A moment of teaching

This is an incredible moment in scripture. Jesus, Lord, and teacher, is fully aware that his final moment to convey his most precious message, “Have love for one another,” is here. Jesus has healed and ministered to many, but those in attendance this evening, the evening before his death, would be his closest companions, family, and friends. What an honor to be present at this table. Here we are tonight, followers of Christ stepping back in time participating in this moment.

We at At. Paul’s are a diverse group, and so too was the group around Jesus that night. I would like to introduce you to those Jesus chose to carry the torch of his ministry.

I’ll begin with Andrew. He, once a fisherman, now devotes his life to giving others over to God. He was the first to find Jesus and dragged his older brother, Simon Peter, to him with the words, “I found the Messiah!” When two Greek strangers requested to see Jesus, Andrew brought them to Him. And it was Andrew who brought the child with the fishes and the loaves to Jesus so the crowd could be fed. Andrew was inquisitive, enthusiastic, and resourceful. He teaches others that they are loved and worthy of an introduction to Jesus. Jesus honors the gifts of Andrew as he washes his feet.

Simon, the Zealot, a fisherman, was a bit of a hothead. He has been described as a relentless fisher of men through the power of the Gospel. He is patriotic, loyal, passionate, and sacrificial. He later shared ministry with the apostle Jude and was known to speak on his behalf. Simon teaches us we are not meant to be self-sufficient or without the support of others. Jesus honors his enthusiasm as he washes his feet.

Batholomew mentioned in Matthew, Mark, and Luke is likely the same person known as Nathaneal in John’s Gospel. We know Nathaneal from his question to Phillip, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?.” He is also the one Jesus declared had no deceit in him. He was well-versed in scripture, which Jesus indicates by acknowledging seeing Nathaneal under the fig tree. Nathaneal was honest, skeptical, and faithful. He teaches us to test everything through the scriptures, and we are assured Christ will meet us there. Jesus honors his skepticism as he washes his feet.

James, son of Zebedee, was married with 4 children. He was a temperamental contradiction. He was a solid public speaker though he often had long bouts of silence. James was a well-balanced thinker and planner but, when provoked, had a fiery, vengeful side. As we hear in his request to be at Jesus’s side in His Glory, he was also selfish and conceited. Though slow to grasp the teachings of Jesus, once James understood, he stood firm and courageous when his convictions were challenged. Jesus honors his courage as he washes his feet.

James’ and his younger brother John were called “Sons of Thunder.” John was also a fisherman with a family. He was loving and compassionate but could also be judgemental and selfish as he joined James’ in the request to be beside Jesus in his Glory. John, “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” was reclined next to Jesus at this meal. And it was John that Peter asked to find out who Jesus meant in his words, “Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me.” John wrote the Gospel of John, 1st, 2nd, and 3rd John, and Revelation. We learn a great deal from him about the transformational love of God in Christ. Jesus honors his beloved friend as he washes his feet.

There was another James in the mix, and he was known as James the Less. Possibly called the less because he was younger than James, son of Zebedee. He was brother to Matthew, the tax collector, and known for his quiet, reserved personality. Later he will be given the authority to cast out all unclean spirits, raise the dead, and cure disease and sickness. James the Less teaches us that powerful ministry can come quietly. Jesus honors his humility as he washes his feet.

James’ brother Matthew, the tax collector, was once seen as a traitor. Jesus visited Matthew in his home and dined with him and his corrupt friends. After this visit, Matthew gave up his career to follow Jesus. Jesus welcomes sinners and outcasts, and Matthew teaches us, “Happy are those who know their need for God.” Jesus honors Matthew’s need as he washes his feet.

Phillip, well versed in scripture, often took things literally, and this left him confused. It was Phillip who asked Jesus to show them the Father. Jesus replies, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, Show us the Father”? Phillip was practical. When Jesus asked him where to buy bread for the crowd, he responded with “six months wages would not be enough to feed this crowd.” He was also helpful when he informed Jesus that several Greeks were hoping to meet him. Subtlety was lost on Phillip, but we learn that vast knowledge of scripture does not compare to the truth found in Jesus. Jesus honors his seeking as he washes his feet.

