Community Instruction

Sunday’s Scripture ~ I Timothy 2:1-7

For there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself a ransom for all (I Tim 2:5-6).

There is an abundance of theology packed into this credal statement from the Early Church.

  • There is one God
    • A statement affirming monotheism – the belief in one deity, rather than
    • Polytheism – the belief in many deities or
    • Henotheism – the belief in one deity with an allowance for other deities in a hierarchy under the lead deity.
  • One mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus
    • A statement affirming that Christ Jesus proceeded from the one God, and is of the same substance with the one God, to be the physical, tangible, living, breathing, dying, saving link between God and humanity.
    • Christ Jesus is not a separate deity under God; they are the same, just as the Holy Spirit is the same with them. Together those three – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – are the Trinity – One God in three persons.
    • The need for Christ Jesus to be our mediator indicates a rupture in our relationship with God. This rupture is caused by sin and we cannot fix our sickness with sin on our own. We need God’s power and God’s power is available to us in Jesus.
  • Himself human – A statement affirming the humanness of Jesus.
    • We believe that Jesus has two natures; he is fully human and fully divine.
      • As fully human Jesus is able to stand in humanity’s place and take the punishment for sin.
      • As fully divine Jesus as God incarnate can save humanity from its condemned state due to sin and break the power of sin over humanity.
    • Jesus did not ‘appear’ human or ‘appear’ divine as some speculated; he was God incarnate.
  • Gave himself as a ransom for all – A statement affirming that our sins are atoned for through Jesus’ death and resurrection.
    • Through atonement we are made at one with God once again.
    • Hebrews 2:14-18 describes Jesus atoning actions writing, “Since, therefore, the children [humanity] share flesh and blood, he himself [Jesus] likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death. For it is clear that he did not come to help angels, but the descendants of Abraham. Therefore he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.”

Most theological education took place through oral tradition in the Ancient World and in the Early Church. Much of the society had very little or no formal education; so, learning occurred through telling the same stories or lessons repeatedly to help all members of the community – children by age and children at heart – commit them to memory and behavior.

The more ‘meaty’ the statement, the more learning to be ‘digested’ and ‘converted into lived energy’ for each individual. 

The above credal statement contains 25 words. If you were to write a credal statement for your faith using only 25 words, what would your credal statement say? What concepts would you include? What teaching would you name? Spend some of your devotional time this week writing your statement and then share it with someone. 

My credal statement reads:

God created out of chaos. God created Jesus to atone the chaos. God creates out of my chaos. God forgives our chaos. We are redeemed. 

Prayer: “Have thine own way, Lord. Have thine own way. Thou art the potter; I am the clay. Mold me and make me after thy will, while I am waiting, yielded and still. Have thine own way, Lord. Have thine own way. Search me and try me, Savior today! Wash me just now, Lord, wash me just now, as in thy presence humbly I bow.”* Amen.

“Have Thine Own Way, Lord,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 382.

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Atonement: Crucified God

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Matthew 21:1-11 and Mark 15:25-39

As Marcy said so eloquently to Peppermint Patty in a beloved Peanuts movie, “Duck, sir; Easter is coming.”  It is the week before Holy Week…otherwise known as the week to work and write and prepare and pray before we join our Christ (and pastors join their congregations) in the walk through Jerusalem that began with a block party and ended with a stone blocking the grave.

This year – for the second Lenten season in a row – Reeves will offer prayer stations on Monday through Wednesday evenings of Holy Week.  Each station – of which there are 14 – is an opportunity to read, reflect, and respond.

  • Read a passage of Scripture – this year based on places visited in the passion narrative
  • Reflect on a brief interpretation of the Scripture passage
  • Respond to the Scripture passage by prayerfully engaging an short activity

Today I gathered rocks, burlap, posterboard, markers, nails, candles, scarlet and violet fabrics, and lettuce.  I held the signs of Holy Week in my hands.

Intentionally selected.  Purposefully placed.  Spiritually directed.

These every day symbols take on a new meaning as they are manipulated.  The symbols of this experience combine to make lasting memories and bring a fresh perspective to the journey of Holy Week.

In the prayer stations participants will journey from Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, to Jesus’ anointing and Bethany, to and through the events of Jesus’ passion.  As I collected each manipulative and readied each station I have had to walk through each “place” – each “moment” of Holy Week – to make sure I have not overlooked something…like the need of a table or pen.  In the course of this day I have walked from branches waving and fabric flying to sealed grave and women crying…and Holy Week is not even here yet!

I need to back track.  This journey still awaits me.  It is not quite Easter…and as much as I want to I will not race to get there.

