Archive for February, 2015

Comin’ for to Carry Me Home
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
February 15, 2015

2 Kings 12:1-12 Mark 9:2-9 Psalm 50

Today’s Bible readings suggest dying and the afterlife to me. In our Old Testament reading, the prophet Elijah was taken up into heaven by a fiery chariot. And in our New Testament reading, Jesus is on a high mountain and there His true identity as God in the flesh is revealed. His clothes become dazzling white, and a voice comes from a bright cloud, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.” Moses and Elijah appear and they talk with Jesus.
There are a few issues in these stories that I would like to reflect on. First, I would like to contrast the stories of Elijah and Jesus. The stories make clear that Elijah is a mortal, while Jesus is divine. When Elijah is taken to heaven, he is conveyed there by a chariot. Elijah doesn’t go to heaven by his own power. Rather, he is lifted up and taken to heaven by God’s power. But Jesus isn’t taken anywhere by another power. His face shines like the sun (Matthew 17) and His own clothes shine with dazzling brilliance. Mark tells us that Jesus was transfigured. The word “transfigure” means, “To transform the figure or appearance; to alter radically; to exalt, glorify.” These connotations all apply to Jesus. His appearance is altered radically, and He is most certainly exalted and glorified. The transfiguration shows that Jesus Himself is God. His glorious appearance is His divinity shining forth from His own person.
Then there is the issue of Moses and Elijah talking with Jesus. Moses and Elijah signify the law and the prophets. Moses symbolizes the law and Elijah symbolizes the prophets. The law and the prophets is a way that Jews refer to the Bible. The whole Bible is called the law and the prophets. By Moses and Elijah talking with Jesus, we have a symbolic representation of Jesus as the Word made flesh. Or Jesus as the Bible in the flesh.
But there is another way to consider the appearance of Moses and Elijah. They appear with Jesus in their spiritual form. Both Moses and Elijah have died, and yet they are here talking with Jesus. This passage can be taken to demonstrate that there is life after death. The souls of Moses and Elijah are alive in death. They are talking with Jesus from the spiritual world.
And what is remarkable is that Peter, James, and John all see the spirits of Moses and Elijah. I think that what is happening here is that their spiritual eyes are opened. For with their spiritual eyes opened, they see Jesus as He is in the spiritual world–dazzling bright. And with their spiritual eyes opened, the Apostles are able to see Moses and Elijah in their spiritual bodies.
So the Apostles are seeing into the spiritual world. The spiritual world is where we all will end up. I think about the old, African-American song, “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.” This song refers to the chariot that took Elijah up into heaven. The songwriter sees a similar chariot coming to take him or her up into heaven. What strikes me about that song are the words, “Comin’ for to Carry Me Home.” The chariot that takes the singer into heaven, is taking him or her home. This song teaches us that the spiritual world is our true home. And the chariot that swings low to pick us up is comin’ for to carry us home.
Our true home is the spiritual world. We are put on earth for a short time. Our journey on earth is like our journey in our mother’s womb. We are in our mothers’ womb in order to grow into a human being biologically. And we are here on earth as if we are in a womb. We are here on earth to grow into a spiritual being in our second birth. If all proceeds according to divine design, we open our higher minds and allow God’s love and wisdom into our hearts and minds. As we allow God into our lives, our souls are formed according to the heavenly design. Then, when our bodies are of no more use to us, we shed them. And our souls, having been prepared in the form of heaven, now becomes conscious of that realm. We “awake” into heaven, our true and final home. Blake explains our purpose here on earth beautifully in a poem called THE LITTLE BLACK BOY:
Look on the rising sun: there God does live
And gives his light, and gives his heat away. . . .

And we are put on earth a little space,
That we may learn to bear the beams of love,
We are here to learn to bear the light and heat, or the wisdom and love of heaven.
Not everyone has such a positive view of the afterlife. Shakespeare’s Hamlet fears death because he doesn’t know what lies in that “undiscovered Country.” Although life is hard and weary for Hamlet–so much so that he contemplates suicide–Hamlet holds back since he doesn’t know what lies in store for him in the next life:
To die, to sleep—
No more; and by a sleep, to say we end
The Heart-ache, and the thousand Natural shocks
That Flesh is heir to? ‘Tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished. To die, to sleep,
To sleep, perchance to Dream; Aye, there’s the rub,
For in that sleep of death, what dreams may come,
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause. There’s the respect
That makes Calamity of so long life: . . .
Who would these Fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscovered Country, from whose bourn
No Traveller returns, Puzzles the will,
And makes us rather bear those ills we have,
Than fly to others that we know not of.
There is a more positive view of heaven in the song, “I’ll Fly Away.” Like Hamlet, the songwriter finds life difficult, and looks forward to the next with glee. So the song goes,
Just a few more weary days and then,
I’ll fly away
To a land where joys will never end
I’ll fly away
I think that we are most likely somewhere between the poles I have been discussing. Somewhere between Hamlet’s fear and the happy expectation of “I’ll Fly Away.” Robert Frost captures this ambivalence quite well in a poem entitled, MISGIVING:
All crying, ‘We will go with you, O Wind!’
The foliage follow him, leaf and stem;
But a sleep oppresses them as they go,
And they end by bidding him stay with them.

