In Mark''s gospel we find the account of Jesus praying in Gethsemane prior to being betrayed - he takes with him Peter, James, and John. Gethsemane is a special place where Jesus often went with his disciples; in this account, it is the place where he lays down his will before laying down his life. Gethsemane is a place of prayer; it is a place of reckoning with God the Father - Abba.
In Mark 12, Jesus is in conversation with a scribe about the esseence of the Torah, which is summarized by the Shema - to "love the Lord your God" and to "love your neigbhour." Jesus and the scribe both agree that this is the essence of the Law; upon seeing this, Jesus said to the scribe: "you are not far from the kingdom of God." Is this true of our lives? Is this true of our church?
In Psalm 62 we find a wonderful invitation to rest in the character of God; this rest is so complete that there is not even the need for words but rather one can wait in silence. In the midst of the strains of life, pour out your heart to God, trusting in his power and love.
In 1 John 5:12 we find an encouraging challenge concluding this letter. It begins with a tender reference to the children of God, followed by a call to action - that of keeping themselves from idols. While our salvation is the work of God in Christ, there is a partnering with the ongoing work of the Spirit in our lives to keep ourselves as God's people.
In 1 John we find a call to walk as Jesus walked; this call is connected to what it means to have fellowship with God and God's people through Jesus and what it means to have eternal life. It is a walking in the light as God himself is in the light; this involves the forming of our hearts to love God above all, to desire his will about the things of this world.
In 1 John 1 there is both a testimony and a call. John testifies to what he has heard and seen of the gospel as found in Christ, and calls his readers to respond by joining in the fellowship - the common purpose of Christ among us. It is a call for them (and us) to hear and to see that they (we) too may declare.
This Advent Season we have been talking about four concepts: captivity, deliverance, pilgrimage, and promise. This being the third week of Advent, our topic is pilgrimage. We were captive but have been delivered and are headed to the promise land; what is life to look like on the way? We are on pilgrimage, which is the life of faith lived out in our present place.
In Luke 1:68-89 we have Zechariah's prophetic word concerning both Jesus and John. It is a powerful word noting the visitation of the Lord God, his tender mercy, and mighty act of being the redeemere of his people. In Zechariah's prophetic words we are reminded that the purpose of God's deliverance of his people is that they might serve him in righteousness.
This first Sunday of Advent 2023, let us begin by recognizing our captivity (or that we have become captors of others through our sin), and allow this to lead us to see our need for redemption. In and through Christ we are released from the captivity of sin, and the behaviour of being captors of others through our sin.
In Psalm 84 we find a longing and intention to draw near to the presence of God. The presence of God is held as the most valued and cherished reality that one can pursue. The Psalm is one of pilgrimage, which involves a journey both physically and spiritually. As we gather for worship, wherever that may be, let out hearts long for the presence of God and the transformation that brings.
In Isaiah 58, the prophet provides a number of conditional phrases for the people of God. If they will heed the heart of God, they will find the Lord as their delight and find themselves taken to the high places, with the heritage of Jacob as their possession. It will require a giving up of their own ways, their own interests, their own affairs, and the orienting of themsevles once again around true love of God and others.
In Isaiah 58 we find a challenging call from the prophet to the people of God - a call which is perhaps too relevant to the people of God today. The call is to be a people not of pious religiosity, but of peaceful (shalom) relationships. This is the heart of both Judaism and Christianity.
In Luke 19 we find the beautiful transformation of a chief tax collector named Zacchaeus (who by the way was very rich). Jesus invites himself over the Zacchaeus' house, after having seen him in the sycamore tree, which Zacchaeus had climbed because he wanted to see who Jesus was. Upon meeting Jesus, Zacchaeus realized that to know Jesus is to be challenged to follow him - a challenge Zacchaeus took up.
In Mark 10 we find a rich man being called to leave what he knows and follow Jesus. There is not a whole lot of information as to what following Jesus will entail, other than a selling of all he owns and following a Jesus who loves him. This call comes in response to the rich man's question: what must I do to have eternal life? Jesus, rather than answering the question directly, calls the man to faith in the here and now.