This process of preparation has heightened my awareness to all the small moments that create big moments as we move through Christ’s passion.  This heightened awareness, then, makes me ache for persons that will share in a Palm Sunday party one weekend and then join in an Easter celebration the next.  What about all the little moments in between?  What about all the big moments in between?  If we were meant to go straight from Palm Sunday to Easter, I am quite confident that God could have worked that out.

There is a reason that we have all the moments in between.  I believe they are intentionally selected, purposefully placed, and spiritually directed.

The moments that Jesus experienced in Holy Week – they are to give us confidence, strength in endurance, and hope when we find ourselves in similar circumstances.  Jesus held people accountable, Jesus was afraid, Jesus received praise, Jesus was judged, Jesus was defended, Jesus died.  Jesus faced all this and more.

Some may say, “Yes.  He faced it and it killed him.”

And I say, “Yes.  And then he conquered death.  So shall we.”

I aspire to walk and journey mindfully through the Infinal days of Lent.  I do not want to be in a rush to get anywhere or cross any tasks off my list.  I want to be my Jesus’ companion.  I accept the invitation – the challenge – to keep watch with him and pray.  And I know as I do he will reveal something spectacular.

Prayer: “O God our deliverer, you led your people of old through the wilderness and brought them to the promised land.  Guide now the people of your church, that, following our Savior, we may walk through the wilderness of this world toward the glory of the world to come; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, One God, now and forever.  Amen.”*

*”Lent,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 268.

Atonement: Forgiven…Even If

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 23:32-43

We are more than halfway through Lent.  The days till Easter are numbered; yet, the forthcoming days are some of the most troublesome to walk.  Andrew and I gave up bread – wheat and flour – for Easter this year so that space would be created for us to reflect on what it means to ache for daily bread and not receive it.  As the days proceed we have become hyper aware of how bread-centric our society is.  We have become hyper aware of the increasing challenges facing our neighbors as they struggle to secure food – and nutritious food – for themselves and their families.  We have become hyper aware of our neighbor’s innocence in so many of these predicaments and how our society is so quick to say “pull yourself up,” “make better choices,” “you brought this upon yourself.”

From the cross one criminal rebuked the other saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?  And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man had done nothing wrong” (Lk 23:40).  And then later from the voice of the centurion, “Certainly this man was innocent” (Lk 23:47).

The mocking soldiers and scoffing leaders – in a modern translation – could have said to Jesus, “Pull yourself up,” “make better choices,” “you brought this upon yourself” as he struggled on the cross.  Lone were the women who wept at the base of the cross.  They knew who Jesus was, they experienced his compassion and his justice, they knew the scandal of his death.  The women’s teary protest was taken up verbally by two other “outsiders” – a criminal and a Gentile centurion.  People, neighbors, children of God who were always in the direct scope of Jesus’ ministry throughout his ministry witnessed to his innocence as he hung dying.  But their witness did not stop his death.

We can know who Jesus is, experience his compassion and his justice, and know the scandal of his death.  We can also resist his love and his truth.  We can push him away.  We can deny.  We can crucify.

And we do.

As I draw towards Easter I become more unsettled because innocents continue to suffer.  Christ suffered and my neighbors suffer.  It is not right.  It cannot continue.  And if I am going to testify to the beauty of the resurrection, then I must have the courage to stand up to injustice and be a voice alongside the innocent.

I cannot live in a world where the innocent unjustly suffer.  Christ left this world because of it and rose that we would be his helpmates in redeeming it.

Prayer: “O Lord, open my eyes that I may see the needs of others; open my ears that I may hear their cries; open my heart so that they need not be without succor; let me not be afraid to defend the weak because of the anger of the strong, nor afraid to defend the poor because of the anger of the rich.  Show me where love and hope and faith are needed, and use me to bring them to those places.  And so open my eyes and my ears that I may this coming day be able to do some work of peace for thee.  Amen.”*

*”For Courage to Do Justice,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 456.

Atonement: Perfect Sacrifice

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Hebrews 9:11-14

This morning I had the privilege to accompany the first grade class that I volunteer in to Sea World.  17 first graders…5 chaperones and 1 teacher…if we had 20 chaperones, the odds may have been in our favor.

Just kidding.

It was an amazing experience.  The children that attend this school are from some of the most impoverished neighborhoods in the metro-Orlando area; so, going to Sea World is big news…like bigger than french fries and chicken nuggets being served in the cafeteria on the same day.

If I had to summarize this Sea World experience for the children in one word, the word would be wonder.  Watching the children marvel at the sea creatures and squeal as the roller coasters zoomed overhead and point and smile and repeat.  They were in awe.  They were amazed.  Everything was new.  Everything was fresh.  And they were present in the moment absorbing all of it.  They were content to just be.  Excitement bubbled up from endless founts inside each of them.  Their grins were contagious.

Most of them slept on the ride back to the school…and I can only imagine the visions and dreams that were dancing in their heads.  I hope in their dreams they were sealing the memory of this day and I hope they continue to wonder in all they experienced.

I am amazed by how much these children continue to teach me each time I am with them.  Today’s lesson was that lesson of wonder – to be present, to simply be.  I (and I think many adults) are quick to observe and then we jump to analysis, inquiry, and yes, even judgment.  We are a qualitative and quantitative folk.  We are concerned about efficiency and cost-effectiveness.  We are time conscious and are quick to think about what is next rather than remain present in the moment.  We forget to wonder.  And when we do not wonder regularly, little by little, we lose that ability.

We need to slow down.  We need to see clearly.  We need to hear wholly.  We need to smell, feel, and taste.  We need to be.  And in doing so God will amaze us.

As a pastor and speaker of the Word I am always seeking an interpretation of a text that is studied in worship on Sundays.  Being a speaker of the Word is more than just saying what the story says – it is not just a paraphrase.  Being a speaker  of the Word is more than just saying what other people have said about the story – it is not just a book report.  Speakers of the Word seek – for ourselves and for the people we serve – an interpretation of the Word – otherwise known as the so what moment.  Given what the story says and what other people have said about it, so what?  What now?  Where do we go from here?  

I like to offer practical responses and practical challenges as the so what so that some sort of response is encouraged that will lead to greater spiritual formation and possibly behavior modification.  As I marinate on the text this week, I feel the response that I am led to is one of wonder.  Jesus is the high priest.  Jesus has given of himself – a perfect sacrifice – that our lives will be transformed and our dead works purified so that we will worship the living God.

What should characterize that worship?  Wonder – wonder of all our Lord has done, wonder that our God has acted on our behalf out of mercy and grace.

Yet how quick are we while in worship to skip out on presence.  We may be there in body, but are were their in mind?  And if we are there in mind, are we present in wonder or presently writing our grocery list or rolling our eyes because we are singing that hymn again instead of this hymn or thinking that our time would be better spent elsewhere?  If we do not practice wonder, then we are not practicing true presence, and we therefore limit how God desires to amaze us in those moments.

Our God is amazing and wants to amaze us.  Open yourself up to wondering.  I bet you will be wearing the great grin of a first grader at Sea World eating chicken nuggets and french fries when you do.

Prayer: “His name is wonderful, his name is wonderful, his name is wonderful, Jesus, my Lord.  He is the mighty King, Master of everything, is name is wonderful, Jesus, my Lord.  He’s the great Shepherd, the Rock of all ages, almighty God is he; bow down before him, love and adore him, his name is wonderful, Jesus, my Lord.”* Amen.

*”His Name Is Wonderful,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 174

Atonement: Out With The Goat and In With The New

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Leviticus 16:5, 7-10, 15-22

Football season ended the first week of February. Then I watched the Olympics. And now it’s Award Season. Let’s face it folks…I’m counting down to mid-August…get me back to football season – and Go Packers!

Everyone has been talking about the Academy Awards – and I admit that the only movie I have seen that won an Academy Award – also the only movie I’ve seen that was nominated for an Academy Award (thanks to Andrew being a youth director…we need to get out more…) is Disney’s Frozen.

And thanks to the Academy Awards I now have a super long list of movies that I need to see! But, as Hagrid would say, “we’ll get to that later.”

If you haven’t seen Frozen yet, I highly recommend it. And I applaud Disney for the many beautiful expressions of family celebrated in this film. The primary protagonists are a pair of sisters – Anna and Elsa. Both are princesses. Both love one another deeply, but Elsa has a unique gift that if uncontrolled can be damaging. So she is raised to suppress it – “to conceal, not feel.” Well…what was to be concealed is revealed on just about the biggest stage imaginable and Elsa flees. As she flees she sings “Let It Go.”

These lyrics speak directly to me – and I believe to our Scripture passage for this week:

I’m never going back,
The past is in the past

Let it go, let it go
And I’ll rise like the break of dawn
Let it go, let it go
That perfect girl is gone

Here I stand
In the light of day
Let the storm rage on,
The cold never bothered me anyway

I’m never going back, the past is in the past, let it go, let it go. In our Scripture passage for this week we learn about purification rituals enacted on the Day of Atonement – one of them being casting the sins of the community onto a goat and then releasing a goat into the wilderness. In this way the sins of the people literally ran away and were removed from their persons thereby making the people “at one” with God again. Once the sins were atoned for God’s people believed the act of sin, the blame of sin, and the shame of sin were all removed – were all forgiven. They “let it go” on the goat; they didn’t go back, the past is in the past. They looked forward. They moved on. They enjoyed the full measure of God’s forgiveness.

