Commissioned

16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Matthew 28:16-20 (NIV)

Today is called Ascension Day in the church calendar. This day has been set aside in the Church to recall Jesus ascending into heaven. The day is always the fortieth day of Easter, or forty days after Easter Sunday. On this day, we reflect upon the account from Gospels (except John’s) and the recording of the ascension in the Book of Acts.

Matthew’s account is what we focus upon here. This passage at the very end of this Gospel is often referred to as the Great Commission. The eleven remaining apostles have gathered at the mountain where Jesus has told them to meet him. Most scholars believe the location is the Mount of Olives but Matthew does not name it specifically. Once gathered, Jesus commissions the apostles to go into all nations. He instructs them to make disciples of all people, baptizing in the name of the Trinity and teaching them his commands to follow. Matthew does not say if Jesus then ascends or not. The first chapter in the Book of Acts indicates his ascension was during a meal he was sharing with the apostles. The writer of Matthew emphasizes the commissioning and the promise of Jesus’s eternal presence.

For the Church, and all followers of Christ, these words in Matthew are the marching orders. Jesus commissions all of us and tells us what we are to be about. He calls us into action with the action word “go.” We are not to be idle but in motion. Then he tells us where to go, “all nations.” Our activity is not to be within the walls of the church but in the world. We are to teach, welcome people into God’s family and show what the life of a follower should reflect. Each of us are given the promise that while we are engaged in living out our commission, Jesus is present in our lives and forevermore.

On the day we acknowledge our belief that Jesus ascended into heaven, we are mindful that we have been commissioned. Each of us has been commissioned to continue Jesus’s ministry in the world. We are to actively go into this world and share Christ wherever we have been sent. We are to teach, welcome, forgive, demonstrate, listen, respond, and love as Jesus continues to do in our lives.

Conflict Resolution

15 “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. 16 But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ 17 If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

Matthew 18:15-17 (NIV)

Humans have conflicts when they are in a relationship with one another. This occurs in every type of relationship because each of us is unique and has different perspectives. We form opinions based on our personal experiences, our interpretation of information, and the various influences in our lives. Because each of these are different for each person, the opinions formed will be different. These differences can be small and easily resolved or they can be large which often lead to conflict arising. The manner in which we handle conflict can lead to a reconciliation among people or a severance in the relationship.

The body of Christ on earth is not immune to differences of opinion or conflict. Jesus was aware of this reality even before there was an official organization of his followers. So he provides a road map for conflict resolution. He instructs his followers to go to the other person and make them aware when they have created conflicts which cause you some sort of pain. This first step may be the only one necessary if the conflict is resolved. Failure in the first step should be followed by bringing one or two others to witness the attempt toward reconciliation. Unachieved reconciliation leads to bringing the matter before the body so mediation and resolution may result. Jesus says if this still does not restore absence of conflict and injury, the accused should be set aside.

When we read this step-by-step plan, it appears simple and logical, at least until the final step. The last step can appear to be harsh treatment and most church bodies refuse to take it. Yet, the plan Jesus lays out here has the full intention of healing and reconciling a relationship. The plan does not call for hasty and emotion-filled actions. There is opportunity for awareness, mediation and support. There is also accountability woven throughout the approach. Punishment does not surface until the very end and there is no permanency even at that point. The opportunity to reconcile always is available. Important also is an emphasis on the health of the body, the church, and the health of the individual members of the body, both the accused and the accuser.

Conflict and hurt will occur, how we choose to respond to it will impact the outcome. Jesus gives as a healthy roadmap to follow.

Together and Prayer

13 Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. 16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.

17 Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. 18 Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.

19 My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, 20 remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.

James 5:13-20 (NIV)

Have you ever noticed how much more effective a group is in solving a problem than one individual is alone? Bringing a variety of perspectives together often results in a solution which one perspective alone could not have achieved. In addition, having many hands and heads working together increases the rate of outcome and lessens the burden of the individual. This view has led to sayings such as, “two heads are better than one,” or “many hands make light work.”

In the letter of James we hear a discussion of community and prayer. The writer impresses upon the receivers the importance of turning to one another when they are experiencing troubles. There is an understanding that when someone turns to others, the response will be to join with the troubled one and use the power of prayer. The letter clearly emphasizes how powerful prayer can be to bring about healing and restoration. A reader gets the sense that believers in Christ are to care for the needs of one another.