God's desire for his people is simple, yet not so simple. What God wants is this: for us to love him and love one another. This was Israel's call as God's people and it remains the call of followers of Jesus today: to love God and love one another. While Israel seems to have constantly struggled with idolatry and injustice among them, God gives a promise that a day will come in which he will put his law of love inside of them by his Spirit.
Christianity is so much more than just a set of ideas to be believed with our minds; the Christian faith is so much more than something to be rationalized. The Christian faith is perhaps best described as a way of life, and one that involves our heart - our will, intent, passion and desire. It is, above all, about love, which is something which cannot be fully realized in the mind but must be taken up in the heart and lived.
In the final chapter of Matthew we find the resurrection account of Jesus as well as what has become known as the great commission. In rasing Jesus from the dead, God the Father has affirmed Jesus' identity as the Son of God, and in the commission given to Jesus' disciples, the ministry of Jesus is to be continued.
The Apostle Paul noted in his letter to the Church at Galatia that he lived by faith in the Son of God who loved him and died for him. This is the call of Easter Sunday: to examine that which we have put our faith in. Is it Jesus' life, death and resurrection that creates hope in us? Do you recognize that it is for you he died, that it is you he loves? Will you live for him?
In Mark 11 we find what has been termed "Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem." Jesus enters Jerusalem as a King, but not to set up an earthly kingdom, but rather to establish the Kingdom of God. The crowds who were also entering Jerusalem for the festivities which were to take place proclaimed "hosanna" as they entered the city with Jesus. Some would soon add their voices with others to proclaim: "crucify him."
In the final chapter of Jonah, we have the prophet's heart revealed and it is a sad state that is discovered. The book of Jonah ends with no resolution for the prophet, but the ending is powerful in that it invites us to examine our own hearts before the Lord God. Let us accept the invitation.
In Jonah 3 we find God's call once again given to Jonah to go to Nineveh and proclaim God's word to them. This time Jonah goes, though we find in chapter 4 his heart is still not right. Nineveh, that great city, hears the Word of God as delivered by Jonah and repents; this is something which God's own people, on contrast, often do not do well.
We find a prayer from Jonah in chapter 2. In Jonah 1, the sailors had called upon Jonah to pray to his God, but he was silent; now that he finds himself in the belly of a fish, he prays - and God hears his prayer. Jonah is delivered. While delivered from the depths of his own distess, we find in the beginning of chapter 3 that Jonah is not delivered from the call of God upon his life.
The Book of Jonah is about a prophet of Israel who does not like the prophecy the God of Israel has given him - with the reason ultimately being his concern that God's mercy will triumph and the Assyrians in Nineveh will receive the love of God. So Jonah attempts to run from God to Tarshish, the end of the earth. Rather than making it to Tarshish, however, Jonah lands in the belly of a big fish and is given time to reconsider the Word of God upon his life.
In Hebrews 12, following the great faith chapter of the Bible (Hebrews 11), we find a call to run well the race that is set before us in Christ - considering those who have gone before us and considering Christ, the author and perfector of our faith. As we have entered this season of lent, let us consider Christ who for the joy set before him endured the cross and ask ourselves what it is we are being asked to endure.
In Philippians 4 we find Paul rejoicing (once again) over the revived concern of the Philippian church for him, displayed through the gift delivered by Epaphroditus. This was a united endeavour of the Philippian church, which brought glory to God as a genuine offering. May our Lord help us to see what needs revived among us today.
In Philippians 4 Paul encourages the church at Philippi to know the peace of God through rejoicing, praying, giving thanks and expressing gentleness. Paul also admonishes them to think and act in accordance with the peace of God which is with them, guarding both their hears and minds.
In Philippians 3 Paul makes known his ultimate desire: to know Christ. What is it you long for? To what lengths would you go to attain that which you long for? What would you give to have it? Paul has been and is willing to lay down everything for the surpassing value of knowig Christ.
