Jesus 101

This post has been developing into a book! I have spent a great deal of time reading and researching massive amounts of material concerning the hatred and violence we have been witnessing for so long, not just on January 6, 2021. It began long before Donald Trump and those who monitor it, such as the Southern Poverty Law Center, warn that it is getting worse. https://www.splcenter.org/hatewatch

While watching the violence escalate that day something shook me to my core. Since then, I have sat with, prayed about, and reaffirmed my deepest beliefs about who Jesus is, who I am as a professed follower of him, who my neighbor is, and who we are as a country.

It has been messy and fluid with so many nuances but here we go.

This is a thought process that I began for my own understanding and sanity…mostly sanity, because trying to know anything concerning God and the way he operates, without any doubts, can be likened to figuring out how birds know I just washed my car!

The need to know, to understand, presupposes that somehow, someway, we can reason this out. Like when Jesus asked his disciples “Who do you say I am?” – that was not an academic question. It will not be satisfied by any amount of head knowledge. It is answered by first falling on our knees in awe and reverence before the magnificence that is God’s love on full display in the life of Jesus. That’s a great start, but, it can’t stop there. And that’s the rub. We want it to stop before that. Let’s just go to church – get our cards punched –done – go home and watch football. But, Jesus never said, “Worship me”, he said “Follow me”. OUCH!

 You may not agree with me when it’s all said and done and that’s fine. These are just my thoughts not any attempt to coerce or judge anyone who differs. If we were all meant to be robots marching lock-step through this life God could have easily made that happen. Although, I wonder if, for his own sanity, he may now regret not doing that!

Anyway, I believe it is incumbent upon each of us to decide; to take a stand once and for all. To not be afraid of what others will think or say about us. Rather be afraid of not being the person we claim to be only when others are watching. We should be more concerned that God is watching! And I am betting that it’s not the god who keeps a running total of our church attendance and tithing spreadsheet. That would be a shallow, small-minded, authoritarian god who is out to get you if you make one wrong move.

The God I’m going to stick with tells us through the uncompromising words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 13: 1-13, spoken to the hard-headed Corinthians. I know these are verses we have heard so often our eyes glaze over. So, perhaps reading them again, slowly, one at a time, picturing all the hatred and violence we are witnessing we could see them as God intended:  

 If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 

Love is patient.

Love is kind.

It does not envy.

It does not boast.

It is not proud. 

It does not dishonor others.

It is not self-seeking.

It is not easily angered.

It keeps no record of wrongs. 

Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.

It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is…following the “rules” some guys made up over beers in a bar…wait…no…that’s not it…sorry. Just seeing if you’re still there.

“The greatest of these is love”.

From where I stand, it seems to have come down to two options if I claim to be a Christian: Either I stand with the Jesus who loves or the Jesus who hates.

I once would have said there was a third option of neutrality, but, not anymore. Too much is at stake. God is adamant about it when he says, “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” (Rev 3:16) Ewwwww…nothing ambiguous here.

Let’s say you agree that you need to decide where you stand and why. The “why” is critical. I believe  stopping short of fully embracing your “why” leaves you wobbly and vulnerable to anyone who can shove you off-balance. Believe me; I have had that happen more times in my life than I care to admit.

So, this is where I landed: As a Christian, I am compelled to consider my life and purpose from my essence, my very being, where God resides.  How I live that life, if I own up to being a follower of Jesus, is to manifest his love in every moment and with every decision.

Not that seeing the hatred spewed by those who profess Jesus is anything new, but it has challenged me to look honestly at how I am living my life in light of Jesus’ words to his disciples, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35) I believe at times we all need a wake-up call because too often we simply muddle through our days numb to what we’re even doing here.

And so, as I see it, the most important question to begin with must be: Just who is this Jesus I claim to follow? I think it’s fair to say that one of Western Christianity’s most espoused and fervent beliefs is that Jesus is the Answer. But, are we asking the right question?

Up next: Jesus is the Answer

Jesus: The Man; the Legend

It’s a shame that Gandhi, Buddha and all their followers are in, or headed to, hell. So say many Christians. What do you believe? What do I believe? People who profess to be Christian surely have a sacred calling. Scripture tells us so. If that’s true – what is it? Is it to announce the luck of the draw for members in an exclusive club with the secret handshake and a never to expire ticket to heaven, or to announce the bad news of condemnation and the hell-bound destiny of all those tough-luck-for-you-non-Christians? Over all my seventy-two years, I have probably accepted, without question, those beliefs more than I care to admit.

This post is my attempt, as feeble as it is, to offer a very different possibility of what Christianity means to me. Though it is different than what so many have come to embrace, it is actually what the first Christians believed about themselves as followers of Jesus. You may agree or you may not. Either way, this is where I have landed after many years of struggling with and contemplating my ongoing journey of faith, anger, falls from grace, brokenness and healing – all in one day sometimes. My very being has been squeezed through the wringer, patched together, taped up and super-glued so often I look like Humpty Dumpty! 

This post has been difficult and challenging for me to write. It has developed through months of witnessing the continued dumpster fires of 2020. In particular, the ugliness, anger, hatred and violence that seem to have rendered many of us oblivious to the suffering of so many innocent people, children in particular. They have just become collateral damage in this war – and it is a war – a spiritual war.

But, what has endured through it all for me are the words of wisdom and encouragement of those I quote in this post. Those folks that I consider to be outstanding voices and true examples of what it means to be a follower of a Holy, Magnificent, All-Loving God of every single messy one of us! Every one! You will see a lot of italics within the following quotes. They are all my doing! They have powerfully pierced my heart and uplifted my soul. They have reminded me and given me new hope that the God I love; have always deeply loved even when I often lose sight of him, has never changed. He is certain and immovable even when we have tried so desperately to change him to suit our egocentristic selves in moments of darkness and uncertainty.

I have been in that place more often than I can count. But, I do not want to be stuck there again. I recognized that god-awful place where it seemed to be easier for me to default to taking sides and raising my own fist against those I disagree with than to follow in the footsteps of those I so admire: Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and, of course, at the top of that list, the One we all should be emulating – Jesus. Even Gandhi liked Jesus and learned from his life. He loved the Sermon on the Mount! And yet, it’s very telling that he once remarked, “I like your Christ, but not your Christianity.” Ouch!

Vance Morgan helped clarify my struggles to define how “Christianity” applies to me today.  What is that “new way of life” I am called to?:

 “I don’t believe Christianity can be packaged in a doctrinal statement at all. Jesus did not come to establish a new set of beliefs. Jesus came to show us a new way of life, a new way of being in the world and with that which is greater than us.

Seek to discover how the heart of the gospel is relevant to and can be lived out in our contemporary world. Choosing to understand Christianity as something that one lives rather than something that one believes is, of course, problematic for those whose Christianity is more about orthodoxy (what you believe) than about orthopraxy (what you do).”

Getting unstuck.

I believe the most critical questions for me to address have welled up from the deepest part of my being. They are: (1) how did we get here? And (2) how can we possibly move forward with any semblance of self and care and compassion for each other?  These questions have required more soul-searching and truth-telling than I have ever been willing to engage in for any length of time. Questions I have touched on, danced around, and often ignored for fear of what the answers might require of me. I will admit that God has had to drag me here kicking and screaming; lovingly and patiently loosening my clenched fists from my arrogance and ignorance.

