“Out of the Shadows” Good Friday, April 19, 2019


Nicodemus helping to take down Jesus’ body from the cross (Pietà, by Michelangelo)

Scripture: After these things, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, though a secret one because of his fear of the Jews, asked Pilate to let him take away the body of Jesus. Pilate gave him permission; so he came and removed his body. Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds. They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews. Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid. And so, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there. John 19:38-42

Reflection: The gospel of John is marked by two unique characteristics. The first is a focus on Jesus’ encounters with individuals. And secondly, the Gospel includes several long discourses where Jesus shows how he embodies the full meaning of Israel’s Scriptures and feasts and meets all of humanity’s deepest needs for God’s forgiveness, life, truth, and love.

One individual whom Jesus encounters in the Gospel of John is Nicodemus (John 3). The encounter with Nicodemus expresses the heart of John’s Gospel – “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son so that whosoever believes in him (his person and mission) may not perish but may have new and eternal life” as a child of God (John 3:16). This new life is generated by the Spirit from above as a gift from God, it is beautiful and satisfying, but risky, even costly.

Nicodemus, a “Rabbi” or teacher of Israel, appears three times in the Gospel of John. We first meet Nicodemus when he comes under the cover of night to talk with Jesus one on one, in private (John 3). The use of the term “night” in the gospel of John symbolizes an imperfect or opaque faith that cannot clearly understand or see Jesus in the light of who he is; the Son of God and Savior of the world. Nicodemus, a Rabbi himself, addresses Jesus as “Rabbi” because he sees Jesus as an equal, not the Son of God. Jesus talks to Nicodemus about the necessity of a new birth that leads to a different and abundant life, but Nicodemus does not understand the meaning of a new birth because he cannot comprehend it in his natural mind without “that great inward change by the Holy Spirit” that brings about the new birth John Wesley speaks of (Notes 3:5).

Nicodemus departs from Jesus after the encounter without any mention of a commitment by the writer but reappears in two other places in John’s Gospel.

The second time Nicodemus is mentioned in the Gospel is in John 7:45-52. Briefly, the chief priests and Pharisees sent temple police to arrest Jesus for claiming to be the Messiah sent by God into the world to save it and give eternal life. Jesus also claims that he is the source of the Holy Spirit, the water of life, that satisfies humanity’s spiritual thirst. The temple police did not arrest Jesus because they had never heard anyone speak like him. The religious leaders are infuriated by the police’s insubordination and the crowd’s lack of legal sophistication and for their foolishness to believe in Jesus’ person and mission. Just then, as his colleagues are fevered with frustration and anger, Nicodemus reminds them that the law required a fair hearing to investigate allegations brought against a person; in this case, Jesus. Nicodemus is quickly chastised by his colleagues and mocked for his sympathies toward Jesus’ welfare and right to trial.

The third time we find Nicodemus in the Gospel of John is in John 19:39-42. No longer is he hiding notice from others as he seeks Jesus under the cover of the night shadows. He is no longer indirectly and secretly trying to defend Jesus’ rights or welfare. No, he is now fully out in the open, vulnerable, and public about his faith in Jesus Christ. He risks the loss of his social position as a privileged religious leader of Israel and his personal welfare when he joins with Joseph of Arimathea, also a former secret disciple of Jesus, to bury Jesus’ crucified body. Together they take Jesus’ body down from the cross, prepare it for burial by wrapping it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom, and they lay Jesus in a nearby tomb.

Nicodemus brings a hundred pounds of aloe and myrrh to anoint Jesus’ body for burial. Clearly, the extravagant amount is a tangible symbol of Nicodemus’ new sight or vision of Jesus, not as another teacher, but as as Priest, Prophet, and King, God’s Son, his Lord and Savior.

Sometimes coming to the fulness of faith in Jesus Christ takes time; some call it a process. As Wesleyans, we call it, “moving on to perfection.” Each of us is unique. Some of us will move faster or slower than others with the help of the Holy Spirit from little or partial knowledge of Jesus Christ – “darkness” – to fully trusting in Christ as our Lord and Savior – “light” and salvation. Critical moments in our lives lead us to define who Christ is to us and what it means to be his disciple in the world. Over time, Jesus becomes more real, our faith in him solidifies, and the Holy Spirit leads us deeper into the light, way, truth, and abundant life Jesus offers us.

