April 4 | Luke 24:13-53

Weathered_deckingAnd here we come to the end of Luke. Jesus shows up among the disciples and says, “Peace be with you”, and they (of course) do not recognize him, thinking he’s a ghost. Those on the road to Emmaus don’t recognize him and neither do the disciples here. The resurrected Jesus is a whole Jesus, but the Jesus fixated in their brains is broken. They can’t imagine a Jesus who is whole anymore, and because of this (perhaps among other reasons) they don’t recognize him. Much in the same way that they do not have an image of a whole Jesus and therefore don’t recognize him, I wonder if we don’t have an image of a whole earth, and therefore we quickly fall into hopelessness and despair about its condition.

It seems that the world is spinning into more and more chaos and brokenness, but what we need to hold on to is the idea that though today may feel like the world’s “Good Friday”, God is resurrecting this earth. God continues to and will continue to work toward a wholeness. What we need is to be captured by an imagination of a whole earth.

Then Jesus identifies himself. They now know who he is, but still “were disbelieving”. They were filled with joy, but still unsure. And what does Jesus do? Well, he asks, “have you anything to eat?” What a strange thing to ask. Why does he do this? Perhaps because he hasn’t eaten anything since the Passover a few days ago and he’s had a quite weekend? “I Got arrested, was whipped, beaten and crucified, died, was buried into the earth for couple days, resurrected, went on a seven mile walk with Cleopas and his buddy, and now I’m here with you folk, so…. got anything to eat? I’m pretty dang hungry.”

I think what’s happening here is Jesus is emphasizing his humanity. He is resurrected in the flesh. He’s not a ghost. He’s not a spirit. He’s in the flesh. And with what he’s about to do, he wants to make sure they know it. This is not some strange vision. This is Jesus in the flesh, and he is about to ascend to heaven.

But before he does, he says these ever so important words: “You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

He says to his disciples “you are witnesses.” And what are they witnesses to? Not to theology. Not to history. Not even to the scriptures. They are witnesses to their experience with Christ. They are witnesses to what what Christ did in their midst, what he taught them, how he died and how he even stood before them whole and holy at that moment. And so they wait for the “power from on high”. And then Jesus ascends to heaven.

Beloved, as Christ’s disciples, we too are witnesses. Not to theology. Not to history. Not even to the scriptures. We are witnesses to our experience with Christ and to a world which Christ is making whole. Where the Book of Luke ends, the Book of Acts begins and continues to be told today through our lives. By the power of the Holy Spirit at work within us, we are to go out into this world and boldly, but not obnoxiously, tell about how God has worked within us to be laborers for wholeness in this world; and then we are to actually be laborers for wholeness in this world, and through our witness, we are to call others into being laborers for wholeness in this world. So, lovers of God, what do you say? How about we get out there?

Advertisements

March 28 | Luke 24:1-35

hole.to.fill.mp“But on the first day of the week…”

I love that the resurrection narrative in Luke begins with “But…” Jesus has died, he has been buried in a tomb, and his closest followers, particularly the referred to women, have properly laid him to rest. As the stone rolls over the tomb, it is like a seal on the life of Christ. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. It’s over. The women go home, broken, despairing, and grieving. That sabbath day must have been among the worst of their lives. The Sabbath forced them to come present to their pain, to sit in their loss, and feel everything deeply. There was no denying it, there was nothing that they could do to distract themselves from it. It was a long, hard, dark Sabbath day.

But then chapter 24 begins with “But…” This to me is the Gospel of Jesus Christ- this is the good news. “But” is the good news. We live in a world that often seems broken. I don’t need to list the fruit of this brokenness. It’s all around us- globally, locally, and personally. The reality that we face in this world is a hard one, causing many to at best doubt and at worst completely give up on any semblance of a “good” God. When you look at around at the global, local, and personal struggles of this world (struggles from which I will confess we do get occasional reprieve as we spot moments of beauty), there is reason to believe that God is dead and that God is buried deep into the earth, sealed with a stone.

The “good news”, however, is “but…” What the resurrection does is offer us an alternative reality. It is not a denial of the current realities that we see and experience here and now on the surface. But it is an alternative reality that exists alongside the brokenness, fear, pain, and grief that says that the “right now” is not the end of our story. The good news of “but” says the story is not over. So often in our lives what is happening “right now” feels like what is and what will always be, but as I look at even my own life, I can see that this is not true.