So, here we go.

Addressing these questions begins and ends with Jesus.  Who was he? What was he doing here? And how in the world have we forgotten?

Before attending Aquinas Institute in 2006, I believed, without question, what I was told to believe by the church. For three years, my professors challenged my blind faith and lovingly confronted me with words I can still hear, “How do you know that, Linda?” – a question that I was only able to respond to with, “I don’t know”. Before that adventure I would never have considered these historical facts presented by Dr. Carl Krieg in Progressing Spirit10/15/2020, Racism, How Did We Get Here:

Speculation about who Jesus was and who he thought he was, begins in the New Testament itself. Layer upon layer was added to the original story and what we have today in the Christian Writings is far removed from the initial encounter between Jesus and the disciples.

It was not until 325 CE that the Council of Nicaea concluded, under imperial pressure, that Jesus was God. It was in 451, at Chalcedon, that the church threw up its hands and confessed that it had no idea how Jesus could be both God and man. The contemporaries of Jesus confronted no such issues. For them, Jesus was a man, but a man like no other, a man who presented to them who they were and could become. All the disciples knew was that Jesus empowered them to discover the truth of their humanity.

The original story of Jesus and his followers has been transformed into a story alien to what he intended and what they experienced. We now have someone born of a virgin who dies for our sins, appeasing an angry god, who will come in the future to judge all who have ever lived, and whose power is now controlled by the church (this is so critical to understand).

The good news is that this is not really who we are. None of us. Jesus showed us that, and we all know it in our hearts, in the depths of our being. The truth of our humanity, manifest in Jesus, requires that we dismantle the egocentricity that encapsulates us so that we can reconnect with ourselves, with one another and with God. Clearly what’s required is to rediscover the Jesus story.”

The truth of who Jesus was and who we are as God’s beloved may be lost to us in the West, but it has not been lost to so many in other countries who have long risked their lives and are still today being martyred for their faith. The numbers are staggering!

Consider these startling statistics on Christian persecution compiled by Open Doors USA.org:

Every day, 8 Christians worldwide are killed because of their faith.

Every week, 182 churches or Christian buildings are attacked.

Every month, 309 Christians are imprisoned unjustly.

The listed nations comprise 260 million Christians suffering high to severe levels of persecution, up from 245 million in last year’s list.

We can’t imagine any of this can we?  People are literally dying for their faith while we rearrange deck chairs on the Titanic. Brilliant! Yeah us! Speaking the truth to power doesn’t often end well. But, in the immortal words of Saint Mother Theresa, “Do it anyway”.

Nothing in scripture tells us that Jesus, or any of his followers would die for the belief of those Christians today who condemn non-Christians to hell or proclaim some sort of special status for themselves. Rob Bell in his powerful book, “Love Wins” says:

“Jesus talked about hell to the people who considered themselves “in,” warning them that their hard hearts were putting their “in-ness” at risk, reminding them that whatever “chosen- ness” or “election” meant, whatever special standing they believed they had with God was always, only, ever about their being the kind of transformed, generous, loving people through whom God could show the world what God’s love looks like in flesh and blood.”  

And if that’s not enough, here’s another stark and uncomfortable reminder for us comphy, cozy American Christians in our watered down, lukewarm faith. You know, the faith that Jesus railed against? (Rev. 3:15-16). Whew…yeah, that one’s way too awkward! Let’s just skip over it. Surely, he didn’t mean it. He was probably just having a bad day…maybe too much caffeine. (But, I digress.)

Here’s another powerful article by Jeremy Weber that should cause some serious squirming in the pews. If there’s anyone left in the pews:

No Cheeks Left to Turn:

In America can I hate you for your faith? Absolutely. Can I practice my faith openly? Yes. And do I do that without fear of persecution or violence against me? Many Christians live in countries where gathering for church is illegal. They are forced to live their faith behind closed doors; in secret. The consequences are dire if they get caught: imprisonment, persecution, violence, beheadings, and death. One American pastor retold his story of visiting an underground church that villagers walked miles to attend in a country in Asia. He sat with them as they recounted with tears flowing what following Christ meant to their very existence. But, they did it; week in and week out, knowing full well they were risking their lives for Christ. Teenagers determined to share the love of Christ with others would say goodbye to their parents when they left their homes knowing they may not return.

And, here we are, in America with our comfortable lavish multimillion-dollar churches, many now half full. They live a radical and dangerous faith, while we settle for a comfortable, feel-good experience. We demand certitude in our beliefs and our dogmas, while they risk danger and uncertainty to follow Christ just as he calls us all to do, “If you want to be my disciple, pick up your cross and follow me.” But, we want to ignore the “pick up your cross” part. We prefer the easy way: Drop to your knees, bow your head, pray this prayer, sign your commitment card and you’re in our exclusive club full of perks, not the least of which is a direct ticket to heaven as you kick the lost and suffering to the curb on the way.”(OUCH AGAIN!)

https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2018/november/nigeria-fulani-boko-haram-no-cheeks-left-to-turn.html

Jesus said abandon your possessions (Matt. 19:21) – we try to dicker, “Ummm, how about if I sell one mink coat, or one car. No? Okay, this is killing me, but how about if I sell one condo and then donate a few dollars to charity? Will that get me a ticket to heaven? Come on, cut me some slack, Lord!”

Jesus said abandon family and friends (Luke 14:25-27) – instead we cling to them and turn our backs on those not like us.

Jesus said abandon your very self (Matt. 16:24) – we might lay one bad habit down. But give up all our “stuff” – all our striving for power and influence – all our dreams of fame and fortune? No way!

There it is. We have just watered Jesus down and settled him into our comfort zone rendering him mediocre – right along with God. Hmmmm, sorta like us. But, what have we lost in the process? I can easily imagine, but dread to think, that I could one day say the same thing as Tolstoy’s character Ivan Ilyich said on his deathbed, “What if my whole life has been wrong.”

Bishop John Shelby Spong says, “I hope I never disparage or look down on the way any person journeys into the mystery and wonder of God. I do not want to be against any religion. I want to walk beyond all religions, even my own, in my lifetime quest for the truth of God that all of us can only ‘see through a glass darkly’”. Bishop Spong has taught me so much about true faith! Here is another example of things we profess about Jesus, that have no basis in fact. If you care to read further: https://mailchi.mp/6447ab6ffa68/getting-beyond-the-usual-giving-birth-to-jesus-in-the-2020s-760564?e=8b67574a56

Steven Weinberg reminds us that, “With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.”

Why do we stay stuck in doctrines and dogmas? Because it’s safe. But, is that actually what God wants? Is that what Jesus, and so many others died for? So, it appears there are two options to consider: Would I march myself into martyrdom for a doctrine created long ago by a church seeking control of its people? Or would I commit to an unwavering faith in the God who makes no demands for allegiance, but simply and profoundly speaks within the depth of our hearts and calls us all to love; to show compassion and care for others, no matter the cost? I want to be counted among the latter. Thanks.