Sometimes I wish real life were as easy as a Disney movie – that every problem would be resolved in 90 minutes or less…and that there would be more singing…yeah…especially if I could sing like Idina Menzel! But then again, Disney movies aren’t always tied up in a nice little package. Elsa sings this song early on in the movie proclaiming that she has “let it go” – but she still has to work through her circumstances. She has to process what happened, integrate what she learned from the experience, strategize so it does not happen again, and apply the learnings and strategies in order to let it go, to let the past be in the past.

I believe the same holds for us. When we sin – when we abuse God’s good gift of free will and choose something other than God as the priority in our lives – we want to let it go. We want to experience God’s forgiveness. We want to be at one with God again…but if we fail to process the sin, integrate what we have learned from the experience, strategize so it does not happen again, and apply the learnings and strategies, then we may fall as a casualty to sin yet again. We cannot only hope to not fall into sin again because hope is not a strategy. We must work out our faith – work out our salvation – so that with God’s guidance we rise from sin, released from its blame and shame, and live in the peace of letting it go.

During the season of Lent we are invited to become more aware of our sins – to process, integrate, strategize, and apply as we seek to go and sin no more. During this season I believe God wants us to examine ourselves and let sins go.

What sins are you retaining? What sins, what pasts, are God calling you to let go?

Reflect. Confess. Let them go. Experience peace.

Prayer: “O God, just as we look into a mirror to see any soiled spots on our face, so let us look to you in order to understand the things that we have done amiss.  We are like a reed shaken in the wind; we are inexpressibly weak.  Leave us not to ourselves, but dwell in our hearts and guide our thoughts and actions.  Amen.”*

*”For Guidance,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 366.

Atonement: Family Transaction

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Genesis 22:1-19

This Sunday is the first Sunday of Lent!  We also “spring ahead” at 2am on Sunday morning.  Three cheers for more sunlight…and being to worship on time!  Woot-Woot-Woohoo!

This week I find it rather fitting to study the almost child sacrifice of Isaac alongside the beginning of Lent, which is a season of sacrifice.  Both occasions – the pericope from Genesis and the liturgical season – are opportunities for obedience.

God gave Abraham instructions and he obeyed.  He started and – at the right time – God stopped him!  God provided another sacrifice – a gift of a ram so that Abraham could retain his greatest gift, his son.

The season of Lent presents us with an invitation to reflect and fast – reflect – on who we are and what we do; fast – that who we are and what we do make us more into who God desires.  We are not called to mandatory obedience in this reflecting and fasting…but I have to question why we would shy away from it?  Is it because we are too proud?  Is it because we are scared of what might be revealed?  Or is it because we are resigned in thinking that no change can come our way?

This past weekend I had the opportunity to lead enrichment sessions at a conference women’s retreat.  My session, Letters of Treasure, was a time for retreat participants to write letters to women currently incarcerated in our local area.  Our mission was to remind these ladies that they are women of worth; that they are treasured, beloved, and special; that they belong to God.  We wanted to affirm in these ladies that change is possible, that God is already at work in their lives, and that God is inviting their participation to continue their change to lead more healthy and whole lives.

In the letters we asked the ladies to consider who they were, who they are now, and who they wanted to be.  We encouraged the ladies to (1) identify their healthy behaviors and then (2) either transform unhealthy behaviors or leave them aside completely.  We invited them to reflect and and fast.  Why?  Because we believe change is possible.  Because we are affirmed that we bear the change of Christ in our bodies.  Because we believe reflecting and fasting are signs of our obedient faith.

It’s not about who these ladies have been or what they have done.  It’s about who God will lead them to be and what God will lead them to do.

The same is true for each one of us.

During this Lent I will take pause to reflect upon who I have been and ask God to lead me, break me, craft me into who God wants me to be.  Tonight I will starkly remember that all that I have is because of all that God has given and continues to give with the sign of the cross upon my brow.

Ashes to ashes.  Dust to dust.

During this Lent I will fast from all bread related products as a way of standing in solidarity with my neighbors worldwide who hunger and ache for daily bread.  My prayer is that in these 40 days God will lead my heart and my body to God’s true and everlasting nourishment that as God’s vessel I will be able to nourish others.

What will be your reflection this Lent?  Where will God lead you to fast?  How will God encourage, challenge, and increase your obedience?

Believe in change.  Be prepared for change.

Obey and change.

Prayer: “O God, maker of every thing and judge of all that you have made, from the dust of the earth you have formed us and from the dust of the earth you would raise us up.  By the redemptive power of the cross, create in us clean hearts and put within us a new spirit, that we may repent of our sins and lead lives worthy of your calling; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.”*

*”Ash Wednesday,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 353.