Preface (To A New Disciple and Simon Peter)

My uncle is a guard at a Roman prison. It isn’t something that I generally reveal to people, but I thought that might interest you given that Simon Peter, one of the earliest followers of Jesus of Nazareth, is being held there.

It occurred to me a few weeks ago that I might be able to get into the area where Peter is confined. I contacted my uncle with whom I have been close all of my life. I asked if it would be possible for him to get me in to see Simon Peter. It took some coaxing, but he said that he would arrange it.

I had no previous relationship with Peter and he had no reason to welcome me. I am just a recent follower of Jesus. I am excited about what that has meant to my life and I’m thrilled with the group of Christians who have come around me. I want to know as much about Jesus as I can. I want to grow deeper in my journey with Jesus. What better person to turn to than Simon Peter?

It turned out that Peter was thankful for my visit and was open for me to return for a series of conversations. As I checked with my uncle to see about returning, he made it clear that these visits would need to be short. I agreed to keep them all less than an hour. I was just thrilled that I could return regularly!

I have little experience in this faith, and have a lot of questions. Peter never seems to mind. He said that asking questions are the way we learn and grow. So, each week I go return with a new question or questions for him.

In the early stages of the visits I just wanted to know basic things, like how he came to follow Jesus and why. What was Jesus like? What has kept him on this discipleship journey.

Our conversations grew deeper over the weeks as some of Peter’s responses triggered stories from his past with Jesus. On one visit a need for healing prayer came about for a cell neighbor of Peter’s, and he and I ended up digging deep into the matter of healing. I struggle with how to pray and asked Peter to teach me more about prayer and we talked that through from his experiences with Jesus. Food brought a discussion on Jesus feeding many with a few loaves and fishes. Peter hearing children’s voices got us into a conversation of how Jesus was so open and welcoming with all kinds of people, including the little ones. I even got to ask him about the time Jesus told him, “Get behind me Satan!”

I am learning too much to keep these visits to myself. I have taken notes and have begun to make these accounts available to you. I try to be open about my own limitations and honestly report what I asked and how I responded to this great leader for Jesus. I hope what I am about to share will be useful for your own journey with our Lord.

YOU WILL FIND THE REST OF THIS BOOK IN THE TAB ABOVE ENTITLED “A NEW DISCIPLE AND SIMON PETER.”

HE IS RISEN! HE IS RISEN!

The women walked with heavy steps

Their loss so great to death

The darkness deep around them still

Some tears and out of breath

 

Light began to barely shine

The arrival of the dawn

“Who will roll away the stone?”

They wondered but moved on

 

And then, they saw the covered tombs,

An eerie land of loss,

The tomb to which they sadly trudged

Created by the cross

 

The first surprise of a surprising morn

A rumble from the ground

The second startling circumstance

An open tomb they found

 

The third an angel from above

Had moved the stone away

And seeing the women stopped far off

Said, “Do not be afraid!”

 

“I know that you are looking for

Your Master and your friend.

I know that He was crucified

And you thought His life at end.”

 

“But come and see the fact that He

No longer lingers here.

He is risen! He is risen!

See! The evidence is clear.”

 

The women moved close to the tomb

And stared within in awe

For Jesus truly wasn’t there

The tomb was bare. They saw!

 

“This is news that must be shared,”

The angel continued on

“Go and tell that Jesus lives

To Peter, James and John.”

 

And so these women hastened back

“Great news!” they shouted out

“He is risen! He is risen”

But, the men were left in doubt

 

Yet, finally Peter had to see

If what they said was true

And John ran with him to the tomb

A race toward truth, these two

 

John beat Peter to the tomb

But stood outside to see

While Peter, as soon as he arrived,

Went in immediately

 

And sure enough as Mary said

No body did they see

Just linen wrappings lying there

Where Jesus ought to be

 

What could this mean? Why was He gone?

What plot had been conceived?

Peter struggled with these facts,

But John saw and believed.

 

The men walked back the dusty road

Together, lost in thought

Reviewing all that Jesus did

And all that Jesus taught

 

But Mary Magdalene remained

She’d followed close behind

She felt confused, surprised and lost

Was Jesus there to find?

 

Had the message of the angels

Really been the truth of God?

Was Jesus truly living now?

Or just some story odd?

 

And then a voice broke through the morn

It startled her to hear

“Why do you weep? Whom do you seek?”

It rang out soft but clear

 

Perhaps the gardener of the tombs

She thought, he might know more

The missing Jesus could have been

For him another chore.

 

“Tell me, sir, if you have moved

My master and my friend

Just tell me if you’ve taken him

To meet some other end”

 

“Mary!” she had heard her name

Said by so many men

But only one had spoken it

Like she had heard it then!

 

“Rabboni!” teacher, Master, Jesus

“It is true. You really live!”