Kevin G. Forrester, Ph.D. speaks of maturing in faith, “…while your “belief” in antiquated teachings is diminishing, at the same time your authentic faith is maturing. And maturation, whenever and however it occurs, involves “loss” of what we have previously taken ourselves to be.”

From the book “Holy Rascals”, “The God that can be branded is not the true God. Our job isn’t to dethrone the emperor, only to point out that the emperor has no clothes. Our task isn’t to banish the Great and Terrible Wizard, only to reveal that the Land of Oz is run by a small man with a large megaphone.”

In the words Mirabai Starr:

We are conditioned to treat the spiritual life as another commodity, rather than as a discipline of inner transformation with a corresponding commitment to alleviating suffering in the world.

The sacred scriptures of all faiths call us to love as we have never loved before. This requires effort, vigilance, and radical humility. This is the narrow gate Jesus speaks about… mutual dedication to lovingkindness as the highest expression of faith.

The call does not come softly. It bangs the shutters of your heart and wakes you from a deep sleep. You have no choice but to respond.

This faith is not predicated on belief. It is informed by experience….with an ongoing encounter with the Mystery….it is a direct engagement with the roots of poverty, a willingness to sacrifice our own comfort for the well-being of someone else, an unqualified identification with those on the margins and a wholehearted effort to bring everyone home to the table of the Holy One.”

So, here I stand naked and humbled before God. As uncomfortable as that may seem, it is far more desirable than sleep-walking through this one, short, marvelous life we have been given.

The experience of my seventy-second birthday a couple of weeks ago was more profound than even life’s typical milestones some call “rites of passage”. Like sixteen when I smoked in front of my dad for the first time. Guess he was just tired of me stealing his cigarettes and since I now had a job I could buy my own. Not sure how that stacks up with being allowed to wear makeup or going on a first date. It simply paved the way for a swifter road to possible lung cancer. But who thinks about that at sixteen? At twenty-one, I could discard the fake ID I had already used for a few years to get drunk. Now I would remain drunk and stupefied for years! Woohoo!

As you may have deduced by now there have been few birthdays for me that became Kodak moments. With the exception of this last one. Hopefully not last as in LAST. But, that’s the final point I want to make here. If this past year has not impacted me any other way it has reminded me of what’s really important, because I often forget that we have no guarantees in this life. And God is going to be VERY disappointed if, for whatever time I have remaining that I have not left this world better in some way for my having been here. Thankfully, there’s still time as long as I am breathing.

At the end of my life I DO NOT want to be reminded of these profound words by Gian Carlo Menotti, “Hell begins on the day when God grants us a clear vision of all that we might have achieved, of all the gifts which we have wasted, of all that we might have done which we did not do.”

I would prefer to dust myself off, let go of the negativity of 2020, and embrace these thoughts to empower my every action from here on out. Because every day is a new day. Every dayI am a new creation in Christ. Every day I can here God say to me, “Okay, Linda, let’s try this love thing again.”

Richard Rohr says it beautifully, not that God doesn’t (sorry, Lord), “We must re-teach all things their loveliness. That could be your one and only life calling!”  

Howard Thurman tells us:  “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

The beginning of my quest for truth came with my willingness to question what I believed about who God was, who Jesus was, who I was and who my neighbor was. Dag Hammarskjold said, “The longest journey is the journey inwards. Of him who has chosen his destiny, who has started upon his quest for the source of his being.”

Well, alrighty then…that was fun! Are you still here?

Let me leave you with my favorite prayer of blessing and this awesome song by Casting Crowns as we prepare for Christmas. I pray for God’s blessings for you and your loved ones during this season of remembrance. This time of renewal and commitment to love God and each other!

“The Lord bless you and keep you; The Lord make His face shine upon you,
and be gracious to you; The Lord lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace.”
  (Numbers 6:24-26)

Passion, Purpose and Poopyheads

Life sometimes seems like a “Comedy of Errors” from our very first breath. You probably expected something very different while you were being formed in that cozy little B&B. You’re all comfy in there aren’t you? Floating around getting all your needs met. It’s pretty sweet. Except for those damn hiccups; people poking on you and trying to have a conversation with you right in the middle of your nap. But, then the party’s over. Without any warning, whoosh, out’cha go there little feller. You get flipped on your head and slapped silly by a perfect stranger. All the while, you’re thinking this is not what the brochures promised!

I have fourteen grandkids and at last count fifteen great-grandkids. I am always awe-struck at the sight of babies. They show-up all fresh and new; a clean slate. Well, they do have all that slimy stuff all over them, true, but, it washes off.

And then, life happens.

Good grief life can be a shit-storm some days can’t it? It really wasn’t meant to be that way you know. Long before we set one teeny foot into this world, God had our life all figured out. He gave us a big hug and a heart bursting with love and passion for all creation that we were meant to share. That was our purpose: To use the gifts he gave each of us to share his love. After all the work of creating us in his image (remember that for later), He kicked back, patted himself on the back and proclaimed to himself, “Yep, it’s all good!”

Then, it all went side-ways.

Maybe a parent failed us, a friend betrayed us, a cheating spouse or a devastating illness smacked us silly. Then, just for good measure, throw in our own missteps and sinfulness. All of which helped to build a wall around our fragile hearts that God can’t even penetrate. That wall is also fortified by a culture that worships independence, self-sufficiency, and self-promotion. We grow further and further from God’s intended purpose for us and we lose our way. The world does not offer us choices that are meant to fulfill our lives we simply learn how to climb into the least leaky boat.

If we dare step back, take a deep breath, and pay attention, the emptiness is almost palatable. If it wasn’t meant to be that way how did we end up here? Well, somewhere along the way we forgot who and Whose we were.

Being indoctrinated into “religion” only made it worse. We forgot that Jesus’ whole purpose was to remind us once again of the love of God, the desire of God for relationship with us, the longing of God for us to share that love with a broken world. But, we forgot. We got lost in the “rules” and fell asleep. 

Oh sure, there are times when we get some crazy notion that we are here for a reason. We start beating our chest determined to face our fears, stand down the bullies in our lives, and our own shadow. But, it doesn’t seem to last long. We fizzle out for any number of reasons: Confusion, fear, lack of trust in ourselves, that stupid poopyhead that keeps showing up uninvited to the party, or that damn zombie apocalypse in our heads (you know that’s not real, right?)!

Well, crap!

But hey, if it’s any consolation, just think about the hand-picked bunch of misfits Jesus had to deal with! Allow me to paint a picture for you. Better still, stick yourself in this moment. You’re Simon Peter at the Last Supper. Now, don’t get all gender specific on me, just indulge me okay?

Anyway, everyone’s enjoying fellowship and a great meal. You start to take an extra helping of mashed potatoes with a big slab of butter. Yum. But, just as you’re about to dig in, Jesus turns to you and asks a question that seems to come out of nowhere, “Simon Peter, do you love me?”

You, “What?! Seriously? Of course I love you” you say as you go back to stuffing your face (by the way, you should seriously cut back on those carbs).

Jesus, “Feed my sheep”.

You nod.

But, you barely get that spoonful of lusciousness to your mouth when Jesus asks again, “Simon Peter, do you love me?”

You’re flabbergasted and your potatoes are getting cold. “Yes, Lord, I do. I swear (oops)!”

