“I must be in my Father’s house”

Today involves one of my favorite readings from the Gospels: Luke 2:41-52. It gives us a glimpse into the little recorded early life of Jesus the Christ.

Like many good Jews, Joseph and Mary attended the feast of Passover in Jerusalem each year, and when Jesus was twelve they did so again. A day into the return trip home to Nazareth, Joseph and Mary discovered that Jesus wasn’t with them and they traveled all the way back to look for him.

After three days they found him in the temple,
sitting in the midst of the teachers,
listening to them and asking them questions,
and all who heard him were astounded
at his understanding and his answers.
When his parents saw him,
they were astonished,
and his mother said to him,
“Son, why have you done this to us?
Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.”
And he said to them,
“Why were you looking for me?
Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”
But they did not understand what he said to them.
He went down with them and came to Nazareth,
and was obedient to them;
and his mother kept all these things in her heart.
And Jesus advanced in wisdom and age and favor
before God and man.

Two lines jump out at me in today’s reading. First, Mary asking, “Why have you done this to us?” and Jesus replying, “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”

One is a plaintive we often ask of God: Why have you done this to us? Why do you send misery into our lives, like making us sick or taking someone from our lives, or make us lose our homes, or keep us from attaining something we want?

The other is a simple answer of faith: Didn’t you know I don’t do things like that, I am at the Father’s right hand doing good works, not bad works. (In other readings Jesus says to know the Son is to know the Father and to know the Father is to know the Son.)

So maybe this story isn’t just about Mary needlessly worrying about losing her missing twelve year old in the dangerous big city and learning to trust that he’s in the right place all along, but rather not assigning all the terrible things that happen in life to God and trusting that he does good things for us, especially when we ask him.

I frequently see people who pretend to speak for God speaking hate and intolerance in His name, suggesting that calamity comes or will come for sins committed. Yet never once in the Gospels did Jesus punish people for sinning – rather, He kept company with sinners and even admonished those who would judge or stone them. The times He actually took action against anyone was when He overturned the tables of the money changers, who were defiling God’s temple, and preached against the powerful and self-righteous. Jesus, the son of God, was compassionate and healing of the sinner, not a condemner and punisher.

So when you look for Jesus, when you want to know what Jesus thinks or says or, What Would Jesus Do, don’t look for Him on the streets with the condemners holding protest signs or on TV with the preachers of doom to sell. Remember that Jesus is with the Father. Look for His words in the Gospels and seek Him in his Father’s house. Jesus provides lots of words of wisdom on how His Father provides even for the birds of the field – how much more will He give you what you need. He says to ask in Jesus’ name and the Father will provide what you need (and that’s a lot different than giving you what you covet).

“Why did you do this to us?” Don’t you know He didn’t? “I am must be in my Father’s house,” said Jesus. Seek His comfort there, not in the calamity.

 

 

 

“Tidings of great joy”

Although different churches use different readings to celebrate the birth of Jesus the Christ, today I am inspired to use Luke 2:1-20, which is about the actual birth of Jesus and the witness of the shepherds afterwards.

Joseph and Mary have traveled to Bethlehem to register for the census and finding no room in an inn, Mary gives birth in a stable and lays Jesus in swaddling clothes in a manger. The gospel continues:

“There were shepherds in that region, living in the fields and keeping night watch by turns over their flocks. The angel of the Lord appeared to them as the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were very much afraid. The angel said to them: “You have nothing to fear! I come to proclaim good new to you — tidings of great joy to be shared with the whole people. This day in David’s city a savior has been born to you, the Messiah and Lord. Let this be a sign to you: in a manger you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes.” Suddenly, there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in high heaven, peace on earth to those on whom his favor rests.”

When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to one another: “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this event which the Lord has made known to us.” They went in haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger; once they saw, they understood what had been told them concerning this child. All who heard of it were astonished at the report given them by the shepherds.

Mary treasured all these things and reflected on them in her heart. The shepherds returned glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, in accord with what had been told them.

