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 scattered

“Do you now believe?” Jesus replied. “A time is coming and in fact has come when you will be scattered, each to your own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me. “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:31-33 (NIV)

A paradox, being alone and not alone simultaneously. I have only once before personally encountered such a time. In 2006 during hurricane Katrina, southern Louisiana scattered, across the country. Though families moved apart and friends became geographically distant, there was a unity to the New Orleans area that was a strong thread. It was this thread that tied the people together and helped them heal.

Once again, I find myself scattered, separated from family and friends. This time that scattering is global, and it seems no one will escape unaffected by this scattering. We are directed to stay in our homes and keep our distance from each other, which has left many of us alone, a bit lost, and somewhat afraid. The followers of Christ must have felt then similar to how we are feeling now. Separated from the routines they had become accustomed to, a bit lost without Jesus, and afraid, not knowing for sure what is coming next.
I am so deeply moved by Jesus’ prayer in John 17. In a longing plea with God, he speaks on behalf of those he loves. He knows that they will feel alone and lost, and he pours out his concern for them. He does not request that they are removed from the circumstances that will cause them pain. He pleads for protection that the pain will not overtake them. He asks that they are set apart from the suffering. The way to set them apart is once again paradox. He pleads for unity, that those he loves and all who share in that love be made one with Himself and God.

“I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them, I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.
“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
“Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.
John 17:13-24  (NIV)

In this present moment, when we are scattered to our homes, separated from our routines, a bit lost, a bit afraid we are also united in our desire to not let COVID-19 overcome us. There are many stories of people reaching out in safe yet powerful ways to keep others from feeling lost and alone. We share each other’s burdens and lift each other’s hearts. We are separated but we are not alone.
We are united by Jesus’ prayer on our behalf, our unity is sealed by his death, and the glory of this Divine Unity will shine across the globe as we celebrate the Resurrection of our Redeemer.

We are no longer scattered.
Peace.

A moment to stay home

winking black and brown puppy
Pexels.com

Statistics are showing that social distancing is working, And yet, we are still hearing stories of people, groups, and congregations rebelling against the directives given by our leaders. 

Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor. Romans 13:1, 7

 In the social distancing and stay home directives, we are asked to give up many things.  We are giving up routines and rituals, comforts and assurances, as well as some of the “stuff” to which we have become accustomed.  Amazon boxes used to show up on my porch fairly often with books, office supplies, and some fun things too. My dog is missing the UPS treats!  

It is interesting to notice my own reaction to the changes imposed on my life as a result of COVID-19.  Sometimes a little rebellion, some frustration, some sadness, and some moody statements, “I didn’t need it anyway.”  How quickly I shift into. “It’s going to be ok.” “It’s worth the sacrifice.” “Others have given up or lost so much more.” matters.  Quite honestly, I did not need it anyway.

What is it that is prompting people to ignore the directives and leaders as they, too, navigate this unchartered territory?  Withholding judgment and anger, I will not even speculate.  

I miss my church.  So, I light a candle, open my Bible, and imagine someone somewhere at that exact moment is reading scripture with me, and I pray with them and for them.

I miss my friends.  So, I make calls, write letters, face-time when I can, and remember with compassion all those who felt alone even before all this began.

I miss the freedom to go wherever, whenever.  So, I walk outside. Interesting how luxurious this feels now. I am mindful of those who are without even this.

I miss the exchange of hugs.  So, I stop and pray for all those who have been lost or have lost loved ones to this virus.

Jesus knew very well the feelings of isolation and disconnect from those he needed for support.

He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”  Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.  Matthew 26:37-41

This is but a moment.  Stay strong and keep watch.  

As you read this, know that this day you are in my prayers.  I am sending you love. I know with certainty you are not alone. God is with you.  Prayer is our most significant connection. Close your eyes, breathe deep and feel the love surrounding you.

 

A moment for the tangible

man touching book

Tangible:  Perceptible by touch.

I have to admit, though the thoughts in my head are plentiful, I have found putting them into words very difficult lately. Hoping for some kind of clarity or inspiration, I have spent a great deal of time in scripture and prayer and still, radio silence.

What am I longing to have? It hit me this morning. I am longing for something tangible, perhaps in the form of clear answers or a visible sign. Maybe that is what you are longing for too.

Toilet paper is tangible. Perhaps the borderline crazy paper product purchases are signs that others are also seeking something tangible.

Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”  John 20:24-29

I’ve heard and read this story so many times it has almost become cliche. And yet, it comes to mind again, as a powerful message of Christ’s compassion amid fear and doubt, and his desire to offer tangible evidence to a fearful group.

In the passage before Christ appears to Thomas, the disciples have hidden away, with the doors locked, for fear of the Jewish leaders. We, similarly, are hidden away confined to our homes, keeping the outside world out, keeping to ourselves, and perhaps somewhat fearfully.

Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”  After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.     John 20:19-21

Peace may not be, by definition, tangible, but I can certainly feel it as I read this scripture.  I can close my eyes and sense the change in the room where the disciples were.  I then can feel the essence of the place I am in altered.

If we again back up in the scriptures, we will be with Mary, who, upon seeing Christ did not recognize him until he called her name.  Then there was no holding her back.

Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!”  John 20:18

The visible Christ may not visit us as he did those whose stories are told in the scriptures, but we can be the tangible Christ to others.  In this time, when leaving our homes poses a threat to ourselves and others, we can still reach out in tangible and safe ways.

We can make the phone call to someone we haven’t talked with in a while.

We can dust off that stationary that has been sitting idle and send a tangible note of care and concern. 

 We can take a few groceries and drop them off on the doorstep of someone we know could use them.  

We may not be able to touch the hands of our neighbors, but we can still touch their hearts with compassion and peace.