Something New

Look! I am creating new heavens and a new earth, and no one will even think about the old ones anymore.

Isaiah 65:17

The prophet Isaiah tells us the Lord said: “For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth.” Scripture tells us that the Lord was displeased because there was no justice in the community; no one was marching up to the plate to help the oppressed and the victimized. So, God stepped in to do the job. I wonder if God is displeased to see so much violence occurring in and around our communities today. I submit to you that the situation in Isaiah is similar to the one that many people are experiencing today. As a result, many people have abandoned hope. They find themselves in a world that needs changing, a world that needs saving, a world that cries out to be made new and improved. People of faith believe that a new day is on the horizon. And so, we wait and anticipate the new heavens and new earth. In these troubled times, people must continue holding onto hope.



The Sheep Are Starving!

Focus Scripture: John 21:15-17  

This story takes place on the shores near the Sea of Tiberias. Most of us know this body of water as the Sea of Galilee. In many respects, the sea is legendary. It is the place where Jesus called his first disciples (Luke 5:1-11), walked on water (Matthew 14:22-33), healed the sick (Mark 6:53-56), taught his disciples to pray (Matthew 6: 9-13) and told them not to worry about tomorrow (Matthew 6:34). John 6:1 and John 21:1 are the only two places in the whole Bible where the body of water in question is referred to as the Sea of Tiberias. It makes you wonder if the gospel writer is trying to tell us something.

John’s reference to the Sea of Tiberias here draws our attention to the one after whom the sea is named: Tiberias Caesar the second Emperor of Rome. Tiberius succeeded Caesar Augustus in 14 CE and ruled until 37 CE. The gospel of Luke (3:1-2) makes reference to this emperor: “in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, … Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee.” During this period also, Caiaphas was the high priest, and the Roman Empire cast a big shadow over the world back then. The Roman government had a number of building campaigns going on around the Empire, including great amphitheaters, aqueducts, and other projects that benefited the elite.

Somebody had to pay for all that luxury. So, the poor people in the provinces were taxed. Historical accounts tell us there were grain taxes, produce taxes, sales taxes, temple taxes, occupational taxes, custom taxes, transit taxes, and many others. This tax burden created a huge divide between the rich and the poor. One biblical historian by the name of Friesen developed a poverty scale that provides seven categories for describing economic resources at the time. According to Friesen, the wealthy elites formed only 1% – 3% of the whole population of the Empire, while more than 90% of the population were living in severe or extreme poverty.

According to the gospels, Jesus was born into this Roman-influenced world where the majority of the people fell prey to the opulence of the elite and the greed of the ruling class. Poverty was widespread both in rural and urban areas. The people were weary, and they were hungry in more ways than one. And Jesus asked the disciples to feed them. In a directive we call the Great Commission, Jesus directed his disciples to go into the world and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:16-20).

In many respects, the circumstances of the present day mirror those of the first century. The people were starving then; they are starving now. Let’s face it. Making disciples, both then and now, must involve feeding the people in the ways they need to be fed. In today’s world, feeding God’s sheep might involve nourishing the people so they can stand strong against the forces of oppression or racism. Feeding God’s people in a society that marginalizes them might mean lifting up words of encouragement so they will have hope. It might involve providing places where they can escape the madness going on all around them. Or it might involve praying for them. God’s people are hungry for spiritual food, and we, as 21st-century disciples, are responsible for feeding them.

The Resurrection

The Resurrection – April 17 – Luke 24:5-9

I wonder what Mary felt as the chief priests and the Romans made a mockery of Jesus’ death. There, on the hill of skulls, they lynched him, nailed him to a tree of shame and degraded him in front of a raucous crowd. Ironically, the whole affair was a cause for celebration in the eyes of some of those who stood at the foot of the cross. But not so for Mary, Jesus’ mother, nor for the other women who witnessed it all.

The whole scene described in today’s scripture made me think about mothers from more recent years, mothers of children who lost their lives to violence and brutality. Even though their bodies are gone from this earth, a part of them still lives on. Though their bodies were planted too soon, the cycles of life suggest that there will be a resurrection. Justice demands that something be born from the precious seeds of their young lives. If that is the case, what has been born anew because they died?

Conversations have been resurrected. Some people have suggested that the death of these young people has awakened the need for families and friends to have frank discussions with one another. There need for tableside chats and prolonged conversations about the brutal realities of survival in a hostile society. There need to be some survival skills passed down from father to son, mother to daughter, sister to sister, brother to brother, and from generation to generation.

What else has been resurrected? Heightened consciousness has been raised as the result of these senseless deaths. I see evidence of it in the protest marches that have (and will continue to) spread across the nation as an outcry against injustice. I see lights being shed on unjust laws and lopsided practices. I see people who have the courage to hold public forums that grapple with the hard questions.

Accountability has also been resurrected. I see mirrors of accountability being held up so that perpetrators and victims alike can gaze deeply on what’s reflected there. I see justice-minded people digging a little deeper and looking a little closer at the root causes of violence, injustice, and other critical issues of our day.

I see lovers of the truth starting to look at racism and poverty under a super-powered microscope. I see prophets, preachers, and professors exposing what’s been under cover for too long. As the Prophet would have advised us in Habakkuk 2:2, let’s make the inconsistencies plain so that a runner can read them!

Heightened awareness is a byproduct. When we stand in solidarity with each other and with those who stand for justice, our voices unite as one humanity — the same humanity for whom Christ died — once for all. Prompted by the impassioned pleas of mothers who have lost children to violence – we have joined our cries with theirs, protesting with extraordinary fervor and profound faith that justice will prevail as it did in former days. In other words, our cries testify to the truth that there is still power in the blood that Jesus shed. Both individually and corporately, as believers, we are compelled to stand up and claim it in the name of Jesus!