Rebellious Generation

Why is there evil? How we respond to that question determines a lot. Some, when they think of evil shake their fist at God, blaming him for all that has slipped sideways in the world. And to some degree, I understand this. God is sovereign. Nothing happens with out his okey dokey. And that leads us to all kinds of conundrums. Yes, evil is present. Yes, God is sovereign. But evil is about our choice to rebel against God. And God, in his sovereignty allows us to rebel. But evil is about us slipping sideways; shaking our fist at a holy God and determining with our little rebellious hearts to turn away from him toward all manner of lesser and therefore evil things. We trust in ourselves. We trust in other gods (education, sex, science, power, money, and the list is almost endless). But the bottom line is we have no one to blame but us – mankind is at fault.

              Luke 9:37-43a is a strange tale of the battle between good and evil. So, the next day, after a night of Jesus hanging out with Moses and Elijah, Jesus comes down the mountain with Peter, James and John. And when they arrive at the bottom of the mountain a large multitude meets him. They arrive, but the crowd meets him – Jesus. They are there to see Jesus. Peter, James and John slip into the background of the story. And isn’t there exactly where we should be – in the background of the story? I want Jesus to be in the foreground of my story. That sounds right. Anyway, you have Jesus and you have the often-present large crowd. And then you have a man crying out his desperation. It is important to hear the desperation here.

              The concern is his only son. This is emphasized several times in Luke. A parent’s only child (the widow of Nain’s only son; Jairus’ only daughter). Don’t get me wrong, no matter how many children you have you would be desperate if they were in any danger. Our hopes and dreams are often wrapped up in our children. And if there is only one, and that one is hurting – that is our only hope and dream. This man screams out “Teacher, I am begging you to look closely at my son – my only son.” The problem is an evil spirit. I know. Many sources will call this epilepsy. And the symptoms are epileptic in nature. Okay, but is this about a superstitious misunderstanding of a neurological condition? I don’t think so. I think this is about a demon. Even if the disciples, or the father, made a misdiagnosis, which is completely possible, I don’t believe Jesus did. This is about a nasty spirit that is tormenting this man’s son. This is about his desperation; about his lack of ability to do anything about it; about his watching as his son is battered about by a malevolent demon.

              The disciples were not able to cast out this spirit, which is interesting since Jesus gave them authority over all the demons in verse 1. Even more interesting is Jesus response. He blurts out with a rebuke, “You unbelieving and perverted generation, how long shall I be with you and put up with you?” I mean, “What?” Jesus is taking them back to Old Testament Scripture. In Deuteronomy 32, in the song of Moses, Moses rebuked the people for being a perverted and crooked generation in verse 5 and for being perverted and unfaithful in verse 20. The overall gist of the song is that the people of Israel have trusted in other gods and themselves and have been, well basically unbelieving and perverted. Why is there such a thing as demon possession? Why is this young man being tormented? Jesus is saying, “Rebellion is why.” But it is more than that. Why can’t the disciples cast it out? Maybe, they had begun to trust in their authority more than the source of that authority. That seems to be one of Moses’ points in his song. The rebellious people tend to look at God’s victory as their own. So, why evil? Rebellion. Why inability to confront evil? Rebellion. As the young man approaches Jesus the demons slammed him to the ground and convulsed him. Jesus rebuked the spirit and it left and the boy is healed and the people are overwhelmed.

              One of the things we are intended to see here is the difference between the disciples’ failure and the success of Jesus. Jesus success is because of the greatness – mighty power, grandeur – of God. Yes, there is evil in this world. And it is intent on harming, bruising, and maiming. And when we trust in our ability to handle, to deal with, to vanquish evil, we will fail. The evil is there because of rebellion. Your inability is because of misplaced trust. Trust in God then. It is his power – his good – that will conquer the demons of this world. Don’t rebel, holding firmly to your own intelligence or power. Let go of all that and trust God.

Departure Glory

What is glory? Not the movie. But since you brought it up, lets talk about the movie. The movie Glory is about the first platoon made up of African Americans during the Civil War. Near the end of the movie, their commander, Colonel Shaw, understands that in order for them to get the respect they deserve, they will need to do something almost majestic; something glorious. He volunteers them to lead the charge against Fort Wagner. Many will die. The night before the fateful battle, the soldiers are around a fire, singing their stories. They know they will most likely die the next day. They know that this is about something bigger than one battle; something bigger than themselves. This is about how white people view black people. This is about laying down their own lives so that others can find freedom. This is about glory.

              Luke 9:28-36 is also about glory. About a week after Jesus told them that being Christ means suffering and death – after he tells them that being a follower means following that path – Jesus takes Peter, John and James up on a mountain to pray. And while Jesus was praying the outward appearance of his face became “other.” His clothes became white and flashing like lightning. My guess is that Jesus was filled with the radiance or glory of heaven and it radiated out of him so much so that it actually made his clothes dazzle. Jesus was radiating from the inside out.

