Light and Darkness

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.

1 John 1:5-10 (NIV)

Catching a sunrise can be a beautiful experience. As the darkness of the night gives way to the light of the day, there are types of colors and hues. Clouds which are on the eastern horizon can add to the color and the dazzling of the light. It is a fact that darkness and light cannot co-exist. The imagery of darkness and light have represented unrelenting opposition in our world. This is often referred to as black and white; black representing darkness and white representing light. You may have heard sayings such as, “They are as different as black and white.” or “They oppose each other like day and night.” Old Western movies would put the bad guys in black or dark clothing while the good guys would be dressed in white or light outfits. All of this exemplifies our view that light and darkness cannot dwell together.

At the beginning of the letter we know as I John, a discussion in regard to light and darkness occurs. The author states that God is light and no darkness can abide with the light. The dynamic of light representing holiness and righteousness while darkness represents sin and unrighteousness is put forth. We are told that if we come into the light, Jesus’s blood will purify us from our sin (darkness). This is important because we cannot be in fellowship with God if we have sin. The writer also tells us that if we claim to be in the light and without sin, or have no need of Jesus’s purifying blood, then we deceive ourselves and there is no truth in us or our claims. The hope is found in the reality that if we confess our sin, acknowledging our need to be purified, then God promises to forgive them and cleanse us of them.

Walking in darkness can lead to a host of problems. Darkness does not allow us to see the dangers and pitfalls which are in our path. We can easily stumble, fall and even do serious damage to ourselves or others. Walking in sin does not allow us to experience the fullness of our Lord. We can cause fatal damage to our spirit. By entering the light of God’s fellowship by confessing our sins, we take our first step into the light of God which is filled with forgiveness, grace and love. This first step is like when the first rays of sunlight break into night’s darkness before the first sighting of the full sun occurs. Before one knows it, the light completely dispels the darkness and the sun radiates light from above the horizon. Come into the light and leave the darkness behind you.

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?

An Invitation

On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare
    a feast of rich food for all peoples,
a banquet of aged wine—
    the best of meats and the finest of wines.
On this mountain he will destroy
    the shroud that enfolds all peoples,
the sheet that covers all nations;
    he will swallow up death forever.
The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears
    from all faces;
he will remove his people’s disgrace
    from all the earth.
The Lord has spoken.

In that day they will say,

“Surely this is our God;
    we trusted in him, and he saved us.
This is the Lord, we trusted in him;
    let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation.”

Isaiah 25:6-9 (NIV)

Imagine receiving an invitation to attend a banquet. This banquet is being hosted by a very important and powerful person. The individual is known to have access to the finest food, wines and drinks known to humanity. You are also aware that the location of the banquet has been described as having unparalleled views, amazing furnishings and ideal weather. You are not required to bring anything or pay any sort of fee to attend. What you wear to the banquet does not matter because a special robe, exactly your size, has been prepared for you to wear once you arrive. Would you even consider turning down the invitation?

The passage which we have read today from Isaiah is part of a song of praise. The song speaks of God’s faithfulness to Israel. God’s protection of Israel from foreign enemies and the destruction of those foreign cities is lifted up. Then the words of the song switch to the telling of the Lord preparing a great banquet for all people. This is where our reading begins. The song moves from speaking about a great feast to God’s work in destroying death and its power over humanity. The Lord will remove the tears and disgrace of all people. The celebration then begins.

You have received an invitation to a banquet. The Lord has invited you to come to a celebration where death, tears and shame no longer exist. You know the host and the host’s abilities. The location has been described throughout Scripture.  There will even be people who you have previously known there. The price of admission has been provided. A special robe to cover all the dirty parts of your life has been made especially for you. Only one thing remains to be done, accepting the invitation. Will you?

A Leader’s Example

21 To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.

22 “He committed no sin,
    and no deceit was found in his mouth.”