“Yes, my faithful, caring friend,

I’ve a message you must give.”

 

“But, Lord, just let me hold you

Let me cling and not let go!”

“No, dear one, you must hold back

There’s still much you must know.”

 

She listened to her Lord again,

His voice so great to hear.

The message was so wonderful

But still it brought a tear

 

Jesus promised her that He would come

Into their midst again

And so she left reluctantly

With this message once again

 

He is risen! He is risen!

As she burst right through the door

I have seen Him. I have touched Him!

It’s the Master! I am sure!

 

They talked and talked of what this meant

The doors and windows locked

They feared their capture even yet

Might come just as they talked

 

When in their midst Christ did appear

He lived as Mary said

He is risen! He is risen!

He is risen from the dead!

 

“Peace be unto you my friends,

The peace from God so true

As the Father has sent me

So now do I send you”

 

And then the Lord did breathe on them

With power from above

“Receive the Holy Spirit,” He said

Receive the heavenly dove.

 

And carry to the world the truth

Accomplished on my cross

Forgiveness is available

Life given through life lost

 

But it was only ten of them

That were gathered there that night

Thomas had been somewhere else,

Lost chance to see the Light

 

And later, after Jesus left

Came Thomas to the room

He is risen! He is risen!

Rang the message that burst the tomb

 

Thomas doubted, Thomas struggled,

“It’s a story, can’t be true

Living? Jesus living?

Back alive for me and you?”

 

“I can’t believe it, can’t believe it

He is dead; was crucified.

I won’t believe, I won’t believe it,

‘til I touch His hand and side!”

 

One week later, Jesus came

In the room with Thomas there

Went right over swiftly to him

In his eyes did Jesus stare

 

“It was hard I know to trust,

But now you know you weren’t deceived

You may touch my hands, my side

Thomas saw, and now believed

 

He exclaimed, “My Lord, My God!”

But on his senses he did lean

Jesus said, “The truly blessed

Will be believers who haven’t seen.”

 

And thus the story, thus the message

Of our Jesus, crucified

He is risen! He is risen!

Yes, He lives, the man who died.

 

It’s a message shared at Easter

Shared with hope for me and you

It’s the message of our Savior

One to tell and one to do

 

It’s a message shared in summer

Shared in winter, spring and fall

It’s a message of a man who died

And rose again for all

 

And so it is a message

Ringing out this Easter morn

Jesus lives! O’er death He’s conquered,

And with Him new Life’s been born!

 

Can you feel it? Have you heard it?

Can you sense both gain and loss?

Jesus gave His body, shed His blood

And died upon a cross

 

And had that death, but ended there

It would be pure tragedy

But we have heard the fuller tale,

A tale of victory

 

He is risen! He is risen!

He is risen from the dead!

Jesus lives! The devil’s conquered

Death has lost its grip, its dread

 

It’s a message that each Christian

Has embraced down through the years

Each has felt the Master’s presence,

Needed it in times of tears

 

Even now if you should find

That with your life you cannot cope

Easter morning brings a message

Full of promise, full of hope

 

God has done it, God has acted

Done a miracle, it’s true

It’s a sign of strength and power,

And a gift for me and you

 

Feel it strongly! Hold it tightly!

For to you it has been said

He is risen! He is risen!

Christ is risen from the dead.

LIVING – Chapter 13

My dear friend in Jesus,

I have a difficult thing to share with you. As you know, I have been blessed in recent months to have had wonderful conversations with Simon Peter. I did my best to share with you how those conversations went because you expressed an interest.

But, all of that has now changed! I feel such a loss as I share with you the news that Peter was executed this week. The Holy Spirit had revealed to him that this was coming. The resurrected Jesus had spoken of it to him on that lake shore long ago as Peter had shared with me the story. I had passed that on to you in my accounts from my recent visits.

I feel such a loss and yet so blessed. I had the opportunity to listen to Simon Peter, the Rock, talk with me about his experiences with Jesus the Christ! I knew that those opportunities were coming to an end, but now it feels so final. I have been thinking over all that I learned from Peter. I have looked over the notes that I used to write to you of my visits. I would like to share some of those key things that I now hold dear regarding my own discipleship of Jesus as it has been nurtured by Peter.  

One of the things that I experienced in Peter was the energy of his faith as he talked about Jesus. It almost came through the air into me – how much the grace, love, peace and joy of Jesus poured out of Peter as he talked of our Lord. It is my hope that my daily encounters with everyone that I meet can carry that energy for Jesus that so touched me over these recent months!

Peter would often remind me that this Christian journey was all about following Jesus – the same Jesus that Peter knew was the one that I could follow, talk with in prayer, learn from his Spirit, discern direction for my life, and gain comfort in facing the ups and downs of daily living. Thus, I follow Jesus.

