There is a saying which gets spoken often that goes like this, “There is no going back home.” In many situations, this saying is applicable. A desire to return to some point in our lives has crept into almost everyone’s thoughts. We can become nostalgic for a different time in our lives which our memories fool us into thinking was easier and problem-free. However, if we are to honestly to recall exactly what our views were at the specific time, we would have to admit that even then we longed for something else, something better and problem-free. So to some degree, the saying is true that we cannot go back, even if we could, it would not be the same. We really would not want it to be the same.
There is an exception of sorts to what I just presented to you. The exception has to do with reconciliation and restored relations. Jesus presents this exception in the form of a story about a father and his two sons. The story’s focus character is the man’s youngest son who longs for something better. The son takes his future inheritance and hits the road in search of adventure, only to find himself destitute and longing to go back home. When he finally gets the courage to return, the son fully reconciles with his father and the relationship is completely restored.
Jesus tells this story to give us understanding into the promise of reconciliation and restoration offered by God. With the Father, we are more than able to go back home. Not only is the ability made possible by the Lord, it is greatly desired by God. The chance to reconcile our relation with God is one of the greatest signs of love given to us. This opportunity is available as many times as we need it.
The other son in Jesus’s story also provides an important lesson for us. Even though the father was ready to, and did, reconcile with his youngest son, the older brother responded the opposite way. How many times do we reject the offer of reconciliation from others? Jesus communicated here the need for us to always work for reconciliation with one another.
The temperatures are rising outside as we transition from spring into summer. The increase in temperatures have drawn my thoughts toward heat and fire. My thoughts have also been focusing on the upcoming celebration of Pentecost in the Church. In the telling of events which occurred at Pentecost shortly after Jesus returning to the spiritual realms, we see the portrayal of the Holy Spirit as tongues of fire on the shoulders of the disciples. Fire plays an important role throughout many Scripture accounts.
Today’s focus passage comes at the end of one of Luke’s stories about the appearances of Jesus post-resurrection. This story is often referred to at the “walk to Emmaus” because two disciples encounter the resurrected Jesus as they walk to Emmaus from Jerusalem. They discuss with Jesus the events of his death without recognizing him. He explains to them how the Hebrew Scriptures indicated these things had to happen. It was not until they reached Emmaus and were breaking bread with the Lord that they realized who they had been talking with during this time. This is where we join the story today.
The idea of their hearts burning within them drew my attention. Having the Lord open the Scriptures to them created this sensation. Clearly a glow or an overpowering sensation overcame the core of their being. This sensation is spiritual and not physical. It is unique and very specific. Imagine a fire burning within a person’s spirit.
This passage links well with all the occurrences of fire throughout the Bible. Whether it be the call of Moses at the “burning bush,” the galvanizing of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego’s faith in the furnace, or the telling of tongues of fire on disciple shoulders, the link between the Spirit and fire is clear. What these two disciples experienced as they listened to Jesus was the Spirit changing their hearts and perspectives.
Have you felt the burning of the Spirit in your being? I have had such a sensation at times in my life. The transforming by the Spirit is the basis. Each sensation is different and unique because the reason or need for transformation is different. The reason may be an altering of perspective such as in today’s story. Or maybe the need is to take our words and/or actions from the ordinary to the spiritual. Or possibly the situation calls for a cleansing of ourselves. Whatever the case, we come away recalling the sensation and being transformed. Be open to the sensation and transformation of the Spirit.
Many famous leaders and celebrities become concerned about the legacy which they leave after their time in the public spotlight is over or they have died. There is a part of each one of us desiring to be remembered. One of the reasons we erect grave markers is to ensure we are not forgotten. Monuments and memorials of every shape and size are scattered throughout our land, our schools, our churches, and our institutions. We expend a large amount of time and money to remember.
A very poignant moment in Luke’s account of Jesus’s crucifixion is when there is a conversation involving two criminals and Jesus. As the three men hang on crosses, one of them appears to be belligerent and mocks Jesus. The other criminal has a much different view of the situation. He sees Jesut as innocent and undeserving of this cruel punishment. He sees Jesus as who others claim him to be. The man rebukes the other criminal, acknowledges his own guilt, and then makes a request to Jesus. He asks Jesus to remember him. The man wished to be remembered by the King of Kings, who he recognizes even as he hangs in agony. Jesus not only promises the man that he will remember him but promises that the man will be with Jesus in the kingdom.