Thaddaeus, also known as Jude, was a revolutionary. He was often confused and inquisitive. He was not afraid to ask Jesus how he would reveal himself to his followers and not to the rest of the world. We learn from his question that Jesus will reveal his truths to those who seek him. Jesus honors his curiosity as he washes his feet.

Thomas was inquisitive and also doubtful. He witnesses the miraculous catch of fish and yet will not believe in the resurrection until he sees Jesus himself. Thomas asks Jesus, “How will we know the way when we don’t know where you are going?” Thomas was courageous and faithful as well as literal-minded and desiring of tangible proofs. Jesus honors his courageous expression of doubt as he washes his feet.

Judas was the treasurer for the apostles. He was greedy, deceitful, and treacherous. He criticizes Mary for anointing Jesus with expensive perfume. Judas predestined to betray Jesus has remorse, but his fatal flaw is his inability to receive grace and forgiveness. Though he knows Judas’ heart, Jesus honors his dignity and washes his feet.

Peter, brother to Andrew, was strong-willed, impulsive, fearful, outspoken, and volatile. He was reprimanded by Jesus for his refusal to accept that Jesus would have to die. He attempted to walk toward Jesus on the sea only to be overcome by fear. Jesus knows in advance that Peter will fearfully deny him three times. All this and yet Peter is the “Rock on which Jesus will build his Church.” Peter was prone to error but always came back around. Jesus honors his repentance and washes his feet.

There were others present at that final meal, men and women as witnesses to their Lord’s final teaching on humility and service.


These were the called and the chosen, not because of who they were and what they had done but because of who Jesus was, teacher, teaching the teachable.


Are we teachable?
Can we learn to see the good in ourselves and in others?
Can we relinquish our agendas and join Christ in his mission?


Jesus knew very well how much he was asking of the apostles. He knew how much they would struggle with their differences in character. And he knew they would need to care for each other in his absence.


Can we serve with the heart of Jesus, holding each other up even when challenged by personality differences?
Can we let go of our expectations and encourage others?
Can we promote the unity our Lord prays for?


When we let this moment with our teacher, as servant-Lord sink in deeply, I know we can.

A moment of Complaining

Photo by Elina Krima on Pexels.com

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, and his mercy endures forever. Psalm 107:1

From Mount Hor the Israelites set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; but the people became impatient on the way. The people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food.” Then the Lord sent poisonous serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many Israelites died. The people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you; pray to the Lord to take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.” So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live. Numbers 21:4-9

You were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else. But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ– by grace you have been saved– and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God– not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life. Ephesians 2:1-10

Jesus said, “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.” John 3:14-21

There are times when it is difficult to see God’s mercy in our lives and the world. Life can be relentless in its struggles. March 28th will mark a whole year since Montana’s stay home directive was put in place. As the year unfolded and the guidelines shifted and lifted, we have struggled to make sense of many things. The past 12 months have genuinely been–a wilderness time. This is the 4th Sunday in Lent, and today’s OT reading offers us an opportunity to reflect on the perspective of God’s people in the wilderness as well as our perspectives in this wilderness of our time.

There is an authenticity to the readings in the Old Testament. They are raw and honest about the messiness of humanity. We witness in today’s reading people who are frustrated, hungry, and unhappy. And I can’t help but recall reading in Exodus Chapters 15,16, and 17, another time when the Israelites were complaining about the water, the food, and Moses’s leadership. In Exodus, Moses spoke to God on behalf of his people, and they received water, food, and a place to rest.

Now, here again in today’s scripture, they are complaining. However, this time the Israelites are not only complaining about Moses; they complain about God and his provision for them. They are shortsighted as they focus on the wilderness’s difficulties and fail to recall how bad the situation was in Egypt that God delivered them from.

The ability to see God’s mercy, as he responds to the complaining by sending a poisonous serpent, is challenging. But as we read on, we see God’s desire was for his people to recognize their poor behavior and ask appropriately for help. Moses prays for his people, and God, in His mercy, offers a way out.

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, and his mercy endures forever.

