Please Come.

One last thought on Jesus’s first miracle, turning water into wine.  Short and sweet, I promise.

Jesus doesn’t just turn any old water into wine.   Jesus turned water for ritual purification into wedding wine, and this too is a sign.  The sign is that there is about to be a huge shift in how we understand our relationship with God.   Instead of always washing, washing, washing, mikvah, mikvah, mikvah, ceremonial cleansing, over and over, repeatedly, several times a week, instead of always washing and never really feeling clean, now the Kingdom of God is going to be more like eating and drinking with close friends with nothing to prove.  Because you know you belong and you know you are welcome there.

To be involved with God, Jesus says is not going to be like always bathing but never getting clean. It’s going to be like sitting at a table with your best friends, enjoying good food and drink, with nothing to prove.  Things are about to shift from purity rites to shared table delights.

Instead of are you clean enough, are you pure enough, are you holy enough, are you kosher enough, the question is now going to be will you come to the table?   Want to come to God?   The question has changed.  It used to be that the question was are Holy enough, pure enough, kosher enough, clean enough???   But Jesus says that’s not the question any more. The question isn’t are you holy, clean, or pure enough, the question is will you come to the table??

That’s the standing invitation Jesus gives to you.  He invites you to his table. And he says I’m not asking you if you’re clean enough.  I’m not asking you if you Holy enough.  I’m not asking you if you’re good enough.  I’m not asking you if you’re pure enough.  I’m not asking you if you’re religious enough.  I’m not asking you if you’re kosher enough.  I’m just asking, will you  come?

That’s all Jesus asks of you, is that you come.  Just come.   Just come to the table and then things will happen.   But know that you are welcome here.  You are loved here.  You are accepted here.   Just come as you are.

Amen.

John Lewis

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Darkened Lamps

light_in_dark

“They tell me to be discreet, for all intended purposes,  they tell me revenge is sweet, and from where they stand I’m sure it is.  But I feel nothing for their game where beauty goes unrecognized.   All I feel are heat and flame, and all I see are dark eyes.”   Bob Dylan.

Jesus wants to teach us a brand new way of looking at life with eyes of wonder, love and acceptance so that you can have bright eyes and a bright soul.   I’ve used this quote before, but here it is again – “Christianity is about forgiveness or it’s about nothing at all” – Pastor and author Brian Zahnd.  The problem is that the people who are most explicit in our culture in identifying themselves as Christian are not famous for forgiveness.  If we are identifying ourselves with Christianity, which is about forgiveness or it’s about nothing at all, but we are not famous for our forgiveness, something has gone very wrong.  We say we care about Christianity in America.  We say we want our children and grandchildren to be able to live as Christians.   But we have a problem.

The dominant, most visible public expression of public Christianity in America, evangelicalism, is in deep trouble.   The us vs. them thing is killing us.  We have adopted a paradigm of self-identifying ourselves as we are the righteous and they (pick your group) are the unrighteous, and we are going to react toward them by protest, by clenched fist, by furrowed brow, and this attitude and paradigm is killing authentic Christianity in America.

I can’t paraphrase or otherwise say this any better, so this is directly from Pastor Zahnd’s 2010 book Unconditional?  The Call of Jesus to Radical Forgiveness.  So I’ll just quote from it.

“When we choose to forgive those who intentionally and maliciously harm us instead of perpetuating the cycle of revenge, we become a living imitation of Jesus Christ.  And as we do this, we flood a world hell-bent on paybacks with a forgiveness that washes away sin.  The world is all too full of the lust for vengeance.  This lust is ultimately demonic in nature and is what fuels all our wars – from petty personal conflicts to deadly world wars.  Christians are called to opt out of the game of getting even.  The saying is that “vengeance is sweet,” but vengeance is sweet only to the sick soul.  To those who have tasted the grace of God in Christ, vengeance is bitter as gall.  Bob Dylan talks about the perversity of calling revenge ‘sweet’ in his under-appreciated song ‘Dark Eyes.’

‘They tell me to be discreet for all intended purposes,

They tell me revenge is sweet, and from where they stand, I’m sure it is.

But I feel nothing for their game where beauty goes unrecognized,

All I feel are heat and flame and all I feel are dark eyes.’