              And behold! The word “behold” is intended to grab your attentions. Something that is not the norm is happening here. I mean, you know, other than the flashing like lightning clothes. Two men, Moses and Elijah, were talking with Jesus. Did Peter, James and John get out their “Great Patriarchs” trading cards? How did they know it was Moses and Elijah? Maybe Jesus told them later. Maybe Jesus used their names while talking to them. We don’t know. What is important is that they were there, having appeared in glory, which probably means they came from Heaven. Everything that comes into proximity of the Glory of God reflects that radiance. Kind of like Moses’ face when he came out of the Tent of Meeting. So, Moses and Elijah are talking to Jesus about his exodus. Although the word is used for departure, as in death, among Greek speaking Jews, the word here is probably also intended to hint at the Exodus. The main point is that they are talking about Jesus’ departure – his death; his obedience; his sacrifice. And why Moses and Elijah? Elijah was taken up to God in a fiery chariot. That seems pretty glorious and it puts Elijah in the presence of God. But Moses died before entering the promised land as punishment for not glorifying God.  The common theory is that Moses represents the Law while Elijah represents the prophets. And that may well be, but what if they represent departure – one in obedience and glory and one in disobedience? The choice is before Jesus talking to him about departure.

              The disciples were apparently in some kind of sleep stupor. When they wake up, they notice the glory of Jesus and that of the two men with him. Moses and Elijah get ready to leave and Peter blurts out, “Master, it’s good for us to be here; let us make three tabernacles.” It seems probable that Peter is attempting to prolong the experience. He is witnessing the glory of heaven and doesn’t want it to end. As is often the case with Peter, he is speaking without knowing what is speaking about. The whole conversation is about departure, about submitting to the will of God to the glory of God. So, because Peter felt blessed to have been a witness, he wanted that mountain top experience to continue as long as possible. As he is speaking and maybe as a response to his speaking a cloud formed and covered them. The cloud often represents God’s presence and here it is intended to remind the reader of the Mount Sinai event. A voice comes out of the cloud and said, “This is My Son, My Chosen One; listen to Him!” And then all of a sudden Jesus is found alone, sans Moses and Elijah. Jesus is the Chosen One. Listen to what he tells you about what it means to be the chosen one. The Christ will suffer and die. Listen!

              What is glory? Glory is giving your life for something bigger than yourself. Glory is being so intent on God that his glory radiates out from inside of you. Glory is about how you depart and what you are willing to depart for. Will you depart in disobedience or in obedience? Jesus knew that he was approaching his death. His face is facing the goal. Jesus is one with the will of God and the majesty, the sublimity, of God is shining through him. Yes, Jesus is the fulfillment of the law and the prophets. Listen to him. So, what will your departure look like? Listen to Jesus. Depart well my friends. Peace, Walter

Following

If the identity of the Christ is about suffering, being rejected, killed and resurrected, what would a follower of Jesus look like? I could tell everyone I’m a plumber. I could dress like a plumber. I could carry around the tools. None of that makes me qualified to be a plumber. Or I could pretend to be a surgeon. I could buy a nice white coat, some shoe booties, some you know, whatever I need to pull off the look. I may even familiarize myself with some of the lingo. Like I could say “scalpel” instead of “that really sharp thingy.” But no one wants me to pretend to be a doctor; no matter how much I think I could pull off the look and technical language. Yeah, anyone can say they’re a disciple of Christ.

              There is a reason that Luke 9:23-27 follows directly after Jesus’ description of what it means to be the Christ; the Son of Man. Followers should follow. So, if you are going to be a follower of the Christ who was to suffer, be rejected by the religious leaders, killed and resurrected, what exactly are you following? Jesus was saying to all of them, emphasizing that this message is for everyone. And what is this message? If you want to follow Christ you are called upon to deny yourself. What? Wait! I thought Jesus wanted me to be true to myself. Nah man. He wants you to disregard, refuse, deny yourself. But he doesn’t stop there. He also calls you to pick up your cross daily. Every one of his listeners understood what this meant. If you were sentenced to be crucified – if you were a non-Roman citizen and the worst of people – you had to carry the cross beam of the implement of your death to the place of your death. Picking up your cross meant only one thing. You are going to die son. Daily! That’s what it means to follow the Christ.

              This is followed with three explanatory clauses which begin with the word “for.” For whoever longs to save or rescue their life will ruin it. And we have seen the truth of this played out before us haven’t we? The person who focuses all of their efforts on themselves is often a train wreck. But whoever loses or ruins their life for Jesus’ sake will save that life. It may seem too scary to pick up a cross and follow the suffering Christ, but the alternative is not really life. It seems likely that Jesus is saying that his followers should not only daily lay down their lives, but that they should be ready to be martyred. It is a call to make Jesus more important than your life; your self.