Do we recognize God’s mercy in our lives, or are we complaining about the circumstances in which we find ourselves?
The truth is, life is hard, and there are many justifiable reasons to complain.
I have been known to complain. When I complain to God, it sounds like this…” Really, God, this is what today is going to look like? Really, This is too hard; I can’t.”
I think these scriptures may be telling us there is a right and a wrong way to complain.
Venting our frustrations and blaming is the wrong approach. It is a toxic approach and harms us as well as those around us.
It promotes complaint competition that can send a whole conversation spiraling.
Complaining changes our perception of the world, shifting our focus to disappointments and causing us to miss the blessings.
Complaining helps rewire the brain into negativity- bias where negative thoughts will come more quickly and easily than positive ones.
This bias promotes pessimism, and pessimism is known to be unhealthy both physically and mentally. Complaining also kills creativity and creates a victim mentality. When we see others as the reason for our troubles, we fail to look at our own actions and behaviors. It becomes more challenging to seek possible solutions.

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, and his mercy endures forever.

It may not seem merciful that God sent the serpent, but it did get the Israelites attention. They shifted their focus and could see more clearly.

So what is the proper way to complain?

  1. We must be sure we are not the problem. The Israelites were so focused on being angry they did not see what they needed to change.
  2. Be specific about your need, not your disappointment. God delivered his people from Egypt. Of course, he will care for them in the wilderness. Though it may not look the way they thought it should.
  3. Be realistic. There is a big difference between need and want. What we desire is not always what we require.
  4. Be sure to ask the right person for help. Complaining to each other rarely does good. Moses knew the correct approach and, in love, would speak to God on their behalf.
  5. Speak your feelings. Feelings are real, but they are not the truth. Adding, “I feel” validates where you are without telling your brain things won’t or can’t change.

Life is hard. But when we shift our focus away from the things that are causing discomfort to the God whose mercy endures forever, our perception of everything changes. Instead of seeing only our difficulties, we see the way through them.

What we don’t want to miss is the message we hear in Chapter 2 of Ephesians,
“—By grace, you have been saved—.” “God, who is rich in mercy…made us alive together with Christ and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.”

Our faith in Jesus Christ brings us out of the darkness into the light. In the light of Christ, we can see clearly. Jesus also spent time in the wilderness. It is during this time of Lent that we reflect on his time of suffering. He, too, must have found it arduous to make sense of the situation he was in. “He was in anguish, and his sweat was like great drops of blood.” He prayed for God to take this responsibility from him, and yet in obedience to God’s will and for our sake, he did not waver.

We don’t want to miss John’s message to us in the Gospel.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life.” Eternal life- what does this mean? Endless life, indestructible life, imperishable life, immutable life, undying life, everlasting life, boundless life, perpetual life, lasting or existing forever, without end or beginning. This is the life our God wants for us. Nothing that comes our way can change this gift that is offered. God has given us a way out of our suffering in the gift of Jesus Christ. His desire is that we trust and believe.
We may not have the ability to make sense of what has happened and is happening in our lives and our world. We do have a God who is rich in mercy is showing us the way through it.

So perhaps I should add to my conversation of “Really God?” this prayer.
“You, God, are eternal, and this moment is not. I will go where you lead me, but please, do lead me.”

It is for the gift of Jesus Christ, who leads the way that we should.

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, and his mercy endures forever.

a Moment of Eagerness

Photo by Brent Keane on Pexels.com

I was watching a youtube video of the Volcano in Kilauea and happened to notice a comment below the video that read, “Watching a bubbling cauldron of lava is soothing when compared to watching the insanity of politics.” I did not find the volcanic image soothing, but I appreciated the analogy.

Watching lava finding its way out of the rock from the center of the earth made me very aware of how small this time in history is compared to the earth’s age. Scientists estimate that the earth’s age is 4.5 billion years old, and its estimated lifespan is 7.6 billion years. In contrast, the estimated lifespan of humans is 78.9 years. Our current difficulties, like our lives, are just a blip on the timeline of the earth. And yet, today’s scriptures tell us how very significant we are.  

We hear in Psalm 139 how important we are by the message of how well God knows us.

God discerns our thoughts.

God is acquainted with all our ways.

God’s hand is upon us.

God knew us even before our formation in the womb.

I am blown away. As I read the words,

How deep I find your thoughts, O God! * how great is the sum of them! To count them all, my life span would need to be like yours.” Book of Common Prayer    

We do not have enough years on earth to come even close to knowing God the way he knows us.

