Beloved of the Father
by Linda Rex
January 8, 2023, EPIPHANY | Baptism of the Lord—In the season of Advent, we have prepared our hearts and minds for the entering of God into our cosmos in the incarnation. As God in human flesh, Jesus Christ came into our world to live a truly human life, and during the twelve-day season of Christmas (between Christmas and Epiphany), we celebrate this amazing gift. Pondering the richness of God’s indescribable love gives depth to our holiday celebrations, enabling us to bear up under the inevitable realities of loss, grief, brokenness, and struggle.
We are reminded that it was not enough that God had compassion on us as frail and faulty human beings. It was not enough that God saw and forgave our shortcomings and incessant unfaithfulness to him. No, the Son of God chose to enter our own place of existence, into our material cosmos, and to take upon himself a truly human existence, personally forging within our human flesh the capacity and desire to live in right relationship with his own Father in the Spirit.
Our American individualism often prevents our ability to think in terms of place-sharing. So often, we seek to do things ourselves, on our own, for our own satisfaction or to accomplish our personal goals and plans. We may not even consider that a better and more fulfilling life would be ours if we opened ourselves up to the concept of place-sharing—of putting ourselves in another person’s place, to understand and participate with them in what they are going through. Place-sharing is part of living a truly human life as image-bearers of the divine. And this is what Jesus did in the incarnation and invites us into as participants in his life with the Father in the Spirit.
After Christmas begins the season of Epiphany, when we begin to consider more about who this person Jesus Christ really is. What does it mean that God has come in Jesus Christ to live a truly human life? Why would this man of Middle Eastern descent, born of a virgin, raised by a carpenter, whom John believed was the sinless Messiah, come to the Jordan River and insist on being baptized?
From his birth on, Jesus’ human experience involved place-sharing. Part of Jesus’ truly human experience involved walking up to John that day at the Jordan River and being baptized by him for the remission of sins. Jesus’ heavenly Father commissioned John to call people to repent and be baptized for the remission of sins, and in obedience to the word of the Father through John, Jesus came to be baptized—not for his own sake, but for the sake of every human being. Jesus immersed all of us in his own obedience to the Father and in his own baptism, including all of humanity in his sacrificial self-offering, in his death and resurrection.
Can you imagine the glow within the Father’s heart when he saw his beloved Son willingly identifying with us and offering himself in our place on our behalf? It is no wonder the Spirit descended so lovingly and the Father’s word of affirmation came in that moment, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.” How delighted the Father was in his Son! He knew the extent of the sacrifice Jesus was making, having left the privileges of divinity behind to identify with us and participate with us in our messy, broken world, even when his Son knew the cost would be his own crucifixion at our hands.
John was blessed with the ability to see the divine gifting of Jesus for ministry which occurred in that moment. He had been told by God that the one upon whom the Spirit alighted as a dove would be the Messiah. And here, in this sacred moment, John bore witness to the anointing of Jesus by the Father in the Spirit for his mission and ministry in that very way. It was John’s blessed privilege to participate in what God was doing by bearing witness to the person Jesus Christ was as the Anointed One.
As Jesus began his messianic ministry, John heard stories of his miracles and teachings. As John bore up under the assault of the Roman government, he had to come to terms with Jesus’ focus on the Father’s mission and ministry. Was Jesus truly the Messiah? Was he truly the deliverer that his nation had longed for all these centuries?
The truth is, Jesus’ place-sharing went far beyond simply being baptized on behalf of all. In the everyday moments of his ministry and mission, Jesus joined people where they were, scandalizing the religious elite by hobnobbing with prostitutes and tax collectors. His friends and colleagues weren’t the upstanding, prestigious leaders of the community, but humble fishermen and down-to-earth people of all walks of life. Jesus touched the leprous and the dead, offering healing and restoration. Jesus embraced the sick and comforted the grieving, offering grace to the shamed and rejected, calling them up into a new life in right relationship with God and others. In every aspect of his life, Jesus embraced and shared life with others, without respect to their personhood or their position in the community.