23 When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. 24 “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.” 25 For “you were like sheep going astray,” but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

1 Peter 2:21-25 (NIV)

An important responsibility of a good leader is to set an example for others to follow. Some leaders attempt to lead by force and a controlling hand. These leaders have a fearful following who either attempt to adopt an authoritarian approach or they see a decrease in followers who respond negatively to this leadership style. A leader who models the behaviors and the type of work which they expect from their followers tend to experience an increase in the number who follow and a positive outcome in regard to what they are trying to accomplish.

The writer of 1 Peter indicates that we have been called to follow the example of our leader, Christ. Christ is described as “the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls.” The example which Christ places before us is that even though he was blameless, he placed his trust not in human judgment but in God’s judgment. Even though Christ suffered he did not threaten or speak evil. While he retained all the power in creation he did not retaliate in any fashion.

The example which we are called upon to follow is one that few humans have successfully followed. Leaders who we admire this day which came close to Christ’s example include Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi and Nelson Mandela, among others. They did not retaliate with violence when they faced injustice and oppression. We must strive to follow their examples. By doing so we live as ones whose sins died on a cross which held our leader. We allow our wounds which are inflicted upon is to be healed by the wounds of Christ.

Drought Relief

The hand of the Lord was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”

I said, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know.”

Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’”

So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.

Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’” 10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army.

11 Then he said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the people of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ 12 Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13 Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. 14 I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it, declares the Lord.’”

Ezekiel 37:1-14 (NIV)

Droughts can be a devastating natural phenomenon. They devastate the plants and vegetation in the area which is experiencing the drought. A ripple effect then occurs. If plants, trees, and other fauna are no longer present, the food supply for animals including humans is gone. This can lead to starvation. The absence of plant life and lack of water can also cause major dust storms because there is nothing to keep the soil in place when the winds blow. An economic impact also occurs since crops and livestock are wiped out. This impact affects those outside of the agricultural industry as food supply dwindles and prices rise to record levels. Life suffers when the land is too dry.

The well-known story we find in Ezekiel today speaks of a dryness and lack of life. The prophet has a vision which entails him going to a valley filled with dry bones. While in this valley, God gives Ezekiel three messages to deliver. The first message is to the bones in the valley. This message is that God will bring life back to the bones. While the prophet delivers the message, the bones come together and are given flesh to connect them and create a body. The second message is to the breath of life. While this message is shared, the breath enters the reconstructed bodies and gives them life. The third message is to the Israelites. It is a message of promise; the promise that God would bring Israel back to life and return the people to the land of their ancestors.

There are times in our own experiences when we can feel lifeless and dried up physically, emotionally, mentally and/or spiritually. The story of Ezekiel in a valley of dry bones can be an encouraging story for us during those times. It reminds us that when we are experiencing a drought in our life, God Is able to breathe new life into us. As God sends rain to a drought-stricken land, God will send us what we need to be restored. This is possible on an individual or a group level. The nation of Israel needed God to end their drought just as individuals within that nation needed it. Call on the Lord for new life whenever you are dry.

Family

12 Now his brothers had gone to graze their father’s flocks near Shechem, 13 and Israel said to Joseph, “As you know, your brothers are grazing the flocks near Shechem. Come, I am going to send you to them.”

“Very well,” he replied.

14 So he said to him, “Go and see if all is well with your brothers and with the flocks, and bring word back to me.” Then he sent him off from the Valley of Hebron.

When Joseph arrived at Shechem, 15 a man found him wandering around in the fields and asked him, “What are you looking for?”

16 He replied, “I’m looking for my brothers. Can you tell me where they are grazing their flocks?”

17 “They have moved on from here,” the man answered. “I heard them say, ‘Let’s go to Dothan.’”

So Joseph went after his brothers and found them near Dothan. 18 But they saw him in the distance, and before he reached them, they plotted to kill him.

19 “Here comes that dreamer!” they said to each other. 20 “Come now, let’s kill him and throw him into one of these cisterns and say that a ferocious animal devoured him. Then we’ll see what comes of his dreams.”

