Jesus, Light

Jesus Christ Superstar

I didn’t watch the live performance of Jesus Christ Superstar last night, did you?

I planned on watching it but when the time came I just wasn’t feeling it, watched a movie instead.  At one point I switched over, hoping to catch Sara Bareilles singing, “I Don’t Know How to Love Him,” because I LOVED that song as a young teenager back in the 70’s, when the album came out – sang it over and over again.

But Sara wasn’t singing, Alice was singing and the song sounded like a circus tune, so I switched back to the movie.

I’ve been thinking about the musical, though, about how it was banned in some places back in the 70’s, about how Christians protested it.

Because they didn’t get it.

They didn’t get that it wasn’t meant to be a Biblically accurate portrayal of the passion of Christ.

It was meant to be the passion told from Judas’s point of view.

And his view was skewed.

The hub and I were invited to watch a production of it in the home of one of his friends, back when we were first married.  The production was well done.

If you’ve never seen it, it ends with Jesus on the cross.  Dead.

During the discussion that followed I may have offended the host and hostess by commenting, “They left out the best part – they left out the resurrection.”

I didn’t get it back then either.

I didn’t get that from Judas’s point of view that’s how the story would have ended, had he been alive to see the end.

Scripture doesn’t tell us when Judas started following Jesus, but my guess is that he was among the great crowds who began to follow Him in response to the miracles He performed.

Judas saw the miracles, saw the opportunity and jumped on Jesus’s coattails, hoping to ride them all the way to the top.

Fame and fortune.

Perhaps Judas thought Jesus was a brilliant con man and he wanted in on the con.

But the con wasn’t playing out as one would expect.

Every time I look at you I don’t understand
Why you let the things you did get so out of hand?
You’d have managed better if you’d had it planned…

… Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ,
Who are you? What have you sacrificed?
Jesus Christ Superstar,
Do you think you’re what they say you are?

Was Judas beginning to fear that the whole thing wasn’t a con, that Jesus actually believed His own press?

A con artist had coattails he could ride, but a lunatic who actually believed what He was selling?

That wasn’t going to get him anywhere.

Or perhaps the betrayal was as simple as money.  The love of money is, after all, the deep-seated root of every devious deed.

I started a ministry and asked a like-minded friend to serve on its board.

She did.  Happily, peacefully for several years.

And then the ministry received a large grant.

Little by little she no longer served happily, peacefully.

Discontent took root and grew.

While we had all been content to serve without compensation, she began saying, “You’ll have to pay me for that…”

I didn’t.

The grant wasn’t for salaries.

Her unrest hacked away at my strength, my soul, my faith in my fellow humans.

Or at least in my fellow Christians.

And then one day she resigned, to my great relief.

The chronology of Scripture puts Judas’s plot right after a scuffle about money:

Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples, said, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.)

Jesus told Judas to leave Mary alone.  She was doing the right thing.

So he left and sought out the chief priests.

He was going to make money one way or another.

But it turns out he had a conscience.

When Judas saw that Jesus was condemned, he repented and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. He said, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” But they said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.” Throwing down the pieces of silver in the temple, he departed; and he went and hanged himself.

He hanged himself before the end of the story, before the resurrection.

The passion from his point of view ended with Jesus hanging dead, because he hung himself dead.

Had he waited a few days, had he wept bitterly – as Peter did – and then carried on, had he not been completely blinded by his own agenda and preconceived notions, he would have understood that Jesus was all about restoration and forgiveness.

Had he waited, he would have encountered Mercy.

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Tragically, restoration and forgiveness were too far off his radar.

We sang joyful songs in church yesterday:

Hear the bells ringing they’re singing that you can be
healed right now
Hear the bells ringing, they’re singing
Christ, He will reveal it now…

Joy to the world, He has risen, hallelujah
He’s risen, hallelujah
He’s risen, hallelujah, hallelujah

Jesus Christ Superstar ends with Jesus dead on a cross.

Such a shame, Judas leaving the theatre before the radiant final song.

#radiant

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faith, Jesus, Light

Low & Mighty on Passover Eve

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Exodus chapter 12 describes, well, the exodus, the mass departure of the Israelites from Egypt.  On the night they were to leave God instructed them to roast a lamb and eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. They were to eat in haste with their loins girded, sandals on their feet and staff in hand.

“This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance.”

And so it is that the Passover is celebrated faithfully, year after year.