Revenge is not sweet.  It’s the heat and flame of hell and leads to the dark eyes of a lost soul.  Those who would aspire to imitate Christ must feel nothing for the game of paybacks.  The saying ‘paybacks are hell’ is true in more than one sense.  Paybacks are not only hell for the recipient of revenge; paybacks are also hell for the executioner of revenge.  It’s the lust for revenge that destroys our souls and keeps us chained in a devil’s  hell of exponential hatred and endless retribution.  The only way out is the imitation of Christ.”

Who are we imitating?   Are we imitating Christ?   Or are we dancing with the devil?   Just what kind of light is the lamp of your soul beaming?

 “”The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!” Matthew 6:22-23 ESV.

John Lewis

Bright Eyes

We read and pray Psalm 88 and we find that “my eye grows [dark] through sorrow…”  Psalms 88:9 ESV.   Some people have dark eyes from the sorrows they have seen in life.   They say the eyes are a window to the soul.    You can look in some peoples eyes and they tell a story, oftentimes a story that is sad.  Some people have dark eyes because of the sorrows they have seen in life, we understand that.

But some people have dark eyes because of the way they look at life.   Jesus talks about that in the sermon on the mount.  “”The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!” Matthew 6:22-23 ESV.  Jesus talks about the eye, how we look at life, being the lamp of our entire being.  He says this in the sermon on the mount in the context of where he is talking about money.  The text is bracketed by Jesus speaking about those who would be his disciples and how we view money.  Right before this text, he says “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:21 ESV.   At the end of this passage he says “.…You cannot serve God and money.”  Matthew 6:24 ESV.

So this dark eye that causes our being to be filled with darkness has something to do with a wrong approach to money.   We could say it like this : there are those who go through life with the squinty eyes of greed.  The squinty-eyed have dark eyes that darken their own soul because they have learned to look at life in the wrong way.  We can look at life through the squinty eyes of greed, calculation, and cynicism.   There is a way of looking at life through little slits, sizing people up, looking for an advantage, calculating, cynical, jaded, greedy.  If you look at life that way, the light pouring into your soul is in fact darkness.  We can look at life with the squinty eyes of greed, calculation and cynicism, but we end up with dark eyes and a dark soul.

Or we can look at life with wide-eyed wonder, love and acceptance.  With our eyes wide open, wide-eyed wonder of love and acceptance, we have bright eyes and a bright soul.  Some have dark eyes because of how much sorrow they have seen in life.  But some have dark eyes because of how they shut out the light by how they look at life.

But the gospel message is this – Jesus can save us from both the dark eyes of sorrow and the dark eyes of cynicism.  So that if you have seen so much sorrow and pain and suffering in your life, and you feel like your soul has been darkened, I want to tell you the good news that Jesus can come to you and heal you from your sorrows.  He can give you bright eyes and a bright soul.

And if you’ve been looking at life through the squinty eyes of greed, calculation and cynicism, Jesus wants to teach you a brand new way of looking at life through the wide eyed wonder of love and acceptance so that you can have bright eyes and a bright soul…

John Lewis

You Will Even Accuse Yourself

You Will Even Accuse Yourself

Last time I wrote, I finished by saying that Jesus had to react so strongly to Peter’s rebuke (accusation?) at Jesus’s telling to the disciples that  the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again because this rebuke/accusation from Peter (You’ve got the wrong idea of what it means to be Messiah Jesus!) had the potential to put self-doubt in the mind of Jesus.   And yes, Jesus could suffer from the temptation to self-doubt.  To doubt oneself is a very human thing to do, and Jesus was very human of very human….and therefore subject to all the temptations we humans suffer with.

Was Jesus tempted with self doubt?   I don’t know the answer to that question for sure, but it’s certainly possible.   And I do know this – everybody doubted Jesus.  And I do mean everybody.  Think about the struggle this would cause for you and I.

Think about the struggle Jesus must have had with this.  He was doubted by the chief priests, the scribes and the elders.   Did this affect him?   I don’t know, but they were the authorities, the scholars, the theologians, and they were saying Jesus, you’re vision is wrong.  Did this induce any self doubt?  I don’t know, maybe not.  We’ll say that no, it didn’t.

Jesus was doubted by his own disciples.   That’s got to hurt.  He was doubted by his own brothers – For not even his brothers believed in him.”  John 7:5 ESV.  Even worse than that, Jesus’ own mother doubted him.   And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, “He is out of his mind.””  Mark 3:21 ESV.   We read this and chuckle, but there’s nothing funny going on.   This is a family intervention.  Mary gets James and Joses and Judas and Simon, Jesus’ four brothers, maybe some of his sisters, and says to them “Jesus is mentally unstable.  Your older brother is mentally unstable.  He’s got these ideas and they’re just going to get him killed.   We’ve got to intervene.”   And they go to seize him because they think Jesus is suffering a mental breakdown.