21 When Reuben heard this, he tried to rescue him from their hands. “Let’s not take his life,” he said. 22 “Don’t shed any blood. Throw him into this cistern here in the wilderness, but don’t lay a hand on him.” Reuben said this to rescue him from them and take him back to his father.

23 So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe—the ornate robe he was wearing— 24 and they took him and threw him into the cistern. The cistern was empty; there was no water in it.

25 As they sat down to eat their meal, they looked up and saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead. Their camels were loaded with spices, balm and myrrh, and they were on their way to take them down to Egypt.

26 Judah said to his brothers, “What will we gain if we kill our brother and cover up his blood? 27 Come, let’s sell him to the Ishmaelites and not lay our hands on him; after all, he is our brother, our own flesh and blood.” His brothers agreed.

28 So when the Midianite merchants came by, his brothers pulled Joseph up out of the cistern and sold him for twenty shekels of silver to the Ishmaelites, who took him to Egypt.

29 When Reuben returned to the cistern and saw that Joseph was not there, he tore his clothes. 30 He went back to his brothers and said, “The boy isn’t there! Where can I turn now?”

31 Then they got Joseph’s robe, slaughtered a goat and dipped the robe in the blood. 32 They took the ornate robe back to their father and said, “We found this. Examine it to see whether it is your son’s robe.”

33 He recognized it and said, “It is my son’s robe! Some ferocious animal has devoured him. Joseph has surely been torn to pieces.”

34 Then Jacob tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and mourned for his son many days. 35 All his sons and daughters came to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted. “No,” he said, “I will continue to mourn until I join my son in the grave.” So his father wept for him.

36 Meanwhile, the Midianites sold Joseph in Egypt to Potiphar, one of Pharaoh’s officials, the captain of the guard.

Genesis 37:12-36 (NIV)

Families are an interesting aspect of a person’s life. Families come in all sizes. The definition and structure of a family can be as unique as the individual members. Different cultures and periods of time generate varied understandings of family. Recently society has seen shifts in how family is perceived. The next generation is likely to witness other shifts in today’s perceptions. Some families are based upon dependability, reliability, intimacy, and love. In some experiences there is a much looser understanding of family where each member is independent and does not rely upon other members. Competition, envy, jealousy, and discord can exist within a family as easily as trust, support, and encouragement. Most people hope that their family will be the ones to stick by them no matter what but that is not always the experience.

The story of Joseph, Jacob’s son, is a story of family. The passage which we read today is the portion of the story where family is seen as jealous, envious and cruel. All but one of Joseph’s brothers had experienced enough of Joseph’s arrogance and the dreams which he would relay to them. These dreams placed Joseph above his brothers and since it appeared he was already their father’s favorite, this added fuel to the fire. A plot is made to kill Joseph as they see him approach them and the flock. Reuben attempts to rescue Joseph by convincing the brothers to throw Joseph into a cistern instead of killing him. Reuben’s plan prevails until an opportunity to earn some money comes along in the form of an Ishmaelite caravan. The brothers sell Joseph into slavery and they convince Jacob he was mauled to death by an animal by presenting a goat’s blood soaked robe. Instead of experiencing love, support and protection from his brothers, Joseph experienced hatred, jealousy and greed.

Family relationships can be complicated. Just because you share the same blood and possibly the same dwelling does not mean there is harmony, love and support. Sometimes you have to look elsewhere for these things. Even when life can look very bleak, there is a way the Lord can change the picture. With God being the perfect Father and Jesus the perfect brother, you have a source for support and love. God also brings other of God’s children into your life to walk with you during whatever dark times you may be experiencing. Each of us has a second family which surrounds us to either augment our natural family or fill in the gaps.  We also have a Father who is able to take bad situations and create good from them.

Reconciliation

19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

21 Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. 22 But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— 23 if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. 

