Jesus’ Yoke

Matthew recorded Jesus’ words:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

One of the questions we sometimes have to ask is “Why did Jesus specifically say this?” If we don’t then we may simply attribute Jesus’ words as nice, or perhaps poetic. But instead, here Jesus is making a definitive statement.

THE YOKE OF THE TORAH
The Pharisees and other Jewish leaders were steeped in the Torah, the Jewish law. In fact they had a term “To carry the yoke of the Torah” for those seeking to vigorously and robustly keep the Jewish law with all of it’s finer points and nuances.(according to N. T. Wright) This was not for ordinary people, not for those of simple faith, no these were the conference speakers and latest hot authors of their day. Underachievers need not apply.

ABRAHAM
Abraham was their father, this was so important, culturally speaking, that everyone had memorized their ancestry. It was passed down from generation to generation.

And yet, even with the Torah and their connection to Abraham their view of God was one of distance, who could approach God? Who could know God? Who could be God’s friend? This was something that seemed unapproachable and unattainable to the majority of common folk. It was like having to memorize the encyclopedia on gardening before you even tried to grow flowers or tomatoes.

Have you ever tried to assemble something, maybe from IKEA or elsewhere? the fine print, the directions, one small misstep is all it takes.

That feeling of “I’ve done everything I was suppose to, why doesn’t this work?” or “Everytime I think I know what’s going on the game changes.” can become a constant and disheartening situation. This was certainly true for everyday Jewish folk 2000 years ago.

JESUS’ MAGNIFICAT
Yet here Jesus comes on the scene
(V25-26) Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.

This is reminiscent of his mother, Mary as she responded to the angel at the annunciation known as The Magnificat, the song of Mary, found in Luke chapter one says in part:
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.

Both of these “MAGNIFICATS” reveal something about the Kingdom of God.
They upend the conventional wisdom of survival of the fittest. The person who yells loudest usually gets his way but not so; The quiet person of prayer is the one who will be heard. The bully who seeks to intimidate others will find himself muzzuled and disarmed before a shepherd who loves his sheep, and takes care of his own. The status quo will be upended as the Kingdom of God welcomes the Humble & the Hungry. The mighty will be sent away empty-handed.

More than this; God the Father through Christ was revealing himself to Mankind. Through Jesus God was saying “If you want to know me – know my son.” Jesus was saying “If you want to know the Father, know me!”
Everything the Jews sought from the Torah and their ancestry (knowledge of and friendship with God) was to be had from Jesus, not Abraham, Abraham would have told them so himself.

Jesus taught his disciples that God was Father, they learned this so well that it got them in trouble with the Jewish leaders and with the empire over and over again. That’s why the Apostle John wrote
“Behold what manner of LOVE the Father has given unto us, that we should be called the sons and daughters of God!”

“If you want to know me – know my son”
“If you want to know the Father, know me!”

(V27)No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

“You can’t know the Father except through me”
Initially Jesus words sound conditional,and yet, Jesus takes a breath, turns to those who are there; some common people, quite ordinary, the kind of folk his Mother Mary had spoke of, The “Humble & The Hungry” and he says:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

The Spiritual Discipline of Overcoming Self

When we think about spiritual disciplines perhaps prayer, meditation, study, solitude or fasting may come to mind. These are good disciplines in and of themselves, but over the next season we’re going to explore some other disciplines that may not have been as well defined to us.

Saint Francis said:
“Above all the grace and the gifts that Christ gives to his beloved is that of overcoming self.”

Too often we may be more mindful of how other people need to change. Maybe it’s easier to see imperfections in others while being blind to our own, but when we do become mindful of our own shortcomings it’s usually painful and embarrassing, we encounter shame when we overreact, or read a situation wrong, or realize that we were just selfish.

We think it is easier to ignore or justify when we have gotten something wrong, but give it a few weeks, or even days, and we realize that ignoring the situation didn’t make it go away, it’s still there.

There is hope:
2 Corinthians 5:17 says
…If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation: The old has gone, the new is here!