The Renovare Spiritual Formation Bible says, ” It is not beneath God’s dignity to get involved in ordinary history and national politics.” “The aim of God in history is the creation of an inclusive community of loving persons with God himself at the very center of this community as its prime Sustainer and most glorious Inhabitant.”

Yes, there is a great deal of disturbance in our nation at this time. The LIturgical readings for 2 Epiphany do not necessarily address politics. However, it is evident in them; we have a God who gets involved.  

In the Old Testament Book of 1 Samuel 3:1-10(11-20), we read how deeply God is involved in the house of Eli. Eli knows God, but his faith seems to be dimming as it has been quite some time without direct communication. Samuel, who does not recognize God’s call, mistakes it for Eli’s. But God is persistent and eager to be heard.

There is an eagerness about Samuel as well, as he listens and tries to respond to the call, first with Eli and then under Eli’s direction, he eagerly responds to God. Eli is aware that he has failed to build a loving community within his household. He did not know God as God wished to be known. Eli’s eagerness to hear the message though it would be disagreeable, and his acceptance of God’s judgment as righteous indicates that he is seeking a closer relationship with God.  

In 1 Corinthians 6:12-20, we are told that anyone united to the Lord becomes one spirit with Him. We belong to God. We are of great value to God, so much that we are the dwelling place for the Holy Spirit. We are not alone. God is deeply involved. He wants us to recognize Him as He reveals himself to us.

In John 1:43-51, we are given a beautiful image of that recognition. Jesus is building his loving community. As the apostles are drawn to him and recognizing him as the Christ, his community begins to form. Jesus isn’t selecting perfect people or specific skillsets; he is choosing those who are seeking him. Jesus saw Nathanael under the fig tree. One commentary says that it was a shaded place to study. Nathanael would likely have been studying scripture when Jesus, the Word, saw him. As Jesus tells Nathaniel how he recognized him, Nathaniel recognizes Jesus, and in that instant, a relationship grows.  

Nathanael’s relationship is significant, But Jesus goes on to say, we will see more extraordinary things, “heaven will be opened.”  Our relationship with Jesus is both small and intimate and vast and glorious.

Our lives are a tiny part of the 7.6 billion years of the earth’s expected life. And yet, each of us is individually, intimately, and entirely known by God. We are valued beyond our comprehension.  

As we are united in spirit, God’s aim in history to create an inclusive community of loving persons becomes our aim.  

As co-creators, we must

Be like Samuel, eager to listen to and share Truth.

Be like Eli, eager to hear even Truth, which makes us uncomfortable.

We must be like Nathanael, seeking Truth and eager to have it be recognized in us.

And we must be like Jesus, inviting others into His beloved community.

God has billions of years to bring his people closer together and closer to him. We have a small piece of that time to do our part.

