Remember back in elementary school when at recess or physical education class teams were chosen to play kickball or some other game? My memories of those times are not very positive. I have not been athletically inclined in my life nor am I overly coordinated so I usually was at the end of the choosing. There were other areas of life where I was on the chosen list but athletics was not the list for me. There is one very important list which includes almost every person, only if a person opts not to be on the list is her/his name omitted. The list to which I am referring is God’s list of people.
In the letter to the believers in Colossae, there is a reminder that they (and us) are God’s chosen people. Then instruction is given on how the chosen people are to act and interact. Qualities which describe such people are listed. Forgiveness and love are paramount among the chosen ones of the Lord.
Every day there is opportunity to put into practice the qualities and behaviors found in our reading. There are times when we can demonstrate compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. This can require a lot of effort. Practice is a good word to describe this effort because before these become natural, we must work on them over and over. Forgiveness is an action which is not optional for God’s people because of the magnitude of forgiveness we have received from our Lord. Love is the hallmark of believers for all these attitudes and behaviors are centered in love. God’s love for us is why we have been chosen by God and the basis for the endless forgiveness.
A few months ago we moved to a new state, a new city, a new neighborhood, and a new house. We are fortunate to live in a quiet portion of our city. The sounds which usually can be heard after dinner are the sounds of nature. Our new house has a spacious deck on the back for which we recently purchased some new outdoor furniture. This has led to a new, favorite pastime of sitting on our deck quietly while listening to the sounds of nature. Our neighborhood is full of trees so the sounds of birds, later to be joined by sounds of frogs, make a beautiful melody. Nature reminds us of the wonder and power of the Lord.
In a song of praise to God, the writer of this psalm proclaims the greatness of the Lord demonstrated in nature. The proclamation which nature makes is not by using flowing words but instead through the greatness of its display. The wonder of the cycles of nature, the vastness of the sky, and the feelings generated in the life of the observer, puts before us the magnificence of the One who created and maintains all of nature.
As I sit on my deck in the evening, experiencing the sights, sounds, and smells of God’s creation around me, awe overwhelms me. My soul joins in the chorus of praise sung by nature and the psalmist. It is important for each of us to take the time to truly experience the wonderment of what the Lord has created. Soon, you will be moved to join in the praise song for our God.
There are times when facing tomorrow can seem like a daunting task for many people. We live in a world which has experienced over two years of change and uncertainty through a global pandemic. Many times there have been glimmers of hope only to experience setbacks when new strains of the virus emerge. Our world began to breathe a sigh of relief as it appeared vaccines were able to manage the effects of the virus. Then in the midst of our sigh, one large nation begins an unprovoked, aggressive attack upon a smaller, neighboring nation. Now it is not a virus in nature killing innocent men, women and children but the weapons and tactics of humans used on fellow humans. Tomorrow can easily look rather bleak.
Yet even in the midst of all of this, Easter still came. In Easter, and during this Easter season, we are reminded that death no longer has a final say. Viruses, diseases, bombs, weapons, aggression, and violence no longer stand in control of today or tomorrow. No, Easter tells us that Christ is risen and because he lives we can face all of our tomorrows.
A challenge which is ever before us is to move beyond the shame of our past. Each one of us can easily come up with a list of actions we have taken or words we have spoken which we regret. Since not one of us can claim to live a sinless life, there are sins which we can recall without much effort at all. We are instructed, and Scripture clearly states, that when we have sinned we are to confess our sin and seek forgiveness. Most of us follow that instruction regularly. The challenge comes after we have confessed. More often than not, we continue to carry the shame associated with our sin way into the future. When we do, we are forgetting the rest of what Scripture teaches us and the full meaning of Jesus’s death and resurrection.
Paul is attempting to teach the believers in Rome about Jesus’s death and resurrection. He is trying to help them understand that a significant change occurred during that three-day period. Paul wants them to realize that there is no need to carry the shame of their sin into their future. In Jesus’s death, he removed the condemnation of sin. The death associated with sin and the shame associated with sin has been removed. In place of death and shame, a new life led by the Spirit has emerged. This is affirmed in Jesus’s resurrection, a new birth into a new life.
The challenge each of us face is to let go of the shame associated with our sin. Shame is a remnant of death because it kills a portion of our spirit. When we carry shame, we are living our old life. Accept the gift Jesus gave to each of us, the gift of complete forgiveness and a new way of living. Accept the resurrection not solely for the time after your earthly life but now. Leave shame in the old life before your acknowledgement of the Lord. Live in the new, abundant life of forgiven sin, free of shame.
People accept information in different ways. For some individuals, if a trusted friend or relative tells them something, they accept what is shared as truth. Other people need to see some type of physical evidence before they trust new information. In between are what may be referred to as “situational acceptors.” These individuals examine the situation, i.e., the person who is sharing, the circumstances surrounding the information, and the impact of the information upon them, before deciding if physical proof is necessary.
In the passage from John’s gospel account, we encounter Thomas who is definitely a physical evidence acceptor. Jesus had just appeared to the Apostles for one of the first times since his resurrection. Thomas was away doing something at the time of the appearance. When Thomas returns, the others tell Thomas that Jesus is alive and they have seen him. The information seems illogical to Thomas. Even though he has spent almost three years with the disciples, he was not willing to accept their verbal declaration of Jesus being alive. After all, he had watched him die on a cross. Thomas demands physical evidence that who they claim to have seen was truly Jesus and that he was indeed resurrected. Jesus appears again and provides Thomas with the physical evidence which he needs. Then Jesus refers to you and me.
