Category Archives: Lectionary

Something Real and Active

Photo by Patrick Schneider on Unsplash

Acts 4:5-12
Psalm 23
1 John 3:16-24
John 10:11-18

 

Psalm 23 is an excellent description of how God takes care of us. It is almost too familiar to realize its full impact, but for now, we want it to remind us that we are not alone, that God cares enough for us that he sent his Son to be our caregiver.

That caregiver, Jesus/Messiah, healed a blind man on the Sabbath and was forced to defend himself from the Pharisees. The account is in chapter 9 and 10 of John. As part of that defense, Jesus says plainly that he is the gate and the shepherd. In 10:7-9 Jesus describes the importance of the gate.

What he described was the common practice in those days of leading the sheep into a pen at night and leading them to pasture in the morning. The pen was enclosed by a rock wall about four feet high with one opening about four feet wide. At night, a shepherd slept in the opening, blocking the sheep from leaving. Generally, there were several herds in the same enclosure and the shepherds took turns sleeping and walking around the perimeter to ensure there were no intruders. In the morning, the shepherds took turns singing or talking so that his sheep knew which man to follow.

Jesus tells us that he is the gate, he is the way to safety. We get to God through him alone. He also tells us he is the shepherd, the good shepherd.  I am the good shepherd, and I know those that are mine and my sheep know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I am giving my life for the sake of the sheep. “And I have other sheep who do not belong to this fold. I must lead these also, and they will hear my voice. So there will be one flock and one shepherdPhillips

I am giving my life for the sake of the sheep, is an indication that Jesus already knew he was going to die, but just as importantly, it tells me what I must expect to do once I choose to be one of his flock.

This is where the image of sheep breaks down. Jesus will care for us, but he wants us to become more than just sheep, mindlessly tagging along. He expects us to become like him, to lay down our own lives to protect those around us who need protection.

It may be a blind man or a man who cannot walk, as happened to Peter and John when Peter gave those stirring words, it was by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene NJB that the man was healed.

In John’s letter, we read, our love is not to be just words or mere talk, but something real and activeNJB That is the secret to becoming a shepherd like Jesus. Sheep eat, drink and rest in safety. Shepherds help them do that, but they also in the human sense help them to become shepherds themselves.

If you are not losing sleep, you are not a shepherd.

 

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

Rich in Mercy

 

Numbers 21:4-9
Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22
Ephesians 2:1-10
John 3:14-21

 

Look at these two sentences from the passage in Ephesians. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in 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 coming ages 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 a result of works, so that no one may boastESV

There is nothing in there for you and me to do. In fact, this is not your own doing, not a result of works. It is Mercy, Love, Life, Grace, Kindness, Gift. I don’t even need great faith. The Holy Spirit will give me the faith I need.

A key point is the last word, need. I don’t know what faith I need, because I don’t know what work I am doing for God. He controls both.

Consider Agnes Bojaxhiu from Albania who became Teresa when she joined a convent and Mother Teresa when she branched off to head her own convent in Calcutta, a mission to tend to the needs of the dying in that city of death. She became world famous for her unending work. People flocked to her side to assist for a day, week, month. Yet, after her death, her published letters revealed her own struggles of faith.

Time in 2007 reported, Yet less than three months earlier, in a letter to a spiritual confidant, the Rev. Michael van der Peet, that is only now being made public, she wrote with weary familiarity of a different Christ, an absent one. “Jesus has a very special love for you,” she assured Van der Peet. “[But] as for me, the silence and the emptiness is so great, that I look and do not see,–Listen and do not hear–the tongue moves [in prayer] but does not speak … I want you to pray for me–that I let Him have [a] free hand.”

I like the last line, let Him have a free hand. Too often we believe that becoming a Christian guarantees our lives will turn to sweetness and light. Doubts will never be a problem. The reality for most of us is closer to Teresa’s.

With her, or more to the point, with Jesus I can plod on to share the Mercy, Love, Life, Grace, Kindness, Gift. I don’t need to know what I’m doing if God knows. It is enough that what I am doing is a loving, kind, underserved gift full of life.

 

Read my earlier comments on this theme here.

 

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

Ten Words

 

Exodus 20:1-17
Psalm 19
1 Corinthians 1:18-25
John 2:13-22

The Exodus reading is one of the most famous passages from the Bible. But let’s clear up one misconception. There is no title to these verses in the Bible. Through the ages, Ten Words has been the title, from Hebrew through English. For whatever reason, about the time of the King James version, the English people changed usage to Ten Commandments.