Christmas is the day we all celebrate “tidings of great joy” at the birth of our savior, Jesus the Christ, the Messiah. We celebrate His birth and note the humbleness of the conditions under which he was born and those to whom the angels first made known the great news. Isn’t it amazing that the first to give witness to Jesus’ birth aren’t kings and mayors and wealthy land barons, but lowly shepherds? Maybe not so amazing, considering the way that Jesus lived.

This Christmas Eve I am mindful that this day, eve as a day of great joy, is about more than the birth of the sweet baby Jesus.

It actually ushers in the story of someone whose early life we aren’t given much information about, but we learn in scripture that at the age of twelve was thought by his mother Mary and dad Joseph to have been lost in the big city of Jerusalem but found to be in the main temple preaching, to the amazement of all who were listening.

And toward the beginning of his ministry in his early adulthood was cajoled by his mother while attending a wedding to help a poor bride and groom by changing water into wine, thus performing his first public miracle.

As this amazing person, Jesus, lives on he works more miracles, healing the sick, giving sight to the blind, bringing back the dead to life, but just as important, he fed the poor, aided orphans and widows, and visited prisoners – and commanded us to do likewise.

And Jesus refused to be seen hobnobbing with the rich and famous, instead preferring the company of prostitutes, tax collectors, and others of less social stature, not because he was one of them but because most of them were among the least of our brothers and sisters, in soul if not in circumstance, and were in greater need of his grace and love than the self-righteous and overtly pious.

Jesus was also not too shy to shame the hypocrites of the religious and political establishment, who liked to grandstand their faith and their piety, and frequently reminded the rich and famous that the lowly and downtrodden would be first in the kingdom of heaven, not those who are usually the first escorted into the banquet halls or given the places of honor at the table.

And, of course, it is this sweet baby Jesus who later on would become a threat to the religious and political establishment and be scourged, crucified, and die on the cross, then raised from the dead and entered into the kingdom of heaven, leading the way that we might follow.

So while we celebrate the birth of Christ this Christmas, remember that it isn’t all just about the birth of this sweet baby, it’s also about the birth of his ministry and the lessons he then taught us. Many are those who focus on the birth and forget to feed the hungry, clothe and house the poor, heal the sick, give comfort to the lonely, adopt the orphan, and welcome the refugee. That, to the answer the question, is What Jesus Would Do, by his own example.

On this Christmas Eve, I wish you a Merry Christmas. Tidings of great joy to you! May the grace and peace of Christ be with you all this blessed season.

 

Have yourself a very Merry Christmas

For my friends at Reading with God.

Have yourself a very Merry Christmas

It’s the final week before Christmas and all through the house, not a creature is resting, not even a mouse.

This is the most stressful time of the year, with parties, shopping, wrapping of presents, cooking, traveling, and all of the other preparations to make this “the best holiday ever.” Take a moment to relax and un-stress. This was never meant to be the busiest time of the year. It was meant to be a time of reflection and introspection and to remember that one was born who taught us that the most important thing of all is love.

Yes, Christmas has become a retail holiday. Yes, Christmas has become a secular holiday. Yes, Christmas has become a holiday of family gatherings when a lot of pressure is heaped on the shoulders of a few to make the many happy. But that’s not what Christmas is really about.

Christmas is about the birth of Jesus, who came into the world to teach us what love is and to share that love. To love God with all of our heart, mind, and soul, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Even when they do things that upset us.

So this week, may you know the love of God. May you know the love of your family, friends, and neighbors. And thus, may you have yourself a very Merry Christmas.

“The total number of generations”

I didn’t know what to make of today’s reading from Matthew 1:1-17. It’s a recounting of the genealogy of Jesus. It seemed pretty simple at first glance: These are the forebears of Jesus the Christ through the generations:

The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ,
the son of David, the son of Abraham.

Abraham became the father of Isaac,
Isaac the father of Jacob,
Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers.
Judah became the father of Perez and Zerah,
whose mother was Tamar.
Perez became the father of Hezron,
Hezron the father of Ram,
Ram the father of Amminadab.
Amminadab became the father of Nahshon,
Nahshon the father of Salmon,
Salmon the father of Boaz,
whose mother was Rahab.
Boaz became the father of Obed,
whose mother was Ruth.
Obed became the father of Jesse,
Jesse the father of David the king.

