From Death Comes Life
I remember a time that I actually thought the end of the world had come. And no it wasn’t November 8th, 2016. It was April 2006. I was in Indianapolis with my dad for the NCAA final four. We had just finished a great meal with my aunt who was there as well.
Upon leaving the restaurant we noticed the streets, which had been packed with thousands of party-goers and basketball fans when we went in, were now completely empty. Void of not just zombies, but living human beings as well. In fact, the only thing left were massive puddles and a lingering errie feeling in the air. As my dad and I slowly walk back to our hotel, we heard a sound in the distance. One we should have recognized. But didn’t. At least not until the hail started dropping.
Empty wet streets. Sirens. Hail. You could say God was giving us a pretty clear warning that something bad was about to come. We needed to get to safety. And fast.
But here’s the thing, we were standing in the middle of an empty parking lot. Even though we could see our hotel in the distance, it was still a couple of blocks away. With nowhere else to go we took off running. The sounds of sirens blaring not only heightened my fear, but also my awareness that my running days were long behind me. And so was my dad...who did his best to keep up.
As you can see, it wasn’t the end of the world. We made it to our hotel room just in time. Still wet from the rain, my dad stretched out on the bed as calm as calm can be, and began to peacefully read a book
I, on the other hand, quietly freaked out as the walls began to shake, and the window began to rattle. I didn’t really lose it until I saw the flagpoles outside bending sideways. Not a good sign. Wind. Rain. Rattling. This was it. The end of the world. I was going to die in a hotel room...in Indianapolis...with my Dad reading his Kindle without a care in the world.
Earthquakes, hurricanes, tornados, wars, fires, and yes, even the 2016 presidential election...I can honestly say have weathered my fair share of storms. And that night, in Indianapolis, I learned a valuable lesson while watching my dad sleep:
you can’t predict what happens in life, but you can prevail in how you respond.
In the reading from Daniel we learn there will be a “time of anguish that the world has never seen since it came into existence.” Believing that what happens in our day-to-day life will have some cosmic implications, Daniel points to the hope of deliverance from tough times. That hope for us is God’s faithfulness to those who are faithful to God.
Jesus, also tells us that there will come a time when some pretty weird things will happen. Oh, but don’t be afraid, he said... “they are just birth pangs” - a thing that happen right before something new is born.
Like a tornado or an out of control fire, Apocalyptic scripture is a wake up call. It is a reminder that while our work is here on earth, but our hope comes from heaven. We might not have control over what happens around us but we can can control how we deal with them. With fear. Or by putting our faith in the faithfulness of God.
Still many believers continue to wrestle with fear and anxiety. That is understandable. With all that is going on in our world, there can be a lot to stress out about. But as Henri Nouwen wrote, “The challenge is to let go of fear and claim the deeper truth of who you are. When you forget your true identity as a beloved child of God, you lose your way in life.”
When we focus our attention on all that is horribly wrong in the world, there’s a good chance we’ll neglect our mission - what God has called us to be - to be the good in the world...a living witnesses of Christ.
When our mind is stuck in fear mode, we forget that we are the healing hearts and helping hands of Christ, who was called for a purpose...to bring good news to the poor and suffering. So it is Jesus who warns his disciples about the what is to come. When they freak out, he tells them not to worry about when the Temple will crumble, or when the air will swallow us up. “They are but the beginning of something greater to come.”
But as long as there are natural disasters and human error that cause God’s children to suffer, Jesus tells us there is work to be done. We are not a building. We are people. God’s beloved children. Our call is not to protect or worry about the structures humans make, but to care and watch out for the one’s God made. And just like Jesus we must act out of faith, not fear.
There’s no reason to waste a single second worrying about the end times.It is just the beginning of something new for the people of God. Instead, we ought to remain focused what is happening now...where God has never stopped redeeming or resurrecting life out of death.
Jesus shifts our focus away from the Temple building itself, and sets our eyes on being the Temple - the body of Christ. We are the church - a living sanctuary where all people can be filled with God’s peace and love. To live in such a way for others allows God’s glory to shine in the darkness. And it allows us to find hope in the ashes of our life.
As we move from ordinary time into the Advent season, these passages remind us of God’s faithful promise...that something greater is coming. Hope. Grace. Peace. Salvation. Unconditional love. This is the good news God brings to life in that dirty, cold stable in Bethlehem.
In the Incarnate Christ, God comes to be with us. And through our faith in Christ, God continues to be here for us in all our glorious messiness. God’s faithfulness remains true, even when our world seems to be crumbling down.
No fire, earthquake, or human action can destroy what God has done in the world. Nor can it disrupt what God is doing right now. In us. And through us.
We can’t predict what others will do, including what God will do but we can prevail by how we respond to others as well as to God. We can be fearful. Or full of faith. We can hurt and harm one another, or we can heal and help and care for all.
