worship. Priority for the Christian faithful is allowing God to build us into a community of faith that worships Jesus with lives dedicated to knowing him and making him known.

Christian worship is the expression of a relationship in which God the Father reveals himself and his love in Christ, and by his Holy Spirit gives grace, to which we respond in faith, gratitude, and obedience. 

That means all of life (and not just a Sunday morning worship service) is to be a daily rhythm of God’s revelation to us, and our response to God in faith, thanksgiving, and an obedient life.

People, at their core, exists for worship. For the Christian, worship is grounded in the triune God and centered in Christ. Worship is the heart and life response to the revelation of God in Christ. Encounters and experiences of God’s revelation to humanity, and our response, form us into faithful disciples.

Author and Pastor Emeritus, Stuart Briscoe, once told the following story: 

“Many years ago, during the Cold War, I traveled to Poland for several weeks of itinerant ministry. One winter day my sponsors drove me in the dead of night to the middle of nowhere. I walked into a dilapidated building crammed with one hundred young people. I realized it was a unique opportunity. Through an interpreter I preached on maintaining Christ as the center of our lives as Christians.

Ten minutes into my message, the lights went out. Pitch black. My interpreter urged me to keep talking. Unable to see my notes or read my Bible, I continued. After I had preached in the dark for twenty minutes, the lights suddenly blinked on, and what I saw startled me: Everyone was on their knees, and they remained there for the rest of my message. The next day I commented on this to one man, and he said, ‘After you left, we stayed on our knees most of the night. We wanted to make sure we were remaining in Christ and centering our lives in him.’”

Since Jesus is the cornerstone, the center of our devotion, worship does not center in a style or an outcome. We may too often evaluate worship on whether or not it works, or if it emotionally moves us because of a particular musical or liturgical style. Whenever worship is designed for our tastes and preferences, Jesus Christ, as the center of worship, can easily be lost. 

With Christ as the chief cornerstone, the true object of worship, all kinds of differing styles can be pleasing to God. Worship itself is to be evaluated not by the satisfaction of personal preference, but by its acceptance by God.

Firmly built on Christ the cornerstone, worship becomes less about gaining truth, and more about letting truth gain us and capture us. The more we pay attention to the presence of Jesus Christ through song, prayer, Scripture, and sacrament, the more we will experience the centrality and power of God. True worship captures God’s heart and passion for the world. Jesus becomes very precious to us when we align ourselves to him as the cornerstone of our faith and worship.

So, brothers and sisters, because of God’s mercies, I encourage you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice that is holy and pleasing to God. This is your appropriate priestly service.

Romans 12:1, CEB

We build our lives on Jesus, the cornerstone of our faith, every day. Pleasing worship is both the responsibility and the privilege of every believer. We are embodied beings; we speak through vocal chords; we move with our legs; we act with our arms; we cannot communicate nor do the will of God apart from our bodies. 

Jesus, as the cornerstone upon which all is supported, means that acceptable worship can happen anywhere. Everywhere can become a sanctuary and a sacred space – home, neighborhood, and marketplace – as well as church. In all these locations, Christian discipleship will prove itself.

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.

Ephesians 2:19-22, NRSV

Several years ago, a man named Matt had an aunt who had struggled for years to make ends meet. When her health started to decline, she was forced to sell her fifty acres of property to pay for health care. As an act of kindness, Matt traveled to Massachusetts and bought the land from his aunt for the appraised value of $50,000. While exploring the land to see about building a house, he discovered outcroppings of stone ledges.

Matt contracted a geologist, who surveyed the land and informed him the stone was actually Goshen stone, a type of mica used for sidewalks, patios, and landscapes. At the time, it sold for $100 a ton – and Matt had about 24 million tons on the land. The appraised value on the surface was $50,000, but some experts estimated that the land was possibly worth up to $2 billion.

Jesus is the precious cornerstone. He is much too valuable to be left in a church building. And there is so much more to him than surface appearances. Let God drill deep into your life and show you the infinite worth of Jesus Christ. Explore him. Worship him. Offer your very life to him. Shape yourself around him. Center all things completely in and around Jesus. Discover just how precious he is. Let your love be long for Christ.

Lord Jesus, Son of God, Son of Humanity, have mercy upon us.