Read John 14:25-27
In light of recent events in our world, Russia’s attack and invasion of Ukraine, I went to Scripture for guidance. The desire of most people throughout the world is to live a life in peace and fulfillment. While we have different understandings of what those words mean or look like, the general desire is to have what we need to survive without concern for our safety. This seems to be something which should be easily attainable. The problem is that human sin is a part of life. Greed, deception, hatred, and selfishness inject themselves into daily living. These sins lead to actions which do not ensure the peace and safety of all people.
The passage which I was drawn to today is a portion of a conversation which Jesus is having with his closest disciples. In John’s version of the gospel, Jesus is always trying to prepare his disciples for his death. He seeks to assure them and provide them comfort. Here Jesus promises them the Holy Spirit. He also tells them that he will leave them a peace far different than the world’s peace. This peace is enduring unlike the fleeting peace we experience in our lives. This peace is not just an absence of conflict and physical violence but a calmness of spirit even in the midst of conflict and violence. The peace which Jesus provides, and the Holy Spirit reminds us about, is one which overcomes worry and fear.
While world leaders attempt to bring the latest eruption of violence and death under control, we are mindful that our Lord overcomes all violence and death. We are offered a peace of spirit and reassurance that transcends our earthly experience. It is wise, and our duty, to continue to pray for Ukraine’s people in the midst of these events. We also pray for the overcoming of human sin and its impact upon us and all people. Even as we pray, we know that what the world offers is fleeting but what the Lord offes is eternal. The peace which Jesus gives to us provides us comfort and reassurance because it reminds us that he has already overcome the sin of this world.
Read 1 John 2:15-17
There are some who make the statement that we live in a “throw away” world. The meaning of this statement is that as consumers, we purchase items not expecting them to last very long but instead expecting to replace the item in a few short years. Companies promote this idea by advertising new models and always making changes which make previous models obsolete. A prime example of this is the cellular phone which has a new model debuting at least annually. This is a significant change over the last fifty years. Prior to the 1980s, and especially for a generation who had lived through the Great Depression, a person took care of their possessions and tried to make everything last as long as possible. Yet even before this shift, the reality was (and is) nothing lasts forever.
The writer of our letter today makes a differentiation between the things of this world and the things of the Father. In these words we are told to not focus upon and cherish the aspects of earthly lives because these items do not last. Our time and energy should be directed towards living as God presents to us. The God-focused aspects of life are eternal. All which derives from a temporal focus has a limited existence.
The writer is not intending to dissuade us from living productive and useful lives in our earthly state. God’s intention is for us to live a full life, enjoying the fruits of our labor and the blessings which we are given along the way.
The writer is intending to tell us that perspective and priorities are important.The eternal aspects of life such as love, compassion, belonging, mercy and grace, must always rank higher in importance than those aspects which will eventually be gone.
We live in a “throw away” world. What we know and experience from these earthly moments have a shelf life. The eternal aspects from God should not be thrown away but instead be the most important parts of our lives.
16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”Matthew 28:16-20 (NIV)
Today is called Ascension Day in the church calendar. This day has been set aside in the Church to recall Jesus ascending into heaven. The day is always the fortieth day of Easter, or forty days after Easter Sunday. On this day, we reflect upon the account from Gospels (except John’s) and the recording of the ascension in the Book of Acts.
Matthew’s account is what we focus upon here. This passage at the very end of this Gospel is often referred to as the Great Commission. The eleven remaining apostles have gathered at the mountain where Jesus has told them to meet him. Most scholars believe the location is the Mount of Olives but Matthew does not name it specifically. Once gathered, Jesus commissions the apostles to go into all nations. He instructs them to make disciples of all people, baptizing in the name of the Trinity and teaching them his commands to follow. Matthew does not say if Jesus then ascends or not. The first chapter in the Book of Acts indicates his ascension was during a meal he was sharing with the apostles. The writer of Matthew emphasizes the commissioning and the promise of Jesus’s eternal presence.
For the Church, and all followers of Christ, these words in Matthew are the marching orders. Jesus commissions all of us and tells us what we are to be about. He calls us into action with the action word “go.” We are not to be idle but in motion. Then he tells us where to go, “all nations.” Our activity is not to be within the walls of the church but in the world. We are to teach, welcome people into God’s family and show what the life of a follower should reflect. Each of us are given the promise that while we are engaged in living out our commission, Jesus is present in our lives and forevermore.