David became the father of Solomon,
whose mother had been the wife of Uriah.
Solomon became the father of Rehoboam,
Rehoboam the father of Abijah,
Abijah the father of Asaph.
Asaph became the father of Jehoshaphat,
Jehoshaphat the father of Joram,
Joram the father of Uzziah.
Uzziah became the father of Jotham,
Jotham the father of Ahaz,
Ahaz the father of Hezekiah.
Hezekiah became the father of Manasseh,
Manasseh the father of Amos,
Amos the father of Josiah.
Josiah became the father of Jechoniah and his brothers
at the time of the Babylonian exile.

After the Babylonian exile,
Jechoniah became the father of Shealtiel,
Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel,
Zerubbabel the father of Abiud.
Abiud became the father of Eliakim,
Eliakim the father of Azor,
Azor the father of Zadok.
Zadok became the father of Achim,
Achim the father of Eliud,
Eliud the father of Eleazar.
Eleazar became the father of Matthan,
Matthan the father of Jacob,
Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary.
Of her was born Jesus who is called the Christ.

Thus the total number of generations
from Abraham to David
is fourteen generations;
from David to the Babylonian exile, fourteen generations;
from the Babylonian exile to the Christ,
fourteen generations.

But upon meditating on it, I realized this reading suggests more. This spans 42 generations. There are plenty of predictions in the Torah of the coming of a Messiah and yet after 42 generations the Jewish people didn’t recognize the Messiah when he arrived. It’s been roughly 26 generations since Jesus appeared and most Jews still don’t recognize Jesus as the Messiah.

Ever since the emergence of Christianity, Christians have tried to convert the Jews. At times they have even tried to force the conversion of the Jews. But recently, Pope Francis said that it’s time to stop. And this made me wonder if that’s just Francis speaking or if he was inspired by God to say that. And further, it made me wonder if that’s not just a message to Christians (Catholics in particular), but also to Jews. Is their window of opportunity to recognize Jesus as the Messiah closing?

Or perhaps this is a message from God to Christians to stop picking on His chosen people. God gave the Jewish people an abundance of rules for living rightly and cleansing themselves of sin. Perhaps those who need to firm up their faith in Jesus aren’t the Jews but the “Christians” who spend way too much time focusing on what others believe and how they act than how they themselves act and what they themselves believe.

Or maybe it’s just a reminder of the long road to redemption. Moses led the Israelites through the desert for 40 years. There were 42 generations from Abraham to Jesus. Twenty-six or so more after Jesus till now. And humanity still has trouble with Jesus’ two most commandments: Love God with all of your heart, all of your mind, and all of your soul, and love your neighbor as yourself — especially that last part.  And if they aren’t getting the last part right, they likely aren’t getting the first part right.

“Blessed is the one who takes no offense at me”

This one may come out of left field for you. But please indulge me for a moment. It is based on today’s reading from Luke 7:18-23.

John the Baptist has sent his disciples to Jesus to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?”

At this time, Jesus has been doing many amazing works, curing people of their diseases and sufferings, ridding them of evil spirits, and granting sight to the blind. So Jesus tells John the Baptist’s disciples, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the good news proclaimed to them. And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me.

For John the Baptist, it is a matter of ensuring that Jesus is the one he is prophesying is to come, which Jesus assures him he is. As a sign, here are all these works that Jesus has accomplished. But to further reassure John, Jesus tells him, blessed is he who takes no offense in Jesus.

That’s kind of an odd statement, especially when we know that Jesus and John the Baptist are cousins. Surely John must have realized who Jesus was or is. This is where it comes out of left field for me.

Perhaps there’s a lesson in it for us in modern times. I think of all the things we hear about religion and faith and the Bible. All the things the religious preach and all the causes they take up. And I think of how often they forget to preach about Jesus himself. It’s not that the miracles he worked were his most important works, as life changing as they were for those involved. Indeed, many miracles continue to be attributed to him and they continue to be life changing. But often those miracles are made a side show for something else preached in Jesus name. And those can be offensive to many.