“Where is this coming from?” you mumble under your breath.

Jesus, unrelenting, “Feed my lambs”.

You scratch your head, but get lost in – drum roll please – dessert. OMG! Your favorite, apple pie ala mode! You grab the server before she gets away and ask for an extra scoop. You start to dig in, and….yep…

There he is in your face, “Simon Peter, one last time, are you sure you love me?” Now, in all fairness, it’s understandable why Jesus keeps asking you that since, well, you did run and hide when it all got too scary for you. But, you’re about to lose it anyway, “Why do you keep asking me that same question? Yes, yes, yes, I love you!”

Then, without responding, Jesus stands up, goes to the window and pulls back the curtain. “Simon Peter, come here.”

“Oh man”, you groan. Great, now your ice cream is going to melt. Everyone else is finished and the server comes to clear the table, “Don’t take this”, you say, “I’ll be right back”! You walk to the window.

Jesus, “Simon Peter, look outside. What do you see?”

At this point you get a little snarky: “I see trees of green, red roses too, I see them bloom for me and you, And I think to myself what a wonderful world.”

Jesus, “Oh, for Heaven’s sake! You don’t see that mother crying as she holds her starving child? You don’t see the beggar everyone is ignoring? You don’t see the broken humanity right outside this window?”

You swallow hard because you sense your moment of reckoning is here.

Jesus, Three times I called you to feed my sheep and three times you chose to feed yourself instead. You give lip service to my call to care for those who hunger and in the same breath claim to love me.”

Hopefully, this is where you pass on the dessert and get your sorry self out there doing what really matters like you were supposed to all along. But, how do you do that? That, my friend, is a good question. It was supposed to have been answered by your Kindergarten teacher when you were learning “This little light of mine”. Unless, of course, you were a public school kid like me. Okay, then, maybe you began to learn it in Sunday school. Unless you were a heathen like me. Then, there’s the possibility your dear granny sat you on her knee (before knee surgery) and taught you all about Jesus’ love. Unless your granny was a heathen too.

I think we were set-up too when the Church decided to take control by creating lots of rules to keep us in line. It worked for a while, actually a very long while. But then people got smart and tired of “rules” that couldn’t fill the void. The latest study from Pew Research can attest to that fact, even if the churches have decided to ignore it. The study shows 23% of Americans, mostly millennials, self- identify as “nones”: atheists, agnostics, or “nothing in particular” (whatever that means). And, the numbers are growing.

Even older folks are just showing up to get their cards punched. They shake the Pastor’s hand and lie about how good his sermon was (if they stay that long), then grab a bulletin to prove to anyone who might care that they were there. Done for another week or two, or maybe till Easter. 

Where did we ever get the notion that the narrow definition of religion was going to get us anywhere meaningful? There are actually several definitions of “religion”. The etymology of the word is often times connected with religare “to bind fast”. Great! What image does that conjure up for you?

Then, as if that isn’t enough to render anyone a total numbasille (I just made that up. Spellcheck doesn’t like it, but I think it works), we have the “stories” in the Bible. I know, we could debate all day long, because people do, about whether or not the “stories” are factual or myth. You’ll have to decide that one for yourself. (If you would like some help with that read anything by John Shelby Spong. I wouldn’t share that one with your grandma!)

Let’s look at just two that I have a real problem with: Adam and his accomplice/wife Eve. We’re told that Adam and Eve set us up for failure. No sense trying to be good. That’s a lesson in futility because, well, we can’t be “good”. It’s called “Original Sin”. It’s like a hereditary disease. We all have it and there’s no cure for it. (Believe me, if the pharmaceutical companies could come up with a pill for it they would have long ago!)

“I’ve got you now you wretched little creature!” (Not sure how the Scripture verse that says we were made in God’s image reconciles with that, but there it is.) Yep, like the Elf-on-the Shelf, he watches our every move, just waiting for us to screw up. I mean really. He was lurking around in the garden while they tried to hide, but he caught em’.

adam-and-eve-hiding-1

“I can see you, Adam.”

“No you can’t.”

“Yeah, I’m pretty sure I can.”

Then, there’s that whole burning bush thing. Do you think for one minute that wasn’t a set up for Moses? “Come on out God we know you’re hiding in there waiting to pounce on our slightest indiscretion. That’s sneaky. No one likes a sneak!”

Sorry, I just can’t believe in that kind of God. It’s more that we have turned our backs on Him and our full potential, our purpose, our call to love beyond measure.

Somewhere along life’s journey we are supposed to grow into the person we were created to be. But, we got hornswaggled by the lies. And, unfortunately, it isn’t going to happen on its own.

And don’t think for a moment that it’s just you. People who seem to have everything, are hungry for that something “more” just like the rest of us. Deep within every one of us is a longing for purpose. But, we can spend a life-time raking the muck this way and that in our foolish efforts to figure it out.

I think our world today has successfully sucked the life out of anyone who believes for one minute that we are here for more than accumulating fake friends on FB, making lots of money, having the newest iPhone, or investing in the latest miracle weight loss cure. And for what?

Get up. Do life. Go to bed. Repeat.

We have all been given a purpose in this life, the passion to fulfill it, and lots of poopyheads along the way intent on screwing it all up!

The truth of our very existence has been stifled, stuffed away, and rendered irrelevant right along with God and all that matters for humankind. But, I believe “religion” became something long ago that God never intended. For so long, if we stuck with it we learned to stay within our comfortable unquestioned faith because to do otherwise was just too daunting. Religion became empty and void of meaning. And when young people came along who were not afraid to ask the hard questions and were not content with the canned answers the Church offered they left in droves, and they’re still leaving.

So, what is my purpose? – you ask. Why am I here? Good question and one that is asked over and over again when the answer is really quite simple. Our struggle is embedded in worldly pursuits that ultimately bring us to a dead-end. We want life on our terms. We don’t want to struggle, we don’t want to suffer, and we damn sure don’t want to encounter anyone else’s suffering. We have enough to deal with trying to stand out in this dog-eat-dog world: An impressive degree, the next promotion, a face life, the biggest house, exotic vacations with pictures to prove it. I could go on. The point is that none of it offers fulfillment that lasts. Striving for more, paradoxically, leaves us emptier and hungrier. If we could just realize that hunger will never be filled with anything this world has to offer. NEVER.

Consider this: If someone approached you and demanded everything you have accumulated and cling to or they will kill you right where you stand, what would you be willing to die for? Any of it? Or would you quickly, without hesitating, had over your wallet, credit cards, and keys to that new car? I’m guessing you would. I would!

Martin Luther King said, “If a man has not found something worth dying for, he is not fit to live.” Ouch! So, the question then becomes, what is worth dying for? I have a one word answer. Ready? Love.

There it is.

I don’t know about you, but my most profound moments of clarity are at funerals when I do a life review. If funerals don’t cause us to evaluate our own existence, I don’t know what will. We may still be standing at the grave site when the questions surface: Do I matter? Have I value? What is my legacy? Will anyone care when I’m gone? Do I really have a purpose? What have I done to make the world a better place? Will I have to eat that crappy potato salad at the luncheon again? (Oh, sorry, I digress)

Sometimes funerals can cause us to throw up our hands and proclaim, like Macbeth after the death of his wife, “Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
signifying nothing.”