Colossians 1:19-23a (NIV)

Reconciliation is defined as “the restoration of friendly relations.” After the Civil War in the United States, the northern and southern states had to reconcile. Friendly relations were required if the nation was going to heal and move forward as a productive country on the world’s stage. Reconciliation can also be necessary among family members. When individuals become estranged from one another, there is a need to reconcile with one another for the family to become whole once again. Unreconciled relationships create a gap among people. It is as if there is a hole in the spirit of the person who has not been reconciled.

In his comments to the Colossian believers, Paul speaks of reconciliation with God. The reason for the need to reconcile is because our thoughts and behaviors stand often in opposition to the love of God. God is love so anything which cannot abide within that love is unable to exist in God’s realm. God chose to create a way for us to be reconciled with God. Jesus Christ is the means for reconciliation to occur. God decided to fully live among humanity in Jesus. At the right time Jesus became the reconciler by physically dying on the cross. He stood in for us, bearing our sinful thoughts and behaviors on his body. By doing this, he made us holy, free and innocent in the sight of God. Our thoughts and behaviors are now compatible with the pure love of God.

Now having been made compatible with God and fully reconciled in relationship, Paul says we are to continue in believing Jesus has made this so. He tells us to be unmoved from the hope found in this good news. Where we once were alienated from God, we now live in full relationship. This is the truth of the gospel and this truth gives us hope.

The Path and Father

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.”

Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”

John 14:1-7 (NIV)

Remember a time before GPS and navigation systems when you had to be able to read a paper map on your journeys? This past week a person posted on social media that this is how we came to call the passenger to the right of the driver the navigator. Whoever sat in that seat had the responsibility to follow the route on the map so the driver knew which turns to make and which roads to be on in order to arrive at the destination. Today we use GPS and applications such as Google Maps, Waze, and Apple Maps on our phones. Some newer vehicles come with navigation systems built into them. All of this allows us to know the path which we must take to get to the place we are going.

Prior to Jesus’s arrest, he is having a conversation with his closest disciples. He has been trying to prepare them for his arrest, trial, crucifixion and death. They are becoming very unsettled and confused as the tension is building in Jerusalem. Jesus starts by trying to bring them comfort. He assures them that they can believe in him just as they believe in God. He tells them that he will return for them to take them to the place which the Father has prepared. Jesus even says they know the way to get to the place. Thomas assures Jesus that they cannot navigate to the place because they do not even know the destination. Then Jesus shows them the road map. Jesus is the road map. Since they know Jesus, they not only know the way but they also know the Father.

Thomas speaks so often on our behalf. We may feel like we have no idea how to get to the place which God has prepared for us. We do not know which road map to grab or what to put in our navigation system. How can we know the place when we do not even know the one who has prepared it and invited us? Yet Jesus tells Thomas and us that we do know how to get there and we do know the one who has prepared us a place. By knowing Jesus, we know this information and we know the Father. How we know Jesus is by hearing and reading the stories found in the Gospels. We expand our understanding of who Jesus is through conversations with other believers and with the Lord in prayer. When we know Jesus, we know the way, the truth, the life, and the Father.

The Wait

I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits,
    and in his word I put my hope.
I wait for the Lord
    more than watchmen wait for the morning,
    more than watchmen wait for the morning.

Psalm 130:5-6 (NIV)

Waiting can be a challenging aspect of life.  Children wait for birthday celebrations, Christmas, Easter and Halloween when they receive gifts and special treats.  When a woman is pregnant, there is approximately eight months of waiting (usually the first month the person is unaware). Family, friends, and her partner eagerly look forward to the arrival of new life along with the one carrying the child. In the midst of winter we must wait for the warmth and new life of spring. All of this waiting can result in impatient people.

On this day when we await the sunrise of Easter morning, we sit in silence. The events of Thursday and Friday, filled with activity and emotions, are over. Jesus died on the cross and it now stands empty. His body has been sealed away in a tomb where death holds the power. All there is for us to do is wait. The darkness of yesterday afternoon and last night lingers around our spirits. There is an unsettling quiet about today. As the words from the psalm portray, our whole being waits for the Lord. Tomorrow will bring a new beginning with new life but today we wait.