Spirit

Because God Smiled

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by Linda Rex

December 18, 2022, 4th Sunday in ADVENT | Love—We’ve come to the fourth Sunday in Advent already, and while contemplating the topic of love, it occurred to me that Joseph is a hidden gem in the Advent story.

Today in our media and literature, it is common to ridicule or demean men, especially fathers or men of faith. Granted, some of us have had fathers who utterly failed at their job of reflecting the nature of God and his love to their children. But I have met men who, though faulty and broken like the rest of us, took seriously their responsibility to serve, care for and honor the people in their lives, especially their wives and children.

Reflecting upon Mary’s story, it must have been so hard for the young woman after the angel told her she was going to become pregnant with a child who would be the Messiah. According to custom, she probably would not have had a single private conversation with Joseph at any time during their engagement. And though their engagement meant she was technically married to Joseph, they had to wait for a year to prove she was not expecting a baby by some other man. For her then, to end up pregnant meant disaster for her relationship with Joseph.

Joseph had every reason to divorce Mary, and was expected to. Thankfully, the custom of stoning unwed mothers was not as faithfully observed as divorce and public shaming was. It says something about Joseph’s heart and character that when he discovered Mary was pregnant, he sought to privately divorce Mary, not wanting to bring her to public shame. Considering the public humiliation of having a pregnant fiancée he himself was going to experience, Joseph also had to deal with all of the family and social consequences of what had occurred.

Then Joseph had a dream. In his dream, an angel told him to wed Mary, that the child she carried was conceived by the Holy Spirit and should be named Jesus, for he would save his people from their sins. Most of us don’t remember our dreams when we wake up in the morning. But Joseph was singularly moved by this dream, so much so that he broke all custom and immediately married Mary and brought her home. He honored her and her baby by caring for them and providing for them from then on.

Throughout Mary’s pregnancy, travels to Bethlehem, and subsequent travels to Egypt and Nazareth, Joseph listened to and obeyed the instructions he received from God through angels about taking care of the baby Jesus. Joseph was a father to Jesus, one who was led by the Spirit, so that Jesus could fulfill the mission his heavenly Father had given him while here on earth.

Whatever Joseph did, though, was merely a participation in God’s story. Israel for years had cried out, longing for redemption and deliverance. They would slide into slavery and sin, and then God would rescue them again, only to repeat the process. One of the readings for this Sunday is a beautiful psalm which reminds us that our only hope of being anything other than our broken, sinful selves, is for God to smile on us and to restore us into right relationship with himself. The psalmist says:

“Oh, give ear, Shepherd of Israel, You who lead Joseph like a flock; You who are enthroned above the cherubim, shine forth! Before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh, stir up Your power and come to save us! O God, restore us and cause Your face to shine upon us, and we will be saved. O LORD God of hosts, how long will You be angry with the prayer of Your people? You have fed them with the bread of tears, and You have made them to drink tears in large measure. You make us an object of contention to our neighbors, and our enemies laugh among themselves. O God of hosts, restore us and cause Your face to shine upon us, and we will be saved. … Let Your hand be upon the man of Your right hand, upon the son of man whom You made strong for Yourself. Then we shall not turn back from You; revive us, and we will call upon Your name. O Lord God of hosts, restore us; cause Your face to shine upon us, and we will be saved.”

(Psalm 80:1–7, 17–19 NASB)

Do you see the repetition of the request, “O God restore us…cause Your face to shine upon us”? The expression “cause your face to shine upon us” is another way of asking God to smile on us. This song hints at the coming of God’s Son, the Son of Man, who will be instrumental in our salvation—our only hope of being restored and revived. And only because God smiled on us.

Since our heavenly Father was so willing to smile on us that he would send his own unique Son for our salvation, we truly have great hope, no matter how difficult our struggles. Since our heavenly Father was so willing to smile on us that he made provision for our forgiveness and our reconciliation with himself, we truly have peace and joy no matter how far we have fallen or how miserably we have failed. And since our heavenly Father was willing to do whatever it took to turn us back to himself, even offering us his own Son to us, we are able to rest and find comfort in his everlasting love.

We are caught up in the midst of God’s story, and like Joseph, are participating in what God is doing to turn us all back to himself. Advent reminds us that even when we are at our worst, God has smiled on us. Christ has come, is coming even now by his Spirit in our everyday lives, and will return again in glory one day. We are reminded to look away from our problems, look away from ourselves, and to look up into the face of our loving Father, to see him smile on us. And right there—we discover, we are saved.

Heavenly Father, thank you for smiling on us and giving us the gift of your Son and your Spirit. Remind us anew to turn away from ourselves and our sorrows and to turn to you. Smile on us again, so that we might experience anew our salvation, through Jesus, your Son. Amen.

“Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: when His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly. But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.’ Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: ‘Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel,’ translated means, ‘God with us.’ And Joseph awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took Mary as his wife, but kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus.”     Matthew 1:18–25 NASB

[Printable copy: https://newhope4me.files.wordpress.com/2022/12/olitbecause-god-smiled.pdf ]

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Joy in Judgment

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by Linda Rex

December 11, 2022, 3rd Sunday in ADVENT | Joy—At times I wonder what it would have been like to have been a close relative of Jesus Christ while he lived here on earth. What stories would we have been told about the birth of our cousin? Would we have known the story about how John jumped in his mother Elizabeth’s womb when his pregnant relative Mary came for a visit?

