Like a Kernel of Wheat

lent-41

by Dcn. John LaMar

 John 12:20-end

“I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.”   John 12:24

Ask any farmer and he will tell you that it is all about the “yield.”  The planting of seed in the ground brings the harvest, the reaping of the bounty produced by the yield that each individual seed will give. Scientist work continually to engineer healthier, stronger plants and trees that produce ever greater yields against the investment of each seed or sapling. Jesus illustrated a great principle using the analogy of a grain of wheat. A grain of wheat planted in the ground dies, but in its dying it produces a blade, then an ear and finally the harvest.

Consider the sacrificial death of Christ on the cross, his burial and his glorious resurrection after three days in the tomb. Jesus is the lone kernel of wheat that was put into the ground that would give life to all those who would follow him. That proto kernel of wheat produced an important yield made up of his apostles and the other disciples. These in turn would go out into the world and produce yields of their own by the power of the Holy Spirit and through the meritorious death of Christ.

These first century disciples, and all those who would follow them, had to “die to themselves” that they might live for Christ and his kingdom. It was the second century apologist, Tertullian who said, “The blood of the martyrs is seed of Christians (the church).” How true the saying is.  We, as individual and corporate members of the body of Christ, are inheritors of the Church that was born under the frequent cycles of great Roman persecutions that saw many Christian men and women professing Christ openly and boldly that they might be martyred for the sake of Christ.

How sad it is to see that so many Christians becoming so caught up in the belief that it is to our benefit and well-being that we have modern conveniences to make our lives easier, that we be quick to access every form of medication available to ease our stress, anxieties and fears that come from living in such a fast-paced and often frightening world. We readily eschew the idea of having to “do without” in a culture that thrives on consumerism and instant gratification. However, now is the time, more than ever, that we begin our Lenten journey following the ancient path of regular self-examination, repentance and yes, when desired, partaking of the sacrament of reconciliation. During this season’s Lenten journey let us commit ourselves to be the kernel of wheat that willingly and sacrificially falls to the ground that it may produce a mighty and blessed yield for the sake of Christ and his kingdom.

Dcn. John ministers at Trinity Anglican Church

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Ignorant Controversies

lent-41

by Fr. Randy Messick

2 Timothy 2:23-25

Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels.  And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil,  correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth,

When I read these verses it’s clear to me that there is an irreconcilable difference between my wish to serve God and my compulsion to serve my ego.  Paul teaches me to avoid “ignorant controversies that breed quarrels” and yet, sometimes I find myself right in the middle of them believing that in some way I really am serving the Lord.  Paul knows that when I participate in such quarrels I do so not out of a desire to serve the Lord, but out of an egotistical desire to be right.  When I do this I drive a wedge between my will and God’s will and as a result I can drive a wedge between God and others.

Paul teaches me to be kind to everyone, to pursue love and peace, so that in doing so I may actually share with others knowledge and truth about God.  When others sense that I’m quarreling with them so that I can prove I’m right and they’re wrong, they are likely to reject anything I have to say.  But, when I approach people in true love, and peace, and gentleness, then I have a chance of sharing knowledge and truth about Jesus, whose gift of salvation is, after all, given out of His great love for us.

Fr. Randy ministers at Faith Anglican Church

Handing on the Faith

lent-41

by Fr. Karl Dietze

2 Timothy 1

“I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well.” 2 Timothy 1:5

Paul’s second letter to Timothy reads like the testimony of a man who knows his days are numbered.  Indeed, as Paul encourages Timothy to continue his faithful ministry, he also encourages Timothy to come see him soon (4:9).  “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come.  I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (4:6-7).  Perhaps that is why Paul seems so reflective about Timothy. As he faces the end of his earthly ministry, Paul is writing to the young man who will carry on his spiritual legacy.  “I am reminded of your sincere faith…”

There is something powerful that jumps out at me in this verse.

Here we see the power of a believing household.  Paul commends Timothy for the sincere faith that “dwelt first” in his mother and grandmother.  This doesn’t mean that Timothy didn’t have a faith of his own, but it seems to mean that his mother and grandmother raised him to know Jesus.  This is one of the key missions of marriage and family.  We hear it in our own liturgy for marriage.  “The union of husband and wife in heart, body, and mind was ordained by God: for the procreation of children and their nurture in the knowledge and love of the Lord…”

It has become popular in recent years to let children choose their own faith.  I would maintain that that misses the mark in at least two ways.  First, as we hear in the marriage liturgy, Scripture teaches that one of the primary roles of families is to raise children in the knowledge and love of the Lord.  It is God’s design.  Second, we teach our children those things that we believe are of ultimate value.  We teach them to take care of their bodies, we teach them to treat others well, we teach them the importance of education and knowledge.  If we believe that “there is no other name under heaven among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12), then why wouldn’t we teach our children to know and love the Lord?

I am convinced, too, that Lois and Eunice taught the faith to Timothy.  Like it or not, parents are the primary faith teachers for their children.  Parents need to know the content of their faith if they are going to faithfully pass it on to their children.  That means that parents need to be active in growing their own faith so that they can both model the life of faith and teach its content.  But lest we narrow this down to only parents, can’t we say the same is true of the extended “family?”  We don’t raise children alone.  We, the Church, are meant to raise them together in the fellowship of the Church.

Recent studies have shown that the most likely contributing factor to young adults staying in the church in their twenties is having significant adult relationships with other disciples of Jesus.  That means that grandparents and extended natural family, as well as close family relationships, all play a powerful role in shaping young lives in Christ.  That means that raising children in the fellowship of the Church is vitally important.  We not only need to involve our children in the life of the Church, we need to teach them why such involvement (even if it doesn’t excite them any more than brushing their teeth or school) is so important.

If you have children of your own, what are you doing to raise them in the knowledge and love of the Lord?

If you have a relationship with the children of others, what are you doing to raise them in the knowledge and love of the Lord?

Fr. Karl ministers at Trinity Anglican Church

Knowing God

lent-41

by Fr. Stephen Veselsky

John 11:1-44

Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.”  John 11:5-7 

You think you know God.  One could mean that in two different senses.  The first one is to know that God exists, that He simply is, and the second sense is to know His actions, how God acts.  Here, we are dealing with the second sense.  We think know God, so we expect God to behave in particular ways.  So how do we respond when God doesn’t act like we know He should?  Often, with our limited human understanding, we question God’s actions.

Here is somebody who loves someone who is like family, and when one of his family is really ill, the one who is supposedly loving does nothing – no action, no explanation.  It appears that Jesus does not care. How is it possible to read that “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus” while there is no evidence of anything that would point to love.  Imagine, being in the place of Martha and her sister.  How would you feel?  What would be your experienced emotion in this situation?

Perhaps confusion and frustration come to mind, connected with amazement at inaction displayed by Jesus.  Anger would be a surprise, either.

Jesus knew what others did not and could not know. Otherwise, it is impossible to defend the claim that He is loving. From the start, He intended to raise Lazarus from dead and needed others to know for sure that Lazarus had died.  By remaining for two more days at the same place, he made sure people knew Lazarus was dead. About this passage, Chrysostom says that Jesus delayed “to give time for his death and burial, that they might say, he stinks, and none doubt that it was death, and not in a trance, from which he was raised.”

This passage is an excellent example that God cares about us, and that often it is beyond our limited human understanding to perceive that.  In the face of death, the Resurrection awaits us.  Glory to Him who came to us, sent by our Father.

Fr. Steve serves as a missionary in the Czech Republic

Facing Rejection

lent-41

by Dcn. Skip Hill

John 10:22-42

If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me. But if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, so that you may know and understand* that the Father is in me and I am in the Father. Then they tried to arrest him again, but he escaped from their hands. He went away again across the Jordan to the place where John had been baptizing earlier, and he remained there. Many came to him, and they were saying, John performed no sign, but everything that John said about this man was true.’ And many believed in him there.  John 10:37-42

What were the Jews of Jesus’ day looking for in a Messiah?  I would think that they would look for a person who lived a godly life, could do wonderful works, and who had no fault in Him.  They were looking for someone who lived a consistent godly life; who was bold, sure of Himself, and who could speak to them of God!  Why then did they try to arrest him when He demonstrated the very characteristics that they were looking for?

