Strength of Faith

On hearing that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, son of David, have pity on me.” And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent.

Over the months of Ordinary Time, (and we only have three Ordinary Sunday’s left) we spend time dedicated to growth. We focus on how we live out the Christian faith, how we walk in Strength of Faith.

Last night, on the Grand Ole Opry, Carrie Underwood sang “Jesus Take The Wheel.” The woman in the song had a barTimaeus experience as she shouts out in despair and hope: Jesus, take the wheel!

“Jesus, son of David, have pity on me. Jesus, son of David, have pity on me! Jesus, son of David, have pity on me!!!”

We humans by design have a natural fight or flight response. Our adrenaline kicks in and sometimes we can even accomplish superhuman feats. 

We see this as each of these people call out to Jesus. The experience of barTimaeus and the woman in the song are testimony to the coordination between our spiritual and physical lives as we hear them call out with all that they are.

In both cases these people find themselves in a very empty place. They are alone, apart, scarred, fearful, and in need of great and immediate help. In both cases they cry out to Jesus. Their bodies and spirits are united in seeking His help. In both cases, with barTimaeus the factual case, the plea is answered.

Did these people live in Strength of Faith? 

For barTimaeus, he absolutely lived by faith. He knew that Jesus could save and heal him.  It is why he called out despite being criticized. As such, once Jesus summoned him, he thew aside his cloak – which was both garment and symbol for a beggar who depended on others and went to Jesus. He knew he wouldn’t need that cloak and that he would see. He was fully trusting by the Strength of his Faith.

In the song, after the car is saved, the woman prays, first seeking forgiveness and then pledging amendment of life. She certainly had faith, but no real Strength of Faith. She had not been living faith; hers was dead and cold. She was blocking faith out until the urgency of the situation.

What comes next for each of them is what is most instructive for us and exemplary. Both barTimaeus and the woman moved forward continuing then to live in Strength of Faith. barTimaeus went on to follow Jesus. The woman, freed, recommitted to Strength of Faith.

Both had their shout of plea changed to a shout of proclamation. Both went on to witness boldly to Jesus (even when people told them not to) with all they had. So must we.

Say it!

Brothers and sisters: No one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.

Happy birthday Church.

The Solemnity of Pentecost, after Easter, is the Church’s greatest celebration. In fact, in the early Church, people could only enter the fullness of the Church through baptism on either Easter or Pentecost. Pentecost is that important. Pentecost is that vital, for without this day all of Jesus’ work and teaching would have died off with the Apostles and disciples. Pentecost was that moment in which we were all commissioned to proclaim Jesus’ saving message. We, the people of the Church received the strength, the grace of the Sevenfold Gifts of the Spirit, necessary to carry Jesus’ message to the whole world.

What the Apostles and all those in the upper room did this day is exactly what we are called to do. It is the methodology by which we are to proclaim salvation in Jesus the Lord. It is by our standing out there, on the balconies of the world, it is by our voices raised in praise and proclamation, that salvation in Jesus the Lord is proclaimed.

Today is about our status as full members of the Holy Church and what our work is to be. For today, Jesus’ promised sending of the Holy Spirit was fulfilled and with the Spirit’s decent into our lives (and note I am not saying into the world) we were born to be Jesus’ hands, feet, and voice; to proclaim Jesus is Lord!

We are set apart from the world, we do not belong to it any longer. The Holy Spirit is ours exclusively so we might do God’s work. Our cause is to go out and say Jesus is Lord. Our home is the Kingdom.

When was the last time any one of us met someone and in the course of our conversation said to them, Jesus is my Lord and Savior? 

Without the power of this day all of Jesus’ work and teaching would have died off. So today, we recall that unless we say it from the balconies and at every opportunity, it will die off with us.

We often take pride in the fact that we can speak out on whatever, whenever, and to whomever we want. Yet, how often do we say Jesus is Lord except in the secret of our minds, or in our homes, or within the walls of this building? How often are we quicker to speak on some other trivial matter than to speak of Jesus. If we spend our time as Church saying Jesus is Lord and eschew worldly matters, which should be dead to us, the lost will be converted.

Pastors tell their people, ‘Wear red today.’ A nice sentiment, but nothing unless the Holy Spirit’s fire is burning within us, unless the statement Jesus is Lord is on our lips. Let us look in the mirror tonight and say Jesus is Lord out loud. Say it over several times, and if we can, we know we have the Holy Spirit in us. Knowing that, let nothing stop us for Jesus said, “I send you.”

In the garden.

“He commissioned us to preach to the people and testify that He is the one appointed by God as judge of the living and the dead. To Him all the prophets bear witness, that everyone who believes in Him will receive forgiveness of sins through his name.”

Here we are, in this beautiful garden, standing in awe before an empty tomb.

I have spent a lot of time these days contemplating this garden, in my mind’s eye thinking that it closely resembles the nearby tomb where Jesus was laid.

Now in the place where he had been crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had yet been buried. So they laid Jesus there…

I watched as this was put together, the color and texture of the place, the scent of flowers where our beautiful Lord slept in death.

Picture, in your mind’s eye, the women, setting off to the tomb before daybreak on the third day, eager to attend to the remains of their Lord and Master. They loved Him and could not do otherwise.

Each of the Gospels differ slightly in the exact narrative, but they all agree that the first witnesses to the resurrection were the woman who followed Jesus. They all found the tomb empty and went or were instructed to go tell the disciples. 

Here we are, in this beautiful garden, standing in awe before an empty tomb.

The narratives describe the reaction of the women and the disciples as one of fear, a lack of understanding, or wonderment – all words for awe. Awe is defined as a feeling of reverential respect mixed with fear or wonder.

We too respect this garden, and we encounter it with fear and wonder. Certainly, we can picture the scene, we even physically sense it in feeling the petals of the flowers, the moisture of the green leaves, smelling the flowers and the scent of earth, touching the sharpness of the crown of thorns still resting nearby and the hardness of the rock. We can look up and see the cross still standing, but can we connect with the new reality this day brings?

Here we are, in this beautiful garden, standing in awe before the empty tomb. We still stand in awe because, like those women and disciples, we can hardly believe what God has done for us.

For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son.

He gave His Son for us. His Son suffered and died for us. His Son rested in the tomb for us. His Son rose for us. For you. For me. Awe.

Here we are, in this beautiful garden – not just that garden, but the new Eden in which we dwell with God, no longer alienated or unreconciled, because of all Jesus did. So, affirmed now, let us go forth from this garden to proclaim, testify, and bear witness to our risen Jesus.

Working to change.

The Lord GOD has given me a well-trained tongue, that I might know how to speak to the weary a word that will rouse them.

Throughout Lent we have focused on the change and reform necessary in our lives. We delved into the Lenten disciplines of fasting, sacrifice (or giving), study, and prayer. There is one discipline left – proclamation.

If we have taken these disciplines seriously, we should each be seeing change in our lives, or at least more clearly hear the call to conversion, change and reform. By now we should be walking each day as more ardent and faithful livers of Jesus’s gospel way. Sins like anger, resentment, and their like should be more foreign to us.

Of all the disciplines of Lent, proclamation may be the hardest to achieve.  We can take time to fast, sacrifice or give a little more, study, pray. Most of that we can do on our own, almost stealthy, unseen to the outside world, but proclamation – everyone sees that.

Proclamation is very important to me personally. Let me tell you about that.

I often wonder if people think I am a little off, maybe not quite aware of what’s going on. Perhaps I do not see reality? They see me often thanking and congratulating people for what they might consider insignificant or even something the people I am thanking should just do – you know it is their job…

There are reasons for that. Most of my early life was marked by ongoing encounters with two kinds of people, those who recognized kindness and those who could not find a good thing in a basket of gold. Two types of proclaimers modeled. Who would I be?

Our first reading from Isaiah 50 points to Jesus Whose whole life was proclamation. He came speaking the Good News. It was His constant message. He showed us the kingdom. He told people – and tells us – what we have to do, repent and believe in the gospel

Isaiah says in Chapter 52: How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation.

