As Jesus followers we are called into the Kingdom Life. This blog will help us converse and learn what that means. It will contain thoughts on Scripture, Sermon Reflection, Leadership Training and interesting reads. -Pastor Jeff

Friday, June 2, 2017

Day 24: Donkeys, Donkeys, and More Donkeys

Episode VI: Introducing the Story of Jesus
Poised for hope, but discouraged by the tardiness of God, they groaned for redemption.  And then, in the most unseemly of places, a promise is made to couple of yet-to-be married peasants.  They were to have a child, and this child was to be the One for whom all of Israel, and all the world longed for.  This Child would be special, the very presence of God in their midst (Emmanuel) and the one who saves (Jesus).  But his birth wouldn’t be the one expected of a great leader, there was no palace or court, no power or wealth.  There was only a cave on the side of a hill, a stable in the town of Bethlehem, among the sheep and donkeys, in a hidden hole under the shadow of Herod’s temple, the Roman Ruler’s Jewish puppet.  This was the hope of Israel?
Little is told of his story until he reaches the age of 30, the age in which Rabbis gather around them students.  This man, Jesus, makes his way throughout the land gathering the most unlikely group of world-changers, men from the working class, violent men, liars and cheats, women of ill repute, beggars, lame, and outcasts.  He calls them!  And they follow, into the uncertainty, into the unknown, into the difficult and disruptive moments, into the conflict and misunderstandings, and they follow.  As Jesus calls, he speaks, and his message is simple, The Kingdom of God has come near.  It is the space of God’s Reign and power.  It is a space in which the righteousness of God is witnessed.  And we only participate as we surrender our lives totally to this Kingdom.

But this wasn’t the Kingdom that many were looking for.  They wanted armies.  They wanted might.  They wanted restored fortunes. They wanted their enemies to suffer.  But Jesus said in His Kingdom, we bless our enemies and pray for them.  In His Kingdom we aren’t measured by what we gather to ourselves but what we’ve given away for others.  Power is determined by our capacity to love others.  His army is a rag-tag bunch of misfits, vagabonds, and ragamuffins.

Wherever Jesus places his feet, whether in Galilee, Samaria, Gentile lands, or Jerusalem, those that witness his work or hear his word are given a glimpse of a redeemed world, a world brought under God’s redemptive designs.  It’s a world where the blind see, the poor hear good news, and those oppressed by the unruly forces of darkness are freed.  It’s a world where the exploited and forgotten are valued, where there are no lost causes, and where those cast down by the judgements and prejudice of others are lifted up.   It’s a world that’s turned upside down, where the greatest are least, and where servanthood is preferred over authority.  In His Kingdom vision, those that for too long had taken for granted their place of “favor” or “election,” those that consider themselves the “in crowd” of God’s people are often left standing outside looking in, where humility trumps position, dependence on grace trumps self-righteousness, and a spirit of mercy is preferred over rule-following.

And so the stage is set, the tension is mounting.  The Kingdom of God has now come into conflict with our Kingdoms, the way we want it.  And at every turn Jesus is pushing, challenging calling into question our stories and assumptions, our attitudes and intentions.  He is piercing the heart and pulling back the veil.  He is displaying faithful living!  He is showing the true sign of holiness.  He is living in perfect harmony with the will of the Father and calling those that follow to do the same.  He is calling into question the agendas of the powerful, the rich, and the hypocrisy of religious leaders.  Followed by the  fringe folks, the prostitutes, the tax collectors and the untouchable lepers, where ever he goes things are shaken up.  There is fervor building.  There is a threat mounting.  This Kingdom of Jesus is not safe for the status quo.

After nearly three years of public ministry, Jesus mounts the back of a donkey and rides into Jerusalem in anticipation of an epic showdown.  The Hope of Redemption would meet the Powers of Oppression.  God in the flesh would meet the gods made by those in flesh.  What would the result of such a confrontation be?

