Second Sunday of Easter by Rev. JoAnn Huber
Acts 5: 12-16 Psalm 118: 2-24 Revelation 1:9-19 John 20:19-31
I love the readings in the Easter season leading us to Pentecost. They strongly
invite us to live out the teaching and modeling of Jesus love and mercy, and show
us too, how others attempted to do so. They also remind us of the basis of our
faith – Jesus lives!
Many signs and wonders were done by the apostles – the people esteemed
them but none dared to join them our first reading says. Many believed in the
power of Jesus after they saw the Apostles working miracles yet still could not
“give up’ their old confidence in the established religious authorities. Less risky to
stay put even though the witness of all who were being healed/cured was
wonderful. In James 1:22 it says,” Obey Gods message! Don’t fool yourselves by
just listening to it!
The author of Revelation finds himself on Patmos- a small island where
Romans sometimes kept prisoners. He was condemned for his faith and his
teaching. He sees and hears a vision rich in symbol. Verse 16 was left out of
today’s reading a part of which pictures “a doubled edged sword coming out of
his mouth”. This sword is the word of God that irresistibly penetrates the heart
and is then fulfilled in events. It deals death as effectively as it saves! If we want
fullness of life we must always die to something/lose something. A hard choice.
We can’t be lukewarm or risk free. God wants all of us and modeled for us what
John is also using “I am” statements. I am the first and the last; I am the living
one. I died but now I am alive for evermore. Unspoken, yet there is again the
invitation, “Join me”!
In the Gospel the disciples were very afraid and in hiding behind locked doors.
Jesus enters and says “Peace be with you.” When they see his hands and side they
recognize him with rejoicing. Again Jesus says peace be with you and says “as I
have been sent so I send you”. He then breathes on them the gift of the Spirit.
“Whose sins you forgive are forgiven.” This message is for all the disciples – not
just the apostles – which is of course all of us as well On another visit Thomas,
called Didymas, which means twin, according to John, shows up after having
missed the first visit from Jesus. Jesus again says peace be with you and invites
Thomas to touch the wounds. Does not say that Thomas touched. Thomas saw
and responded, “My Lord and my God” – a statement of faith. In the Gospel of
Thomas, Thomas is said to be Jesus spiritual twin in that he saw that God’s light
was shared by all – in everyone open to receive. He saw Jesus and his heart was
opened for all. Some believe it was Thomas who then traveled to the east to
evangelize where he learned even more about non-duality.
People who strive for a deeper spiritual life often suffer from a depth of
awareness of the universal presence of sin or wrongdoing. There is grief over the
imperfection. Forgiveness is the greatest gift – it always involves mercy and love.
The capacity to forgive is the only power able to release the great tensions within
humankind. It does not easily conquer hearts, yet it is an invaluable secret
treasure. One who does not know how to forgive does not know how to love
deeply. Forgiveness is a way of showing a more authentic love. Words like
forgiveness, love and even mercy can sometimes seem like mere jargon words –
not practical at all in the culture in which we live where we are taught to fight
back, get even, and have a judicial system that does not restore life.
January 30 – Gandhi’s death day – began the season of non-violence. April 4
we end the season of non-violence, as it is the day MLK Jr was killed. With
today’s gospel it seems fitting to speak of forgiveness and the power Jesus has
given us to forgive, as we recall the great modeling that Gandhi and King and so
many others demonstrated.
During the Civil Rights movement one Sunday morning King was preaching at
his church the day after his people had been severely beaten up. They were in
bandages and casts, were bruised and saddened and angry and he said to them,
“The forgiving act must always be initiated by the person who has been wronged,
the victim of some great hurt, the recipient of some great injustice, the absorber
of some terrible act of oppression.” Can we even imagine the difficulty of
hearing that message? How about allowing yourself to be beaten up and not
physically fighting back? King went on to say that, “Forgiveness is a catalyst
creating the atmosphere necessary for a fresh start and a new beginning.”
Another story I am fond of is one where a man took a daily bus ride and the bus
driver was consistently unfriendly, rude and offered his passengers only gruff
words and frowns. One rider was always friendly and encouraging toward the
driver. When asked how he could do that when met with such rudeness day after
day, the passenger responded. “I refuse to let this man dictate to me how I am
going to act.” This man made an act of the will, a decision, not to be led by
another’s negative behavior, nor to respond in kind but rather to act from a place
of freedom. A new beginning every time. NOT seeing the person who hurt you as
an enemy requires depth of understanding, great acceptance of self, and of the
other, and often a huge leap of faith! “Forgive them for they know not what they
do,” says Jesus.