Some commentators say that John and Jesus probably did not know each other very well while others picture them as close kin. But when Jesus came to the Jordan River where John was preaching and baptizing the people, the prophet knew exactly who Jesus was and why he was there. He pointed Jesus out as being the Lamb of God, come to take away the sins of the people.

Later on, John spoke out against King Herod Antipas’ recent marriage to the wife of King Herod Philip, Herodias. The result of John’s truth-telling was a stint in prison, without any deliverance in sight. The gospel passage for this Sunday, Matthew 11:2–11, describes how while John the Baptizer was in prison, he sent his disciples to Jesus to verify that he indeed was the promised Anointed One or Messiah.

It’s possible that John thought Jesus, if he was truly the Messiah, should have been doing something to ensure his release from prison, or perhaps even have been speaking out against Antipas. But Jesus merely pointed out to John’s disciples that as the Messiah, Christ was busy doing what the Coming One was predicted to do—healing the sick, raising the dead (like he had just done for the widow in Nain) and casting out demons. In the midst of his dark and difficult circumstances, John the Baptizer may have needed some reassurance that all of his own efforts were not in vain. Or he may simply have been continuing to do what he did before—point away from himself, and point his disciples toward Christ.

Jesus’ words about John were not critical, but supportive and understanding. In fact, he let his listeners know that John was a great prophet even though he would be surpassed by the least in the kingdom of God which Jesus was inaugurating. Christ challenged the crowd, saying, “blessed is he who does not take offense at Me” (NASB; in the Greek, καὶ μακάριός ἐστιν ὃς ἐὰν μὴ σκανδαλισθῇ ἐν ἐμοί). I’m not a Greek scholar, but it is interesting to note that σκανδαλισθῇ (skandalisthí) looks a lot like our English word scandal. As Jesus points out, we find blessing or joy in not being scandalized by Jesus and what he is doing, even though he might be doing things differently than we expect.

How often are we scandalized by the way Jesus is doing something in our lives or in this world? Can you think of a time when you were infuriated with the way something turned out, wondering why God didn’t intervene? Why is it that the Lord allows things to happen a certain way when he could, being God, make things so very different, so very less painful or awful?

It is easy to pass judgment on God—we do it all the time. Just as the people in Jesus’ day judged him as being un-Messiah-like, we expect God to jump certain hoops, and when he doesn’t, we are offended or scandalized. And often we’re just not honest with ourselves in regards to these things, since, as good people, we know we shouldn’t be mad at God, or offended by how he runs the world.

But let’s think for a moment about judgment as it was expressed in the coming of God in human flesh in the person of Jesus Christ. First off, God judged us as human beings of being worthy of his love and attention. He knew we couldn’t get ourselves into right relationship with him on our own, so he planned from the beginning to do what was necessary to bring us home. In Christ, God judged us as being a good creation gone astray, which needed to experience healing, redemption, renewal, and reconciliation.

All of this at work in our world was evident in the ministry and life of Jesus Christ as he cast out demons, healed the sick and broken, preached the gospel to the poor, and even raised the dead. Jesus, as a human being himself, went so far as to allow human beings to reject him, crucify him, and kill him. Even so, his judgment as he hung on the cross was forgiveness, caring for his mother, and welcoming a criminal into paradise. And God’s judgment on all of us as human beings in our imprisonment in the kingdom of darkness, was to bring us all into the kingdom of light as Jesus rose from the grave in the resurrection.

Do you see that God’s method of judgment is so laden with grace that it looks so much different than ours? Jesus says we aren’t to stumble over him or be scandalized by him. Instead, we are to accept Jesus for who he really is—God in human flesh, our redemption and salvation, our heavenly Father’s Word of grace sent to us, birthed of the Spirit. Are we scandalized by the grace God expresses to us as human beings in Christ? Or is this grace the source of our blessedness and our great joy?

During the season of Advent, we rehearse anew our preparation for the coming of the Messiah, specifically as God came in human flesh in the person of Jesus Christ, a baby which was laid in a manger while angels announced the good news to shepherds on a hill nearby. Are we scandalized by the coming of God in human flesh in this humble way? Or are we grateful at God’s humility and love?

Jesus Christ, as God in human flesh come for our redemption and salvation, took on a particular human body in a specific place and time. The one who made all things and sustains all things by his word and power became our close relation, becoming one of us that we might share eternity with him some day. And Jesus was willing to do this, even though he knew from the beginning what the cost would be. For the joy set before him, he endured the cross. With open hands, we share in his joy, as we receive the grace he so generously offers us, rather than being offended by the way he runs his world.

Dear Jesus, thank you for coming to us and being willing to take on our human existence as your very own for a time. Thank you for sharing your joy with us by your Spirit. Father, grant us the grace to not be offended by your Son, but to embrace him fully, allowing Jesus to be who he is for us, our joy and our salvation. Amen.

“The wilderness and the desert will be glad, and the Arabah will rejoice and blossom; like the crocus it will blossom profusely and rejoice with rejoicing and shout of joy. … Encourage the exhausted, and strengthen the feeble. Say to those with anxious heart, ‘Take courage, fear not. Behold, your God will come with vengeance; the recompense of God will come, but He will save you.’  Then the eyes of the blind will be opened and the ears of the deaf will be unstopped. Then the lame will leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute will shout for joy. … the redeemed will walk there, and the ransomed of the LORD will return and come with joyful shouting to Zion, with everlasting joy upon their heads. They will find gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.”     Isaiah 35:1–10 NASB

“Now when John, while imprisoned, heard of the works of Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to Him, ‘Are You the Expected One, or shall we look for someone else?’ Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Go and report to John what you hear and see: the “blind receive sight” and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the “poor have the gospel preached to them”. And blessed is he who does not take offense at Me.’ As these men were going away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John, ‘What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? But what did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Those who wear soft clothing are in kings’ palaces! But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and one who is more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written, “Behold, I sent my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.” Truly I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist! Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.’ ”      Matthew 11:2–11 NASB

[Printable copy: https://newhope4me.files.wordpress.com/2022/11/olitjoy-in-judgment.pdf ]

[More devotionals may be found at https://lifeinthetrinity.blog ]

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Waking Up to Peace

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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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Waking Up to Hope

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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 ]

No Reason to Fear

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by Linda Rex

November 20, 2022, CHRIST THE KING or REIGN OF CHRIST—It’s hard to believe that we have reached the end of another cycle on the Christian calendar! Next Sunday, November 27, we will celebrate the first day of Advent, the beginning of Year A in the Revised Common Lectionary.

As I was reading the gospel passage for this Sunday, Luke 23:33–43, it occurred to me that Jesus was never more truly himself as Lord of all and as truly human as all of us as when he hung on the cross, dying at our hands, humbly submissive to his Father’s will. Even in that moment, when he could have simply climbed down from the cross and walked away, he was held by the nails of his love for the Father and the Spirit, and his love for all of us.

Often, it seems, when people think of Jesus Christ returning in glory, they picture him riding in triumphantly on his white horse, annihilating all the people who are standing in opposition to him in that moment. The apocalyptic language of the prophetic Word plants this idea in our minds and hearts, and our earnest longing and desire for God to make everything right fuels our belief that this is the way Jesus, as king of kings and lord of lords, will return in glory.

Looking at the readings for this Sunday, I found a theme—God does not want us to be afraid. He promised long ago that he would “raise up … a righteous Branch” who would reign as king, acting wisely, justly, and righteously—“the Lord our righteousness” (Jeremiah 23:1-6 NASB). He said, because of this Lord there would be no need for fear or of being afraid.

Another reading for this Sunday, Luke 1:68–79, talks about how God would free us from our enemies, so we could serve God without fear. God never meant us to dread his coming or to be afraid of him or anyone else. Fear is not what should be uppermost in our hearts when we think of God, or of Jesus returning in glory. The psalmist says that: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, and though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea;…” (Psalm 46:1-2 NASB).

What if Jesus’ response to all that is standing opposed to him when he returns in glory looks a lot less like the dropping of a nuclear bomb and looks a lot more like what he did on the cross? In the midst of mockery, ridicule, and humiliation, Jesus quietly asked for his Father’s forgiveness of his opponents, tended to the care of his grieving mother, and offered grace and reconciliation to a criminal. Could it be that Jesus’ triumphant entry will be more of a calling of all people everywhere to wake up to the truth of who they really are—who Jesus made them to be when he took on our human flesh and brought it through death into resurrection, into his eternal relationship with the Father in the Spirit?

This is the crisis of judgment—to see things as they really are, and to be given a choice as to what we are going to do in that moment. For some, there will be a refusal to live in that truth. For others, there will be joy and gratitude, and embracing of all God has made us to be as his adopted children in Christ by the Spirit. On the one side, a sickening realization that everything one has built his or her life on is now gone, for the other a celebration of all that they had hoped for in Christ finally becoming a reality.

What crisis might you be facing in your life today? The older I get, the more I realize how often I have pushed off to the future any crisis of judgment I probably ought to be facing right now, today. For example, even though I may know that having that lovely piece of cake right now probably won’t harm me, in the long run it might, if I continue to eat as though large amounts of sugar won’t affect me. Putting off the inevitable isn’t going to make it go away. Truth is, I can have a little here and there, but I must not continue to eat large numbers of very sweet things unless I want the consequences of a serious illness.

I realize this is just a dietary concern, but I’m using it as an example to help us think in terms of  the other things we face day by day: our little habit of “being nice” instead of telling the truth in love; our “adjusting” the numbers to get the best return possible; our private addiction which we believe no one knows about (“so it won’t hurt anyone”)…. Do you see how easy it is for us to put off God’s judgment about things?

One day we’re going to have to wake up to the reality that some things just aren’t a part of who we are as God’s beloved children. Some of the things we think, say, and do are in opposition to the truth of who God created us to be. These things were never meant to be a part of our way of being as those who love God with all our being and who love one another as ourselves. One day, when Jesus returns in glory and ushers in the new heavens and new earth, all of that which is not truly us will need to once and for all come to an end. Then there will be no other way to live but that way which is our true self in Christ by the Spirit,

Jesus hung voluntarily on the cross facing our crisis in our place on our behalf. He stayed there, in spite of the legions of angels who longed to deliver him from his suffering. He allowed himself to undergo our worst so we could receive his best, handling himself with such kingly dignity in such a humiliating circumstance. We have no need to dread Jesus’ return in glory—unless, of course, we refuse to wake up to the reality of who Jesus is as king of all. Perhaps we ought to consider facing our crisis today, embracing his loving judgment right now, instead of putting it off until then. Is there something you would like to say to Jesus right now, today, about who you really are?

