I was in the cemetery at my grandmother’s resting place. This particular memorial park was an exclusively flat-stone only grounds, and each stone had a metal vase that you twisted out of the middle of the stone and turned over to display flowers. My aunt had tried to pull it out for Mother’s Day, but it was stuck. I was down on my hands and knees using a pocketknife trying to pry the vase free, it wasn’t budging! I look over and my daughter is on her knees with her hands folded. I asked what she is doing and she responded, “I’m praying that God will help you get the vase unstuck.” Frustrated and very sweaty, I was baffled because I was sure the good Lord had more important things on his plate than helping me turn a vase over…I mean, God doesn’t really work that way does he? When I returned to my car, I was blown away that at the very moment I was working, prying, and feeling defeated by a gravestone, my seven year old was praying.
Sometimes the things we perceive as strengths can become our most restrictive shackles to our faith. I think the ancient story of Adam and Eve plays out in us...you see, I was reminded in that moment and many others that I have chosen to feast on the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Moreover, I have studied the Bible and with that understanding comes the “shackle” of trusting myself to define not only if something is good or evil, but if God is likely to act or not act in a given situation. I think there is too many times where my familiarity with God through the Bible allows me to arrogantly move without an element of trust—to serve before prayer, as if God already affirms what I have decided to do.
As I reflect on this type of “faith,” I think it is why I tend to accomplish only the things I am naturally good at doing, never venturing into the unknown, uncomfortable, or uncontrollable. Those ministry opportunities or missions are just too sizable for my skills…it would take more than what I have. I believe that true faith gives LIFE (like the other tree in the garden) and often moves beyond our knowledge, skills, and experience.
Products of a fallen and broken world, I think that all of us come to God with a shackled faith of some sort. And I must admit that I like my shackles because they provide me with a way of understanding faith and they allow me to know that I am growing in faith.
Whenever I ask the question, “Does God really work that way?” I am beginning to see that question as a growth question because it is a direct attack on my knowledge and experience. When I reread the scriptures asking the question, “What does the Bible really say about this?” I see this question as a challenge to my study and the past interpretations. And when I finally take an opportunity to trust God and lean on God, when I find myself on a plane to Africa, having dinner with a stranger, opening up a Bible study, or praying that God would intervene in our heroin crisis…I realize that God is in the process of breaking my shackles and setting me free to trust him more.
We all have shackles, and God calls us anyway. As I think about what it means to live an unshackled faith, I think about the New Creation described at the end of Revelation. I think about all of the brokenness we have, all of the obstacles that make us cry to God to increase our faith, relieve our doubts, and give us greater perseverance. But there is great day coming when our faith will become sight. John says that God will, “…dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:3-4)
Today we battle our shackles, but we learn to trust God, to believe God, and one day our hope is to be unshackled, face to face with God Almighty, Creator of the unbroken world!
Prayer: Creator God, call us to greater works and allow us the opportunity to trust in You more and more as that great day gets closer and closer. Our desire is to be set free from the shackles that hold us back. I pray that you reveal to me the limits of my faith so that I can identify my shackles and receive healing and wholeness from You. Come Lord Jesus, so that our faith can become sight and our brokenness can be fully restored. Lord God make all things new and that includes me, in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.
I wasn’t around at the time of the Revolutionary War, but I have read about it in the history books and its effects can be experienced to this day in my life. There is a freedom I have because of what happened so long ago. Today, I will gather my family and go visit friends and watch fireworks tonight to celebrate Independence Day. It will be a good time and a needed rest for my family in the middle of the crazy summer months.
As I think about my faith, I must also understand a different meaning of “independence day” that also has much bearing on my life. I wasn’t present on that day either, but I have read about it both as a matter of pure history and in the gospel accounts in the Bible. I was reminded last week during our Vacation Bible School that Jesus was a soldier against our greatest enemies - sin, death, and Satan…and there was a day he won that battle. Most of us think that it was when he when to the cross, but in going to the cross, Jesus surrendered to the world of sin, death, and Satan to be willingly defeated. But by the power of God, Jesus resurrected from the dead and it is in this event that the world was changed…it was made free. It was this “independence day” that freed us from the shackles of sin, death, and Satan.
Paul writes regarding the resurrection of Jesus: 1 Corinthians 15:
20 But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died.
21 So you see, just as death came into the world through a man, now the resurrection from the dead has begun through another man. 22 Just as everyone dies because we all belong to Adam, everyone who belongs to Christ will be given new life. 23 But there is an order to this resurrection: Christ was raised as the first of the harvest; then all who belong to Christ will be raised when he comes back.
24 After that the end will come, when he will turn the Kingdom over to God the Father, having destroyed every ruler and authority and power. 25 For Christ must reign until he humbles all his enemies beneath his feet. 26 And the last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27 For the Scriptures say, “God has put all things under his authority.” (Of course, when it says, “all things are under his authority,” that does not include God himself, who gave Christ his authority.) 28 Then, when all things are under his authority, the Son will put himself under God’s authority, so that God, who gave his Son authority over all things, will be utterly supreme over everything everywhere.
I can’t wait for the beauty of this display by our Lord, but until that day comes, I will gather my family and take them to see the fireworks, enjoy the food, and thank my country for the freedom I experience as an American and thank my God for the freedom I experience as a Christian, which I must admit transcends nation and people and position. This freedom we have in Christ, Paul would write later in the same chapter, motivates our lives… “58 So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless.” AMEN! Happy Independence Day to you…Come, Lord Jesus!
Friday of Holy Week has been traditionally been called Good Friday or Holy Friday. On this day, Christians remember Jesus’ arrest (since by Jewish customs of counting days from sundown to sundown it was already Friday), his trial, crucifixion and suffering, death, and burial. Depending on how the services are conducted on this day, all pictures, statutes, and the cross are covered in the color of mourning, black, and if candles are a part of your worship service, they are extinguished. Here are some scriptures, prayers, and songs to help you focus on the Lord today, the day of Jesus’ death so many years ago. (These resources have been gathered by several places on the internet and are not original to me.)
18 After saying these things, Jesus crossed the Kidron Valley with his disciples and entered a grove of olive trees. 2 Judas, the betrayer, knew this place, because Jesus had often gone there with his disciples. 3 The leading priests and Pharisees had given Judas a contingent of Roman soldiers and Temple guards to accompany him. Now with blazing torches, lanterns, and weapons, they arrived at the olive grove.
4 Jesus fully realized all that was going to happen to him, so he stepped forward to meet them. “Who are you looking for?” he asked.
5 “Jesus the Nazarene,” they replied.
“I am he,” Jesus said. (Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them.) 6 As Jesus said “I am he,” they all drew back and fell to the ground! 7 Once more he asked them, “Who are you looking for?”
And again they replied, “Jesus the Nazarene.”
8 “I told you that I am he,” Jesus said. “And since I am the one you want, let these others go.” 9 He did this to fulfill his own statement: “I did not lose a single one of those you have given me.”
10 Then Simon Peter drew a sword and slashed off the right ear of Malchus, the high priest’s slave. 11 But Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword back into its sheath. Shall I not drink from the cup of suffering the Father has given me?”
Jesus at the High Priest’s House
12 So the soldiers, their commanding officer, and the Temple guards arrested Jesus and tied him up. 13 First they took him to Annas, since he was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest at that time.14 Caiaphas was the one who had told the other Jewish leaders, “It’s better that one man should die for the people.”
Peter’s First Denial
15 Simon Peter followed Jesus, as did another of the disciples. That other disciple was acquainted with the high priest, so he was allowed to enter the high priest’s courtyard with Jesus. 16 Peter had to stay outside the gate. Then the disciple who knew the high priest spoke to the woman watching at the gate, and she let Peter in. 17 The woman asked Peter, “You’re not one of that man’s disciples, are you?”
“No,” he said, “I am not.”