We can worry about the end of the world...and freak out accordingly in a hotel room. Or we can trust in God’s faithful promise and get a good nights sleep. We can place our life, all of it, in the care of God’s steadfast and everlasting love...Or not. The choice is yours. But so too are the consequences. So choose wisely.
In closing I want to remind you of the words God gave to Daniel, “Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the sky, and those who lead many to righteousness will be like stars.”
It’s my hope that you will go out and let you light shine brightly. To be that beacon of hope that sits on a hill and navigates people through every storm in life.
As long as there is suffering and pain, loss of life and livelihoods...there is a need for the Light of Christ to shine...Go and shine brightly as God builds the new Temple in you.
Giving It All
Funny enough, the only one who notices what she does is The One who does not look at outward appearances but instead he looks at the heart. Jesus tells his disciples, “this poor widow has given all she had to live on.” In the Greek, Mark uses the word bios, the root of biology, the study of life. In other words, this poor widow put in her bios, her entire life, into God’s care. And this gets Jesus’ attention.
Her story is important because she is the perfect example of what it means to live the gospel. She trusts God so completely that nothing else matters. She gives without fear or worry, trusting instead on her faith. She gives God her all, believing and knowing God will do the same.
The dollar value of these coins is nothing. Their real worth comes from the sacrifice they represent. Same can be said about us. We are the coins, the real offering God wants. In the eyes of the rich and powerful, we might not be worth much. But in the eyes of God, we are priceless. God does not look at the size of your wallet, God looks at the size of your heart. A true offering is much more than an act of giving; it’s an act of being present with God and for God.
Jesus gave up all that he had so that we can live fully and faithfully with and for God’s grace. This is hard to do, if you don’t trust God like this nameless widow.
Her trust in God is aligned with Jesus’ trust. And together their stories reveal the true cost of discipleship – the giving over of one’s self to God so completely and faithfully that there’s nothing left but the Divine image that has been imprinted each one of our hearts.
The giving of the self for God and others is central to Jesus’ vision of discipleship. By giving God everything, the good and bad, the worthy or unworthy, we let go of things that keep us from truly becoming one with Jesus – and with one another.
Hidden in this story is a reminder that the kingdom of heaven is not something we bet on, but something we are able to live right now if we just give it all over to God.
Mark doesn’t tell us how the widow’s story ends. We don’t know if the disciples took money out of their own purse to help her, or if she entered the temple for the last time, to offer her final prayer. However, what we do know is this: She is a child of God. And like her, we are worth more to God than anything we can imagine.
Her place in the world isn’t based on material wealth or status. It’s grounded in the faithfulness of God’s promise. She is able to take a leap of faith because she knows in her heart that God has a deep concern for the care and wellbeing of the widows and orphans, and the most vulnerable in our societies.
She’s also putting her trust in us, a faith community who desires to be like Jesus who taught, “Whoever wants to be first must be last, and must a servant of all.” By being a living example of God’s pure love, Jesus shows us the many ways we can give all we have to help and care for those who have nothing to give in return.
In the telling of her story, Mark reminds us that everything we have is God’s already. I can’t give God anything other than myself.
I can be present with God in all aspects of my life and be the offering God desires the most. And I can be here for God, without holding anything back for others. I can do this because I trust and believe in my heart that God’s words are faithful and true.
God calls us to a gospel life: a life of love, grace, forgiveness and peace. A life where we can have it all, and a life we can give it all away for the sake of God’s kingdom.
As a beloved Child of an all-loving, ever faithful God, you are the gift.
My challenge to you this week is simple; Go out and be the gift of God’s sacrificial love; the gift that keeps on giving. Put your entire self into action – doing small things with great love.
For you never know who’s watching you do it.
Prayer: Lord, help us love you with all our hearts and with all our souls, and with all our minds and strength. Forgive us for the times we have been more concerned about status or show, than being more like Christ Jesus. Helps us to focus not on outward appearance but on the heart where your love dwells. As we leave here today, Lord, help each one of us to be generous and sacrificial in our giving and in our hearts, for the glory of your name, Amen.
Vote for Righteousness Sake
In the opening of his book Jesus for President, Shane Claiborne writes, “We in the church are schizophrenic: we want to be good Christians, but deep down we trust that only the power of the state and its militaries and markets can really make a difference in the world. And so we’re hardly able to distinguish between what’s American and what’s Christian.”
His words echo what Jesus once said, “You cannot serve two masters.” In serving one, you have to abandon your relationship with the other. This can be tricky to do – especially during an election – because it stabs at our patriotic spirit, the very soul of our country that can still can unite us as her citizens.
But to quote Tony Campolo, “Mixing the church and state is like mixing ice cream with cow manure. It may not do much to the manure, but it sure messes up the ice cream.”