Throughout the gospel recordings of Jesus’s ministry, we encounter Jesus promising the disciples that he would prepare a place for them, they would one day join him where he is, and he would always be with them. The criminal who hung on a cross beside Jesus is unknown to us until we meet him in this passage. There is no mention by Jesus or the man or Luke that this man had been a disciple of Jesus. Yet he receives the same promise that Jesus had made to his followers.
The criminal provides us a lesson and a hope. Observing what the request was from the criminal is important. He did not ask to be released from his punishment. He did not ask for some type of a miracle. The man asked to be remembered. A request that is not unfamiliar to us. Jesus’s response to the man provides us hope. We have not spent years physically walking with Jesus. We have not stood in front of the Lord declaring our commitment to him. We have come to know Jesus at what may be determined as the end of our world understanding. Yet the promise Jesus made to the Apostles, the disciples, and this man on a cross is our promise as well. Jesus promised not to only remember us but that we will be with him in the kingdom as well.
Transitions can be a challenge in life. There is a part which wishes to cling to the old even if the new is exciting and full of promise. The old is familiar, comfortable in a way. Even if you have become frustrated or bored with the old, you at least know what to expect. There is uncertainty with the new which makes one feel uneasy at best or frightened at worst.
Jesus had come to bring a new way to understand God, live in relationship with God, and live in community with others. The struggle between the old ways of the past and the new ways which Jesus was introducing was apparent. The people of power and status prefered the old norms because they helped maintain their power and status. Even some of the average Hebrew people preferred the old over Jesus’s new ways because they were comfortable and familiar even if they complained about them. Jesus articulates this struggle when he speaks of garment patches, wine, and wineskins. He signals the importance of letting the new exist on its own versus attempting to conform the new to the old.
It is easy to approach transitions and attempt to place the new in our old understandings. Jesus taught us that this approach is doomed to fail. We must embrace the new on its own merits. We can reminisce about the old but we need to live in the new. Our God is a living God who continues to guide us to new paths of understanding. Living means transitioning. Transitioning means experiencing the new.
People come in and out of our lives regularly. There are some who make a significant impact while others quickly fade from our memory. Some individuals are a part of our lives for a long span of time, but some only interact with us briefly. There are the standouts and the unnoticed. We may view a person as having great value to us and another is seen as contributing little to our lives. The world teaches us how to value another human. We are also taught how we are, or are not, valued by others.
Unlike humans, the Lord places a high value on each one of us. Our value, and the value we have with others, is not dependent upon us. To the world we may look used up and have nothing to contribute. Yet it is the Lord who gives value to each person. By touching our lives, God makes us into the great masterpiece which we were created to be. The touch of the Lord transforms us from a broken, sinful person into a radiant child of the King. Whether our contribution to the world is brief or long, whether we are noticed or remain unnoticed, by God’s amazing power, we are a shining star of humanity.
Wayne Watson sings of this truth in a song, “The Touch of the Master’s Hand,” written by John Kramp based upon a poem by Myrna Brooks Welch. Enjoy listening to this song as you realize that you, and every person you encounter, are a masterpiece of great value when the Lord touches and beautifully plays your life.
If you have ever had the privilege of being in a school cafeteria with elementary students at lunch time, you know that quiet is not a good description of the environment. There is a lot of chatter, laughing, and screaming which takes place. Any attempt to reduce the level of sound is an endless effort. Most of the time a reduction or, on a rare occasion, relief, is a short lived success.There is just too much energy.
The passage read for today comes from Luke’s account of the palm procession which we commemorate each year on Palm Sunday. Jesus enters Jerusalem to prepare for the upcoming Passover celebrations. His entry is noticed by crowds and the Jewish religious leaders. Luke records that the disciples begin to make a lot of sound as they praise God for the miracles performed by Jesus. This exuberant display prompts the Jewish leaders to ask Jesus to tell the crowd to be silent. Jesus explains that even if he could accommodate their request, the sound would come from other elements of the world. The crowd on that day is like the elementary students at lunch time, full of unabated energy.
Reading this passage causes one to wonder if the level of enthusiasm and energy which one has for the Lord is similar to what is here described. Would anyone say that they witness such loud sounds of praise from us? If a person entered our worship setting, would they report the observation that nothing can quiet our praise? What about our personal display of praise for the Lord? We need to be as boisterous and full of energy when it comes to giving thanks and witness to our Lord as school children are in the cafeteria every day.
Waiting can be a challenge for many of us. Anyone who has anticipated something tremendous to occur knows that you are often on edge. If our wait is prolonged, doubt can enter into one’s mind. A person may even become irritable because the waiting may seem unbearable. When the wait is over, a feeling of relief and joy sweeps over us.