What type of person are you when it comes to believing information? Are you like Thomas who demanded the physical evidence before accepting? Maybe you are a situational acceptor. Jesus says to us that it is great if you come to believe after seeing but it is even better to believe without seeing. Belief in Jeans requires us to go beyond the evidence and to see with the heart, or spirit. Belief in Jesus must be within our very spirit; it must be deeper than just a factual knowledge.
One of the more interesting post-resurrection stories is the one found in our reading today. Jesus had appeared to his closest disciples and they were all sharing in a meal. When the eating was done, while the cleaning up was underway, Jesus asks Peter about the love the disciple has for Jesus. In this interaction, there are a few lessons for us.
The first lesson is the connection Jesus makes between words and actions. After each time Peter affirms his love for the Lord, Jesus tells Peter to feed or tend Jesus’s sheep. Of course, Jesus is talking about the other followers, both present and future. What is obvious in Jesus’s words is the expectation not to just declare a love for the Lord but to show that love by caring for others. Our love for Jesus must be manifested in our acts of love toward others.
The second lesson here is one of grace. Jesus asks Peter three times to declare his love for the Lord. Three times Peter denied any relationship with the Lord prior to the crucifixion. Now in an act of grace and redemption, Peter is given the opportunity to not only acknowledge a relationship but to declare the depth of his love in the relationship. While Peter became frustrated by the repetition, Jesus knew the necessity to counter Peter’s previous actions. We learn of the efforts Jesus will make to offer us grace and redemption. Even when we do not see a necessity in what our Lord asks of us, our Lord knows what we need to overcome the guilt of our past.
The third lesson illustrated here is the need for us to give up control. Jesus tells Peter that there will come a time when someone else will make decisions for him. He indicated that Peter will need to surrender control. Jesus then says, “Follow me!” If we are going to follow Jesus, we must leave behind our previous, or “younger,” attitudes of being in charge of our destiny and choices. Following the Lord requires us to surrender control of our life to the Lord, go where the Lord takes us.
What are some things in life which seem unimaginable? As time moves forward, things which humans have thought impossible have become possible. History records an endless number of situations when humans have declared something impossible which today we take for granted. Human airflight, speaking to someone over five thousand miles away instantly, living in space, are just a few examples. While some feats take many years to become possible, we are witness to the impossible becoming reality. Yet even as far as humanity has come (and will go), humanity still has limits.
At the end of a prayer which Paul is writing for the believers in Ephesus, we read a benediction in today’s verses. Paul is speaking of God’s ability to do more than we even ask or can imagine. Notice that this great power of God is in conjunction with us. Paul says that this power to do the unimaginable works in us, or through us. Because of God’s choice to work through us, Paul goes on to say glory should be given in the church and in Christ.
Paul places perspective on the achievements of humanity. The advancements which have been made through discoveries, inventions, and work of humans are possible through the power of God. What humanity imagines into reality is God working through us. Because of God providing the power in abilities, skills, imagination, challenges, and wisdom, the impossible of yesterday becomes possible today. This truth is reason enough to give God the glory.
Today marks the day when we recall all the events of Jesus’s last night with his disciples before his resurrection. We remember him bowing to clean the feet of his closest disciples. We hear the prediction which he makes in regard to this betrayal. We are witnesses to his telling Peter that this man who swears his dying allegiance would deny even knowing him, not once but three times. We sit at table with the Lord as he gives us the institution which we now call the Lord’s Supper, a partaking in and remembrance of the giving of his body and blood for love of us. Finally, we follow along up a hill in the Mount of Olives to a place known as Gethsemane. At this place we witness his full surrender and complete commitment to the greatest act of love we could ever know. Even though he is conflicted and in great despair, he commits to what he does for love.
There are concepts which in their complexity can be difficult to understand. When we are younger, teachers take complicated concepts and break them down so we might understand the parts before understanding the whole. Teachers also learn that a student may need a concept explained in a different way in order to gain understanding. As a wonderful teacher, Jesus understood this. Jesus used parables, or storytelling, to communicate complicated messages in an understandable way.
A parable which Jesus told was about a vineyard owner and the tenants who worked his vineyard. The owner sent some servants and his son at harvest time to collect some of the harvest. As each one was sent, the tenants beat them, put them back with nothing, and even killed some of them including his son. The owner came himself, killed the tenants, and recruited new tenants.
This story was Jesus’s attempt to explain God’s viewpoint of how the Hebrew people have behaved and the coming response. All the prophets, angels and messengers had come to the people to give God’s message and bring the people back in relationship with God. The people rejected and even killed these servants of the Lord. Not wanting to give up on the people, God sends the Son. At some point, after endless rejection, God will let the people go to their own destruction and welcome in those who have chosen a relationship with the Lord.
The proverbial ball is always in our court. God will never reject any one of us. We will be sent messenger after messenger who invites us to share in the final harvest. Jesus came so even if we choose to reject God’s servants, we are given the ultimate way back to God. However, it remains our choice whether to accept or reject those who God has sent.