Walking with Jesus #99

 

Walking With Jesus 

45Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” 46Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” John 1:45-46.

“Come and See.”  That is what Philip told Nathaniel after he himself had been called to be a follower of Jesus.  He had discovered something in this man Jesus that he had to share with Nathaniel.  Nathaniel was a bit skeptical and said that he rather doubted anything good could come out of that little town of Nazareth.  It was not a lengthy invitation.  It was simply three non-threatening words to a skeptic, but it whetted Nathaniel’s interest just enough.

It is a well-known fact that many Christians find it difficult to share their faith with others.  We tend to keep our faith beliefs to ourselves and consider that religious beliefs are private matters.  We don’t want to offend others, and sometimes we think that if we invite someone to come and visit our worship services we might offend them in some way.  Likewise, religion is one of those topics that gets put off-limits in conversations.  The fact remains that if we often keep silent about the most important thing in our lives, the thing that defines or helps guide who and what we are and what we are becoming,  So we are trying to live two different lives.

Think, for a moment, about the effect those words might have on you if you were to hear them in another context about anything else.  They would likely generate a sense of wonder, curiosity, and perhaps excitement about whatever you were being invited to come and see.   You might even be grateful that your friend thought to ask you to check it out.

Those words are simple and warm and non-threatening.  They are a simple invitation to check out something and to join a community that your friend is part of.  Your friend wants you to come along and be part of something that they have found to be special, but it is totally up to you to see what it is all about.

 

Come and see are very easy, warm, and hospitable words. They are simple words of invitation to allow the person, to whom we address them, to look in on something that they might find to be interesting and important.  We are not called to cram our faith down another person’s throat or question their eternal destiny or threaten them with hellfire and brimstone.  Instead, we are called to simply offer an invitation to come and see what God is still doing in and through Jesus and the community of disciples who have chosen to follow him.

 

Questions:

  1. How often do you invite someone to worship with you or to come to Via de Cristo?
  2. Do you believe that the same Spirit who descended on Jesus at Baptism is still working in you?
  3. Do you believe that the same Spirit that inspired Philip to reach out to Nathaniel is still offering all kinds of people all over the world an invitation to “come and see”?

 

 

 

Walking with Jesus #98

Walking With Jesus
10 Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him.11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Mark 1:10-11
As we remember and celebrate the Baptism of Our Lord Jesus Christ it is important that we remember and renew the vows once spoken at our baptisms, either by our parents or by us — that time when we were washed of our sins and received the Holy Spirit to dwell within us. Since many of us were baptized as infants it is important for us to remember what God did for us in our baptism, to renounce our sinful life and once again embrace the godly life of a Spirit-filled Christian. Even though we may have done this many times it is important to renew those vows again.
During the season of Epiphany, we will review not only the Baptism of Jesus and renew our Baptismal Vows, we will follow Jesus in his preparation for his earthly ministry and the calling of his disciples. It is a wonderful time for us to review our calling by God and renew our vows of answering God’s call to discipleship.
Divine light shines forth from this Child Jesus, which is the transparency of God in the world. The divine light that shines in the Child is not a foreign light to the earth. It is the Light at the heart of all life. It is the Light from which all things come. If this Light were extracted from the universe, everything would cease to exist. So this is a story about the Light of God which is at the heart of everything, the Light at the heart of you and me. This Light is Jesus, and we begin to see that light more clearly through our human eyes during this season of Epiphany as we follow Jesus from his Baptism in the Jordan into the wilderness to be tested and into his ministry.
Up until this moment, Jesus has been indistinguishable from the rest of the mass of humanity. Now Epiphany reveals the meaning of his life and mission. He is the light that comes directly from heaven. The Spirit, in the form of the dove, descends and rests on him as people watch. But only Jesus apparently hears the Voice – or at least, it is directed only to him: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased!” His baptism is his commitment to live out the reality of the Kingdom of God in the world in all of his daily life. It is a commitment to another way – to God’s Way. And God is well pleased! That is what our baptisms also mean for us. We are to live out the reality of the Kingdom of God in our daily lives.
Our own baptism into Christ is the means by which we, too, die and rise again to new life. The old order is renounced and dies. It is a statement of our repentance. The old order of our lives dies. Yet we are not lost in death, because God is the God of resurrection. So we rise to a new life and a new order. Nothing – not even death – can defeat God’s purposes.
Questions:
  1. Have you claimed your new life in Christ through your baptism?
  2. Are you discovering God’s purposes for you?
  3. Can you write down what your baptism means to you, for your life and others?

