I am assigned to an air defense missile battalion. They essentially look to the skies to watch for things that should not be flying towards us and then blow them out of the sky. It could be an interesting day when we deploy. In the meantime, around the unit, the standard greeting to officers is (with a salute) “Strike First, Sir (or Ma’am)” with a follow-up of “Strike Hard!” They are interesting words for a Chaplain but then I stop and think about them.
In the Christian life, we face temptations everyday if not more often. We know the things that can lead us astray and if we are not careful we can be lead astray by our sinful natures. Here is where strike first, strike hard come into play. If we are aware of our sinful nature and those things that can entice us, then we can act accordingly to avoid them, to make sure we have tools to help us around them, and to strike back at them (not literally). When we are prepared (to strike first) then we can strike hard and defeat our temptation. There are a few simple things to do in order to strike first, strike hard.
1. Read the Bible regularly and study it while you are reading. Come to know God’s word.
2. Pray to God throughout the day.
3. Be aware of what is around you. In the Army, we call this situational awareness.
I invite you to strike first and strike hard at sin and be aware of those things that can lead you astray.
Stay awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.’ ~Matthew 26:41 (NRSV)
It seems the world is a crazy place right now. As a nation, we just marked the anniversary of the worst terrorist attack in our history and now we are reeling from the death of Ambassador Christ Stevens in Libya. Accusations and assumptions were quick to erupt on Twitter and Facebook and again, I find myself shaking my head at the reactions of my friends. I am saddened by their words of hatred.
As an Army Chaplain, I serve two masters. First and foremost, I serve my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ as a Christian. My faith in Jesus Christ defines what I do and how I act. However, I am also the Chaplain to all Soldiers in my unit so I have to be aware of their religious beliefs and honor them as well. Perhaps, this is why I can step back and look at things from a different perspective. However, I do not wish to judge other people’s reactions either as scripture does say:
Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. ~Matthew 7:1 (NRSV)
So that brings me to the title of my blog post: at what point do we cross the line from being intolerant of violence (as in saying “I am not going to allow this to happen anymore”) to being filled with hatred. I am not going to judge the actions of those who attacked our embassies on Tuesday nor am I going to condone their actions. They have a belief system and they are reacting in accordance with their beliefs. There is also a mob mentality developing as well as people tend to follow the crowd. I will admit that as an American, I am upset to see fellow Americans attacked and killed and I am offended to see our flag ripped down and burned. I believe that is being intolerant of the violence and saying enough is enough.
It is the reactions of some of my friends (some of whom subscribe to this blog and will no doubt take offense to my words – none intended) on Facebook as they criticize not the doers of evil but the religion of many. Frankly there are crazy people in every religious group but the majority do not wish to be associated with them. I am a Christian and so are the Westboro Baptist Church folks. However, I do take offense to their actions and I would prefer not be considered in the same category as the WBC. In the same way, those who are attacking our embassies are one part of Islam. I think it is safe to say that every Muslim in the world is not attacking US Embassies and killing ambassadors. My Muslim neighbors are not storming my house to tear down my flag and burn it nor do I think there are mobs of Muslims anywhere in the United States. Sometimes we have to look at the cultural aspects of things as well and see that it may be more than just religion. I will not judge those who attack US interests around the world – not my lane to do so – nor will I judge my friends for their reactions. I will, however, challenge my friends to remember their baptism vows and remember that we are Christians in word and deed not just lifestyle. What we say represents what we truly believe. Would Jesus hate Muslims?
Finally, all of you, have unity of spirit, sympathy, love for one another, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or abuse for abuse; but, on the contrary, repay with a blessing. It is for this that you were called that you might inherit a blessing. For ‘Those who desire life and desire to see good days, let them keep their tongues from evil and their lips from speaking deceit; let them turn away from evil and do good; let them seek peace and pursue it. ~1 Peter 3:8-11 (NRSV)
It is easy to join in the mob mentality and we can see evidence of it on the news as our embassies continue to be attacked. People follow the crowd. Don’t be part of the crowd that hates – stand up and shout “Stop this!” Let’s stop hating and start loving. It has to begin somewhere so I am praying that it can begin with me. I am not going to hate or condemn or judge but I am going to love and pray for friends and enemies alike. They are no different in God’s eyes. My prayer comes from the Book of Psalms this morning:
How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity! ~Psalm 133:1 (NRSV)
In an 1858 speech, Abraham Lincoln famously said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” He was of course referring to the slavery issue that was dividing the United States and would ultimately lead to the Civil War in just a few years.
Sadly, his words echo today in our climate of vitriolic words of hatred that are swirling from all sides of the election. Supporters of both major party candidates for President are making cases why their person is the best for the job while attacking the other side as blind, misguided, and even stupid. Not the case, you think? Well, all you have to do is glance at Facebook this morning. I glance over the posts and words of people I have known for years and I am surprised at what they are saying about people who do not think as they do. Their keyboards are where their mouths are and I am surprised at what they are saying! What is going to happen when the election is over?
The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever. ~Isaiah 40:8 (NRSV)
The day after the election in November, someone will be a winner and someone will have lost. We will go back to normal, so to speak, but things will have changed – relationships will be altered, friendships may even be ended. One thing that will not change is God’s word as Isaiah writes. In fact, God’s world has a lot to say about how we should be treating others. Here is just a sample:
- Do not rejoice when your enemies fall, and do not let your heart be glad when they stumble ~Proverbs 24:17
- In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets. ~Matthew 7:12
- This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. ~John 15:12
- Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. ~Ephesians 4:31-32
This is just a small sampling but my point is this: we cannot attack and tear each other down over small things like elections and they go back to normal. We need to abide by God’s word and love each other. More importantly, we need to see that politics is yet one more thing that divides in ways that make it harder to love each other. Let’s stop.
