by Linda Rex
January 22, 2023, 3rd Sunday in Epiphany—Recently, my husband remarked about my preference for darkened rooms. I’ve always preferred a more dimly lighted room to one that is filled with bright light because of the sensory overload that I experience from constant intense brightness. When the Scriptures speak about the light which is Jesus, I often wonder if our experience of Jesus can also make us prefer a less intense experience of the truth and grace which he brings. For some of us, hiding in the darkness of our human experience is preferable to facing up to the reality that we may have aspects of our person which need redemption and healing.
The good news is that this is the reason Jesus came. He did not come to condemn us, he said, but to save us and give us eternal life (John 3:16-17). His purpose is not to shame or diminish us in any way, but to bring us into the fullness of all that he intended from the beginning, from before the foundation of the world (Eph 1:3-6), when light first touched this cosmos—life in relationship with God in the Spirit.
In our gospel passage for this Sunday, Matthew 4:12-23, the apostle quotes a passage from Isaiah 9:1-4, saying that Jesus’ life and ministry in the Galilee area was a fulfillment of this particular prophetic word. When looking back at the history of ancient Israel, we see that this area of the country was constantly invaded as a consequence of their repeated infidelity to God. Because they chose to continue to live in the darkness of sin, they ultimately experienced invasion and deportation by the Assyrians.
In Matthew’s day, the area of Galilee was distained by the people in Jerusalem and much of Judea, for the area was filled with Gentiles and surrounded by Hellenistic Jews who had in many ways assimilated into the Greek culture of their day. That Jesus would grow up in Nazareth and spend much of his life and ministry in the area of Galilee is remarkable and a telling witness to the grace and love of God for his people.
The dawning of the light of God in his birthplace of Nazareth, though, was met with ridicule and disbelief. So, Jesus went to Capernaum to live and work, and traveled around the region of Galilee, preaching, teaching, and healing the people. Here the light of God, Jesus, announced the present reality of the kingdom of God, calling the people to repent. Throughout Jesus’ ministry, he was present and active in the lives of those who lived in darkness, calling them into his light, into life in relationship with his Father in the Spirit.
What is our experience when the light first dawns for us? What is our experience and response when first encountering the reality of Jesus and his claims upon us and our lives? Are we one of those who walks over to the light switch and shuts off the lamp because it is blinding us, or are we so blessed by the invasion of light in our darkness that we welcome it?
The issue may simply be that we are not clearly hearing or intently listening to and heeding what Jesus is saying. Perhaps we might want to look a little more closely at this simple message that Matthew puts forth as Jesus’ gospel: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” In that brief statement, there is a blinding light being projected, meant to illuminate the darkness which had covered these people for centuries. All of their messianic expectations needed to be revised, and all of their preferences reexamined. And this is why, perhaps, some may simply have preferred to turn the light back off rather than allow it to penetrate into their darkness.
Jesus didn’t focus on the benefits of being one of the chosen people. He didn’t celebrate the religious activities of the elite or promise blessings for obedience. At the same time, Jesus’ call to repent wasn’t a call to shame or guilt. It wasn’t a ridicule or a criticism. Instead, it was a call to a change of mind and heart—an invitation to turn around and go the right direction.
When in a darkened room, it is hard to see another person. If a person lives in darkness long enough, they lose their ability to see anyone or anything. If someone else is in the room with them, they wouldn’t know it, unless perhaps they heard them, because they wouldn’t see them. Jesus was inviting those who heard his message to see the reality that God was with them (in him) and they needed to turn around and get back into the face-to-face relationship with God they were created for. Jesus’ call to repent was a call to come back home, to live in the truth about who they were. Repent, Jesus says, and invites them into warm fellowship with himself, and thus with the Father in the Spirit.
Having reminded his listeners to come back into relationship with God through him, Jesus tells them that the kingdom of heaven is at hand. The kingdom of heaven is Matthew’s euphemism for the kingdom of God. In Jesus, God’s kingdom was present and real, being established in a new and real way in his person. As the one through whom and by whom all was created, the Word of God in human flesh, Jesus was the one who ruled over all that was made. As the king of the kingdom, present in person, Jesus was calling all people to turn around and participate with him in the reality of God’s reign over all.
And that’s the catch. That’s where we get up and reach for the switch to turn off the light. We don’t want God invading our space or telling us how to run our world or our own lives. We don’t want anyone dictating to us. And we most certainly don’t want to admit that perhaps we need a power beyond ourselves in order to solve our problems, fix our world and our relationships, or even to change ourselves. We dive deeply into anything we can get our hands on that might possibly solve our problem, or at least anesthetize us from the pain, because we certainly don’t want to have to surrender to God.
What is sad, is that we as Christians are often the most guilty about avoiding the light. We find so many ways in which to bury our heads in the ground or rewire the light switch so that we don’t have to face the reality that we have turned our backs upon our relationship with God or have abandoned our dependence upon the One who has redeemed and saved us.
The good news is that Jesus comes to dark places, places like Galilee, where for a time, darkness reigns. Jesus is the Son of God who temporarily set aside the privileges of divinity to join us in our humanity in order to turn us back to God. Jesus says to all of us, “Follow me,” and invites us to live and walk within his own personal relationship with Father in the Spirit. He encourages us to live life in relationship with him day by day, in the humility of total dependence upon him, and daily welcomes us come home. As we are willing, he shines his light into our dark places, bringing renewal, healing, and restoration, and a deeper experience of God’s love.
Thank you, Father, for including us through Jesus in relationship with you in the Spirit. Grant us the grace to turn away from ourselves and this world and to turn again to Jesus, allowing your light to penetrate down into the deepest and darkest places within ourselves. May we discover that in the blackest places, the light of Jesus already shines. Amen.
“Now when Jesus heard that John had been taken into custody, He withdrew into Galilee; and leaving Nazareth, He came and settled in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali. This was to fulfill what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet: ‘The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, by the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—the people who were sitting in darkness saw a great light, and those who were sitting in the land and shadow of death, upon them a light dawned.’ From that time Jesus began to preach and say, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Now as Jesus was walking by the Sea of Galilee, He saw two brothers, Simon who was called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. And He said to them, ‘Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.’ Immediately they left their nets and followed Him. Going on from there He saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets; and He called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed Him. Jesus was going throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness among the people.” Matthew 4:12–23 NASB
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by Linda Rex
December 4, 2022, ADVENT | Peace—We’ve made it through another election season here in America. We have yet to see the full ramifications of our choices. Some prognosticators are predicting worst case scenarios, while others are optimistic and hopeful. We can make lots of predictions, but the ultimate reality is we do not know what the future holds for us as a nation or as individuals.
It appears conflict is one way we exist as human beings. Even though we were designed with differences in mind for the sake of the greater good, we have yet to learn how to bring those differences together as a means of creating unity rather than division. What is meant to bring joy and variety to our lives so often ends up creating stress and heartache. How hard it is for us to learn to live together as unique, equal persons in oneness, peace and harmony!
On this second Sunday in Advent, we read Matthew 3:1–12 and are reminded of how John the Baptizer prepared the way for Jesus, baptizing people in the Jordan River. If we had lived in Jericho in that day, we would have heard the stories told in the marketplace about this strange man who lived in the uninhabited regions near the Jordan, who ate wild locusts and honey, and who baptized Jews—God’s own people who didn’t need to be baptized. We would have heard how he criticized the religious leaders for their hypocrisy and greed, and how he called all people to repent, for the kingdom of God was near.
But John didn’t come just for himself or simply to do an oddball, aesthetic ministry in the wilderness of Judea. No, John the Baptizer was certain he was meant to prepare God’s people for the coming of the Messiah. He was given instructions to point out God’s gift to Israel, which John did when he saw the Lamb of God and baptized him. John knew in the larger scheme of things his own ministry would end, but that of the Messiah would expand to fill the whole universe.