A moment to Yield

In my experience, when things are the most exceptionally challenging, God has the most exceptional response.  Let’s imagine for a moment, you are driving along a road approaching a 4-way intersection.  You know something big is happening because coming toward the intersection on your right is a police car, coming in on the left is an ambulance and coming in straight ahead is a fire truck.  You are likely to get to the intersection first. Do you speed up and get through before the convergence of emergency vehicles or do you yield to allow the response team to get where they need to be.   Of course, we would never want to be in the way of help getting where it is needed, so our job in this picture is to yield.  Now imaging the crisis is in your life, and coming toward the intersection is God, your creator, Jesus, your healer, and the wisdom of the Holy Spirit.  Will you yield?  What does it mean to yield in this context?
 I think it means letting go of our own ideas of what things should look like and trusting each character in our story to give us a glimpse into something bigger.  God promises us if we yield to him in difficulties, he will respond exceptionally.  To yield means to give way.  To yield to God means to give up on our own thoughts of what should and shouldn’t be and allow God to unfold His Glory before our eyes.  
    In the Exodus story, we enter into a tumultuous time where a new king has come into power over Egypt. He is afraid of the Israelites increasing in numbers and imagining them joining forces with Egypt’s enemies and coming up against them.  Pharaoh commands all male babies be put to death.  And, we find ourselves in the story of Moses’ birth. His parents are not named here, but we know from Numbers chapter 26, Moses’ father’s name is Amram, and his mother is Jochebed.  We also know names in the Bible have meaning. The name Jochebed means “Yahweh is Glory.”  I imagine with a name like that your life and all that you do would reflect its meaning. So Amram and Jochebed have a son, and Jochebed sees that he is ‘a fine’ baby. With the pride of a mother, she looks at her young son and sees something more glorious yet to come.  She sees a vision of a future that she must protect.  She is a faithful and intelligent woman, and recognizing that she cannot protect him on her own must entrust him to God.  In this most difficult time, she must trust God’s exceptional response. She gives Moses up, not once but twice.  She gives him up when she places him in the river, and then later, after raising him in his early years, she gives him back to Pharoah’s daughter.  This is a yielding I cannot even imagine, but what a sacrifice to behold.   Often letting go, yielding is how we make way for God’s great response to our difficulties.   Jochebed had a glimpse of something great in this precious child and dared to let go.  
We often think if we hold on tighter to that which we cherish that we can protect it. This idea brings us to the Gospel story, and Peter, who has been with Jesus for quite some time now. Peter has had glimpse after glimpse of God moments, and yet when things get tough, he leaps into the intersection.  Peter in this moment didn’t have a vision of the greatness in God’s response.  Even with all the teaching of his Lord that came before this, he simply didn’t understand. Jesus’ response sounds harsh. “Get back, Satan” This makes me think we must be careful.  If we are not yielding to God, we are yielding to something else.  Maybe we don’t want to think it is satan.  But what are we yielding to?  Fear? Control? Our ideals? Our plans? Our need for security?  We must let loose our expectations, our comforts and yield to God so that God can intervene in ways greater than we have ever seen before, and seeing God’s response, we are liberated to become more than we have ever been before.  
  Moses was a living sacrifice, he bought the Israelites out of the oppression of Egypt.  Jesus was a living sacrifice,  he brought us out of the oppression of sin.  In the yielding to God, greater glory was revealed.
 In Romans 12, we are called to be a living sacrifice to offer ourselves up, yielding our will to God’s.  And we are warned not to think too highly of ourselves.  Not to try to play a more significant role than is ours to play.  I have learned the hard way that when I try to do too much, I miss things and make mistakes.  These mistakes often hurt others.  As a living sacrifice, we are called to do our part and make way for others to do their part, together, we create a bigger picture that, as in the life of Jochebed, can be a reflection of God’s Glory.For Moses to become “the Moses,” who parted the Red Sea.  God needed not only Jochebed; he needed Miriam, Moses’ sister, to do her part.  He needed Pharaoh’s daughter to do hers.  For the Gospel to spread, God needed Peter not to stop the crucifixion but to be the rock on which Christ could build his church.  What is our part in this tumultuous time? What are we called to do, and how are we called to yield.  We will not likely be able to see in our present-day difficulties God’s significant response. Still, we can trust in the glimpses of God and know that if we do our part and give God the right of way, he will respond most exceptionally, and His Glory will be revealed.

Exodus 2 Now a man of the tribe of Levi married a Levite woman, and she became pregnant and gave birth to a son.  When she saw that he was a fine child, she hid him for three months. But when she could hide him no longer, she got a papyrus basket [a] for him and coated it with tar and pitch.  Then she placed the child in it and put it among the reeds along the bank of the Nile.His sister stood at a distance to see what would happen to him.  Then Pharaoh’s daughter went down to the Nile to bathe, and her attendants were walking along the riverbank. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her female slave to get it.She opened it and saw the baby. He was crying, and she felt sorry for him. “This is one of the Hebrew babies,” she said.  Then his sister asked Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and get one of the Hebrew women to nurse the baby for you?”  “Yes, go,” she answered. So the girl went and got the baby’s mother. Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this baby and nurse him for me, and I will pay you.” So the woman took the baby and nursed him. 10 When the child grew older, she took him to Pharaoh’s daughter and he became her son. She named him Moses,[b] saying, “I drew him out of the water.”

Romans 12 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing, and perfect will.  For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your [a] faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead,[b] do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.

Matthew 16  13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”14 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”15 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”17 Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you that you are Peter,[b] and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades[c] will not overcome it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be[d] bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be[e] loosed in heaven.” 20 Then he ordered his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.21 From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.22 Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”23 Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”