The life of a disciple is a lifelong journey of being sculpted and formed more into the likeness of Jesus. It’s not a race, it’s a journey.

Frances de Sales wrote a book titled The Introduction To The Devout Life in 1609, but he still seems relevant today. He said:
“Have patience with all things, but chiefly have patience with yourself. Do not lose courage in considering your own imperfections, but instantly set about remedying them—every day begin the task anew.”

I find one of the best ways of overcoming self is to try to think of others more, and to think of myself less.

Every day begin the task anew!

The Farmer And The Apple Tree

There was an apple tree named Al. Al wanted to grow big and strong and wanted to produce lots of apples. He was planted on a hill, got some sun and some water and thought he was ready to go. But something was wrong, No matter how hard he tried he just couldn’t produce many apples, and sometimes he produced non at all.

The farmer came by and said “Al, how are you doing?”
Al said “I’m OK, but I’m an Apple Tree and I want to produce really good apples, but I’m having trouble…”

The Farmer said “I think I can help you with that, do you trust me?”
Al said “I think so… I really want to make good apples, will you help me?”

The farmer said “Sure, you’ll be a great apple tree …But remember, no matter what happens, no matter how unpleasant things may be for a moment here or there, you’ll be ok and afterwards you’ll make the best apples. Again, do you trust me?”

Trepidatiously Al said “Yes.”

The next day the farmer came with a small hatchet and some gardening snips, and started cutting branches and twigs off of Al, here and there.
Al yelled “OUCH! Hey, cut that out…that hurts!!!”
The Farmer explained that these little branches and twigs took Al’s time, attention and energy; they kept him from producing good fruit.
Al relented and said “OK.”

The next day the farmer drives up with a truck full of manure. Now, talk to any farmer and they’ll tell you the best fertilizer is chicken poop.
So here comes the farmer throwing fertilizer on Al the apple tree, all over his roots, all over the ground, and Al exclaims
“WHAT ARE YOU DOING?” “THIS STINKS!” “Why is this happening to me?” “I HATE THIS…”

But the farmer just smiled and told Al “It’ll be OK, Al.”

A few weeks later Al noticed lots of apples, beginning to grow.
A few more weeks and the Farmer brought a truck load of kids to pick apples. The kids said how good the apples were, their moms talked about how nutritious the apples must be.


Al was so happy he had produced good apples.
The Farmer said “Al, well done!”

(A story based on John 15, The Vine, The Branches & The Gardener)

The Fire

“Yes, you are a fire that takes away the coldness, illuminates the mind with its light and causes me to know your truth…you are beauty and wisdom itself. The food of angels, you gave yourself to man in the fire of your love.”

These fiery words were spoken by Catherine of Siena, around 1380 AD. They echo so much the experience of the disciples on the road to Emmaus.

As they traveled, heartbroken and dismayed about the death of Jesus of Nazareth, they meet a stranger on the road and ultimately invite him to have supper and spend the evening with them. As the stranger broke bread at the table, his identity is revealed to them, the stranger was Jesus!

But he immediately disappeared from their presence and afterwards they said:
“Didn’t our hearts burn within us as he spoke to us…”
Yes, Jesus, YOU are a fire… and you gave yourself to man in the fire of your love.

In our lives we need just to ask to be in the real presence, and Jesus walks with us. In his presence he brings warmth and light, beauty and wisdom, and is our bread of life, our secret manna.

Pray this Prayer of Spiritual Communion with me today:
My Jesus, I believe that You are present in the Most Holy Sacrament. I love You above all things, and I desire to receive You into my soul. Since I cannot at this moment receive You sacramentally, come at least spiritually into my heart. I embrace You as if You were already there and unite myself wholly to You. Never permit me to be separated from You. Amen.

Behold The Humble Way Of God

Saint Francis- Behold the humble way of God

“For One in such a lofty position to stoop so low is a marvel that is staggering. What sublime humility and humble sublimeness, that the Lord of the Universe, the Divine Son of God, should stoop as to hide Himself under the appearance of bread for our salvation! Behold the humble way of God, my brothers.” (Jesus Our Eucharistic Love By Stefano M. Manelli p.X).