The question is often not can I forgive, but, can I love enough, or how can I
show mercy? We are given deep responsibility to show mercy and love in our
forgiving actions. Who do we need to forgive? Who do we label enemy? From
where does our courage come? Forgivers are peacemakers and lovers and
followers in the footsteps of Jesus and Gandhi and King. We have good
teachers. Be not afraid. Christ lives!
You have a busy life with a to-do list longer than a voicemail from your mom, and even going to church is just another thing you have to get done. And don’t get me wrong, you love it once you’re there, you’re always glad you went, but by Monday at 3pm all those good, spiritual feelings can be a distant memory. With everything you have to get done, with all the places you have go, how can you get your time in with God and feel spiritually connected throughout your week?
The trick is, being aware of our opportunities and jumping on them like a five-year old on a trampoline! Spiritual things are fast and fluid and in-our-face. But we can miss them if we don’t know what we’re looking for; every action of our lives can be one big prayer offering to God. The scriptures say that we are living, eating, and breathing epistles, living love letters written by God.
You might miss the most spiritual moments if you’re not counting that genuine smile you gave your co-worker, the mercy you extend your brother, that nice text in response to your mom’s voicemail, the dollar you gave at the corner, the full attention you gave that child, or the quick ball toss you played with Spot. These things are spiritual when done in love, and they count to God, so let them count to you and feed you spiritually.
Spiritual hunger pangs feel something like the following: you feel lacking and anxious, your brain is shuffling the same playlist of worries, simple problems keep you stumped, the opinion of others matter to you way too much, you want and need something but you can’t put your finger on it; get the picture?
You need to eat! Spiritually, that is, and here are a few suggestions besides the cool stuff you already do every day that you can count as spiritual!
- Listen to a good sermon on your phone while getting ready or while driving,
- Read a quick scripture from Colossians while your bread is toasting.
- Download praise music on your phone and sing in the shower.
- On a coffee break, offer a prayer of thanks to God.
- During the next break, tell Him you’re listening for His voice.
- Go for a short walk and smile on purpose.
God is doing life with you, so don’t be so hard on yourself and realize that your life’s moments can be turned into one big prayer offering to God. You gotta eat!
We have a unique opportunity during the first month of the year to ignite the power within us, using the fresh inspiration of the season, to realize more of who we are in Christ.
Adhering to God and His Word(s) becomes our launching pad, “…for without me you can do nothing. For those of you who adhere to me and my words take hold [become strong] in you, whatever you wish [are satisfied with] to ask for, you shall have” John 15:5b, 7 from the Aramaic.
Notice the phrase, “Whatever you…are satisfied with…you shall have.” It’s becoming clear to me, that much of what we receive from God, or experience as the over-arching theme of our story, is more determined by what we are willing to live with, rather than what God actually desires to manifest in our lives.
We watched God become himself in the life of Jesus on the earth; we beheld his glory (John 1). God expressed his nature, his intentions in Christ Jesus and gave us a beautiful example of how life could be. Jesus was the will of God in action.
Acts 10:38 tells us that Jesus was anointed with the Holy Spirit and with power, and everywhere he went he did good things for people, and brought healing to all those who were oppressed by the devil. God isn’t oppressing us, God isn’t putting sickness on us; God is good to us, God is healing us, God is bringing forth his life in us.
Becoming familiar with the revelations in the Bible, adhering to God by the Holy Spirit, and keeping an internal dialogue of prayer going in our heart, are ways to keep our mind open to receiving the good things God has for us in Christ.
During this month of fresh inspiration, be encouraged that God is for you not against you (Romans 8:31), and if you have been satisfied, or settling, with less than God’s good intention for you, you can begin changing that today.
Starter prayer: Father, thank you for showing me your good will for me in the life of Jesus. I want the life you lived in him to live big in me this year. I believe you are good and have good intentions for me. Open my heart to your Word, and please show me what it looks like to adhere myself to you. Thank you for all that you’re doing in me, with me, through me and for me. Let my life glorify you in all my ways. Amen.