John was not intimidated by people in authority. He told the religious leaders they could not count on their birthright as God’s chosen people to ensure they were in right relationship with God. Just because someone was born into the right family or had a position which they purchased from the Romans, this did not mean that they were right with God. How they lived their everyday lives and how they treated others around them spoke volumes about who they were and what their relationship with God really was. And for that reason, they needed to repent—to turn away from themselves and turn to Jesus, the One who was the king of the kingdom of God, which was being set up in their midst.
The psalmist in Psalm 72:1–7, 18–19 speaks of a king and of his son. Even though it was probably speaking of a human king, the Messianic implications of the psalmist’s poetry are clear:
“Give the king Your judgments, O God, and Your righteousness to the king’s son. May he judge Your people with righteousness and Your afflicted with justice. Let the mountains bring peace to the people, and the hills, in righteousness. May he vindicate the afflicted of the people, save the children of the needy and crush the oppressor. Let them fear You awhile the sun endures, And as long as the moon, throughout all generations. May he come down like rain upon the mown grass, like showers that water the earth. In his days may the righteous flourish, and abundance of peace till the moon is no more. Blessed be the LORD God, the God of Israel, who alone works wonders. And blessed be His glorious name forever; And may the whole earth be filled with His glory. Amen, and Amen” (NASB).
What the “king’s son” in this psalm would do is what Jesus did. As the Son of the divine King of Israel, Jesus’ purpose was to fill the earth with his Father’s glory and peace. Jesus, as God in human flesh, ensured that we as the image-bearers of the Triune God would in the end actually reflect God’s glory in the way he intended.
Think about the leaders to whom John the Baptizer was speaking. There must have been some who were really trying hard to do the right thing. But from what John was saying, too many of them were more concerned about the opinion of the people and keeping their positions of authority and prominence than they were about vindicating the afflicted, saving the children of the needy, and crushing the oppressor. And John said that there was someone in their midst, who he wasn’t even worthy to loosen the sandals of, who would do all these things.
The reality is, though, that often we are more like the religious leaders in this story than we are like the Messiah John the Baptizer was speaking of. We wrestle within ourselves, knowing that apart from the grace of God, we are the ones who are too concerned about other people’s opinions and keeping things in our lives how we want them to be. We are the ones who so often are indifferent to the needs and suffering of others. We are the ones seeking glory for ourselves at the expense of others. And this is why we have no peace, either within ourselves nor within our relationship with others and with God.
John’s message is simple, though. “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand!” That message was one that Jesus also carried and passed on to his disciples. As the king of the kingdom, as the Son of the King over all, Jesus has come, is present now by his Spirit, and will return in glory to set up the new heavens and earth where God will dwell with man.
In the end, when Jesus finally returns to finish what he began centuries ago, we will see the culmination of all that began when the Triune God decided to share his loving relationship with those he had created. John’s message, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” echoes even today in this world where we still have not learned what it means to live at peace with one another or to be at peace with ourselves and with God. The kingdom of heaven is at hand because Christ has come, has lived our life, died our death and risen, bringing all of us home to his Father to share in that close, loving relationship he has always had in the Spirit.
Do we hear the echo in our own souls of John’s message and of Christ’s answering response? What is it we need to turn away from so that our sole focus is on Christ and what he is doing in our lives and in this world? How is it Jesus is wanting us to join with him in caring for others the same way he has cared for us? Today, in this moment, how will you and I heed the call by the Spirit, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand”?
Heavenly Father, thank you for the gift of your Son and your Spirit. We realize that apart from you we have no peace, no hope, or joy. It is your love shed abroad in our hearts by your Spirit which changes us and changes our world. In this moment, Lord Jesus, we again turn away from ourselves and from this world and turn to you. Grant us anew the peace that passes all understanding. Amen.
“Now in those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ For this is the one referred to by Isaiah the prophet when he said, ‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness, “Make ready the way of the Lord, make His paths straight!” ’ Now John himself had a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then Jerusalem was going out to him, and all Judea and all the district around the Jordan; and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, as they confessed their sins. But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, ‘You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruit in keeping with repentance; and do not suppose that you can say to yourselves, “We have Abraham for our father”; for I say to you that from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham. The axe is already laid at the root of the trees; therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clear His threshing floor; and He will gather His wheat into the barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.’ ” Matthew 3:1–12 NASB
[Printable copy: https://newhope4me.files.wordpress.com/2022/11/olitwaking-up-to-peace.pdf ]
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by Linda Rex
November 27, 2022, 1st Sunday in ADVENT/Hope—This morning I was blissfully sleeping away when the phone rang. It was my husband calling from Florida where he had been delivering cold cases to grocery stories. It took a few minutes for my eyes to fully open and my brain fog to clear, but eventually I was alert enough to enjoy a conversation I don’t always have an opportunity to have.
As we enter the time of Advent where we prepare for the coming of Christ as God in human flesh, we are once again being awoken from sleep and given afresh our new “armor of light” which Jesus forged for us in his incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection and ascension. We are reminded to wake up and live in the truth of what God has done for us in Christ, is doing right now by his Holy Spirit, and will do one day when Jesus returns in glory.
In our gospel reading for this Sunday, Matthew 24:36–44, we are reminded to always stay alert, for we do not know on what day our Lord will return. It is easy to get so focused on a future day when Christ will return, on reading our circumstances to determine whether he might be coming right away, that we miss a critical understanding of what it means for Jesus to come to judge the world. In fact, we may be so focused on the future that we miss what the Lord is doing in us and in our world right now.
The Greek word which describes Jesus’ coming and presence is Parousia. Karl Barth and other theologians remind us that the Parousia of Christ is not just one event at the end of time, but is a singular event which includes the three “comings” of Jesus—the incarnation, the arrival of the Spirit, and Jesus’ return in glory. We need to think of the return of Christ in a broader way than simply his return at the end of time. And one of the reasons for doing this is that we will live life more spiritually awake and alert, rather than asleep or dead to the spiritual realities.
Even though Christ has come and has sent his Spirit, he has not yet returned in glory to establish his kingdom in its fulness here on earth. In our Old Testament reading for this Sunday, Isaiah speaks of the day when Jesus will establish his throne here on earth and all the nations will flow to his “mountain”. In that day, Isaiah says, “they will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not lift up sword against nation, and never again will they learn war” (Isaiah 2:4b NASB). Recently I became aware of some classmates of one of my children who have been shipped overseas as part of the United States military presence in Europe due to the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine. That we still need armies to protect our borders and still need soldiers to fight other nations’ soldiers is a clear indication that we are not living in the new heavens and new earth.
Seeing this war and all the evil, suffering and natural disasters around us each day may cause us to forget that Jesus is present and active by his Spirit right now in this world. We may lose sight of the magnitude of the judgment which Jesus underwent on our behalf on the cross. In Jesus’ sacrificial self-offering, our human flesh, which he bore, underwent crucifixion and death, entering the realm of the dead, to rise from the grave in exaltation into glory.
What Jesus did in his self-offering was to, as it were, divide by the sharp sword of the Spirit our sinful flesh from the Christ-resurrected redeemed flesh, bringing us all up into new life. As I was recently rereading Jeff McSwain’s upcoming book on placemat anthropology, I was struck by his use of verses 40 and 41 of our gospel passage for today. As Jesus hung on the cross, there came, in a sense, a severing of the old from the new flesh—two women at the mill, one is taken and one is left; two men in the field, one is taken and one is left. How marvelous that Jesus made it so that this inner battle we all fight between our sinful self and our true self has been victoriously won on behalf of our true self. The true spiritual reality for every human being is that our redeemed resurrected life is right now hidden with Christ in God. The old is gone—the new is come. We can begin even now by faith to participate in our real life which is hidden within Jesus’ own face to face relationship with the Father in the Spirit. We can participate right now in God’s kingdom life as the beloved adopted children of the Father in Christ by the Spirit.