So this last line, “And blessed is he who takes no offense at me” jumps out at me as being from a Jesus who calls out to all who see the freak shows that are organized religion, which talk about all manner of other things but forget to talk Jesus and his messages and in the process turn off many people. He’s saying, “Please, don’t turn away from me because of them.”

When others seem to preach hate or call for injustice or say other terrible things in Jesus’ name, it isn’t Jesus who is calling for those things. Please don’t take offense at him because of them. Jesus loves us all. He speaks of it all the time in the Gospels. Those others who would speak in his name have just lost their way, and he has called them out in other scripture readings. And perhaps that was also Jesus’ message to John the Baptist, who may have heard conflicting accounts of Jesus even in his own time.

“Take no offense at me.” When you want to know, What would Jesus do or what would Jesus say, go to the source: The Gospels. Forget what the haters and the beraters say. In a way, that’s what John the Baptist did.

“Time will prove where wisdom lies”

Today’s reading from Matthew 11:11-15 seems like a simple one. But I assure you that when combined with the rest of Chapter 11 it is a most complex one.

Let’s begin with the text.

Jesus is instructing the crowds about John the Baptist. “I solemnly assure you, history has not known a man born of woman greater than John the Baptizer. Yet the least born into the kingdom of God is greater than he. From John the Baptizer’s time until now the kingdom of God has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force. All the prophets as well as the law spoke prophetically until John. If you are prepared to accept it, he is Elijah, the one who was certain to come.”

Here the reading seems to instruct us that John the Baptist and the prophets before him were foretelling of Jesus’ coming. And so in this particular section it is.

I always advise reading the whole chapter surrounding a reading to get Jesus’ full meaning.

Before this section, Jesus is asked by John the Baptist’s disciples if Jesus is “He who is to come?” And Jesus sends them back to John affirming that he is. As John’s messengers leave Jesus turns to the gathered crowd to speak of John the Baptist. “What did you go out to the wasteland to see,” he asks, “a reed swaying in the wind? Tell me, what did you go out to see – someone luxuriously dressed? Remember, those who dress luxuriously are to be found in royal palaces. Why then did you go out – to see a prophet? A prophet indeed, and something more! It is about this man that Scripture says, ‘I send my messenger ahead of you to prepare your way before you.'”

And after the section for today’s reading, Jesus warns the crowd, “Heed carefully what you hear!” And he goes on.

“What comparison can I use to describe this breed? They are like children squatting in the town squares, calling to their playmates: “We piped you a tune but you did not dance! We sang you a dirge but you did not wail!”

“In other words, John appeared neither eating nor drinking, and people say, ‘He is mad!’ The Son of Man appeared eating and drinking, and they say, ‘This one is a glutton and drunkard, a lover of tax collectors and those outside the law!’ Yet time will prove where wisdom lies.

And then Jesus goes on to call out the towns where he had worked most of his miracles but where they had not responded to his ministry. It ends with a beautiful prayer to His Father.

So what are we to make of all this? Jesus was legitimizing the role of John the Baptist to precede Jesus’ coming as the savior. And at the same time, Jesus was warning the people in the crowd about those in positions of power, especially in the Church and the Church community, who coerce the faithful for their own ends. People who dress luxuriously are to be found in royal palaces – places of power. The least born into the kingdom of God are greater than John the Baptist – he frequently points out that those who are like children are closest to him and that the least among us shall be the greatest among us (the last shall be first and the first shall be last).

Jesus is the savior and he was announced in Jesus’ time by the prophet, John the Baptizer. We have many today who try to act as prophets dressed in fine clothes and proclaiming many things in Jesus name, but do they do it to the glory of God or for their own glory and power?  Are they saving souls or building bank accounts? Are they predicting the second coming of Christ or legitimizing their own ministry? Are they calling out the sinful or making a name for themselves?

Perhaps the most insightful lines of all are Jesus’ exhortation to “Heed carefully what you hear” and that last line, “Time will prove where wisdom lies.”


This morning when I woke up, God whispered soothingly to me, “Fear not.” And when I came in to read today’s readings, the beginning to Isaiah 41:13 was

“I am the LORD, your God,
who grasp your right hand;
It is I who say to you, ‘Fear not,
I will help you.’”

How comforting is that!