March 30, 2017

Grief

Losses must be grieved.
The greater the loss, the more devastating the grief.  In His grace, the Lord provides a healing context for our grief. We learn about this from the Gospel narrative.

The long Sabbath day between the crucifixion and the first day of the week was a day of grief like no other. The anonymous faces in the Jerusalem crowds who had only seen Jesus or heard His voice grieved the loss of a hope, mild though it may have been, that Messiah would come and deliver them from the iron grip of Rome. Those who were once were blind, deaf, dumb, sick, and lame who could now see, hear, speak, work, and walk in fullness of health had lost their healer.  They must have grieved their loss even in their new found health.

Mary of Magdala was one of these.
She had been possessed by seven demons and had served at the pleasure of countless cruel men, yet the life she knew before Jesus was stark and empty.  Her grief at the loss of Him threatened to return her to that desolate state.  Grief compounded by fear would have made her a fountain or tears if she had had any tears left to shed.

The disciples scattered, each grieving in his own way.
James and John, the “Sons of Thunder,” were silent, unable to think, or to imagine life without Jesus.  Peter, the third member of the inner circle of the disciples, could not stop thinking, remembering his sniveling denials, trembling leaf-like before strangers and a servant girl, pleading no knowledge of the man on trial.  He, the boaster, the leader, the confessor, was now the broken, the liar, and the coward.

Mary, Martha, and Lazarus of Bethany
This family grieved the loss of a true friend and more than that, the loss of hope; His absence was more commanding than His presence had been.

  • Mary could still smell the aroma of the perfume on her hands from the alabaster jar she had broken.  Her premonition of His death did little to comfort her now that it had actually happened.
  • Martha thought of all the meals she had prepared for Him and the joyful way He had consumed her offerings.  He made a meal of life, living each day to its fullest.  The thought of never serving Him again, was almost more than she could bear.
  • Lazarus knew more than the others about where Jesus went when breath left His body.  He tried to imagine what Jesus’ entrance into Abraham’s bosom would be like—surely those dead and waiting there would live again—he had!

Mary and the Family of Jesus
Grief had touched the family of Jesus once before, when Joseph died.  When death claimed the man who helped Jesus grow to be a man, a craftsman, a businessman, a responsible and loving man who could shoulder a man’s responsibility, Jesus comforted the rest of the family.  Who would comfort them now?

Mary had lived most of her life treasuring things in her heart that most people never imagined.
She knew the awful prophecies of Isaiah about how Messiah must suffer and bear the sins of all.  She remembered the words of the old man Simeon at the Temple on the day that she and Joseph presented Jesus to the Lord, “A sword shall pierce your heart.”  On this Sabbath she felt the sharp blade of the sword.  Unlike the others, Mary’s grief was tinged with hope.  She had learned to listen carefully to the words of her Son and to remember them.  He predicted His death, surely enough, but usually with another prediction—he would come back from death in three days.  Even in her weakened condition, exhausted from the horrid spectacle of the trials, scourging, and crucifixion, this hope restrained her grief.  Perhaps she was the only one of His follower who rested any at all on that Saturday.

That Saturday of grief slowly melted into night.  The mocking sun, with it empty promise of light, retreated in shame beneath the western horizon.  The darkness somehow did not feel the same.  Perhaps tomorrow…

Scriptures:
Luke 2:34-35

Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
Mark 10:33-34
“We are going up to Jerusalem…and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise.”
Luke 23:54-56
It was Preparation Day, and the Sabbath was about to begin. The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it. Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, Your redemption is so complete You even provide a context of hope in which we can grieve our losses. You give us hope as the antidote for our grief and as we focus on You the antidote takes effect and our grief is abated. Losses will come to us in this life, but You have walked this path before and even now You are our Companion-in-the-way. Many time in each our lives we feel like we occupy the days between the empty cross and the empty tomb, days of grief to be sure, but also days of hope. Thank You, Lord. Amen.

Song:
O Sacred Head Now Wounded

Words: Bernard of Clairvaux; Music: Passion Chorale (Hassler)

1. O sacred head, now wounded, with grief and shame weighed down,
Now scornfully surrounded with thorns, your only crown.
O sacred head, what glory and blessing you have known!
Yet, though despised and gory, I claim you as my own.

2. My Lord, what you did suffer was all for sinner’s gain;
Mine was the transgression, but yours the deadly pain.
So here I kneel, my Savior, for I deserve your place;
Look on me with thy favor and save me by your grace.