Paul, in Philippians 2:7 writes that Jesus emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. Jesus, being fully God, shows the great extent of God’s love for us in becoming something that we can perceive and understand. In becoming one of us, becoming human, he did so that we could more easily relate and hear the voice of God.

When we come to the Communion Table (or make an intention of the heart to make a spiritual communion) we are reminded of the Love of God, that, not only did Jesus become one of us, but then Jesus takes bread and says “Do this.” “I am the bread of life.”

Do we understand? No, not fully, it is a mystery.

But I am reassure that nothing can separate us from the love of God (Romans ch.8) not covid19, not tornadoes, not circumstances, not even death itself can separate us from the love of God. Jesus is ever with us and we never face the world alone.

Lift up your hearts!

Lord, in your mercy…

During this time of National Emergency we enter in to the ancient rhythm of prayer for the world. Now let us go to Lord together in prayer.

Father God, Glory to you, Lord God of our fathers; * you are worthy of praise; glory to you. We thank you for family and friends, for food and laughter, and for all your rich blessings!

Lord in your mercy  – Hear our Prayer

Today we pray for the needs of the whole world; let us remember, in his name, the poor, the hungry, the helpless, and the oppressed, the lonely, and all who are at higher risk of illness; we pray for the sick and for all that mourn. We also pray for those who feel tested, or wearied, or overwhelmed.
Lord in your mercy – Hear our prayer

In this time of National Emergency we pray for all medical staff and first responders, for those serving in humanitarian outreaches, kitchens and shelters. We pray for all needs nationally, around the world, and in our own community.

Lord in your mercy – Hear our prayer

Now take a moment of silence to lift up our own prayers and intercessions…

Now as Jesus taught us, we pray together:
Our Father, which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy Name. Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, As it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, As we forgive them that trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, But deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, The power, and the glory, For ever and ever. Amen.

The Lord My Shepherd

One of the names given to God, this one by David, The Lord my Shepherd:

Consider what you can discover about the nature and character of God in these verses:

The Lord is my shepherd;

I have all that I need.

He lets me rest in green meadows;

he leads me beside peaceful streams.

He renews my strength.

He guides me along right paths,

bringing honor to his name.

Even when I walk

through the darkest valley,

I will not be afraid,

for you are close beside me.

Your rod and your staff

protect and comfort me.

You prepare a feast for me

in the presence of my enemies.

You honor me by anointing my head with oil.

My cup overflows with blessings.

Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me

all the days of my life,

and I will live in the house of the Lord

forever.

God is in the front row, smiling and proud:

Understanding “The Kingdom”

From the time of John the Baptizer until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful people have been seizing it.

-Matthew 11:12

Remember when you first wanted to play guitar, or baseball, or when you got excited about a new hobby, exercise routine, course of study, etc? Once you get “turned on” to something new then you pursue it with great enthusiasm; so much more when you discover the “kingdom life” with Jesus. When we want something, when we are desperate for it, then we pursue it hard.

Once, having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you.” – Luke 17:20-21

We’ve tried to “bring the kingdom” in many ways on our own. The Crusades tried to bring the kingdom by their own might and by their own power; but the anger of man doesn’t work the righteousness of God.

Even in our own day people look with “careful observation” and say Jesus will return on cinco de mayo 2020… possible, but not likely that we can accurately say “Here it is or There it is…”

Jesus clarifies “the kingdom of God is within you”

One thing we must remember when it comes to seeing God’s Kingdom;It’s His power, not ours:

‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty.

– Zechariah 4:6

For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

-2 Peter 1:21

To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me.

– Col 1:29 
These three scriptures reiterate a similar truth over and over:

It’s by God’s Spirit that we do:
we don’t do of our own power but by the Holy Spirit, it is God’s Spirit that works within us.
My friend Joshua Stump says “We are like kids in a ballet, and no matter how awkward we are, God is in the front row with a camera smiling & proud…”

So it has nothing to do with our power and has everything to do with God’s power, God’s anointing, and our being carried along by Him. He takes joy and pleasure in us. He has a purpose for everyone. He cheers us on as we follow Christ!