In the 13th chapter of the Gospel of John we learn that the Last Supper took place before the festival of the Passover.  It was Passover Eve.  Not Christmas dinner, but Christmas Eve dinner.  The rehearsal dinner, not the actual wedding banquet. The Last Supper was not the actual Passover Seder, it was the night before.

John’s gospel tells us a few more things about that evening:

  1. Jesus was aware that He would soon be returning to His Father.
  2. He was aware that each and every one of His dinner companions had been given into His hands.  That’s what the phrase, “knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands” means.  “All things” is better translated as “each and every one.” Each and every one of them was gifted to Him, even Judas.
  3. He loved His charges with an agape  love. One aspect of agape is “to be full of good-will toward.”

And so it was with love and good will that Jesus sat down to His last human supper.

In Chinese culture, jade symbolizes nobility, perfection, constancy, and immortality. It is viewed as the most valuable of all precious stones.

A Chinese boy set out to learn all about it. He went to study with a talented old teacher.  The old gentleman put a piece of the stone into the youth’s hand and told him to hold it tight.  Then he began to talk of philosophy, men, women, the sun and almost everything under it.  After an hour the teacher took back the stone and sent the boy home.  This procedure was repeated for weeks. Finally the boy became frustrated – when would he be told about the heavenly properties of jade?! – but he was too polite to interrupt his venerable teacher.  So he held the stone and listened. Again and again. Then one day, when the old man began their lesson by pressing a stone in the boy’s hand, the boy cried out instantly, “Hey wait! That’s not jade!”

Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself.” (italics added)

It seems out of place, that third sentence, “The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him,” since John doesn’t speak again of Judas until later in the chapter, but it isn’t out of place, it’s the reason Jesus got up from the table.

He knew He was about to be betrayed, He knew human nature full well. Perhaps at that moment He remembered back to the disciples’ argument about which of them was the greatest, perhaps He remembered all the way back to when Adam and Eve disobeyed so they could be like God, perhaps He remembered even further back to when Satan wanted to be greater than God. He may have also looked ahead to all the ways evil men would infiltrate the church and exploit Him for selfish gain.

It was His awareness of our propensity to competition, our desire to be “better than” that got Him up from that table.   It’s what caused Him to take off his outer robe, tie a towel around his waist, pour water into a basin and press a precious stone into His disciples’ hands one more time.

So they would remember what He feels like.

You know the foot washing story and you know Peter. When Jesus got to his ten piggies, Peter said, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”

In other words, “You’re too good to wash my feet!”

Jesus answered, “You don’t get it yet, but you will.”

Peter insisted, “You will never wash my feet.”

Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.”

And so Peter, being Peter, said, “In that case, wash all of me!”

So Jesus laid it out for him. Again.

“One who has bathed does not need to wash.”

Wash and bathe in this passage are separate greek words.

“Wash” is nipto – to cleanse (especially the hands or the feet or the face); ceremonially.

It was customary back then – as it is now – to wash their hands before a meal.

“Bathe” is “louo,” it is a word used in the context of washing a dead person or cleaning blood from a wound.

Peter was already bathed as a dead person when he was baptized, when he was crucified with Christ and raised to new life.  He never needed to be bathed in that way again.  Just as a person doesn’t need to keep going forward at every altar call.  Once is enough.

All of the disciples had been bathed in the waters of baptism, except one. Scripture doesn’t tell us how and when Judas was called to follow Jesus, but it is telling us right here that he was never baptized, never raised to new life.  Even so,  Jesus loved each and every one of the 12 His Father had given Him.

“So Peter,” Jesus was saying, “zealous, enthusiastic Peter, you don’t need to be bathed, you only need to be washed.  Bathing is for souls, washing is for feet.  Feet that get dusty trodding through this sin-filled world.”

If we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive them and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Our souls need to be bathed only once – through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit – it’s our bodies and minds that need daily cleansing from the stink of sin.

After Jesus washed their feet, put back on his robe and returned to the table, He asked:

“Do you get it?

I just pressed something important into the palms of your hands.

I’m not too good to wash feet and neither are you.

Peter had it backwards. It’s not a matter of being too good, too high and mighty; it’s a matter of being good enough, of being low and mighty.

Servants are not greater than their master, so if I’m good enough to wash feet, then you be good enough, too.

Once you understand this concept, and do it, you will go through life blessed.