Since ever they flung abroad in spring
The leaves had promised themselves this flight,
Who now would fain seek sheltering wall,
Or thicket, or hollow place for the night.

And now they answer his summoning blast
With an ever vaguer and vaguer stir,
Or at utmost a little reluctant whirl
That drops them no further than where they were.

I only hope that when I am free
As they are free to go in quest
Of the knowledge beyond the bounds of life
It may not seem better to me to rest.

The poem is set in the autumn, a time near the end of the season’s cycle. Winter’s death is approaching, and the poem suggests that time in human life when we can begin to see the end. At this time in our lives, the doctrines by which we lived are put to the test. All our lives we have heard about life after death and heaven, now it is becoming a reality. So the poem begins with youthful anticipation of the afterlife, “Since ever they flung abroad in spring/The leaves had promised themselves this flight.” The leaves lose conviction, and instead of following the wind who will blow them on their spiritual journey, they ask the wind to stay here with them, “But a sleep oppresses them as they go,/And they end by bidding him stay with them.” Then comes the speaker’s voice. He wants to believe that when it is his turn to go, he will welcome the journey into that undiscovered Country,
I only hope that when I am free
As they are free to go in quest
Of the knowledge beyond the bounds of life
It may not seem better to me to rest.
Our readings teach us that Jesus is king in heaven, and that there Moses and Elijah live out their lives eternally. So, too, will we live for eternity in the spiritual world. As time progresses, and our friends and loved ones begin to depart for the next world, and as our time approaches, our faith is tested. I hope that as our time approaches, it may not seem better to us to rest. For heaven is our true home.

PRAYER

Lord, your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and you are an everlasting God. You have told us that you go to prepare a place for us with you. But we have a role to play in coming into your kingdom. We are here on this earth to learn to accept your love and wisdom. Your kingdom is made all from your goodness and truth. And without your goodness and truth in our souls, we will not feel comfortable with you. Give us, we pray, to learn from you. Give us, we pray to receive from you. And Give us, we pray, to come and live in your kingdom for ever, with you.

And Lord, we pray for the sick. May they experience the power of your healing love. Fill them with the grace of your healing power. We pray for the grace of your healing power for all who are ailing in body or soul.

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Feb 1st, 2015

Who Is Jesus?
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
February 1, 2015

