May 31, 2015

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me...

For the next few weeks we’ll be looking at Isaiah 61. This is the scripture Jesus quoted when he read the scroll in the synagogue in Nazareth and announced ‘this day, this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.’ (Luke 4:21) It is a scripture that always gives me chills. In this series I’ll be taking time to consider what this means to me and I invite you along for the journey.
We’ll look at the various parts of the citation and what they could mean to us as a follower of Jesus. Today we start with Isaiah 61:1 “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted...”
How do I/we proclaim liberty, comfort those who mourn, repair and build up?
Last Sunday was Pentecost when we remember the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on those in the upper room. That Spirit is still active in our lives. As Isaiah proclaims, “the Spirit of the Lord is upon me”. Each of us can claim that promise. I like this image by Estella Canziani which shows the moment when the Spirit swept through the Upper Room transforming the frightened disciples into powerful witnesses for God.
Just like those first apostles, we are anointed daily by the Spirit to do God’s work. And what is that work we might ask? Immediately Isaiah answers we are to ‘bring good news to the oppressed/poor/afflicted/meek’ and ‘bind up/heal/help the brokenhearted’. How do we do something like that?
In God’s infinite ability to smile at what we humans propose to do…into my inbox on Thursday came a meditation based on this same reading which offers one answer! The Rev. Dr. Robert Fossett, pastor of the historic First Presbyterian Church of Greenville, Alabama, wrote
“…Jesus hands the scroll back and says, "Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." With Jesus, our Sabbath rest has come. The Sabbath days and years and the year of Jubilee were a sign of the redemption that God had promised to Eve, that one of her offspring would crush the head of the serpent and would make all things new, restoring what had been marred and broken by sin. Jesus is the fulfillment of that promise. Jesus is our Sabbath rest. Jesus is our Jubilee. When Jesus claims to fulfill the words of the prophet Isaiah, he promises to comfort the poor, free those who are in prison, and bring forth the Lord's favor. His ministry is filled with foretastes of what is to come when he returns again: he healed the sick, bound up and cast out demons, fed the hungry, gave sight to the blind, comforted and accepted the outcast, and resurrected the dead. All these things point forward to the rest God will give his people.
The day is coming when God will fully redeem his people. We long for this day to come and rightly we should pray often, "Come quickly, Lord Jesus, come quickly." But in the meantime, we are to keep the Sabbath…”
The only way we can even hope to be the hands and feet of Jesus to the oppressed, poor, afflicted, meek’ and to ‘bind up and heal the brokenhearted’ is to be grounded and rest in Jesus. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” says St. Paul (Philippians 4:13) When we rest in God and allow God to work through us, we can do great things. 

This week think about how the Spirit of the Living God fills you each day so that you can be part of the Body of Christ to the hurt of the world. Perhaps studying the image by Estella Canziani would inspire your meditations.
You might take time to read the rest of Fossett's blog postand to think about the questions posed by Pastor Fossett, or to offer the prayer he gave.

May 24, 2015

Pentecost Hymns

This is Pentecost Sunday when we remember the Holy Spirit filling the disciples in the upper room (Acts 2:1-4). The promise of our God is that the same Spirit lives in us and works through us! Pretty amazing!
Here are 2 hymns which invite the Spirit to be present in our lives. May the Spirit of the Living God infuse your life this Pentecost and in the future.
I’ve included the lyrics and a link to a video of the song itself. 

Holy Spirit by Kim Walker-Smith and Jesus Culture

There's nothing worth more
That could ever come close
No thing can compare
You're our living hope

Your presence, Lord
I've tasted and seen
Of the sweetest of loves
Where my heart becomes free
And my shame is undone
Your presence, Lord

Holy Spirit, You are welcome here
Come flood this place and fill the atmosphere
Your glory, God, is what our hearts long for
To be overcome by Your presence, Lord

There's nothing worth more
That could ever come close
No thing can compare
You're our living hope
Your presence, Lord
I've tasted and seen
Of the sweetest of loves
Where my heart becomes free
And my shame is undone
Your presence, Lord


Let us become more aware of Your presence
Let us experience the glory of Your goodness

Watch a video of this song here:

Spirit by James K. Manley

    Spirit, spirit of gentleness,
    Blow through the wilderness, calling and free,
    Spirit, spirit of restlessness,
    Stir me from placidness,
    Wind, wind on the sea.
1.  You moved on the waters,
    You called to the deep,
    Then You coaxed up the mountains
    From the valleys of sleep,
    And over the eons
    You called to each thing,
    "Awake from your slumbers
    And rise on your wings."
2.  You swept through the desert,
    You stung with the sand,
    And You gifted your people
    With a law and a land,
    And when they were blinded
    With their idols and lies,
    Then You spoke through Your prophets
    To open their eyes.
3.  You sang in a stable,
    You cried from a hill,
    Then You whispered in silence
    When the whole world was still,
    And down in the city
    You called once again
    When You blew through Your people
    On the rush of the wind.
4.  You call from tomorrow,
    You break ancient schemes,
    From the bondage of sorrow

    The captives dream dreams;
    Our women see visions,
    Our men clear their eyes.
    With bold new decisions
    Your people arise.

