John 1:29-50Sharon Taylor, The Lutheran Church of the Resurrection
The word "evangelism" makes many good Christians nervous. Perhaps it is because when we think of witnessing our faith to others we think of strong-arm tactics and Bible-quoting sales pitches. We think that making disciples is forcing faith in Jesus on others and convincing them why they must believe like we do. Yet, in the Gospel of John, we are given a very different picture of evangelism. The word itself comes from a Greek word that simply means "good news". Witnessing is simply sharing the good news of what God has done, and is still doing, in Jesus Christ. Evangelism is a pointing to God's grace and mercy. Evangelism is pointing to the source of our hope and trust. It is an invitation offered in love.
In our passage, John first models this for us. John the Baptist has his own little group of followers by now. Yet, he is clear to say that he is not the one for whom they have been waiting. So when the time is right, John points to Jesus, literally, and says, "Behold the Lamb that takes away the sin of the world". John says, "Here he is!" John points away from himself to Jesus, and that's when it all begins. Once they are looking at Jesus they become intrigued and the invitation is given. They ask Jesus, "Where are you staying?" He replies, "COME AND SEE." With that, the word began to spread. The excitement began to spread. Andrew told Simon. Philip told Nathanael. And when Nathanael's response was less than enthusiastic, Philip simply says, like Jesus did, "COME AND SEE"
This simple invitation is our calling. Someone pointed us to Jesus at some time in our lives. It may have been your parents, grandparents, a neighbor or a classmate. It may have been a friend who asked you to make quilts for refugees. When is the last time you pointed someone to Jesus? When is the last time you saw God working in your daily life and shared that with someone? When is the last time you invited someone to COME AND SEE? Our life in faith is a two-sided coin. One side says COME AND SEE. The other side says GO AND TELL.
As we prepare for The Church Has Left the Building, let us remember both.
Action Step: Reflect on who in your life you need to say "come and see."
Prayer: Dear Lord, please keep our eyes and ears keen to whom we need to point to you. Amen.
Welcome to Love the World: The Church Has Left the Building
One Sunday a year, a growing number of congregations launch out to be Jesus' hands and feet in countless community projects. What started in 2010 with Woodside Church in Yardley, PA is mushrooming into a movement of congregations.
The movement engages all ages in projects that bless local communities. In a single day, they stock pantries, deliver books to inner--city--school libraries, clean up the environment, lead worship for people in recovery, make meals for the homebound, build shelters for the homeless, sew dresses for Haiti, and so much more. It is truly a taste of heaven.
The day is really the culmination of 40 days of prayer, Bible reading, sermons, and small-group Bible studies. As we read about Jesus loving the lost and healing the hurting, momentum builds toward the day when we go out and follow in his steps.
Our theme is "Love the World: The Church Has Left the Building." Based on John 3:16, our outreach this year will focus on the way Jesus loved individuals in the Gospel of John. All the devotionals in this booklet are meditations on the book of John, encouraging us to love in Christ's name.
On Sunday, May 17, 2015, United Presbyterian Church will leave the building following worship to love the world in Jesus' name! We hope you will be inspired by this devotional to join us.
DAY ONE John 1:1--28
Carolyn Edwards, Faith Lutheran -- Northeast Philadelphia
Where do you see Jesus? As a life--long Lutheran, I have heard and read verses 1 thru 5 of this passage more times than I can remember, and yet
than as I read it again for this exercise, I have to read it more than once before it sinks in. With some help from my interpretive Bible, I learn that the Jews used the term 'the word' as an expression of God's wisdom. Now it starts to make sense, reminding me of what I have always known: In the beginning was God, who gave us the Light, which was Jesus. So if people want to know
God, they can look to Jesus. If people want to know Jesus, they can look to his followers. My Pastor once posed the question, 'Where do you see Jesus?' As we kick off these days of prayer leading up to May 17th, I think it is more important to ask "Do people see Jesus in you?' In a few short weeks, we will be taking our faith out into our communities. What a perfect opportunity to show our friends and neighbors what Jesus was like!
Prepare your heart, mind and body in the weeks leading up to May 17th.
Lord, help us to see Christ in others, and to show Christ to our world. Amen.
DAY FOUR John 2:13-25 Michael Capron, Hopewell Presbyterian Church
What was Jesus so angry about?