The people of Israel had been waiting a long time for a savior, the Messiah. Some of them had given up hope, become upset, and maybe even fell away from their faith in God. One Hebrew man who remained faithful and did not waver from his belief that God would fulfill the promise of the Messiah was Simeon. When Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the temple for consecration, Simeon knew the promise had been fulfilled. He offered a song of praise and thanks to God. In his song, he declared who this child was and what he would do for the world.
There are times when we have to wait for God to fulfill a promise. God’s timing seldom aligns with our own. God’s timing is perfect so waiting is often the norm for us. How we handle this wait reveals our nature. Do we become irritated, maybe even fall away from our faith? Or do we choose to respond as Simeon, remaining faithful and continuing to trust in God’s promise to be fulfilled?
If you are a Star Wars fan, you know that the first released movie trilogy was toward the middle of the whole story. Since the first three movies were released, we have received the three chapters of the story which were before the original movies. There have been prequels, sequels, individual character focus, and parts in between made into movies. Star Wars is not the only movie franchise which has included prequels and sequels. Some have also had spin-offs featuring characters from the original movie; i.e., the Marvel stories. We are even beginning to watch movies and anticipate these additional ones since it has become so commonplace.
Today’s passage is a necessary prequel to the story of Jesus Christ. We encounter Zechariah, one of God’s faithful priests, and his wife Elizabeth. Much like we will see in the announcement of Jesus’s impending birth, Zechariah is amazed at the angel’s words as he is consumed with fear and doubt. This presents us a precursor of the angelic announcement to Mary and Joseph. Because of Zechariah and Elizabeth’s age, the idea of a child being conceived is almost preposterous, similar to the unlikeliness of Mary becoming pregnant based on her circumstances. The child, John, will always be preparing people for Jesus and it begins with this announcement of his upcoming birth.
As we continue to prepare for the celebration of Jesus’s birth and look toward the Savior’s return, this story of Zechariah, Elizabeth and John has value in our understanding of Jesus. John is the prequel to Jesus. This is why people were wondering if John was the Messiah. If we overlook John’s story, we lack the preparedness to experience Jesus’s story. Spending time discovering Zechariah and Elizabeth’s son John, helps us to anticipate Jesus’s birth and life.
There is not a person on earth who can predict the future. We have no idea what is going to happen in the next thirty seconds, let alone a day, a month, a year, or ten years from now. We may have insights into possibilities and probabilities based on observations and patterns. But these predictions are not absolute and often lack some level of accurate detail. This is why many become frustrated with meteorologists because their weather predictions have a limited level of accuracy.
So the song which I am sharing with you today is based on a question which is unfair to Mary. Mary’s announcement from the angel was alarming and unpredictable. How could Mary ever know who and what Jesus would become? Even if she connected her child to the ancient prophecies, she could not know the details or timing. This song shares what we, on the other side of Jesus’s story, know happened. We know who Mary’s child is and what he has done.
As you listen to Mark Lowry’s version of the gospel, consider what you know about Mary’s child. How do you tell others what you know?
Today we have so many ways to communicate. The use of electronic messaging is now commonplace and the top method of sharing a message with others. A person can feel overwhelmed at times with the number of messages received in one day. Some of these messages are uplifting, helpful, informative, and/or meaningful. Other messages are upsetting, destructive, trivial and/or annoying. There are times when we experience great joy with the message we receive. Still at other times we may be shocked by the contents of the message. Messages have the ability to inspire and motivate, or they can leave us scared and defeated.
The reading for today is a portion of Luke’s narrative on the birth of Jesus. A messenger of God comes to Mary. The greeting which the messenger offers is unsettling for Mary. She is informed to not worry because she is seen in a positive light by God. This is followed by the announcement that she is to conceive a son who God wishes to be named Jesus. The last statements in this portion of the message describes who this child will be in life. The description fits the prophecies regarding the Messiah. What an unnerving, and yet profound message Mary has received, a message she received because she chose to be open to it.
Many messages came our way on a daily basis. In reading about Mary’s receipt of a message, an obvious question presents itself, “Am I open to receive a message from God?” Since God does not use conventional means to deliver messages to us, we must be alert to the various ways God may choose to communicate with us. The most frequent method is through other people who God places in our path. But God uses Scripture, the arts, nature and even dreams as well. We may receive profound and life-changing messages as Mary did. We may also receive messages of reassurance, love, forgiveness, and hope. Whatever the message may be, we can only receive it if we are open and alert for it.