Heavenly Father, thank you for moving us by your Son from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light. Lord Jesus, you are our King, now and forever. You are the One who made all things and sustains all things, and who brought all things with you through death into resurrection, reconciling all things through your self-offering. Today we open ourselves up to your judgment, that you may remove all that is not of you and that you may make us truly as you always meant us to be. Thank you, Father, for removing, by your Spirit, our fear and giving us faith, through Jesus, our Lord. Amen.

“… strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience; joyously giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light. For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything. For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven.”      Colossians 1:11–20 NASB

“When they came to the place called The Skull, there they crucified Him and the criminals, one on the right and the other on the left. But Jesus was saying, ‘Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.’ And they cast lots, dividing up His garments among themselves. And the people stood by, looking on. And even the rulers were sneering at Him, saying, ‘He saved others; let Him save Himself if this is the Christ of God, His Chosen One.’ The soldiers also mocked Him, coming up to Him, offering Him sour wine, and saying, ‘If You are the King of the Jews, save Yourself!’ Now there was also an inscription above Him, ‘This is the King of the Jews.’ One of the criminals who were hanged there was hurling abuse at Him, saying, ‘Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!’ But the other answered, and rebuking him said, ‘Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.’ And he was saying, ‘Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!’ And He said to him, ‘Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.’ ”     Luke 23:33–43 NASB

[Printable copy: https://newhope4me.files.wordpress.com/2022/11/olitno-reason-to-fear.pdf ]

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All the Stones Will Fall

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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

Beyond the Grave

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by Linda Rex

November 6, 2022, PROPER 27—Lately I have been learning a lot of new things about the apostle Paul and the culture in which he lived as a missionary, sharing the good news of God’s love in Christ. One thing that I have seen in a new way is how Paul so often paid close attention to where people were in their understanding with regards to God, met them where they were, and then worked to bring them closer to the truth as he understood it.

In Paul’s writings, we can see him agree with his opponents, but then, as he explained where he actually stood on a topic, he taught what was in exact opposition to what his opponents taught. This makes reading Paul’s writings challenging, because we have to follow him through his entire thought process before we decide exactly where he stood on a topic.

In our gospel reading for this Sunday, we see the same method at work. Apparently, Paul used the same method as Jesus, in reaching out to opponents by beginning where they were to bring them to where they needed to be. What Jesus did in totality (joined us in our darkness to bring us into his light), he seemed to do even in everyday conversations with those who stood in opposition to him.

When approached by the Sadducees of his day, Jesus took into account their cultural background and religious beliefs. These men were from a wealthy, aristocratic class of people who believed that the only part of the Old Testament scriptures they should pay close attention to were those in the Torah, the first five books of the Bible. They also rejected any idea that there may be supernatural forces at work in the world, and this included angels or miracles.

When they saw the Pharisees and scribes were silenced by Jesus, in spite of the clever ways in which they attempted to trap him, the Sadducees pulled out their best weapon, a story which usually succeeded in shutting up their opposition. This story involved levirate marriage—a practice which many Americans would not be familiar with, or would consider strange and maybe even offensive.

Levirate marriage makes a lot of sense to people in cultures and times when the death of a spouse would leave a woman vulnerable and without any means of provision. It also guarantees that a family’s property would remain within the ownership of the family and would not become a part of some other family’s possession. When practiced, a woman who lost a husband and had no children to inherit the property would be given to the man’s brother as wife so he could give her an heir to inherit the family’s property.

The story these Sadducees told involved a woman who lost a husband, but then was married to his six brothers, one after another, who each died without giving her an heir. Then she died. Honestly, I feel sorry for the poor woman—I would have died too, just to get it all over with. But it is just a story and meant simply to be a means by which the Sadducees could ask their penetrating question in hopes of trapping Jesus: “When they rise in the resurrection, whose wife will she be?”

First off, Jesus knew who the ones asking the question were. He knew that what happened to their family’s wealth when someone died was important to them. He knew that marriage did not mean to them what God intended it to mean—a sacred space which revealed the reality of God’s presence and nature as two persons were brought together and made one. And Jesus knew their hearts, that they simply sought to discredit him and shut him up.

Jesus started where they were, and worked to bring them into a new point of view, pointing out to them their mistaken way of looking at God, the resurrection, themselves, and others. The common understanding of many in the Jewish culture of that day was that life would simply continue in the resurrection, meaning that married life would continue beyond the grave. Jesus didn’t attempt to clarify every detail regarding life in the resurrection, but did make some significant points.

The first thing Jesus pointed out was that our existence in this life is much different than what our existence will be when we are resurrected. Those who rise in glory will be like the angels in that they will not be performing marriages or be married to one another like people do in this life. Contrary to so much of our popular media images regarding the afterlife, humans do not become angels when they die—their existence simply resembles that of angels in that it does not involve marriage and procreation in the same way it does nows and they no longer die. And there is no reason to believe we will lose our gender identity in the resurrection, but that is a different topic all together.

Getting back to the story, we see Jesus continuing to meet them where they were to bring them to a new place. The Sadducees believed that there was no resurrection, and used Moses in order to prove this point. So Jesus brought up Moses himself, pulling from the prophet’s initial encounter with God on the mountain where he spoke from the burning bush, and showed that even Moses spoke of the resurrection. God called himself, “I Am that I Am.” And he called himself the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

As human beings, we live in linear time, where one event happens after another. We have a past, a present, a future, and a death. God, however, lives in a different way than we do, since he is present in every moment in all time, having created space and time for us to live within. God, in Christ, entered our time and became present to each of us in every moment in a new way. These are mind-blowing thoughts that I won’t dive too deeply into. But what Jesus was saying here was that God was present in that moment to Abraham, who had his existence in him, at the same time he was present to the Sadducees. God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.