Think I’m reading too much into this?   Maybe.   But let’s skip 10 verses later, and what does it say?   “And his mother and his brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him. And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you.” And he answered them, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.“” Mark 3:31-35 ESV.   We like to spiritualize this, I would say we over-spiritualize it.  This is a serious family situation.  Jesus is with a group of disciples, they had just tried a family intervention and they are coming to try again.  Mom and the brothers send word in to Jesus that they are looking for him, and Jesus says what?  Who are my mother and my brothers?”   Hmmmmpht.   My brothers and my mother??!!  These people that are hearing the word of God and doing it, these are my mother and brothers!   Ok, when your mom calls you, just say “Who is my mother”, and let me know how that works out for you.   This is a very tense family situation.

They don’t believe in him.  They love him, but they don’t believe in him.  They don’t believe he can go about being Messiah and live the Sermon on the Mount at the same time.   He has this idea, somehow, that he’s going to liberate Israel and bring about the kingdom of God, yet not kill anybody!!   Turn the other cheek and bring the kingdom of God? That’ll never work.  That’ll just get you killed Jesus….and that’ll be the end of that.

Know what’s really heartbreaking, when you think about it??   Jesus went to the cross with NOBODY believing in him.  They loved him, yes, but they did not believe in him.  James loved him, John loved him, Peter loved him.  Other disciples loved him.  Judas, maybe not.  Mary Magdalene loved him, his mother loved him.   Yes they loved him.  But they did not believe in him.  They believed Jesus had missed it.  He’d had the potential to be Messiah, he coulda been Messiah.  But he clung to his lofty ideals, and now the whole thing is falling apart, and just like they said he went and got himself killed.   And in the eyes of those whom Jesus most cared about, he was dying as a failure.   Please try to imagine how hard that must have been…to go through all that with nobody believing in him.   That’s why in the Garden of Gethsemane an angel had to come and strengthen him.  He had to have a direct message from the father.  You’re doing the right thing.  Don’t give way to self doubt now.  Don’t let those negative people and comments get through to your psyche and cripple you.  Stay the course.

When people get into their head that messiah, Christ, is to be a certain way, it’s almost impossible to change it.  If you try to change their idea of Christ, you will be subject to accusation.   Even Jesus did not succeed in changing people’s understanding of what it means to be Christ until after his resurrection.  They just could not accept, and their response was to do what Peter did, and accuse him of making a mistake.

When we begin to discover Christ in a deeper way, when we begin talk about Jesus in a different way, when we take the American varnish off of Jesus and show people that Jesus is not an American committed to the American dream and our superpower status, and that in fact the American way and the Jesus way are not the same way but  are often at odds with one another, people might say all kinds of things about you.   Just like his own countrymen said all kinds of thing about Jesus for showing that God was not just God for the Jews, but for Gentiles and the whole world as well.

But it was true.  It’s still true.  We need to come to see Jesus as he is, Christ for all, not just a nationalized Christ, the American Jesus.  But this messes with peoples understanding of Christ and who Christ is.   When we begin to rub that red white and blue varnish off of Jesus, people will not like it.  People are very comfortable with that red white and blue varnish, start rubbing that off and people will accuse you of all kinds of things.   Start rubbing that off, there will be star spangled trouble.

If you get accused, though, you can’t lash out.  If you lash out, it just fuels the Satan, It gets worse and worse and turns into a hurricane.  You forgive.  You absorb the blow and forgive.  Father forgive them because they don’t know what they do.  If possible, you try to help them see what they are doing.  But what you cannot do is let the accusation get into your head and become self doubt.  Because what happens is you take the accusation up and begin to practice self accusation.    You become your own Satan in your own head, and you go to hell inside your own head.  Anybody else know about this?   You become subject to unjust accusation, but you begin to take it up against yourself.  You begin to accuse yourself.  You idiot, you’re stupid. What in the world are you doing?   Am I the only one?