I have gone into and then out of all kinds of circumstances. I have had some really hard, dark seasons in my life (as well as some really glorious and beautiful ones), and none of them have remained forever. My story and the story of this earth continues to spin. So does your story. When we move from Luke 23 to Luke 24 we get a “but” faith. We move from a really bad day, the worst kind of day, to “but…”

This, for me, is what resurrection is. It is not an event that happened once nearly 2,000 years ago. It is something that happens all around us all the time and will continue to do so. Resurrection looks at the condition of the the world and our world and says, “but…” It reminds us that this is not the end of our story, that God is indeed working beneath the surface of what we see and experience here and now, and that God even walks among us here and now, regardless of whether we even recognize that it is God.

There is great pain, suffering, and hurt in this world here and now. And we must not turn a “Pollyanna” blind eye to it in the name of religion. But in that reality, we must trust that there is more than we see. There is indeed great pain, suffering, and hurt in this world, but…

Luke 23:26-56 | March 26

“…while the sun’s light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Having said this, he breathed his last.” (Luke 23:45-46)

fresh-graveIt’s over. Jesus dies. He has been whipped and beaten, hung on the cross, and has died. We are fascinated with the cross and for good reason. The struggle I have with it is that sometimes I think we think that it’s all we need. We just need to get Jesus to the cross because I need to be forgiven. While this is true to a certain extent, there’s more to all of this. I don’t just need Jesus to get to the cross. I need the whole of the life he led that led him to the cross. I need his work and teaching of bringing in those who are out that upset the religious establishment enough to put him on the cross. Jesus did not come to earth to die. He came to redeem, rebuild, and restore humanity, but not merely through a mystical moment of atonement on a cross, but through a day by day ministry of revelation in the hearts and minds of humans that go so far as to lead him to the cross.

Jesus life is what we need, and part of that life was his death. His life was one of radical love for humanity wherein he gave himself up for us day by day. Every work of his life was a work toward the restoration of humanity in an outpouring of sacrificial, fearless love for humanity. And that love was so great and so broad that he would take that love as far as to lay his life down on a cross. Not even the threat and reality of horrific and painful death would give him pause enough to slow down his love.

I would argue that the cross is not the moment when God forgives us. Forgiveness was here all along. It’s not like forgiveness never existed until Jesus died. Long before Jesus walked this earth the Psalmist said, “The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” (Psalm 145:8). God has been reaching out to us in forgiveness through all space and time. The cross is not the moment when God forgives us. The cross is the moment when God makes it abundantly clear that we are forgiven. The cross is the expression of just how far God will go to make sure we realize God’s love for us- all of us. The cross reveals the degree to which God loves us and always has loved us. 

And so Jesus dies and in so doing we wake up to the depths of God’s love. He is taken off the cross, laid in a tomb and buried into the earth, beneath the dirt. The best way for love to open our eyes to the degree to which we are loved was for love to be buried and go silent.

Luke 22:1-71, 23:1-25 | March 25

broken-window-960188_960_720It’s Good Friday- the day we remember Jesus’ on the cross. In today’s reading we will read about his journey to it, and then tomorrow we will read about his crucifixion, death, and burial. What’s interesting about Luke is that he spends more time on the social, political, and religious events that lead up to the cross, than he does with the actual cross. In this, I believe, he continues to expose the brokenness and corruption of this world’s systems. Everybody wants him dead, but no one wants to own the decision, so back and forth he goes. They want authority without responsibility.

This is why Jesus says in the upper room, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” Only in Luke does he call it the new covenant. Luke is particularly concerned with the dismantling of the world’s systems, systems of empire, dominion, imperialism, exclusion and exploitation. Here in this upper room it is time for a new system, a new way of being. And that system will not be one of lording power over people, but lifting power under people. It will be a system were we give of ourselves to strengthen another, not empower ourselves by taking from another. Because of this, it is a system that will be initiated by the sacrifice of a lamb, not the enthroning of a king.

As Jesus’ body breaks open, and his blood (that is, his life) is poured out, it will be spilled onto the world.  The world will be surrounded by, immersed in, might we even say baptized by the very life, the very energy, of Christ broken open on the cross. The new covenant is cut, and in it we are drenched in God’s grace.

It is finished.

Luke 21:1-38 | March 24

4270507284_4c4f05138c_bToday we have a big reading- the entirety of chapter 23. Before we break it down, there’s a couple things to point out. We often get a picture of Jesus entering Jerusalem and then having 4-5 clean days until the upper room scene (depending on which Gospel you’re reading),  but this is not necessarily the case. The Gospels vary greatly on the events that take place between the triumphal entry and the upper room, and are not clear on how long of a time span it was. Here in Luke, Jesus seems to cleanse the temple right away, which one would think would lead rapidly to his arrest, but we actually seem to be taming things a bit with more teaching in the chapters that follow the entry (chapters 20-21).

The Widows’s Offering: In verses 1-4, we get this great story that pastors like me love during stewardship campaigns. Back in those days they didn’t pass plates in their worship services. There was simply a box that you dropped your offering in as you walked in (actually sounds like a nice way to go, if you ask me). Jesus witnesses the contrast between the rich and a poor widow placing their offerings in the box, and, in line with the whole of Luke’s gospel, affirms the widow’s offering over that of those who are wealthy because she has given “out of her poverty”. Throughout the whole gospel, Jesus has been lifting up the poor and bringing down the wealthy, and here, in chapter 21, it’s as though we finally see that in action. The poor person gives more than the rich. It’s no longer just words, but we’re seeing it happen. We are seeing the upside-down kingdom of God happening right before our eyes and right along side a kingdom of the world.

Signs, Destruction, and the End: Then Jesus takes a hard turn that feels very disjointed. People would have been flocking to the temple for the Passover at this time, and evidently there was a lot of conversation about how beautiful it was. This is one of the few times a year that people came from far off to Jerusalem, so this is a holy pilgrimage, but it is also (in a sense) a bit of a sight seeing tour. The temple is but a few days a year experience for many, so they’re soaking it in.

So people are milling around the temple, marveling at its beauty and Jesus completely bursts their bubble. As they marvel at its structure and design, Jesus reiterates what he said as he wept over Jerusalem: “As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down” (21:6). What a buzz kill.

But people recognize him as a teacher, and they ask about when this will be. This speaks to the credibility Jesus has with the people. They may or may not know exactly who he is, but here he is telling of the destruction of their temple, and they don’t dismiss him or fight him on it. They call him “teacher” and ask for more. From their Jesus launches into a somewhat lengthy discourse about all kinds of strange signs about the end of things.

He warns them of false messiahs, of wars, earthquakes, and plagues, and even their arrest and encourages them not be terrified. There’s a lot there to be terrified about, but Jesus is assuring them “not a hair of your head will perish”. I don’t think what Jesus is saying here is that they won’t be physically harmed. He is reaffirming the existence of another Kingdom, of another kind existence in this world. He’s saying, “don’t worry about the things of this world- steep your life in things of God and it won’t matter that temples crumble”.

A Broken World: But then he really puts the fear of God in us by saying things like, “Woe to those are pregnant and to those who are nursing infants in those days!” (21:23). This seems to contrast greatly with all the stuff he just said about not being terrified. What could be more terrifying than warning pregnant and nursing mothers! I’m no apocalyptic expert, nor am I even knowledgeable at all about this stuff, but I do think that Jesus may actually be saying less here about the end times than he is about the current realities of a broken a world.

This kind of wrath toward the vulnerable does not line up with the rest of Luke’s gospel, so it seems out of place to me to think that suddenly God is going to destroy pregnant and nursing mothers. I think what Jesus is getting at here is just how broken the world and its systems are. And in this he is doing two things. 1, he is calling us to steep our lives in Kingdom of God reality, not kingdoms of this world reality. It’s as though he’s saying, remember who you really are, and to what you really belong. And, 2, he’s telling us not to be surprised when we see, feel, and experience the brokenness of the world.

And finally, what we need to keep before us in all this weird talk in Chapter 23 is what Jesus is about to experience. He has predicted the falling and rising of the “temple” earlier in the gospel, and we know then that he was referring to his own life and body. As Jesus is within a few days from crucifixion, it is not unreasonable to say that in chapter 23 he is also talking about what is about to happen to him. The extent of this broken world will be made manifest when he is betrayed by his own, arrested and beaten by the authorities, and crucified and buried into the earth. Death, destruction, brokenness and even a sense of hopelessness is not far away. It is indeed brewing in their very midst.

Luke 20:41-47 | March 23

User comments

In this passage Jesus continues this little theological debate as they enter into conversation about the logic of David and who the Messiah is. And that’s what all of this comes down to: Who is the Messiah and who can be the Messiah? Is it Jesus? Will he admit it outright? Jesus doesn’t give them what they want and continues to frustrate them.