ADVENT

Can you imagine?
There was a time before cell phones?
There was a time before flat screen TVs
There was a time before laptops computers
There was a time before people even had computers in their homes
There was a time before microwaves
And a time before itunes…
A time when music was played on record players
And popcorn was cooked on top of a stove
100 years ago most people didn’t have a car
And many didn’t have electricity
10 years ago were the 1st iphones
10 years ago we didn’t have ipads
Just now are 3-d printers becoming affordable
Driverless cars
Babelfish earbuds? Have you heard? They translate in almost real time into your language…

We live in between the times, in between what has been and what will be. There was a time where the people of Israel waited and waited for the messiah to come.

The Prophets Foretold:

Genesis 12:3 specifically states that God intended to bless all on the earth through Abraham’s family. Specifically,the messiah would come through this family (Israel).

2 Samuel 7:11-16 the prophet states that God would, through the line of King David, raise up a king established forever; Christ the Lord.

Isaiah 9:2-7 is a favorite Advent passage and speaks of light coming to the people in darkness, joy, an end to wars, at the coming of the prince of peace.

He heals the blind and sets prisoners free. He says this redeemer, though despised by the rulers of nations, shall ultimately be honored, and his salvation will reach to the ends of the earth.

Jeremiah 31:31-34 speaks of a new covenant made, to write His law on their hearts, to fulfill salvation, and to remember sin no more.

Micah 5:2 clearly state that the Messiah will be born of the royal line of David, in Bethlehem.

Malachi 3:1 specifically speaks of the coming of John the Baptist to prepare the way for the Messiah.

Moses even prophesied almost 1300 years before Christ was born-

Looking for the prophet
“The Lord your God will raise up for you
a prophet like me from among your
fellow Israelites, and you must listen to
that prophet.” 
-Deuteronomy 18:15 – 1260 B.C

So from this time on, this is one of the principles the Jewish people were looking for, The Coming Prophet. For hundreds and hundreds of years…. Then something very peculiar happened one night as a group of shepherds watched their flocks…

Luke says:
Now there were shepherds nearby living out in the field, keeping guard over their flock at night.  An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were absolutely terrified.  But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid! Listen carefully, for I proclaim to you good news that brings great joy to all the people:  Today your Savior is born in the city of David. He is Christ the Lord.  This will be a sign for you: You will find a baby wrapped in strips of cloth and lying in a manger.”  Suddenly a vast, heavenly army appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
 “Glory to God in the highest,and on earth peace among people with whom he is pleased!”

An army!
That’s really one of the best words to use here. and this army was announcing something amazing! Yes- they were announcing the birth of Jesus, a baby. But they were announcing what was the fulfillment of all those old testament prophesies…
Up until that time the shepherds had lived in the WHAT HAD BEEN
They were about to enter the WHAT WOULD BE

The gospels say Jesus came preaching The Kingdom of God. The Angels, that ARMY, was announcing a KING & a KINGDOM.

What does that mean?
It would be a different kind of Kingdom and HE would be a different kind of King…

Well what did Jesus do?
Blind see
People walk
Sick healed
Raised Lazarus from the dead
Fed thousands of people
Was kind…
He forgave people
He gave people hope…

The interesting thing is that we also live in between the times; in between what has been and what will be. The Kingdom has been initiated, but it has not fully come yet. That’s why things aren’t quite right, why things aren’t quite the way they are suppose to be, but he left his disciples, then the early church, throughout the centuries, and now us, to carry on the Kingdom of God in big and small ways…

But when Christ returns- all that is wrong will finally be dealt with and made right. Till then he has left us here to do the job. He told his disciples:
This is how you bring my Kingdom:
feed the hungry, clothe the cold, help the sick, visit the lonely,
show kindness to the stranger, we live a life of prayer,
humility, and generosity towards others.
And now it’s our time.