It will begin to flood you with self doubt, you will be paralyzed, things will spiral out of control.  We can’t lash out, but we also cannot afford to allow these accusations to lodge in our head and fill us with self doubt.  How many if you have ever been the victim of unjust accusation?   Might go all the way back to when you were five years old.  Maybe your dad or your mom told you you idiot.  You’re no good,  you’ll never amount to anything.   That was unjust.  Nobody should ever say that to anybody, especially a child.  Rationally you know it was unjust, not right, yet forty years later it’s still lodged in you.  So now you take up against yourself.  You say to yourself, you’re no good, you’ll never amount to anything.   Maybe it was a parent, a brother, a friend, maybe it was an enemy.  Maybe a boss, could be anybody.  You’ve begun to be victimized by unjust accusation but it’s gotten into your head.  And you need to pray like this – “Lord, give me the strength to be strong and true, because lord when the devil gets in my head I’m so blue…”.  (From an Irish folk song…)

Never forget that the spirit of accusation is the spirit of Satan.  It’s the un-holy spirit.  The opposite of this is the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit is the spirit of advocacy.   God says “I love you.  I’m for you.  I’m on your side.  You’re going to make it.”   You’re ok, and when you’re not ok it’s ok not to be ok.  Bring it to the Holy Spirit, to your brothers and sisters who do the will of God and lift you up.

John Lewis

Sometimes We Cry

Sometimes We Cry

My first message in about a week and a half, went on family vacation, and I unplugged and recharged.  Actually started this last Friday, I’m finally ready to share it with you…

“Woe is me because of my hurt! My wound is grievous. But I said, “Truly this is an affliction, and I must bear it.””

Jeremiah 10:19 ESV

http://bible.com/59/jer.10.19.esv

Pain in the great equalizer in life.  Pain comes to us all, unwanted and uninvited.  It puts us on an even playing field.   It comes to us all.  It comes to the rich and the poor.  Black and white.  Educated and uneducated.  Powerful and weak.  Religious and irreligious.  In a broken world, pain is inevitable.

Jeremiah’s pain, Woe is me because of my hurt!was the pain of watching his country be invaded and fall to the Babylonians.  Jeremiah was a prophet in the southern kingdom called Judah.  At the time they were being ransacked by the Babylonians.  His pain was the pain of watching his countrymen captured and carried off to Babylon.  The pain of watching his city, the holy city of Jerusalem, being burned and ransacked, with the holy temple of Jewish worship being destroyed by a pagan army.

Jeremiah was able to put to words the pain we have all felt.  We’ve all felt pain, but sometimes in those painful moments we just can’t find the words to express the hurt you feel.  Maybe the wound is more than you can bear.

Jeremiah’s pain was the pain of a nation falling.  Maybe your pain is the physical pain from some disease or malady.  Maybe you feel the emotional pain of someone you have loved who has hurt you.  Maybe it’s the hidden pain of abuse.  Maybe it’s the stinging pain of loss through death.  Maybe you know the shameful pain of personal failure.

For many of us, it’s the pain and regret and sorrow of lifelong struggles with with addictions that cause us to hurt other people.  How many examples have we seen of the saying hurt people hurt people.  We who have been wounded and have been hurt, end up hurting others.  How many deep wounds have we seen and felt that we have tried to self medicate with sex, alcohol, gambling, drugs, but we just can’t.  We end up, out of our hurt and wounded-ness, hurting the people we love.  We tell our stories, we tell of our lies, we tell of stealing from those we love, we abandon them, we break our relationships apart.   Truly this is an affliction, and I must bear it.   

Jeremiah, living in a time when the southern kingdom and Jerusalem itself were being laid bare, had in mind the words of Isaiah.  Jeremiah became the weeping prophet, carrying the wound of the fallen Jerusalem.    But one hundred years before Jeremiah, God had sent to Israel the prophet Isaiah both with a warning and a message of hope.   Isaiah opens the second half his book of prophecy with these words –  “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord ‘s hand double for all her sins.”  Isaiah 40:1-2 ESV.  One hundred years before Jeremiah and his wounds and his hurt, Isaiah prophesied that a day of new creation was coming to Israel.  There would come a day when Israel would flourish, where they would build houses and plant vineyards, and have babies and lots of babies and grand-babies and have big kosher BBQs and the family would all be together.  One hundred years before Jeremiah’s pain there was this great prophecy that there would be a time of flourishing and this time of new creation when God would come and dwell with his people again.

