I Saw the Sign

The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone, Psalm 118:22, Karen May, Amayzing Graces

On this Fourth Sunday of Easter, the apostles are under investigation for healing a crippled man. The leaders want to know what power they used for this healing, and it doesn’t seem to be in a friendly, curious sort of way, does it?

Not to be intimidated, Peter speaks out and proclaims that Jesus, the one they killed, is the one who gives him the power to heal. This healing is just a signpost of the power of Jesus, with the point being that salvation is available through Him. It’s pretty simple really.

Except it’s not.

How many times do we make mistakes and hold onto them stubbornly, refusing to admit we were wrong? Haven’t you ever done that? You just knew you were right and then, way too far in to admit it, you realized you were wrong. And then there are those times that we never really understand our error, even though almost everyone else can see it.

I think this is one of those cases. Can you imagine having to admit that you were part of killing the Son of God? Judas couldn’t handle it when he saw what he had done. The leaders here had many reasons to believe that they weren’t wrong and this group of ragtag people were just zealots like the rest of the Messianic groups popping up everywhere. Why would this one be different?

How do we know?

The readings this Sunday remind us that God sends us signs. He helps us to see what we need to see. Sometimes in big, flashy miracles, and sometimes in small gentle movements. Maybe in a miraculous cure, and maybe in a glimpse into the life that was given for us, or maybe in experiencing forgiveness that we never expected to receive.

What signs are God sending your way today? Don’t miss them.

 

Read it here: Fourth Sunday of Easter

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Amazing Grace

I once was lost, but now am found Was blind, but now I see, Amazing Grace, Karen May, Amayzing Graces

Photo: M Ratton

 

So much happens in the readings from Acts this week that I hardly know where to start.

First, Stephen is stoned to death. This message of Jesus resurrected is really not going over well. As the stoning is going on, the bystanders place their coats at the feet of a man named Saul. Remember that name. We’ll be seeing him again shortly.

As he dies, Stephen cries out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” I am amazed how often we see the events of Easter repeating. Prison doors opening, trials with threats of imprisonment and death, and forgiveness in the middle of a brutal and unwarranted killing. It’s only just beginning.

This begins a period of intense persecution and causes many of the disciples to leave Jerusalem, go to other lands, and spread the good news of Jesus. The very thing meant to shut down the program caused it to be spread beyond anything that had been done before. It just keeps happening, doesn’t it?

Not to be outdone, Saul also leaves Jerusalem with permission to arrest and return anyone who follows this Way, as the sect following Jesus is called. On his way, he is blinded and knocked down by a light. Jesus asks, “Why are you persecuting me?”

Saul is ordered to go to Damascus and wait for someone to come to him. He arrives in Damascus completely blind and does not eat or drink for three days. Three days in the dark with no nourishment. (Sound familiar? Keep watching as we go through Acts. The life and works of Jesus are reflected many times in the experiences of Peter, Paul, and the other disciples. The work Jesus did was passed on and continues, even into today. We haven’t been left alone.)

Finally after the three days, a disciple Ananias is told to come to Saul and lay hands on him.

Can you believe the forgiveness Jesus demands?

Saul is about to enter a completely new life, but he can’t do it without the touch of the ones he was persecuting. He will remain blind until he can be healed at their hands. It’s astounding.

When Ananias lays hands on him, Saul regains his sight and is a changed man. No longer the persecutor, Saul (or as we know him – Paul) immediately goes out and starts telling everyone about Jesus. Now he sees, and the rest of his life will be spent helping others to see.

Incredible.

 

Read it here: Acts 6:8-15; 7:51-8:8; 8:26-9:20; 9:31-42

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I am the Bread of Life

Take and Eat, Karen May, Amayzing Graces

In this week’s daily readings, the Gospel of John takes us into the day after Jesus fed the five-thousand people. He has crossed the sea, and they have come to find Him. The miracle drew them to Jesus, but He tells them that it isn’t nearly enough. They wanted more food, but he tells them, “Work … for the food that endures for eternal life.” (John 6:27)

Of course, as we saw last week, the scene has been set to remind us of the Israelites’ escape from slavery in Egypt. In fact, the Passover feast celebrating that event is coming, and the timing isn’t coincidental.

Jesus explains that He is the bread sent from heaven. This is something more than the manna in the desert. With this bread you will not die, you will have eternal life.

So often, the teachings that we hear don’t make a lot of sense. The people of this time had no experience or understanding for context here, so they ask, “How can this be?” Don’t we hear this a lot in the Bible? Mary, Nicodemus, Zechariah, Gideon, and many others have no idea how God is going to do what He says.