As we read this passage written a few thousand years ago, we see reflections of the role the church is to play in people’s lives. The church is to pray for those who are troubled, sick, or fighting sin. These prayers are called intercessory which occur corporately as part of worship services and individually through prayer chains or during home visits. The church is to also be engaged in bringing those who have wandered from the truth back into the fold. This is the role of reaching out, hearing confessions and providing assurances of forgiveness.

An important reality which we all must remember is that while this happens on a corporate level, usually in the midst of a worship service, each of us have a responsibility to make sure these things occur as part of our daily life. We are supposed to reach out to other believers when we are dealing with challenges in our lives. We are to be available to one another when there is a need. The power of prayer is to always be utilized as a tool of response. We are the church, individually and together.

Morning

One of the misunderstood aspects of Easter is that many people view Easter as a one-day celebration. Like Christmas, most people set aside one day out of the year to celebrate and remember. Christmas has twelve days in the church’s liturgical calendar. Easter on the other hand has seven weeks in the liturgical calendar. Today is the second Sunday of Easter. Since it is important to make each Easter Sunday special and unique, I have decided that on Sunday we will focus on a music video to help us look at the impact and emotions around the events connected to Easter.

Today’s music video is “Then Came the Morning.” I was first introduced to this song when I was asked to narrate an Easter cantata by the same name which a local community choir was performing.

What would your response be if you were one of Jesus’s disciples and watched him die on the cross?

Looking at the recorded life of Jesus, what stands out to you?

Would you have the confidence which the song claims that Mary had? Why or why not?

How does the imagery of morning enhance your understanding of Jesus’s resurrection?

What thoughts after listening to this song will you take with you into this week so that Easter remains a focus in your life?

United in a Meal

14 Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry. 15 I speak to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. 16 Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? 17 Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share the one loaf.

1 Corinthians 10:14-17 (NIV)

There is something almost unexplainable which happens when people sit down to eat a meal together. As they gather around a table there is a sense of togetherness which permeates the air. The divisions which may exist between them appear to break down. Language barriers are less of a concern. Strangers become connected. Conflicting views are tempered for at least a brief period of time. The sharing of a meal together can strengthen bonds which previously existed and create new bonds where ones did not exist. This is one reason that experts have lifted up the importance of family mealtimes at a table in the home. It is also why meals are incorporated into meetings of heads of state, corporations, and other diverse situations.

Today, we remember Jesus taking a traditional Jewish meal connected to the Passover celebration and using elements of it to create a meal to remember him. The Christian church used these elements from the meal in their love feasts when the church began. Even now, this is a vital part of the practices of the Church and have become a sacrament within the Church. Jesus knew that eating together was something more than just a nutritional activity.

The passage from Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth speaks of the transforming power of the breaking of bread. He reminds the people that in sharing the cup and bread, they are all sharing the same cup and bread. By this act, they are remembering Christ. They also are acknowledging their unity in Christ. It is the body and blood of Christ which unites us as one people.

Next time you sit down for a meal, whether at home or as part of a worship service, think about how this act impacts the relationships of those around the table. If you are sharing in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, remember Christ and the oneness which this meal creates within those who partake.

Acceptance

Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God’s truth, so that the promises made to the patriarchs might be confirmed and, moreover, that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written:

“Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles;
    I will sing the praises of your name.”

10 Again, it says,

“Rejoice, you Gentiles, with his people.”

11 And again,

“Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles;
    let all the peoples extol him.”

12 And again, Isaiah says,

“The Root of Jesse will spring up,
    one who will arise to rule over the nations;
    in him the Gentiles will hope.”

13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Romans 15:7-13 (NIV)

Frequently in life there develops an “in” group and an “out” group. Those within the special group achieve their membership based upon a defined set of criteria. This criteria can be items such as athletic ability, physical attributes, wealth, or even who the person knows. Sometimes being included may even be based on ancestry. Being part of the “in” group affords a person special knowledge, privileges, and treatment. If a person is a member of the “out” group, animosity and resentment can arise towards the members of the other group. There can be emotional and psychological pain experienced by those on the out. Trying to build acceptance among the groups can be a true challenge.