Walking with Jesus #97

Walking With Jesus

5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. John 1:5

Have you ever been camping and need to make a trip to the latrine in the woods in the middle of the night to relieve a physical need and you discover that the batteries are down in your flashlight?  You hate like everything to wake up your friend or loved one who is camping with you to borrow their flashlight.  Well, John is saying that the light that Jesus brings into the world does not run on batteries that deplete in power.  This light is the perpetual God light, His Son, Jesus Christ, who was born in a manger in Bethlehem.  And John says that the light of Christ will always overcome the darkness of our lives and our world.

Today as I write this on Dec. 26, I passed by our neighbor’s house and he was dismantling all of his outdoor Christmas lights.  I felt sad for him and all of the people in our neighborhood that had enjoyed the manger scene in his yard. It made me wish that Christmas would last longer, but for that household, Christmas is over.  When I think about the church year, Lent lasts six weeks, Easter seven weeks, Pentecost at least three times that, and yet, we have only two weeks for Christmas.  Really, our society only considers that it is important enough for two or three days because everyone has to get ready to celebrate New Year’s Eve.  I think it is important for us to be reminded that this light of God that has come into the world that God created and loves, lights our darkness and sees us through all of the darkest and most terrible moments of our lives.

The light of Christ says to me that our lives matter to God.  We matter so much that God made the decision to become human, like us, and share our mortal life and death, and defeat death with resurrection so that we might enjoy God’s eternal life, and learn how to love as God loves the world.

As we think about the difficult year of 2020, this coronavirus pandemic we have experienced and still live with, it matters so much to me that our welfare is of tremendous importance to God.  There is no worry or fear too small or, no challenge too great that God will not share our worries and our challenges.  God is so eager to equip and empower us, to share our worries and our challenges, as well as our joys and hopes with each other.  Because God has reached out to us as a human, and because he has reached out to all of humanity in love, God has empowered us to extend God’s light of Christ to all those around us.  So perhaps we need to think of Christmas all year long instead of a mere two weeks or twelve days.  We have been empowered to grab hold of the opportunity God has given us to share His love with others all year long every year of our earthbound lives.  That would mean that God’s love batteries would keep His light shining in us eternally and the darkness of our world will never overcome it.  I pray for you happy and brilliant shining with the love of Christ in the year of our Lord 2021.

Questions:

  1. What would it mean for you to keep Christmas all year long?
  2. In what ways do we rush through Christmas in the days following Christmas Day?
  3. How can you keep Christmas in your mind and heart all year long?
  4. Can you stop and think of some of the ways that the light of Christ shines through you?

Walking with Jesus #96

Walking with Jesus

13And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, 14“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” 15When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.”   Luke 2:13-15.

The joyous event was not announced to dignitaries in palaces but to lowly shepherds working the night shift. This is in keeping with what Mary says in her song, Luke 1:52, that God “has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.”  Surely the most humble of the humble in society in first century days were shepherds.  Whenever an angel of the Lord appeared to anyone in Biblical history, the typical reaction was fear, and the response of the angel was, “Do not be afraid.”

The angel told the shepherds that this Baby was born in the town of David, Bethlehem.  As descendant of David, Jesus was to be a king.  The angel said that a sign for them would be a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.  A heavenly host lit up the Judean skies and filled the air with their praise not for the King and his court to see, but for lowly shepherds. What more of a sign is needed?  The angel said “I am bringing you good news of great joy for all people.”  We might be tempted to see God’s sense of humor here: an infant, who was supposed to be the Messiah, was being born in a feeding trough!