I have been reading protocols on caring for the dying and military funerals. There is a lot of heavy stuff Chaplains have to deal with in the course of a day. Granted, not every day involves death and dying but it is part of the job. There is also the counseling and the general problems that come up in day to day ministry. Chaplains care for a lot of people as do mothers and fathers.
This morning as I was reading my Bible, I was reminded that we need to be sure to take care of ourselves as well. I focused on a familiar text from Matthew:
“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” ~Matthew 11:28-30 (NRSV)
It is a beautiful scripture to think and reflect upon. In the midst of everything around us, we can simply come to Jesus and give up our cares and worries and take his yoke upon us. There is rest in the Lord and it is gratifying that we can depend on Jesus for rest. But what does that rest look like and how do we find it?
- Reading the Bible: I know this is an obvious answer but sometimes, you just need to get away from everything. A good way to do it is to find your Bible, open it, and spend some time reading the word of God. Many of us have a favorite passage or two and this is a good place to start. Using a study Bible may lead you to other passages that can speak to you as well. It’s like a coffee break for your soul.
- Spending Time in Prayer: It may not always be possible to stop in the midst of chaos and read your Bible but it is always possible to pray. It doesn’t have to be anything formal or long but just a simple prayer from deep inside your soul expressing your longing and your need. Peace and rest will come even if it just lasts a moment or two – you can find rest to keep going.
- Go for a Walk or Run: Sometimes we just need to go away and get away from everything for a time. Go for a walk (or run). Spend time in nature and looking for God’s presence in nature. You will be distracted and find some rest for a time. It is a good thing to get away.
These are just a few ideas and I am sure there are other ways. Sometimes we just need to throw our hands up and say “Jesus, I can’t do this. Please help!” It is not a bad thing to admit we need help from time to time. When we admit it, we find peace and rest and strength to keep going.
Do you have ways that you find Jesus’ rest? Please share them in the comments.
Here is today’s sermon for the 14th Sunday after Pentecost based on Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23. It is also my last sermon at Mt. Denson Cumberland Presbyterian Church as I prepare to head to Fort Hood to become an Active Duty Army Chaplain.
How is your heart? Today, more than ever people are keenly aware of the importance of having a healthy heart. Exercise helps our hearts to be healthy. Beyond that there is medicine or even procedures that help our hearts. Physically speaking we do not always know when we are sick. Spiritually speaking we know that our hearts are always infected with sin. This is the simple truth of the Scriptures. Jesus was often taken to task because of his association with “sinners”. “Jesus answered them, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance’”(LUKE 5:31). Sin-sick hearts always need help. Once again Jesus calls us sinners to repentance.
- Recognize our Problems
- We note the determination of Jesus’ enemies to confront him, verse 1. They came from Jerusalem.
- Jesus was teaching near Capernaum. This was 70 miles from Jerusalem.
- These church leaders walked a week in order to condemn Jesus not commend him.
- Verse 2. The Pharisees were upset that the disciples ate with unwashed, unclean hands.
- Washing hands before meals to be clean was the Pharisees’ teaching, verse 3.
- Verse 4. The word “washing” gives us our word for baptizing.
- Cup, pitchers were immersed. b. Kettles were not immersed but wiped with water.
- Verse 5. The Pharisees finally challenge Jesus with “why”. They thought to have Jesus trapped.
- The Pharisees did not recognize their own problems – faith was a matter of the heart.
- Problem: They valued traditions of men more than the teachings of God’s word.
- Problem: It was what was on the inside that made one unclean, not the outside.
- Humanity still faces the same problems today. Many look only at exterior appearances. But inside our hearts are only evil all the time. This is not a pleasant message to hear. But it is the truth. There is no one who can do good, not one. All our righteous acts are like filthy rags. The imagination of our hearts is only evil all the time. Our hearts cause us problem after problem because of the infection of sin. “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander” (MATTHEW 15:19). These sins of our hearts reveal themselves in our words and actions.
- On this side of heaven there is not one person who can escape the effect of sin. Our every waking moment is tainted with sin because of our sinful hearts and flesh. We think terrible thoughts, utter worthless words, and act with evil intent. Again, not pleasant to hear but it is the problem we face daily. Unless we see and admit our problem we will never recognize that we need a cure. On our own and by ourselves we are completely corrupt. “I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out”(ROMANS 7:18). This is our problem.
- We live in a society that places great emphasis on the wisdom of humans rather than God. At times, worldly wisdom can creep into the very teachings / traditions of the church. Consider the morality, or lack of it, in our day and age. Things that would make us blush only a few years ago are now overlooked by our enlightened society. At times, even the church “winks at” behavior that is morally wrong. The rate of divorce, unwed mothers, and people living together without the benefit of marriage are only a few behaviors that are widely accepted. “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ”(COLOSSIANS 2:8). We will want to hear, read, and study God’s word more and more in order to know, believe, and base all our teachings on the “basic principles…of Christ” , not this world.
- We note the determination of Jesus’ enemies to confront him, verse 1. They came from Jerusalem.
HAVE A HEALTHY HEART. It seems impossible on this side of heaven. Sin infection is always with us. Sin lurks in our hearts waiting to lunge out into our lives. Christ gives and is our solution!
- RECOGNIZE GOD’S SOLUTION
- The Pharisees made the mistake of asking Jesus, “Why?” Now they would hear Jesus’ answer.
- Verse 6a. Jesus quotes Isaiah. The Pharisees held this prophet in high esteem.
- Isaiah prophesied of these church leaders, they were hypocrites.
- In case they did not understand Isaiah defines what that word hypocrite meant.
- Verse 6b. Their lips would say one thing but their hearts believed something else.
- They called Jesus “master, teacher, Rabbi”
- Their hearts did not believe these titles.
- Verse 7. They had only an outward, empty worship. They followed man’s traditions.
- Verse 6b. Their lips would say one thing but their hearts believed something else.
- The Pharisees had rejected God’s word. Verse 8. They admitted how they valued man’s traditions.
- God’s commands” were not just the Ten Commandments. Love summed up God’s law.