Nicodemus’ journey of faith informed by a searching conversation with Jesus, his observations of Jesus’ life, teachings, and ministry, his dialogue with others about Jesus, his prayers, worship, searching of the scriptures, the passage of time, and critical moments in his life led him toward the fullness of faith and discipleship in Jesus Christ. His public acts of love and tribute to Jesus, put him at risk of losing everything that was near and dear to him. His hidden story in the Gospel of his journey toward a new birth and public witness encourages all disciples hiding in the shadows of fear to step forward with faith, courage, and extravagant generosity that honors and glorifies Christ as Lord and Savior.

Prayer: Lord, give the fullness of your peace now to your faithful people. May your peace rule in this life and possess us in eternal life. Grant that our dim sight may come to perceive the brightness of our crucified Lord’s truth, mercy, and life. Amen.

“Let it Go” – Palm Sunday

Scripture: “The Lord needs it.” Luke 19:31

Reflection: The owners of the colt came upon the two disciples who are busy untying it as instructed by Jesus. The owners ask the disciples to justify their actions, “Why are you untying the colt?” they ask. The two disciples respond, “Because the Lord needs him.”

Luke says nothing more about the owners of the colt. The owners were familiar with Jesus, or they recognized him as a king, prophet, or priest and understood themselves to be his loyal subjects able and willing to serve in whatever was asked of them. Whatever the case, they were supportive of the disciples’ actions and allowed them to proceed unabated with their intentions to borrow the colt and take it to Jesus.

In the Greco-Roman world, a general or king had the power to take property on loan or seize it for military or civil purposes. As Lord, Jesus’ request compels the owners to cede their property for his use and needs. The owners do not understand what Jesus is planning, the part they play in the larger scheme of things, or how their colt will serve Jesus’ needs. Nevertheless, they obey the Lord through the word of the disciples and release the colt trusting that their cooperation serves Christ’s greater purposes.

I have met so many people over the years – and countless in Kansas and Nebraska – who are like the owners of the colt. As soon as they hear of a pressing need, they let go and generously give of what they possess. They let go and give of their time. They let go and give their gifts and talents to help. They let go and give or loan what they have. They give out of their abundance. And they give out of their poverty. They provide with faith. They offer what they have with hope. They present their contributions with joy. They let go and trust that their cooperation and giving serves Christ’s greater purposes in the world. And for them, that suffices. They may never know how their giving, loaning, or serving makes a difference in a life or the world, but they know in the depths of their soul that there is no higher honor or privilege than serving the Lord with who they are or what they have already received from him in terms of grace, mercy and goodness.

Prayer for Generosity by St. Ignatius of Loyola

Eternal Word, only begotten Son of God,
Teach me true generosity.
Teach me to serve you as you deserve.
To give without counting the cost,
To fight heedless of wounds,
To labor without seeking rest,
To sacrifice myself without thought of any reward
Save the knowledge that I have done your will. Amen.

The Scent of Lent

Scripture: The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. (John 12:3)

Mary anoints Jesus’ feet with expensive perfume then wipes his feet dry with her hair. (John 12:3)

Reflection: Maye wears the same fragrance she began using in 1991 when it first came into the market. The aroma opens with chamomile, apple, lychee, mandarin, rose, plum and peach, balanced by coriander and sandalwood and has a hint of a marine scent. I’ve bought her other perfumes over the years, but she prefers that particular one because it works best with her body chemistry. I have lost count of the number of times strangers stop her to ask what perfume she is wearing.

Fragrances are composed of three key factors: a top note, a middle note, and a base note. The top note is the one first smelled due to its lighter molecular structure. It is also the first of the aromas to evaporate and fade away. These notes usually are citrusy or aromatic.

The middle notes are known as the “heart notes,” they are pleasant, well rounded and combine floral and heavier fruit characteristics. Heart notes use spices like coriander, cinnamon, and cardamom.

The base notes of a fragrance are the ones that intermingle with the middle notes to create the fullest body of the scent. They are pleasant and last long after the top note fades away. Familiar base notes are sandalwood, cedar, vanilla, and amber.

Lent is coming to an end. In today’s gospel reading from John 12:1-8, Jesus is in Bethany, six days before the Passover, for dinner in the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. Martha served, Lazarus was at the table with Jesus, and Mary acts unbelievably. Mary anoints the beautiful feet of Jesus that carried the good news to the humiliated, the searching, the outcast, the stuck, the hungry, the thirsty, those in darkness, the blind, the scattered, and the mourning with costly perfume worth a year’s wages. She then wipes his feet with her hair. The fragrance of the expensive nard fills the home. Jesus interprets the gesture and associates it with his death. Jesus knows that his feet that carried the good news of God’s love to outskirt towns and people of Israel will soon bear the weight of the cross on the way of humiliation, suffering, and death.