Then there was this promise that Isaiah gave – “The wolf and the lamb shall graze together; the lion shall eat straw like the ox, and dust shall be the serpent’s food. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain,” says the Lord.” Isaiah 65:25 ESV.  The hurt Jeremiah felt compelled to hold onto (ever been there?), he would not have to hold onto any longer.  There was coming a time of new creation where in God’s rule and reign they would not hurt or destroy anymore.  Isaiah prophecies this yet one hundred years later there was the fall of Jerusalem and the people watched as the wolves and lions from Babylon came devouring…

Yet a promise remained from Isaiah.  Even at this point in Israel’s history, God had not forsaken them, he had not given up.  There was coming one called the anointed one, the Christ, the Messiah.  There was one coming who would come to bring God’s kingdom, God’s rule and reign, to the earth.   Remember, when we speak of the kingdom of God, we are not talking about a place but a power.   The church is not the kingdom of God, but rather the witness to the kingdom of God.  We are the servants of the kingdom of God.   But the Kingdom of God is God’s rule and reign on the earth.  So there was this prophecy that even through the destruction of the temple there would be a day of new creation and that Messiah would come.

Isaiah tells us that when Messiah would come he would be a suffering King, that he would take all the hurt, pain and sorrow of Israel away.   In Isaiah 53 it tells us “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.”  Isaiah 53:4 ESV. Jeremiah is carrying this wound, this hurt, this pain, yet he has the promise that Messiah would come and be a suffering king.

Five hundred years (God does move slowly, doesn’t he?) after Isaiah’s prophecy a virgin girl gives birth to her first born son, and they would call his name Jesus, for he would save God’s people from their sins.  Jesus came to bring God’s kingdom, his rule and reign, to bring God’s holy mountain to the earth.   Jesus came to bring the Kingdom of God and show us what God is like.

So what do we see in the gospels that Jesus was doing?   He was proclaiming and preaching that God’s kingdom is a peaceable kingdom.  There’s not going to be eye for an eye, tooth for tooth anymore (even though sometimes we argue with him over this!).   No more hating, destroying and killing of your enemies, that’s done away with.  We see Jesus proclaiming a kingdom of peace and we see Jesus healing the sick.  And as he was healing the sick, he was demonstrating what God is like, what life lived in the kingdom of God is like.

What do we see about God through the preaching and ministry of Jesus?  We see that God is good, full of compassion and mercy, that he’s a God who wants to mend what is broken and heal what is diseased.  We see in the ministry of Jesus the promise of Isaiah coming to pass, that there will be a time when people will come under the rule and reign of God.  In that place, They shall not hurt or destroy.

So Jesus has come.  He has proclaimed the kingdom.   And you know how the story ends.   At the end of his life, Jesus dies.  He goes to the cross, gets executed, and dies.  One of his closest followers, Peter, says this about Jesus in his death.    “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.”  1 Peter 2:24 ESV.  Amen.

Jesus came not just to demonstrate what life looks like in the kingdom of God, but Jesus came and he collected, he carried our griefs and sorrows, he carried all sorts of human pain into himself, took it into death, and overcame it in his resurrection that he might offer healing to all.  (Amen!)  So in his suffering, Jesus was suffering for us, but also with us.  Jesus experienced all sorts of human pain.  He experienced your pain.   He experienced it for you so that he can take it in himself, overcome it, then rise again to offer healing for your wounds.  He took your pain and your brokenness so that you don’t have to carry it anymore.  So that if you choose to live under the rule and reign of god, then you shall not hurt or destroy anymore.

Have you experienced the pain of rejection?   Jesus was abandoned and rejected by all of his disciples at his arrest and execution.  Experienced the pain of injustice?  Jesus was unjustly tried and sentenced to death.  Experienced the pain of bondage and addiction?  Jesus was bound and held against his will at his arrest.  Experienced the pain of physical abuse?   Jesus was slapped, spat upon and beaten before his death.  Experienced the emotional pain of harsh words spoken to you in anger?  Jesus was mocked, ridiculed, laughed at and scolded as he died.  Experienced the shame of sexual abuse?   Jesus at the cross was stripped naked, exposed for all to see.  Experienced physical pain from disease or malady or sickness?   Jesus experienced real human physical pain at his crucifixion.  Experienced profound disappointment with God?  Jesus at the cross cried out…“And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”” Mark 15:34 ESV. Experienced the stinging pain of the death of a loved one?  Jesus experienced real human death.  Jesus cried out at the end from the cross “Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last.”   Luke 23:46 ESV.  He breathed his last and went into death.