              For in what way is a man successful if he is able to acquire the whole world, but in the process ruins or suffers the loss of himself? In the ledger of life is this really a success? On one of the news shows, they sometimes do a segment on “A Life Well Lived.” This is usually about a person who has used their ability, resources, to help others; to better their community. Even non-followers of Jesus know that having wealth cannot be the end all of your existence. Sure, it might be nice to throw money at all of your problems in life – such as purchasing a college education for your son or daughter who is more interested in partying than studying.

              For whoever is ashamed of Jesus and his message, when the Son of Man comes in glory, he will be ashamed of that person. When the pressures of this life try to crush out the message of a suffering Christ, do you shudder and think more about yourself or do you take a stand in Christ? Do you rescue you by displaying shame for Christ? If you live your life rescuing you at the cost of Christ’s honor, should it be a surprise when Jesus is ashamed of you? Should Jesus honor you when you have refused to honor him? Many will see the phrase “come in glory” and leap to the end of time. But if this is a reference to Daniel 7, this is about when the kingdom is given to the Son of Man. Maybe that is why he tells them that some of them will still be alive when they see that kingdom. That kingdom is the glory of God and of the angels. And you really shouldn’t expect the Son of Man, to whom has been given dominion, glory and kingdom, to welcome you into that kingdom, if you have treated him and his message with contempt.

               By all means, follow Jesus. But don’t just wear a title and learn the lingo. Don’t sit in the stands cheering on the Miracle Worker. Be a follower of the true Christ; the suffering servant who was rejected by the religious elite; the Christ who went to the cross. So, pick up your cross. Daily. I know. It means death. Pick it up and follow. Jesus doesn’t call you to a life of being true to yourself. He calls you to deny self. Paradoxically, if you spend all your effort – your self – trying to save yourself, you will lose. So, lose you as you follow. I know. It feels like death. It is. Die then, and live. Grace, Walter

Mistaken Identity

Let’s say that you are super famous. You, sir or madam, have been in the news a lot. And a lot has been said about you. Most of it not true. And what is true has been seriously hyped up; sensationalized. When you are out and about, you have people come up to you and say, “You’re that person! The one in the news!” Before you respond, do you think in this moment that they have the name right, but they don’t know the person who wears the name? Do you almost hesitate to acknowledge that they are correct because you know they are not correct? Sure, they have the right name. They have heard and read all manner of things about the name. But none of that is who you are. Their concept of your identity is mistaken.

              Luke 9:18-22 is all about mistaken identity. Either Jesus is praying alone or the disciples alone are with him. If Jesus is praying alone, the disciples are there with him as he is praying alone. It seems likely that the emphasis is that no one other than the disciples were with them as he was praying. There is a distinction between the crowd – the people who are enamored with what Jesus can do for them – and the followers of Jesus. Always will be. Jesus takes advantage of this alone time and asked the disciples who the people say that he is; what is the popular opinion floating around out there? And their answer is pretty much the same as what was reported to Herod Antipas. This makes sense: what was reported to Herod was what the people were saying about Jesus. So, again you have John the Baptist, Elijah, or one of the prophets of old. The phrase “has risen again” could refer to all three. The people believed that one of these three had come back from the dead. This, they thought, explained Jesus’ miracles. I mean, if you’re going to come back from the dead, you are going to have special powers. Right? This is a report of the common misconception of Jesus’ identity.

              Jesus then turns the question onto his disciples: You, who do you say I am? And it is not surprising that Peter blurts out, “The Christ of God”. While the others are most likely thinking how best to word their response or wrestling with the question itself, Peter jumps right in. This sometimes worked well for Peter. Sometimes not so much. For a Jew, this answer is weighty. The Christ is the anointed of God. The Christ is the one they had been waiting for. The Christ would issue in the new age; the age in which God breaks into their bleak reality and establishes his kingdom. Peter’s answer is heavy with pent up expectations. Though not stated, it seems likely that Peter had based this conviction on the feeding of the five thousand. The Christ; the host of the Messianic banquet.

              Jesus then warns them with warnings (or commands them with warnings) not to tell anyone. What? They finally get who he is; it is finally out in the open; blatantly blurted out. But do they really get who he is? They knew the title “Christ of God,” but their expectations overshadowed the reality. That is why Jesus goes on to tell them what being the Christ of God means: it means suffering through pain (like the suffering servant of Isaiah 52:13-53:12; or the righteous sufferer dealt with in Job and many of the Psalms; or the martyr who makes atonement for the sins of the nation in Wisdom of Solomon 2:10-20); it means being rejected by the Sanhedrin (like many of the prophets who were rejected by the ones to whom they had been sent); it means being killed and resurrected. Oh, and he tells them that all of this must happen to the “son of man.” This could be a term referring to his humanity, but it more likely refers to Daniel 7:13-14. The son of man vision in Daniel is all about the Ancient of Days handing dominion, glory, and a kingdom to this son of man who rode up on a cloud. Jesus is saying that the messianic fulfilment is found in suffering, rejection, death and resurrection. The everlasting kingdom comes through what looks like to most to be a humiliating defeat.