Oh joy.

But wait, look closer at the life Macbeth lived:

(1) He was evil.

(2) He believed three witches who told him he would be King of Scotland.

(3) Egged on by his equally evil wife, Lady Macbeth, he kills the king to become the new king.

Oh it gets better.

(4) He continues his killing spree out of fear that he can’t hold on to his power.

(5) A war erupts to overthrow Macbeth, resulting in more death.

(6) Lady Macbeth eventually kills herself.

(7) Macbeth gets himself beheaded.

The End.

Macbeth was bamboozled by witches because they offered him certainty that he would get what he wanted: Power and fame. He really was an idiot. Look at his motives because this is where we take a deep dive into God vs. the world. This might be pretty heavy stuff so buckle up, dear ones.

Today, we too want absolute certitude that what we are after is real. Faith is a calculated risk, but we don’t like risk even if there is a high degree of probability. It’s too iffy. No thanks. Which I find pretty amusing considering the things some people will do for “fun”. Like, I don’t know: Jumping off buildings, scaling walls, motorcycle stunts! And that’s not risky??

A shaky questioning faith might be less cut and dry than mindlessly following a set of rules.  It may be more uncontrollable and mysterious than what you have ever experienced, but that is what will bring you into the presence of Love and the very essence of God.

What’s the difference between unquestioned faith and allowing life to run rough-shod over us while we sit in the middle of the road? You may not have been told this but you’re allowed to wrestle with God; to question the reason for the suffering and heartache in the world. You can tackle the very struggles within yourself that you have never thought you could bring to him. God’s tough. Trust me. He can take it.

I got so angry with him during a very difficult time in my life, I cried and shook my finger at Him, “God, if you love me so much where were you when my mother was abusing me?!” I ranted on and on about all the suffering he allowed in my life. And what I got back from him was not a lightning strike which I was prepared for, but a gentle loving response that unsettled the very core of my being. “Linda, I did not abandon you during that time. I suffered along with you. My heart ached for you. I have lovingly, sorrowfully, held your tears. But, the choices people make are beyond my control. I’m truly sorry. But, you, my dearest daughter, have also sinned and fallen short. Even then, I never have I stopped loving you. I’m just waiting for you to trust me and start loving me. Then, your healing will start and you will be able to forgive those who hurt you.”

You see, there are no church “rules” or dogmas that will ever bring us into that kind of deep abiding relationship with God, which, in turn will shine a light on our purpose in life. It is what we call “experiencing” God. Until we can let go of our need to “know” that God is real, we will never allow ourselves to open our hearts to experiencing Him.  It’s that simple and that critical. It’s no more complicated or profound than that!

That is Good News!

William O’Malley nailed it when he said, “Genuine religion begins – not as it did for most of us, with indoctrination and imposing worship but with a personally captivating experience, a “sense” of the numinous, a presence larger than the capacities of this world to produce.”

Frederick Buechner once wrote, “The grace of God means something like: Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are because the party wouldn’t have been complete without you.”

YOU HAVE TO KNOW THAT YOU MATTER!

That is what John Eldredge tells us, “If we could believe that about our lives, and come to know that is true, everything would change. We would be so much more able to interpret the events unfolding around us, against us. We would discover the task that is ours alone to fulfill. We would find our courage. The hour is late, and you are needed. So much hangs in the balance. Where is your heart?”

Alrighty then, I’m done, and if I didn’t lose you long ago I would like to offer you one last thing to contemplate before I go: Which of these scenarios would most likely bring you right to the heart of this very critical moment of truth, the deepest question of our existence?

  1. All your years growing up, you were drug to “church”. Parents started it: “Get up, clean up, sit quietly, don’t touch your brother, and act like this isn’t the most boring thing in your life! Then you’ll get donuts.” Then teachers of “religion” stepped in: “Memorize all the sins that will send you straight to hell: Miss one Mass – straight to hell. Think those dirty thoughts – straight to hell. Do not pass “GO” do not collect $200.” In short order “that little light of yours” has been snuffed out!

2. Every day you encounter Someone (guess who) doing things that draw you to him: Feeding the hungry, comforting the dying, kissing the leper, dining with prostitutes and beggars. He is so sincere and passionate about what he is doing that something incredible reaches deep down into the very core of your being and you can’t shake it. You are awe-struck, probably for the first time in your life, and you want to emulate him. You want to follow him. You want to sit at his feet and learn from him.

“The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you. The Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.”

Linda

But…Who do YOU say I am?

 

Matthew 26:35-40, “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me. I was ill and you comforted me, in prison and you came to visit me.” Then the just will ask him, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we welcome you away from home, or clothe you in your nakedness? And when did we visit you when you were ill or in prison?” The King will answer them: “I assure you, as often as you did it to one of my least brothers, you did it for me.”

 INTRODUCTION

Who do you say I am? Every person who knows the name Jesus will answer that question. Those who turn their backs say, “You are no one to me.” Some espouse it verbally, some more subtly by their actions. Many are Christians who profess their faith in a loud voice for all to hear, and cry out, “Lord, Lord!” Yet, Jesus says, “I never knew you; go away from me you evildoers.” (Matt. 7:23) Jesus does not recognize those who say what they do not live. Every Christian must answer the question, “Who is Jesus,” and ultimately, “Who is the God revealed in Jesus?”

The two basic elements of Christology are the historical Jesus and the “living” Jesus. Neither can stand alone. We must understand the historical Jesus to ground belief in the “living” Jesus. Historically, Jesus was human; he was a Jew, a teacher, and a preacher of salvation. He was God Incarnate, bringing mercy, compassion, hope, and unconditional love to all humankind. He healed suffering and overcame sin. That is the truth of the “living” Christ in our midst.

So then, if Jesus is the Incarnate Word of God, who is God? Our human finite thinking cannot answer that question. Scripture says, “We are made in God’s image,” that conjures up a picture of a very very old grandfather. Even though the image we have of this grandfather may be loving and benevolent, it is woefully inadequate, because we can never know the essence of God. What we can know is what Jesus reveals as the Logos, the Word made flesh. Jesus as the Incarnation of God is the fullest expression of God’s own self. God is relentless, extravagant, merciful, indiscriminate, gratuitous, enduring, and grace-filled Love!

The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus was not for the purpose of atonement. Peter Abelard explains, “Since man could make no payment to God, and God need make no payment to the Devil, the purpose of the Incarnation could not be that of making any payment at all. It could only be an act of love.” The problem is, we cannot grasp that kind of Love. As mystery we worship it, yet God calls us to do more. By the power of the Holy Spirit we are made to share in the mystical life of the Triune God. We are called to respond to that Love, just as Jesus responded. We are called to “follow him.” What does it mean to truly “follow” Christ? What does it demand? How do we know we are not simply giving lip service to our confession of faith?