When I get to the movie theater, I have to buy a ticket and cannot bring in any outside food or drink. If I can't afford it, I don't see a movie and I go hungry & thirsty. When I come to Christian worship, I don't have to pay anything and they serve me the Lord's Supper for free (probably coffee hour goodies too!)
I don't think Jesus is angry about people doing business in church, or even turning a profit. It isn't about the money. It is about worship. They were holding worship hostage for those who could afford to pay. This is the reason he is especially angry at the sellers of doves--those were the animal sacrifices that very poor people offered.
For interesting comparisons, read Mark 12:41-44 and Matt 17:24-27.
What barriers are in your worship space that would keep newcomers away? Prayer: Lord God, help me to offer my whole self to you in worship: my attention, my mind, my praise, my talents and my money. Amen.
Israel was a dysfunctional family just like many of ours. In today’s story, the father, Jacob, has made the classic error of favoring one son over the others as symbolized in the long robe with sleeves he made for him. Apparently sleeves were a big deal back in those days. This would be like my parents buying me a Baracuda after having made my three sisters drive my car when it was available. Wait a minute, that is what happened in my family, only my parents bought my sister, Anne, a car and let me use it when it was available. You get my point. Every family has its problems, and no parent is fair all the time.
Anyway, Jacob’s other sons had taken their family flocks from the Valley of Hebron, where they lived, north to Shechem. This was a distance of 60 miles north and would have taken them through what is today the disputed territory of the West Bank. Why go 60 miles? Was the flock so big it ate that much grass? More likely they went to where the water was. Joseph’s brothers are infuriated when they see the fancy robe that Jacob made for Joseph. They proceed to throw Joseph in an empty well and then sell him into slavery. So much for brotherly love.
With a family like this how could God possibly accomplish anything? Take heart, o fellow member of a family dysfunctional. As we know, God used this episode for great good in the larger story. Joseph will later say to his brothers, “What you intended for evil, God intended for good.” The Spirit’s presence and intercession lead to God’s purpose being accomplished through the dysfunctional family which is us.
In the same way, Paul tells us in Romans 8, We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. ALL things work together for good. That’s a pretty encouraging thought. God in his sovereign grace is intent on making things work out, no matter how badly we’ve messed up. Just think about this for a minute.
You may have seen me weeding in the church garden and wondered, "What is Pastor Jean doing there? That's not her job!"
I have my reasons.
The most basic reason is it needs to be done. And in doing what needs to be done, I get to follow in the footsteps of our Savior. If Jesus saw a need, he responded to that need. Do you remember when Jesus healed the blind man on the Sabbath? What did the Pharisees and Sadducees think? He should be preaching on the Sabbath, not "working." But Jesus saw a need, he responded with compassion, and he healed the blind man. If we have the humility of Christ, who left his heavenly home to save the likes of us, then no job is beneath us if it needs to be done.
Another reason I like to work in the church garden is it gives me a chance to count my blessings. Whenever I am weeding, I am astounded at how fertile the Garden State is. God provides an abundance of sunshine and rain, warmth and nutrients in our corner of the world, so that we are showered with bumper crops practically every year. I also think about what a privilege it is to be able to do this work. In 3 weeks I will turn 60 years old, yet all my parts are still working pretty well! I can kneel to pull out weeds. I can see the beauty all around me. I can smell the flowers and hear the birds (not as well as I used to, but I can still do it!). I can taste the produce that comes from the earth. When you consider all the things God had to do to make this world a paradise of beauty and a cornucopia of abundance it is awesome, in the classic sense of the word.
But the most important reason I like to weed the church flower beds is because it allows me to honor God. The Psalmist wrote, "A day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than live in the tents of wickedness" (Psalm 84:10). The church is the house of God and deserves loving care. There is nowhere on earth I would rather be. To be on my knees in the Prayer Garden is about as close to heaven as I am going to get.
As Dorothy Frances Gurney puts it:
Kiss of the sun for pardon.
Song of the birds for mirth.
You're closer to God's heart in a garden
Than any place on earth.
There have been many people who have profoundly influenced my faith, but none more than my father, Richard Benefield, aka "The Jolly Fat Man of the Hotel Magee." Dad was a hotel manager and caterer whose worked tirelessly 7 days most weeks. He prepared me for the minister's life by working every weekend. But for him, work was not the center of his life, faith was.
My Dad's favorite verse of the Bible was Romans 12:1: "I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship." He found his particular calling later in the chapter, "We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching, the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness." God gave my Dad and abundance of most these gifts, though he considered he was especially blessed to be a generous giver.