It appears as if they had faith in a Messiah who would be ideal, while simultaneously believing that anyone who ‘acted’ in ways that they anticipated the Messiah to behave would by ‘nature’ be a blasphemer!  So…they had an image of the ideal in their minds, while never expecting that this ideal could become a reality.

What wrong did Jesus do that deserved the reactions that he got from the Jewish leaders?  They did not challenge Him when He suggested “If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me.” Their reaction against Him came after He said, “But if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, so that you may know and understand* that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” 

The Jews did not take exception with either of Jesus’ statements!  They did not have any answer; all they had was a reaction!   In fact, it was the very ‘good things’ that Jesus was doing among them that caused them the difficulty!  It is strange that while going about doing good, Jesus was accused of being bad!

Do we expect to experience any other reaction from others as we live to bring Christ to the world?  Good is considered bad!   Godly living is considered ‘prudish’ and odd by those rejecting Christ.  When a Christian lets his or her light ‘shine’ all around, the believer is shown for what he or she is. A person hiding in the dark does not want the light shined upon them…..they want to remain as they are…..unseen and hidden.

When Jesus ‘went about doing good,’ those around Him were able to see the contrast of His life with theirs, and did not appreciate seeing the truth.  There is no darkness in light…none at all.  The light changes the nature of the dark.  The Goodness of God by its nature demonstrates the badness that is around.

So, Jesus left those behind who rejected Him, and brought His good news to people who received Him; who wanted what He had to share.  We cannot avoid everyone who disagrees with us!  Jesus didn’t either.  But, he demonstrated to us that, just as He did, we need to separate ourselves from those who would want to not only reject the good news we bring, but who would want to prevent us from sharing it with anyone else.  He left them and went to where He knew there would be people who were sincerely seeking God; at the place where John was baptizing people who were confessing their sins.  If Jesus was rejected while doing good, we can expect the same as we live to emulate him.  Let us examine ourselves and choose to do good, even if it brings about rejection from others.  Let us live unto Christ.

Dcn. Skip ministers at St. Luke’s Anglican Church

Shepherd and Lord

Lent IV

by Dcn. Greg Statezni

John 10:1-21

“And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again.”  John 10:16-17

In this passage of John, Jesus takes us beyond Him being just our shepherd, but being our Lord. At times we must pause as His disciples did and reflect on who this Jesus is. Who is the One who claims our allegiance, and what is following Him all about? We sing His titles and proclaim His attributes, but do we allow His life and character to affect the daily routines of our lives? The people following Jesus during His earthly ministry had many reasons to follow Him. Some were after the show, some looked for the acceptance that Jesus offered, some sought miracles for themselves and or their friends, while some grasped for any excuse to validate their questions regarding the system of religious life in Israel.

Jesus continued to speak of the loving Father seeking after the lost sheep of Israel. He lived the expression of God’s grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness as He touched the lepers, the poor, the blind, the lame while encouraging the women and children to enter into fellowship as His disciples. He categorized His identity to John the Baptist by showering the outcasts of His society with the grace and love of God by the preaching the Good News of His Kingdom. His message was a sharp critique of the theologies of the Sadducees and Pharisees. His word was a word of discomfort for those whose lives were comfortable.

That is not where Jesus’ teaching ended, however. He went further in emphasizing the spiritual and eternal reality of life with God. He spoke of God’s reign as an active reality within every individual’s life. He categorized God’s reign as the only true spiritual reality while calling everyone to look beyond the material concerns of this world leaving the physical in its proper place by using its resources for the sake of God’s reign. Jesus exchanged the idea of “It’s all about me,” for “I am all about them.”