Reading from the letter to the Roman believers, we can see that there has developed a division among them. This division is based on ancestry and history. The Jews had always been considered as God’s chosen people since the time of Abraham and Sarah. This delineation was due to the events regarding Isaac and Ishmael. Ishmael was sent away and Isaac became the chosen one to carry forward God’s promises to Abraham. This would begin the lineage of the

Jews, the “in” group. Those who are not part of the lineage were referred to as Gentiles and were on the outside. Paul points out that God did not intend this to be a permanent separation. In Jesus Christ, this division has been eliminated. The believers in Rome are to understand this as part of their belief in Christ and accept one another. Belief in Jesus Christ unites those who used to be divided.

This type of division still exists today in a different way. Too often today the “in” group is considered to be members of the Church. The “out” group are those who are not a part of the fellowship. There is an attitude of being special among those who worship God together. A special set of words and ritual behaviors have been established among this group. A set of criteria has been adopted which must be met to be allowed in the group. There is even an us versus them mentality. 

Like the believers in Rome, we must learn to accept one another and break through the walls which divide us; no longer in/out or us/them but an attitude and behavior of we. Those who are believers must lead the way by reaching out to those who are not currently part of the fellowship. Going outside the walls of a building or the barriers we have constructed through rules and rituals. Accepting people where they are just as Christ accepted us where we were.

Quarreling

14 Keep reminding God’s people of these things. Warn them before God against quarreling about words; it is of no value, and only ruins those who listen. 15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. 16 Avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly. 17 Their teaching will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, 18 who have departed from the truth. They say that the resurrection has already taken place, and they destroy the faith of some. 19 Nevertheless, God’s solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness.”

20 In a large house there are articles not only of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay; some are for special purposes and some for common use. 21 Those who cleanse themselves from the latter will be instruments for special purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work.

22 Flee the evil desires of youth and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. 23 Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. 24 And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. 25 Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.

2 Timothy 2:14-26 (NIV)

Disagreements are a common element in human relationships. Different perspectives influenced by different experiences lead to a clashing of ideas and opinions. In most cases, calm discussions can resolve these disagreements. There are a variety of techniques and communication tools which may be employed to bring about a resolution. When people involved in a disagreement are unwilling or incapable of de-escalating the argument, they must seek outside assistance or the situation will have a negative impact on their relationship, their lives, or the lives of others. False information and/or false accusations can easily be the outcome of endless quarrelling.

In the passage from Paul’s letter to Timothy, Paul warns against engaging in quarrelsome discussions. He tells Timothy that nothing can be gained through endless arguments and chatter. This type of behavior will only increase the false information which is being spread. Instead, Paul encourages Timothy to try to gently lead those with a different view towards what is correct in God’s eyes.

Within the history of Christianity, there have been many times involving quarrelsome conversations. Splits among those who claim Christ as Lord have happened throughout the history of the Church and continue today. These disagreements and splits also occur among individual communities of faith. At times they are over theological understandings such as Paul lifts up. Other times they are over leadership, financial, and authority questions.

All of us would do well to heed Paul’s words shared with Timothy today. We are better if we avoid being engaged in quarrelsome conversation. This does not mean we do not participate in discussions involving different viewpoints. Paul is expressing the idea of not allowing these discussions to escalate into a quarrel. Gently share our viewpoints with one another and listen to the opposing views with honest sincerity. Be open to understanding why a person may view a situation or concept as they do. Share the reasons you have the viewpoints which you do without demeaning an opposing one. Often the truth exists somewhere in between.

Commonality

May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God’s truth, so that the promises made to the patriarchs might be confirmed and, moreover, that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written:

“Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles;
    I will sing the praises of your name.”

10 Again, it says,

“Rejoice, you Gentiles, with his people.”

11 And again,

“Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles;
    let all the peoples extol him.”

12 And again, Isaiah says,

“The Root of Jesse will spring up,
    one who will arise to rule over the nations;
    in him the Gentiles will hope.”

13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Romans 15:5-13 (NIV)

Over the years of my life, I have been fortunate to encounter individuals who are not a part of my tribe. For those who may not be familiar with the contemporary use of the word tribe, this word is now used to describe a group of individuals who hold things in common. What is held in common varies depending on the tribe; i.e., ethnic background, career, viewpoint on a subject, leisure activities, faith, etc. I have greatly enjoyed learning about tribes which are different from my own. Often I discover more similarities between my tribe and someone else’s than I ever find differences. There clearly are differences but not as many as the commonalities.