In the last four books of the Torah, God gave Moses 613 Words (Commands), each of which fall  into ten groups. Each of the Ten Words of today’s reading serves as a heading for a whole column of additional and related commands.

The following is from the website Judaism 101 (http://www.jewfaq.org/10.htm) For example, the mitzvah not to work on Shabbat rather obviously falls within the category of remembering the Sabbath day and keeping it holy. The mitzvah to fast on Yom Kippur fits into that category somewhat less obviously: all holidays are in some sense a Sabbath, and the category encompasses any mitzvah related to sacred time. The mitzvah not to stand aside while a person’s life is in danger fits somewhat obviously into the category against murder. It is not particularly obvious, however, that the mitzvah not to embarrass a person fits within the category against murder: it causes the blood to drain from your face thereby shedding blood.

A mitzvah is a commandment.

In Exodus 21:28-30 we read: If a bull gores a man or woman to death, the bull is to be stoned to death, and its meat must not be eaten. But the owner of the bull will not be held responsible.  If, however, the bull has had the habit of goring and the owner has been warned but has not kept it penned up and it kills a man or woman, the bull is to be stoned and its owner also is to be put to death.  However, if payment is demanded, the owner may redeem his life by the payment of whatever is demandedNIV

Most of us agree with this, except for killing the owner of the bull. Most of the 613 rules are similar, and most of them have found their way into modern laws of most countries.

Where many of us part ways with Judaism is in the Oral Tradition, passed from one rabbi to another for several thousand years. It exists in a written form today in several volumes beginning with the Mishnah. Under the section of the Mishnah dealing with the bull in Exodus, we read: The dog or goat which jumped from the top of the roof and broke utensils, the owner pays the full value of the damage they have caused, because they are attested dangers. The dog which took a cake to which a cinder adhered and went to standing grain, ate the cake, and set the stack on fire, for the cake the owner pays full damages, but for the standing grain he pays only for half of the damages his dog has caused.

And yet, our courts overflow with crimes and lawsuits dealing with these kinds of details. When two cars collide resulting in minor damage, the police prefer to let the insurance companies fight it out. If there is an injury or death, the police will take statements, photos, measurements, blood tests, the works, and it might still be up to the insurance companies. If it ends up in court, the jury will rule against the driver they believe should have avoided the accident. Under Biblical commands, someone might experience a shower of stones.

One more item regarding the Ten Words. Again, I quote from Judaism 101. In the United States, a controversy has persisted for many years regarding the placement of the “Ten Commandments” in public schools and public buildings. But one critical question seems to have escaped most of the public dialog on the subject: Whose “Ten Commandments” should we post?

The general perception in this country is that the “Ten Commandments” are part of the common religious heritage of Judaism, Catholicism and Protestantism, part of the sacred scriptures that we all share, and should not be controversial. But most people involved in the debate seem to have missed the fact that these three religions divide up the commandments in different ways! Judaism, unlike Catholicism and Protestantism, considers “I am the L-rd, your G-d” to be the first “commandment.” Catholicism, unlike Judaism and Protestantism, considers coveting property to be separate from coveting a spouse. Protestantism, unlike Judaism and Catholicism, considers the prohibition against idolatry to be separate from the prohibition against worshipping other gods. No two religions agree on a single list. So whose list should we post?

Enough said.

 

Read my earlier comments on this theme here.

 

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

The Son Of Man and the Way of the Cross

 

Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16
Psalm 22:22-30
Romans 4:13-25
Mark 8:31-38

The reading of Mark shows Jesus preparing his Apostles for the upcoming crucifixion. Mark writes, He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things. NIV Son of Man was by far the most common way Jesus referred to himself.

Psalm 80:17 uses the phrase. But let your hand be on the man of your right hand, the son of man whom you have made strong for yourself! ESV Grant Your help to the man at Your right hand, the one You have taken as Your ownJSB Notice what happened to the wording in the Jewish JSB version. Generally, the JSB is the most accurate translation of the Hebrew, but here and in other places, they have chosen to slightly alter the phrase because it has become so closely associated with the First Century teacher, Yeshua.

Be sure that the JSB is just as accurate as the ESV on this verse. Both Hebrew and Christian scholars believe the verse to be about King David, or perhaps Saul. The Psalmist is asking God to protect Judah as He did in the times of the great kings.

The next time the phrase, son of man, is used, God called Ezekiel. He said to me, “Son of man, stand up on your feet and I will speak to you.” As he spoke, the Spirit came into me and raised me to my feet, and I heard him speaking to meNIV God calls Ezekiel son of man ninety times. Notice the lower-case form in English. Hebrew has only one case, so it is hard to know if they intended to set the title apart as we do for Jesus.