Peter emphasized more than once that those who knew Jesus embraced certain disciplines after Jesus had ascended and they had been given his Spirit. These were disciplines that helped them to keep focused on Jesus and their calling to be his disciples:

  • He said that it was helpful to share the stories of all that Jesus had done and said and to see it in the context of the Holy Scriptures.
  • He talked about the value of baptism’s connection to the death and rising of Jesus – that my old self can die in him on the cross and a new self arise in his resurrection. He said that they eat bread and drink wine as Jesus had taught them at their last supper with him and that Jesus said, “This is my body. This is my blood.” Peter valued that connection with the presence of Jesus in that meal.
  • He taught me that prayer is certainly having a conversation with the Lord, but that it is important also to be a willing listener to what the Lord may be leading through that prayer time.
  • He emphasized that being with other followers of Jesus, the fellowship of believers, is another essential resource in keeping alive one’s faith and one’s growth in that faith in Jesus. We are communities of believers in Jesus and the body of Jesus in the world.
  • And, he would not let me forget that a witness to others in actions and words is part of one’s calling in following Jesus. Jesus had said to his disciples just before he ascended that they were to go and make disciples of all nations. Thus, this is not just about me and my salvation. It is good news for the whole world!

Peter also seemed to reveal so many opposites about following Jesus – things opposite of what one might think. It seemed tied into the way Jesus was the Messiah – not a conquering king, but a suffering servant. Peter said that living in Jesus involved a daily dying to ourselves. He remembered Jesus telling them that to be first in God’s kingdom was to be last of all and servant of all. Jesus taught that his followers had to lose their lives to find their lives.

It has seemed to me that before I began following Jesus the things that I would have defined as living my life well could have all been represented by one side of a coin. But, now that I am following Jesus, he has led me to turn that coin over! Many aspects of following Jesus are opposite of what I once would have thought:

Jesus willingly spent time talking with tax collectors and others that typical religious leaders would have shunned. Jesus told a story where the hero was a Samaritan – a despised ethnic group by the Jewish people. Jesus told a story that taught that we could best find him as we encountered the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and the imprisoned – he was there in the lives of some of the most challenged people that his followers could encounter. Jesus called us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. Jesus taught that if someone should strike you on the right cheek, just turn the other to them as well.

All of this has left me also realizing that I need to see the world and the people in it differently. Every day I need to be more welcoming. I need to be more ready to listen than to talk. I need to realize that many of the people that I used to intentionally ignore are now the people that I need to intentionally invest in. I need to be more open to risking my life – losing my life – that I might discover the life to which Jesus is calling me. Now, the more that my life is not about me, the more my life gains meaning, purpose and direction – my old self is dying, and my new self is rising!

Dying matters. Rising matters. I think that I could have been caught up in the joy of a risen Jesus and almost want to play down that he died on a cross. This was not Peter’s focus. We face our sinfulness honestly and embrace our forgiveness in Jesus honestly. Dying. Rising.

But, the suffering of the cross! I have wondered, could Jesus have just taught the powerful things that he taught and then disappeared with Moses and Elijah on the mountain as Peter, James and John had witnessed? They could have heard the voice of God saying to them with just a little change of phrasing, “This has been my beloved Son. Now live as you have seen him live and follow what you have heard him teach.” No death on the cross. No resurrection from the dead. Just a powerful few years of amazing teachings and then a miraculous disappearing into heaven – possibly in the same chariot that had taken Elijah many years before. No suffering. No death on the cross. No rising from the dead. Just a miraculous disappearance.

But, I would now hear Peter saying a strong “No!” to me on this. Jesus knew that he was called to die and then rise again. He even told the disciples exactly that more than once. Jesus wrestled with what he knew was coming as he prayed that night in the garden before he was arrested. The cross was key to Jesus being the Messiah, the Christ.

Taking up one’s cross was his expectation of each disciple. Soon after the moment that Jesus had strongly told Peter to get behind him and called him Satan, he said to them: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” And then, “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.”

It seems that there is gift in following Jesus – grace. It also seems that there is cost in following Jesus – loss. It seems like the more you lose, the more you find. The more your old life dies, the more your new self can come to life.

At one point I remember Peter used the phrase, “since Jesus happened to me.” I could see through our talks how Peter experienced Jesus happening to him. At that time, I wasn’t sure that I could experience Jesus in that same way.

But I now know that Jesus has happened to me. Jesus is an experience, a happening, a change agent, an inspirational force, an uncomfortable nudge, a loving confidante, a goal to aim for, a companion to walk with, a lighthouse on a stormy sea, vital nourishment and living water to a hungry and thirsty soul.

At different times Jesus speaks to my heart, guides my steps, challenges my assumptions, changes my priorities, humbles my arrogance, refocuses my eyes, moves my hearing into listening, convicts me in my waywardness and inspires forgiveness in my penitence.

Living in Jesus is Life with a capital “L.” Real Living. Real Life. Life that inspires now and leads to eternity with him.

I have the freedom to face and confess the worst that is in me. I have hope and strength to live anew each day. Dying and rising. Losing and finding.

I hope that my willingness to share my visits with Peter have been helpful to you in your life journey and I hope that journey is one that has heard the calling to follow Jesus.

 

SOME QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER FOR PERSONAL CONTEMPLATION OR GROUP STUDY: 

  1. When have you felt an energy and joy in following Jesus? How might that joy express itself in ways that could bring others into an interest in following Jesus?
  2. The five disciplines of God’s Word, the Sacraments, Prayer, Fellowship and Witnessing have come up in two other chapters (Following and Witnessing). Have you sought to strengthen one of these disciplines in your own life? If you have, is it time to choose another? If not, take some time now to consider one of the five and how you plan to go deeper in your journey with Jesus.
  3. How have you faced the opposites that are a part of following Jesus? If you have yet to think about that, how might you face those opposites in your journey with Jesus?
  4. How has Jesus happened to you? The new disciple provides quite a list. Do any of those also describe you? How? What might you add to that list?

WITNESSING – Chapter 12

Oh Peter, I am so glad to see you this week! After what you shared last week, I wasn’t sure if you would even be here. We will likely hear something, I hope, if, indeed, you must face the terrible judgment that you believe is ahead for you. But I feel particularly blessed to sit with you again and learn at your feet.

I am so glad to see you, as well. Nothing has changed regarding my future. It could be any day now. I have had some thoughts about what we might discuss, but I would like to start with you having the opportunity to ask whatever you feel led to ask me.

I really had only one agenda for this evening. I am just wondering what you feel that you would like to share with me about the rest of your life after Jesus ascended? I would want to be the kind of witness that you have been and need to learn from you what you have faced and how the Holy Spirit has led you in your witness of the Lord Jesus.

You have heard me share a bit about aspects of my life as a disciple and an apostle. I have talked a bit about my experience of having the gift of healing and the awesome and humbling responsibility that it has been.

I have shared with you that I have been jailed before – although it was often for only a short time of a few days at the most. But those imprisonments were teaching experiences that took me deeper into my faith in Jesus. We sometimes believe that we have some control over our lives as we live day after day. Prison will take that quickly away and leave one either in hopelessness and despair, or into a deeper faithful trust in our Lord to live out faithfully whatever may come.

I talked about how we who walked with Jesus soon realized after he ascended that there were key disciplines that needed to be a part of the rest of our lives if we were going to follow Jesus as he desired. Do you remember?

  • We who witnessed all that Jesus had been and done continued to share his stories and teachings with each other and used the scriptures as tools to understand those experiences of Jesus more deeply.
  • We continued, through treasuring our baptisms, to realize daily the importance of the deaths of our old selves and the rising to new life our new selves in Jesus. And we regularly ate bread and wine together with a full thankfulness of knowing the presence of Jesus being renewed in us through that meal – his body, his blood.
  • We have prayed regularly as individuals and together with each other.
  • We connect with other brothers and sisters in the faith in a fellowship community that encourages us in our faith and our witness.
  • And yes, we witness. We talk about Jesus with others as the Holy Spirit leads us and we seek to live lives that witness to his amazing grace, love and forgiveness.

But, one of the most important experiences of those days after the ascension of Jesus came through a vision that I was given. It particularly relates to our witness, but it also challenges our willingness to be open to new possibilities and to share the good news of our Lord with all people.

I had been led to travel out beyond Jerusalem. The Gospel had touched the lives of many in other towns and villages. I had the opportunity to bring healing into the lives of a couple of believers, first in Lydda and then, in a more amazing experience, in Joppa. These could be discussions for us, but for what I would like to make sure you hear, they were also part of the Holy Spirit enabling me to be closer to another town, Caesarea.

I had been staying with a believer named, Simon, a tanner, in Joppa. His house had access to its roof where I could spend my daily times in prayer. One day I went up to pray. I became hungry and as my meal was being prepared for me, I experienced what one might call a vision or trance. I saw heaven opened up and a large sheet descended to the ground. In it were all kinds of four-footed animals, reptiles and birds. I heard a voice call out to me saying, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat.” I responded as a faithful Jew who understood our laws regarding so many of these animals, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean.” The voice responded, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” This vision took place three times and then the sheet rose back up into heaven!

What an odd vision, Peter! You said that you were soon going to eat. If I had such a vision, I think I would have just chalked it up to being hungry and it was some silly daydream! But you, obviously, have shared it because it meant something so much more.

Yes, of course. For, as I tried to figure out what and why the vision had taken place, some people came to the house and asked specifically for me. Even as these three men were at the gate, the Spirit spoke to my heart with this message, “Look, three men are searching for you. Now get up, go down, and go with them without hesitation; for I have sent them.”

I, therefore, went down immediately and explained that I was Simon, called Peter, and I wanted to know why they had come to look for me. They said that they were sent by a centurion named Cornelius from Caesarea. They explained that this Roman centurion was an upright and God-fearing man, respected by all of the Jewish people who knew him. A holy angel had appeared to Cornelius and had instructed him to send men to Joppa to the home of a man named Simon, a tanner, who lived near the seashore. The angel said that another man named Simon, who is called Peter, would be at the house and that they were to bring this Simon Peter to the home of Cornelius so that he could hear what this man would have to say.

It was an amazing connection of two visions that awed me even as I had experienced so many awesome things in the years since I had known Jesus.

I invited them into the house and we all stayed there that night. The next morning, we headed to Caesarea.

When we arrived at the home of Cornelius, he had invited some of his relatives and close friends to hear what I had to say. At the first opportunity to speak to the group, I shared how it was unlawful for Jews to associate or visit with a Gentile, but that God had made it clear to me that I was to think of no one as profane or unclean. Therefore, I was ready to listen and learn what it was that they expected of me.

Cornelius then confirmed what his messengers had shared regarding his vision. I was there because this centurion had a vision from God to send for me and to listen to my witness.

I shared with them as I was led regarding the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. I talked about how his powerful ministry of preaching good news of forgiveness and new life in him included many healings and exorcisms. I shared about the cross and his resurrection and how many of us had spent time with him, even eating and drinking, after he rose from the dead. I spoke of how he fulfilled so much of the scripture and how all who believe in him receive forgiveness of their sins in his name.

As those Gentiles to whom I spoke, heard this witness they were overcome by the Holy Spirit and spoke in other tongues and praised God with a fullness of their hearts. It was so similar to our first experience of the Holy Spirit on that Pentecost not long before.

I knew that we needed to provide the waters of baptism to those who had been touched by the message of Jesus and the presence of the Spirit. We stayed on there for a few days afterward.

Gentiles received your witness and were filled with the Holy Spirit. Gentiles were baptized in Jesus with the waters of forgiveness and new life. So, God used you to move the Good News of Jesus beyond Jewish believers and into the rest of the world!

Well, yes, although this was not something that was immediately received with great joy by all of Jesus’ followers. When I returned to Jerusalem, I learned that believers there had heard that Gentiles had accepted the word of God and were a part of the fellowship of believers in Jesus. They challenged me, a Jew, regarding my going to the uncircumcised Gentiles and were upset that I had fellowshipped with them and eaten with them.

So, I shared with them my vision and experiences that I just shared with you. I told them that as the Spirit fell upon those Gentiles, I was reminded that the Lord had said that “John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” I explained my reasoning that if God gave them the same gift of the Holy Spirit that he gave to us, who was I to hinder God! This quieted their complaints and led them to realize and express that God had now also given Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.

So, it has been your ministry that has touched the lives of so many people across the empire. I have heard that there are Christians in cities all over the Mediterranean and beyond. And now I am also one of those touched by this message!

While, yes, it was that experience that released the church to be open to sharing the Gospel with the Gentile world, I have not been the most significant player in spreading this Good News. Paul, originally named Saul, the Pharisee turned disciple and apostle of our Lord, and those who travel with him have had a much larger ministry and mission. Apollos has also been one who has touched the lives of many in those cities.

My journeys have been less, but my witness has been faithful and, thankfully, effective wherever I have traveled. And now, here I am a witness of the love and grace of Jesus in the very capital city of the empire and touching the lives of some of those with whom I am imprisoned.

Yes, and inspiring my growth in that Gospel, as well! I know that there is much more that you could share with me of Jesus and additional stories of your witness. Witnessing is something that I have not really begun, but now I know it is part of what I need to be about as I grow in my love for Jesus and my faith in him. Peter, I will pray for my growth in faith and courage that I might be a faithful witness of the Good News of Jesus. You have inspired the work of the Holy Spirit in me in so many ways.

Your visits have been both an inspiration and a comfort to me in this time, my friend. People who follow Jesus are constantly able to be witnesses of his grace and love. It arises out of a consciousness that wherever we are, Jesus goes with us and some opportunity in deeds and/or words is taking place in either subtle or obvious ways.

Your caring actions may lay the groundwork for someone’s heart to be opened to a later sharing. Your loving words may open an opportunity for a person to share something of their life struggles to you. You pray. You listen. You love. You witness as the Holy Spirit leads. But it is not about you! It is about them and Jesus. This is why praying, listening and loving are the essential steps toward witnessing of Jesus to others.

You will be a wonderful witness of the grace and love of Jesus, my friend. Keep praying. Keep listening. Keep loving.

I will be back, the Lord willing, and I will look forward to learning all that I can from you in what time we have left. You are in my prayers every day and I am thankful for all that you have shared with me.

Go in peace my friend and know that the Lord Jesus goes with you wherever you are. His last words to us were, “Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

 

SOME QUESTIONS OR CALLINGS TO CONSIDER FOR PERSONAL CONTEMPLATION OR GROUP STUDY:

  1. Peter spoke of how being in prison can take away the sense that one has some control over one’s life. Our wills, our senses of self and what might be best for ourselves, tend to control us even as we claim to desire to follow God’s will. What might be something in your life right now that you can honestly confess to be guided by your own will and not God’s? It is important to put that situation or experience before God in prayer. Prayer is a key step gaining progress in such things. Try now to stop and pray that God’s will might overcome your will in this situation or experience.
  2. One might summarize the five things that Peter listed as key to staying connected to Jesus as God’s Word, the Sacraments, Prayer, Fellowship and Witness. Take some time to look at these five disciplines and discern which might best be strengthened in your life. Put that discipline before God in prayer and seek to take some new step to strengthen that part of your journey with Jesus.
  3. Witnessing is not an easy thing for most of us. Some people have the gift of evangelism and carry a special hunger to share the Gospel and a gift for presenting it in effective ways. Not having the gift of evangelism is no excuse, though, to eliminate our responsibility to be good witnesses of the Good News of Jesus. We are already witnesses. It is just a matter of whether we are good witnesses or poor ones. Peter provided some key primary things that can improve our witnessing – Praying; Listening; and Loving. Begin in your prayer life to ask God to bring someone into your spiritual focus. Listen with openness to learn of whom God may be leading you. Begin to pray for that person and for their growth in connecting to Jesus.
  4. Peter’s vision opened his perspective on the wider world and his need to be open to all people. As a leader, his obedience in this matter changed the perspective and the scope of the ministry of the entire church. One of the great dangers of witnessing is the danger of needing the people with whom we share to become more like us – to have our exact experience of Jesus and the faith. Praying, listening and loving are important, in part, because they can get us out of the way. Every person matters to God. Their life journeys have been followed by God. We may have the privilege of coming into their journey at a certain time for a certain purpose – God’s purpose. There are likely people in your circle of acquaintances that might not even have occurred to you as you prayed in number three above for someone to whom you might witness. They need your prayers. They need someone’s listening ear. They need a love that comes to them unconditionally in Christ. Who might that be that you know and how might the Holy Spirit be leading you into their lives more deeply?

RISING – Chapter 11

Hello, Peter! I had such a hard time waiting for this evening to come around again because it seemed like our talks were nearing a discussion of your closing times with Jesus. I am about to explode wanting to hear you talk of those times! I know that you knew all that Jesus went through as he was crucified. Were you there as he died? How did you and the other disciples handle such a horrible thing? And then, you witnessed the risen Jesus. I just would like to hear everything about that and feel so humbled to be able to hear it from you!

Welcome my young friend. I will share all of that with you as best as I can. I think it is important that we cover that tonight because I am getting a sense that we could be nearing our final time together!

Why? What have you heard? Have you been told by the guards that you are nearing some final action from your imprisonment?

No, it is more related to my prayer life and the Holy Spirit revealing what may soon be ahead. It may not be within the week, but it will likely come soon and unexpected.

What should we do? What should I do? Should I leave? I’m sorry I just don’t know what to say or do!

It’s okay. Be still. This is exactly where I want you to be this evening! Talking of our Lord’s crucifixion and resurrection are exactly the right next things about which we need to be talking!

Last week we covered my denial and the challenge that it was to my journey with Jesus. In that night and the next days, I was deeply shaken. I did not go to the cross. I could not bring myself to appear before the Lord – let alone watch him die in part because of my own cowardice – or, at least, that was part of my sense of shame in those hours.

Much of what I share you may have already heard. I will not go into it in great depth, but just provide a reminder of the horror that he willingly endured.

I learned that Jesus suffered his horrible death courageously. He was tortured – whipped and beaten with rods by the Roman guards. They placed a mocking crown of thorns upon his head and forced him to carry his own cross through the streets to his place of execution. He carried his cross until he could do so no more. They grabbed a man from the crowd and forced him to finish carrying the cross to the place outside the city called Golgotha.

They nailed him to that cross and hung him there. He had lost a lot of blood through all that he had experienced. He interacted a bit through those hours with those gathered there.

He struggled and shared that he was thirsty. Little useful to assuage his thirst was offered by the soldiers.

There were two others crucified there with him and he interacted with them. I understand that one mocked him, but the other defended him and Jesus gave comforting words to the second man.

John was there. A few of the women were there, as well, including the Lord’s mother, Mary. She was an amazing person – not surprisingly, I guess. She could talk with Jesus as only a mother might. She was not with us often, but she was always welcome. I heard that Jesus asked John from the cross to care for her after he was gone and John was faithful in helping to carry out that duty until her death.

Jesus also cried out a quote from the Psalms, “My God, my God, why hast though forsaken me?” This passage arises in a Psalm that powerfully describes the difficult death of a man and yet moves toward a message of promise and hope. It has an uncanny aspect of describing exactly what happened to the Lord in his suffering. I believe it to be a powerful prophecy.

As Jesus died, he said, “It is finished!” He had, at great cost, faithfully and lovingly accomplished what he was called to do.

In those hours between the crucifixion and his resurrection we had no idea of what next steps needed to take place. We didn’t really know yet how powerfully Jesus had changed our lives. We were afraid, confused and aimless. We were in hiding and having conversations that people fearing for their lives must have. Fear is a dangerous source out of which to think and behave.

Should we stay in Jerusalem? Should we go to Galilee? Should we go to Egypt or some other foreign land? Should we slip away as a group or singly? What should we do about all that Jesus taught us? Did we still have a mission? Were we willing to die for that mission as Jesus had died? We were together in a house that we had found. Some never left while others drifted away at times in a need to be alone.

I can’t imagine what all was in your minds in that time! I can see how you would have feared for your own arrests and even executions since that was what happened to Jesus. Did you have any sense that you were about to encounter a risen Lord Jesus? Hadn’t he revealed his resurrection in some way to you?

As I said, fear does strange things to one’s mind, my friend. Group fear adds to the confusion. Jesus rising from the dead was not something we considered in any way. People in that house had witnessed his death. We knew that Jesus was dead. We were in no condition to analyze some of the things that he had said to us in our times with him about all that had taken place. Panic poured through us.

But then came the women from the tomb who had gone to ensure that his body had a decent burial. They brought incredible news. The stone had been rolled away. Angels asked them why they were looking for the living among the dead. They were charged to come and tell us what they had seen and heard. Jesus’ body was gone! We began to wonder about this. Could it be true? Had Jesus risen from the dead?

I had to see for myself what had taken place. I ran out to the tomb and John came with me. He was faster than I and arrived first. He peered into the empty tomb. But I just burst on in when I arrived. The linen wrappings were there and the cloth for his head rolled up in a separate place. I was still trying to make sense of it all. John came into the tomb behind me. He looked it all over and shared that he believed that the resurrection of our Lord Jesus had truly taken place!

We went back to the house to share what we had seen. It turned out that Mary Magdalene had followed us out to the tomb and stayed on. She encountered the risen Lord and came back to tell us all that she had experienced with Jesus.

The risen Jesus appeared to us twice in that house – that evening and a week later. His focus was to reinforce for us that he was truly risen and alive. He encouraged us to realize that his mission continued through us. He reminded us that his Spirit would be available for encouragement and guidance in the future.

Amazing! You saw the risen Lord!

Yes, multiple times! His reappearance the second week came with Thomas present among us. Thomas had not been there the week before and found our stories too difficult to believe. He had said that he would need to touch this apparition of ours – witness his scarred hands and feel the wound in his side to believe this resurrection took place.

That second Sunday evening when Jesus appeared, he stood before Thomas and invited him to touch his wounds. Thomas fell to his knees and, true to his word, cried out, “My Lord and my God!”

Jesus went on to comment to Thomas something that involves you and other believers who were not given my opportunity to see him. Jesus said to Thomas, “Do you believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

Jesus was speaking a blessing upon you my friend. Believe in the risen, living Lord Jesus. He died on that cross that you might know full forgiveness for your sin. He rose to new life that you might be given new life in him that begins now and goes on unto eternity!

I have come to learn that those two sentences are at the essence of the Gospel of our Lord – forgiveness and new life! I am trying to learn how to live each day with a deeper sense of the truth of those things.

At an earlier visit I shared with you that I had the opportunity to talk with Jesus on the Galilean lake shore. His triple charge to me there to feed his sheep has been an inspiring and blessed responsibility for me over these years. It was forgiveness and new life for me!

Not long after that Galilean discussion we saw him ascend into heaven. Just before the ascending he charged us to go out across the world and make disciples of all nations.

I have been led over these years to many places by the Spirit so that the Gospel could be shared. It is a key reason as to why you find this Galilean fisherman in Rome and now a Roman prison.

We are called to be Jesus’ disciples. We are to witness to the world, each using his or her gifts as the Spirit leads, and make disciples. Thus, our visits over these weeks – me discipling you and, as I have told you time and again, you discipling me – are a part of that calling!

I am so thankful and amazed at what I have heard and learned over these weeks. I need to leave, but I don’t want to leave. I will come back next week. I hope that we can talk again. I have so much more to learn from you about your ministry since that time! Again, I am so thankful for these times, Peter. I cannot express that strongly enough. If we don’t talk again, please know that I am a different person, a different disciple, because of all that you have shared!