- Jesus spoke his word to these Pharisees. God’s word, God’s love, God’s Son = the solution.
- Rejoice that our eternal salvation does not depend on us. Rejoice that the simple solution to all our heart problems is our loving Savior, Jesus Christ. Our eternal salvation is so very important that God does not entrust it to our sinful, human choices. By grace, through faith, the Lord God Almighty saves us. The Lord God Almighty changes our hearts so that we will live with him forever. “I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the LORD. They will be my people, and I will be their God, for they will return to me with all their heart”(JEREMIAH 24:7). The Lord does this that our hearts return to him.
- The message of salvation is so simple that it is difficult for some to believe. This happens whenever people think like humans and not God. Today’s gospel (MATTHEW 16:21-26) has Jesus rebuking Peter. Only a few verses earlier Jesus praised Peter and his confession. What changed? Peter’s thinking changed. Peter’s thinking misled him. Jesus reminded Peter that he did “not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men”. The solution for our sin-sick heart is to trust in the Lord and not lean on our own understanding. “Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and shun evil. This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones”(PROVERBS 3:7,8). Shun evil and discover health.
- The days of this life quickly pass by from one month to another, year after year. We look at our lives and are reminded of our own mortality. The aches and pains seem to increase with the passing of time. The health of youth fades. BUT God renews our spirit through his refreshing word. “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all”(2 CORINTHIANS 4:16,17). Yes, in our lives we may have health problems. We may have emotional problems. We may have many other difficulties that we face. In the end, God’s word remains the same. God’s word is our sure foundation. Our hearts are healthy because our sins are forgiven.
- The Pharisees made the mistake of asking Jesus, “Why?” Now they would hear Jesus’ answer.
From time to time we might be tempted to question God, “Why?” We might want to challenge God and his wisdom. If so, then be ready for the answer God gives. Clearly and accurately the Lord will remind us of all the evil that lurks in our hearts. Sin is still sin and it is alive and well in this world, in our lives, and in our hearts. Thanks be to God that sin is not the only thing living in our hearts. Christ is also very much alive and well in the hearts of every believer. “If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him”(1 JOHN 4:15,16). God lives in us – this pushes out sin. Our problem is sin. Our solution is the Savior. Our Savior is far, far greater than sin. Because of this we do HAVE A HEALTHY HEART. Amen.
Here is today’s worship bulletin.
Here are some startling statistics:
- On average, 18 veterans in the US commit suicide every day.
- On average, there are between 130,000 and 200,000 homeless veterans on any given night in the US.
I don’t know about you but I found these statistics to be disturbing. Of course, it does not take into account the number of other people who commit suicide each day nor the total number of homeless. However, I am going to focus on veterans for this post.
You see, we train Soldiers, Marines, Sailors, and Airmen to go to war to defend our rights and our freedoms. We cheer them on when they come home from war with parades and flags (at least recently – ask a Vietnam Vet how they were treated). Then we turn our backs when they need us. They have fulfilled a role and it is like they are expendable.
Unfortunately, I think this is a testament to the American mind. We use something while we can and then dispose of it once it is no longer useful to us. We are a culture of throwing things away including people.
There are great organizations out there that work with Veterans from the national level to the local grassroots level. I challenge you (and ask you) to find an organization that works with Veterans and help them with your time and/or money. After all, Veterans have done so much for us, it’s time to return the favor.
If that isn’t enough, let’s see what Scripture has to say:
Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family,you did it to me.” ~Matthew 25:34-40 (NRSV)
When Lord, when did I do this? What is your answer?
I am not preaching this Sunday but I felt the need to write a sermon to address some of the emotions and words that are floating out there given the shooting in Aurora, CO. Here is my offering based on Matthew 5:43-46:
This is yet another hard saying of the Sermon on the Mount. I share this message today given the events of this past week as we watched in horror the reports of yet another mass shooting of innocent victims in this country. We also have reports of more dead around the world – all innocent victims. On top of this, the Westboro Baptist Church plans to head to Colorado and revel in the deaths of these innocent people to share their message. If we look at all of this, it is easy to want to lash out and hate those who hate but then we have this scripture from the Sermon on the Mount. Should we hate? Let’s take a closer look.
- Reasons to HATE: Our reasons to hate are as numerous as our reasons to take revenge. We can rationalize anything. Notice that Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’” The part about hating your enemy is nowhere in the Bible. The part about loving your neighbor is from Leviticus 19:18. We come up with good reasons to hate people.
- Not my NEIGHBOR
- Since it was said that we should love our neighbor, some drew the conclusion, that we should only love our neighbor. The logical conclusion was then to not love someone who wasn’t a neighbor.
- In the OT mind, the neighbor was a fellow countryman. It meant that a neighbor was someone like us (in thought, appearance [dress, race], belief, etc.).
- My ENEMY
- An enemy is someone who is against us.
- An enemy is someone who is different from us. It could be our nemesis at work, school, or wherever.
- Why should we love someone who doesn’t like? What have they every done for us?
- My PERSECUTOR
- A persecutor is the one who picks on us for who we are. This goes beyond an enemy.
- This is the bully who puts threats into practice.
- Okay, so I shouldn’t seek to do the same to him, but why can’t I sit and stew about him?
- They are EVIL
- It was also considered noble to hate the enemies of God.
- Someone who is an evil sinner should be hated.
- The WBC preached, “God hates fags.” Their rationale was that since they were “evil” people, God hated them and so should everyone else.
- They are UNJUST
- The unjust are those who seek to do harm to others.
- Not my NEIGHBOR
- Rewards for LOVE There are rewards for loving others. Jesus said that greatest commandment was to love God, which few have a problem with. The second greatest commandment was to love your neighbor as yourself. Part of the problem is the definition of who our neighbor is. Who is our neighbor? Jesus defined our neighbor in the story of the Good Samaritan. If their was any group that Jews hated in Jesus’ day, it was the Samaritans, along with the tax collectors and Gentiles, which covered about anyone who wasn’t like them. In effect our enemy is our neighbor.
- To be a CHILD of God
- Jesus said that one of the benefits of loving our enemies (who really are our neighbors) is that we will be children of God.
- Children bear the resemblance of their parents. People say I look like my parents, and my kid looks like my wife or me. Sometimes we even see a resemblance between parents and adopted children.
- To be a child of God is to reflect his image. We were created in the image of God.
- The mere act of loving our enemy doesn’t make us a child of God, but it shows that we are a child of God.
- To become a child of God we must begin a walk with God. The result will be that we will love our enemies.
- To make new FRIENDS
- Another reward for loving our enemies is that we can make a new friend.
- Read Matthew 5:14-16.
- If we show genuine love to someone who hates us, it may well turn into a friendship, but at the least we will show them that we are children of God and that may bring them into a relationship with God.
- If we hate them and claim to love God, what does that say?
- 1 John 2:9 says, “Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness.” If you hate someone, are you really a child of God? We are called to…
- Real PERFECTION
- The last verse is a tough one. How on earth can I be perfect?
- Notice it doesn’t say to be as perfect as God is? This begs the question, “What is perfection?”
- To be perfect is meet our function. When we fulfill our function, we are perfect. We are perfect if we fulfill the design that God gave us. We were created to bear the image of God.
- To love our enemies is be a child of God, and therefore bear his image. God loves saint and sinner alike, and when we do that we are perfect in the NT sense. My car is perfect despite defects.
- Love as God LOVES
- God loves everyone, so we should love everyone. God sends rain and sun on all people regardless of who they are. God loves all his creation.
- As a child of God, I am created in his image.
- So is everyone else you could think of.
- Since we are to bear the image of God we should show love to all people.
- Live at a HIGHER LEVEL
- Even the worst sinner loves those who love those who love them.
- To be a follower of God, we are to live on a higher level. We are called to a better life. That doesn’t mean we get all puffed up.
- Growing to MATURITY
- Perfection has to do with our maturity. An 8-year old can play
- To be a CHILD of God
Who gets on your nerves? Who do you have good reason to hate? What does God want you to do about it?
This morning, while my daughter and I were visiting my wife in Clarksville (she is working for the state as a trainer this summer), we walked over to the Public Square to look at the monuments. Along the way, we passed a Soldier and I quickly realized he was a Chaplain. I am not sure if I am more aware of Chaplain insignia now or not, but it was noticeable to me. Of course, my five year old daughter thinks every person in an Army uniform is a Chaplain.
As I write this, I am looking at my minister’s robe hanging nearby. I tend to wear my robe (and stoles) every time I preach for several reasons. First, it was a gift from my Presbytery and I know it was fairly expensive so I do wear it rather than let it gather dust (though I don’t think I will be wearing it often over the next few years). Second, like the Chaplain insignia, I wear my robe to remind myself that I have been set aside for a specific ministry within the Church. Everyone has been called but some have been called to a specific purpose within the Church. I have been called to preach and teach and as such I wear my robe on Sunday. It shows the badge of my office not unlike my rank or my cross on my uniform.
So while I am sharing this, a well-known quote from St. Francis comes to mind: Preach Jesus always and when necessary use words. You see my insignia and my robe make it obvious that I am a chaplain/minister but I do not wear my robe all the time nor do I have my uniform on all the time. Therefore, I have to show/share my faith in other ways such as my actions and deeds. It should be obvious to anyone who meets me or sees me that I am a chaplain and most definitely a Christian. I should not need insignia, robes, or words to share this with others – the light of Christ should shine through me and into the world.
You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. ~Matthew 5:14-16 (NRSV)
We do not need a sign or a symbol to share with others what we believe. Sometimes it may be easier but it should not be necessary. May our actions be our insignia and may our words simply be the added punctuation to what we do in this world.
Today was a bittersweet day as we officially listed our house for sale. We knew it was coming and it had to be done but there is a certain sense of reality when you pull up and see the sign listing your house as available. There are memories attached to this place but all things must change and if if we are faithful to our calling, we accept that we need to let go from time to time.
As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the lake—for they were fishermen. And he said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.’ Immediately they left their nets and followed him. -Matthew 4:18-20 (NRSV)
Peter and Andrew likely had a good job going and it might have been hard to let things go (though scripture does not seem to indicate as much). They had to leave the familiar to follow Jesus. They faced challenges along the way but they never looked back and they never regretted it.
My family and I are at the same point. We are letting go of the familiar and setting off into the unknown as we follow God’s call. We have no idea where this will lead but I bet we do not look back on it with regret. I would rather take this journey and find it leads to the impossible then spend later years of my life wishing I had done something different.
I know there is not a lot of humor today as I am sharing what is on my heart. Just part of the journey.
If you are interested in learning more about the Army Chaplaincy or becoming one, click here.
I have noticed an interesting phenomenon as I am beginning the process of packing to prepare for our upcoming PCS move. We have too much stuff!
And he said to them, ‘Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.’ ~Luke 12:15 (NRSV)
Now, I know we do not need a lot of stuff and I know that my treasure lies in heaven and not on earth but I can’t figure out how we end up with so much stuff! Now, I know that my wife is no longer teaching so we have accumulated her classroom stuff and I know that we have a 5 year old (enough said!) and I know that I went through seminary. It seems the more we purge, the more we have.
When we moved to Nashville a few years ago, we purged a lot of things and vowed not to find ourselves with so many things again. For the most part, we have been successful but it does happen slowly and before you realize it, you have things – lots of things and you are working to get rid of them again. We are in the same position again.
What is a person to do? Well, I personally have started to give things away. I am going through my closet and donating clothes to Goodwill (some of them I never wear and of course, my clothes will soon consist of camouflage during the week). I have managed to purge most of the books I accumulated during seminary though I still have like 8 boxes of books (granted they are small boxes).
Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. ~2 Corinthians 9:7 (NRSV)
It is a slow process but purging is good for the soul. I would much rather live simply than get so wrapped up in things that I have to worry about them.
For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life? ~Matthew 16:26 (NRSV)
I am excited now and I want to share the news of my selection to Active Duty Army as a Chaplain with every one I can. This crazy idea took hold of me nearly 2 years ago and I have been working towards it ever since. It has not been easy as it involved getting in shape and losing a whole person worth of weight. I have been challenged and had days when I thought I was crazy but through it all, I felt a strong sense of calling to this direction and I have kept on the path no matter what.
Which is why I have been surprised about the reactions of some people that I have valued in my journey through seminary to this point. I am not going to name them but rather just keep them as a group of people. You see each of these people have served as a guide or mentor along the way even a sounding board. My call was affirmed time and time again and I continued on this path and here I am about to embark on an exciting journey and they don’t get it. I find out now that many people thought this was a phase that I was going through. They were humoring me until I came to my senses.
With them indeed is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah that says: ‘You will indeed listen, but never understand, and you will indeed look, but never perceive. For this people’s heart has grown dull, and their ears are hard of hearing, and they have shut their eyes; so that they might not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and understand with their heart and turn— and I would heal them.’ But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. Truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it. ~Matthew 13:14-17 (NRSV)
I did come to my senses the day I took my oath of office to join the army. I have never regretted this decision because God has shown me clearly this is my path. I was not called to be a pastor of a church and I have known that for some time. My denomination is largely made up of pastors with some serving in other roles. I understand that many people struggle with things they don’t understand but I have a great opportunity to share my faith with countless others and I don’t even have to preach or speak. It is a ministry of presence – boots on the ground. While I am anxious, I have a sense of peace knowing I am going where God wants me to go.
For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life. ~Ephesians 2:10 (NRSV)
I know that people will read this and take offense to my words. I am not calling anyone out – I am simply expressing my feelings as to how I see things. There are people who have been supportive of this idea all along (my wife especially who has been my biggest supporter and I would not be on this journey without her love and support). I appreciate those who have expressed their support but I suppose I am human after all. I find myself focusing on those who don’t care or appear to not be supportive. It is a fine line separating me from bitterness. This is my struggle today as we begin this phase of the journey.
O God, I cry to you.
Help me to pray
And to concentrate my thoughts on you:
I cannot do this alone.
In me there is darkness,
But with you there is light;
I am lonely, but you do not leave me;
I am feeble in heart, but with you there is help;
I am restless, but with you there is peace.
In me there is bitterness, but with you there is patience;
I do not understand your ways,
But you know the way for me…
Restore me to liberty,
And enable me to live now
That I may answer before you and before me.
Lord, whatever this journey may bring,
Your name be praised.
In the end, I realize God has already provided guidance and answers. Lisa, Sophia, and I are heading off with the support of each other and God on this journey. This morning, I was reading 1 Samuel and David’s story (journey) to the throne. While I am not battling for a throne, I do understand his feelings of loneliness. But I am not alone, I have my family and I have God and what more do I need. I am excited for the journey. I will just fight bitterness.
This is a big week for me (and the family). We have been on a journey towards Active Duty for some time and we find out this week if that is going to happen. For those of you that know me, you will know I am one given to worry and anxiety. So to help me out this week, I have been reading through scripture and reflecting on it. This morning, I was reading the familiar words of Matthew 6. Here are my thoughts and reflections.
Jesus was concerned to correct false views of righteousness. As an example, Jesus’ most famous sermon — the one given on the mount (Mt. 5-7) was given largely with a view of revealing God’s standard (and provision) of righteousness. The problem, as Jesus revealed it, is that there are competing forms of righteousness and none of those are adequate to satisfy God’s standard. And of the many forms of righteousness that do not conform to God, one of the most deadly is self-righteousness.
So in Matthew 6, Jesus asserted four different arenas in which self-righteousness is revealed: giving, praying, fasting, and worrying. The first three are obvious places where one might attempt to assert his own form of righteousness. The last — worrying — is not so apparent.
Notice that one of the correctives that Jesus offers to the sin of anxiety is this: “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Mt. 6:33) If the corrective is God’s righteousness, then the sin must be some form of self-righteousness. So, rather than worrying, seek the righteousness that can be found only in Christ, and then God will provide you what you need (the “all things” in v. 33 refers to the daily needs like food and clothing that the Gentiles also seek, v. 32).
But how is worrying a form of self-righteousness? Christ gives hints in this section:
- When we worry, we are asserting that we believe we are the source of our provision (vv. 27-28).
- When we worry, we are asserting that we believe that God is not the source of our provision (v. 30).
- When we worry, we are disbelieving God and His goodness, just as the Gentiles do (vv. 31-32).
Those assertions are all part of the belief system of self-righteousness. They affirm the ability of man and the inability (or the unnecessariness) of God. So worrying, just like self-righteous giving and praying and fasting, relies on self and rejects God as the provision of our needs. It asserts “I am capable of meeting the task and obligation. I am the captain of my fate.” And worrying then is not a “respectable sin,” but an evil affront to God and His provision of righteousness.
Am I bound up in worry today? Then I must confess not only that sin, but also the prideful sin of self-righteousness that is undergirding my anxiety, and instead trust not only in God’s provision of my daily needs, but also of my right standing before Him. I am incapable. But He is capable and gracious to provide all I need.
I have been thinking about death a lot lately. Not that I plan to die anytime soon but given my line of work it is inevitable. I spend my days, or at least part of my days, delving in theology and the study of the Bible which more often than not involves the afterlife and eternity. Questions about death and life after death are common for ministers to be asked. In addition, as a Chaplain, I have to be prepared for the inevitable death among the Soldiers I serve. I have to be ready to counsel family and other Soldiers as well as conduct memorial services. It is just part of the job.