Proverbs 10:22 AMPC, “The blessing of the Lord—it makes [truly] rich, and He adds no sorrow with it [neither does toiling increase it].” And in the NIV translation: “The blessing of the Lord brings wealth, without painful toil for it.”
I’ve been meditating on this scripture for days, and the more I do the more receptive I am to the blessing of the Lord on our lives and in our business.
To toil means to work extremely hard or incessantly, to grind away, work one’s fingers to the bone, put one’s nose to the grindstone, work one’s butt off, sweat blood; literally to travail. An exhausting life of toil, hard work, drudgery, ‘blood, sweat and tears’.
There’s a difference between fulfilling, productive work and an exhausting work-life of drudgery.
Jesus had something to say to the fisherman, Simon Peter, after a long night of fishing and catching nothing.
Luke 5:3-5 NKJV: Then He [Jesus] got into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, and asked him to put out a little from the land. And He sat down and taught the multitudes from the boat. When He had stopped speaking, He said to Simon, “Launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” But Simon answered and said to Him, “Master, we have toiled all night and caught nothing; nevertheless at Your word I will let down the net. And when they had done this, they caught a great number of fish, and their net was breaking. So they signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink.”
I wonder what Jesus was teaching that day from Simon’s boat? I wonder if it was about a new way of doing business that would bless the believer with success beyond his or her natural ability.
Notice that Simon Peter had toiled all night to make a living and work his business to no avail. But when Jesus told him to try again but this time with the power of trust in his Word it made all the difference for Simon Peter and his business partners. I bet the adrenaline rush of catching a net-breaking, boat-sinking haul quickly replaced the drudgery he felt about going out to fish the next night. I even expect that it forever changed the way he approached his business.
Today, let’s seek to hear what the Lord is saying to us about our business and act with trust, fully confident that the blessing of the Lord makes us truly rich without painful toil.
Upon waking this morning I felt cold and closed-off toward my usual practice of thanksgiving and prayer. Instead of joy and ambition to commune with God, I felt distant from God and hesitant about how to yield my mind. Frankly, I didn’t feel like God was awaiting me with open arms and honestly, I felt shunned. Have you ever felt this way?
Sometimes our minds can play tricks on us and cause us to imagine concepts that make us feel things that are simply not true. I believe this is what was happening in my mind early this morning and I desperately desired to change how I felt. I didn’t want to stay closed. So, I offered a short, quiet prayer asking the Holy Spirit to help me open my heart, and then I turned to the written Word…the Holy Scriptures. I started with two beautiful prayers in Ephesians 1 and 3, and allowed the alchemy of Spirit-inspired words spoken with my voice to work in my heart and woo me to open myself to God.
As I read and prayed my eyes were drawn to the following passages that absolutely transformed the way I was feeling and freed me to open my heart to communion with God:
“Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.” Ephesians 2:19, 21-22 NKJV.
“For it pleased the Father that in [Christ] all the fullness should dwell, and by Him to reconcile all things to himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross. And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind (italics mine) by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight.” Colossians 1:19-22
After reading these passages it was very clear to me that how I felt was actually contrary to the truth. You see, THIS is the truth about who we are and how God relates to us and my feelings upon waking were not accurate. The truth is, we are not shunned by God but we have been reconciled to God. The truth is, we are not distant from God but we have been brought near to Him. The truth is, we are not enemies or strangers to God but we are citizens and members of His household.
Notice that Colossians reads that we were “alienated and enemies in our minds…” Isn’t that powerful? That the feeling of being alienated from God comes from the mind, and once we are reminded of the truth that we are not alienated from God, the mind can change. And let’s go one step truer, we are actually the dwelling place of God in the Spirit and we can’t get much closer to God than that!
Needless to say my feelings changed, my morning practice was invigorated and I was relieved to receive the truth of these beautiful words in to my heart along with brand new feelings toward God. Join me?
Meditation for Mind Renewal: I am not an enemy, a stranger or a foreigner to God. I am a friend, a citizen and a member of God’s household in Christ. I am a friend of God. I am a child of God and I am without blame in His sight. I am the dwelling place of God in the Spirit. God is not mad at me, nor is God shunning me. I am at peace with God and my mind is being renewed to this transformative truth even now. Thank you Holy Spirit for opening my heart and showing me how close I really am. Amen.