Let’s take another look at Luke 17:
Ok…so today let’s finish out Luke chapter 17.  In reading the story of the Lepers, ask yourself the question, “Is there a difference between being fixed and being made well.”  Jesus seems to “fix” all the lepers, but only the one that returns is declared to having been made well.  Also, Jesus then addresses something the Religious Leaders were struggling with, the Kingdom of God.  Notice how those you’d expect to get it seem to miss it.  What might it mean in your life to believe, “Whoever tried to keep their life will lose it?”

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Day 23: From Rags to Waiting

Episode 5:  Exile through Ezra
Exile is a place of despair, anguish, loss, and hopelessness.  There is a tyranny in the monotony of “more of the same.”  Some give in and give up.  Some acquiesce and find their place among the oppressors.  Others, a few, a small remnant, maintain a faithful hope, an expectant leaning forward into the possibilities of what might be.  Though Exile is a place that taunts us with the weight of nothingness, courage is mustered by some to refuse to give Exile the last word.

After decades in Exile, the people of Israel would again cry out.  Remember, God responds to the suffering.  Through the mouths of the prophets now come words of comfort and prophetic hope, the imaginative, creative, poetic language that evokes the possibilities of newness, a fresh story.  “I will not remain angry forever.” God says.  “I will forgive.” He promises.  “I will prepare a way through the desert, making the crooked road straight, and the hills level.”  “I will lead you home.”  The promise of home.  This is the theme of hope in Exile.  God is a deliverer from oppression and tyranny, the restorer of all good things.  God is able amidst the forces of domination and perversion to cut a highway in the desert.  He alone has this power.  No idol, no god of the foreigners, no promise of prosperity from Babylon, only God can bring Hope from desperate straits.

And deliverance would come, in the most unexpected way.   It will come through the hands of foreign invaders, heathen powers from Persia.  It’s vicious kings, the likes of Cyrus, Xerxes, and Artaxerxes, would show favor upon this beat down people.  It is during this time, that resistance stories like Esther are told, stories that point to the unrelenting favor and faithfulness of God in the most precarious of places.  During this time, release from captivity would be granted.  First, Zerubbabel would be sent back with Jews to rebuild the infrastructure of the city and its temple.  Then Nehemiah, a simple servant of the Persian king, will lead back others to do the extraordinary, to rebuild the walls of protection around the city of Jerusalem in just over 50 days, an amazing, God-ordained feat.

Their hopes were to recover their former glory.  They wanted to become the power they once were, to restore the Temple as God’s inhabitance, and the politics of military strength.  Such glory would not be their destiny.  Ezra, a man well versed in the Law, returns to Jerusalem and launches a major religious renewal, reinstituting many of the former practices, rituals, and feasts, and bringing together the portions of the Scriptures in much more authoritative form.  However, they would remain in a precarious position, finding themselves time and time again under the thumb of foreign powers, the Greeks and then the Romans.  During this time, we have little account of God’s activity in the canon of Scripture (though we can find help from the Apocrypha – secondary literature that according to our faith tradition is not authoritative Scripture).  But Israel yearned, they hungered for a redeemer, someone to save and deliver them from the hands of their enemies.  They sought a Messiah! An anointed Ruler…a Chosen Leader from the family and line of David…and so they waited.

Continue on through Luke…you are doing great!
Well, we you’ve officially covered about 2/3’s of a book of the Bible!  That’s awesome.  And then Luke 17.  This one is hefty.  Do me a favor, take your time.  Let’s only look at Luke 17:1-10 for today.  There’s a lot here.  Jesus pushes us to think through the nature of our actions, forgiveness, our faithfulness, and obedience.  He does so in 10 VERSES!!  Sheesh, that’ll get you.  Imagine standing in the crowd…perhaps you’d just deceived someone and in so doing had led them astray.  Then listen to Jesus.  Maybe, someone you knew had recently sought forgiveness for their mistreatment of you, and then listen to Jesus.  Maybe you are used to thinking you deserve praise for all the good you do, then listen to Jesus.  What do you hear?  How are you affected?