The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is an everlasting top, middle, and base note fragrance that continues to open and fill our lives and our world with faith, hope, and love. The first note of Jesus’ fragrance is his incarnation. He emptied himself and took on our humanity to show us how to love God, do the will of God, and how to love our neighbors as ourselves (Luke 10:27). The second note, or “heart note,” of Jesus’ fragrance is that he “carried in his own body on the cross the sins we committed. He did this so that we might live in righteousness, having nothing to do with sin. He healed us by his wounds” (1 Peter 2:24). The third and abiding note of Jesus’ fragrance that fills our lives and the world is his promise to be with us in our present and until the end of the age (Matthew 28:20).  

A typical bottle of perfume, even when unopened and stored correctly has an average shelf life of three to five years. Perfumes are meant for use, or they become rancid. The fragrance of Christ is not only for Christians, or for the church. The aroma of Christ is to be opened and poured out into the world through prophetic and grace-filled words and deeds of compassion, mercy, and justice, lest the witness and power of a disciple or the church become rancid. It is meant to be opened and poured out, not contained. As we in humility and service to the world God loves pour out Christ’s fragrant love on the troubled, poor, the burdened, the sick, the sorrowing, the trapped, and alone whom God loves, we do so to Christ and for Christ.

People stop Maye all the time to ask what perfume she wears so that they can purchase the fragrance for themselves or a loved one. May people who experience the aroma of Christ through our words and deeds as his disciples and as a Church also stop and ask how they can attain the fullness of the fragrant life of Christ for themselves.  

Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within reach of your fragrant saving embrace. So clothe us in your Spirit that we, reaching forth our hands in your love, may bring those who do not know you to the fragrant knowledge and love of you; for the honor of your Name. Amen

Mercy

The Prodigal Son, Rembrandt, 1669

Scripture: While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was moved with compassion (Luke 15:20).

Reflection:

The Pharisees and scribes grumble and murmer about the company Jesus keeps with sinners and tax collectors (Lk. 15:1-2). They had disqualified and excluded those Jesus welcomed and ate with, accusing them of being “sinners.” Jesus responds to their grumblings with parables of a shepherd and the lost sheep (Lk. 15:3-7), a woman and the lost coin (Lk. 15:8-10), and a father with the two lost sons (Lk 15:11-32). Each parable reveals the love of God that moves with yearning, pity, mercy, and compassion for the “lost.”

When I was in my late 20’s, I engaged in a heated argument with Jerry, a newspaper owner twenty years my elder.  I knew Jerry attended church, but “I” had judged him to be a nominal Christian because “I” suspicioned his life-style. He came into my store one afternoon to sell me some advertising space in his newspaper and “I” saw an opportunity to set him straight with scripture and right doctrine. I knew I had the upper hand, soon after the full-blown debate began, because I knew more scripture than he did. I kept zinging and pounding him with scripture after scripture. Eventually, he became silent. I thought to myself, I won! He stopped talking, bowed his head and turned to walk away in silence. Then, he paused, turned back to me with tears in his eyes and a defeated spirit, and said to me, “All that you said may be right. But I can’t receive it because I see no love in your heart.” We never spoke again even though we worked in the same shopping mall.

I thought I could awaken a call to holy living in Jerry. Instead I recognized that I treated Jerry, a child of God, as a foe instead of a friend, a bother instead of a brother, a sinner instead of a saint in the becoming.  I saw the hollowness of my own sin of self-righteousness and my inclination to be right instead of in relationship. I thought I was going to help reconcile Jerry to God on that day with my iron-clad, biblically-based scriptural arguments. Instead, I used scripture to wound, lay guilt and shame on him, perhaps pushing him further away from God and from the church. I realized that day that it was not Jerry who had wandered away from God’s love and mercy, but me.

Reflection:

The Pharisees and scribes grumble about the company Jesus keeps with sinners and tax collectors (Lk. 15:1-2). They had disqualified and excluded those Jesus welcomed and ate with, accusing them of being “sinners.” Jesus responds to their grumblings with parables of a shepherd and the lost sheep (Lk. 15:3-7), a woman and the lost coin (Lk. 15:8-10), and a father with the two lost sons (Lk 15:11-32). Each parable reveals the love of God that moves with yearning, pity, mercy, and compassion for the “lost.”