One of the things my Dad used to say, which has been a guiding light for my own life, is: "If you love to serve others, you will always have something important to do and you will always be happy." He loved to serve his church, his community, and God's creation, and it made him a very happy man.
I remember when I was 12 years old, I went to the First Presbyterian Church of Bloomsburg, PA, for a worship service in which my Dad, an elder of that church, was installed as Moderator of Northumberland Presbytery. On Tuesday night, when I was installed as Moderator of Monmouth Presbytery, surrounded by my family and so many wonderful friends from United Presbyterian Church and the Monmouth Presbytery, I knew that my Dad was one of that "great cloud of witnesses" cheering us on from heaven (Hebrews 12:1).
My father was the one who helped light the torch of my faith, the Light of Christ that illumines my path in life and inspires me to share Christ's love and light with others. My prayer is that we might be the kind of Christians whose love for Christ and service for others inspires generations to come, just as my father's did.
This passage in Acts is about the Ascension of Christ into Heaven. Ascension Day is forty days after Easter – and ten days before Pentecost. And, of course on Pentecost we celebrate the out pouring and indwelling of the Holy Spirit – the act by which God empowered the church for its mission in the world.
In contrast, this Scripture passage involves a period of waiting -- It is a short and unusual time for the fledgling Christian community: Christ has ascended into heaven – His earthly ministry has been completed. But the Holy Spirit has not yet descended upon the church to empower it and inspire its mission. The fledgling Christian community is not yet the church in a real sense – that will not happen until Pentecost. Instead – we see a small group of believers waiting for God – waiting for help and his instruction about what to do next in life. I think we have all been in a situation like that. What do you do when you are waiting for God to act? Here are some thoughts on how we can faithfully wait for God.
First, hold onto the promises of the Scripture: God will act in His time. Jesus told the disciples: “It is not for you to know the times or the dates that the Father has set by his own authority.” It is hard to wait. We do not want to wait. We want to speak with God on our time – not on his. We want him to act – Now!!! We want God to act on our time – not on His. God will act – He always does – In his way – In his time – In His wisdom. Isaiah the Prophet reminds us: “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. And you will go out in joy and be led forth in peace.” Isaiah reminds us that the Lord has his time. The Lord will act in his time. The Lord will restore all things in his time.
Second, waiting for God should be a time of practical activity. The Book of Acts tells us that the disciples took care of some business. After Christ had ascended, Peter tells the disciples that they needed to replace Judas – to appoint a new disciple. So, they went about in a business-like fashion – They created a job description: The new disciple was to be a witness to the resurrection of the Christ. They specified the qualifications: The new disciple had to be a person who had been with them from the beginning. The disciples then looked at the candidates: There were two who fit the bill. Finally, the disciples took the practical step of invoking God in their decision making process: By casting lots they allowed God to chose between the two qualified candidates. Our own times of waiting for God should also be a very practical time. If we are waiting for God to solve the problem of starvation in Africa – we can also be doing something practical: We can give what we are able; we can support those who are there in Africa to bring relief; we can pray like the disciples. All of those things are very practical. If we are waiting for God to provide direction in our life activities – we can do something very practical while we wait: we can investigate our options; we can get the proper training; we can talk to other people, listening to their suggestions; e can pray for guidance. All of those things are very practical.
Third, the time of waiting should be a time of reflection. I imagine that the disciples used the ten day period from the Ascension to Pentecost for reflection on all of the events they had witnessed and experienced. Imagine for a moment that you are Peter. I imagine Peter during this time of waiting like this: God has promised that there will be great things in the future. But for now Peter is waiting for the Holy Spirit. Perhaps Peter thought back on his time with Jesus. Time and again, the Gospels tell us that along the way there was so much that Peter did not understand. Peter made mistakes; he was confused. And yet for all of the mistakes that Peter made, Christ still trusted him. Christ was still determined to use him. Peter had so much to contemplate. It was necessary for Peter to have that time of reflection before he went on to the next big set of assignments that God had in mind for him: leading the Jerusalem church, converting Gentiles, traveling to Rome to lead the church there, to become the first bishop of Rome, and going to a martyr’s death. The waiting time provides a wonderful opportunity to stop, to reflect, to gain some perspective on what has happened in life.