On top of that, I have been rereading the Harry Potter series which deals with good, evil, and death on an increasing level as you go through the series. In fact, the scripture verses for today’s sermon come in part from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Yes, there is scripture in Harry Potter. In case you are curious, the Matthew text can be found on the grave of Dumbledore’s mother and sister and the 1 Corinthians text can be found on Harry’s parent’s graves. Have no clue who they are – just hang on a moment or two. So I read the books and something occurred to me this week. In fact, a sermon began to develop from the close of the book and I want to share with you this morning two different stories of death and then in light of these scriptures, what lessons we can take for living but more on that in just a minute.
Last but not least, I have been thinking about death lately because tomorrow is my birthday and I am getting a bit older. I once considered myself old until I reached this age! One’s mortality always seems to come to the surface around a birthday.
So back to Harry Potter.
The first story involves Albus Dumbledore – the headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. You see in his early life, he desired the three Deathly Hallows more than anything else he could imagine. These 3 things – the elder wand, the invisibility cloak, and the resurrection stone, when united, would make someone the master of Death and Dumbledore sought them with all of his energy, time, and resources. Rather than store his treasures in heaven, Dumbledore sought to be the master of death by seeking earthly treasure and the inevitable result was death – not his death but his sister’s death. He chose poorly.
Then we have Harry Potter who also finds himself in possession of the Deathly Hallows but there is a big difference. You see, he doesn’t want to be the master of death – he wants to save his friends and so he uses the Deathly Hallows to face He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named and give his life in their place. Sorry for the spoilers for those who haven’t read the books or seen the movies but yes Harry dies. It is a noble death – the kind that Jesus refers to as one of the greatest things you can do for another. Harry realized that his treasure was not on earth but somewhere else and this is what leads him to lay down his life for others. He chose wisely.
So what lessons can we take from these stories? Well, the obvious is that Christians have to be poor and miserable because we cannot store things up on earth, right? I don’t think so. I don’t think that is what this scripture is saying because frankly, if we did, there would be very few Christians in the world because who wants to be miserable the entire life? I have a few aunts who may fit this category but most people don’t. I believe most people would prefer to be a little comfortable. No, I think scripture, and in light of our gospel today, is telling us that it is okay to have things, it is okay to have a car, a house, a savings account, and even air conditioning but we can’t let those things rule our life. We can’t spend a lifetime pursuing those things because when we do, death wins. When a person is so consumed by treasure that he or she will do everything and anything to get treasure, all that waits is an empty life followed by death. My New Testament professor from seminary, Mitzi Minor, whom I do quote often, puts it better than I could when she says that we all know people who are breathing but not really living. That is the first lesson, pursuing treasures on earth leads us to be merely breathing and not living life abundantly.
The second scripture is more interesting to me. You see, death still takes us because God has not yet fully destroyed death. We all will die but we know there is something else on the other side. William Penn said: “For death is no more than a turning of us over from time to eternity.” I think we all help destroy death when we share the gospel with someone. I think we all help death die when we live rather than just breathe. And there is where panic sets in because people often dread having to share the gospel with someone else. It makes us uncomfortable, okay at least it makes me uncomfortable to think about walking up to someone and opening my Bible and sharing the Good News, but it shouldn’t because there are other ways to share the gospel. You see, if we, as Harry did, lay down our lives for our friends so they might live, we are sharing the gospel. If we offer a smile to someone on the street rather than look down or look away, we are sharing the gospel. If we offer a hug or a kind word to someone during a bad day, we are sharing the gospel. If we do a random act of kindness with no desire for recognition, we are sharing the gospel. I am not saying that sharing the gospel and offering to pray the “sinner’s prayer” is not important; what I am saying is that when we live our life abundantly in spite of death, we are sharing the gospel. When we live in spite of death, we are storing our treasures in heaven and we are serving God because we are living. It more than simply coming to church for an hour on Sundays. It is more than professing to be a Christian. It is living abundantly and fully and appreciating the life God has given us! Mother Teresa said it even better: “People are unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered. Love them anyway. If you do good, people may accuse you of selfish motives. Do good anyway. If you are successful, you may win false friends and true enemies. Succeed anyway. The good you do today may be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway. Honesty and transparency make you vulnerable. Be honest and transparent anyway. What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight. Build anyway. People who really want help may attack you if you help them. Help them anyway. Give the world the best you have and you may get hurt. Give the world your best anyway.” In other words live and live life fully!
I have been thinking about death a lot lately but not out of fear or a sense of panic. I have been thinking about death in terms of defeating death – that is not avoiding it but living abundantly so when it comes, I have no regrets and death takes nothing from me. I believe this is our challenge as Christians – to live so death takes nothing from us. Let’s stop merely breathing and start living! Amen.
Here is today’s worship bulletin.
No it does not say “Sacrificing Your Enemies” as good as that might sound at times. Jesus instead was pretty clear and adamant about us making sacrifices on behalf of our enemies. In the Sermon on the Mount he hits this hard.
“You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you that you must not oppose those who want to hurt you. If people slap you on your right cheek, you must turn the left cheek to them as well. When they wish to haul you to court and take your shirt, let them have your coat too. When they force you to go one mile, go with them two. Give to those who ask, and don’t refuse those who wish to borrow from you. -Matthew 5:38-41 (CEB)
Imagine this scenario if you would. The country in which you live has been conquered by another country that is steadily taking over the entire world. Everywhere you go there are foreign soldiers patrolling the streets. They are proud and boastful. They take what they want from anyone and arrest people whenever they feel like it. On a daily basis people are executed by the soldiers. Women live in fear that they may be violated like their neighbor was last week. Men live in anger and shame over their inability to do anything to protect their family and their possessions. In the midst of all this the occupying army has a law that any soldier may, at any time, grab any citizen and force them to carry their gear for one mile.
That is the context for these words from Jesus. This is not just some theoretical sermon on his part. This was life as faced by his followers everyday. The Roman army had conquered Israel years before. Soldiers were everywhere. In fact a unit was posted in a fortress right next to the Temple, the most holy of places for the Jews. Even when they went to worship they were reminded of being a conquered people. There was even the law about carrying a soldiers gear for one mile. You simply had to do it.