Despite the constant use of the title as a name for the prophet, it is still not historically associated with the Messiah. The real change came in one mention in Daniel. Chapter 7:13-14: “I kept watching the night visions, when I saw, coming with the clouds of heaven, someone like a son of man. He approached the Ancient One and was led into his presence. To him was given rulership, glory and a kingdom, so that all peoples, nations and languages should serve him. His rulership is an eternal rulership that will not pass away; and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed. CJB  Again, the JSB reads: One like a human being. In a footnote, the JSB says that the phrase is literally son of man.

The footnote goes on to give a quick history of the phrase, so I will include part of it here.

Human being, lit. “son of man,” which in the Bible is idiomatic for human being. Here, however, the celestial being is like a human being, i.e., has a human countenance. For the author it most likely represents a heavenly figure who will exercise judgment, perhaps Michael. Christian tradition, especially in the Gospels, saw this as a prediction of Jesus as a heavenly “son of man.” A messianic use of this title is also found in postbiblical Jewish literature (1 Enoch,, Ezra Sanh).

There was a second use of the phrase in Chapter 8 where the angel Gabriel started to explain a vision. As he came near the place where I was standing, I was terrified and fell prostrate. “Son of man,” he said to me, “understand that the vision concerns the time of the end.” NIV Here it clearly referees to Daniel.

The most important point is that by the time Jesus began his ministry, Son of Man was widely accepted as a title for the Messiah. While Jesus never said he was the Messiah, he intended for people to make the simple leap from Son of Man to Messiah in their thinking.

Why did Jesus not call himself the Messiah?

In Jesus’ day, the general thinking was heavily political regarding the expected Messiah. Jesus did not come to earth to do battle with the Roman Legions, which is what people expected.

Jesus had to slap Peter in front of the other Apostles. You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concernsNIV I am not here to lead a military revolt as Enoch would have it. I am here to give peace to all people.

If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow meESV Jesus is not our General leading us into battle. He is our Shepherd leading us a new world, a new life, a new way of relating to others.

To follow him requires that we sacrifice ourselves the way he did. Jesus made his choice to follow the Word of God. In his case, as for many others, it meant physical death. For most of us, it means death to this world, to this way of life.

 

Read my earlier comments on this theme here.

 

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

Christ the Just

Photo by scott1346 on Foter.com / CC BY

 

Genesis 9:8-17
Psalm 25:1-9
1 Peter 3:18-22
Mark 1:9-15

 

Rabbi Tovia Singer has become very popular on YouTube as a debunker of the faults of Christianity. One such attack was on the very essence of the faith. In verse 18 of First Peter, we read: Remember that Christ the just suffered for us the unjust, to bring us to GodPhillips

Singer responds that Jesus did not sacrifice anything. If he knew that he only had a few hours of suffering to go through and that with his death he would put an end to sin, that is not a sacrifice, that is like winning the power ball. A real sacrifice is giving up your life to save another person with no expectation of any reward.

You can listen to his much longer explanation here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=51PcjmeG0hA

On the surface, R. Singer seems to have made a solid case. Most of us would be willing to do what Jesus did if we knew we would end up saving all humanity.

The problem is that the Rabbi has left out important information. He did so because he does not accept Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of Man, or the Son of God. He rejects any notion that Jesus was without sin. He even rejects the importance of animal sacrifice in the First Century Temple.

By the Rabbi’s account, Jesus willingly went to the cross in the mistaken impression that his death would eliminate sin. By Peter’s account, Jesus was the Once and Only Pure Lamb, put to death for the sins of the world. He chose to enter Hell to preach to the people there. God took him from the grave and raised him up to sit at His right hand in Heaven.

As we know, Jesus had many disagreements with the Pharisees. One of them was their insistence that they could stand in God’s presence as perfect humans because they observed the Law and all its supplements, amendments, codicils, and refinements. Jesus wanted them to worry more about the people they met every day instead of avoiding them for fear of contamination.

The Gospel message is that we do not have to worry about our sins. What the Pharisees did not understand was that they were sinning every day, throughout the day, without knowing it. We all do. To stop every time I sin and ask for forgiveness would eliminate most of the time I have to help other people.

After Peter describes the salvation of the Ark, he adds this: And I cannot help pointing out what a perfect illustration this is of the way you have been admitted to the safety of the Christian “ark” by baptism, which means, of course, far more than the mere washing of a dirty body: it means the ability to face God with a clear conscience. For there is in every true baptism the virtue of Christ’s rising from the deadPhillips

 

Read my earlier comments on this theme here.

 

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence