The verse for today is the answer to the trivia question, “What is the shortest verse in the Bible?” This comes in the midst of Jesus’s arrival to the tomb of his friend, Lazarus. The passage is a bit ambivalent in indicating to us the cause of Jesus’s weeping. Was the cause the weeping of Mary? Perhaps the cause was sadness over the death of Lazarus. Another potential cause may be the limited faith he saw in the people, especially Martha. Whatever the cause, the gospel writer tells us two different times that Jesus was moved. This movement of emotions leads Jesus to tears.
This verse is one of the most overlooked, important passages in Scripture. In these two words, we witness the depth of love Jesus has for us. No matter the cause of the tears, Jesus wept because of the sorrow found in the situation. The words also communicate to us that we have a Lord who shares in our grief and has felt our grief. What a comfort this type of intimacy can be as we journey through grief. Our tears are felt and shared in Jesus’s tears.
It is important to remember this verse. We are reminded that our Lord is not distant and unattached from us. No, our Lord is in the very midst of our experience. Our Lord feels for and with us every emotion we experience. What greater example of love can we ever desire? Oh wait, that comes later in the gospel.
Anticipating something can create anxiety for most of us. This anxiety increases if we do not know the timing of whatever we are anticipating. You might recall as a young child on a road trip the way you nagged your parents with the question, “Are we there yet?” Maybe you had a child who consistently would ask that question, or ask “when?” We think that by knowing the timing, we can manage our anxiety better. Unfortunately, this is seldom the case.
We witness the annely of the disciples in today’s passage. Jesus tells them that the large, revered temple will be reduced to rubble and they want to know when. Jesus warns them that some people will come and try to convince them that the end is near based upon events which they see around them. He tells them not to be fooled because those events are just a part of the status of the world. Jesus says the wickedness in the world will increase but they are to stand strong in love. When others no longer live in and by love, Jesus’s followers are to do the opposite as a testimony of the kingdom in the world.
Since Jesus spoke these words, history has recorded individuals trying to convince people that the end of the world is close at hand. Even today we experience leaders, speakers, preachers, and public figures trying to equate natural or human-created events as signs of the end times. Whether it is true or not, our focus should not be on timing but instead our focus should be on remaining solid in love. Jesus clearly tells us that whatever is occurring around us, whatever wickedness is flooding the world, we are to not acquire a cold heart. The love which we daily receive from the Lord must create our foundation. This love surrounding us is also what we are to be sharing with others.
Leave the timing of the world’s demise to God. Do not let the world’s wickedness steal the love from you. Make love an alternative to the events of the world. By doing so, you will be testifying to the kingdom for others to see, a kingdom which is defined by love.
There exist many times in life when two opposing views present themselves. These views are usually based upon our perception. Is the glass half full, or is it half empty? This question is often quoted to show the concepts of pessimism and optimism. We also eventually realize that life generally resides somewhere in the middle of opposing views.
In the familiar passage for today, we see this challenge of contrasts. The Israelites are seeing their lives solely from the perspective of what they do not have. This perspective leads to complaining and an amnesia in regards to all which the Lord has given them. God shows the people abundance in quail and manna. They had all that they needed, and an abundance remained.
We can often have a perspective like the Israelites. We look at the world around us, complaining about all the things we do not have. Quickly, we can forget what we have thanks to the love, grace, and mercy of our Lord. All of which we truly need is provided by our God, and there is an abundance to share with others. Let each of us strive to achieve an attitude of abundance. If we succeed, it might just lead to less complaining and more gratitude.
Many of us grew up with parents and grandparents who were committed to fairness in gift giving. Whether it was Christmas, birthdays, graduations, or any other opportunity to give a gift, these important people in our lives would strive to make sure that each child or grandchild received equally. As the receiver of the gifts, anytime we failed to see equity in the giving, we may have had a tendency to exclaim that it was unfair.