Jesus took into death with him all amounts human suffering and pain, and he overcame it in his resurrection to offer healing and solace.  So when people ask, and they will, why suffering??   Or for those who make it really personal, and when they are hurting or in that moment of pain, ask where is God, why am I hurting??   God thunders back from heaven, saying I entered into that kind of pain, I took it for you, I overcame, so that you may be healed.  Jesus Christ became a co-sufferer with humanity.

Where does all this come from?  God does not give us the answer, scripture does not give us the answer of why suffering?   But God does give us the remedy.  He becomes human, suffers with us, and takes all of our suffering within himself so that our wounds may be healed.

Healing for you can begin today.  Offer your brokenness to the one who was broken for you.  Exchange your empire of dirt for life in the kingdom of God.  Enter into the kingdom of God, that place where Isaiah promises that we will not hurt or destroy anymore.  Let healing begin…

Getting Lucky

“…. Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”” Mark 1:14-15 NIV.

Rethink your life and believe something good is coming for you.  Believe that.   I know, some are more stubborn, some just have to know all the answers.   Some might be wondering, when I say something good is coming, well, why would something good be coming to me?    To which, I might just say “You’re just lucky I guess.”   Which is, in fact, a real theological response to the question.  If I tell you something good is coming, and you ask why and I say “because you’re lucky I guess,” that is a perfectly good theological response.

Eugene Peterson, the pastor, scholar, and theologian best known as the translator of the  Message bible, has said that he wanted to translate the beatitudes, “Blessed are the poor, blessed are the meek, blessed are are those who mourn,” instead of “blessed”, he had wanted to translate that word “lucky.”   He says that “lucky” captures what Jesus is saying in his beatitudes and completely fair to the word.  It captures, especially for the modern mind, exactly what Jesus is saying here.  “Hey, all you that are poor in being spiritual, WOO-HOO, lucky for you the kingdom of heaven is for people just like you!”   “Lucky are you who mourn, you’re going be comforted.”   “Lucky are you who are meek, you’re going to inherit the earth.”   This is how Eugene Peterson wanted to translate that Bible.  This is not my idea, but Eugene Peterson is the scholar and expert in biblical languages.

Let’s define lucky like this – “The mysterious experience of an unexplained grace.”   So when I say something good is is coming, and you say why?, and I say “you’re just lucky I guess”, I’m also saying “I don’t know!  It’s just the mysterious experience of an unexplained grace….

“And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied. “Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.”  Luke 6:20-21 ESV.  So Eugene Peterson says it would help the modern mind to understand the radical nature of what Jesus is saying in this sermon on the plain if we hear it like this – [Lucky] are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. “[Lucky] are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied. “[Lucky] are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.  Blessed has come to mean something very spiritual, very religious, very stained glass and closed in.  Maybe this is part why we like the word “blessed”, because after all, God blesses those who fear him and walk in his ways and curses those who don’t, right?   So, if we want to be blessed, we hold onto some kind of illusion that we can to something to somehow earn our blessedness, right?   And we’re all about our salvation by grace, except we all want to know the five steps we can take to earn it…

So why?   Why should this be?   Why would should it be that the hungry all the sudden be happy because something good is coming?  Why should the sad be happy because something good is coming.    You say I’m hungry and I’m sad and I’m poor, I’m just not very lucky.    Yet Jesus says you are.    Because something good is coming.   Why?   Because you’re just lucky enough to hear Jesus make his announcement.  And as our favorite apostle Paul tells us, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”  Romans 10:17 ESV.

Jesus says something good is coming.  If you think that’s for you, that’s also called faith, and it is.  Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. and Christ speaks.   He says to you, you that are poor, you that are discontent, you that are dissatisfied, you that are mourning and sorrowful, you are lucky because something good is coming to you.

John Lewis

Hope. Or no Hope?