18 Because it was cold, the household servants and the guards had made a charcoal fire. They stood around it, warming themselves, and Peter stood with them, warming himself.
19 Inside, the high priest began asking Jesus about his followers and what he had been teaching them. 20 Jesus replied, “Everyone knows what I teach. I have preached regularly in the synagogues and the Temple, where the people[e] gather. I have not spoken in secret. 21 Why are you asking me this question? Ask those who heard me. They know what I said.”
22 Then one of the Temple guards standing nearby slapped Jesus across the face. “Is that the way to answer the high priest?” he demanded.
23 Jesus replied, “If I said anything wrong, you must prove it. But if I’m speaking the truth, why are you beating me?”
24 Then Annas bound Jesus and sent him to Caiaphas, the high priest.
Peter’s Second and Third Denials
25 Meanwhile, as Simon Peter was standing by the fire warming himself, they asked him again, “You’re not one of his disciples, are you?”
He denied it, saying, “No, I am not.”
26 But one of the household slaves of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, “Didn’t I see you out there in the olive grove with Jesus?” 27 Again Peter denied it. And immediately a rooster crowed.
Jesus’ Trial before Pilate
28 Jesus’ trial before Caiaphas ended in the early hours of the morning. Then he was taken to the headquarters of the Roman governor. His accusers didn’t go inside because it would defile them, and they wouldn’t be allowed to celebrate the Passover. 29 So Pilate, the governor, went out to them and asked, “What is your charge against this man?”
30 “We wouldn’t have handed him over to you if he weren’t a criminal!” they retorted.
31 “Then take him away and judge him by your own law,” Pilate told them.
“Only the Romans are permitted to execute someone,” the Jewish leaders replied. 32 (This fulfilled Jesus’ prediction about the way he would die.)
33 Then Pilate went back into his headquarters and called for Jesus to be brought to him. “Are you the king of the Jews?” he asked him.
34 Jesus replied, “Is this your own question, or did others tell you about me?”
35 “Am I a Jew?” Pilate retorted. “Your own people and their leading priests brought you to me for trial. Why? What have you done?”
36 Jesus answered, “My Kingdom is not an earthly kingdom. If it were, my followers would fight to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish leaders. But my Kingdom is not of this world.”
37 Pilate said, “So you are a king?”
Jesus responded, “You say I am a king. Actually, I was born and came into the world to testify to the truth. All who love the truth recognize that what I say is true.”
38 “What is truth?” Pilate asked. Then he went out again to the people and told them, “He is not guilty of any crime. 39 But you have a custom of asking me to release one prisoner each year at Passover. Would you like me to release this ‘King of the Jews’?”
40 But they shouted back, “No! Not this man. We want Barabbas!” (Barabbas was a revolutionary.)
19:1 Then Pilate had Jesus flogged with a lead-tipped whip. 2 The soldiers wove a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and they put a purple robe on him. 3 “Hail! King of the Jews!” they mocked, as they slapped him across the face.
4 Pilate went outside again and said to the people, “I am going to bring him out to you now, but understand clearly that I find him not guilty.” 5 Then Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. And Pilate said, “Look, here is the man!”
6 When they saw him, the leading priests and Temple guards began shouting, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”
“Take him yourselves and crucify him,” Pilate said. “I find him not guilty.”
7 The Jewish leaders replied, “By our law he ought to die because he called himself the Son of God.”
8 When Pilate heard this, he was more frightened than ever. 9 He took Jesus back into the headquarters again and asked him, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave no answer. 10 “Why don’t you talk to me?” Pilate demanded. “Don’t you realize that I have the power to release you or crucify you?”
11 Then Jesus said, “You would have no power over me at all unless it were given to you from above. So the one who handed me over to you has the greater sin.”
12 Then Pilate tried to release him, but the Jewish leaders shouted, “If you release this man, you are no ‘friend of Caesar.’ Anyone who declares himself a king is a rebel against Caesar.”
13 When they said this, Pilate brought Jesus out to them again. Then Pilate sat down on the judgment seat on the platform that is called the Stone Pavement (in Hebrew, Gabbatha). 14 It was now about noon on the day of preparation for the Passover. And Pilate said to the people, “Look, here is your king!”
15 “Away with him,” they yelled. “Away with him! Crucify him!”
“What? Crucify your king?” Pilate asked.
“We have no king but Caesar,” the leading priests shouted back.
16 Then Pilate turned Jesus over to them to be crucified.
So they took Jesus away. 17 Carrying the cross by himself, he went to the place called Place of the Skull (in Hebrew, Golgotha). 18 There they nailed him to the cross. Two others were crucified with him, one on either side, with Jesus between them. 19 And Pilate posted a sign on the cross that read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” 20 The place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the sign was written in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek, so that many people could read it.
21 Then the leading priests objected and said to Pilate, “Change it from ‘The King of the Jews’ to ‘He said, I am King of the Jews.’”
22 Pilate replied, “No, what I have written, I have written.”
23 When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they divided his clothes among the four of them. They also took his robe, but it was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom. 24 So they said, “Rather than tearing it apart, let’s throw dice for it.” This fulfilled the Scripture that says, “They divided my garments among themselves and threw dice for my clothing.” So that is what they did.
25 Standing near the cross were Jesus’ mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary (the wife of Clopas), and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother standing there beside the disciple he loved, he said to her, “Dear woman, here is your son.” 27 And he said to this disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from then on this disciple took her into his home.
28 Jesus knew that his mission was now finished, and to fulfill Scripture he said, “I am thirsty.” 29 A jar of sour wine was sitting there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put it on a hyssop branch, and held it up to his lips. 30 When Jesus had tasted it, he said, “It is finished!” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
31 It was the day of preparation, and the Jewish leaders didn’t want the bodies hanging there the next day, which was the Sabbath (and a very special Sabbath, because it was Passover week). So they asked Pilate to hasten their deaths by ordering that their legs be broken. Then their bodies could be taken down. 32 So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the two men crucified with Jesus. 33 But when they came to Jesus, they saw that he was already dead, so they didn’t break his legs. 34 One of the soldiers, however, pierced his side with a spear, and immediately blood and water flowed out. 35 (This report is from an eyewitness giving an accurate account. He speaks the truth so that you also may continue to believe.) 36 These things happened in fulfillment of the Scriptures that say, “Not one of his bones will be broken,” 37 and “They will look on the one they pierced.”
The Burial of Jesus
38 Afterward Joseph of Arimathea, who had been a secret disciple of Jesus (because he feared the Jewish leaders), asked Pilate for permission to take down Jesus’ body. When Pilate gave permission, Joseph came and took the body away. 39 With him came Nicodemus, the man who had come to Jesus at night. He brought about seventy-five pounds of perfumed ointment made from myrrh and aloes. 40 Following Jewish burial custom, they wrapped Jesus’ body with the spices in long sheets of linen cloth. 41 The place of crucifixion was near a garden, where there was a new tomb, never used before. 42 And so, because it was the day of preparation for the Jewish Passover and since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there.
Grieving God, on the cross your Son embraced death even as he had embraced life: faithfully and with good courage. Grant that we who have been born out of his wounded side may hold fast to our faith in him exalted and may find mercy in all times of need. Amen.
O God, who by the Passion of Christ your Son, our Lord, abolished the death inherited from ancient sin by every succeeding generation, grant that just as, being conformed to him, we have borne by the law of nature the image of the man on earth, so by the sanctification of grace we may bear the image of the Man of heaven. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Jesus, today we pause to remember your sacrificial love that shone light into the darkness, that bore life from such emptiness, that revealed hope out of devastation, that spoke truth through incrimination, that released freedom in spite of imprisonment, and brought us forgiveness instead of punishment. Thank you that we can now walk in the light of your life, hope, truth, freedom and forgiveness, this day and everyday. Amen.
Hymns and Song Titles:
The Old Rugged Cross
At the Cross (both the hymn and the contemporary song)
How Deep the Father’s Love for Us
I Christ Alone
Oh Sacred Head
When I Survey the Wondrous Cross
If you're in the Elizabethtown, PA area, join us on Sunday for a celebration of the Resurrection of Christ at 10:15 AM
This year has been an interesting and unconventional ride for all of us who are tuned into politics. I think one of the big questions Americans have begun to ask is which party, if any, really represents their values, agendas, and dreams. This question was seized by Donald Trump, and he won the presidential nomination as an outsider who yesterday stood in front of the gathered crowd and proclaimed the government inept and out of touch. And yet, today there is another group of people gathering because they believe that both President Trump and the Congressional powers do not hold the best interests of some Americans as a top priority. So, I watch the pageantry of the peaceful transfer of power. I view with respect the outgoing president and thank the Obamas for their service. I respect the Trump family, but have to candidly say that Trump’s own words and thoughts have opened the door to critique, push back, and protest. So, what do we do when we think that we don’t have a voice among those in power? What action is taken when we want to be heard? We create a movement…which leads me not to a discussion of politics, but one of religious movement.
I find it odd that many of the same people who claim that there needs to be more parties involved in electing a president are the same people who sometimes condemn Christianity for having so many different denominations (that is parties). Imagine that there were only two different parties in the Christian faith and one was highly authoritarian and the other was a direct reaction to it. Over the years, groups of Christians decided to break away from the religious power structures because they thought that these established groups had moved away from the heart of Jesus’ message. So each denomination started as a movement to draw the heart of Christian groups back to the essence of Jesus.
You might recall that the Democrats and Republicans were not always the parties in control, and didn’t always think the same way they do today. American parties have included the Whigs, Federalists, and later the Libertarians, Green, and Tea Parties. Some parties are seen as subsets of larger parties, for example most Americans would see the Tea Party as a part of the larger Republican Party. And we have the same thing in religious movements as well, and we also have the incorporation of different ideas into the larger parties through the voice of smaller “protest groups.” This would be what is currently happening to the larger Episcopal Church with the smaller group of American Anglican Churches who want to support same sex inclusion. The larger fellowship is not in line with the smaller “protest group” and they are working it out. I bring this up because it is a contemporary news headline and there are so many other discussions like this happening all across religious denominations.
So, I ask you to think about the idea of religious freedom today and compare it to your own ideas of freedoms of speech and assembly. You see, America gives us the freedom to disagree and when we do so, to act upon it and to create an environment of inclusion from those who have been excluded. If I were to go to a Catholic church this Sunday I would not be permitted to take the bread and cup of the Lord’s Supper, yet I am part of a church family that proclaims Jesus’ sacrifice is for everyone and all are welcomed to the table of Christ. It is a major difference, one that is still being discussed and debated. However, as we open up the Lord’s Supper to all those for whom Jesus died, we believe it is a correction that legitimizes the existence of a different party…notice I did not say the superior one or the only one, but a choice. And in the end the idea of freedom finds its practical application in choice.
I am finding myself trying to be an American and defining that not through what the parties tell me, but listening to the voice of our highest ideas and values, and listening to the dissenting voices. And likewise, I find myself trying to be a Christian by not attending to my tradition and patterns, but by going back to the essence of the Bible and the teaching of Jesus and listening to the dissenting voices. I know that some voices are extreme and harsh, but there are biblical directions about discerning. In the end, freedom that is expressed in choice must be rooted in wisdom, and so we ask for the wisdom from above so that we can properly engage the multiple avenues to fill our minds with wisdom from below. So, the next time you ask why there are so many churches, ask yourself if you are completely heard by the two party system? In the end, the government is still trying to “get it right” and the government is so much younger than the church, who by the way, is still trying to “get it right” ourselves. Of course, that concept should lead us to the one who ultimately got it right, and provided us with the opportunity to be the righteousness of God in the midst of our search.
I want to share thoughts, insights, and scriptures that lead us in the direction of Christ.