Isaiah said so, too: ‘take care of one another and then your light shall break forth like the dawn,

and your healing shall spring up quickly;…

The Lord will guide you continually,

and satisfy your needs in parched places,

and make your bones strong;

and you shall be like a watered garden,’

Take care of one another and you will flourish.”

As someone who is chronically dehydrated and has osteoporosis, I like Isaiah’s wording – strong bones, well-watered….

Be low and mighty enough to serve others and you’ll like your life.

The lectionary for Maundy Thursday (you’re reading the homily I gave last night) skipped over the details of Judas’s departure, but you know how it went down. It picked up again at verse 31:

“When [Judas] had gone out, Jesus said, ‘Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him.'”

Judas’s departure set Jesus’ finest hour in motion.

His finest hour as a man – enduring physical and emotional abuse, bearing false accusations silently, as a sheep before its shearer.

I watched a tribute to Andrew Lloyd Webber Wednesday night.  At the end of it,  John Legend, who will play Jesus in Sunday night’s live presentation of Jesus Christ Superstar, asked Andrew for advice on playing the role.

“It’s all about redemption after all,” Andrew replied.

John mentioned the angst and fear and doubt Jesus experienced as He faced the cross.

“And yet He went through with it,” Andrew replied.

“Yes,”  John smiled slightly, “He went through with it.”

He was glorified as the Son of Man by going through with it.  By laying down his life for his friends – there’s no love greater than that.

His finest hour as God was defeating sin and death, which no man can do.

His Father’s finest hour? Showing a restraint in the face of His Son’s suffering the strength of which no human father could match.

John didn’t mention the bread and the cup in his account of the Last Supper, but our epistle reading from 1 Corinthians 11 did.

“…the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”

The Passover feast was a perpetual ordinance for God’s people to remember their deliverance from the physical bondage of slavery.

And now a new perpetual ordinance has been instituted, to remember our spiritual deliverance from bondage to sin and death.

My body broken for you. My blood shed for you, because without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.

Jesus, Our Passover Lamb.

Our gospel reading ends with a precious plea:

Little children, I am with you only a little longer.

At my church the children come forward and crowd in the aisle between the rows of pews for “The Lamb’s Liturgy.” The pastor gives a brief lesson and then touches each of their heads and blesses them before they head off to Sunday school. It’s my favorite part of the service. I love to see them walk back down the aisle, their little heads blessed, their faces Hopeful, expectant that the future has good things for them.

The tenderness with which the pastor blesses our children is the tenderness with which Jesus beheld those at the table, on the eve of His great suffering:   “Little children, dear ones, my charges, my responsibility, my baby chicks, my friends…

I’m leaving and you can’t come with me.

So just love one another.

By this everyone will know that I taught you well, if you love one another.

By this my Father and I will be glorified.

By this our strength will be shown.

Because no one can live low and mighty apart from us.”

Amen.

#betrayed

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life

It’s a Battle, Not a Leap

You’ve heard the expression, “Leap of faith,” but it isn’t a leap, it’s a nearly bloody battle:

Dear Julie,

While reading keep in mind that although the use and abuse of alcohol began in the teen years, its all out assault began about 1975, and culminated in 1977.
Something was really pushing me to put all of this down on paper.  Having done it, I can see that the “having done it,”  and not the four pages, was the important thing…
Love,
Dad

Concerning Hope

But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear.  1 Peter 3:15

On the night of April 18, 1977, I was alone in my apartment, face down on the floor and immobilized.  For years I had traveled the road of addiction.  Alcohol was the propelling vehicle.  At the end of this road is death, and death was to be found in the bathroom which was but a few yards ahead.  One travels this road with companions who are faithful to the end.  The fellowship includes perfectionism, a law giver demanding consummate tidiness even in a terminal act.  Wrists slashed at the bottom of a filled tub preclude the washing of blood from walls and ceiling.

Born into a world of taste, touch, smell, sight and sound, the cry of an infant brings response and gratification to his demands.  Response and gratification instill a sense of power, and power promises hope.  But hope circumscribed by the senses is counterfeit hope and bears within itself the seed of its own destruction.  Despair is the short-lived child born to be the executioner of its father and he who gives sanctuary to the father.  Born there on the floor, despair matured quickly and, like a lemming, yearned to dash across those last few yards to hurl itself into the water of the tub.