3. What language shall I borrow to thank you, dearest Friend,
For this, your dying sorrow, your pity without end?
Lord, make me yours forever,a loyal servant true,
And let me never, never outlive my love to you.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

March 29, 2017

Atonement

Costs must be paid.
Something of value can only be purchased by paying the cost demanded.  Before wrongs can be righted, mistakes corrected, impacts countered, losses restored, damage repaired, deep bruises and broken hearts healed, and records cleared, the cost of these iniquities must be paid.  Sins demand atonement.

It was so during the trial, scourging, and crucifixion of Jesus.

  • When the whip repeatedly cut Jesus’ back,
  • when the sharp thorns in his mocking crown pierced His sensitive scalp,
  • when the fists and open palms pelted his face,
  • when His beard was ripped from His skin,
  • when the hammers drove the nails into His hands and feet,
  • when the soldiers hoisted the cross against the raging sky,
  • when the crowd made sport and hurled abuse at Him,
  • when all these things happened Jesus was paying the cost.

He atoned with His innocent blood for all the guilt of mankind.
Because of His atonement, life can be made good again, in a blessed foretaste today and with a bright future someday.  Because of Calvary

  • Wrongs can be righted.
  • Mistakes can be corrected.
  • The power of sin can be countered.
  • Things the enemy has stolen can be restored.
  • The damages of sin can be repaired.
  • The deep bruises and broken hearts can be healed and
  • The records of each sinner can be cleansed, replaced by the spotless account of the obedience of Jesus.

Jesus paid the full price for the sins of us all at Calvary.

There is something we must do.
If so, then why is there still sin and pain and suffering and sickness and meanness and anger?
It is not so hard to understand.  Each of us still has a free will.  Jesus atoned for us all; He paid the full price.   But there is something we must do—we must believe and receive.  As people choose to continue in their sin, evil continues its relentless assault on mankind.

The crucifixion of Jesus was the most vivid expression of God’s justice and mercy.  The sins of mankind are not abstract; they are real:

  • real cruelty and suffering,
  • real violence,
  • real hate,
  • real destruction,
  • real selfishness and real lies.

The mercy of God is just as real as His justice.  We see it at the cross.   When we call upon Christ in repentance and faith our sins are forgiven and cast away as far as the east is from the west. We stand before God as if we had never sinned—justified by faith in the sacrifice of Jesus.

Breaking the Barrier
Just as the sins of mankind set up a barrier between people and their Creator, our personal sins separated us from our God.  At Calvary, Jesus broke the power of sin over people and He shattered the indictment against us by nailing it to His cross.  We now have access to God through a new and living way.

As forgiven and redeemed people, we must now walk in the mercy we have freely received.  We musts freely give of His grace, letting it flow through us in deeds of mercy and compassion, truth and justice.

The cost has been paid.  Let the redeemed life be lived!

Scriptures:
Hebrews 9:22
In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.
Isaiah 53:4-6 NKJV
Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.
Colossians 2:13-15
When you were dead in your sins and in … your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross.  And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.
Psalm 103:11-12 11
…as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
Romans 3:23-26 23;  5:9-10
….for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice … so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. …Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!

Prayer and Confession
From the Book of Common Prayer (adapted SRP)
Most merciful God, I confess that I have sinned against You in thought, word, and deed, by what I have done, and by what I have left undone. I have not loved You with my whole heart; I have not loved my neighbor as myself. I am truly sorry and I humbly repent. For the sake of Your Son Jesus Christ have mercy on me and forgive me; that I may delight in Your will, and walk in Your ways, to the glory of your Name. Amen.

Almighty God has mercy on me. He forgives me all my sins through our Lord Jesus Christ. He strengthens me in all goodness, and by the power of the Holy Spirit keeps me in eternal life. Amen.

Song:
Jesus Paid It All
Words and Music: Elvina M. Hall

1. I hear the Savior say, “Thy strength indeed is small,
Child of weakness, watch and pray, Find in Me thine all in all.”

Refrain:
Jesus paid it all, All to Him I owe;
Sin had left a crimson stain,
He washed it white as snow.

