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.
We have become a people of excuses. There always seems to be a ready excuse why we cannot do something. These excuses may appear reasonable and logical. Some situations are appropriately avoided due to safety concerns. Other times circumstances which are not within our control require us to decline an opportunity. Yet, more often than not, we make excuses so we can avoid situations we judge to be unpleasant or too demanding of us. We are more concerned about our comfort or convenience.
Jesus tells a story of excuses. He speaks about the host of a great banquet who invited a number of guests who the host deemed to be deserving of the invitation. When the banquet was ready, each guest had an excuse why they could not attend. With all the food prepared, the hall stood empty. The host instructs his servants to go into the streets to invite the people to enter the hall and feast. When this did not fully fill the hall, the servants were sent into the countryside until the hall was completely occupied. Then the host declared that those who had received the initial invitation would not be able to enjoy the great food because their place had been taken.
In our lives we are given many opportunities to enjoy the “feast” of life. These opportunities come in the form of moments given to share with others. Sharing of time, resources, love and caring fill these opportunities. Sadly, we can be quick with excuses why we are unable to grasp these moments. The Lord has prepared a banquet of life from which we excuse ourselves. The individuals who accept the invitations find they are able to enjoy a wonderful selection of the finest life has to offer. Each moment feeds the soul in indescribable ways.
Do not excuse yourself from the banquet of life. Seize the opportunities which the Lord provides you. Taste the sweetness of each engagement you have with others. Those who decline will never know the great banquet others experience when they accept the invitation.
In the musical, Hello Dolly, Dolly Levi teaches Horace Vandergelder a lesson about greed. Vandergelder was a wealthy businessman from Yonkers, NY. He paid his workers a minimal wage and hoarded his money. Dolly Levi was a widowed arranger of lives who set her sights on becoming the next Mrs. Vandergalder. Dolly’s famous line in regard to greed is, ” Money, pardon the expression, is like manure. It’s not worth a thing unless it’s spread around, encouraging young things to grow.”
Jesus had thoughts about greed as well. In the passage from Luke, Jesus warns about greed and then illustrates the warning through the use of a parable. When receiving an abundance, instead of hoarding it with the intention of using it on one’s self, the Lord indicates it is better to use it to provide life. Jesus’s story demonstrates the folly of storing up abundance for the future since no one but God knows what lies ahead.
As Dolly Levi and Jesus indicate, abundance should be used for good. Many individuals who lived through the Great Depression and other economic downturns became accustomed to building up reserves in case there is a repeat of circumstances. This is sound logic and does not go against Jesus’s teaching. However, if an abundance is received or accumulated beyond a reasonable safeguard, then the abundance must be utilized to benefit others in any multitude of ways. When someone chooses not to do this, they move into a lifestyle based on greed which is self-serving and not serving the Lord.