Those who walked this life with Jesus bore witness to his place-sharing, and following his death and resurrection, began themselves to live and care for others as he did. In the book of Acts are stories of how those who were witnesses of Jesus’ place-sharing lived themselves in ways which involved joining people where they were to bring them into renewal and transformation. We see Philip on the road, joining with a gentleman who was not understanding what he was reading from Isaiah—and the resulting conversation ended in this man’s baptism.
Where might Jesus be inviting us to join with him in touching the life of another? Where might he be wanting us to enter in and become a part of someone else’s journey? How might we be able to share in what another person is going through, thereby offering God’s grace, compassion, and love in the midst of their suffering, sorrow, or need?
We all have been immersed in Jesus’ baptism and are given to share in his receiving of the Spirit for mission and ministry. Our tangible identification with Jesus Christ in his baptism, thereby in his death and resurrection, is by being baptized ourselves into the Father, Son, and Spirit, and becoming part of the body of Christ, the Church. We also tangibly identify with Jesus Christ and participate in Jesus’ baptism, thereby in his death and resurrection, as we ourselves participate in taking communion on a regular basis, eating bread and drinking wine (or grape juice) with other believers as a member of the body of Christ, the Church.
For many of us, joining a local expression of the Church isn’t easy, but we need to be a part of the body of Christ which is filled with the Spirit and actively participating with Jesus in caring for and loving others, if we want to grow in spiritual maturity and participate with others in place-sharing. Asking for God’s direction and guidance is a good place to start. And following the lead of the Spirit and the instruction of the Word of God, the Bible, is also helpful. In God’s good time, he will lead us to where he wants to nurture and care for us spiritually, as well as work through us to nurture and care for others.
Dear Abba, our heavenly Father, thank you for delighting in us as you delighted in your own Son, Jesus. Grant us the grace by your Spirit to fully participate with you as you bring healing, renewal, and reconciliation to this world, through Jesus our Lord. Amen.
“Opening his mouth, Peter said: ‘I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him. The word which He sent to the sons of Israel, preaching peace through Jesus Christ (He is Lord of all)—you yourselves know the thing which took place throughout all Judea, starting from Galilee, after the baptism which John proclaimed. You know of Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him. We are witnesses of all the things He did both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They also put Him to death by hanging Him on a cross. God raised Him up on the third day and granted that He become visible, not to all the people, but to witnesses who were chosen beforehand by God, that is, to us who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead. And He ordered us to preach to the people, and solemnly to testify that this is the One who has been appointed by God as Judge of the living and the dead. Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins.” Acts 10:34–43 NASB
“Then Jesus arrived from Galilee at the Jordan coming to John, to be baptized by him. But John tried to prevent Him, saying, ‘I have need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?’ But Jesus answering said to him, ‘Permit it at this time; for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.’ Then he permitted Him. After being baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove and lighting on Him, and behold, a voice out of the heavens said, ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.’ ” Matthew 3:13–17 NASB
[Printable copy: https://newhope4me.files.wordpress.com/2022/12/olitbeloved-of-the-father.pdf ]
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Freeing the Bent and Bound
By Linda Rex
August 21, 2022, PROPER 16—Sometimes I long to be able to touch people in the same way Jesus touched them. There’s a person I see on occasion at a store I frequent whose physical condition seems to be a lot like the woman in the story for this Sunday in Luke 13:10–17. I long to be able to touch her so she could stand fully upright again.
The woman in the story Luke tells was bent over severely, probably to the place that she could no longer look up or reach up above her. Luke wrote that she had been bound by this infirmity caused by a spirit for eighteen years. I wonder how many times she had gone to the rabbis, hoping one of them might free her from her imprisonment. Was she told that the reason she was crippled in this way was her fault, because she was a horrible sinner or born in sin? Was she excluded from going to the temple due to her condition? In any case, she was in a really bad situation from which she could not extricate herself.
Luke wrote his gospel in an effort to share the good news of what Christ did in his life, death, resurrection and ascension. How fitting is this parable as a picture of what Jesus did for all of us! All of humanity was bound by Satan, doubled over and held captive by evil, sin, and death, unable to free ourselves from our imprisonment.