The sign was not just to help the shepherds find the Baby. The point of the sign is to confirm to them that this baby is indeed the promised Messiah for all people. They did not waste any time going to look for this baby.  The shepherds rushed into Bethlehem.  Here was the Messiah born in surroundings that were familiar to them–a manger.   And bless those shepherds.  They believed enough to go and see and know, when they saw the baby in that manger, that he was the Messiah, the Savior of the world.  They left the manger where the baby lay praising God and sharing this good news.  God sought out he most humble persons in society to learn about the birth of his Son, Jesus, and they shared the marvelous amazing good news everywhere they went. The praise and worship of the shepherds came after two previous events: divine revelation given by the angel, and verification by the shepherds. The word of revelation was confirmed by what they experienced at the manger. The shepherds’ praise was not a hysterical, emotional response to the spectacular heavenly phenomenon. Their praise was the result of what they personally verified at the manger.  They could not keep the news of a Savior to themselves.  There was nothing ho-hum about this message, they had to tell everyone.

 

Questions:

 

  1. What does that say to us?
  2. If the night crew of shepherds in the Judean hills left their flocks and made haste to see the Savior in his birth place, and then shared that good news with others why are we so slow to share the good news of Jesus with others we meet each day?
  3. Do we take for granted this message of angels, and our own experience of meeting Jesus so much that we just don’t share it?

 

 

Christmas Message

As we celebrate Christmas this year we are drawn into the social and cultural remembering of this past year.  It has been a trying time for all of us.  Some of you may have been ill with the coronavirus, or had family and friends suffer from it.  We have all experienc3ed social distancing, wearing masks, staying home from work or social gatherings, worship and church events.  I invite you to reflect on the church’s patterning of time. This invites us to recognize, today, God with us. This reminds us our year begins with Advent and keeps before us not only the remembrance of the incarnation, but to expect that God’s yet unfulfilled promises remain trustworthy. Whether in a person or a community, around us are indeed glimpses of God’s active grace, if we have the imagination to see. It is time to begin looking to begin again, starting at the manger in Bethlehem where our Lord was born.

In this hope-diminishing year we have just experienced, I pray that you have maintained the imagination to recognize God’s promise-keeping presence among those in your community.  Perhaps your eyes were opened to God’s work among those you love, or among those you struggle to love. Because Luke’s narratives remind us to see God’s grace impacting the young and old, rich and poor, leaders and led, Jew and Gentile. It has always been a promise to all the world. That memory, that glimpse, brings peace and hope for each of us.

God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in a lowly manger in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as His children. Young men and women, old and young together are called to come to that manger where God’s Son was born!  We are all given the blessing of God with us.   So now, let us leave from this year in peace and hope. God has begun a new season among us.

Our time under God is now. It is time to remember, reflect, recognize and give thanks to praise to God for Jesus Christ, our Savior. God is with us. And we have each other to share God’s Good News with the world.

Merry Christmas to each of you and your families.  May the year 2021 bring you joy, peace and hope and may God’s richest blessings cover you all.

Pastor Sue Beall

 

Walking with Jesus #95

Walking with Jesus 

 35The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. 38Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.  Luke 1:35, 38

I got a Christmas card from a cousin the other day and my cousin had written a note inside which said, “A little gift is on its way.”  That is the message of the angel to Mary.  In fact it is the message Elizabeth and Zechariah got about John, and it’s the message Mary and Joseph got about Jesus.

When the Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary, she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.   In the New Living Translation we are told that Mary was ‘confused and disturbed’.   All the angel had to do was say ‘Hi’ and Mary was perplexed.  I can totally understand.  So would I have been confused, and disturbed about what it could mean.  Mary was very much like you and me.  She was a girl, just becoming a woman who learned that God specializes in surprise packages, by coming to us in unlikely places, and speaking to us through unlikely voices.  Yet at the end of the angel’s visit Mary declared that she was a willing servant of the Lord and would do whatever God asked of her.