In Philippians 2, Paul shares of two followers of Jesus who are close to his heart: Timothy and Epaphroditus. Both have been a blessing to Paul, and to the church at Philippi. Timothy and Epaphroditus have a longing for God and for the church, which (aside from Paul) appears to be unmatched. These two men stand as examples for the Philippian church.
In Philippians 2, Paul challenges the church to recognize the calling of the gift they have received in Christ: a call to love one another with mercy and compassion and in so doing to lay aside any and all rivalry and self-centredness. The example for this sort of life in community is Christ himself, who though being God humbled himself in love to the point of death, even death on a cross. God having so loved us, we ought also to love one another.
In Philippians 1, Paul and Timothy begin their passionate letter to the church they helped form at Philippi. The letter begins with a hearfelt prayer, followed by a powerful plea for the church to stand firm in their love of Christ and love for one another. They are encouraged to take up Paul's passion for the gospel of Jesus Christ.
In Proverbs 3:1-10 we find a call to a son from his father; it is a call to heed the father's instructions. These instructions, we can safely assume, are derived from the Word of God. If the child will listen, they will find life; indeed, their life will be one of peace and love. Let us hear the call from God our Father this day, a call to follow in His ways and so find peace and love in our lives.
In Matthew 2 we have the account of the visit of the wise men to Jesus. Within the story of their visit, the other main characters are King Herod and the chief priests and scribes. The wise men have come to worship Jesus, King Herod wants to destroy Jesus, and the chief priests and scribes appear to be indifferent. As we prepare to begin a new calendar year, may we examen our own hearts in regards to our attiitude toward Jesus.
In Matthew 1, following the genealogy of Jesus, we have Joseph finding out his betrothed is pregnant. Joseph, being a righteous man, makes the obvious decision under the law, which is to break the engagement. Joseph chooses to do this quietly, showing his righteousness is true in that it is also compassionate. An angel of the Lord, however, calls Joseph to not be afraid to carry through on his commitment to Mary, for the child is of the Holy Spirit. This Christmas season, might we not be afraid to carry through on our commitment to Christ.
As we approach Christmas, our minds think of the presents we might receive from others (a beautiful Christmas tradition - the giving and receiving of presents). The greatest gift given to us, however, is the presence of God; this gift was first given to humanity, then after the fall of humanity, to Israel, and then with the coming of Christ, to the church and once again to humanity.
In Luke 7 we find an amazing encounter between Jesus and a woman who is known by nothing more than being a sinner, yet a sinner whom Jesus loved much. The context of this encounter is a meal at the house of Simon the Pharisee, and following teaching through a short parable, Jesus dismisses the woman with peace.
John the Baptist, called of God, preached a message of repentance and baptism for the forgiveness of sins. This also involved living a life of bearing fruit as the people of God. As we have entered into the season of advent, a time of waiting and anticipation, we wait for the revealing of God in Christ; yet this time of waiting is also a time of preparation - in part the preparation of our own hearts in repentance that the way of Christ may be found in us.
Toward the end of 2 Chronicles we find a people who have been taken captive, a city (Jerusalem) destroyed, along with the place of God's presence being left in ruins. This is all on account of the people of God's lack of faithfulness. Yet at the very end of 2 Chronicles and into Ezra and Nehemiah, we find that God is not done; by the Spirit of God, God's people are called once again to rebuild a place for God's presence to be known and His Word to be heard.
Within scripture we find three great themes which invade the life of Israel and the Church. These themes are the way things ought to be: shema (loving God with all that we got and subsequently loving our neighbour as ourselves), shabbat (resting in the provision of God and remembering to care for our neigbhour), and shalom (practing peace with one another as the people of God). Shalom is the active culmination of shema and the daily living out of the reorienting work of sabbath in our lives.
If asked what the most important verse is in the Bible, some may go to John 3:16 or another familiar verse. When Jesus was asked this question, having only the Old Testament scriptures, he answered by qouting Deuteronomy 6:4-5. This passage is known as the shema and is a central text for Jewish faith and practice. Why was it so important? Is it important for us today as followers of Jesus?