In this manner, we are participating in the Parousia of Christ by the Spirit right now, amid this broken and sinful generation. Because our true life is hidden with Christ in God, the apostle Paul says to us:
“… it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed. The night is almost gone, and the day is near. Therefore let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts” (Rom. 13:11–14 NASB).
In other words, we are reminded to wake up and remain alert at all times, living in the truth of who we really are in Christ. The Spirit is present and active in us and in our world. Christ is alive in us and with us, moving in our midst to bring about his kingdom purposes here on earth. We are participants in his mission and ministry here on earth by the Spirit, so we want to be busy following Jesus’ lead and allowing him to guide and teach us to live in the truth of who we are as God’s children. We don’t want to live in the darkness of sin and unbelief, but in the truth of who we are in Christ.
What is interesting about this passage in Matthew is that much of it is written in the present tense, even though it doesn’t always show in the translations. I find this interesting, because the present tense shows the present reality of what Jesus was saying. We go about our daily lives as people did in the time of Noah, and even so, Jesus is coming and present in each moment by the Spirit, separating out what is passing away from that which is everlasting and eternal. We need to be on the alert at all times, attentive to what Jesus is doing to bring about his kingdom life in this world right now. If we allow ourselves to doze off, we will miss out on the hope, peace, joy, and love he means for us to experience in our daily lives as the beloved children of his Father.
And as we are living attentive to the Parousia of Christ by the Spirit right now, we learn to live in the truth of how we will be living forever as God’s children. We share with others the good news of what God has done by including us in his life and love, and it becomes our way of being that will carry on beyond this life into the life to come. Living in expectancy of Christ’s constant coming and presence or Parousia, reframes our hope of his coming in glory, enabling us to let go of trying to figure out how soon he will be here, knowing that he is already present and at work, and we are even now a part of what will continue on beyond the end of this age into the world to come.
Thank you, Father, for sending your Son and sending your Spirit. Thank you, Jesus, for giving us new life and a great hope for the future. Enable us to always be attentive and alert to you and your presence in us and in this world right now by your Holy Spirit. Even so, come, Lord Jesus—Maranatha! Amen.
“But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone. For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away; so will the coming of the Son of Man be. Then there will be two men in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one will be left. Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming. But be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what time of the night the thief was coming, he would have been on the alert and would not have allowed his house to be broken into. For this reason you also must be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think He will.” Matthew 24:36–44 NASB
[Printable copy: https://newhope4me.files.wordpress.com/2022/11/olitwaking-up-to-hope.pdf ]
by Linda Rex
November 13, 2022, PROPER 28—Recently it occurred to me that often, when we see something significant or wonderful, we attempt to memorialize it or preserve it. While we were traveling the other day, my son and I stopped to visit a natural history museum. It was filled with displays of well-worn dioramas of wildlife and flora, and large plastic dinosaurs whose bodies did not at all match our most recent science.
We as humans seem to be impressed by great buildings with ornate and expensive décor. I remember as a young person being impressed with the gold-plate, crystal and brass in the Ambassador Auditorium and the priceless antiques in the J. Paul Getty Museum in California. In Jesus’ day, Herod’s temple was still under construction as his disciples visited and admired the gigantic stones from which it was made and the impressive display of votive offerings.
The reality is, though, that such memorialization simply doesn’t last. Nor does it preserve in totality the entire experience it attempts to bring to our remembrance. The most we can do, even with our modern photographs and videos, is capture some of the feeling of the moments or some of the grandeur. The rest is left within us as human beings to grasp in our hearts and minds, through memory or imagination.
And I’m not sure I fully grasp Jesus’ experience of viewing the temple. On the one hand, from his human flesh, it must have been an impressive sight to see all that had been made to honor God. But as the Son of the Father, he must have known how empty and misguided such attempts to honor God were. How often his Father had longed for true devotion from his people, but received only empty words, promises, rituals or monuments instead!
The same reality applies when it comes to kingdoms and nations. Since the time of Jesus, many changes have occurred in this world—people lived and died, nations risen and fallen, and borders have moved or been erased. Even the texture of the landscape has changed, with deserts forming, animals going extinct, and people groups dying out. Famines, plagues, and natural disasters have taken their toll.
Jesus didn’t pull any punches when it came to such things. Even Jesus’ fleshly body was going to end up on the cross, crucified and then laid in the grave in death. He told the disciples the truth in love—their beloved temple was going to be destroyed, and soon. Nothing in this world is so sacred that it will not at some point pass away. This is a transient world we live in, and the things we find our value and worth in must not be those things which will in due time, disappear. Rather, we need to find them in what is eternal and lasting—God himself.
It is a wonder that we have any records at all of how people used to live. Today, with genetic testing, we are learning more and more about how people groups traveled all over the world, intermarrying and trading with one another. And somewhere in the midst of our human history came one man who told those around him that he was the Son of God—God in human flesh, and was murdered because of it.
Not long after his death, people began to see him alive, and began to proclaim that this man had been resurrected from the dead. And because of this, because of giving their allegiance to Jesus, they were persecuted and martyred. Many people today memorialize Jesus’ self-offering through the celebration of communion, or by wearing a cross, or putting a fish decal on their car. They talk about Jesus (like I do here on lifeinthetrinity.blog) and share the good news of God’s love and grace for humanity. And even today in some places, people who share this good news may experience persecution and martyrdom.
As I read the stories of people centuries ago, who in spite of the threat of persecution and martyrdom, shared the good news of Christ and lived as best as they could God’s kingdom life of love, grace, and service, I am reminded to hold loosely to the things of this world. If I memorialize anything at all, let it be the memory of all Christ has done for me and for this world he created and loves so dearly. Let it be the remembrance that in him we died, we rose, and we share in his glory by his Spirit who dwells in us and among us.
When disasters occur, the economy falters, and it looks as though the end is near, we can take comfort in the reality that though all in this life has an end, Jesus has ensured a new beginning. We may be facing personal tragedy or affliction due to our faith in Christ, but Jesus promises never to abandon us, but rather to give us exactly what we need so that we can share the good news with others. Jesus promises that we will not be alone, but rather, be empowered to share the gospel, thereby turning situations of persecution into opportunities for others to hear the good news.
When all we see around us is evil, sin, and death, do we ask God to hasten the coming of his reign on earth? It’s not wrong to do this. But I’m a firm believer that Jesus is already present and at work in this world he created and sustains by his Spirit, and is working out his purposes and plans in the midst of our human choices and decisions. He has all of the people and nations of this world in his hands, orchestrating his purposes. His is the kingdom cut without hands out of stone which grows to fill the whole earth. He will not stop until this is complete.
Meanwhile, Jesus is the one we celebrate and memorialize, for he reigns now and forever as king of kings and lord of lords. It is the divine temple being built by the Spirit—the body of Christ—which will last when all other temples have fallen. And it is his heavenly city which will abide forever, long after all other cities have been ravaged and destroyed. Maranatha! May that day come soon!
Heavenly Father, we long for you to bring your kingdom in all its fullness here on earth as it is in heaven. Lord Jesus, thank you for holding us tightly by your Spirit in your relationship with your Father, ensuring that we will be with you now and forever as Abba’s beloved children. Bring this ever to our remembrance as we wait for your return in glory. Amen.