The fairness of giving and receiving is addressed in the story which Jesus tells in our passage for today. Workers hired early in the day protest the fairness of receiving the same daily wage as those who were hired in the final hours of the work day. The vineyard owner is quick to point out that all the workers received exactly the wage for which they agreed to work. The owner continues by lifting up that it was his money being paid so he had the right to determine the amount as long as it was not lower than the agreed upon amount. Jesus was addressing some of the issues regarding the Jews versus the Gentiles in coming to believe.
This battle of fairness can appear among believers today. People begin believing in the Lord at various points in their lives. There are some who develop a belief early in their lives, maybe because they have been raised in the fellowship of the Church. Others start developing their faith as young adults or even when they reach middle age. Still others may not come to believe until they are facing death. No matter when in life our belief begins, we all receive the fullness of our Lord’s promises fulfilled. In fact we receive this before we even begin to understand our belief. The grace given to all is the Lord’s to give. Instead of crying foul when a new believer accepts the gift of grace and promises fulfilled, we should celebrate.
The passage chosen for today is part of a letter which Paul has written. Paul had received word that many of the believers in Galatia had started striving to live according to the Hebrew laws. They were concerned about earning righteousness with God. Someone had convinced them of the necessity to adhere to the law. This portion of Paul’s letter is to address this problem and redviert the people.
Paul outlines the problem with the idea of striving to adhere to the ancient law. By focusing on required performance and behavior, the believers are disregarding the grace secured for them by Christ. The direction which they have been taking places the spotlight on them and their actions instead of on Christ’s actions. Any behaviors which they follow should be in response to the grace which they received through Christ, not because they are trying to follow the law.
Even today there are people who fall into the same trap which the believers in Galatia had fallen into. They were confused by leaders who tried to convince them that their righteousness was based on their fidelity to the law. Some church leaders today make similar statements. Paul’s words in his letter are apropos for anyone who follows this pattern. The grace of Jesus Christ is sufficient for us. Any attempts at earning righteousness discredits belief in Christ’s all-sufficient grace. Our lives should be lived as a response to this grace.
We were created to be independent and capable. When God envisioned humanity, humans were intended to be on a level in which a compatible relationship could be established between God and humanity. There is a built-in dependency between us and our Creator. Humans have attempted to live independent of God since shortly after creation. Each attempt results in some level of failure. When we break down and admit our need for the Lord, we do not find rejection but forgiveness and the grace of love.
Chris Tomlin puts our prayer into words and music…
Yesterday I provided my readers with a series of questions to respond to after reading this passage. I benefited from the responses which I received. My promise yesterday was that I would write a response today.
This passage allows us to be insiders to a conversation Jesus is having with his disciples prior to his death and resurrection. He is trying to prepare them for what will come soon and how they are to respond. This conversation provides a core for us as we strive to live life post Jesus’s death and resurrection as well.
As I look at this passage, I have two images which emerge for me. The first image is one of a package completely wrapped in a red cellophane. The second image is one of dough with red food coloring flowing completely through it. Both images involve the color red because it is the color that for me is connected with love. Love is the main point of what Jesus says here. A love which surrounds and is fully integrated in a person’s life.
A friend of Jesus is anyone who is surrounded by and infused with the love belonging to the Lord. Since this person lives all of life in Jesus’s love, this love flows naturally out to others. Jesus chose us to be the recipients, receptacles, and bearers of love. Because this love became a part of who we are, we naturally share it with others. While we continue to be imperfect in consistently sharing love, we see here that the Lord desires us to continue in the effort.
We also see Jesus makes a connection between joy and love. Joy and love are expressions and experiences of the soul. Joy is different from happiness. Happiness is fleeting and is a reaction to events around us. Love can be an emotion which is also fleeting but the love Jesus references here is lasting as described above. When thus love envelopes us and penetrates us, as Jesus’s love does, it enhances and partners with the joy of our soul.
All of who Jesus is and does finds its core in love. Jesus is telling his disciples, and us, that anyone who is a friend of the Lord has love as their core. When love is your core, your life expresses it and your joy is complete.
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 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.
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.