Here Jesus stands His ground and declares, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.” (John 6:53)

This is tough. I don’t know about you, but I would have been really confused and concerned about now. There was no understanding of bread and wine and the Body and Blood of Jesus. There was just this statement hanging out there that we had to eat His flesh and drink His blood.

It was enough that many people left, and Jesus did nothing to explain that He was speaking symbolically and bring them back. He even asked the apostles if they would leave, too.

They didn’t know what Jesus meant, but they knew that what He said was truth. This was not the bread to fill their stomachs for a time. This was true food that would give them eternal life. They were willing to live in the uncertainty for a while and watch it come into focus.

Can we do that? We all have those times in our lives when we don’t know what God is doing with us. We all have times that we wrestle with a teaching or a demand of Jesus. Can we be patient and allow ourselves to be instructed and led? It takes time.

Jesus is willing to give it to us.

Can we give it to Him?

 

Read it here: John 6:22-69

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Turning Back

Come, all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest, Karen May, Amayzing Graces, inspiration, devotional

Photo: M Ratton

 

Each Sunday of Easter, we will hear an excerpt or something related to the readings during the week. It is interesting to note what is pulled out and emphasized.

This Sunday, we heard a portion of Peter’s speech at Pentecost.

Peter explains what happened to Jesus to the crowds gathered at Pentecost, but just as Jesus has done with him, he leaves the past in the past. What they did was out of ignorance. What really matters is what they do now. They didn’t know before, but now Jesus has risen and the whole story is pretty clear.

What should they do? What should we?

Repent and be converted. Don’t sin, but if you do, know that Jesus has paid for it, and we just need to turn back. Believe and follow Jesus’ words. It’s fairly simple really. At least Jesus would probably think so and wonder why we have questions at all.

He says it so simply: “Thus it is written that the Christ would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name to all the nations.” (Luke 24: 46-47)

Not repentance just to repent, but in order for sins to be forgiven.

Can’t we get stuck on that sometimes? Repentance, remorse, regret. All those are necessary when we have sinned, when we have done wrong. But each one of those should lead to forgiveness, healing, and peace. That is the point.

The pain we feel when we have done wrong is the pain of love. It is the pain of separating ourselves from those who love us. The pain of hurting those we never should have hurt. And at the most basic level  it is the pain of love that wants never to disrupt or distort our ability to receive the love and attention of the one who loves us enough to die for us.

Just like we heard earlier in the week, the message is not to condemn but to save. It’s not about the sins, it’s about the return.

Is there something you’ve been holding onto? Maybe it’s time to let go and come home.

 

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Know your roots

They will be like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream.It shall not fear when heat comes.. in the year of drought it is not anxious, Jeremiah 17:8, Karen May

 

In this second week of Easter, we start into the Gospel of John. With a few exceptions, we will work our way through the entire story. It’s an interesting dichotomy. Why would the readings each day include the story of the church after the Pentecost through the book of Acts and go back into Jesus’ ministry in the Gospel of John?

I have to wonder if it doesn’t have something to do with knowing where you’re going, while remembering where you’re coming from. Who is this Jesus that we proclaim? What is this good news that people are willing to die for?

We start out with the basics this week, as Jesus tells Nicodemus that he must be born of water and Spirit. Nicodemus asks, “How can this be?” and immediately hears about the death Jesus will die and the famous line from John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son.”

How can we be born of water and Spirit? Only after Jesus dies can that happen. Only when the love of God is expressed to it’s greatest degree. Only when the Holy Spirit comes as it does at Pentecost can that happen. In the other readings of this week, we see clearly the effect of that rebirth.

Then we move into the feeding of the five-thousand. It is so easy to slip into a passive listening to this story. We’ve heard it so many times. This time, though we’re going to see it in light of the story that comes right after. The bread has been multiplied and distributed. The baskets have been collected, the people are amazed, and evening has fallen.

The disciples get into their boat and head across the sea. Suddenly they see Jesus walking on the water next to them, and then they miraculously arrive at the other shore.

Miraculous bread to feed the masses, miraculous crossing of the sea and arriving safely on the other side. Have you heard that story before? Do the Red Sea and manna in the desert ring a bell?

Keep this in mind as we go through the next week. It will come into play in a significant way. Jesus has not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. He has not come to replace the stories of the Old Testament, but they will help us to understand what Jesus is telling us and what He is doing.

The Easter season is upon us, and just like the disciples on their way to Emmaus, we will break open the Scriptures and discover what it all means.

 

Read it here: John 3:1-21, 31-36; John 6:1-21

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Why Fight It?