“And while some were talking about the temple, that it was adorned with beautiful stones and votive gifts, He said, ‘As for these things which you are looking at, the days will come in which there will not be left one stone upon another which will not be torn down.’ They questioned Him, saying, ‘Teacher, when therefore will these things happen? And what will be the sign when these things are about to take place?’ And He said, ‘See to it that you are not misled; for many will come in My name, saying, “I am He,” and, “The time is near.” Do not go after them. When you hear of wars and disturbances, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end does not follow immediately.’ Then He continued by saying to them, ‘Nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be great earthquakes, and in various places plagues and famines; and there will be terrors and great signs from heaven. But before all these things, they will lay their hands on you and will persecute you, delivering you to the synagogues and prisons, bringing you before kings and governors for My name’s sake. It will lead to an opportunity for your testimony. So make up your minds not to prepare beforehand to defend yourselves; for I will give you utterance and wisdom which none of your opponents will be able to resist or refute. But you will be betrayed even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death, and you will be hated by all because of My name. Yet not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your lives.’ ” Luke 21:5–19 NASB
By Linda Rex
September 25, 2022, PROPER 21—It appeared that the topic of interest this weekend was her majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s death and the succession of Prince Charles (III) to the throne of England. For better or for worse, people from all over the world have been touched in some way by the long arm of this royal family’s commonwealth and country.
I sometimes wonder if our fascination with royalty is bound up in some way with the spiritual reality of our royal beginning in the Triune God. Is there perhaps a core realization that we were made for so much more than this mundane existence? Could it be that God’s “very good” descriptor of his human creations includes our calling to steward the creation he set us within just as a godly king or queen stewards a country?
In both of the bookends of the Bible, Genesis and Revelation, we see humans in the garden in relationship with God and participating in his care of the creation. The revelation that we are to be “kings and priests” with God as the end result of all Christ has done resonates with our original call to stewardship, and calls us up to a new way of looking at how we live even now in this world as citizens of God’s kingdom. This stewardship, or being kings and priests with Christ, involves a real participation in Christ’s own self-offering—a laying down of one’s life and a sharing of all we have been given with others.
Indeed, with the coming of Christ, the kingdom of God entered our human sphere and set up shop. Like the stone “cut out without hands” in Daniel’s vision (Dan. 2:34, 45), the kingdom of God was inaugurated in our human sphere in a new way by the incarnation of Jesus Christ—God in human flesh. The king of the kingdom forged within human flesh our true citizenship in his eternal kingdom, life in relationship with the Father in the Spirit. In what many call the parable of the prodigal son, Jesus showed how the “prodigal” or “wasteful” Father freely welcomed home our wandering humanity (younger son) and forgave our futile efforts to work ourselves into his good graces (older son).
We move from this parable in Luke’s gospel to one about the unjust steward, and then on into the parable for today in Luke 16:19–31. In this story, it may seem that Jesus is simply talking some more about money and being rich, and about going to heaven or hell, but in the progression of the parables, we find he is talking about kingdom realities. He is focused on his reason for being there and the listeners’ need for what Jesus was doing and would do as he worked his way forward toward his upcoming death and resurrection in Jerusalem.
In this Sunday’s parable, Jesus began talking about a rich man who wore splendid, luxurious clothes and merrily enjoyed the benefits of his wealth. I get the sense that, in itself, having nice things and enjoying what blessings God gives is not a problem in Jesus’ eyes. It is the heart and motivation, and what we do with them, that is a concern though. I also realize that some of Jesus’ listeners were probably thinking to themselves, “He must be a good man like me. He loves the Lord and is one of God’s chosen—that’s why he’s so blessed.”
Jesus wasn’t content to leave them in this false state of self-exaltation—his story got a bit darker. There was a poor beggar name Lazarus lying at this rich man’s gate, covered in sores. Lazarus would have been happy simply to have had some crumbs from the rich man’s table, but all he got was what was left from the slop that he couldn’t keep the stray dogs from eating first. And what was worse, these dogs hung around and licked the poor man’s wounds whether he wanted them to or not. Were they waiting for him to die?
In ancient Jewish thought, every Jew after death ended up in Hades (or Sheol), the place of death, either in torment or paradise. Jesus used this cultural understanding with regards to death to explain his point (not to establish some doctrine regarding our eternal destiny). Lazarus died, Jesus went on to say, having starved to death lying outside the rich man’s front gate. And he ended up where every good Jew wanted to end up, in Abraham’s bosom—an ancient expression which meant paradise. A little later, the rich man died and also went to the place of the dead, but in a much less pleasant location.
Going on with Jesus’ story: while he suffered torments, the rich man saw Lazarus in paradise, where he thought he should be. He asked Abraham to send Lazarus to him with a drink of water. Let’s pause for a moment. What does this say about the rich man’s view of himself and of Lazarus? Hasn’t this been humanity’s issue since the fall, this determining that some of us are over while others are under? Wasn’t this the reason Lazarus was in Hades in the first place? Perhaps he would not have died had the rich man simply saw him as worthy of his love and grace (something each of us desperately need from God) and had helped him.
But this was not the sole point Jesus was making. He went on to say that the rich man then told Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his five brothers so they wouldn’t make the same mistake he did. Notice the rich man is still treating Lazarus like an errand boy or slave. He has not repented or changed his attitude towards those who were not as blessed as he was. Abraham replied that the five brothers already had the law and the prophets to warn them so sending Lazarus would be pointless. As those who heard the law and prophets read in synagogue each sabbath, every Jewish man had no excuse for not knowing what God says about caring for the poor and needy, and helping the sick.
The rich man said that if his brothers saw someone rise from the dead, then they would repent. And Abraham countered that even if they did see someone rise from the dead they would not repent. Here is Jesus’ pointed reference to his own death and resurrection, the very event he was at that moment intentionally walking toward on behalf of all humanity, counting each and every one of us worthy of God’s love and grace, and working to ensure that we each have a place in his kingdom. The One who had all the riches of divine existence had not been content to allow our beggared humanity to starve to death and suffer outside his gates. No, he had come and had joined us in our very sorry state in order raise us up into new life through his death and resurrection.
The Jewish leaders listening to Jesus had made up their minds that they were already members of God’s kingdom, the special people who were already included and blessed. They did not see themselves as the hungry, sick beggar lying outside the gate. Nor did they see they were meant to reflect the divine Majesty who would lay down his life for the sake of others. And they certainly did not see their need for Jesus nor did they see their need to repent or change their minds. And the greatest bit of irony to this whole parable—Jesus did raise a real Lazarus from the dead, and what did the leaders do? They immediately went out and plotted to kill him—and Jesus. They certainly did not repent and turn to Jesus.
In the New Testament reading for this Sunday, 1 Timothy 6:6–19, the apostle Paul tells us to grab hold of eternal life and to fight the good fight of faith. Part of this has to do with having a healthy view of money and the pleasures of this life—embracing contentment and generosity as part of our human stewardship of all God has made and given us the responsibility to care for. And there is also the need to, as Jesus did, make the bold confession of faith—laying down one’s life for others, being willing to offer it all on the behalf of those who are suffering and in need. In the words of St. Francis of Assisi, it is in forgiving that we experience forgiveness, in giving of ourselves that we receive, and in dying that we are born to eternal life. As God’s kings and priests even now, we acknowledge our own need for Jesus, while freely sharing with others the abundant blessings God has given to us in Christ and by his Spirit.
Lord, thank you for reminding us that all that we consider our own we receive from the Father of lights as a gift, through your generous self-offering in the Spirit. Grant us the grace to see others as you see them, Father—our own brothers and sisters, unique equals who have been made at one with you and each other and have been given stewardship over all you have made, through Jesus and by your Spirit. Amen.