And then he makes a big move. Luke says, “In the hearing of all the people he said to the disciples…”, and then he says some hard words. He tells his disciples to beware of the scribes. He points out their “long robes”, their need to be greeted with respect (probably referring to needing specific titles), and how they need the best seats in the synagogues. And then he says, “they devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”

As a pastor, these are terrifying words. How much do I like people to know my title? How much is my own sense of self-worth wrapped up in my position? To what degree do I separate myself from “the laity”, and feel worthwhile in that I hold this special title and position?

These words from Jesus are a piercing reminder for me of how important it is for me to recognize that though I stand behind the pulpit or altar, I am no different than anyone sitting the pew. I have a job to do, but that job is to foster and connect authentic community more than anything else. I am not the only pastor in my church on Sunday morning. They are in the pews, the nursery, and the classrooms as well.

Positions, degrees, and titles do not determine our worth, nor do they determine our ability to move God’s work in this world forward. It is human nature to get wrapped up in these things (even the disciples argued about “who’s the greatest”), and so we must be careful not to fall in to the trap of attaching too much meaning and worth on to them. We must continually be examining the degree to which we are serving the world, not being served by it.

Luke 20:27-40 | March 22

rocket-launch-693236_960_720If you ask me, this passage seems out of place. Jesus has been on a straight trajectory of tension with the religious elite, but here he seems to come back into cordial theological conversation. The Sadducees were an elite group who did not believe in the resurrection of the dead, and here they come questioning him about resurrection, possibly for two reasons. One, they may have heard him referring to resurrection at some other time and now want to challenge him on it. Two, they want to see just what kind of theological chops he’s got- can he roll with them? The answer is of course an emphatic yes.

With all of that in mind, I do see one reason why this story is placed here: Resurrection. With Jesus’ death an imminent certainty at this point, the question turns to what will happen when he dies? And knowing what he believes about what will happen when he dies is crucial in how the religious leaders will deal with him when he dies. And Jesus’ answer affirms that that when they kill him, their work will not be done. His followers will likely hope for and expect a resurrection if this is what Jesus believes about the afterlife, and therefore the religious leaders will need to tend to his burial.

Furthermore, look at the names Jesus drops here in regards to the afterlife. The Sadducees speak in generalities, but Jesus gets specific. He names the core fathers of the faith: Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and Moses. And he intimates that they have indeed been resurrected in some form or another. Is it possible that Jesus is lumping himself in with these crucial figures of the faith? Is it possible that he is saying, “if God resurrects them, then God will surely resurrect me just as God was incarnated in me.”

Luke 20:20-26

005_TiberiusSo they just keep coming at him. Now they’re even sending spies, and this time they think they’ve got him. Throughout this entire Gospel Jesus has been advocating for those who are victims both of Rome’s oppression and the religious elite’s corruption. So these spies come to ask him if it is “lawful for us to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” This is a tricky question because if Jesus says “no”, he’s in trouble with Rome. According to Rome it is lawful. It is absolutely lawful and you darn well better do it.

But of course these spies are not referring to Roman law. They’re referring to Jewish law, and by Jewish law, this tax is abhorrent. But if Jesus’ followers, who are being oppressed and exploited by Rome, hear him say “yes, it is lawful”, Jesus will lose credibility with his followers. So if Jesus says “no it is not lawful”, he is now liable to Rome and can be arrested. But if he says “yes, it is lawful”, he will lose credibility with his followers and then the religious authorities can do with him whatever they want. They think they’ve got him.

Well, if Jesus operated in the ways of the world, then, yes, they would. But Jesus is ushering in a whole new way of being and thinking in this world. He is not operating out of the precepts and understanding of any form of a kingdom of this world. He’s operating purely out of an understanding of the Kingdom of God. And so he says,

“Show me a denarius. Whose head and whose title does it bear?” They said, “The emperor’s.” He said to them, “Then give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (20:24-25)

There’s a lot going on here, and it’s all brilliant, but I think chief among them is this: Jesus  reveals the distinction between the things of God and the things of this world. The Emperor’s (Caesar’s) image is on the coin. It’s his. So what do we care about where it goes? You, beloved of God, bear the image of God, so you belong to God. Give Caesar his money. But give yourself to God.