The suffering of the poor and marginalized among us is immoral. In the world’s wealthiest nation six-hundred thousand children should not go to bed hungry—but they do, every day. The stories of abuses of women in India, Asia, and Africa, are horrendous and inexcusable. How do we respond? How are we Christ to our brothers and sisters who are suffering right here in our midst? How do we join them in their struggle for a just society, a just world? Would we be admonished by Jeremiah today? “Your own apostasies are rebuking you.” (2:19)

homeless

So, let us take that walk with Jesus from the last supper to His Crucifixion and answer the question,  “Who do you say I am?”

Jesus Institutes the Last Supper

last supper

Scripture:  Matthew 26:26-29, “During the meal Jesus took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to his disciples.“Take this and eat it,” he said, “this is my body.” Then he took a cup. Gave thanks, and gave it to them. “All of you must drink from it,” he said, “for this is my blood, the blood of the covenant, to be poured out in behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins.”

Luke 22:24, “A dispute arose among them about who should be regarded as the greatest.”

John 13:5, 14, “Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples feet.…”  “But if I washed your feet—I who am Teacher and Lord—then you must wash each other’s feet.”

Meditation: As Jesus prepared himself and his disciples for his coming suffering and death, they were frightened and misunderstood his final and central teachings: The unblemished lamb was now the innocent Jesus; the blood on the signpost that would save the Israelites from death, was now Jesus’ blood that would give all humankind eternal life.  God’s power would, paradoxically, be revealed through Jesus’ total surrender. Jesus did not come to take Caesar’s place; he came to take the place of sinners. He did not come to be served, but to serve.

Meaning Today: Jesus is always and everywhere among us. He invites us to respond to Christ’s stirrings within our very being. The purest and most perfect act of worship is to “do this in memory of me” and then go out into the world and do what he did for others. Central to what he did was to care for the poor, the outcast, the lost and rejected, with no regard for what others would ultimately do to him. “Do what you must,” his life would say, “I can only respond to you in love.”

Prayer:  Who do I say you are Lord, when I forget you humbled yourself to wash my feet? Who do I say you are when I do not live my life as though your sacrifice meant something? May my life speak to the memory of God’s passionate love, revealed through you.

The Agony in the Garden

agony-in-the-garden

Scripture: Matthew 26:36-39, “Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane. He said to them, ‘Stay here while I go over there and pray.’ He took along Peter and Zebedee’s two sons, and began to experience sorrow and distress. Then he said to them, ‘My heart is nearly broken with sorrow. Remain here and stay awake with me.’ He advanced a little and fell prostrate in prayer, ‘My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass me by. Still, let it be as you would have it, not as I.'”

Meditation:  Fear fueled the anger that turned the Jewish leaders against Jesus. Fear fed the disciples’ desperation and confusion. The scene was chaotic. Yet, in the middle of that chaos stood a silent and submissive Jesus. He was not submissive to the angry mob before him; they had no power over him. All the strength and courage his humanity would now require would be his through his relationship with his Father, the deepest source of his identity. Because we are made in the image of God, that same courage to submit to God’s will, that same identity, belongs to us.

Meaning Today:  We are revealed in our relationships, how we accept or reject others, and how others react to us. Jesus was in the face of those who oppressed the least in God’s kingdom; that cost him his life. What are we willing to sacrifice for the sake of those the world rejects? Pride and arrogance blinded those who used their power to oppress others, where is our pride and arrogance revealed?

Prayer:  Lord, to be countercultural is risky and uncomfortable. But, before I shake my finger at others, may I have the courage to stand in the mirror and shake it at myself. With a trembling heart and a longing to change, I ask you to reveal the truth to me. Show me where I have rejected others, and in doing so, have rejected you. Show me where my pride masks my indifference to those who suffer.  

Jesus is Scourged and Crowned with Thorns

jesus scorged

Scripture: Matthew 27:27-31, “The procurator’s soldiers took Jesus inside the praetorium and collected the whole cohort around him. They stripped off his clothes and wrapped him in a scarlet military cloak. Weaving a crown out of thorns they fixed it on his head, and stuck a reed in his right hand. Then they began to mock him by dropping to their knees before him, saying, ‘All hail, King of the Jews!’ They also spat at him. Afterward they took hold of the reed and kept striking him on the head. Finally, when they had finished making a fool of him, they stripped him of the cloak, dressed him in his own clothes, and led him off to crucifixion.” 

Meditation:  The question so often asked of Jesus’ suffering and death is “why?” Did Jesus have to suffer? Why did God allow it? Jesus’ obedience was not demanded by God as a price for our salvation. Jesus was the revelation of God. God is Love, and can be nothing other. Therefore, he could not return violence for violence. Certainly, he knew that would make him vulnerable. Being faithful to his mission, his suffering and death would be inevitable. It would be allowed by God, but it was not his will.

Meaning Today:  Jesus’ suffering and death screams, “Stop the insanity!” Evil and violence perpetuate themselves over and over. That is how “original sin” affects us two-thousand years later. Adam and Eve may have started it, but every generation perpetuates it. At some point someone must respond as Jesus responded to end the cycle of violence we inflict on each other. We cannot, must not, excuse ourselves by pointing to others. We all must look deep within our own hearts as that is where violence begins.

Prayer:  Lord, who do I say you are when I refuse to suffer, or accept the slightest inconvenience? We have the examples of victims throughout history who refused to enter into the violence of this world. Many have suffered for their convictions. We believe suffering shouldn’t happen. Jesus accepted, as we should, that suffering is part of human life. Peace was first offered by you on the cross, and is made available to us through you.  Help me to strive for peace and justice no matter the cost.

Jesus is Condemned to Death

jesus condemned

Scripture: John 19:13-16, “Pilate…brought Jesus outside and took a seat on a judge’s bench at the place called the Stone Pavement – Gabbatha in Hebrew. He said to the Jews, ‘Look at your king!’ At this they shouted, ‘Away with him! Crucify him.’ 

‘What!’ Pilate exclaimed, ‘Shall I crucify your King?’ The Chief priests replied, ‘We have no king but Caesar.’ In the end, Pilate handed Jesus over to be crucified.” 

Meditation:  The oppressive and brutal nature of those in power in Jesus’ day was blatant. They truly believed they were God’s elect, his favored, and they could do no wrong. Jesus challenged that presumption at every turn. What began as someone who simply loved and cared for others, became an accusation of their sins. Jesus became dangerous and threatened the status quo. There was no alternative but to rid themselves of him to restore the peace they once knew.

Meaning Today:  What lengths will we go to today to rid ourselves of those who make our lifestyle uncomfortable and remind us that we are not living up to the faith we profess? Untimely pregnancies, aging parents, that annoying homeless man on my street corner. 

Prayer:  Lord, forgive my indifference to the suffering all around me. When I neglect my brothers and sisters, I neglect you. I call upon your grace to change my heart that I may care for those you call me to serve.

Jesus Takes up His Cross

JESUS-carrying-cross

Scripture: John 19:16-17, “Jesus was led away, and carrying the cross by himself, went out to what is called the Place of the Skull.”

Meditation: What kind of love is this which allows such pain and suffering? Jesus’ cross bore the weight of our sins, yet he carried it alone. His heart should have been filled with hatred. God should have been shaking with anger, his will bent on revenge.

Humankind could understand and accept that response. It is more difficult for us to accept love and forgiveness as a response to violence. Christ, as the Incarnation of God, could do nothing else. 

Meaning Today:  What is the meaning of suffering? Why does God allow it? Meaning is not found in the suffering. Mark Heim says, “It is found in the grace of the transformation of that suffering.” As Christians we are called to be an instrument of God’s grace-filled love for a suffering world.   

Prayer:  What kind of Love is this that refuses to turn away from undeserving humanity? We balk at the slightest inconvenience while others suffer unimaginable pain. Lord, forgive us for saying we love you, while refusing to love our brothers and sisters. 

Jesus Meets His Afflicted Mother

jesus meets his motehr

Scripture: Luke 2:34-35, 51, “Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: ‘This child is destined to be the downfall and the rise of many in Israel, a sign that will be opposed and you yourself shall be pierced with a sword—so that the thoughts of many hearts may be laid bare.’  His mother meanwhile kept all these things in memory.” 

Meditation: Mary, so afflicted by the torture her Son endured. Heart full of anguish. Eyes full of tears.Yet, when Jesus stood silent, she stood silent. When Jesus accepted his cross, she took up her own. When Jesus forgave, she forgave.With the same love of Christ, born in the same Love that brought him into this world, she submitted. 

Meaning Today:  We cannot conceive the pain and suffering inflicted on Jesus and his holy Mother, or the grace they received to submit to such suffering. They have shown us by their very lives how we are to respond to violence, and God has promised us the same grace to endure our afflictions.

Prayer:  Lord, that I may obtain the grace that overflowed in the hearts of your Son, and his holy Mother, to love their persecutors and forgive those who exacted such unspeakable horrors on them both. My willingness to forgive those who have hurt me reveals who I say you are more powerfully than anything else I say or do in your name.

The Cross is Laid on Simon of Cyrene

simon

Scripture: Mark 15:21, “A man named Simon of Cyrene, the father of Alexander and Rufus, was coming in from the fields, and they pressed him into service to carry the cross.”

Meditation: Surely Simon had heard about this Jesus, and could have thought him a troublemaker. Jesus infuriated the Jewish leaders; they had enough of him. Now Simon was being forced to help him carry his cross. Did he know he had just come face-to-face with the living God?

Meaning Today: When any human being is stripped of dignity, Jesus’ passion is repeated. We are made in the image of God, created anew by the resurrection, and empowered by the Holy Spirit. We have a mandate to take that Good News to the world. If fear holds us back, it is grounded in the denial of who we are. Fear clings to the old self, refuses to relinquish control, and ties the hands of the Holy Spirit. God’s sacrificial love is meant for all, and I am to be an instrument of that love or my faith response is inadequate.   

Prayer:  Lord God of immutable Love, you allow no cross that you yourself have not carried. When we see others struggling with theirs, may we not turn away. Let the only thing that forces us to reach out be the Love that resides in the depth of our hearts.

Jesus Meets the Women of Jerusalem

women

Scripture: Luke 23:27-31, “A great crowd of people followed him, including women who beat their breasts and lamented over him. Jesus turned to them and said: ‘Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me. Weep for yourselves and for your children.'”

Meditation:  This was not the first encounter Jesus had with these women. He had a deep love and respect for them. These were women whose lives were changed because he broke all the social and religious rules that forbade such relationships. He impacted their lives and called them to discipleship, but he also knew they would suffer for their faith.

Meaning Today:  It is insightful to realize the deep compassion Jesus had for women, and how that truth revealed in scripture gives power, courage, and hope today  to women who continue to be the victims, like Jesus, of untold abuses. Many women are speaking out boldly (at the risk of their own lives, as many have been martyred), to draw attention to the injustices they and their sisters are suffering.  

Prayer:  Lord, you showed your deep love for all those who were made to feel unworthy of love. How often do I make others feel unworthy because of my refusal to acknowledge them as having the dignity all should be given because they are made in your image? How would I feel in their place? Lord, have mercy. May I never again cause violence or harm to another.  

Jesus is Stripped of His Garments

jesus stripped

Scripture: Matthew 27:35,When they had crucified him, they divided up his clothes by casting lots.”

Meditation: The Roman soldiers stripped Jesus of his clothing in one last attempt to put him to shame. They could strip him of his clothes, but not his dignity. They had no power over him.

Meaning Today: The world cannot strip the poor of their identity; it is grounded in God’s love. God is Abba to all of his children – all are beloved. This is what is most true about us; it is what we share with Christ.

Prayer:  Lord, there is no pain or injustice I can suffer, that You, in your humanity, have not experienced. You know all the pain and humiliation we cause each other. Help me to draw so close to You that any indignity inflicted on my body cannot pierce my heart if it belongs to You.  

Jesus is Nailed to the Cross

jesus nailed to the cross

Scripture:  Luke 23:33-34, “When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. Then Jesus said, ‘Father forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.’”

Meditation:  In the Passion, Jesus was mocked, beaten, abandoned by his friends and God. Yet, despair was absent—forgiveness was his final word. This is where, Ignatius of Loyola says, “The divine hides itself.” The divine is permanently present in the human. Though Jesus endured the most unimaginable suffering, what is revealed in this moment is not despair, but hope!

Meaning Today:  To forgive such horror—impossible! This is why we have such difficulty believing Jesus was fully human. It is easier to believe his humanity was simply humanlike. Jesus’ humanity confronts us with our sinfulness and our unwillingness to change. It refuses to allow us to divide people into categories of deserving and undeserving of our love and care.

Prayer:  Lord, it is the violence within my own heart that keeps you nailed to the cross. You saw broken humanity with the heart and mind of God. You are now—just as you were then—the outward sign of inward grace. I have no justification for ignoring the cry of those who suffer. My hope is in this Love that forgives the unforgivable, and makes all things new.

Jesus Dies on the Cross

jesus-on-cross

Scripture: Matthew 27:50-51, 54, “Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split. Now when the centurion and those with him, who were keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were terrified and said, ‘Truly this man was God’s Son!’”

Meditation: Throughout Jesus’ Passion God remained eerily silent. Jesus was mocked by those who were certain he was an impostor. “If you are the Son of God, why doesn’t he save you? Why don’t you just come down from that cross?” When “it was finished,” God’s heart exploded with the reality of his beloved Son’s death! The torn curtain, the earthquake, the rocks splitting! The eruption of Love’s broken heart. Slumped over on the Cross was humankind’s ultimate rejection of God’s ultimate Love; “Truly this man was God’s Son!” 

Meaning Today: God was victim, God was rejected, God was cast out, and suffered at our hands. Though he persistently calls out to disturb our comfort with injustice, he refuses to violate our freedom to reject him, to the extreme of his own suffering.

Prayer:  Radical Love, we dare not cling to false innocence when the Truth stands before us. Your essence Lord, is beyond our finite understanding, though your will is made clear through your Son, “Love as I have loved and forgive as I have forgiven, no matter the cost.”