All this reminds me of a sermon I gave eight years ago, right before a midterm election. The fear back then was socialized medicine and those death panels that will kill your grandma. That time I read from the prophet Isaiah who said God rejects our worship and refuses to hear our prayers when we reject and refuse to care for those who need the most help – the one’s Jesus called “the least of these.” Afterward, someone told me – rather mater of factly – that ministers don’t talk politics in this church.
Sometime last year, I seemed to have offended someone again by reading from another prophet and asking the religious leaders on the President’s Evangelical Advisory Board to show me where Christ was in their Christianity.
In that message I stated, “Our greatest challenge as Christians is to worship a God who abhors injustice, bigotry, and hatred. And to do so by speaking the words of Christ; words of love, words of healing, and words of forgiveness.”
You don’t have to take my word on this matter. But you can’t ignore the very Word of God, Jesus Christ, who said, “What good is it to gain the whole world if we lose our soul?”
Joseph Kopser is a Texas congressional candidate and an Army vet. Like me, he’s a patriotic American and a Jesus loving Christian who speaks freely about faith and the role of government. In an interview he said, “You measure success of any group by how well it takes care of the least among us. The United States, the greatest nation in the world, should be doing a better job.” I think Jesus would agree.
We can do better as a country. And Christians can do better at being Christ in the world.
I think Jesus would agree that it’s okay to love gay people and the American flag at the same time.
I think Jesus would agree that it’s okay to support someone kneeling in a non-violent protest against injustice without giving up your support for our military who fight to protect our freedoms to protest.
However, I don’t think Jesus is down with us using the most vulnerable, the weak and the poor, to get ahead in life or drive a wedge between us. Jesus, who dealt with his own harsh critics, made it very clear, “Every kingdom divided against itself will crumble.”
During our last election, churches began to feel the fissures in our faith foundation. These cracks have only gotten bigger as an alarming rate of Christians continue to support injustices and immediate gain over the greater good and the teachings of Christ.
What happened? Did Jesus retire from being the head of this holy and sacred body? Do his words cease to be relevant?
I recently saw a cartoon about a retail store called Commandments-R-Us. The sign on the wall read “Pick and choose the ones you want.” Is this what Jesus intended when he said, “Come, follow me” – that we can pick and choose how we do that?
A Christ filled life isn’t like ordering off a menu or filling your plate at a salad bar. It’s all or nothing. Jesus did not die so that we would only get some of God. He sacrificed his wants and desires so we could have all of God’s love. All of God’s mercy. All of God’s grace. And all of the hope and promise of resurrection glory.
Here’s the thing. God wants all of us too. We don’t get to choose who to love or who to forgive anymore than Jesus did.
We don’t get to choose to protect the unborn child and ignore the lives of those suffering from extreme poverty, gun violence, and environmental pollution.
Nor can we honor the life of one person because of where they were born, and reject another for the same reason.
We cannot turn our backs on one of God’s beloved children, nor deny their rights to experience a full and thriving life. Not if we are to call ourselves Christians.
To quote Shane Claiyborne again, “Welcoming immigrants is not a burden, it’s a sacrament!” It’s a holy sacrament that remembers and honors the work of the One who gave himself for ALL.
Anyone who wants to harm or hold back another person will have trouble with the God of Zechariah who said, “You must see that justice is done, show kindness and mercy to one another. Do not oppress widows, orphans, foreigners, or anyone else in need. If you do not listen to my words,” says God, “then I won’t listen to your prayers.’ Let that news settle on your heart for a while.
Our challenge today, just as it will be everyday, is to find a way to live (and govern) in accordance to God’s will and not just our own. I believe Jesus shows us a clear and straightforward path through loving our neighbors; serving God and others instead of money and ourselves; using what God has blessed you with to care for the least of these your brothers and sisters.
This is important to remember. God made it very clear when he sent his only begotten Son. Jesus is proof to me that every soul has infinite worth – worth more than any system, any institution, or any cause.
Thus, St. Francis taught it’s more important to be Jesus than to worship him. For it’s in our living as Jesus we are able to love and welcome others with impartiality.
In our living as Jesus we can care enough to heal our brokenness and feed our hunger for justice. We can cover the naked and vulnerable in kindness. We can transform hearts of stone into hands of hope. To be Jesus means we can do God’s will and thrive as a nation of diverse people – despite our many differences.
By accepting and being a living example of God’s divine love right now, we can actually gain the world without sacrificing our souls.
Let us pray: Lord, guide us to be more like your Son, the true King of all nations and people. Help to always remember his sacrifice in all that we do and with everyone we meet. Not for our glory but so that the world can see your glory throughout the ages to come. Amen.
Claiborne, Shane. Jesus For President. Zondervon: 2008 p. 20.
has been blogging under the name: Jesus not Jesús: Looking for Christ in the face of strangers. You can read his posts and browse his archives by clicking here.
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