It dawned on me that Mary was the first bearer of the ‘body and blood’ of our Lord.  The blessed  virgin Mary then was the first human who could say of Jesus, “This is my body, this is my blood.”  We might even say she was the first minister of the sacrament of the real presence of Christ.  But what is so important to each of us is that she was willing to serve in the role God gave her, to bear the Son of God in the flesh.  This is a lesson of hope and grace for every human being.

Hope propelled an angel to visit Mary and offer her an outlandish invitation. Hope enabled Mary to say ‘yes’ to God.  Hope inspired her to sing of the restoring of the world like it had already happened.  Hope inspires us to accept the gift of God’s Son to our world.  It is hope that comes to us to receive Jesus Christ into our hearts.

It is God’s grace that brought this message to Mary and to the world.  Because of grace God offers his love and acceptance to forgive our sins.  It is because of grace we have found favor with God just as God found favor with Mary.  God’s grace has been so freely poured out for each of us even though it is not deserved.  Our life of faith is all about grace, and hope.

Isn’t it wonderful that something so undeserved, and yet so freely poured out for each of us is given in God’s grace.  May we each say with Mary today “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”  The biggest little gift has already arrived. Jesus has come, and we can celebrate his coming again.

Questions:

  1. How are you listening to God’s voice and calling you to be and do what God wants you to be and do?
  2. How are you responding to God’s voice calling you to be and do what God wants you to be and do?

walking with Jesus #94

Walking With Jesus
I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. Isaiah 61:10
As we travel the Advent road of waiting for Christmas, Isaiah reminds us that we have something to be joyful about. We have been accepted by God even though we don’t deserve it. Like the people of Israel who had been given another chance and was allowed to return to their homeland, we have been clothed in God’s righteousness, and we did not deserve it either. Deep down inside we all long for the kind of acceptance that is complete and unconditional, acceptance that covers us with a robe of righteousness, and God has provided this love and acceptance through Jesus Christ.
Isaiah is saying that the salvation that God will work for the Israelites will render them as beautiful and considerable as those who are clothed with the richest garments. When we recognize God’s glory in his love that accepts us and covers us with his righteousness, we are totally overwhelmed with joy. When we think of our relationship with God, knowing that we have done nothing to deserve such righteousness, joy fills our souls to overflowing.
When prayer or Bible study or worship become a chore, or a ritual to be done out of habit or just endured, then we have lost the clear vision of God’s complete love for us, or the full meaning of what God is doing for us through his salvation.  Joy is a huge product of our salvation. Joy is meant to be a center piece in our Christian life. Joy emits the energy of God’s grace. It moves us to sing, to have compassion for others, to reach out in love to tell and show God’s love to others. That is all because God has dressed us in the garment of salvation.
We once were lost and dead in sin. Then, miracle of miracles, Jesus reached down to us from the cross and brought cleansing and forgiveness.  When he walked out of the tomb he brought us resurrection life. Our lives have meaning because we are in Christ. I am overwhelmed with joy at what God has done in me and I hope that I shall always rejoice in the Lord because of this gift.
Joy is different than happiness. Happiness is often brief- it literally depends on what is happening in the moment. Joy, however is eternal because it is a gift from God that does not leave us, it is not transitory. Even in the greatest trial or the saddest moment, joy will be there waiting to bubble up to the surface like a spring of water. Hope and joy can make this waiting time of advent a wonderful journey.
Questions:
When was the last time you were overwhelmed with joy in worship, in your prayer time, in Bible study, or in visiting with someone in conversation about the Lord?
Prayer
Lord Jesus, thank you for the gift of salvation. Because of your love, all my sins are gone, cleansed by your blood. Help me to remember this when the world overwhelms me and pulls me away into frustration, fear, or dissatisfaction. Amen.