The Resurrection

resurrection

Scripture: John 20:19-22, “When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had net were locked for rear of the Jews Jesus came and stood among then and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’”

Meditation: Before the resurrection, the disciples could only relate to Jesus as a human being. Their attempts to understand Jesus’ teachings were thwarted by human limitations. They could not grasp the depth and breadth of who God was until after the resurrection. Only after the resurrection, when humanity and divinity came together and erupted into their lives, could they comprehend this God Jesus called, “Abba.” Only then could they share in that relationship. Love as we know it is limited. Jesus revealed the gratuitous love of God. It is self-giving. The resurrection of his humanity allowed us to touch that Love. The indwelling of the Spirit of Jesus makes that Love eternally present within the heart of everyone of faith. 

Meaning Today:  This is the point where we must ask ourselves, “Does faith in Jesus orient my life?” If no less than God is present and active in Jesus, is the same true about us? And if so, does that not call for an immediate response? That Love can release our human potential beyond our imagining. 

Prayer:  Lord, the resurrection reveals forgiveness—undeserved, unimaginable, unconditional. May I know that forgiveness for my sins of indifference toward others, for my possessive attitude, and for my lack of compassion. May I see Jesus in every person I encounter, and be Jesus to the lost and forsaken.

Conclusion

“Who do you say I am?” is not an academic question. It will not be satisfied by any amount of head knowledge we may acquire. It is answered by our falling on our knees in awe and adoration. But it cannot stop there. Jesus never said, “Worship me”. He said, “Follow me.”

As a Christian I answer the question every time I give of myself for the sake of another, or conversely, care more for myself than my neighbor. How can I believe God loved me so much, so passionately, that he sent his only Son to suffer and die for me, and for every person I encounter, if I refuse to love them? If I say to Christ, “You are the living God,” that truth must be manifest in and through the way I live my life, or it is a lie. I am sure the next question Jesus will confront me with is, “Do you love me?”  

How will my life answer that question?

When You Quit Believing in Santa, You Get Underwear

Do you remember how long you believed in Santa? I remember slowly doubting when I was about seven. Santa became suspect when my brother and sister, who are older, began to make fun of me. But I didn’t want to stop believing. Christmas was magical. Santa made it so. For a child Santa is the reason for the season (we can only hope they outgrow that belief).

One year, my brother and I found all the presents wrapped up and hidden in a closet two weeks before Christmas. We shook them and then carefully peeled the tape away to see what was inside. Then wrapped them back up and put them back in the closet. As you might imagine, Christmas morning was a terrible disappointment to me. I couldn’t even pretend to be excited about the gifts I received, even though some were what I had asked for. It was over: The magic, the mystery, the futile fight to stay awake this time, just for a glimpse of Santa. If I could see him just this once, my faith would be restored, and, with tears streaming down my face, I could tell him that my brother and sister were VERY naughty all year and they should both be turned into lumps of coal! 

But, that didn’t happen and now I was doomed to a reality I was not willing to face. I supposed the next thing to go was the Easter Bunny, and then the Tooth Fairy. And then what? I couldn’t bear it!

charlie-brown-aaugh

But wait!  Discovering that Santa is likely the invention of parents who simply run out of creative ways to keep kids in line a few weeks out of the year may have a positive side:

You were always told to keep your list short since Santa had to provide for the entire world!  Now you could make your Christmas list longer and the requests more extravagant.

Parents could do more than Santa because they only have to buy for a few kids and they have deeper pockets. Sweet!

You would not have to share the cookies and milk with him. You know how you always hated sharing. You little Grinch!

You could complain about the gifts received and demand they be returned to the store. You can’t return gifts to Santa because that would make him angry!

Have you ever felt that Santa would be very disappointed in you if you did not give up your “gently used” toys for kids who had nothing?  You could now ask your parents to write a check to their favorite charity allowing you to keep every last toy for your pathetic selfish self.

And what about those stupid pictures on Santa’s lap?  He was creepy and made you cry.

creepysanta4

And – best of all – there would be no pesky “list” Santa would check to ad nauseum! “Santa’s watching you, you little monster! I saw what you just did to your sister! That’s gonna go on your permanent record young man!”

Now that we’re all adults here, and you’ve gotten over your obsession with Santa, what about Christ?  What about your faith in Someone a bit more significant? If you profess to be a Christ-follower, then there are serious implications to consider. I would be remiss if I did not throw in God’s word about his “lukewarm” followers in Revelation 3:16, “So, because you are lukewarm–neither hot nor cold–I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” Nothing ambiguous about that, right? But, we are ridiculously skilled at glazing over it like it applies to everyone else but me.

Professing Christ does not simply amount to the word games we play to dodge God’s claim on our lives. It doesn’t matter how you “talk” about Christ if what people see does not match your rhetoric.

What matters is how you “live” Christ in your day-to-day. Are you truly “living” Christ’s message to love and serve the Lord; to being Christ to a hurting world?  That comes from the very core of who you are as the image and likeness of God.

Faith that is shallow and superficial can be enormously attractive to lazy Christians seeking cheap grace:

You have enough to do just paying the bills and trying to one-up your snooty neighbors. Those ladders to climb; that big house to pay for; people to gossip about; weekly therapy, and all your “charitable volunteering”, will require much more of your valuable time. So God will just have to find someone else to do his other work; the work that doesn’t appeal to you. How about that retired guy down the street? He needs something to keep him occupied, out of his wife’s hair and your business.

If you simply go to church on Sunday, hide in the back, and get your card punched you can sneak out before anyone notices you. And be sure you skip “Mission Sunday” and “Sponsor a poor family Sunday” and “Stewardship Sunday” and “How come you’re wasting your gifts Sunday?” It just makes you squirm in the pew.

Never buy into the idea that the abundant love God pours on you is a free gift – no strings attached. It’s just a trick to reel you in. Nothing in this world is “free.”  You know you’re gonna have to pay him back. And from past experience you know that’s simply an exercise in futility. Better to just not accept it in the first place.

If you must relieve occasional guilt for your indifference to the world around you, send a check – commensurate with the size and scope of your guilt – to a charity of your choice.  And, while you’re at it, consider tithing a little of that money you spend so frivolously on your pathetic selfish adult self.

Whatever you do, stay away from church on Good Friday! You know Jesus’ passion makes you very uneasy and almost, almost, makes you long for something more. You’re sure never going to watch that Mel Gibson movie again are you?!

And best of all, having “religion” in place of relationship makes you accountable to no one. You can just skip merrily along without ever having to “give an answer” to anyone for how you are living your wretched, despicable, miserable life.  Sounds lovely.

So, there you have it. That’s how underwear ends up in your stocking and how Jesus ends up irrelevant.  Neither is a pretty sight; neither will bring you joy on Christmas morning.

We can “pretend” to be excited about the whole “Jesus is the reason for the season” message as we’re reminded once again just how deeply and extravagantly God’s love is by dropping head-long into a smelly manger with smelly animals and not a bit of fanfare!

But it’s sorta like this: even if you LOVE the underwear you receive for Christmas it’s not likely anyone will know unless you wear it on the outside.

underwear boy1

 

And even if you say you LOVE Jesus and your neighbor, it won’t be “obvious” unless you are carrying him and his love for you and your neighbor on the inside in that place where there is a void you have been trying to fill with other things. Then, it will spill out and manifest its radiance and glory to all the world around you!

Brilliant!

Jesus' birth

I wish for you and your family a very blessed

Christmas filled with wonder and awe like you’ve

never imagined it!