On the day we acknowledge our belief that Jesus ascended into heaven, we are mindful that we have been commissioned. Each of us has been commissioned to continue Jesus’s ministry in the world. We are to actively go into this world and share Christ wherever we have been sent. We are to teach, welcome, forgive, demonstrate, listen, respond, and love as Jesus continues to do in our lives.
I am sure that every generation feels like they are living in dark times. We even named a whole era in human history as the Dark Ages. Right now we can feel like there is a lot of dark around us with all the changes in our lives which have accompanied the Corona-19 virus. The numbers of deaths and hospitalizations continue to rise. In addition, we have been living in a very volatile political environment for years as human decency has left most civic discussions and legislative debate. Truly feels like a dark time in so many ways.
As a believer in Jesus Christ, I have wondered how to respond to the surrounding events during this dark time. I have followed all the practical advice of the medical community regarding the virus. I have listened to the conversations in the political spectrum and attempted to avoid engaging in hostile debates. But there seems to be something more which I can, must, do. Then I am reminded of a song which I sang in Sunday School in my small church while growing up, This Little Light of Mine. The song is a reminder of Jesus’ words, “In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16, NIV) Jesus tells us that we are to be lights in the world. The question this begs is how do we go about being lights?
Clearly for me, being an example is the way I can be a light in the world. I can wear a mask when I am in an indoor public setting or one where social distancing is a challenge. I can listen to others who have a point of view which is different from my own and not judge that viewpoint. Taking the time to educate myself on the experiences of other individuals will be an example.
Another important way for me to be a light in the world is by sharing compassion and hope with others. Jesus showed compassion even to those who were engaged in his crucifixion. Compassion is not attempting to better others. Using words that build up and not tear down another’s self is compassion. Being present with others even when you do not understand what they are experiencing is compassion.
Sharing hope is reminding each other that we do not walk alone but together and with the Lord. Identifying the positive of each day shares hope. Putting the events of our lives in perspective with the history of humanity and God’s children can produce hope. Sharing the promises of God as identified in Scripture leads to hope.
We are called to share our light with a world experiencing darkness. How are you choosing to shine your light? Let your light shine and do not let anything blow it out!
This is the last planned blog post as part of the series which I began last week. The series is intended to give reasons which I believe cause people to say the church no longer works for them. Here are the earlier posts in the series:
Why Does Church No Longer Work
Lack of Authenticity
Lack of Relationships
Lack of Language
Today’s discussion will be in regard to the church’s perceived lack of action. This perception is not due to the fact that the church does not have numerous activities within its fellowship. I would argue that the opposite is actually true. The church seems to always have something scheduled or planned. The requests for teachers and leaders, for food providers, for workers, for participants, seem to be almost never ending. The church is always busy with something. No, the lack of action refers to making a difference which impacts the world.
I want to again caution the reader that this is perception. I think it is unfair to state that the church does not have an impact on the world at times. However, I think the reason for the perception is that this is far too infrequent. The church is generally good about coming to the aid of people who are experiencing losses due to natural disasters. The response of the church toward local people who need some emergency assistance financially is alright. I would say that given the resources made available to the church, it does a fair job of responding in crisis situations. Yet is that all which calls the church into action?
When I talk to those who are walking away from the church, one of the reasons that they state is that the church often is too inward focused. As I explore what that means to them, I hear words which indicate that they wish to belong to a group who makes a difference in a visible way. These people seek a church which stands up for the groups in the world who are marginalized, ridiculed, condemned, persecuted, ostracized. They desire to be part of a church which does not act like judge and jury but instead goes outside the walls to be with those who are on the outside (of the church and society). This is the difference which they wish to see occur. When I listen to them, I hear the words of Jesus, the Christ. I hear the words of the Old and the New Testament. I hear the expectations God has always placed upon humanity.
The charge of a lack of action has nothing to do with busyness. The church is very busy, especially within its walls. This charge comes from the inactivity of the church to be a voice which challenges society’s ostracizing ways. This charge comes from the church focused on building itself up instead of building individuals up. It is a charge which unfortunately is too often true.