The Son of God in human flesh, Jesus Christ, came to set humanity free through his sacrificial self-offering. Just as Jesus touched this woman, telling her she was finally free, Jesus touched each of us by taking on our human flesh, becoming sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in him. Jesus set each of us free from all that has bound us, rising from the grave and ascending to the Father, bringing all of humanity home to a right relationship with the Father in the Spirit. He offers us that freedom of evil, sin, and death in his precious gift of the Spirit by faith in Christ.
Just as Jesus was criticized by the synagogue leader for healing on the Sabbath, telling him to only work during the week, we often want to be the ones who tell Jesus what to do with his self-offering on our behalf. We often replace Jesus’ finished work with our own religious rules and requirements, our own spiritual practices which may become more important than caring for others. What is more important, Jesus wants to know: keeping yourself religiously pure and “holy” or helping someone be released from years of bondage and suffering? What is more important—observing your traditions and religious regulations, or participating with God in setting someone free?
Growing up in my religious tradition, I was taught that having a good relationship with God meant praying and studying the bible and going to church, along with obeying all of the legal requirements of the Bible. In later years I discovered that loving God and loving my neighbor is central to my identity as a follower of Christ. There are so many ways of living in relationship with God and loving my neighbor that do not involve religious traditions or rituals! Indeed, our love of God is most effectively expressed by our loving, outgoing concern toward others shown by deeds of service, kindness, understanding and compassion. It is in our other-centered sacrificial care of others that we begin to truly reflect the nature and glory of our Triune God as his beloved adopted children.
I’ve never realized before how often I have been like the synagogue official in this story. Here he had been for eighteen years gathering with the crowd for reading the scriptures and praying together, and working on being holy, and that whole time this woman had been a part of that community. She was suffering acutely and I wonder how many people during that long period of time really touched her in the way that Jesus did when he showed up. She needed the touch of healing and restoration, but how many people during all those years actually prayed for her or offered her a kind word or reached out to help her?
This year Grace Communion International is challenging us to participate with Jesus in his expression of love and care for those who are suffering or are in need. Our tangible acts of compassion can become an expression of God’s love that genuinely touches the lives of others, enabling them to actually experience the love of God in meaningful ways. Rather than simply talking about spiritual things or doing religious deeds, we can intentionally become a part of other people’s lives, sharing in their concerns and easing the burdens they cannot carry on their own.
For some of us, this can be a real challenge. Our tendency is to live in cocoons, protecting ourselves from the evil and danger of the world around us. To open ourselves and our lives up to make room for others is a struggle. But by God’s grace and his Spirit working in and through us, we can begin to participate with Jesus in touching the lives of those who are bent and bound, sharing the good news that freedom is theirs in Christ.
Who are the people God has placed in your life? Who do you encounter as you go about your daily activities? Are there people you meet at the store or the coffee shop you frequent with whom you can begin to have conversations and pray for or help?
Do you have a unique talent or gift that can be a blessing to others? How can you share it in such a way that you don’t do for others what they need to do for themselves, but still bless and help them? What makes you uniquely you and how can you offer that up to make this world a better place in relationships with the people around you?
These are questions I am asking myself as I ponder the next steps in my life. In what way can my faith move beyond religious practice into practical expressions of the love of God in Christ? It is a question worth wrestling with.
Father, thank you for sending your Son to touch us in our bent and bound condition, to set us upright in his life, death, resurrection and ascension. Grant us the grace to share your love with others in tangible ways so they might also by your Spirit experience your loving and healing touch, through Jesus our Lord. Amen.