Paul writes to a group of Christ followers located in Rome. Some of these followers were Jews and some were Gentiles. All of them are also facing Jews who are not Christ followers. In the passage today, Paul is addressing the uneasiness the followers are having caused by the combining of Jews and Gentiles. The Jewish tribe carries with them the history of being a persecuted group of God’s people, usually at the hands and mercy of Gentiles. In addition, the historical understanding of the Messiah was God would be sending the Messiah to save the Jews. The Gentile tribe carries with them the sense of constant rejection by the Jews and what they see as the arrogance of the Jews who declare they are God’s chosen ones. It is easy to see why there are significant differences between these two tribes of people that can lead to conflict. 

Paul has chosen to address this uneasy division among believers. He calls them all to have the mind and attitude of Christ. He challenges these followers to accept one another in the same manner Christ has accepted them. Throughout Jesus’s ministry we see him display an embracing of both Jew and Gentile, continually breaking through the cultural norms to reach out to all. Then Paul uses words from Hebrew Scriptures to show that Jesus came to fulfill the promises God made to the Jews but also God’s plan to incorporate the Gentiles.

We live in a time when tribes of people are inclined to build walls to keep other tribes out. Instead of different views and experiences living in harmony, people would rather divide and conquer. Paul’s words speak loudly to us in the Christian faith. His words remind us that we have commonality in Christ. These words challenge us to adopt the mind and attitude of our Lord. A mind and attitude of acceptance without diminishing our differences. The church gives us a place to practice this so that we can learn to live it with tribes outside of the Christian tribe.

The Power of Music

Praise the Lord.

Praise God in his sanctuary;
    praise him in his mighty heavens.
Praise him for his acts of power;
    praise him for his surpassing greatness.
Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet,
    praise him with the harp and lyre,
praise him with timbrel and dancing,
    praise him with the strings and pipe,
praise him with the clash of cymbals,
    praise him with resounding cymbals.

Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.

Praise the Lord.

Psalm 150 (NIV)

Music is a very powerful communication tool in life. Through the notes, and in some cases the words, a message can be delivered which goes deeper into a person’s psyche than just by using words. Music brings all the senses to life and can trigger thoughts and emotions in powerful ways. A song can unlock feelings which may have been forgotten. Memories can flood a person’s mind when notes and lyrics are heard. There are many recorded instances of Alzheimer’s patients who are able to recall every note and word of a song when the rest of their memory is locked away. Songs and hymns have calmed many restless souls and minds. Music can provide comfort during a time of distress. Music has great power.

Today’s passage comes at the end of a collection of songs included in the Bible. The Book of Psalms is an ancient hymnal. Each psalm communicates the thoughts and feelings of the people of God at different times in their history. The psalm shared here is one of great praise. It calls the people to use loud instruments and dance along with their voices to offer praise to God for God’s acts of power and display of greatness. The song calls on all of creation to use every breath to praise the Lord. Imagery of praise in the throne room of God easily comes to mind from these words.

On this day when people traditionally gather in worship of God, this psalm communicates one way to worship. Through the psalmist’s words, we are called into energized and boisterous praise. Remembering the greatness of God excites us into heartfelt worship of the Lord. The psalmist tells us to use loud instruments and dancing to worship our God.

May you worship your Lord with the energy, enthusiasm, and celebration displayed in this psalm.

Saints Around Us

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

Hebrews 12:1-3 (NIV)

Today in the Christian Church calendar is “All Saints Day.” It is the day of the year when we pause to remember all those believers who have preceded us and are now dead. In my faith tradition, we believe that all who have claimed Jesus as their Lord and Savior, and have accepted his forgiveness for their sins are redeemed from their sins by the grace and love of God exhibited by Jesus’s death on the cross. Since a person is redeemed, the person is covered by the righteousness of the Lod and therefore a saint. On this day we acknowledge the example provided through the lives of these saints.

The writer of the book of Hebrews is talking about the examples which we have been given. First, he lifts up the example of those who have preceded us. He reminds us that they surround us with their example and support. This should give us the strength and perseverance to go down life’s path remaining vigilant in our faith and throwing off anything which stops our faith growth. If that were not helpful enough, the writer highlights the example of Jesus who suffered and faced opposition but remained faithful to God and the path of service.

As you proceed through your day today, I encourage you to think of the saints who have been in your life. Think of the saints you have read about in the Bible or heard about from other believers. Ask yourself about the faith examples you have been privileged to witness. What might you learn from these people which may assist you in your faith and life journey? Never forget others have walked this path before and surround you now.  They cheer you along your path and your greatest cheerleader is Jesus Christ, your Lord.