Deuteronomy 18:15-20 John 1:19-34 Psalm 111

In our reading from Deuteronomy, we heard a prophesy about a prophet who is to be raised up. This prophet was to be like Moses–the greatest prophet. The prophesy about the prophet became attached to the idea of the end times. There were other prophets who predicted a great and terrible Day of Yahweh. This Day of Yahweh was a time when God Himself would come down to earth and set things straight. The sun would be darkened; the moon turned to blood; there would be fire and earthquakes. With all these terrible events taking places, there is no wonder that it was called a great and terrible day. And “the prophet” was to come before this terrible Day of Yahweh.
At the time of Jesus, everyone was getting ready for this to happen. The people in Israel thought it could come any day. This may explain why John the Baptist had such a huge following. Mark tells us that, “There went out to him all the country of Judea, and all the people of Jerusalem.” John taught repentance for forgiveness of sins before baptism. And it seems that the people of Judea were deeply concerned about this. In Matthew’s gospel, John gives the people of Judea a reason to be baptized. He preached, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” And in Luke, we have an even more graphic preaching from John, “Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” So in Luke, John says that right now, unworthy trees are being cut down and thrown into the fire. This is some kind of metaphor, but the people of Judea must have sensed that it had something to do with the coming Day of Yahweh, and the refining fire of God.
So with all this fear and excitement in the air, it is no wonder that the temple priests and the tribe who served in the temple called Levites, it is no wonder that they came running up to John to ask him who he was. In rapid succession, they fire questions at John the Baptist: “Who are you?”–”I am not the Christ.” “Are you Elijah?”–”No.” “Are you the prophet?”–”No.” Then you can feel a sense of frustration because the next question comes, “Who are you?” All the fear and anticipation about the Day of Yahweh is behind these frantic questions.
So John says that he is not the prophet. Who was the prophet? Did the prophet come? Was Jesus the prophet?
Let’s look at just a little of the background behind the prophet. The prophet was a kind of intermediary between God and the people of Israel. When God appeared to the Israelites, it was a dazzling light-show, noisy, magnificent, and scary. There was lightning, thunder, earthquakes, a loud trumpet-blast, and fire on the mountain top where God appeared. This frightened the Israelites so much that they asked not to see God again. They said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will hear; but let not God speak to us, lest we die” (Exodus 20:19). God consents to their request and gives them prophets. In the case of our story, we are talking about that one special prophet who will be raised up after Moses. God will put His own words into the mouth of the prophet. In Deuteronomy 18:18 God says, “I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.”
Is this a description of what Jesus did? Jesus says in John 15:15, “All that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.” So this passage, and many others like it, say that Jesus is speaking the words of His Father. God is speaking through Jesus. In this sense, Jesus is a prophet, perhaps the prophet.
But there is a great difference between Jesus and prophets–even the greatest prophet, Moses. Jesus claims that God is in Him.
“He who has seen me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘show us the Father?’ Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority; but the Father who dwells in me does his works” (John 14:9-10).
Jesus claims that God is His Father. This meant that Jesus was equal to God. This so outraged the Jews that they sought to kill Jesus on the spot. Jesus said,
“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me; and I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”
The Jews took up stones again to stone him. . . . The Jews answered him, “It is not for a good work that we stone you but for blaspheme; because you, being a man, make yourself God” (John 10:27-30, 31, 33).
Now no ordinary prophet would claim that God is his father. And certainly, no prophet would say that God and he were one. They may say that they have some special access to God’s Word. But they would never say that they were equal to God in any way.
There is another way in which Jesus is like the prophet. As we saw, the Israelites were afraid to speak to God Himself. The prophet was supposed to speak to God for the people and bring God’s Word to the people.
In a very real sense, Jesus brought God’s Word to us. In a very real way, Jesus brought God to us. And He brought God to us in a way that didn’t frighten us. He brought God to us in a way that a prophet might: in a human voice.
But once again, Jesus did these things in a way no ordinary prophet could. John’s Gospel says that God’s Word existed in the beginning and was God. Then John makes the staggering claim that God’s Word became flesh. John tells us that all things were made by God’s Word and that the Word that made all things was coming into the world. Jesus Christ was that Word of God. Jesus Christ was the Word that made all things, now walking on the earth. So Jesus did not receive some words from God to tell people. Jesus was God’s Word in the flesh. So Jesus did bring God’s Word to us. But not as a prophet would, who hears a message from God and tells it to the people. But rather, Jesus was God’s Word Itself, walking on the earth.
So Jesus brings God’s Word to us. And Jesus brings God to us. John says that Jesus “has made him known.” And with Jesus there is no lightning, no thunder, no earthquake, no volcanic fire. Only a peaceful, gentle, human being. That is how God is manifested in Jesus.
So Jesus fills many of the roles of a prophet–but not really. Jesus tells us what He hears from the Father, as a prophet would. But with Jesus, the Father is His father. As a prophet, Jesus brings God to humanity in a non-threatening manner. But unlike any prophet, Jesus is equal to God (John 10:33). Jesus is one with the Father; the Father is in Him and He is in the Father. And finally, as a prophet, Jesus brings God’s Word to humanity. But unlike any ordinary prophet, Jesus is God’s Word in the flesh. Jesus doesn’t just bring words from God to humanity. Jesus is The Word in human form. Jesus was like a prophet, but wasn’t a mere prophet. Jesus was and is Emmanuel–God with us.

PRAYER

Lord, we thank you for your prophets, who have taught us your Word. When we wander from your precepts, your prophets have shown us the way back to you. And, Lord, we especially thank you for your dearest gift to us–your presence on earth. You came to us as the Word made flesh. You are the incarnate Word of God. You are the greatest Prophet in that you are God’s Word Itself. You have shown us God’s ways for all time. You not only taught. You demonstrated God’s ways. We learn from your teachings, and we learn from your life. You healed; you taught; and you gave of yourself. So may we heal, teach, and give to those around us–an image of yourself, the Word made flesh.

And Lord, we pray for the sick. May they experience the power of your healing love. Fill them with the grace of your healing power. Comfort their family and friends. We pray for the grace of your healing power for all who are ailing in body or soul.

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