This should be very comforting to us. Jesus was, at that moment, in the process of doing what was needed so that every human being could participate in the resurrection from the dead. Elsewhere in scripture, we are told that because of Christ’s self-offering, every person participates in the resurrection from the dead, some rising to life and others rising to face judgment, a judgment which is meant to purify, heal, restore, and renew, not to annihilate or destroy (see John 5:29), for God’s heart is that no person perishes, but that each and every one repents (2 Peter 3:9).

Though I am grateful I live in a culture where I do not have to marry my husband’s brother, should Ray die someday, I’m even more grateful for what Jesus has done so that each of us might live forever. What a precious gift God gives us by being present to us each and every moment through Jesus in the Spirit! We are not orphans. We are not left to do things all on our own under our own strength. No, we are each a beloved child of the Father, who in Christ by the Spirit has been given our own chair at the divine table with our own name carved on it, personally crafted by the carpenter from Nazareth, Jesus Christ.

Thank you, dear Father, for including us in your life, for being present to us in every moment, having prepared a place for us at your table, now and forever, through your Son Jesus and by your Spirit. Amen.

27“Now there came to Him some of the Sadducees (who say that there is no resurrection), 28and they questioned Him, saying, ‘Teacher, Moses wrote for us that “if a man’s brother dies,” having a wife, “and he is childless, his brother should marry the wife and raise up children to his brother.” 29Now there were seven brothers; and the first took a wife and died childless; 30and the second 31and the third married her; and in the same way all seven died, leaving no children. 32Finally the woman died also. 33In the resurrection therefore, which one’s wife will she be? For all seven had married her.’ 34Jesus said to them, ‘The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage, 35but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry nor are given in marriage; 36for they cannot even die anymore, because they are like angels, and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection. 37But that the dead are raised, even Moses showed, in the passage about the burning bush, where he calls the Lord “the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” 38Now He is not the God of the dead but of the living; for all live to Him.’ ”     Luke 20:27–38 NASB

[Printable copy: https://newhope4me.files.wordpress.com/2022/10/olitbeyond-the-grave.pdf ]

The Power of Conversation

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by Linda Rex

October 30, 2022, PROPER 26—Have you ever had an unexpected, unplanned conversation with someone which totally changed your life? The other day, I was listening to the members of the Perichoresis ministry talk about how they met one another—a chance conversation here, a chance conversation there. Through all of these circumstances, God brought together people who shared a growing understanding of what it means that, in Christ, we are all included in God’s Triune life and love.

One thing Jesus did a lot of while he walked the earth was have conversations with the people he met along the way. It seems he was always talking with somebody, and usually with people the leaders of his day believed he should have been avoiding. The conversations recorded in the gospels which Jesus had with everyday people often went deep, getting into places where people preferred not to go, asking them to do things they would have preferred not to do.

In Luke 18 is a story of a conversation Jesus had with a wealthy young ruler who asked Jesus what he needed to do to inherit eternal life. When Jesus responded as a good rabbi might have, telling him to observe the laws Moses gave, the young man responded by saying he had kept all of them from his childhood on. Then Jesus, seeing this person’s heart and loving him, took him a little deeper, telling him to sell all he owned and to give the proceeds to the poor. This took the young ruler deeper than he was willing to go, causing him to turn and walk away.

At this point, Jesus told his disciples that it was difficult for the rich to enter the kingdom of God. This statement conflicted with the culture’s belief that wealth was a sign of good favor with God, and poverty was a sign of affliction or punishment from God. Jesus said that wealth actually made it hard for people to enter the kingdom of God. The people of ancient Israel were the chosen people, already in the kingdom of God, the crowd thought, so this would have been a difficult statement to swallow. They said to Jesus, “How then can anyone be saved?”

Jesus’ response was that what is impossible for human beings is possible with God. The saving of a rich man, or a poor one for that matter, was something only God could do. And, as he again told them, it required Jesus going through the crucifixion and death into resurrection. Jesus had no qualms about telling his disciples what it would cost in order for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God—it would cost Jesus everything.

Shortly after that event, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, asked Jesus to restore his eyesight. And he did—a task only the Messiah could do. And the result was that Bartimaeus chose to be a follower of Christ. Soon after, Jesus entered Jericho, where his Father, by the Spirit, was already at work in the heart and mind of a man named Zacchaeus.

This man was having difficulty, probably due to a short stature, with seeing which of the persons entering the city was Jesus. So he ran to a tree with low branches and climbed up to see more clearly. Looking to see who the man Jesus was, Zacchaeus was astonished to see him right below him and talking with him, telling him he was to stay at his house.

For a lot of people, in the culture I’m most familiar with—modern America—someone inviting himself or herself to stay at and eat in our home without our invitation would be considered a rude and presumptuous act, especially if we had no idea who the person was or why she or he was there. But in that culture, hospitality was the norm and was expected, and inviting someone to stay in your home was a necessity when there really were no other options for travelers.

What struck me this morning, though, about Jesus’ request was something about the way in which he said it. In the New American Standard Bible, it says it this way: “Zaccheus, hurry and come down, for today I must stay at your house.” The New International Version says it like this: “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” Even the King James Version has the same vibe: “Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down; for today I must abide at thy house.” Do you see it? Jesus is telling Zacchaeus he must stay at his house. Why?