So now imagine that you had a son who was killed by the Romans, or a wife who was raped by them, or a husband who was beaten senseless by them. Then one day as you are heading to the market to buy food for your family, you see some Roman soldiers coming towards you. You keep your head lowered, avoiding eye contact at all costs. You move to the side of the road hoping to stay well out of their way and their notice. They move past you and you let out a quiet sigh of relief that nothing happened and you can move on to the market. Suddenly your heart sinks when you hear one of them shout, “Hey, you! Carry my pack and supplies”. The natural human reaction is to be angry, upset, maybe even a little afraid. You are being forced to go a mile in the wrong direction. In order to get back to where you are now means a total of two miles out of your way. You need to carry the very supplies that this soldier uses to keep your people in subjection and you need to do it so he is not worn out from doing it himself and has more energy to fight your people if need be.
Jesus makes it clear that when you get to the end of the one mile requirement of the law that you should offer freely to carry the pack a second mile. That means a four mile total for you to sacrifice for and serve your enemy and then get back to where you started hours earlier. This is clearly going above and beyond that call of duty. It is in fact where we get the phrase, “going the extra mile”.
In all of this Jesus is giving us a real life example for the principle of loving your enemies. It is a hard principle to follow but that is what makes it so provocative. Picture the response of your enemy at the end of the first mile when you freely offer to go a second. No one has ever done that before. Always in the past they dropped the gear as fast as they could and went rushing back the way they came. Maybe they even mumbled a few choice words as they did so. But you offer with a smile to serve this enemy. He is going to ask, “Why would you do that?” At which point you are given an open door to say, “because I love Jesus and I know he loves you too”.
It really is a matter of what you value most. If you value your agenda, time, pleasure, need for revenge, sense of justice or anything else more than you value fulfilling the call that Jesus has placed on your life, then this is an impossible task. Your reaction will default to complaining, anger or disgust. But if you have as your primary reason for being, to honor Jesus and see more people become worshipers of him, then you will set aside your need for revenge. You will give up your right to grumble and complain over the unfairness of it all. You will avoid the pity party of why this has happened to you. Instead you will, with joy, look at the opportunity that Jesus has given you to show someone what it means to truly follow Him.
That is what it means to be a Christian. So what is the extra mile you can go for someone? What is the thing you can do for another, even you enemy, so that they ask why you did it and you can point them to Jesus?
I thought about my ranting yesterday and realized I needed a follow-up.
Happy are people who show mercy, because they will receive mercy. -Matthew 5:7 (CEB)
For those of my readers who are not from Middle Tennessee, this may not make a whole lot of sense but I want to react to a recent court ruling involving in the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro. It seems that some members of the local community were opposed to having a mosque built in their community. They have fought it with arson, with protests, with hatred, and ultimately law suits. Yesterday, a judge said that the building permit was void because not enough notice was given to the community regarding the construction of this facility.
Before I go any farther, I want to emphasize that the views in this post (and the rest of my blog) are my own.
I wonder if a lack of notice would have been an issue if this was a church or a synagogue? Would anyone care or notice? My gut feeling is no they wouldn’t. They would likely welcome a church as a sign of God’s love for the community. No one would feel any fear or concern about a church yet some of our churches can be the most hateful places on earth with their messages of intolerance. But it would be okay to have a church as opposed to a mosque.
I wonder what Jesus would say to us if he were walking around today. I wonder if he would side with the group opposed to the mosque or would he reach out to the members of the Islamic community with love? I am horrified at what we do in Jesus’ name (and I am pretty sure Jesus is too). We have driven people to suicide because of their sexual orientation; we have driven people out of our communities because we don’t agree with their faith; and we use words like sharia law and terrorists to keep mosques out of our community.
Yes, I am aware of sharia law but I am fairly certain that local laws, state constitutions, and the US Constitution would tr ump sharia law in the local communities. It would take an act of Congress (literally) to change the law so the tenets of sharia law remain illegal. In the same case, the Bible mandates publicly stoning adulterers and while I could follow the Bible, I am fairly certain I will be arrested for stoning someone.
I think what is happening is fear and ignorance. People have heard bits and pieces of Islam and have taken them out of context (or have had them taken out of context for them) and so they are fearful of what is coming. They see terrorists gathering in their backyard where there are people gathering together to share their faith and community. They see a take over of our country where there are people gathered who had to flee violence and oppression in their own country. They fear people who are different.
I think dialogue is always the answer. Jesus reached out to those who opposed him and tried to have a conversation with them. He spent time talking and teaching but most importantly loving people. Mother Teresa said: “If you judge people, you have no time to love them.”
Why do you see the splinter that’s in your brother’s or sister’s eye, but don’t notice the log in your own eye? How can you say to your brother or sister, ‘Let me take the splinter out of your eye,’ when there’s a log in your eye? You deceive yourself! First take the log out of your eye, and then you’ll see clearly to take the splinter out of your brother’s or sister’s eye. -Matthew 7:3-5 (CEB)
I have been told that I am naive and even ignorant over my defense of Muslims but I don’t think I am. I am living out Jesus’ commandment to love your neighbors as yourself. My neighbors may be different than me and may believe differently than me but unless I love them, I will never know them. If I spend my time hating and fearing them, am I really any different than what I believe about them?
Good Friday is a crucial day, not only of the year, but also for world history.
Since Jesus’ death, Christians have proclaimed the cross and resurrection of Jesus to be the decisive turning point for all creation. On Good Friday, millions of Christians set aside our other concerns to meditate8:upon what this astonishing claim means.
One way to meditate on the crucifixion is to read and reflect on the seven sayings of Jesus from his cross. These sayings have been used in Good Friday services for centuries. However, none of the evangelists (the four gospel writers) record their words in their entirety so we have to jump from gospel to gospel to fully grasp the words.
