It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. The season Advent, however, seems to throw a wet blanket on all the jingling bells and decked halls. Scripture readings (Luke 21) turn to images of the end of the world and collapse of heaven and earth. Not very festive, it seems. That makes the preacher a bit of a buzz kill until we see that Jesus proclaimed a word of great hope in the midst of the destruction and death of this world. The fig tree puts forth leaves declaring summer is at hand and a harvest is on the way. Jesus is that fig tree, and our salvation is at hand.
In today’s lesson from Acts, the Holy Spirit interrupts Peter’s sermon by filling the uncircumcised gentiles with gifts of the Spirit. Last week, as Philip brought good news to Samaria, the Spirit interrupted, sending him to proclaim the gospel to an Ethiopian eunuch. While we often think we are in control of the mission of the Church and over who is included in our efforts, the Spirit – Deus Interruptus (the Interrupting God) – is out ahead of us building the reign of God before we ever show up. Welcoming people we exclude, forgiving the unforgivable, are all the work of the Spirit without us. The question is, “Will we be left behind or catch up to what the Spirit is already doing?” Praise Deus Interruptus!
copyright © Timothy V. Olson, 2018
We say a lot of things as the Church. Many of the things we say are important. The writer of I John reminds us, however, that “we should love not in word or speech, but in truth and action.” (I John 3:18) When we speak words of welcome, forgiveness, faith they are truths that are meant for all. Love however, is a particularity; something we do to and for the person in front of us. As baptism proclaims love to a particular person, and the wine and bread are given “for you” to individuals, love is enacted for each. A sign on the church that says, “all are welcome” is meaningless to those seeking welcome because it does not address the “each.” A theological statement that says the poor should be fed bears no weight until assistance is given to fill a hungry belly. Welcome is for all. Love is for each.
copyright © 2018, Timothy V. Olson
For most folks, “Gentle Jesus” is the image we carry of the Messiah. The whip-wielding, table-turning, angry Jesus who cleanses the temple seems to be an aberration. When Jesus finds that the noise of livestock and clatter of coins is louder than the prayers; when he sees that the name of God is being used for personal gain, he gets angry, righteously angry. We do the same kind of things today. So, what does “cleansing the temple” mean for us?
When most of us think about spiritual things, we think of self-improvement, or happiness, or success. Faith should lead to joy and glory. Religion should help us avoid the “bad things” in life. The scriptural witness however, doesn’t support these notions. Instead, Jesus invites Peter to follow to the cross. Peter doesn’t want to go. Psalm 22 begins with the words, “My God, my God; why have you forsaken me?” – the dying words of Jesus. The psalm answers this lament by pivoting to praise and the promises of God from this heart-wrenching lament. In the midst of our suffering, we don’t reject God, but embrace God all the more.
copyright © Timothy V. Olson, 2018
Paul urges us, “Be reconciled to God!” (2 Cor. 5:20) This is not a requirement of faith or a means of earning God’s love. It is a call to be what we already are, to act out of our status as God’s “Ministers of Reconciliation” which has been granted through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Answering this call is precisely why we remember St. Valentine. He was a martyr who gave his life to follow Jesus. Ash Wednesday is the beginning of a time of renewal and repentance as we acknowledge the first truth of being “reconciled to God.” We are not God and we shall die. This is very good news…
Ever want to have God appear to you in your own, personal, burning bush? Usually, when we talk about “religious experience,” we think about flash shows of divine presence like fiery chariots from heaven, ala Elijah’s assent to heaven (2 Kings 2). We at least think of glorious songs and inspirational worship. At first flush, it seems like the story of the Transfiguration, with Jesus shining presence and a voice from heaven seems to advocate for this kind of religious experience as a part of our faith. Before the story, however, Jesus speaks of the cross. After the bright lights, the disciples are left with Jesus – just Jesus. Maybe that is a clue to a different way that God is revealed to us in the wake of the incarnation of God in Christ.