I have to wonder how frustrated and irritated the Jewish leaders dealing with the apostles must have been. Jesus was crucified, and now His followers are claiming that He rose from the dead. Not only that, but they are gathering thousands of followers, and fast.

In the readings of the second week of Easter, (Acts 4:23-375:17-6:7), Peter and John are arrested and put into prison. In true Easter style, an angel opens the door and lets them out to continue preaching.

Can you imagine how frustrated the chief priests and elders must have been? Can’t anyone stay where they put them?

So they try again, bringing Peter and John back in and warning them not to preach anymore. Or else.

And it still doesn’t work. Peter answers, “We must obey God rather than any human authority.” He’s not the least bit afraid of them – the ones who killed this Jesus that he proclaims boldly. No, he’s not afraid at all.

Finally, Gamaliel warns the council that they should just leave the whole thing alone. If it’s of human origin, it will fail eventually. If it isn’t, then they could be fighting against God and they are never, ever going to win that one.

Not to be completely defeated, the council has Peter and John flogged, order them to stop preaching, and release them. The apostles leave celebrating because they could suffer for Christ.

Seriously. They celebrated. That’s not at all what the council was going for. Infuriating.

It makes me think. It really is frustrating when we fight against God. It is fruitless and pointless to ignore and deny a truth that we don’t want to hear. We all do it, don’t we? We hear a teaching that is hard to live, so we’ll just deny that it’s true. We see somebody we need to love and it’s just not easy, so we’ll leave it alone.

We could live like Peter instead. Stand tall, step into the Holy Spirit, do what God is asking, and watch door after door get opened.

Who would you rather be?

 

 

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Doubting Thomas

The first Sunday of Easter always has the story of Doubting Thomas. (John 20:19-31) You know the one. Thomas comes in, having totally missed Jesus’ appearance to everyone else. Pretty sure that they are messing with him or that they are just messed up, he refuses to believe that Jesus came back until he touches the wounds with his own hands.

Wouldn’t you know, Jesus comes back the next week and takes him up on the offer?

Lesson 1: Never demand something that you don’t actually want to do.

Of course, Thomas immediately proclaims, “My Lord and my God!” No touching required.

Lesson 2: Sometimes the proof you think you need isn’t actually what you need.

The funny thing is that Thomas isn’t any different from the other disciples. They didn’t believe the women who said they had seen Jesus. A couple of them even left and headed out to Emmaus. His words, “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed,” aren’t just for Thomas but for all of them.

More than that, it’s been a week since they saw Jesus, and the doors are still locked. Why would Thomas believe them if what they saw didn’t change anything? Why should he?

Lesson 3: Saying you believe in Jesus means very little if your life doesn’t reflect the meaning of that belief.

I think the last verse of this Sunday’s Gospel sums it all up pretty well:

But these are written that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through this belief you might have life in his name. (John 20:31) (emphasis mine)

Do you believe? Has it changed your life? Does anyone around you know?

Go.

Live your faith.

If the disciples are any indication, doing so can change the world.

 

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What a day!

As we start this first week of Easter, the Gospel readings of the first four days all take place on the day of the Resurrection. I was so surprised when I discovered that these stories all took place within hours of each other. What an incredible day!

Here’s the timeline:

Sunday morning, a whole bunch of Marys go to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body. Instead, they find the stone rolled away and Jesus gone.

Jesus appears and tells them to “go tell my brothers to go to Galilee and there they will see me.”

Later that same day, two disciples are walking out of Jerusalem, knowing that Jesus’ body is gone and the women reported seeing Him. (There’s a whole other discussion here about giving up way too early, but I’ll save that for another post.) Jesus walks with them, explains everything, and they realize it is Jesus as they are eating with Him in Emmaus.

They run back immediately, and as they are telling their story to the disciples, Jesus walks through the locked door saying, “Peace be with you… Look at my hands and feet.”

This was an incredible day, filled with appearances and understanding. Filled with joy, wonder, and disbelief. Yes, disbelief.

The disciples walking to Emmaus hear the women and Peter report that they have seen Jesus, but they don’t believe them. They can’t see past the crucifixion. When they return, the disciples don’t believe their story. They can’t see beyond their fear.

Jesus finally comes to them and says, “Peace be with you,” and chastises them for their unbelief, showing them His hands and feet, and eating with them. (Mark 16:9-15) (Luke 24:35-48)

Yet in the midst of this disbelief, everything melts away as soon as they see Jesus. In Emmaus, the disciples say, “Weren’t our hearts burning within us?” Mary Magdalene clings to Him when she realizes who He is.

It can be hard to understand and believe someone else’s experience. It can be difficult to trust that something so incredible is true. I think it’s consoling to see that even those closest to Jesus had a hard time understanding what was happening right in front of their eyes.

The blessing is that we don’t have to figure it out on our own. We can listen to the experiences of others, we share our own faith experiences, and we have a place where all of that is connected to the stories of the people who were there at the beginning.

Has someone told you their story? Maybe it’s time to listen.

Have you shared your story? Maybe it’s time to tell.

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First Week of Easter: Peter – a new man

 

In the movie, The Time Traveler’s Wife, there are two distinct storylines in told in very different timeframes. It’s a little hard to keep track of the actions, but eventually they come together and it all becomes a little clearer. Actually, it’s only clear after you watch the movie again.

The readings this week reminded me of The Time Traveler’s Wife. We have two completely different stories that are told over the course of five days. The Gospels tell the story of the day of the Resurrection. The other readings tell of Peter’s life starting at Pentecost, which comes at the end of these fifty days of Easter. It’s a striking juxtaposition to see the fear and confusion of the disciples at the Resurrection next to the confidence and faith that comes from Pentecost. I’m pretty sure it’s intentional.

Today, we’ll look at Peter. (Acts 2: 14, 22-33; Acts 3:1-4:21)

At Pentecost, Peter suddenly begins to preach boldly to the world, coming out of the locked room where he has been hiding with the other disciples. The Holy Spirit has come, and Peter is changed completely.

He’s always been pretty bold, saying he would die for Jesus, claiming that he would never deny Jesus, daring Jesus to tell him to walk on water… But, whenever it came down to it, he couldn’t quite deliver, could he?

This week, our readings show us something entirely new for Peter. He is bold on a whole different level. He isn’t bragging to Jesus about what he will do, he is just stepping out and doing it. He preaches to the crowds, and 3,000 people believe and join with him. He heals a crippled man, and then stands up to the very ones who had Jesus crucified. He not only refuses to follow their orders to stop preaching, but tells them all about what they did to Jesus and how they were just plain wrong.

Now that is some serious boldness.

This is a Peter we have never seen before.

It brings new meaning to the phrase, “The flesh is willing, but the spirit is weak,” doesn’t it? Peter wanted so badly to be amazing for Jesus. He wanted so badly to stand up when he needed to, but it wasn’t until the Holy Spirit was fully part of him that he could do it. What power there is in that!

We’ve finished Lent and all of our practices that we did or did not do well. Let us pray for the Holy Spirit to come and transform us as powerfully as it did Peter. There’s no telling where we will go.

 

Note: As we go through these fifty days of Easter, I will be returning to my regular Monday, Wednesday, Friday posting schedule.

 

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Just when you thought it was over…

Unfinished, Jesus, Karen May, Amayzing Graces

Part Eight of an eight-part series of reflections on Lent, Holy Week, and Easter

As you have hopefully been able to see over these last several weeks, these days in Holy Week are filled to overflowing with activity, meaning, drama, and grace. It almost seems a shame that it is about to be over with Easter Sunday Mass.

We’ve gone through Lent preparing ourselves for forty days. We’ve developed our self-discipline. We’ve taken out the things that distract us from our relationship with God. We’ve added things that help us find our place in God’s generous and forgiving heart. In many different ways, we have been dying to ourselves.

For what?

Have we done all these things to get to Easter and pick them back up again? I can’t imagine that this would be true.

Instead, I think that we are called to bring them to new life. As the readings of Easter proclaim, we “have died, and our life is hidden with Christ in God.” (Colossians 3:3)

Jesus took our sins and nailed them to a cross. He died so that we could be set free from them. But it didn’t end there. It continued to the Resurrection. Our sin has been taken away, and we have been given so much more.

Jesus doesn’t come back and tell His followers that they don’t need to worry about anything anymore. He comes back and gives them something to do. He makes them a hearty breakfast of fish on the shore, and tells Peter, “If you love me, feed my lambs.”(John 21:15) He goes to the mountain and tells the disciples, “Baptize [all nations] in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 28:20)

The interesting thing about Easter is that the Gospel ends before the apostles have even seen Jesus again. In all but one year of the three-year cycle, the Gospel ends without Jesus having even appeared at all.

If we think that Easter is the end of the season, we are deeply mistaken. We have fifty days to figure out where we are being called. We have fifty days until Pentecost to solidify what we have prepared through our Lenten practices.

Don’t stop here. We were never supposed to.

He is Risen.

So can we.

God bless.

 

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