Whose idea was it for Jesus to stay at Zacchaeus’ house? Who put it into Zacchaeus’ heart and mind to climb that tree so he could see more clearly who Jesus was? It sounds to me like Jesus had a conversation with his Father in which he was told to have a conversation with Zacchaeus and to stay at his house. Apparently, the Holy Spirit had been working on this man’s mind and heart, and had brought him to the place where he was seeking to learn more about Jesus. And then, as Jesus invited himself to his home, Zacchaeus discovered exactly what he had been looking for—a new start.

The crowd never seemed to be happy with Jesus’ decisions about who he had conversations with. Perhaps they had planned to invite Jesus to a great banquet in the synagogue leader’s home, where they could discuss the law and the prophets with him, and show off their new garments and flowery speeches and prayers. Who knows. But this idea of Jesus eating with someone so loathed by the Jews—a tax collector in league with the Romans, a thief who betrayed his people—was repellant to them all. So, the crowd grumbled.

But remember, what is impossible with us humans is possible with God. And Jesus was in sync with what his Father was doing. The Father had his eye on a rich tax collector who was looking for a new start, and he had been working with him to bring him to this place. So, Zacchaeus was the center of Jesus’ focus and his home the place where he would eat and rest. And now, faced with the truth of his dishonesty and betrayal, Zacchaeus did an about face, offering restitution for every bit of money he had stolen, and a willingness to set aside his wealth and give it all to the poor—all of the things the rich ruler could not bring himself to do.

The Lord’s been showing me lately the power of conversation, of the need to be present in each moment where he is at work. Often, we are so distracted we are not mindful of what is happening right in front of us, missing where God is at work and is inviting us to participate with him in what he is doing in someone’s life. I am reminded that, first, my most significant conversations are with the Lord himself, listening for the Father’s heart, and tuning in to the Spirit. When I am attentive to what God is up to, and then begin to participate in a conversation with someone else, God does things I cannot explain, that only he can do, especially with regards to bringing sons of Abraham back home to the kingdom of God.

What conversations might you find yourself in the midst of today? What might the Lord be wanting to say to you about them? Is there some impossibility he wants to make possible he would like you to be a part of? May you attentively live each moment in the middle of all God is doing, surprised daily by the wonder of what Jesus does by his Spirit in the lives of those you invite with you into conversation.

Dear Father, thank you for inviting us into conversation with you through Jesus in the Spirit. Who might you want us to speak with today? What is it you are doing, and how is it you want us to join in? Grant us the grace to be ever attentive to you and to what you are doing and saying, that we may keep in step with you and be surprised by joy as you bring others back home to you. Amen.

“With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may bring to fruition your every desire for goodness and your every deed prompted by faith. We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.”          2 Thessalonians 1:(1–4), 11–12 NIV

“He entered Jericho and was passing through. And there was a man called by the name of Zaccheus; he was a chief tax collector and he was rich. Zaccheus was trying to see who Jesus was, and was unable because of the crowd, for he was small in stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree in order to see Him, for He was about to pass through that way.  When Jesus came to the place, He looked up and said to him, ‘Zaccheus, hurry and come down, for today I must stay at your house.’ And he hurried and came down and received Him gladly.  When they saw it, they all began to grumble, saying, ‘He has gone to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.’ Zaccheus stopped and said to the Lord, ‘Behold, Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because he, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.’ ”      Luke 19:1–10 NASB

[Printable copy: https://newhope4me.files.wordpress.com/2022/10/olitthe-power-of-conversation.pdf ]

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Standing in the Rain

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by Linda Rex

October 23, 2022, Proper 25—Several years ago, I took a brief trip to the community of Cherokee, North Carolina. My kids and I stayed at a cabin back in a beautiful glen in the Smoky Mountains. One morning I woke up to the sound of rain on the roof. I wrapped a blanket around myself and went to sit in a rocker on the porch.

There is something uniquely comforting and soothing about the sound of a gentle rain. The glen looked as though a cloud had descended, wrapping wreathes of wispy cotton candy around each tree and bush. The silence was almost sacred, as though the whole world had paused to take a breath. Soon everything was dripping with water, including the cattle in the field nearby, who were contentedly chewing their cuds.

One of the Psalms for this Sunday describes this gift from God (Psalm 65:9–11) and reminds us that God prepares the soil, softens it with rain, and prepares it so that it can begin to produce abundantly when the season comes for tilling and growing. And we rejoice when the result of God’s generous provision is an overwhelming harvest of good things.

Another passage for this Sunday, Joel 2:23–32, begins by describing how God would again provide the early and latter rains, making an abundant harvest possible. And then the prophet said that God would “pour out” his Spirit upon all mankind. He reiterated about the pouring out of God’s Spirit, affirming that all people of every status would be given this gift.

Where we are now on the Christian calendar, which is post-Pentecost, we are reminded of the gift we have been given of God’s indwelling presence by the Holy Spirit. Everyone of us has been included in Christ’s life, death, resurrection, and ascension, and by faith participates in Christ’s own relationship with his Father in the Spirit. The gift of the Spirit poured out for each and every person, flows down, in and around us alike a flood.

Jesus, in the passages prior to our gospel passage for today, Luke 18:9–14, told his disciples about his upcoming rejection and suffering. Then he told them that the day of the Son of man would be like the days of Noah. We find that Noah and his family survived because of God’s mercy, while everyone else was drowned in the flood waters. In a similar way, our flesh, with its accompanying evil, sin, and death, was drowned in the flood waters of Jesus’ death, and given new life in the dry land of his resurrection.

Jesus also used the example of Lot and his wife having to leave Sodom and Gomorrah. Like evil, sin, and death, these cities were consumed by the fire and brimstone sent by God. In the same way our old life was consumed by the fire of God’s love through Jesus’ sacrificial self-offering. Jesus said, “Whoever seeks to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it” (Luke 17:33 NASB). We do not want to look back to try to find our real life, but to move forward into the new life God created for us through his Son and by the Spirit.

In the gospel story for today, Jesus tells of a Pharisee and a publican. The Pharisee came to the temple to pray. He took up the appropriate stance, with hands up and eyes lifted to heaven, and began to enumerate to God all the reasons he was just in God’s sight. He thanked God for this, of course, but to emphasize how just he was in comparison, he pointed out the sinful publican.

The publican, on the other hand, stood at a distance, humbly and earnestly praying, asking God for mercy. He could not even lift his eyes up in the normal stance of a Jew—he didn’t feel worthy. The astonishing turn of events in this story is that this man, the publican who was doing everything “wrong” in his life, was the one who went home justified in the eyes of God.

Robert Capon, in his book Kingdom, Grace, Judgment, pointedly asks what God would do when the publican showed up the next week (Capon, 337ff.). What if he hadn’t changed at all, continuing in his selfish, greedy, and sinful lifestyle—would God forgive him again? Or is there a limit on what God would do? What if the publican suddenly changed everything and started living like the Pharisee—would that mean that he would not be justified before God as Jesus said the Pharisee wasn’t?

Shortly after this parable, Luke includes the story of the children coming to Jesus to be blessed. The Lord had to stop the disciples from preventing their approach, telling them that in order to inherit the kingdom of God, the disciples needed to become like little children. We like to keep things simple—he’s bad, she’s good, they’re not important, I am, I’m saved, he’s not. But that’s not the simplicity Jesus is looking for.

Then Jesus told a ruler who came to ask Jesus what he needed to do to inherit eternal life to sell all that he owned and to give it to the poor and needy, and to follow him. This man could not make that commitment, and so, walked away. When it came to keeping the law and following the demands of the synagogue and scripture, this ruler thought he had it made. But Jesus showed him this wasn’t enough. Apparently, Jesus set the bar so high, this ruler, and the disciples, couldn’t see any way over it. Jesus’ disciples asked Jesus how, then, anyone could possibly be saved. Jesus told them, “The things that are impossible with people are possible with God” (Luke 18:27 NASB). Then Jesus went back to preparing his disciples for his upcoming crucifixion and death, and subsequent resurrection.

Jesus’ death and resurrection are the interpretive key for this whole section of scripture. He wanted his disciples to understand that being justified before God is not something they could achieve by flawless performance or faithful adherence to pious practices. Jesus would pour himself out as a libation or poured out offering before God on our behalf, because of our rejection of him and our crucifixion of him. But Jesus did not remain in the grave—death had no hold on him. He rose and ascended, keeping his promise to send the Spirit, enabling us by faith to share in his own life in union and communion with the Father in the Spirit.

Jesus sent the Spirit, not so we could justify ourselves or do a better job of being Christians, but so that we may participate in his own life, his own death and resurrection. It is Christ’s life poured out so generously and freely into us by the Spirit who enables us to pour out freely and generously into others.

The apostle Paul described his life in service to God as being a poured-out libation, or liquid offering to God (2 Timothy 4:6–8). Like the man who was told to sell all he had and give it to the poor and needy, we each have some way in which Jesus has told us how to participate with him in death and resurrection, for the sake of others. This is almost always some way of laying down our lives which goes far beyond observing religious rules and rituals.

We don’t do this to justify ourselves or to make ourselves right with God, but simply as a participation in Christ’s own life in the Spirit. Christ lives in us by the Spirit, and leads us where he wants us to go. In Christ, we have died to our old life, and have been brought into Jesus’ own life in union and communion with his Father in the Spirit. What is Jesus doing in our world? How does he want us to join in? What does that look like for us?

This moves us way beyond the Pharisee and the publican in the temple praying, seeking their justification, each in their own way. Jesus brings both of them to the same place—at the foot of the cross—where they each are brought down into the reality of the consequences of evil and sin, which is death, and up into the consequences of Jesus’ poured out self-offering, which is eternal life, an undeserved but much-needed gift given to all humanity in the Spirit. This is a rain-enriched abundant harvest well worth celebrating.

Our loving Lord, thank you for sending us the early and latter rains, the abundant showers of your presence in the Spirit. Lord Jesus, flood us with your life and love; flow freely through us and from us, pouring yourself out into the lives of those around us, for the glory of the Father. Amen.

“He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: ‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.” But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”       Luke 18:9–14 NASB

[Printable copy: https://newhope4me.files.wordpress.com/2022/10/olitstanding-in-the-rain.pdf ]

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Faith and Persevering Prayer

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By Linda Rex

October 16, 2022, PROPER 24—Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about what it is that I really believe about God and his attitude towards me as one of his creatures. On a good day I believe God is loving, compassionate and kind, but on other days, I find myself responding to life and circumstances as though God is grumpy and wishes he hadn’t bothered with creating these annoying creatures, of which I am one.

Granted, when life isn’t going well and it seems as though my prayers are hitting the ceiling, it is easy to project onto God the face of the people in my life who have rejected or hurt me when I failed to measure up to their expectations. When God doesn’t answer my prayers in the way I expect, or doesn’t seem to care when I am struggling and barely getting by, it’s very easy to believe that God is indifferent or even angry with me for some reason.