When I was in my late 20’s, I engaged in a heated argument with Jerry, a newspaper owner twenty years my elder.  I knew Jerry attended church, but “I” had judged him to be a nominal Christian because “I” suspicioned his life-style. He came into my store one afternoon to sell me some advertising space in his newspaper and “I” saw an opportunity to set him straight with scripture and doctrine. I knew I had the upper hand, soon after the full-blown debate began, because I knew more scripture than he did. I kept zinging and pounding him with scripture after scripture. Eventually, he became silent. I thought to myself, I won! He stopped talking, bowed his head and turned to walk away in silence. Then, he paused, turned back to me with tears in his eyes and a defeated spirit, and said to me, “All that you said may be right. But I can’t receive it because I see no love in your heart.” We never spoke again even though we worked in the same shopping mall.

I thought I could awaken a call to holy living in Jerry with scripture. Instead I realized that I treated Jerry, a child of God, as a foe instead of a friend, a bother instead of a brother, a sinner instead of a saint in the becoming.  I saw my own sin of self-righteousness and my inclination to be right instead of in relationship. I thought I was going to help reconcile Jerry to God on that day. Instead, I used scripture to wound, lay guilt, and shame on him, perhaps pushing him further away from God. I realized that day that it was not Jerry who had wandered away from the knowledge and experience of God’s love and mercy, but me.

Prayer:

God of mercy, help us to enrich this day with deeds of compassion and mercy. Help us to avoid all anger and dissension and let us find joy in your peace and love. Amen.

Just a Little More Time? Third Sunday of Lent March 24, 2019

“Seek the LORD while he may be found, call upon him while he is near” (Isaiah 55:6)

Scripture

Luke 13:1-9 At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. He asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way, they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them–do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.” Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still, I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’ He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.'”

Reflection

Jesus often repeated things more than once to get an important point across. In today’s lectionary gospel text, Jesus repeats the warning twice, “But unless you repent, you will all perish as they did.” He is responding to the unspoken question of whether sin is tied to God’s judgment.

In the first story, Galileans were killed by Pilate. Was it because of their sin? In the second story, eighteen people from Siloam were killed when a tower collapsed and fell on them. Was God judging and exercising retribution on them because they were sinners? Jesus says, “No!” The people in the two stories met their death because suffering, violence, injustice, and death is part of our human condition.

From this point of view, the teaching of Jesus is freeing and uplifting for those who suffer poverty, sickness, injury, violence, injustice, and for anyone else who suffers because it means that illness, accidents, and suffering are not by divine will, nor is it a punishment, nor is it due to the sin of parents or ancestors!

The point Jesus is making is that even though others suffer, and we may not suffer to the same degree, we are universally united with all others because of our collective sinfulness. That is, the sin of others who suffer is not greater than the sin of those that do not hurt. We are united with all people in our need for repentance from sin, our need for God’s unmerited mercy and salvation, and our need to show forth the fruit of our repentance as evidence of a life oriented toward God.

At a deeper level, the knowledge that we will all be cut down by death someday allows us to seek the Lord while he may be found. Awareness of our finitude when we see the suffering and death of others calls us to examine our lives and invites us call upon upon the Lord while he is near.  We still have time to turn to God so that we can be abundantly pardoned and experience the fullness of life in God, today.

By turning to God through faith in Christ, we will experience the fullness of God’s steadfast love that is better than life. Our thirsty, searching, and restless souls will be quenched, find rest, know peace, and be satisfied with the riches of faith, hope, and love. We will find that God is our help and the one who upholds us in life. We will experience the strength of God beyond our strength in times of trial. And, we will behold how God will provide a way out when we think there is no way out.

This Lent, Jesus Christ continues to invite all to seek and find him, to call upon him today because he is near, and to turn to him for mercy and pardon so that all may live in newness of life, today, tomorrow, and forever in his everlasting love.

Prayer

Blessed be God who is worthy to be praised. Blessed be Jesus Christ who invites us to new life. Blessed be the Holy Spirit who sustains our spirit in faith, hope, and love. Amen.  

On Our Way – Second Sunday in Lent

Israeli landscape

Scripture

Luke 13:31-35 At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” He said to them, “Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’ Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.'”

Reflection

In Luke (9:51-19:28), Jesus is resolutely on the “way” from Galilee to Jerusalem to face the cross and death. The Pharisee’s, who are normally at odds with Jesus’s teachings and constantly seeking ways to discredit him, come and warn him of Herod’s intentions to kill him. By warning Jesus, they offer him a “way” out of the trouble in Jerusalem that awaits him.