Finally, the time of waiting can be a time to deepen our faith. That gets us to the final example set for us by Peter and the other apostles. God helps us build faith in many ways, but one way is in our communion with the Lord and with each other. As they began their period of waiting – the days between Ascension and Pentecost – they ate with our Lord. They heard our Lord and were built up in their faith in this communal experience. And in the same way faith is built in us in the sacrament of communion. As we wait for the Lord to act within our lives, let us wait with him and with the Body of Christ as we come to the Lord’s table. This is a sacred meal of which we partake. In the sacrament of communion we dine with the Lord as surely as did the disciples. Our faith is built in these holy moments.
Wait for the Lord. You won't be disappointed.
It seems more than a coincidence to me that we read this passage about the early church on Mother’s Day. When you think about it, it seems like the early church acted just like our mothers would want us to! When God gave birth to the church, so to speak, it behaved like the family of a loving, caring mom. How can we do what they did so our church will be faithful and grow?
1. Make Worship a Priority
“They followed a daily discipline of worship in the Temple followed by meals at home, every meal a celebration, exuberant and joyful, as they praised God….”
The early church was built on prayer, worship, and fellowship. An expressive, worshipful church results from sincere praise and communion with the Savior. It’s not something you schedule to draw a crowd. To become a worshiping church means focus has been shifted. Our natural inclination is to worship other “gods,” lesser things like money and power. But the Bible teaches that we are put on this earth primarily to know and walk with the God who made us and to bring glory to His name.
Our worship of God must engage the mind, but it must also engage the affections, the heart, our emotions, and our spirit. That does not mean that worship has to necessarily be emotional or involve an outward emotional display to be “in the spirit,” but it does mean the heart must be engaged. We show outward excitement and worship to sports, musicians, and celebrities. It would seem only right that God would deserve more.
A worshiping church is a place where God is exalted in spirit and in truth.
2. Open Your Heart and Your Hands to Others
“Every day their number grew as God added those who were saved.”
As we read the accounts of the first church, it becomes clear that literally everything they did culminated in reaching out to new people with the gospel. We should want to go and share our faith. We talk about what is important to us. The early believers had been touched by Jesus; He had forever changed their lives, so much so that they were willing to give their lives for Him. It has nothing to do with winning a debate with someone who believes differently from what we believe. It has everything to do with sharing who we are and what is vital in our lives.
Evangelism was not a planned event in the early church; it was a natural out growth of a healthy relationship with Christ. The early believers took everyday situations and turned them into opportunities to share the Gospel. They stepped out in faith and spoke the truth of the Gospel and God showed up.
3. Magnanimously give
“Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common…continuing daily with one accord…and having favor with all people.”
This sentence illustrates just how literally we’re called to love one another. The reason the early church could share their possessions was that they were actually living out the second great commandment to love their neighbor as themselves. We see that their unity and love were so powerful that “all the people” thought well of them. And isn’t that just what our moms teach us, to be loving, kind, generous, and faithful?
Who wouldn’t want to join in on such a love fest where everyone was cared about and accepted? As a result, their numbers exploded and thousands came to Christ!
When we are talking about being a loving church we are talking about a people who are connected to one another in close fellowship and people who serve one another in true ministry. Jesus said in Matthew 19:19 “Love your neighbor as yourself.” What would happen if we truly began to take Jesus at His world and live this way? What would this do to our church? Can you imagine how different things would be if we operated by this principle? What would it be like if we really were as concerned about others’ happiness, problems, and disappointments as we are about our own?
Our love one for another is one of our greatest witnesses to the world. It backs up everything that we are trying to do and say to the world. Remember in Acts all the believers were as one? The response was a daily adding to their numbers. People came to Jesus because they saw how Christians loved each other. People still come to Jesus when they see how we love each other.
So, on this Mother’s Day, let’s listen to our moms: Let’s make worship a priority, open our hearts and hands to others, and be magnanimous. Let’s be more like the early church, which was a small refuge in a multi-cultural society fighting for its life. And if we do, the 21st century church will blossom just as the first century church did.
I love the story of Jesus walking with two of his disciples on the Road to Emmaus, (Luke 24:13-35) because it is a picture in miniature of the path we all take as disciples.
In the beginning of our journey, Jesus is a stranger to us. Oh, sure, we hear the stories about Him in the Bible. We sing the hymns at church. But what do we really know about Jesus? He seems very far away from our daily lives. A Jewish carpenter who lived 2,000 years ago; an itinerant preacher whose lessons are more cryptic than clear; a person who was willing to die when He had it within his power to escape death – Jesus is truly a stranger to us and to our whole way of life.