What Jesus does here is he doesn’t teach that one shouldn’t pay the tax (so he’s okay by Roman law), but he does so in a way that still endears him to his followers by putting Caesar in his proper place (so he’s okay with his followers). Stinking brilliant. Caesar demanded to be lauded as God. So for Jesus to make this distinction between what is God’s and what is Caesars, it not only to say “what do we care what Caesar does”, but it also says, “Caesar isn’t God”.

This is important in the plot of Luke’s Gospel, but these are actually crucial words for us today as well. As we dwell in a volatile political climate, and as anxiety increases over the welfare of our nation, we must ask if we have Caesar in his/her proper place. Is Caesar getting that which belongs to God? Is too much of our energy, work, and hope for this world placed in the hands of Caesar?

He slips the trap for now. But how will Caesar respond when he hears of this? Not only has Jesus offended and exposed the religious authorities, now he has offended and exposed the political authorities as well.

Luke 20:9-19 | March 20

chess-1215079_960_720So now Jesus goes into another parable. Another hard one. If you’ve been reading along, it shouldn’t be too tough to figure this one out. The tenants are the religious elite to whom God entrusted the care and welfare of God’s vineyard (the world), and who took that trust and created a corrupt, exploitive, elitist religious system. God is now sending God’s son, Jesus, to come and reclaim it, and they will reject him. They will kill him in order to keep the vineyard for themselves.

Jesus won’t let up now. As pointedly and as clearly and as piercingly as he can, he is going to continue to expose and tear down their system. At this point, after entering Jerusalem and driving out those who were selling in the temple, Jesus is almost daring them to crucify him. He’s in a sort of chess match with them, playing a strategy they’ve never seen and which just dares them to move in for the kill. He knows this is his destiny, but he’s going to make them do it.

There is an argument to be made that it is “God’s will” to put Jesus on that cross, because Jesus has to go to the cross in order to save the world. And, yes, I suppose orthodox theology says that, but there’s more to it than that. If that’s all it is, then why doesn’t Jesus just go and tell them to arrest him? I think it’s because he wants them to own it.

Jesus doesn’t want to let corruption, exploitation and elitism off the hook. Some theology does say that God put Jesus on the cross. Some really bad, disgusting, and abhorrent theology says that the Jews put Jesus on the cross. Some theology says you and I put him there. Well, there is some truth to all of those (not much in the way of the Jews- remember Jesus too was Jewish and so was the mass of people that wanted nothing to do with him going to the cross), but if you ask me, when I read the Gospels I believe it is corruption, exploitation and elitism that put him there.

Take any culture at any time in any corner of this world. Then have God show up in the flesh to actively, overtly, powerfully, and effectively attack corruption, exploitation, and elitism by lifting up the lowly and bringing down the haughty, and that version of God in the flesh will be killed. So Jesus has come into Jerusalem and he will simply continue to do what he does, until the power structure decides to do something about it.

There are numerous theologies which are right and good that explain why Jesus ended up on a cross. And there are numerous Old Testament prophecies that this whole journey of Jesus from manger to cross fulfill. And those are all good. But the truth is, you don’t need all those to get Jesus to some form of execution. It’s just the way of a broken world. Corruption, exploitation, and elitism will go to the ends of the earth to defend themselves. But praise be to God that though that is true, beauty and wholeness can emerge even from that. That’s the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, if you ask me.

Luke 20:1-8 | March 19

String_under_tensionAnd so the attempts to trap him begin. You can almost sense the desperation in the religious leaders. This thing is spinning out of control and they need to stop and stop it now. They’re like basketball team furiously launching threes to get back in the game, but the shots are so poorly selected and executed that they have no chance of going on (I’ve been watching a lot of basketball the last couple days- forgive me).

So they start out with the basic question by questioning his authority. They’re basically asking him for his credentials. Who ordained you? What seminary did you go to? Is it accredited? Is it United Methodist approved? Have you gone before the Board of Ordained Ministry? Who and what gave you authority?

And Jesus turns it around on them by asking by what authority John baptized, and they can’t answer it, because regardless, it was apparent that it came from God. He was a prophet, and the people all felt it. What is subtly happening here is Jesus is continuing to expose their corruption. He’s exposing that no human made entity has the power and authority to decide in whom and through whom God will work. The proof will be in the pudding. Authority is not something any human or institution can give. They can only see it and call it out.

That’s how it is for Jesus. It doesn’t matter who or what gave him authority. He has it.