Do you see it? The hawk with outstretched wings effortlessly positioned in mid-air upon the ocean breeze? I took this picture with my phone last month while visiting the pacific coast. This hawk had my full attention as I watched the breeze lift him, and hold him, and position him in the most beautiful way high above the earth without much struggle on his part. In fact it seemed that he didn’t struggle to maintain, or strain, at all.
The first chapter of Ezekiel describes a beautiful vision of being in God’s presence. Verse 25 says, “And there came a voice from above the expanse over their heads as they stood still with lowered wings.”
What is the significance of these words: “They stood with lowered wings”? People often ask, “How can I hear the voice of The Lord?” This is the secret: these “living creatures” (v.5) heard the voice when “they stood still with lowered wings.” We have all seen a bird flutter its wings while standing in place. But in this verse, we are told that “there came a voice … as they stood still with lowered wings.”
Lately, I have tried to stand still before The Lord to hear what the Spirit is saying to me, for my life, right now, and yet I feel that my mind is fluttering out of control. My thoughts flap around me making it nearly impossible to stand still and hear God’s voice.
Oh, how much energy we waste! How much time we lose by refusing to lower the wings of our spirit and become totally still and quiet before Him! The fluttering of our own attempts to fix things, figure things out, defend or promote ourselves. Oh the peace we would enjoy if we simply became still before The Lord and allow the wind of His Spirit to lift us high above the problems we face and give us a new vantage point.
Starter prayer to get still: “Holy Spirit, I desire your wind to lift me above my circumstances today, and to give me a fresh perspective of my situation. Help me to be still, to lower my wings and know your voice today. I choose not to flutter in your presence but instead to be calm, and trust you in a brand new way. Thank you for your unfailing love and patience with me. I trust you, and because of Christ Jesus I can pray this way. Amen.”
(Some concepts in this meditation were taken from, “Streams in the Desert: 366 Daily Devotional Readings”, L.B. Cowman, June 16th)
While preaching this Sunday a phrase came out of my mouth in a way I had never considered quite like it before. It’s about the grace of God and how it works in our souls, in our situations, and in our relationships similar to how grease does on gears. Merriam Webster says that grease causes to occur smoothly; to hasten the process or progress of; to smooth the way; facilitate. High quality gear oil increases stability, load-carrying capacity, rust protection, and prevents premature wear.
This word picture has been growing in my imagination about the grace of God in our lives, or the way it came out of my mouth Sunday, “The grease of God.”
The scriptures are smeared with the concept of the grace of God, especially in the New Testament. And some of our favorite hymns are about the amazing, great and awesome grace of God. Also, we know that our sins are forgiven because of the unlimited grace of God. But to consider the grace of God as grease, or gear oil, that literally works in our daily lives to ease our situations, to cause acceleration in a process, to make the gears of a business deal shift forward with ease; or for that relationship that rubs you the wrong way to function the right way.
Hebrews 4:16, “Let us draw near with boldness to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and grace to help us just when we need it.”
James 4:6, “But God gives us even more grace, as the Scripture says, ‘God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble.’”
May all of us accept more grace today by first humbly acknowledging to God that we need it, and then expect that it will begin working just like the scriptures promise.
Prayer for more grace: “Gracious, giving God, your Word says that I can approach you boldly and receive mercy and grace to help in my time of need. Please grease my life with your wonder-working grace today. I trust that you hear me when I pray, and I delight with confidence that you are responding to me even now. Thank you for more grace and for more awareness of you working in my life today. It’s through Christ Jesus I pray, amen.”
The meaning behind “Maundy Thursday,” also known as “Holy Thursday,” can be acknowledged in your heart, and acted out in your life by doing what Jesus commanded the disciples during the last meal He shared with them before he was betrayed.
The word Maundy is derived from the Latin word for “commandment,” and refers to this beautiful command Jesus gave the disciples: “Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples – when they see the love you have for each other.” John 13:34-35
This command came on the heels of Jesus humbling himself before each of them, and washing their feet before the meal. He did this as an example for us to serve one another and to love one another.
Two important events are the focus for “Maundy Thursday:” Loving and serving one another. And you can participate wherever you find yourself today; whether you be traveling, working alongside colleagues, reading the news, at dinner with family, or alone with your memories of the past or worries for the future.
Participate by first allowing your heart to receive the love that is being offered by this Christ, allow it to fill your heart, and then let it spill over to the ones you find right in front of you.
May each of us experience the reality of love in action today and always.