But despair was frustrated.  Wanting to get moving, it found itself trapped within immobilized flesh.  The delay made the last few yards ahead the turf of terror for consciousness.  The road became clogged with figures which looked vaguely familiar – ghostly manifestations of unresolved issues, hit-and-run victims at various points during the long trip in the vehicle called alcohol.  They were singing a song, my song; that seemingly immortal lyric which says, “I’ll do it my way.”  They knew the tune well.  I was singing it as they were victimized.  For consciousness, the legacy of despair is the recognition that the last stanza is being sung.  The song was inspired by counterfeit hope, but manipulation was the talent which penned its innumerable stanzas.  Fueled by alcohol, years of practicing the art of manipulation had produced exhaustion and immobility.  Peter had been robbed to pay Paul and Paul had been robbed to pay Peter so many times that both had resolved to make a trophy of my hide.  Their breath was on my neck; I could see a noose suspended from the branch of a tree.  There was no longer a will to pen new stanzas.

At this point a word presented itself to consciousness.  The word was addressed: “You are said to be omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent.  If true, You are not light years away, but here with the prodigal.  If there is a road that does not terminate at the tub, You will have to pick me up and put me on it.  I give up.  God help me!”

This appeal came as an ominous threat to my hope.  A battle ensued in which consciousness was but a spectator.  Hope drew its battle line as it addressed consciousness: “You don’t need help.  Those ghostly manifestations out there need help.  They are the problem.”  Picking up the towel that I had thrown into the ring, the Word responded:  “You are the problem.”  Gravely wounded by the Word, but not yet dead, hope crawled from the field of battle.

In his book, Power of the Renewed Mind, Bill Bansky comments on this battle:

“God doesn’t speak through your mind, into your mind.  He speaks into your spirit that’s born again.  When God speaks to the spirit, the Spirit of God brings the thought into your mind, and then you know that God is speaking to you.”

Surrender gave birth to a new spirit which was to be followed by a renewed mind and a new hope.

Consciousness became aware that the telephone table was within reach.  A pull on the cord brought the receiver to the floor.  Names and numbers were beyond the grasp of both hand and mind.  After a number of misadventures, a finger found the “0” button.  My thickly muttered message to the responding voice was simply, “Alcohol!”  She grasped the situation immediately.  Learning that I was alone she asked if I could take down a phone number.  The long established habit of keeping a ball point pen in my pocket proved useful.  Laboriously and with much repetition, I labeled my arm with the phone number of a detoxification clinic.  Consciousness ended at this point.  During my long trip with alcohol, I had come to know periods of blackout.  This is not to be confused with passing out.  In a blackout one can act, but unconsciously.

With the return of consciousness at 3:00 A.M., I found myself on the porch of an old brick building which resembled an army barracks.  Later I would discover that it was one of several identical buildings which had once been a mental institution.  The buildings were on a large, secluded piece of property twenty minutes by car from my apartment.  It would be difficult to find this place at noon while sober.  The fact of having driven for twenty minutes in a blackout was not disconcerting.  That sot of thing had been part of my repertoire.  What was disconcerting was the realization that God was giving me what I had asked for.  He had taken my request seriously and had responded earnestly.  The plan was that I must follow Him on this new road one step at a time, one day at a time.  But false hope was not yet dead.  As I lingered at the door of the clinic, it strained to find something in the plan that could be manipulated.  There was nothing.  The absoluteness of this absence was depressing.

When called from the tomb by our Lord, Lazarus emerged looking like a mummy.  He was alive but still bound by the wrappings of death.  Similarly, having been resurrected from the floor to a vertical position at the entrance of the clinic, I was wrapped in my depression and essentially immobilized.  Though I lingered with fear and apprehension, this depression was something that could almost be enjoyed when compared with those ghostly manifestations at the end of the old road.  But if one is to cross the threshold and follow Him down a new road, depression is a barrier; a bitter fruit in a bowl designed for gratitude.  On the floor the reins had been relinquished to an omniscient God.  This omniscient and omnipotent God resurrected me and set me in front of doors which marked the beginning of a new road.  Depression is to doubt His wisdom.  Doubt seek alternatives, and alternatives are born of thought.  But there is danger in thinking with a mind whose only song has been, “I’ll do it my way.”  Such a mind entertains but one thought, “Take back the reins.”  A response to this temptation came as consciousness circumvented thought in contemplation of that resurrection from floor to porch; a resurrection hidden in the realm called blackout; movement void of thought and doubt.  Consciousness opted for thoughtlessness and answered temptation with silence.  Temptation relinquished the porch and departed for a time.