As I was putting together the study questions for this Sunday, I was reminded that my inner view of God and his attitude toward me directly impacts how I pray to him, or if I even pray to him at all. Of course, I wouldn’t pray at all if I didn’t believe there was a God to pray to. And I wouldn’t even try to pray to the God there is, if I believed he didn’t want to hear what I had to say. What would be the point?

But there are times when what’s in my heart, what I’d really like to say to him, I’m really not sure he would want to hear. What if all I want to do is yell at him and tell him how disappointed I am in him? Would that even be appropriate? Actually, I know that it is—I know that God wants to hear my all prayers, and treasures and protects my heart, but at times it’s just easy to question whether I can simply be real with God and to not be open with him.

Right before the passage for today in Luke 18:1-8, Jesus was talking with his disciples about things having to do with his death and resurrection, and with his second coming. He began to tell a story to help them be encouraged to always pray and to not lose heart. Like when he told the story of the dishonest manager, Jesus used a negative character, an unrighteous judge.

A widow, someone who would have been considered vulnerable and helpless, approached the judge and asked him to defend her against her opponent, who apparently was taking advantage of her. The judge, being a godless and irreverent man, refused to help her. The widow in Jesus’ story continued to go back to the judge and plead for him to assist her. Eventually the judge said to himself, “I could care less about what God or anyone else thinks, but if I don’t do something soon, she’s might give me a black eye!” So, he interceded on her behalf, simply to avoid any more harassment from her.

In contrast to the unrighteous judge in this story, Jesus said that his Father would “bring about justice for his elect who cry to Him day and night.” He said that God’s intent was to help right away and not to delay his response. God isn’t indifferent or insensitive to what is going on in our lives. But then Jesus said, “when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?”

At first glance, it may seem a little off for Jesus to ask this question. But really, it goes back to story and the point he had been trying to make. What we believe about who God is does affect how we approach him in prayer. Do we believe God is listening and wants to hear what we have to say? Do we believe God has our best interests in mind? Do we believe that when God doesn’t seem to answer that there may be a good reason for it, and that it’s not because he doesn’t care or that he’s condemning us? In Christ, our relationship with God is secure enough that we can be frank and real and open with him. But are we?

Who is this Son of Man who is coming again one day? And what kind of God is this that will be intervening in human affairs when Jesus returns? These are critical thoughts we need to wrestle with—is the God who will return to restore all things when Jesus returns a punitive, indifferent God or is he a God who bears our flawed human flesh which he himself took through death into resurrection and ascension? Is this Son of Man a God who is only interested in destroying “bad” people or is he the God who is once and for all removing from our total human existence all evil, sin, and death, and making everything right?

God’s intent and purpose in Christ is to renew all things and to bring all of us into right relationship with himself. If God is for us, who can be against us? He loves us and wants us to participate with him in this process, and one of the ways we do that is in prayer. Effective prayer doesn’t begin with us, but within the inner life of loving relationship between the Father and the Son in the Spirit. By the Spirit, Jesus shares with us the heart of the Father, then we are moved to pray, and our prayers back to God are lifted by Jesus in the Spirit to the Father, made exactly what they need to be in each moment.

As we participate with the Father and Son in the Spirit in what they are up to in the world, we pray. We may not see the results we think need to be happening, but realizing that prayer is birthed within the Trinity, we can trust that God is still at work in the situation and is bringing about what is best for all involved. So, we continue to pray—persevere—having faith that our trustworthy God isn’t going to let us down. We keep in close relationship with God because he loves us and is including us in what he is doing in the world, and we want to see things from his point of view and have his heart about it all. Jesus is entirely sure the Father will do what is needed and his faith poured into our hearts by the Spirit enables us to trust the Father as well, and encourages us to keep praying.

Jesus sent the Spirit from the Father so that each of us can experience life in relationship with God and be a part of what God is doing in this world. When we need faith and we need the ability to endure or persevere, we look to Jesus, who is the source of everything we need for life and godliness. Jesus himself is the source of the faith he is looking for—a gift which comes to each of us in the Spirit. Prayer is one way in which we actively participate in the wonderful relationship God has given us through Jesus in the Spirit. And faith in our trustworthy God is a gift Jesus gives us to enable us to persevere when it seems that no answer is coming.

Thank you, heavenly Father, for including us in your inner relationship with Jesus in the Spirit. Thank you for your gift of faith and enabling us to participate in all you are doing through prayer. Grant us the grace to persevere in prayer, especially when there seems to be no hope. Our hope and faith are in you alone, through Jesus and by your Spirit. Amen.

“Now He was telling them a parable to show that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart, saying, ‘In a certain city there was a judge who did not fear God and did not respect man. There was a widow in that city, and she kept coming to him, saying, “Give me legal protection from my opponent.” For a while he was unwilling; but afterward he said to himself, “Even though I do not fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow bothers me, I will give her legal protection, otherwise by continually coming she will wear me out.” ’ And the Lord said, ‘Hear what the unrighteous judge said; now, will not God bring about justice for His elect who cry to Him day and night, and will He delay long over them? I tell you that He will bring about justice for them quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?’ ”       Luke 18:1–8 NASB

[Printable copy: https://newhope4me.files.wordpress.com/2022/10/olitfaith-and-persevering-prayer.pdf ]