But as we grow in faith, we begin to invite Jesus to be our guest. We want to spend more time with Him and learn about what He has to teach us. This is all on our own terms, of course. When it is convenient for us we ask Him over – we pray to Him, or we read about Him, we begin to participate in worship and ponder His difficult sayings.
As time goes on, though, and we become more convinced that Jesus is who He said He was, we eventually reverse roles, and become the guests at Jesus’ table. We open ourselves to Him, not only as our Host at communion, but also as the Lord of our lives. Instead of fitting Him into our schedule, we let Him dictate the schedule and fit our lives into His purpose. We become a part of his Body and we acknowledge Him as our head.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all this could take place in one day, as it did for those disciples on the Road to Emmaus? For most of us, it takes a lifetime, and our journey is not a straight path, but one that doubles back and snakes around as we wrestle with Jesus over who is in control of our lives.
But the truth is, we all can open our eyes to Christ’s leading in our lives wherever we are. When our hearts burn as we hear His message, Jesus is speaking to us. When we commune at His table, Jesus is hosting us. When we pour ourselves out in compassion and love the way He did, no matter how worthy the recipient, Jesus is guiding our hearts, minds, and souls.
And the best thing about traveling on the Road to Emmaus is that in the end you don’t just reach a dusty village. You find your way to the Kingdom of God.
In the Gospels we read how Mary of Magdala came to anoint the body of Jesus with spices. Mary was beside herself, lost in grief, for she could not find her Lord. Suddenly she noticed someone behind her - the gardener perhaps? "Woman, why are you crying?" he asked her. "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him." Mary would do anything and go anywhere to retrieve Jesus' body. He, of all men, deserved a proper resting place.Then she heard her name, "Mary." In that instant Mary recognized her Lord. She clung to him and wouldn't let him go.
When Jesus spoke her name - "Mary" - everything changed. She had been looking for Jesus, but Jesus had found her. It was she who was lost, not him. It was she, bent over in despair at the tomb, who needed lifting up. Jesus, the living one, raised from the dead, found Mary and transformed her life.
So it was for the rest of Jesus' disciples. Cleopas was on his way to Emmaus, trying to process with a friend all that had happened to Jesus. Jesus' closest disciples were huddled together behind closed doors in Jerusalem, mourning and afraid that they too might be arrested. Others had gone back to fishing, not knowing what else to do. Yet whether on the road to Emmaus, confused and bewildered, or in a room locked in fear, or in their boats, laboring and frustrated over yet another dismal attempt at catching fish, Jesus came to his own. In their need he spoke their name - "Thomas," "Simon Peter," "Cleopas" - and their eyes were opened, their hearts burned, and they believed. The disciples, scattered and aimless, each in his or her own way was found by Jesus, brought back to life by the one who was still doing his Father's work. "Why seek the living among the dead?" the two angels asked Mary. "He is not here; he has risen!"
Yes, Jesus was gone, missing. And yet he was alive. One by one his disciples encountered him anew and were changed forever. Jesus was on the loose, finding all those who could not find him, seeking out all those who could seek no more, revealing himself to those whose hopes and beliefs had been shattered.As with Mary, Jesus still comes to us. Yet if we are not careful, we may not notice him. We may be too wrapped up in the material world, bent over with the weight of things that don't last. We may even be looking where Jesus can't be found: in security and comfort, achievement and wealth. Jesus is not there.
And yet he goes ahead of us to our various "Galilees," to transform those familiar places where we feel safe and secure but where we, despite all our good efforts, remain empty. He penetrates the walls we hide behind so we might believe again. He interrupts us on the roads of everyday life, in the midst of confusion and controversy, to open our hearts and minds to the kingdom of God.
Easter must never become a remembrance, a mere celebration, or worse, a discussion or debate. For Jesus wants to come to us again and again, here and now. As with Mary, he calls each one of us by name. And he asks us: Why are you crying? Who are you looking for? What are you straining to find? What is upsetting you so? Why are you afraid? He speaks into our hearts, personally, directly, so we can see him as he really is. Our lost Lord finds us. Jesus comes to everyone who feels lost without him. This is the miracle of Easter. On our own, we can never find him. But he can find us. Our names are on his lips.