The beauty of Jesus’ proclamation was that there was nothing in His entire being –  including every trial, wound, scourge, humiliation, thorn, nail, lack of breath, and curse heaped on Him that was not Him speaking out about our value before God. His death on the cross was proclamation of that value.

If we want to bear Christ’s name in honesty and integrity, we must be proclaimers of the kingdom. We must proclaim good news, peace, happiness,and salvation. We have to let people know, and in the end let people hear the change and reform Jesus caused in us. Could we rather nitpick, focus on the one mistake someone made, or criticize even the smallest gift shared? Sure. But then, what kind of proclaimer are we?

In
advance.

Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance. And do not presume

Last week we reflected on God’s wake-up calls. God is diligent at wake-up calls. He gives us this opportunity of Advent in advance so that we may be prepared. He gave us the first coming of His Son, His life and word as model so we may live awake, active, and expectant for His return.

This week we reflect on His proclamation – proclamation of a truth people so often wish to avoid for God does things in vastly different ways.

Consider the words of Isaiah. Would anyone expect the wolf, lamb, leopard, kid, calf, and lion to live and eat together in peace, guided by a child. Would anyone expect a baby to play together with snakes. Could we believe that a day will dawn where there is no ruin or harm? That’s the thing. It sounds all so great, and fanciful, and maybe someday – but you’ve got to be kidding me. Look at the world today!

God isn’t fooling! Those pretty words from Isaiah that begin in justice for the oppressed and right judgment for the afflicted, the casting down of the wicked and ruthless are God’s design and proclamation. He has told us, His faithful, that this is the way it shall be. This is what we must endeavor to bring about. This is the Kingdom life!

Paul tells us this was: written for our instruction, endurance, and encouragement so that we might have hope. This was written down as our instruction manual so that we might break down artificial barriers and preconceived notions. Who would think that the gentiles might be co-heirs? God did. Thus we rejoice for the gift we have been given in Jesus.

Each of the characters of Christmas brought a part of God’s proclamation. The prophets gave the wake-up call. The angels exceedingly rejoiced in God’s gift of His Son, Jesus. John, the Forerunner, proclaimed the way it must be by God’s design. John came in advance. He picked up sinners (lions, leopards, wolves) so they could eat and rest together with the lambs, kids, calves, and children. Those who confessed were freed. John held out the truth to those who wanted to pretend that things wouldn’t change. Who warned you, he said. He called them to change.

God’s proclamation is God’s reality, His truth. He provided it in advance. Advent gives us the chance to live up to His vastly different way.

The seventy-two returned rejoicing, and said, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us because of your name.” Jesus said, “I have observed Satan fall like lightning from the sky. Behold, I have given you the power to ‘tread upon serpents’ and scorpions and upon the full force of the enemy and nothing will harm you.  Nevertheless, do not rejoice because the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice because your names are written in heaven.”

As I was studying for this week’s discussion, I came across a great word: performative. The Webster type definition seems a little complex. Here it is: “Relating to or denoting an utterance by means of which the speaker performs a particular act.” This example, contained in the definition, sets it out better: “performative utterances do not merely describe what one is doing; to say the utterance is to do it”

The words Jesus gives his messengers, as He sends them out, are performative: they do, they accomplish what He says. The kingdom of God advances and draws near. Jesus seemingly gives great power. When the disciples return, they rejoice for they have seen remarkable things, miracles. Yet Jesus cautions them. Why?

Jesus cautions them, not to get caught up in the power they have (something we as Christians have completely forgotten and neglected), but to see more clearly the ends that are being achieved.

Certainly, Jesus words accomplished the power the disciples exhibited. Yet they did far more than that. Those signs and wonders were mere markers of the coming new age, the redeemed time, the advent of the kingdom. The performative word of Jesus ushers in the kingdom, invites all into that kingdom. Jesus’ presence among us and His performative words bring the kingdom. So, we must share.

We have to reconnect to the performative words of Jesus. 

We have power in faith. We have to own that power and have confidence that Jesus – GOD – provided. His is the true and performative gospel. What He said is! The enemy cannot win against us because we bring the truth.

Beyond that power, and more compelling, is the word we bring, whether accepted or not: ‘The kingdom of God is at hand for you.’ And if some do not listen, we say: Yet know this: the kingdom of God is at hand.

He’s
everywhere!

And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim. Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven staying in Jerusalem. At this sound, they gathered in a large crowd, but they were confused because each one heard them speaking in his own language.

Happy Birthday Church!!!

Pentecost marks the birth of the Church. The Holy Spirit is central to every act of creation. Genesis tells us at creation the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. He was there as all that was created for us came into being. How much more would He be there as we were returned to the fullness of creation. His work in us was and is focused on bringing the word to the world, on proclaiming and spreading the Good News of repentance for salvation in Jesus so all might be re-created, might be re-born, might be regenerated.

St. Paul says: But how can people call on him if they have not believed in him? How can they believe in him if they have not heard his message? How can they hear if no one tells the Good News? Exactly! So, the Spirit was there to call us, to motivate us, to infuse us with the gifts necessary to spread the word.

In Jerusalem, tongues of fire were created into tongues of proclamation. It is not lost on us that these tongues were world-wide tongues. Every nation heard. Jews, Arabs, Romans heard. The Holy Spirit is with us everywhere. In every corner, to every place needing re-creation, He accompanies us and gives us all necessary to get the job done.

St. Paul expounds on the gifts: There are different kinds of spiritual gifts. There are different forms of service. There are different workings. The Spirit produces all of them in everyone (who is in the Spirit) for some benefit.

Notice, there is no delay. There is no questioning. There is no debate. The Spirit floods and fills us. He empowers us to get the job done. Feeling lazy? Feeling unable? Feeling afraid of this God stuff? Call on the Holy Spirit and the job will be done (by you and me) before we even realize it. That’s how we know. That’s how we are sure of the Spirit’s presence, the reality of God and heaven. It is when we are amazed that it got done. Then we know He is everywhere in our proclamation of salvation.

Now
what?

Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

Of all the questions the disciples must have had, the one on their minds between the Ascension and Pentecost resonates best: I saw the crucifixion, I saw the risen Lord, I saw Him ascend into heaven, now what?

Pentecost was an annual event in Israel. It is the Greek rendering of the Hebrew word for the Festival of Weeks commemorating God’s giving of the Ten Commandments forty-nine days after the Exodus. It is also called the Festival of Reaping and Day of the First Fruits.

What beautiful imagery to answer the question of: What is next?

God chose this day to send forth the Holy Spirit to infuse us with His new and living Spirit. The Jews were commanded to count the days and weeks after the Exodus as an expression of their anticipation and desire for the giving of the Torah. We are no longer beholden to Torah Law as a teacher – pointing to all our wrong acts and thoughts, and prescribing a remedy, but are made strong, powerful, and free in the Spirit by our profession of faith and belief in Jesus. We have a different kind of longing, anticipation, and desire. The Spirit prompts us to declare our faith and then infuses us with His gifts changing us radically so that we only desire to live in Christ and live in His glorious kingdom.

What was next was that through the infusion of the Holy Spirit the entire world is offered this opportunity for freedom. No longer beholden, one would be free if they chose to follow the prompting of the Spirit. One could hear of Jesus through those Apostles, the sent, who have already been made strong, powerful, and free by the Spirit. They could not only hear, but join in and be made co-heirs in Jesus sharing fully in the Spirit’s gifts.

God chose this day because it was the day of reaping. Passover marked the end of the season of the grain harvest with the reaping of wheat in the Land of Israel. In ancient times, the grain harvest lasted seven weeks and was a season of gladness. It began with the harvesting of the barley during Passover and ended with the harvesting of the wheat at Passover.

The Spirit is given so every season will be a season of harvest. Jesus told us: “So ask the Lord who gives this harvest to send workers to harvest his crops.”

Two thousand years later the Spirit prompts us to go and reap and bring in the many. What now? Rejoice, live in Jesus, proclaim Him, and gather His harvest. The Holy Spirit is in us and with us for exactly this work.