- Luke 23:34: Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing.” They drew lots as a way of dividing up his clothing.
- Luke 23:43: Jesus replied, “I assure you that today you will be with me in paradise.”
- John 19:26-27: When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that time on, this disciple took her into his home.
- Matthew 27:46: At about three Jesus cried out with a loud shout, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani,” which means, “My God, my God, why have you left me?” Mark 15:34: At three, Jesus cried out with a loud shout, “Eloi, eloi, lama sabachthani,” which means, “My God, my God, why have you left me?”
- John 19:28: After this, knowing that everything was already completed, in order to fulfill the scripture, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.”
- John 19:30: When he had received the sour wine, Jesus said, “It is completed.” Bowing his head, he gave up his life.
- Luke 23:46: Crying out in a loud voice, Jesus said, “Father, into your hands I entrust my life.” After he said this, he breathed for the last time.
Of course, these words merely capture a snapshot of Jesus’ last moments and death. I recommend going back to the Bible and reading all of the crucifixion accounts in their entirety. I have provided links (below) to the crucifixion accounts in each of the four gospels. Spend some time today reflecting on the death of Jesus (in your place) and if possible, share in a Good Friday service.
A reading from Matthew 13 (CEB):
He told another parable to them: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and planted in his field. It’s the smallest of all seeds. But when it’s grown, it’s the largest of all vegetable plants. It becomes a tree so that the birds in the sky come and nest in its branches.”
I don’t really “get” gardening. It’s a sheer miracle to me that you can throw a handful of dried-up, worn-out seeds and expect anything good to come from them at all. These little seeds are covered with dirt with a wink and a prayer, and before you know it, SPROING! Vegetables! Fruit! Kansas sunflowers the size of hubcaps! All of this beauty and sustenance from tiny, dried-up seeds.
We are like those seeds: dried up, worn out. Some days, we don’t look like we can amount to much. Buried under the soil of daily life, it is sometimes hard to see the sun. We strain to feel the nurturing rain. In our darkest moments, when we are dirty with disappointment, fear and pain, and find it impossible to believe in ourselves, – a shoot comes forth! Leaning into the comforting warmth of the sun’s rays, a seedling takes root. And grows.
God is quite the gardener. Just enough sun, the perfect amount of rain. Somehow, God even uses the compost (if you know what I mean!) to do some good.
And so, we sow. We sow the seeds of faith, the tiniest, mustard-seed-sized seeds we can muster. Where we see miniscule, God sees an opportunity for growth beyond imagination. And God blesses the harvest.
The amazing thing is that all we have to do is sow a little seed of faith – just a small seed and God will do the rest. Seeds were sown in Jesus’ day and yet the faith has grown miraculously through God’s love.
God, you go with us to the dark places. Where we feel buried, bring sunshine and rain, growth and new life. Amen
A reading from Matthew 25 (CEB):
When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
This text is about judgment. We will be judged by our response to human need. According to my Westminster Study Bible, “The Son of Man will judge all the nations according to their helpful or calloused attitude to the disciples, brethren of Christ.” This text is about “the difference between life in the Kingdom with Christ or banishment from his fellowship. You can either obey or reject God’s will.”
Christ has called us, and he has given us the free gift of grace. Each of us who accepts this gift has a seed growing within us. We nurture the seed when we respond by showing our care. I can sum this up by saying: “The decision Jesus mandates for all of us if we are to follow him: to die to our own desires and give up our lives daily, for the benefit of others, until he calls us home.”
Christ is instructing us to step outside our safe world and reach out to others. The song “The Lord Now Sends Us Forth” says it best: “The Lord now sends us forth with hands to serve and give, to make of all the earth a better place to live. The angels are not sent into our world of pain to do what we were meant to do in Jesus’ name; that falls to you and me and all who are made free. Help us, O Lord, we pray, to do your will today.”
In the final days of Lent, let us prepare ourselves to continue to focus more on Christ and less on ourselves.
Please dear Lord, help us to do your will today. Help us to know the depth of Christian joy. Help us to nurture the gift you have given and to share this gift with others. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
A reading from Matthew 27 (CEB):
When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. “I have sinned,” he said, “for I have betrayed innocent blood.” “What is that to us?” they replied. “That’s your responsibility.” So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself. The chief priests picked up the coins and said, “It is against the law to put this into the treasury, since it is blood money.” So they decided to use the money to buy the potter’s field as a burial place for foreigners. That is why it has been called the Field of Blood to this day. Then what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled: “They took the thirty pieces of silver, the price set on him by the people of Israel, and they used them to buy the potter’s field, as the Lord commanded me.”
Judas Iscariot, chief of sinners.
What was he thinking when he gave Jesus away? What was in his heart? Was he just a mercenary coveting 30 pieces of silver? Or was he a visionary, impatient with promises of a kingdom yet to come? Some say Judas thought he could force Jesus to reveal his true power by betraying him to the authorities. He thought Jesus would resist arrest and then overthrow the entire Roman government in a fashion befitting the long-awaited Messiah.
That didn’t happen, of course, and our gospel writers have no apparent empathy with Judas, whatever his motives may have been. They seem to write him off as a lost soul. But look at what Judas does. He gives back the money, repents from his sin and, by some accounts, kills himself out of remorse. Is there no salvation for Judas?
This much we know for sure. Judas, child of God, was called in love and sent in love to serve. So what went wrong?
I have no inside info about what motivated Judas to betray Jesus or what happened to Judas’ immortal soul, but I like to think he found redemption. His hallmark sin, the betrayal so despised by the gospel writers, is no different from sins I have committed. I have betrayed Jesus. I have ignored him, denied him, cast him aside. If God can’t forgive Judas, then what is to become of me?
Is it I, Lord? Yes, it is. I am the one – the one dipping bread in the bowl with you, the one who has betrayed you. I am Judas!
Chief of sinners though I be, thank you, Jesus, for loving me. Amen.