See the video here:

Over the next few weeks we’ll contemplate ways the Spirit of God is at work in and among us based on Isaiah 61. Happy Pentecost

May 17, 2015

Ascension...or Being a Skyhook

We are almost at the end of the season of Easter-the 50 days between Easter Day and Pentecost. One significant event that happens not long before Pentecost is the Ascension of Jesus.
Luke is the one Gospel writer who brings us the story of the Ascension. At the end of the Gospel of Luke (Luke 24:44-53) we hear Jesus summarizing his ministry by opening “[the disciples’] minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.’”
After this, they went to Bethany and “While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God.”
In the Book of Acts (Acts 1:1-14), also written by Luke, the first chapter picks up right where the Gospel ends. “In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning until the day when he was taken up to heaven.” Then he goes on to repeat Jesus’ promise. “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’ When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up towards heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up towards heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.’”
We are told that they returned to Jerusalem, “to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.”
The other 3 Gospels don’t specifically detail the Ascension. Mark notes that “the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God.” Matthew tells us that the disciples met Jesus at a mountain in Galilee where “they worshiped him; but some doubted.
What would it have been like to be a witness to the Ascension? Artists across the ages have imagined the scene. From the gathered crowd of haloed followers in the icon to the unusual view of Christ’s feet ascending (by Dali), we get a variety of images. 

Edward Hays in his book St. George and the Dragon and the Quest for the Holy Grail, somewhat tongue in cheek, suggests what would have happened if the disciples tried to grab onto Jesus and ascend with him.

“Once upon a time, long ago, a great spiritual master gathered all his disciples and followers around him…’My friends, it is now time for me to return to my Father…I will come back and take you with me to live forever in paradise.’
At this announcement the small band of faithful disciples wept and pleaded with him not to leave. But in spite of their tears and please, the Master took them out to a high mountain…then with his arms raised to the sky…he prayed, ‘Father I am ready.’ Slowly he began to rise from the earth…
One of [the disciples]…cried out, ‘O Master, don’t leave me…’ Suddenly the disciple jumped upward and grasped the Master’s ankle.
The Master stalled in midair…’Let go!’…he clung to the ankle even more persistently…
The mood on the mountain underwent a radical change…from deep sorrow to open anger…The rest of the followers began shouting to the disciple who dangled from the Master’s leg,.. ‘Let go, you fool!’
[Ultimately all the disciples end up hanging from the Master and one another]...Then, out of the forest…came bears and foxes, birds and bugs, flowers and bushed, and they too jumped upward…what had begun as a beautiful religious experience had suddenly been turned into a circus act!...
At that moment, the spiritual Master was enlightened!...he understood his true mission in life for the first time…His real purpose was to be a giant skyhook*.”

While that story may make us smile, in one sense it is very true. Jesus is a ‘giant skyhook’ who lifts us (and all creation) to heaven. And as little Christ’s we are also to be lifting one another toward heaven as well. We, like the disciples, are witnesses of Jesus life and ministry. Even more than that we are heirs. Paul tells the Galatians, "If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise." (Galatians 3:29) In Romans he goes further and says we are [God's] children, and because of that, we are heirs of the promises. "We are children...we are heirs--heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory." (Romans 8:17) The disciples knew that they were inheritors of God's promises because they were witnesses of Jesus in his ministry, his death, and his Resurrection! So are we!
If we look at the Gospel and Acts account, we notice that the disciples were actually joyful after the Ascension, instead of trying to hang onto the Risen Lord. They “returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God.” 
Is our Resurrection faith evidenced by joy and thanksgiving as witnesses to the mighty acts? 
Are we waiting with anticipation for the promised “power from on high”?
Do we live and act like we are lifting people up to God (like skyhooks)?

*A skyhook, for anyone who didn’t grow up in the construction industry in the ‘70’s and ‘80’s, used to be another name for a building crane. Apparently now it is a space elevator concept or a form of rigging used in some sports like skate boarding and sky diving. Edward Hays book has a copyright of 1987, so he was probably referring to a crane type apparatus.

May 10, 2015

Mother's Day Poem

Today is Mother’s Day in the United States. (If you are interested in the history behind Mother's Day, this is an interesting article.)

Some of us have mothers with us still. I have a friend whose mom is over 100. Few of us have that gift. My own mother died 18 years ago. There are mothers who are absent, so that other women (or men) have stepped in to take their place in the lives of children. Our God is mostly called “Father”, but God is just as much a Mother caring for her children. The creation poem by James Weldon Johnson represents God as a ‘mammy bending over’ to breathe life into the newly created human mud baby.
….Up from the bed of the river
God scooped the clay;
And by the bank of the river
He kneeled him down;
And there the great God Almighty
Who lit the sun and fixed it in the sky,
Who flung the stars to the most far corner of the night,
Who rounded the earth in the middle of his hand;
This great God,
Like a mammy bending over her baby,
Kneeled down in the dust
Toiling over a lump of clay
Till he shaped it in is his own image;
Then into it he blew the breath of life,
And man became a living soul.
Amen. Amen.

Excerpt from The Creation by James Weldon Johnson

Moms aren’t perfect, but moms offer the best of themselves to their children. Each of us, mother or not, bears some wounds from life. Yet it is despite those scars that mothers offer themselves to their children and families. This little poem is to all mothers, esp. to my own. 

Mother mine

I knew your love was always there
You protected me when life wasn’t fair.
Your discipline I didn’t like
When I was just a little tike.
When a mom myself, I soon learned
From your own wants you often turned.
Loving this child through all your days
Teaching me to walk only the best ways.
Imperfect though each mom may be
Love is what they give so freely.
Protection, nurture, hope and love
Blessing to all mothers from God above.
© Cynthia Davis 2015
Happy Mother’s Day!