It’s difficult to determine the intentions of the Pharisees for warning Jesus. Did some among the Pharisees genuinely care for Jesus’ well-being? Did they intend to intimidate and drive him away? Or, were they colluding with Herod in a scheme for Jesus’ death? Whatever the case, Jesus sends them back to King Herod rejecting their way out of impending trouble with a strong message stating that his work of liberation and healing would continue unabated and uninterrupted despite tensions and death threats.

Jesus’ grounded his mission in what he could accomplish through the way of his life on behalf of others and the salvation he would ultimately accomplish on the cross, the third day when his work would consummate (v. 32). For him, the mission to live and die in a way that liberated and healed people outweighed his human desire to live a long life. The Pharisees offered Jesus a way out of trouble with the opportunity to extend his earthly life by running away from Herod and the region. Jesus instead invested himself in freeing and healing those living in the grip of social isolation, fear, violence, and death, even when staying in the area and doing so put his life at risk. He stood firm and continued his mission, confident that God who sent him on the mission would uphold him in the mission with strength, security, and salvation.

The Lenten gospel reading for this week calls us as Christ followers to decidedly – I must be on my way (v.33) – go on our way toward the mission where we live in our rural, urban, suburban, and exurban communities. That is where we as individuals, churches, and community citizens must work – today, tomorrow, and the day after tomorrow (v. 33) – to make possible and visible the favor and reign of God in the places where people are feeling hopeless and forsaken. In so doing, we experience the fullness of God’s grace as we participate in our Christian mission to promote and announce, Christ, the Blessed One, who comes in the name of the Lord is with you and for you.”  

Prayer

God of our strength, confidence, and hope, you bid us listen to your Son, your beloved. Nourish our hearts on your word, purify the eyes of our mind, and fill us with joy at the vision of your coming reign and glory. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.

Look!

Seeing with the eyes of Jesus

Scripture: Luke 9:37-38

On the next day (after Jesus was transfigured before Peter, James, and John) when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him. Just then a man from the crowd shouted, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son; he is my only child.

Reflection:

A nameless father shouts out from the great crowd of people and becomes a humanized before Jesus. He asks Jesus to “look” at his only son. That is, the unnamed father in the crowd cries out for Jesus’ attention. He asks Jesus to focus his attention, commit his particular regard, favorably view, grant preferred notice, and to carefully examine his only and anguished son. The father trusts that if Jesus would only fix his attention on his tormented son, Jesus would be moved to mercy, compassion, and action and he does. Jesus heals the boy and returns him back to his father, evoking astonishment or shock from the crowd at the greatness of God (Lk. 9:43a).

Perhaps the astonishment or shock among the crowd at the greatness of God has to do more with how God in Christ, from among so many people with many needs and concerns, cares for one nameless hurting father and his tormented son.

We tend to think of greatness as an accomplishment of things on a grand scale. The greater the level of accomplishment, the grander the greatness of a person or organization. Could it be that the greatness of God starts with the mercy, compassion, and goodness we apply in Christ’s name to the nameless ones that come to us seeking help, mercy, and compassion?

Prayer from Brandon Smith’s song lyrics, Give Me Your Eyes

Give me your eyes for just one second
Give me your eyes so I can see,
Everything that I keep missing,
Give your love for humanity.
Give me your arms for the broken-hearted
The ones that are far beyond my reach.
Give me Your heart for the ones forgotten.
Give me Your eyes so I can see. Amen.

Action for the week

Look – focus your attention, give special regard, favorably view, give preferred notice, carefully examine – at someone you normally look past and do something for them that conveys that God sees and cares for them through you.

Stay in Touch

Scripture: Luke 6:17-26

“And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.”  

Thought for the day

A cell phone battery drains frustratingly fast when the antenna works hard to find and stay in touch with a signal. A cell phone’s state of the art features and capabilities are rendered useless when it is drained of power.

Jeremiah (17:7), the Psalmist (1:3), Paul (1Cor. 15:14), and Jesus (Lk. 6:20-23) talk about the blessedness and reward of those who stay in touch with the life of God and trust in God’s promises and provision. They are deeply rooted in God’s never-ending resources. As a result, they are fearless in times of calamity, vibrant in all seasons, they fulfill their purposes, and persevere through hardships and sorrows.