              The warning is about mistaken identity. They knew the title “Christ” but they mistakenly believed the Christ of God was coming to defeat and judge the blasted Romans; to make the Jews the predominant nation. The disciples have these mistaken ideas as well, but they are spending time with Jesus. They are seeing the reality of who he is. They may be able to utter the term “Christ” but they are not ready to explain to the people who the term really refers to. They know more than the crowds who Jesus is, but they are still lacking in their understanding. The goal is to let go of our expectations and allow Jesus to tell us who he is. Anything else lends itself to an identity crisis. Know Jesus! The suffering servant! The Messiah! Grace.

Feeding

Who is Jesus? How you answer this question determines how you approach the story. If Jesus was a good teacher; one of many wise men, then you can read about him and dissect his words and decide for yourself what makes sense in your life. Jesus becomes a buffet all full of options you can pick and choose from. But if he is something more; if he is who he claimed to be, well, then you are going to want to feast on his every word. Jesus is not a buffet, but rather a festive meal where every morsel is bursting with significance. When the Jewish people ate the Passover meal, skipping the bitter herbs part of the meal was not really an option. So, how do you see Jesus? Buffet or celebration meal?

              Luke 9:10-17 does not have the question “Who is this man?” in it. However, prior to our passage, we have Herod asking this question and after our passage Jesus asked the disciples who people said he was. So, the story of the feeding of the five thousand is sandwiched with questions of who Jesus was. This implies that Luke saw in this story an answer to the question of Jesus’ identity.

              The story begins with the return of the disciples. They had been sent out to preach the kingdom and to heal the weak. They return and give a full report of their mission. Jesus gathers them together and takes them to Bethsaida, most likely on the north eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee. This jaunt to the area was all about withdrawing, so Jesus was intending to be alone with his disciples. But, as so often is the case, ministry shifts our plans. The crowd – probably some of the same crowd mentioned a couple of times in chapter 8 – became aware of his plan and they followed him to Bethsaida (most likely to a remote area near the city). When Jesus sees the crowd he warmly welcomes them. You gotta love this guy. The plan was a quiet retreat with his disciples and this is disrupted by a throng of people. And Jesus kindly receives them and begins to speak to them about the kingdom of God and healing all who had need. So, basically, the same mission the disciples were sent out to do, is now being done by Jesus.

              The day began to end, which is a poetic way of describing dusk. The disciples encourage Jesus to send the crowd on their way so that they can find lodging and food. They describe the area as a desolate place. And for a multitude of this size to be able to just break up and spread out and find places to stay and food to eat would have been difficult at best. But what else is to be done? It seems likely that the disciples are thinking of the people here and not just wanting to be rid of them so that they could take care of their own need to rest and eat. Jesus simply said, “You give them to eat!” I wonder if the disciples spluttered out a “Wha . . . Ho . . . What in the wor . . .” We know they responded with “Well, we only have five loaves and two fish. We would have to buy food to accomplish any good here.” It is implied that this option was not likely either. They are at a loss to know how to do what Jesus asked them to do. I get that. That happens to me too sometimes.

              There are about five thousand men, which means that the size of the crowd was much larger since the women and children were not counted. Jesus tells the disciples to have them sit down. And Luke uses a rare and rather specific word here. It means to recline. You know, like how they would have reclined at table at a festive meal complete with guests and meaning. Like how they would have eaten the Passover and the other two major festival meals. The disciples have them sit down and then Jesus took the bread and fish, blessed them, broke them, and gave them to the disciples. And what is significant here is that the words and word order is close to the same as the Lord’s Supper (Luke 22:19) and to the Emmaus meal (Luke 24:30). Close enough to cause many to believe they are formulaic. Jesus took, gave thanks, broke, and gave. He is the host of the feast. He gave the food to the disciples so that they could in turn give it to the people. They can do what Jesus asked of them because Jesus gave. The twelve baskets of left overs may signify that Jesus is able to feed all of Israel.

              Who is Jesus? He is the host of the feast. He is the one who provides so that we can in turn provide for others. He is the Passover Lamb. He is the one who leads us out of captivity. He takes, he blesses, he breaks, he gives. The Lord’s Supper – the Eucharist – is about acknowledging that we need to feast on Jesus’ every word. That it is only because of what he has given us, that we can help others. It is a celebration of the message and feast of Jesus. So, eat what he gives and hand it on to others. Feast it up.

Perplexed

A while back, I mentioned that I didn’t have the Godhead all figured out. A young man approached me and told me he could tell me everything I need to know about the Trinity. Wow! He had God all figured out. Well, that must be nice. I smiled and said, “I’m not sure anyone can adequately describe God.” Our finite minds will always grapple with understanding an infinite God. I personally think that is exactly how it ought to be; how it is meant to be. If we truly did grasp the mystery of the Godhead, we most likely would think too much of ourselves. Hey, listen to me, I’ve got the answers that you are not smart enough to figure out. And it is here that we come to an infinitely important juncture in our faith: can we trust in a God that we cannot pigeonhole into a nicely packaged definition?

              Luke 9:7-9 is the account of Herod grasping to come to terms with who Jesus was. One of the purposes of this passage is to illustrate how far the reports of Jesus were traveling. Herod Antipas, son of Herod the Great, was a tetrarch. Mark, using common, rather than technically accurate terminology, calls him a king. The term tetrarch was more technical. The Romans often divided up a region into fourths. Herod ruled over a fourth of what his father Herod the Great had ruled over. So, he was a Roman minion with some authority. But he was a tetrarch and most of the time what happened in Galilee would have flown well below his radar. But healings and raising little girls and young men from the dead and casting out demons and all of that was bound to come to his attention.

              Luke tells us that he was perplexed. The word means to be thoroughly perplexed. It has the idea of exhausting all options and still being at a loss; not finding an answer. For Herod, Jesus was the unsolvable equation. And for Herod, this may have been a result of him not wanting to believe the possibility that Jesus was the Messiah. Herod was not Jewish, but he would have known about the Jewish expectation. And this expectation may have been something he scoffed at. Some will be perplexed by Jesus because of the simple fact that they don’t want to except the possibility of him being more than just a man. That would change things; that would demand things. But on another level, we should be perplexed by Jesus. Jesus will not fit nicely into a convenient or comfortable niche. He was fully man and yet fully God. I can grasp the fully human part, but I have never been fully God. So all of my attempts to shove Jesus into a box will fall short and any claim of having figured him out will be a bit presumptuous. Don’t misunderstand. We can know Jesus and follow Jesus. But that knowing and following is a constant learning process. And in that way we should be somewhat perplexed as well. More like the disciples, who are asking and wondering and growing and less like Herod who is refusing to accept the implications.

              There are three explanations of who Jesus was that had wafted up to Herod’s palace. Some believed that John the Baptist had come back from the dead. Many believed that someone coming back from the dead would possess superhuman abilities. So, even though the lives of Jesus and John had overlapped, they tried to explain Jesus with superstition. Some thought that Elijah had returned. And here we are getting close. In Malachi 4:5 God tells the people that he is going to send Elijah before the coming of the great and terrible day of Yahweh. Most Jews believed that Elijah had to come before the Messiah came. So, Jesus may not be the Messiah, but he is the one who comes before the Messiah. The third explanation was that one of the prophets of old had risen again. Israel had experienced a prophet drought. Many longed for a man of God who powerfully proclaimed the word of God and was also able to do amazing things like outrun chariots and raise the dead. It is interesting that all of their explanations involve somebody coming back from the dead. Herod blurts out that he had killed John. And then he asked the important question, “Who is this man?” The final statement is sad. He kept seeking him. I think this is meant to be taken both physically and ironically. He sought in vain because he refused the possibility; because he refused to allow Jesus to tell him who he was.

              Don’t be perplexed in the same way as Herod Antipas. Don’t look at all the options and reject them all. Jesus is the Messiah. He is the Son of God. He is the Savior. Be perplexed like the disciples who had also asked “Who is this man?” They asked and watched and learned. Don’t think you can shove Jesus into a comfortable explanation. Accept him for who he is and be wowed. Perplexity can be good. Peace, Walter

Power and Authority

A while back I was asked to bless one of the cottages in a correction facility. Through the years, I have done this a few times. And why is this a thing, you ask? I mean, what possible difference could it make for me to walk through a building, stepping into every room, and blessing it? And here we hit upon what is truly important. I didn’t bless anything. I asked God to bless the rooms and the people living in them; I asked God to bless the staff; I asked God to drive out every evil spirit. You see! I asked God to bless. I have no ability to bless. No more than anyone else. I can strive to be a blessing in the lives of others, but to bless a building; to drive out any evil residue – nope. So, I walked through the building and asked God to bless; to drive out evil. It is all about God’s power and authority.

              Some people may think that Luke 9:1-6 and the Day of Pentecost outpouring in Acts 2 is all about the power of Jesus’ followers. But neither here, nor in Acts, is the emphasis on the disciples’ ability. That is why our story begins with Jesus gathering his disciples together and giving them power and authority. Jesus gave. Without that, the disciples would have been left ineffective and inauthentic. The word power refers to ability while the word authority emphasizes the right to act. Together these two are a powerful combination. However, exercising ability without authority, may work for a time, but eventually that authority thing will catch up and smack ya. So, Jesus gave the disciples power and authority over all the demons and to heal diseases. This is about Jesus bringing the kingdom of God into the world. This is about giving kingdom of God power and authority to his followers.

              Having gathered them together and empowering them, Jesus then sent them out. It is Jesus who gathered them; it is Jesus who sent them out. This time their mission is described as proclaiming the kingdom of God and healing the weak. Like a herald, they came making an authentic message of the king. And a tangible result of the nearness of the kingdom of God was the weak being made strong. Then we have this strange command not to take anything for the journey; no staff; no traveling bag, no bread to put in the bag you don’t have, no money to buy bread to put into the bag you don’t have, and no change of clothes. But why? Some have suggested this is intended to be prophetic symbol. The message is too urgent to pause and make preparations for the journey. Some have suggested that this is about learning to trust in God. Maybe it also illustrates that the heralds of the king should be taken care of by the people they are serving. When they enter a house in any given village, they are to remain there until they leave the village. This is most likely about resisting the urge to upgrade their accommodations. If a poor person agrees to host you, do not insult them by moving on to a nicer house.

              And what about those who do not receive or welcome you. This seems to be about how a city, as a whole, responds. Some cities will not rejoice over the message. Some will react with anger, fear, mistrust. Shake the dust off and move on. And what is this all about? Some Jews ceremonially shook off the dust of a foreign country as they came back to the holy land, as if to say, “I want nothing to do with your land.” Here, it seems likely that this is once again a prophetic symbol implying that their refusal to accept the message means that they will not be accepted in the kingdom of God; they will be shaken off like the dust of a foreign country. The message is urgent. Rejecting the message means being rejected. Receiving the message means being received into the kingdom.

              Having departed; having gone through the villages; having preached the good news; having healed everywhere. Verse six is the summary verse and it is similar to the mission of Jesus described in 8:1-2. And that is exactly the point. The mission of the disciples is the mission of Jesus. They were gathered together; given power and authority; and sent out. This is about Jesus’ mission to bring the Kingdom of God into our reality. Jesus’ disciples are followers who continue the mission.

              Have you ever felt as if life is too hard? Have you felt like giving up? Sometimes, it’s too much isn’t it? Life sucks you dry and people kick and bite and maim. The people you love hurt you. Stop! This is not about your power; your authority. This is about what Jesus gives you. Has he gathered you together? Has he given you power and authority? Has he sent you out? Let go of yourself. If you are called upon to be a blessing, don’t look to your ability or piety or holiness. Look to God. God bless you my friends. Walter

Faith Touch

In his book “The Oath,” Frank Perretti describes this situation where people’s sins become a black, festering, smelly wound that grows on the body; seeps through their clothing; stains everything it comes into contact with. Can you imagine carrying around your sin like that? Can you imagine trying everything you can to get rid of it, or at least covering it up, only to be disappointed over and over again? Can you imagine how unclean you would feel? Would people avoid you? Even if they also had a festering, filthy, foul smelling wound of their own? And what if this wound just kept growing until you died from it? Now, that is scary stuff.

              In Luke 8:40-56 Jesus comes into contact with two people who are feeling powerless; desperate. Jesus returns from the other side of the lake and is welcomed by a crowd, which had been anxiously awaiting his return. His popularity is growing and the crowds are thronging. Into this fray, enters a leader of the synagogue named Jairus. The name may mean “He (God?) will awaken.” Which fits into the story quite nicely. This is not to say, the name was contrived. Jair, or Jairus, was not an unknown name. A synagogue official would be the person responsible for the physicality of the synagogue; making sure it was clean and ready for use. He was an important Jewish official. But Jairus’ only daughter is dying. Being important cannot save his daughter. “Only” can mean that she is his only child, or it could mean she is his only daughter. Either way, take a moment to feel this man’s desperation. He has heard about Jesus and there is hope; desperate hope. At this juncture in his life, Jairus is probably not too concerned about the official Jewish reaction to Jesus. His daughter, who is twelve, who is approaching the age of marriage, is dying. All of his hopes and dreams are sick in bed.

              In the middle of this story is the story of a woman who has had a bleeding problem for twelve years. First, stop and try to imagine how weak and frustrated she must have been. But it is more than the physical anemia. She is religiously unclean. As long as her menstrual flow is all wacky, she should really be keeping to herself. She certainly shouldn’t be squeezing herself through a thronging crowd. This is why she has this crazy desperate plan. Just touch his garment; be healed; sneak away. No one need know. She touches either one of his four tassels or the hem of his garment. Either way, the goal was most likely to touch his garment where he would be least likely to feel it. And . . . Success! Immediately the flow of blood is stopped. Her plan had worked. Well, sort of.

              Jesus said, “Alright who touched me?” And in his words there is something significant. He doesn’t say, “Who touched my garment?” His clothes do not contain healing power. No, she had touched Jesus. I don’t think Jesus asked this because he didn’t know. I think he wanted the women to witness both her depth of need and her healing. I can imagine Peter saying, “What? Who touched you? I mean, the people are practically crushing us here.” Jesus is, of course, unperturbed. Someone touched him and power had been released. The woman’s plan of anonymity crumbled and she shook with fear and fell before Jesus and told this crowd of people how she had been unclean for twelve years; how one touch had healed her; how touching Jesus accomplished what she nor anyone else could have managed. Jesus calls her “daughter” and I think this is important. This is not merely an unclean woman. This is a daughter. Her faith healed her. Her faith led her to touch Jesus, the One who has power over the unclean things of this world.

              Wait a minute! Do you remember Jairus and his dying daughter? Was he tugging on Jesus sleeve, begging him not to linger? Too late. Someone from his house comes and reports his greatest fear. His daughter is dead. There is no longer any need to trouble Jesus. Hope had died. But Jesus calls upon this grieving father to bolster a faith beyond reason. Can there still be hope? Jairus brings Jesus to his house, he does his thing and the girl is raised from the dead. Life leaps back into her. The mockers are silenced and the parents are blown away. The girl, well the girl is hungry. No ethereal existence here.

              I cannot make myself clean. I cannot make anyone else clean. I cannot defeat death. I have no power over either death or uncleanness. Ah, but Jesus broke into our world and he overcame death. He spoke life and healing. Touching him is where true healing can be found. So, with faith driving you stretch out your hand and touch Jesus. The filthy stain of sin and death flees from this touch. Peace, Walter

Legion

Is there still such a thing as demon possession? A lot of Christians will give an automatic “nope!” And is this answer the result of solid theology or does it have more to do with fear? Is there anything in the Bible that tells us that demons have, for some inexplicable reason, decided to give up on the whole controlling people thing? Now, I could be wrong, but I cannot find any evidence that would support the whole demon possession thing has ended at some magical point. And here’s the thing, evil spirits are scary. And the thought that someone could be possessed by a demon is absolutely terrifying. Maybe our reticence is due to a misunderstanding of how demons work. All of the evidence suggests that demons are invited in. They cannot just swoop down and take over a person. If that were the case, the whole world would be possessed. No, they take over people who have enlisted the help of demons for often nefarious reasons. The truth we need to understand is that there is a spiritual battle raging complete with good and evil spiritual beings.

              Luke 8:26-39 is the amazing story of the confrontation of Jesus with a whole battalion of demons. After Jesus calmed the wind and the waves, they sailed down to the country of the Gerasenes. And here, we have a slight problem: The city of Gerasa is south of the Sea of Galilee and its region most likely didn’t reach the shores of the lake. It has been discovered that there was a small city near the eastern cliffs of the Sea of Galilee named Khersa (possibly Gersa in Greek). There is no way to be certain, but this is as likely as any other suggestion. Anyway, as they land, a naked, demon possessed, man meets them. And this meeting may just be the very reason Jesus said, “Hey, let’s get ourselves over to the other side of the lake.”

              Try to imagine this encounter. The man had been living in tombs. For the Jewish people this was absolute proof that he was a crazy person. And most cultures would agree. So, he is naked; he most likely smells awful; he is cut up (Mark 5:5); he is extremely strong; and he is wild looking. The disciples are probably thinking, “I knew we should have never come over to this accursed land.” The man falls down – most likely in fear – and cries out, “Jesus! Son of the Most High God! What to us and to you (we don’t expect anything good to come from this meeting)? I beg you, don’t torment us.” The word “torment” probably refers to judicial punishment. Because they are spiritual beings; because Jesus had already bound their master the Strong Man (Luke 4:1-13); they know who he is and they know they are in trouble.

              Jesus asked them their name. There is no evidence that this about gaining control of these demons. The Greeks believed that learning a spiritual beings name gave you authority over that being. Which is how they got themselves possessed. No, this is about Jesus emphasizing his authority. They are Legion. A legion was about 6,000 Roman soldiers; a force to be reckoned with. This group of demons is shaking in their spiritual boots; begging Jesus not to send them to the abyss. The abyss may represent the region where they came from; a shadowy realm devoid of corporeal bodies. They ask to be sent into a herd of pigs and surprisingly Jesus allows it. Why? Everything in the story points to his absolute authority over this gang of evil spirits. Some have suggested that it is not time for the final and complete judgment upon the demons. Jesus was not going to send them to the Abyss yet anyway. That comes later. But why the pigs? This herd represents somebody’s livelihood. I am not sure, but maybe the idea is to illustrate to everyone who is a witness that you cannot play with evil. Evil destroys; evil consumes; evil ruins.

              The herdsmen, who did witness the whole thing, run off and inform everyone they come into contact with. A group forms and they, with superstitious fear bubbling up out of the lot of them, ask Jesus to leave. This kind of power is frightening. The freed man begs to go with Jesus and Jesus sends him home with a mission. “Tell them what God has done for you.” Jesus is still asking us to do this. Go and tell.

              There are spiritual powers out there. A battle is raging. And that would be terrifying except for one thing: The one who is in us is more powerful than the one who is in the world. Jesus has absolute authority; he has bound the Strong Man; evil spirits cower before him – even a legion of demons. I believe that demons still roam this world with evil intentions. I believe they are still tricking humans into inviting them to help them with their nefarious intentions. But don’t despair. Jesus has already won the battle. Make sure you are on his side of the battle. And, for goodness sake, don’t play with evil. Grace and peace. Walter.

Calmed Chaos

Storms can be scary. They are unpredictable and wild. They are tempestuous, angry, rampaging forces. No matter how advanced our radars and equipment, we are still constantly surprised. No matter our efforts we cannot control them. All that we can do is to take shelter the best we can; to huddle in basements; to amass ourselves into hallways; to camp out on the rooftop until the rescuers come; to park under the overpass until the deluge passes. Yes, storms can be scary. Now, imagine facing a raging storm, not in the shelter of your home, but in a fishing boat out in open water. I’ve been told that parking lots alongside the Sea of Galilee, which is not a sea at all, but a freshwater lake, have signs warning drivers that the area is known for sudden squalls complete with huge waves that sweep over the parking lot. So, park your car here with an eye to the lake and a hand on your keys. Better yet, don’t park here at all because you won’t have time to save your car.

              Luke 8:22-25 is a tale of a sudden storm on the Sea of Galilee. But really it is a tale of faith and faltering faith; a tale of chaos and calm. It happened on one of those days – one of the days that Jesus was traveling around preaching about the kingdom of God – Jesus and his disciples got into a boat. The group is made up of the Twelve and possibly also the women who were traveling with Jesus during this time. Surprisingly, Jesus said, “Let’s go over to the other side.” This was surprising, because the other side of the lake was comprised mostly of Gentiles. There may be a hint here of Jesus preparing his followers for the idea of an expanding kingdom; a kingdom whose doors are opening for Gentiles as well as Jews. They may not have thought of this at the time. Maybe they thought Jesus wanted to find a quiet place. But there is also a concept of crossing over the Lake. Water was often considered to be chaos or even an abyss. And it doesn’t take much imagination to understand the connection. The open water was dangerous. Crossing the Lake of Galilee could be extremely dangerous.

              But hey, Jesus said “Let’s go” so they went. They are his followers after all. And Jesus? Well, Jesus falls off into sleep, which is kind of an emphatic way of saying it. And as it was known to happen on Lake Galilee, a fierce gust of wind descended on the lake. Luke’s phraseology is descriptive. The wind would rush down the face of the hills surrounding the lake and assault the water and anything unlucky enough to be on its surface. The ship began to take in water and everyone was in danger. Some of these disciples were seasoned fishermen. Maybe Peter told Luke about how near disaster they really were. This is a real danger. This is not merely a boat full of superstitious scaredy cats. Sure, they were terrified, but this was a justified, about to die, terror.

              They woke Jesus up with a panicked, “Master, master we are being destroyed!” My guess is that they didn’t wake him up so that he could do anything about the problem. Their reaction to what Jesus did seems to negate that motive. We seem to want to share our distress. And who better to share their distress with than the one they have given their allegiance to? This is a very human response. They love Jesus. They believe that they are all about to die and they want to share this final moment with their master.

              I picture Jesus bolting awake, standing against the wind, and shouting with force and authority, “Calm down wind! Stop it waves! Now!” And like that, the wind and the waves become calm. Chaos is averted; death is thwarted. Jesus speaks peace and the winds and the waves obey. Wait a minute! Do we grasp the significance here? Only God has authority over the storm. Jesus asked them, “Where then is your faith?” Where do you place your trust? Is it in the power of the storm or in the power of the one who commands the storm? And their response? They were overwhelmed with fear and awe. They were stunned. Who could this be? Psalm 107:25 tells us about God speaking up a raging storm. They should have known that no matter what happens, God holds all things in his control.

              Storms can be scary. And I mean more than wind, waves, and boats taking on water. Life sometimes whips up spiritual storms. The winds tear at our souls; the waves crash against our faith; the chaos threatens our lives. Where do you put your trust? In the power of the storm? Or, do you put your trust in the God of Creation? I don’t know if God will speak peace into our storms. I do know that no matter what, I want to have faith in the one who commands the winds and the waves; who can calm the chaos. Peace.