Jesus knew that His lifestyle and teachings were making the ruling parties uncomfortable, for their complicity in oppressing those who weren’t like them was becoming more apparent. Jesus prepared the disciples with the realization that these religious rulers would make Him the brunt of their anger, guilt, and desire to maintain their control. They would turn Jesus into what we understand a scapegoat to be. They would kill Jesus as though Jesus were to blame for all the unrest. This is not a good picture of what a scapegoat really was, but neither is our picture of Jesus’ personality always that clear. The scapegoat was featured in the Yom Kippur celebration—the Jewish Day of Atonement. The scapegoat was one of two goats used in approaching Yahweh, for purification and renewal. One goat was sacrificed to cleanse the sanctuary with its holiest items. The scapegoat, however, was not to be killed. The people’s guilt would be laid on its head, and this scapegoat would be taken out into the wilderness, bearing the nation’s guilt far away from the holy Temple.

Jesus made no attempt to escape any persecution. He brought the demands of the Gospel directly to them. He called them to show their hand by revealing their true allegiance. Would they follow a “What’s in it for me?” way of thinking, or would they live according to “It’s all about them.” Were they willing to lay down everything by living a faithful life of service in surrendering their lives and resources to serve God, or would they continue to serve themselves at the expense of others?

As we continue in this season of Lent, we need to ask ourselves some of these same questions. When was the last time we denied ourselves in order to serve God? When did we sacrifice our own comfort in order to live out the demands of the Gospel? When was the last time we took Jesus’ words about self-denial seriously? How long has it been since we spent more of our time and resources ministering God’s grace to people outside our walls instead of for our own enjoyment?

Dcn. Greg ministers with Trinity Anglican Church

Greater Glory

Lent IV

by Fr. Joe Lawrence

John 9

“Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” John 9:2

A whole book of the Bible, the book of Job, is devoted to undermining the simplistic notion that our circumstances are a reliable indicator of God’s attitude toward us. In other words, if we are healthy and wealthy, and flourishing in life, then it must be that God is pleased with us and is rewarding our good behavior. On the other hand, if we’re struggling or suffering, it must be that we’ve done something wrong, something to displease God. The book of Job says a resounding “No!” to his sort of thinking. While it’s true that we live in a fallen world and that as sinful members of that world we bear the consequences of sin’s legacy of brokenness, we can’t box God into a neat and tidy formula such as righteousness=blessing or sin=suffering. We can’t, in other words, look at our bank account for insight into God’s good pleasure with us (or lack thereof).

Though they had read the book of Job, Jesus’ disciples somehow forgot all this and slipped into the prevalent thinking of day. They asked Jesus, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” The idea was that since sin=suffering, this man’s congenital blindness must be the result of his parents’ wrongdoing or his own. Regarding the latter possibility, it could be that he sinned in utero or maybe God foreknew his sin in later life and punished him in advance. The very absurdity of these suggestions indicates how powerfully rooted the neat and tidy formulas had become in the minds of many.

Jesus thinks differently.  “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents,” Jesus said, “but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” Jesus refuses to identify the origin of suffering; he’s more concerned with the end of suffering. The man’s blindness is an occasion for the display of the glory of God that brings healing and restoration. This is what Jesus does, isn’t it? He takes the brokenness of our lives and turns it to his glory.

So, Jesus takes a bit of dirt, which reminds of the dirt from which God formed Adam. Could it be that this is a work of new creation? Well, Jesus takes the dirt and makes mud and puts it on the man’s eyes, and he tells him to go wash up in the Pool of Siloam, which reminds us, perhaps, of the renewing waters of baptism. And the man is healed. Years of suffering have met the transformative power of the glory of God in Jesus Christ. This is what Jesus does.

There is no getting around the difficulty of suffering. The Bible never seeks to minimize it. The Bible doesn’t seek to explain away the mystery of suffering with a formula like sin=suffering : righteousness=blessing. What the Bible teaches us is that Jesus Christ, without minimizing the harsh reality of suffering, nevertheless overwhelms our suffering with the greater power of his glory.

This is our hope in life in this dark world. Suffering is a mode of life in this fallen world of ours. But suffering is also not the end of the story. It’s the occasion for the overpowering display of God’s glory. Paul puts suffering and glory in the balance and concludes, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18). This, too, is our hope.
Fr. Joe ministers at Trinity Anglican Church