“And He was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. And there was a woman who for eighteen years had had a sickness caused by a spirit; and she was bent double, and could not straighten up at all. When Jesus saw her, He called her over and said to her, ‘Woman, you are freed from your sickness.’ And He laid His hands on her; and immediately she was made erect again and began glorifying God. But the synagogue official, indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, began saying to the crowd in response, ‘There are six days in which work should be done; so come during them and get healed, and not on the Sabbath day.’ But the Lord answered him and said, ‘You hypocrites, does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the stall and lead him away to water him? And this woman, a daughter of Abraham as she is, whom Satan has bound for eighteen long years, should she not have been released from this bond on the Sabbath day?’ As He said this, all His opponents were being humiliated; and the entire crowd was rejoicing over all the glorious things being done by Him.” Luke 13:10–17 NASB
[Printable copy: https://newhope4me.files.wordpress.com/2022/08/freeing-the-bent-and-bound.pdf ]
Wake Up, Get Up, and Pray
By Linda Rex
April 10, 2022, Passion Sunday [or Palm Sunday]—There’s something about death and dying that causes us to want to avoid the topic like the plague. It’s so final—and it’s so disturbingly disruptive to our peace and our status quo.
The reality is, though, that before God can do something new in someone’s life or in a church’s life, he has to bring the old to an end. Jesus remarked that it doesn’t work to put new wine in old wineskins, for they will break from the strain. One can only put new wine in new wineskins, which can stretch to accommodate the stress it will place on the containers (Matt. 9:17).
This is true about our humanity as well. We were all dead in sin, unable to live in the truth of who God created us to be as his image-bearers. We were bound in the chains of unhealthy ways of living and being. Apart from God’s gracious provision, we were all bound to the consequence of sin which was death.
The gospel reading for Passion Sunday this year is extensive, including the contents of two chapters in the book of Luke, Luke 22:14–23:56. This reading takes us from the gathering in the upper room for the last meal with Jesus, through Jesus’ agonizing prayer of relinquishment in the garden, to the betrayal by Judas, Jesus’ arrest, Peter’s denial, the long vigil during Jesus’ various trials, his crucifixion, and his burial. This sequence of events was a necessary part of the fulfillment of God’s promise to free us from the shackles of evil, sin, and death.
In the midst of this reading, we find Jesus inviting his disciples to share in the Passover meal with him. Taking bread in his hands, he gave thanks, and broke it, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me” (Luke 22:20 NASB). And taking one of the cups offered during the meal, he gave thanks and said, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood. But behold, the hand of the one betraying Me is with Mine on the table” Lk. 22:20b-21 NASB).
Table fellowship in that time and place was a treasured privilege. To open your home and offer your table to someone was to include them in your inner circle. Someone who shared your table was bound by the social code of that day never to betray you—it would be unthinkable that someone would dare to turn against the person who invited them in and made them feel welcome. How astonished the disciples were that Jesus would even suggest that one of them would betray him!
But, as human beings, isn’t it true that deep inside each of us is the capacity to do that very thing? It is easy for us to look back at Judas Iscariot and say to ourselves, “I would never, ever betray Jesus in that way.” But in our heart of hearts, we must know that we each are capable of giving an appearance of fidelity and loyalty, when in our hearts we are unfaithful and disloyal. This man, who thought the bottle of nard should be sold to feed the poor and needy, was in reality, a thief—one who used the common purse as his personal wallet when he felt like it. But it took a crisis—a temptation—to reveal the truth of who he really was inside.
Peter told Jesus that, even if threatened with death, he would never deny his Lord. Jesus, on the other hand, knew the capacity of the human heart for infidelity and disloyalty. He told Peter that, on the contrary, before the rooster crowed, he would deny his Lord three times. Peter was indignant at the thought, but Jesus knew him well—his impetuosity, his bravado, and his weakness. And he loved him enough to tell him the truth about himself, just as he told the betrayer he knew what he would do.
It does not hurt for us to be honest with ourselves about our capacity to be disloyal to our God or unfaithful to our commitment to him. Having humility about our human weakness is the very place we need to be for God to do his greatest work within us. It is in breathing out with Christ the last breath of our old life and finding ourselves laid with Jesus in the tomb that we awaken with the new life in his resurrection. Peter, upon his third denial, caught Jesus’ eye, and was broken—he left, weeping with remorse for his denial of his beloved Lord. It was in that moment of death to his old way that Peter was suddenly open to a new life—the one Jesus was creating for him in that moment as he was being mistreated, beaten, crucified, and laid in the tomb.
Judas, in his moment of remorse, went to the temple and the priests to return the money he had received for betraying Jesus. Rather than receiving the grace of redemption and salvation from their words and their hands, he received rejection and ridicule instead. Left holding the baggage of his old life, how could he receive a new one? He took matters into his own hands, judging himself worthy of death and executing himself, rather than receiving the death of Jesus in his stead. What he desperately needed was available in Christ, but he was blind to this reality.
Jesus understood the power of temptation, and Satan’s pull to take matters into our own hands. He knows our tendency to try to save ourselves or to play games with ourselves, believing that as long as no one truly knows the state of the internal trash heap of our soul, we are fine. He knows that what we need, only God can give. Our redemption, our transformation, and our healing can only come through the One who stands in our place, on our behalf—our Lord and Savior. Jesus faced temptation in the garden of Gethsemane by grounding himself in his personal relationship with the Father in the Spirit. He took his humanity to the feet of his God and submitted himself fully to the Father’s will, in spite of what his humanity and the adversary, were screaming at him to do.
Jesus reminded his disciples more than once that night to get up and pray rather than sleep. How many times have we been caught unaware by temptation because we were not living in close fellowship with God? How often have we been spiritually asleep when we needed to be alert to the wiles and seductions of Satan as he was seeking to break up the communion we have been given with God and with others through Christ in the Spirit? Passion Sunday is a good time to be reminded to wake up, to get up and pray.
It is also a good time to be reminded of the need to let our old life remain where it is—in the death of Jesus. Wake up to the reality that our sinful flesh is not the truth of our life in Christ—leave it there on the cross and in the tomb with Jesus. Get up—walk in the newness of life given us in the resurrected Lord—the resurrection we will celebrate next week on Resurrection Sunday. And pray—live within our dependency upon God in Christ and through the Spirit to recognize and resist temptation when it arises.
During Holy Week, may we take some time to reflect deeply upon Jesus’ self-offering, how he set aside the privileges of divinity to join us in our humanity, so that he might free us once and for all from our enslavement to evil, sin, and death. May we be reminded of our participation in Christ’s death—laying silently in the tomb as those who are dead to sin, evil, and death. And may we be reminded to wake up, get up, and pray—that we may not enter into temptation. And may we rest in the finished work of Christ as God completes in us his work of redemption and transformation.
Thank you, Father, that we can come to you as dirty, scruffy, misbehaving children and find the grace to be cleansed, restored, and healed. Thank you that in Christ, we are delivered from temptation—grant us the grace to wake up, get up and pray, that we may live freely and joyfully in fellowship with you now and forever, through Jesus and by your Spirit. Amen.
“And He came out and proceeded as was His custom to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples also followed Him. When He arrived at the place, He said to them, ‘Pray that you may not enter into temptation.’ And He withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and He knelt down and began to pray, saying, ‘Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done.’ Now an angel from heaven appeared to Him, strengthening Him. And being in agony He was praying very fervently; and His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down upon the ground. When He rose from prayer, He came to the disciples and found them sleeping from sorrow, and said to them, ‘Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray that you may not enter into temptation.’ While He was still speaking, behold, a crowd came, and the one called Judas, one of the twelve, was preceding them; and he approached Jesus to kiss Him. But Jesus said to him, ‘Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?’ When those who were around Him saw what was going to happen, they said, ‘Lord, shall we strike with the sword?’ And one of them struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his right ear. But Jesus answered and said, ‘Stop! No more of this.’ And He touched his ear and healed him. Then Jesus said to the chief priests and officers of the temple and elders who had come against Him, ‘Have you come out with swords and clubs as you would against a robber? While I was with you daily in the temple, you did not lay hands on Me; but this hour and the power of darkness are yours.’ Having arrested Him, they led Him away…” Luke 22:39–54a
[Printable version of this blog: https://newhope4me.files.wordpress.com/2022/04/wake-up-get-up-and-pray.pdf%5D