With the rejection of temptation, something washed over my depression, then receded.  Depression became the sands of an ocean shore.  At high tide there was “peace beyond all understanding.”  At low tide there was a return of fear and doubt.  As the wash was receding during a low tide, the tempter returned with a thought; “Lay hold of it and pull it back over you as you would a blanket on a cold night.”  Consciousness discerned this to be but a more subtle expression of the earlier thought.  Again temptation was answered with silence and from the depths came a voice, “Lo, I am with you always.   My ebb is the season in which vessels are to empty themselves of self.   My flow cannot fill a full vessel.”  With His words consciousness recognized that something which had washed against depression – a new hope.  I opened the door and entered the clinic.  I was on a new road.

As Lazarus stood mummy-like before the tomb, Jesus addressed those present saying, “Loose him and let him go.”  Upon entering the clinic, the first respondents to His command were the staff physician and a substance abuse therapist.  The therapist’s shift was ending and his relief had already entered the examining room.  Having completed a preliminary examination and blood work, the physician addressed the relief therapist saying,  “Stay on top of him for the duration of your shift.  Don’t let him sleep; he could slip into a coma and expire from alcohol poisoning.”  Apparently Jesus had already commissioned the first therapist.  He addressed his relief saying, “Get about something else.  This one is mine.”  During the following eight hours, and without additional pay, he nurtured this fragile new life.  Sometime late the following day consciousness recognized, received and embraced the loving care and concern with which the therapist had fulfilled his commission.  As I placed my offering in that bowl designed for gratitude, counterfeit hope expired, along with doubt and its depression.  The lemming was in the water.

With the surrender of self-will and death of false hope, sin ceased to be a lifestyle.  The weight of sin which had immobilized me was absorbed by Jesus Christ as He hung on the cross.  His cross is a point of orientation which sets the course for the journey down this new road.  The point of destination is that place where “I shall know just as I am also known.”  It is a place where I shall see Him who is the author of my hope. In his book, A Theology of the Cross, Charles Cousar speaks of death and resurrection:  “Easter does not erase or eclipse the godforsakeness of Good Friday.”  At the beginning of each day I position myself at a place where both His death and glorious resurrection stand between me and the point of destination.  This destination is seen through my sin which hangs there on the cross.  On the cross sin does not invite morbidity, but gratitude – gratitude for the fact that He took it and paid the price.  The price that He paid gives my sin transparency.  The view to the destination is not obscured.  At the beginning of each day I am grateful to find that my sin still hangs there.  That by His strength I had resisted the temptation to take it back.  At the beginning of each day I am grateful that the cross is there as a place to hang that which has been emptied from this vessel.

So what sustains hope, one day at a time, during the journey on this new road?  To focus on that future point of destination, through union with Him at the cross, gives sustenance.  Charles Cousar comments, “The future so impinges on the present as to give it a distinctive buoyancy.”  In this world our pilgrimage is through terrain which would have us to stumble and fall;  “Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.”  That “distinctive buoyancy” keeps us up and moving, if our focus stays on the destination.  In all things I give thanks, and praise His holy name.  Glory be to God!

I first published my dad’s story in January 2015 in two posts:
Concerning Hope
Concerning Hope part 2

And then I told you how it played out for me:
Grateful

Back then I said I inherited two things at his passing: His hooded sweatshirt and his Bible. But I also inherited his love for Jesus, passed on to me by his prayers.

He is one of a great cloud of witnesses, still sharing his testimony, and I’m hoping it speaks to someone today.

 

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life, Light

He’s Alive!

Back when I worked at the pregnancy center, I used to plan and produce an annual Coffee House as a way of raising community awareness as well as some badly needed funds.  This is me and a guy named Lloyd working out last minute projection glitches:

I loved that blazer, I wonder what I did with it...

I loved that blazer, wonder what I did with it…

Every year five performers, or groups of performers, would donate their time and talent and each play a 20 minute set.  They were all wonderful.  It was at the very first Coffee House that I was introduced to the music of Don Francisco and to the song He’s Alive.   It blew me away.  The man who performed it sang with a rich, smooth, amazing, powerful voice while playing his twelve string guitar.  As people were leaving at the end of the evening some of them asked me if he was Don Francisco.  Once I heard Don Francisco I understood why.  He looked like him, sang like him and played like him.

Wonderful memory, wonderful song, wonderful Savior.

Why am I sharing it today and not tomorrow?  ‘Cuz I have another classic to share tomorrow.

Happy Easter Eve:

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