2. Lord, now indeed I find Thy pow’r and Thine alone,
Can change the leper’s spots And melt the heart of stone.

Refrain

3. For nothing good have I Where-by Thy grace to claim;
I’ll wash my garments white In the blood of Calv’ry’s Lamb.

Refrain

4. And when, before the throne, I stand in Him complete,
“Jesus died my soul to save, “My lips shall still repeat.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

March 15, 2017

Rejected

A Pervasive Fear
How many great novels lie hidden on hard drives, never submitted to a publisher? How many fine actors find something else to do when auditions for a great play with a part just right for them is announced? How many wonderful songs are packed away in guitar cases under beds somewhere? Who can tell the number of really good singers with great hearts for God who sit in the congregation instead of joining the choir or worship team because to do so would require the risk of an audition or interview?

The cause of all these wasted treasures is the fear of rejection.

Nothing hurts the sensitive person quite like being rejected. When the rejection seems unfair or unkind the hurt goes even deeper. I knew of a worship team of excellent singers and players who were taken off the church platform to make room for professionals. They went to a different ministry in the same church and called themselves, “The Rejects.”

It takes courage to put yourself out there for some expert to judge. At the very best is unpleasant for both the one auditioning and ones doing the judging. At the worst it can be a sickening ordeal for everyone involved. Talent must be found. Competent artists must have a pathway into a system that will need their abilities. The risk of being rejected is real and unavoidable.

Not for artists only
The fear of rejection is not limited to the arts; each one of us must take the risk of being rejected as we walk through life. Elementary schools try to manage the pain of the students who are not selected by giving everyone a trophy. OK. But the kids who did poorly know they did poorly. The teams that scored the fewest points somehow know they lost the game. Rejection, being listed among the losers, is a fact of life for just about everyone at some time.

The risk of not being chosen extends beyond school years to all of life:

  • Finding someone to date,
  • Applying for Jobs,
  • Interviewing for jobs,
  • Seeking promotion on the job,
  • Getting credit for a major purchase,
  • Sitting first chair in the community band, and so on.

The fearful among us will shrink to the background to avoid any risk of rejection that isn’t absolutely necessary.

“He was rejected.”
The pre-incarnate Jesus knew that when He laid aside His heavenly crown and came to live among us, He was entering the painful realm of inevitable rejection.

  • As a carpenter, I am sure some patrons rejected His shop for the one down the street.
  • As a family member Jesus was rejected by His brothers and sisters until after the resurrection. After the death of Joseph only His mother was true to Him.
  • He traveled among the people with healing in His touch, authority in His words, and the creative power in His prayer to feed a multitude a good lunch. The next day, most of them rejected Him.
  • He walked into the Temple of the Father and found rejection from the leaders—rejection—hostility—slander—and finally a death plot.
  • In the Garden of prayer His sleepy disciples were unable to watch with Him for even an hour and when the soldiers came Peter and the rest of them ran away.
  • No one spoke to His defense in the trials that night.
  • On the cross, when laden with the sin of all mankind, even the Father could not look upon Him.
  • He was totally alone.

The reality is that for all of us there will be

  • parts we actors don’t get,
  • ensembles we musicians cannot join,
  • jobs and the raises that we do not qualify for, and
  • a multitude of little rejections that make us tremble and hide from the potential pain.

Nothing we experience will ever come close the rejection Jesus knew.

Why? Because He loves us and because He came to share our pain so that, when we believe in Him, He can share with us His victory. We will be accepted by Him.

Scriptures:
Isaiah 53:3-5 NIV
He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.

Prayer:
from The Book of Common Prayer
Lord Jesus Christ, You stretched out Your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of Your saving embrace: So clothe us in Your Spirit that we, reaching forth our hands in love, may bring those who do not know You to the knowledge and love of You; for the honor of your Name. Amen.

Song:
Hallelujah, What a Savior!
Words and Music: P.P. Bliss

1. Man of sorrows what a name for the Son of God, who came
ruined sinners to reclaim: Hallelujah, what a Savior!

2. Bearing shame and scoffing rude, in my place condemned he stood,
sealed my pardon with his blood: Hallelujah, what a Savior!

3. Guilty, helpless, lost were we; blameless Lamb of God was he,
sacrificed to set us free: Hallelujah, what a Savior!

4. He was lifted up to die; “It is finished” was his cry;
now in heaven exalted high: Hallelujah, what a Savior!

5. When he comes, our glorious King, all his ransomed home to bring,
then anew this song we’ll sing: Hallelujah, what a Savior!

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved