John 6:38 Jesus said, “I am the Bread of Life. The person who aligns with me hungers no more and thirsts no more, ever.
This is a pretty outrageous claim that Jesus is making here. Can you imagine never getting hungry again? I can rarely make it from meal to meal without wanting a snack in between (I’m munching on an apple as I write this). Of course, Jesus is talking about spiritual hunger and thirst here, not physical. Just the same, I don’t know anyone who claims to have complete contentment in his or her spiritual life. We live with ups and downs, hopes and doubts, moments of intimacy with God and times of apparent abandonment. So is Jesus just blowing smoke here? I don’t think so. I’m hungry and thirsty a lot but not to the point of real need. I may want more but I never fear starving or dehydration. Maybe Jesus is using a little hyperbole here to let us know that the fulfillment he provides is substantive if not exhaustive. What I mean is that what Jesus does for us as the bread of life makes a real difference in our inner lives, a difference that is solid and lasting and satisfying, even if it still ebbs and flows. Even Jesus experienced the anguish of the Garden of Gethsemane and the suffering of the cross. The folks who wrote the gospels had their share of persecution and disappointment. Yet through all that they were willing to proclaim that the reality of their faith was still enough to keep them going. Maybe there are more ways to feed on this bread of life than we a willing to try and maybe we would hunger and thirst even less if we were more accepting of this nourishment. But beyond our effort, or lack thereof, is the presence of Christ through faith that in its most basic form is enough in itself. Have a slice of that bread this week.
Luke 9:28 About eight days after saying this, he climbed the mountain to pray, taking Peter, John, and James along. While he was in prayer, the appearance of his face changed and his clothes became blinding white.
Thus begins Luke’s account of what we call the Transfiguration. The traditional churches always take note of this on the last Sunday before Lent. The gospel writers view this event as a glimpse of Christ’s glory that gave strength to the disciples as they followed Jesus to Jerusalem and witnessed the suffering he experienced there. The church uses this event in the same way as we figuratively journey with Jesus during Lent. The interesting thing about Luke’s account is that he alone of the gospel writers frames the action with prayer. Maybe the other authors assumed their readers would know that Jesus took the three disciples apart to pray and that, of course, that’s what Jesus was doing when Moses and Elijah showed up. Luke doesn’t want to leave any room for his readers to miss that point and states it plainly. In our culture we often think of Lent in terms of giving up something: candy, TV, whatever. But giving up something is only significant if it makes extra, special time and space to focus on God. More than anything else, Lent is a call to prayer. It is an opportunity to come away from all the motion and stress of the regular routine and be still in the presence of the creator and redeemer of the world. It just may be that like the disciples in this story, in doing so, we will see Jesus in a new or deeper way. Take the gift of Lent this year, the gift of carving out an added place in your life to be with God.
Mark 4:33-34: With many stories like these, he presented his message to them, fitting the stories to their experience and maturity. He was never without a story when he spoke. When he was alone with his disciples, he went over everything, sorting out the tangles, untying the knots. (The Message Bible)
My encounter with the Stephen Sondheim musical Into the Woods was a very meaningful experience for me. It expressed certain ideas in a beautiful and powerful way, some of which have stayed close to my heart for many years now. In one song he reminds us: “Careful the tale you tell, that is the spell. Children will listen.” The stories Jesus told he told purposefully and we need to listen to them with our hearts as well as our ears (or eyes if you read). And we also need to be mindful of the stories we tell with our words and actions. Are we being just as purposeful? Children of all ages listen attentively to those stories whether we are aware of it or not. Jesus’ stories were stories of forgiveness and compassion and comfort and the mystery of God’s kingdom in us. How about yours? “Careful the tale you tell, that is the spell. Children will listen.”
Matthew 25:22,23: The servant with the two thousand showed how he also had doubled his master’s investment. His master commended him: ‘Good work! You did your job well. From now on be my partner.’
Jesus is telling a story here about people who were given money for which they were responsible. Two traded with the money (like the person mentioned above) and one just hid it to keep it safe. One of the interesting things about this story is the reward that the trading servants received- more responsibility. We would rather have a vacation or a party, and those can be great things. But Jesus says these folks were given the opportunity to be a bigger part of the action. Athletes understand this. They want to carry the ball more or be up to bat with the winning run on base or take the winning shot with time running out. Artists understand this. They want their success to lead to new opportunities for creativity. According to Jesus, life with God is like that. Finding joy in what God is doing and seeking to be faithful to the role we’ve been given. Even with setbacks and challenges living this way is full and rich. Too many people live their lives each day wishing they were somewhere else, with someone else, doing something else. I’ve been there and done that myself. It’s not a great way to live. This week look at your life from the perspective of what God is doing in you and those around you. See if there isn’t some goodness in living this way that you’ll want to be a bigger part of!
Matthew 18:12: “If someone has a hundred sheep and one of them wanders off, doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine and go after the one?”
Another sheep story. It may be hard for us to relate to shepherds in this day and age but the massage is clear. There are things we love so dearly that we would risk the safety and comfort of the rest of our lives in order to pursue their welfare. If you have children this is a no-brainer. Parents regularly set aside the maintenance of daily life to tend to the problems and pains of a child in need. There are two implications here. First, God loves and seeks us out in this way while we are lost and wandering away from God. Even when the world feels like a cold and heartless place, God is calling us into God’s care. The second implication is that God is doing the same thing for those around us. God’s heart goes out to them no matter what our assessment of them may be. In fact, we even get to be junior shepherds, God’s agents to show the way back to the flock. Where are you this week? Do you need to listen for the voice of love calling you back? Do you need to be the voice of love for someone else? As the Psalm says, “The Lord is my shepherd.”
Matthew 12:11,12: Jesus replied, “Is there a person here who, finding one of your lambs fallen into a ravine, wouldn’t, even though it was a Sabbath, pull it out? Surely kindness to people is as legal as kindness to animals!” Then he said to the man, “hold out you hand.” He held it out and it was healed. (The Message Version)
There is an old story about a person that went to a hotel needing a room for the night only to be told there were no rooms available. Being really tired and not wishing to look further the person asked, “You mean to tell me if the President was coming here tonight you would have a room for him?” Thinking the person might be an advance worker for the President the clerk replied, “Why certainly, for the President we would find a room.” Triumphantly the customer responded, “Well, I’ve got news for you. The President’s not coming tonight so give me his room.” The point is that we find a way when we want to badly enough. That’s the point Jesus was making to the people in this passage. They were on his case about healing on the Sabbath. His point was that you don’t use rules as an excuse for not doing good or not caring for people. We make excuses in our lives all the time and certainly we can’t do everything. But maybe we look for excuses at times because we just don’t want to do the right thing. I think most of us know what God wants from us in most situations but we might not want to develop the habit of looking at life from God’s perspective. Yet when we feel the need for God we somehow find the time and the way to try and get God’s attention. It is possible to make those times more the norm than the exception. That is, if we don’t simply make excuses. Maybe this week you can get one of your lambs out a ravine.