1 Thessalonians.  The first Christian scripture.  Paul’s letters were written before the Gospels, and the first of Paul’s letters wasn’t  Romans, it was 1 Thessalonians.  Paul had been preaching the good news in the Greek city of Thessalonica.    These Gentiles, non-Jews, were coming to believe in the Jewish Messiah.  That was the announcement, that God was reframing or reforming his own people.  There was going to be a New Jerusalem, a new Israel, a new kingdom, a new redeemed people.  It was no longer going to be defined by Jewish ethnicity, or Jewish circumcision, or Jewish Torah.   But rather, it was being expanded, and was now being defined by faith, baptism, and obedience to Messiah.   Anyone, Jew or Gentile, who believed that Jesus is the Messiah, whom God has raised from the dead and made to be Lord, they would be incorporated.  It doesn’t matter whether they are Jew or Gentiles, male or female, slave or bond, Scythian or free.  They are going to be incorporated into this new body of Messiah, the new israel, the new society of the redeemed.   “Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.”  Colossians 3:11 ESV

Paul has been preaching this in Thessalonica and some of these Greeks have believed have been baptized.  They’ve become members of this new community, and are waiting for Jesus to come.  They are waiting for the king to come.  As Paul says to the Philippians, “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.”   Philippians 3:20-21 ESV.  Our citizenship is in heaven…our citizenship is in heaven, but we are colonizing earth.  From heaven, We are waiting for the king to come, and when he comes he will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.   We are waiting for the king to come.   When he comes, he will transform our bodies to be like his glorious, risen body.   Paul is preaching this to the Thessalonians, to which they say “Sounds great. Can’t wait!”   And they are anticipating the imminent return of Christ.  Whether that week, that month, but certainly that year.

But now a couple of years have gone by, and Jesus has not appeared.  Worse yet, during this time, some in their community have died.  Some of the church people have died.  So some of the Thessalonians are having a crisis.  They want to know what’s going on, what’s going to happen to those who have passed?  What’s going to happen to them?  They thought Jesus was coming and was going to transform them.  But now their friends and loved ones have died, what’s going to happen to them?

So Paul writes to the Thessalonians to comfort them, to instruct them, and teach them more accurately the way of the Christian faith.  “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.” 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 ESV.  But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep...notice Paul’s word for those who have died in the Lord is “asleep”.   This is how Paul describes those Christians who have died and are dead.  But he does not want us to be uninformed about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.   

And this is very interesting.   The pagan world had plenty of theories about what happens when someone dies.   They did not believe the dead ceased to exist.   They fully believed they went to a better place, they went somewhere else, on and on.  But they had no hope of resurrection, no hope of coming alive in this body again.  Paul, quite simply, calls that no hope, and says that’s why we grieve so severely.

For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.”  Amen.

Paul says that when the Lord comes, those that have already fallen asleep, that have died and been buried, will not be left out, in fact they will be raised first.  Then all of us will go forth to welcome the coming of the Lord, will meet him in the air, and henceforth will always be with the Lord.

But keep in mind, don’t get our thinking wrong, Jesus is not coming to take us away to a better place.  This place is just fine.  He’s coming to reign and to rule and to raise the dead.   He’s coming to finally fully establish his kingdom.

We will go forth to meet him, because that’s the proper thing to do when the king comes.  You don’t just sit in our house watching television when the king comes, you go forth and meet him.  We’ll go forth and meet our king as he comes from the heavens, but he’s not taking us off anywhere.  He’s going to be with us, because he’s coming here.  He’s not coming to whisk us off somewhere else, he’s coming to to reign and to rule and to raise the dead, and that is the hope that we have.   Paul says Therefore encourage one another with these words.

This is our hope.  Paul later will call it the blessed hope.  The Christian hope, the Easter hope, the hope of resurrection.  The hope is that unknown brothers, unknown sisters, mothers, fathers, relatives we have met, relatives we have never met.  Friends and relatives we’ve known well and have buried, that we will meet them again someday.  Hallelujah

Then there’s this mystery.  The mystery that in one sense the whole body of Christ, the whole company of the redeemed, is to each of us unknown brothers and sisters.  We need to get to know one another.  Might take a while, but we have time.

What has happened is death.   The problem is not time, the problem is death.  Death has separated us from one another.  Maybe you’d like to meet the apostle Paul, maybe you’d like to meet Peter, how about meeting Mary, the mother of Jesus?   I mention them because they are famous.   But there are others out there who lived who knows when and who knows where.  But they are my unknown brother, my unknown sister.  But it’s death that has separated us. But Christ has conquered death…

As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15 “But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” 1 Corinthians 15:57-58 ESV.   But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.  It’s the victory over the grave.  Therefore, because death is defeated and we’re going to have an ongoing life in the resurrection,  Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.   Because it will find continuation in the age to come.  Have that hope.

John Lewis