“Now there was a rich man, and he habitually dressed in purple and fine linen, joyously living in splendor every day. And a poor man named Lazarus was laid at his gate, covered with sores, and longing to be fed with the crumbs which were falling from the rich man’s table; besides, even the dogs were coming and licking his sores. Now the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s bosom; and the rich man also died and was buried. In Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried out and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus so that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue, for I am in agony in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your life you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things; but now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you there is a great chasm fixed, so that those who wish to come over from here to you will not be able, and that none may cross over from there to us.’ And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, that you send him to my father’s house—for I have five brothers—in order that he may warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’ But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ But he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!’ But he said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.’ ” Luke 16:19–31 NASB
[If you are interested in participating in an in-person discussion group in the Nashville, TN area or in an online Zoom group, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. ]
By Linda Rex
September 18, 2022, PROPER 20—Do you have property or assets which require a lot of attention and effort for their care? Do you own some things which have become heavy financial or physical burdens for you to carry? Of all your physical possessions, what is your greatest asset? What do you value the most?
Even though we may own property or have physical assets of some kind, Jesus says that what is ours isn’t really our own. As we reflect on our origins, having been created by God to reflect his likeness and instructed by God to tend the garden and all he created, we see that stewarding is fundamental to our personhood as human beings. Taking care of what doesn’t belong to us but what belongs to God is an essential part of our everyday responsibilities as God’s children. We may not realize this, but our everyday lives are simply a participation in what God is doing in this world, and our actions (or inaction) are a statement of how well we are fulfilling our role as stewards of all God has made.
Too often I find myself approaching life as though what I own belongs solely to me, rather than seeing everything through the lens of stewardship—our participation in God’s life—recognizing that everything belongs to him. Perhaps it is good to be reminded that we have been given the responsibility to care for all God has made and to do what he wants done, rather than simply deciding for ourselves what we want to do with what we have. This understanding definitely puts a different outlook on how we live our lives and what we do with the physical assets which come our way.
Going beyond this, though, I am reminded that the greatest asset of all is not some physical belonging or possession, but rather something of more infinite value, meant to be shared with others. In the gospel passage for this Sunday, Jesus told a parable about a rich owner who had to call his manager into account for squandering his possessions. This term “squandering” is the same term Jesus used in his story about the prodigal son, who squandered his Father’s inheritance with extravagant and wasteful living. The dishonest manager was told to give an account of his management, for he was going to be fired if he could not prove his innocence.
As this manager thought about what to do, he came up with a plan which might ensure that he had a place to land once he lost his present employment. He met with the owner’s debtors, and worked with each one to reduce the amount they owed. Surprisingly, when his master found out what he had done, he praised the manager for his shrewdness in handling the situation he was in.
It is interesting that in his parable, Jesus would have the unjust steward praised for what was, in effect, stealing even more from his master. But Jesus, as he addressed his disciples, was focused on something entirely different than simply teaching them the difference between honesty and dishonesty. Indeed, what the dishonest manager offered others was what Jesus himself was offering all people—grace, and life in the kingdom.
The leaders of Jesus’ day had been made stewards of God’s kingdom and his righteousness. They were responsible to care for those who were in need or who were estranged from God. But too often, they valued wealth, possessions, prominence and popularity instead, and did not see their own need for God’s grace and mercy. Not realizing their own need for grace, they did not offer it to anyone else. Instead, they held people to impossible standards and excluded them from table fellowship in ways God never intended.
Ironically, in Jesus’ parable, the one who was the Christ figure is the unjust steward, who offered the owner’s debtors grace. In his life coming to an end, the unjust steward offered new life to those who were indebted to his master. Jesus, as he told this parable, knew the price he himself was going to have to pay so that those listening would receive God’s grace—his rejection, suffering, and crucifixion. He knew that he was facing death so that all people might rise with him in the resurrection and be given new life. Jesus was stewarding well God’s gift of grace to humanity by offering himself freely in our place and on our behalf.
Jesus’ gift of grace in his birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension is our greatest asset. Jesus’ self-offering, his willingness to lay it all down for us so that we may have new life, is the most valuable thing we own. This is a gift he has given to each and every human being—it is not limited to only those who deserve it. In fact, Jesus often pointed out that it is those who realize they don’t deserve it who best see the value of this gift.
The question is, do I, do you, see the value of God’s grace and God’s kingdom life given to us in Christ? And having been given this most precious gift, do we even realize our need for it?
And, having received this totally undeserved benefit of grace and eternal life, how well do we steward it? By God’s grace we are all included in God’s life, moment by moment sharing in what he is doing in this world. By God’s grace, we have been given all we need for life and godliness. By God’s grace and mercy, we have been included in Christ’s own intimate relationship with the Father in the Spirit, having been included now and forever in the life and love of God. How well do we share this gift with others? Are we helping others to see the magnitude of what Jesus has done for them?
Whatever physical assets we may own in this life pale in comparison with this most wonderful gift. When we see and understand this, we begin to have a new perspective about everything we own. We begin to realize that generosity, sharing, hospitality, and service are each a participation in what God’s doing in this world. We find ourselves acting more as stewards, recognizing God’s ownership of us and all that we have, and we begin to actively participate in Jesus’ death and resurrection, sharing with others the good news of the grace offered to all. This is the best stewardship of the priceless asset we have been given—God’s grace and eternal life.
Thank you, heavenly Father, for sharing every good thing with us, especially the gift of the kingdom and grace through Jesus. So many good gifts! Grant us the grace to steward them well and share them freely with others, through Jesus and by your Spirit. Amen.
“Now He was also saying to the disciples, ‘There was a rich man who had a manager, and this manager was reported to him as squandering his possessions. And he called him and said to him, “What is this I hear about you? Give an accounting of your management, for you can no longer be manager.” The manager said to himself, “What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig; I am ashamed to beg. I know what I shall do, so that when I am removed from the management people will welcome me into their homes.” And he summoned each one of his master’s debtors, and he began saying to the first, “How much do you owe my master?” And he said, “A hundred measures of oil.” And he said to him, “Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.” Then he said to another, “And how much do you owe?” And he said, “A hundred measures of wheat.” He said to him, “Take your bill, and write eighty.” And his master praised the unrighteous manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the sons of this age are more shrewd in relation to their own kind than the sons of light. And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by means of the wealth of unrighteousness, so that when it fails, they will receive you into the eternal dwellings. He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much. Therefore if you have not been faithful in the use of unrighteous wealth, who will entrust the true riches to you? And if you have not been faithful in the use of that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.’ ” Luke 16:1–13 NASB
[If you are interested in participating in an in-person discussion group here in the Nashville, Tennessee area or via Zoom, please contact me at email@example.com ]
By Linda Rex
August 7, 2022, PROPER 14—This morning I was reading the book of Joshua and considering the reality of how we often place our sense of security in the wrong things. In this particular story, the ancient Israelites triumphantly crossed the Jordan River on dry land. Triumphantly, by a miracle from God, they took the fortress of Jericho down. They were on a roll. In Joshua 8, they spied out a small city, Ai, and realized they didn’t need to send the whole army. So, they sent about three thousand soldiers there, and were thoroughly routed by the enemy. Why the sudden change in the direction of their progress through the Promised Land?
What gets exposed in this chapter is the greed and covetousness of one man, Achan, and the impact his subterfuge had upon the nation as a whole. What was set apart for and dedicated to the Lord he had taken to himself, due to greed and covetousness. God was well aware of what was a hidden sin, one that he didn’t think anyone would ever discover. The thing which Achan believed was well hidden was systematically exposed before the whole nation and brought into judgment so that healing could occur.
In the days of the early church, following the giving of the Spirit at Pentecost, there is a similar story. The believers were just beginning to make inroads with the gospel in Jerusalem, demonstrating the good news by sharing what they had with the poor and needy. Along with others, Ananias and Sapphira also brought a gift to the church. They attempted impress the believers with their generosity, when in reality they had kept some of the portions of the sale of their property for themselves. The problem wasn’t that they kept part of the sale for themselves, but that they had pretended to have given more than they actually did. Sadly, they had given way to covetousness, greed, and dishonesty. Where was the transparency, generosity, and integrity of Jesus in what they had done?
Today, we are constantly exposed to the reality of greed, covetousness and dishonesty. All one has to do is go to the grocery store where you buy something, open it up, and find the bottle or box is only one thirds full. Or you take your car to the mechanic to have work done, pay for their hard work, only to discover they did not do what they said they had done. There is an inherent evil in this whole thing, and it’s not just the dishonesty, greed and covetousness.
What is missing here is an understanding that we do not exist in a vacuum. Not only do decisions we make ultimately impact someone else no matter how innocent they may be, but every thought, desire, decision is made within the spiritual reality that we are not alone—in Christ we live, move, and have our being. We do not live independently like we think we do. We’re not individuals, but persons in relationship, dependent upon God for our very existence. And this God in Christ has brought us into relationship with himself.
What if we took seriously what Jesus said about not seeking our security in the things of this life but rather, seeking them in the heavenly realities? In our reading for this Sunday, Luke 12:32–40, Jesus told his followers not to be afraid, that his Father happily desired to give us his kingdom. This is God’s passion—to include us in his life in relationship, in the oneness and fellowship of the Father, Son, and Spirit which has existed from before time began. Think of God’s generosity, transparency and integrity in Christ. This is what we were designed to reflect—this is our true way of being. When we don’t live in this way, we create a living hell for ourselves.
Going back to the story of Achan, we can ask ourselves a couple important questions: 1) Did Achan realize who God was? He was Achan’s Creator and Redeemer. 2) Did Achan realize who he was? He was one of God’s chosen people, brought into relationship, to live in daily fellowship with his Creator and Redeemer.
When Achan entered Jericho that fateful day, he was participating in something God was doing for Israel, and his simple task was to bring certain things to God and to destroy others, accomplishing what God wanted done. As he entered Jericho, Achan didn’t remember who God was, who he himself was, and why he was there. The siren call of the beautiful garments, the gold and the silver, said to Achan that his security was to be found in what he could touch, feel, and hold. At that moment, the treasure he had found grew to be more real than the God he had been brought into relationship with.
When Ananias and Sapphira brought their gift to the apostles, they forgot who had brought them into relationship with himself through his life, death and resurrection. They forgot that Jesus was a risen Lord, one who lived with them and in them by his Holy Spirit. They did not remember who Jesus was, their Creator and Redeemer. And they forgot who they were, the Father’s own adopted children by faith in Christ. What good does all the money in the world do us if we are estranged from the God who saved us, redeemed us, and who invites us by faith in Christ into intimate relationship with himself in the Spirit?
We can complain all we want about how bad things are economically, but until we all surrender to the reality that God has done something powerful and wonderful in his Son Jesus, drawing us into life with himself in the Spirit, we will continue to struggle. All of our choices, decisions, desires and motives, are exposed and open to the One who was willing to endure the fire of the crucifixion in our place and on our behalf. And his baptism is a baptism of fire in the Holy Spirit, an inner transformation which regenerates how we look at him, at ourselves, and at all of the things in this world, including money, belongings, popularity, and prestige.
Do you long to feel secure? So do I. But our true security will never be found in the tangible, transient things of this life. They will come and go. They will get broken or be stolen. They cannot save us from death, though they may temporarily prevent it for a while. Our true security is in relationship with Jesus Christ, the One who made all things, who sustains all things, and who has redeemed all things, and is working to restore and renew all he has made, including you and me. He is our true security, the One we are invited to surrender to, to live in relationship with—in the reality that God loves us, cares for us, is always present to us in Christ by the Spirit, and will bring us to live with him forever.
Heavenly Father, loving Jesus, forgive us for getting so attached to the things of this life, and for forgetting who you are—our Creator and Redeemer. Forgive us for grieving your Spirit by our greed, covetousness, and dishonesty. Grant us the grace to live in the truth of who you are and who we are, through Christ our Lord and by your Spirit. Amen.
“All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own. And indeed if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them.” Hebrews 11:(1–3, 8–12) 13–16 NASB
“Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has chosen gladly to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to charity; make yourselves money belts which do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near nor moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Be dressed in readiness, and keep your lamps lit. Be like men who are waiting for their master when he returns from the wedding feast, so that they may immediately open the door to him when he comes and knocks. Blessed are those slaves whom the master will find on the alert when he comes; truly I say to you, that he will gird himself to serve, and have them recline at the table, and will come up and wait on them. Whether he comes in the second watch, or even in the third, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves. But be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have allowed his house to be broken into. You too, be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour that you do not expect.” Luke 12:32–40 NASB
[Printable copy: https://newhope4me.files.wordpress.com/2022/07/do-you-feel-secure.pdf ]
By Linda Rex
October 31, 2021, PROPER 26—Often when I hear someone speak of the kingdom life and living it, what they mean is living a life full of physical blessings and positive experiences. What I hear people say is that if you live in a certain way, then you will experience abundance, prosperity, and a life of ease and plenty.
It is instructive that when Jesus spoke of the kingdom life, he spoke of living in such a way that one loved God with one’s whole being and one loved one’s neighbor as oneself. He put it in terms of a way of existence which resembles that of the Father, Son, and Spirit in union and communion with one another. This, indeed, is the image of God we are meant to reflect—to bear witness to God’s nature of love by how we live in relationship with God and one another.
One of the stories for this Sunday is found in the book of Ruth. Many Christians like to recite the words from this book during their wedding ceremonies as a promise of devotion and faithfulness to their spouse. But the words were spoken by Ruth to her mother-in-law Naomi as a pledge of faithfulness even though Naomi had encouraged her to go back to her family after her husband, Naomi’s son, had died. The beauty of this passage is unsurpassed for its expression of commitment:
“But Ruth said, ‘Do not urge me to leave you or turn back from following you; for where you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God. Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. Thus may the LORD do to me, and worse, if anything but death parts you and me’” (Ruth 1:16-17 NASB).
Ruth was willing to leave her homeland, her family, what was comfortable and familiar, to go with Naomi and help care for her as she returned to her native land.
What is often overlooked are the messianic implications held in the midst of this passage. Isn’t what Ruth did for the sake of Naomi just like what the Son of God did for you and me? He left behind the privileges and benefits of his divinity to take on our human flesh, joining himself to us, making us his people, living where we live, dying as we die, and being buried in a tomb as we are often buried. Jesus refused to be separated from us, even when tempted to do so by Satan, and even to the point of death on the cross and burial in a tomb. How profound and wonderful his commitment to you and me, and to every human being!
When Jesus was asked which was the greatest commandment in the law, he focused on the central thought of the covenant commitment given to Israel—love. To love God with one’s whole being and to love one’s neighbor as one’s self—this is an accurate expression of the being of the God who is a unity, who is Father, Son, and Spirit. This love is what was expressed by God in the coming of Jesus here on earth in human flesh—the faithful commitment of laying down his life for the sake of all, no matter the cost to himself. This is the kingdom life—God’s life—lived out in our sphere of existence.
Our struggle with understanding the nature of the kingdom life is that we often make it about what we do or don’t do, or about what we have or don’t have. But Jesus makes it about being rightly related to God and one another. He takes the law, which was an expression of what it looks like to live rightly related to God and one another, and in his life, death, resurrection and ascension, and in the sending of the Spirit, writes that law on our minds and hearts. He lives out the true expression of God’s love in our humanity and then gifts it to us in the Spirit, enabling us to be, in him, what God created us to be—image-bearers of the divine, living the kingdom life, in right relationship with God and man.
Instead of being focused on which law is the most important or least important, we are now able to focus on loving God and one another because the desire to love and be loved as God intended is now, by faith in Christ, imprinted on our human minds and hearts. The Spirit compels us to respond to God in the same way that Christ responds: “God, I will not leave or forsake you; where you go, I will go; your people will be my people; you will be my God. When I die, I die in you; I belong to you, now and forever.” It is not our efforts which save us, but Christ in us, transforming our hearts by faith, bringing us into the fulness of Christlikeness, as we follow the Spirit’s lead.
The kingdom life involves a leaving behind of our former life and embracing our new life in Christ. It involves cleaving to Jesus while rejecting anything that is not in agreement with God’s will and ways. This is the tough part in following Jesus—he asks things of us that we would prefer not to do, to give up things we would prefer to hold on to. He asks us to find our life in him and him alone, rather than in the things of this world and its ways.
In the story of Ruth, we see how she lost everything of significance in her life—her husband, then her homeland, her family and her people. But then she gained so much more. She gained a new husband—her kinsman-redeemer—and a new home, and even the child she had always longed for. And what she never knew was that she had also gained a place in the lineage of King David, and of the Messiah to come.
Jesus said that whatever we give up for his sake, he would return a hundred-fold (Mark 10:29-30), but we may not receive the full benefit of our return in this life. Yes, we experience a lot of positive blessings for doing things God’s way rather than our own. But we are also promised a share in the sufferings of Christ. Both are a necessary part of our human experience. God’s purpose is to grow us up into Christlikeness—to enable us to reflect more clearly the love of God and the nature of the God who made us in his image to share life with him now and forever. He does this so that we might experience more profoundly the life and love of the God who is Father, Son, and Spirit and who is love.
Now would be a good time to take a moment and reflect: Have you received the gift of eternal life which is yours in Christ—life in loving relationship with God through Jesus in the Spirit, which is reflected in loving relationships with oneself and others? Receive it by faith. Trust in Christ, in what he has done and is doing in you by the Spirit. What have you given up for the sake of following Christ? If you haven’t given up anything at all, then are you are truly following him down the road into death and resurrection—finding your life solely in him and not in the things of this world? Take a moment and listen anew in silence to hear the Spirit speak God’s words of love to your heart and mind, reminding you of all Jesus has done and is doing and will do as your faithful Lord and Savior. Receive with gratitude this wonderful and perfect gift of right relationship with the Father through Jesus in the Spirit.
Thank you, heavenly Father, for the wonderful and perfect gift of your Son in our place, on our behalf, and for the precious gift of eternal life in the Spirit. Fill us to overflowing with your love, that we may love you and others as we were created to, through Jesus and in the Spirit. Amen.
“One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, ‘Of all the commandments, which is the most important?’ ‘The most important one,’ answered Jesus, ‘is this: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” The second is this: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” There is no commandment greater than these.’ ‘Well said, teacher,’ the man replied. ‘You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.’ When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God.’ And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.” Mark 12:28–34 NIV
By Linda Rex
August 22, 2021, PROPER 16—This morning I was reading an article about the consequences Christian churches in North America are beginning to face due to past mistreatment and genocide of first peoples. These are issues which cut deeply into the heart of our psyche as believers. Too often we have been influenced by our culture, by our generational prejudices, and undoubtedly, the evil which lurks in human hearts and is often manifested under the guise of Christian beliefs and practices.
Every generation, within the Church and without, faces the reality that it must deal with the consequences of the choices of their forebearers. And it must choose whether or not to continue on that same path, or to choose a new one, more in line with what is holy, just, and good. Will our children, and their children and their children’s children, make better choices? Or will they continue the systemic dehumanizing of their brothers and sisters? How can better choices be made within the current structures and systems at work in this world today—or do they need removed, or changed?
As I read the Old Testament passage for this Sunday (Joshua 24:1–2a, 14–18), I felt conflicted. Joshua was near the end of his life, having after many years of battle brought his people into their promised land and gotten them settled. They were finally experiencing peace so he wanted them to recommit themselves to God. He was committed to leaving behind the idols of the past and worshiping God alone, and he invited his people to do the same. What is left unsaid in this account is how his people would deal with the consequences of all they had done in conquering that land. How many people were killed or displaced so that God’s people could move in and settle? And isn’t that what many of our forbearers did right here in America centuries ago, believing it was God’s will?
Bringing this forward to today, I’m watching something similar happen here in Nashville right now. Someone owns a rental property with many apartments or trailers or homes. They decide to sell the property to a developer because they receive an offer they can’t refuse. All of the people renting there are summarily evicted. They cannot afford to rent a place similar to the one they had in that neighborhood, prices being too high, so they end up on the street, in sub-value housing or moving far away from their work. The developer puts in a new facility with even more apartments or condos, or homes, but none of them are affordable for all these people who got evicted. Over and over, people are being displaced, others are moving in where they used to live—the dynamics of human civilization at work for better or for worse.
Where is God in the midst of all this? We put such a great value on what we own, where we live, our homes and properties. We like to keep what is familiar and comfortable. When life becomes difficult—and for many it is constantly difficult—we can lose faith, lose hope, and even lose our love for one another. We can wonder where God went, because it may certainly seem as though he has left us. But we still have a choice: we can focus on the physical or we can raise the level of our view to heavenly heights to see that God is still present and active, redeeming, restoring, healing, and working through all of these things to bring about a greater purpose and plan.
The Spirit reminds us that God’s where he’s always been—present in and by his Spirit, at work in all these circumstances and situations to bring about his kingdom life. The apostle John liked to use the word abide to describe our intimate connection with God in Christ by the Spirit. To abide is to dwell, remain, stay in a place. Jesus left the benefits of heaven to join us in our darkness by taking on our human flesh. His purpose in joining us at our worst was to bring us up through death and resurrection into his best. What he calls us to do is to find our true residence and dwelling not on this earth but solely in him alone.
In John 6, Jesus had extensive conversations with the crowd about how he was the bread of life, the only source of true zōe life, eternal life, which he received from the Father. He said that “it is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing.” We can be so obsessed with the life of our flesh, our human existence, that we miss the spiritual realities which are right in front of us. Or, like the people of Jesus day, we are so scandalized by the possibility that God has made room for each and every human being to have a place in the presence of God now and forever as his very own child that we want nothing to do with Jesus or the Christian faith.
It seems that for generations, for millennia, people have set claim upon spaces on this earth—owning a spot of land or living in the same place as their ancestors, or they have traveled, moved from one place to another. Some have always lived in the same place. Some have never known a stable home. Some have been welcomed to new lands, some haven’t. But God’s heart has always been that each and every person have a home to return to—that home in the Father’s arms which is solely their very own. Our heavenly Abba longs to embrace each one of us and is constantly looking expectantly down the road watching for every one of his prodigals to come home.
To eat Jesus’ flesh and drink his blood is figurative language. Eating and drinking cause what we are consuming to, in a sense, become a very part of us. To take in Christ, is to participate in a real and personal way, in his very existence by the Holy Spirit. When we, by faith, realize that Christ is in us and we are in him, that he died our death and lived our life, and lives in us—we are connected with God in a way that is unbreakable, a union and communion that is very real and very eternal. We are intimately known by him and we come to know Abba’s heart and mind as he reveals himself to us through Christ by the Spirit.
Our spiritual house can be shaken though. These experiences of life which are so destructive and unsettling can so disrupt our peace that we lose sight of what is real and true and holy. But the apostle Paul says “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.” He calls us three times to “stand firm”—taking a position against such spiritual opposition that we cannot be moved away from our foundation in Christ. He tells us to put on the spiritual armor of God, all elements of Christ himself—the helmet of salvation, breastplate of righteousness, belt of truth, shield of faith, and so on. We put on Christ, and we give attention to the Word of God and prayer in the Spirit as valuable weapons in this spiritual struggle (Eph. 6:10–20 NASB).
Our assurance is not in our ability to fight well, but in the reality that Jesus has already fought and won the battle. We rest in his finished work, for he has already defeated the evil one, death, and sin in his death and resurrection. We are in the process of moving from our own feeble strength to finding our strength in him alone (Ps. 84:5-7). We abide in Jesus, resting in him, living in complete dependence upon him, turning to him in faith.
As we face the reality of our broken humanity, and dealing even with the painful reality of whatever history lies behind us, we can have the comfort and assurance that we are at home in the love and grace of God himself. This God, who was present in every century, who knew every decision and its motive and result, is the God who joined us in our humanity, experienced the depths of the depravity of the human heart, and brought us up into new life. Nothing is so horrible or astonishing that he cannot and will not redeem it when it is brought to him. Will we allow him to be our true home, the place where we find true rest and healing, where grace and truth joined together in Christ is ours now and forever?
Heavenly Father, thank you for defending us from our enemies of evil, sin and death, and for rescuing us, bringing us home to be with you forever. We love you and rejoice in your gift of zōe life, being held in your eternal embrace through Jesus in the Spirit. Amen.
“My soul longed and even yearned for the courts of the LORD; | My heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God. … For a day in Your courts is better than a thousand outside. I would rather stand at the threshold of the house of my God | Than dwell in the tents of wickedness.” Psalm 84:2, 10 NASB
“‘He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats Me, he also will live because of Me. This is the bread which came down out of heaven; not as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live forever.’ … ‘Does this cause you to stumble? What then if you see the Son of Man ascending to where He was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life. But there are some of you who do not believe.’ … no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father.’ As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore. So Jesus said to the twelve, ‘You do not want to go away also, do you?’ Simon Peter answered Him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life. We have believed and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God.’” John 6:56–69 NASB
By Linda Rex
June 13, 2021, PROPER 6—One of the things I learned years ago while still living on the farm was that although my husband participated in the growing process by preparing the soil, planting the seed, fertilizing and cultivating the soil, and applying pesticides and herbicides, the outcome of planting row crops was ultimately dependent upon forces over which we had no control. We could not predict how much sunshine or rain we would have, nor could we plan for out-of-season freezing temperatures, floods, or hailstorms.
There is something about working the land and caring for livestock that can keep a person humble and dependent upon God. When we are aware of the reality that only God really has control over the outcome, then we are actually in a very good place. In this place of trust and dependency, we can experience rest, trusting that God will make it all right in the end, creating a harvest beyond our expectations. Even if there is no harvest, we are still in a good place, because we are safely in the care of our Creator and Redeemer, who loves us and seeks our best.
Take a moment and contemplate the process of growing things. A small, insignificant brown seed, small enough to be lost in your hand, is placed in soil. This dirt, which rubs on our hands and into our jeans as we kneel on the ground, is full of microorganisms and living creatures. The little seed may simply rot away or die, or one day, when we least expect it, send forth a shoot and a root. Over time, this tiny fledgling plant will grow. We nurture it in whatever way we are able, encouraging it to survive and thrive in the sun, rain, and wind until it is harvest time. The neat thing about growing a plant from seed is, we begin with next to nothing and then, at harvest time, we have a multitude of seeds in return.
Jesus used an illustration of a sower and seed, as well as a mustard seed, in reference to the kingdom of God. The sower planted seed in the ground, and it sprouted and grew without his efforts, until harvest time. The mustard seed Jesus described next was a very tiny seed. But in a very short period of time, this plant sprouted and grew into a shrub up to twelve feet tall, with branches on which little birds could sit.
Jesus Christ, who was God present at that time in human flesh, was like an insignificant and tiny seed planted in the ground—a hidden mystery that would someday bear fruit. And just like the seed in these parables, Jesus was, in time, planted in a tomb, having been crucified in our place and on our behalf. The planting of this Seed, the Son of God in human flesh, is enabling the harvest of many children of God, a reality which will be fully manifest at the coming of Christ in glory.
The kingdom of God, his reign in human hearts, began with Jesus Christ planted in our human flesh, and is at work in this world right now by the Holy Spirit, and will culminate in the renewal of all things at Christ’s return. God has come to dwell in human hearts—our faith response, trusting in Christ and living in him—enables us to participate in this kingdom life right now and ultimately, in the new heavens and earth when all things are made new.
The problem we have as human beings is that we so often attempt to bring about the kingdom of God ourselves and on our own terms. We decide what the kingdom of God looks like and we work to bring it about under our own efforts. This has been true for millennia, with the resulting devastation and destruction of war, genocide, starvation, and slavery which accompany it. God never meant for us to bring about his kingdom under our own power, but for us to surrender to the lordship of the One, Jesus Christ, who brought it about in his person and who is present and active right now by his Spirit, working his kingdom into every part of this world.
We want to see active proof right now that Jesus is at work, whereas Christ said that we cannot see or control what the Spirit is doing—we can only see the ultimate results of it. That God is at work in this world by his Spirit is what we need to trust in—Jesus Christ is still present and is still Lord, even though it may seem to our eyes that God is indifferent to what is happening all around us.
What God is doing involves human hearts and minds—something which is hidden but still very important and real. In our world in which reason is worshipped and human achievements are celebrated and tangible, physical realities are preferred, the things of the Spirit and the human heart are often ignored, ridiculed, and rejected. But this makes them no less real.
We can deny that Jesus Christ ever lived, believe that the stories about him are simply religious myth, but we cannot escape the reality of a changed, transformed life in which Christ is the only redeeming factor. And a changed life does not necessarily mean that person is perfect—we are still humans in need of redemption even though our trajectory may have changed and we are finally turned in the right direction. When Christ by the Spirit goes to work in someone, they are never the same. But they are still free, able to make good or bad choices, and sometimes they are seduced by past passions, desires, or habits that cause them to fall. But they continue, daily, to turn to Jesus, trusting not in their own ability to get it right, but in the finished work of Christ and his intercession on their behalf, and in the power of his Spirit.
The divine Sower has planted Christ in humanity and given the Spirit. All is present for the growth of God’s reign in human hearts. We have a part to play—our response is important. What we trust in and build our life around is important. God invites us to cooperate with the grace God has given us in Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul reminds us not to quench, resist, or grieve the Holy Spirit. We can choose to insult the Spirit of grace by continuing to live in the sinful ways God freed us from in Christ, or we can daily turn around and choose to live as the image-bearers of God we were meant to be. And yes, one day we will give an answer for our response to God’s gracious gift of eternal life.
But be encouraged. We “walk by faith, not by sight.” We are not what we once were—in Christ, we are new creatures (2 Cor. 5:6–10, 14–17). God is at work, the Seed has been sown, is being watered by the Spirit, and this new life is being nurtured and cared for by the Light of the world. We grow up in Christlikeness as we respond in faith, trusting in Christ’s finished work. And our hope is in the promise that what God has begun in us, he will finish. He is the trustworthy Sower who is working toward an abundant harvest, one in which we can participate by faith in the Seed he sowed.
Father, great Sower of the Seed, we thank you for your love, grace and faithfulness, and for what you are doing right now in and through us by your precious Spirit. It is your love which compels us to no longer live for ourselves, but for Jesus, who lived and died on our behalf. May your kingdom come, your will be done, here on earth as in heaven. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
“And He was saying, ‘The kingdom of God is like a man who casts seed upon the soil; and he goes to bed at night and gets up by day, and the seed sprouts and grows—how, he himself does not know. The soil produces crops by itself; first the blade, then the head, then the mature grain in the head. But when the crop permits, he immediately puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.’ And He said, ‘How shall we picture the kingdom of God, or by what parable shall we present it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the soil, though it is smaller than all the seeds that are upon the soil, yet when it is sown, it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and forms large branches; so that ‘the birds of the air’ can ‘nest under its shade.’ With many such parables He was speaking the word to them, so far as they were able to hear it; and He did not speak to them without a parable; but He was explaining everything privately to His own disciples.” Mark 4:26–34 NASB