The Fifth Sunday of Easter – Getting ready to receive Good News (The substituted Acts Passage)

The reader is to understand, beloved reader, that this passage from Acts is part of the ongoing story of how the Early Christian Church grew and spread their faith.

Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Get up and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is a wilderness road.) So he got up and went. Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over to this chariot and join it.” So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” He replied, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him. Now the passage of the scripture that he was reading was this:

Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter,
and like a lamb silent before its shearer,
so he does not open his mouth.
In his humiliation justice was denied him.
Who can describe his generation?
For his life is taken away from the earth.”

The eunuch asked Philip, “About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” Then Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus. As they were going along the road, they came to some water; and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?” He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip baptized him. “ (Act 8:26-38)

When I sat down to write about this passage, I was not in a good mood. The trials and challenges of the day still hung heavily on me, and I was weary. I was not ready to talk/write about the good news that Philip passed on to the Ethiopian. And indeed, I wondered if I would be able to write anything at all.

I subscribe to one, and only one, online blog. And the entry there for today broke through my mood and broke open my heart. In an instant I was readied to consider this passage and the faith implications.

The Ethiopian was also ready and readied to hear the interpretation of the scripture he was reading and that Philip explained to him. And Philip was ready, having been told to go to a certain place by the Spirit. But there must have been work done in Philip before, since he so easily obeyed the Spirit and the prompting to engage the Ethiopian in conversation – not to mention the knowledge and words to explain the scripture. So successful was Philip that the Ethiopian desired and accepted baptism. The story continues.

When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he was passing through the region, he proclaimed the good news to all the towns until he came to Caesarea. (Verses 38-40)

The Spirit was not done with Philip, but carried him away to spread the Good News to other places. When we places ourselves in God’s will and listen to the Spirit, God will use us in the most amazing ways. We just have to open ourselves, or allow ourselves to be opened and remain open. May you, beloved reader, be open or be opened whenever the Spirit calls on you. Selah!

The Fifth Sunday of Easter – Being Connected to the Divine (The Gospel Passage)

I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.” (John 15:1-8)

Last year when the focus and theme of “A Simple Desire” was Reading the Anabaptist Bible, I commented on these verses from the gospel of John. [July 25, 2014 ] I also commented on them three years before that, if you want to go back that far in the blog history. [July 25, 2009 ] So I am not overly inclined to comment on it again, nor find a new perspective. If you are unfamiliar with the meaning and understanding of these verses, I would encourage to look at what I and others have to say about it.

These verses reflect how many people see their connection to Jesus and God as. But if I said more, my writing would evolve into yet another explanation, so I must force myself to refrain. The way these verses explain how believers connect to God is basic to many Christians understandings explains why it is used and cited often. The Revised Common Lectionary uses it, as does the book Reading the Anabaptist Bible and I am sure many other books and essays. That it appears in the gospel of John shows its connection to the spiritual nature of Jesus, as the gospel of John explores that aspect. It also says a great deal about God; and no, I am not going to go into an explanation of that, for the above reason.

What then is there to say about this passage? Only that there are many ways to live out one’s Christianity. From the establishment of the Early Christian Church, that has been true. Some have lived practical Christian lives, doing as Jesus Christ would want. Others have lived contemplative lives, thinking deeply and studying scripture. One path is not better than the other.

What I would hope and pray for you, beloved reader, is that your connection to Jesus and God is strong and vital. With that type of relationship you can accomplish much and bring much glory to God. Selah!

[P.S. When I re-read this online, I felt I did you, beloved reader, a disservice by some of my phrase choices. I tried to tidy it up! Shalom!]

The Fourth Sunday of Easter – Shepherding and being Shepherded (The Psalm Passage)

Did you see this one coming beloved reader?