When we stay in touch with the life and promises of God through meditation on his word, we grow in faith or trust in God’s goodness and provision. Our inward confidence in God’s goodness and provision directs us to draw deeper from the never-ceasing power, grace, and consolation of God. Because we have an abundance in God, we turn outward from ourselves to give and help others with the same abundance and comfort we find in God. Trust in God’s goodness and provision yields a steadfast peaceful spirit within us in a convulsive world as we strive with confident hope for tomorrow.

Prayer:

Draw us into a deeper and ever more real relationship with you, O Lord. As we listen, guide us in your truth and touch us with your power as we reach out to touch you with our whole being. Show us your righteous ways, relieve our distress, satisfy our longing for peace in a volatile, uncertain, chaotic, and uncertain world, and remember us with your love. Amen.  

Action for the week:

Pray, “Merciful Lord, heal me with your power,” throughout the day this week as a way of being present and abiding in God’s love and providence.

Above Our Heads

Jewish Yarmulke

Scriptures

Isaiah 6:5 And I (Isaiah) said: “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”

Psalm 138:2 “I bow down toward your holy temple and give thanks to your name for your steadfast love and your faithfulness; for you have exalted your name and your word above everything.”

I Corinthians 15:9 “For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle because I persecuted the church of God.”

Luke 5:8 “But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!”

Thought for the Day

The prophet Isaiah, the Psalmist, Paul, and Peter react to God’s presence with startle, awe, reverence, an overwhelming sense of smallness, a deep awareness of the ways they offend God, and deference to God. Isaiah experiences a profound woe of despair. The Psalmist bows toward the holy temple. Paul understands he is unfit for his ministry were it not for the grace of God. And Peter can’t hide from the knowledge Jesus has of his inner life. Even though each of them experiences the presence of God in varying ways, all of them submit to the sovereignty of God over their lives and above their heads as the Holy Spirit enables them.

Isaiah urges Israel to radical trust and faithfulness to the Lord. The Psalmist thanks God for deliverance and calls upon Israel to trust in the Lord’s continuing salvation. Paul is sent to take God’s name to the Gentiles and kings and the people of Israel (Acts 9:15). Peter becomes the shepherd of the Church after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension (John 21:17; Acts 2:41).

While in Israel last week, I asked our tour guide why Israeli men wear skull caps or yarmulkes and why Israeli women wear head coverings. He said that Israeli men wear yarmulkes and women head covers as a reminder to themselves and as a sign to the world that God is above their heads. I do not know whether Isaiah, the Psalmist, Paul, or Peter wore a yarmulke as a sign that God was above their head. But we can observe from the witness of scripture that they lived out their mission in obedience under the sovereignty of God over their lives.

As Christians, we do not wear head coverings to express the sovereignty of God over our lives to the world. Nevertheless, we now belong to Christ Jesus who brought us close to God through the cross. Through our faith in Christ’s life, death, and resurrection and our baptism, we now live under the sovereign Lordship of Christ. ‘In Christ,’ as Paul said to the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers at the Aeropagus in Athens, ‘we live and move and have our being’ (Acts 17:28).

We remind ourselves and bear in the world that Christ is sovereign over our lives and above our heads by daily scripture reading, study, and prayer, and by regular worship. We live out our submission to the Lordship of Christ over our lives by fostering a deep sense of connection and relationship with people, seeking ways to love and serve people in ways that bless their lives, break bread together, and share our faith to give people a glimpse of God’s goodness and unfolding love in Christ.

Activity for the week

Wear something all day this week that reminds you that Christ the Lord is “above your head” and that your life belongs to him.

Praying Psalm 138

I give you thanks, O LORD, with my whole heart; before the gods I sing your praise; I bow down toward your holy temple and give thanks to your name for your steadfast love and your faithfulness; for you have exalted your name and your word above everything. On the day I called, you answered me, you increased my strength of soul. All the kings of the earth shall praise you, O LORD, for they have heard the words of your mouth. They shall sing of the ways of the LORD, for great is the glory of the LORD. For though the LORD is high, he regards the lowly; but the haughty he perceives from far away. Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve me against the wrath of my enemies; you stretch out your hand, and your right hand delivers me. The LORD will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O LORD, endures forever. Do not forsake the work of your hands. Amen.

Acceptable Words


“For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” Matthew 12:34

Thought for the Day: Words are powerful tools for declaring new possibilities for peace, relatedness, and wholeness. May we be aware of their creative power so that we choose to speak words that encourage and revive the soul, bring joy to hearts, and hope for the future.

Prayer: “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O LORD, my rock and redeemer. (Psalm 19:14)

Action for the Week: Shift your language from talking about problems to possibilities.