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” (Psalm 23)

I first learned/heard Psalm 23 in the King James Version. The New King James Version does not have the “right” sort of feel for me. And as I considered why, I realized it was because the older English makes you slow down to put your tongue around the words, and helps you to stop and think about what they few verses are saying. I do not know if the writer of Psalms knew what he/she was creating when these verses were inscribed so long ago.

“The Lord is my shepherd . . “ Keep in mind what a good shepherd does for the sheep. Not only food and drink, but nurture and care. We do not need to fear when the Good Shepherd is with us – no matter what happens.

I said Wednesday that I am approaching my theme from a backward perspective – saying what we should do; and then saying how God/Christ does care. It is out of realization and appreciation for what God/Christ does for us that we should do for others. We may do “shepherding” not as perfectly as God or Jesus Christ does it, but we read in I John 3:16-24 “that we ought to lay down our lives for one another.” And that in John 10:11-18 that it is the good shepherd who takes better care of the sheep than the hired hand. We are not called to be “sometimes Christians” depending on whether it is good/profitable to us. We are called to be Christians in service to humanity.

But as we work and struggle to be all that God calls us to be, we are comforted by the fact that God and Christ are our Good Shepherds and that we are cared for while we do God’s work. May you beloved reader feel the Good Shepherd’s presence in your life as you minister and shepherd others. Selah!

The Fourth Sunday of Easter – Thoughts on Shepherding (The Gospel Passage)

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (John 10:11)

Hear the echo of I John 3:16. There have been various explanations of what it meant in Jesus’ time to be a shepherd, and that metaphor has been used in illustrating shepherd people as a mentor, leader, or one who encourage and supports. But consider for a moment laying down your life for one as clueless as a sheep.

The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep.” (Verses 12-13)

When you care for people, beloved reader, are you like the hired hand? Or do you emulate the Good Shepherd?

I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.” (Verses 14-16)

The writer of John might have been thinking of Jews and Gentiles, or just generally wanting to be inclusive of all readers. We can take it to mean people close to us and people throughout the world. For I tell you, no one is to be left out of God’s flock.

For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.” (Verses 17-18)

The writer of the gospel of John wanted to confirm and promote Jesus’ spiritual nature. But that is not the issue/aspect that I want to highlight. Would you be willing, beloved reader, to lay down your life of your own accord? Being human and frail, our life can be taken from us and we have not the power to take it back. But we can give over our life to Christ, and Christ has the power to return it to us. What choice will you make? Will you be better than a “hired hand” in tending God’s inclusive flock?

The Fourth Sunday of Easter – Real Love; it is expected (The Epistles Passage)

We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. (I John 3:16)

The theme for the rest of the week, beloved reader, is what God and Jesus Christ have done for us. And knowing what the Divine has done, what we should do for one another. However, I am stating my case a little backwards. I am first, through the scripture passage, asserting what we should do for one another.

How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister[a] in need and yet refuses help?” (Verse 17)

And then, as the week goes on, I am going to show the depth and breadth of God’s love. And if someone has NOT responded to their fellow member of humanity in a kind and compassionate way, then the guilt and shame should be theirs.

Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.” (Verses 18 – 20)

We can never, however, show as much and compassion as the Divine can. That is because we are not pure love, as God is. And we have not the purity of the power of love that God has. But if we are determined to love and show love to the best of our human ability, we will satisfy the will of God. And the Divine knows this. As the writer of I John said,

Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him. And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us.” ( Verses 21-2)

Love and showing love is a planned deliberate act. We talk about “falling” in love. What we really mean is that our hormones and emotions get charged up and, as they say, romance is in the air. But true love is hard work; it is putting the other first. It is laying down and laying aside our agenda. But love is tough. It seeks the good for the other, no matter the cost. God showed that kind of love. Christ showed that kind of love. And the Spirit promotes that kind of love. It is this love that we are called to and to show for one another. It is not easy. No wonder we can’t consistently get it right. But we can try, and trying with all of our body, soul and spirit will satisfy our Lord. May you do so! Selah!

The Fourth Sunday of Easter – Stories of bravery and testimony (The Acts Passage as a Substitute for the Old Testament Passage)

The next day their rulers, elders, and scribes assembled in Jerusalem, with Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, John [not the disciple], and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family. When they had made the prisoners stand in their midst, they inquired, “By what power or by what name did you do this?” Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, if we are questioned today because of a good deed done to someone who was sick and are asked how this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead. This Jesus is
the stone that was rejected by you, the builders; it has become the cornerstone.’
There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:5-12)

The disciples’ actions had consequences, not just for the people they helped and ministered to but for the disciples themselves. Sometimes those consequences were openings to bring testimony and witness to their risen Lord. But sometimes those consequences were persecution and death. The stories of the early Christian church are filled with testimony and witnessing, and the believers being persecuted and put to death. They counted it as expected, since their Lord was also put to death.

This passage from Acts chapter 4 follows soon after the healing of the crippled, and that is the man that the “rulers, elders, and scribes” were inquiring about. The verses following verse 12 complete the story, and Peter and his companions were warned and threatened not to speak or teach about Christ any more. But we know that Peter and the other disciples did not heed that warning.

Are you as bold and brave, beloved reader? Would you be able to stand up against warning and threats from you civic leaders? Many Christians have, and such stories are a vital part of the stories of faith. It is especially poignant when it is believer against believer, where there is a division in the faith. There were some signs of that in the various early churches, just as there is a history of being bold and brave in teaching and preaching, there is a history of differences of opinion. The early church struggled with that issue, and those stories may be part of future lectionary readings.

May you, beloved reader, hold firm to your faith in the face of persecution and when given opportunities to give testimony may the Holy Spirit fill you! Selah!

The Third Sunday of Easter – Being healed from what truly ails you (The substituted Old Testament Passage)

When Peter saw it [the response to his healing of a crippled man], he addressed the people, “You Israelites, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we had made him walk? The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our ancestors has glorified his servant Jesus, whom you handed over and rejected in the presence of Pilate, though he had decided to release him. But you rejected the Holy and Righteous One and asked to have a murderer given to you, and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. And by faith in his name, his name itself has made this man strong, whom you see and know; and the faith that is through Jesus has given him this perfect health in the presence of all of you.
And now, friends, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. In this way God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, that his Messiah would suffer. Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out . . .” (Acts 3:12-19)

There was a time, beloved reader, when Jesus name had the power to heal. In many instances, it still does. But not so many instances that it is used as a replacement for medicine or medical procedures/interventions. My own situation is a case in point – I have several medical/health diagnoses, and prayer has not taken one of them away. But, despite all of the things medically wrong, I am still active in my job, in my home, and lastly but certainly not least, writing this blog.

There was a time, soon after my visit medical diagnosis, that I thought it should be or could be a matter of faith for me to be healed – that is, to prayer with fervent believe and devotion that I could “beat” the diagnosis and be whole. But the Spirit very quickly “cured” me of that notion. And that it was not a matter of faith but a matter of God’s plan that I should know illness and sickness. But it was also a matter of God’s plan that – as verse 20 of this passage says – “that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Messiah appointed for you, that is, Jesus”.

I am sure that if one asked Peter, “Why, and how did you know, through Jesus’ name, you could/should offer that man healing?” Peter would have said, “The Spirit spoke to me, that I should and could, and that it would bring about faith in the people.” I cannot tell you, beloved reader, how or when or even if someone could do this. What I can tell you is that healing through God comes for a reason or purpose that we many times do not know. I can also tell you that healing comes in many ways; and what may not seem to be “healing” because it is not the alleviation of symptoms, it actually a renew ability to function in the face of the illness or symptoms. Note too that Peter took the opportunity to preach to the people, not about how they could be illness/symptom free but how they could claim Christ’s “healing” for their sins; and that is even more important.

May you, beloved reader, feel our Lord God’s healing touch in your life – both in body and spirit. Selah!