The Lord willing, I will be glad to talk more with you. Now, go in peace and seek to be the person that our Lord is calling you to be.

 

SOME QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER FOR PERSONAL CONTEMPLATION OR GROUP STUDY:

  1. For many, prayer is only an experience of speaking to God. Listening and discerning guidance from God is not as common. Yet, it is an important aspect of prayer. Peter discerned in his prayer time that his imprisonment and life were soon to come to an end. What might you do or practice in your own times of devotion to strengthen your ability to listen to God and not to just talk to God?
  2. Peter confessed that he could not bring himself to go to the cross. Guilt and shame prevented him from being present in the worst hours of our Lord’s life. One can sense his regret and his respect for those who were there at the cross. Have guilt and or shame ever kept you from doing something that you felt that you should do? If so, have you been able to get past that experience? How did Peter move on to become a leader of the early church when he had denied the Lord? Forgiveness comes up again and again in Christian teachings. It is a key phrase in The Lord’s Prayer. Jesus died on the cross that we might be forgiven. He rose again that we might know new life every day. What might you do to be sure that you are fully experiencing this Gospel forgiveness? What does the cross mean to you personally?
  3. Peter again spoke of the debilitating aspects of feeling fear. He shared how it had controlled the behaviors of the disciples for the days after the crucifixion and even after the resurrection. He even used the word “panic.” The first letter to John, chapter four, states: “There is no fear in love, perfect love casts out fear.” It is interesting that this Bible passage connects love and fear – not love and hate. Love and hate have a relationship, but here the writer of John connects love and fear. It is an inspiring realization that as love increases, one’s ability to overcome one’s fears, to not be controlled by one’s fears, increases. How might an increase of love have reduced the fears of the disciples in those days following the crucifixion? To whom might that love been expressed? How could deeper love change our sinful feelings around attitudes and actions of racism, sexism, chauvinism, ageism, and any other ism that arises to make us fearful of someone different than ourselves and how they might threaten our existence and comfort?
  4. How would you answer the questions that the disciples experienced after the crucifixion and resurrection? What does the resurrection mean to you personally? How is God calling you to mission in the place that you live? Are you being called to something or someplace new? If so, what or where? How are you living out Jesus’ call for his followers to be disciples and make disciples?

DENYING – Chapter 10

Hello, Peter! I have been so blessed by these visits. I know that my faith in Jesus has grown by leaps and bounds because of our talks.

I have told you, my friend, that my faith is also fed also by our times together. It is good to see you again.

Peter, you figure so prominently in the stories that I hear of Jesus. I have heard one story that I just could not bring myself to mention. I have postponed asking week after week. I still hesitate to …

You have heard that I denied our Lord on the very night that he was betrayed and arrested.

Well, yes, that is the story that I have struggled to ask you about.

I appreciate your concern and understand how difficult that could be. That night was more than 30 years ago and I have had to discuss what took place with many people over those years. Obviously, I am not proud of my behavior that night, but I have come to know a deep sense of our Lord’s forgiveness for that terrible denying of him.

So, you are able to talk about it a bit?

Yes, and hopefully, what I have to share with you will help you to find your way when fear seeks to control how you behave in certain situations.

It was a special night to be with Jesus. The Passover had come. We were together like a family. There were amazing moments as we ate together.

Early on, Jesus took time to come around to each of us and wash our feet! Our feet! I just could not let him do it. I told him not to do it. But, Jesus said, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” This surprised me. And so, I replied, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” He said, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean.” It was a powerful moment. He then said that we were clean, but not all of us. We had no idea then what that meant, but realized later that he was referring to Judas. I was relieved and renewed in that washing.

We had the meal together. He shared at the end of that festival meal bread and wine with us and encouraged us to eat and drink in his remembrance. He actually said as he handed out the bread, “This is my body.” He actually said as he handed out the wine, “This is my blood.” The celebration of this meal has now become a key part of our gatherings as we worship. It is the Eucharist – the Thanksgiving – for all that our Lord accomplished in giving his body and his blood for us. I find it to have a unique aspect of his presence every time I am part of that celebration.

We knew that this was a special time with Jesus, but then he came out with a statement that shook us. “You will all become deserters because of me this night!” He quoted scripture about the shepherd being stricken and the sheep being scattered. He also said that he would be raised up and see us again. We didn’t, we couldn’t, put all of this together.

All that I could hear was that we were going to run if things got difficult. I said, “Though all become deserters of you, I will not desert you.” That was the Simon Peter of that day – bold with a certain confident arrogance that was beyond what I could understand or back up. I just would blurt out my thoughts of the moment!

Jesus came back at me with, “Truly I tell you, this very night, before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.” I was shocked and a little embarrassed and came right back at Jesus to say, “Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And, my boldness fired up the others to say something similar.

So far, it seems like you were a leader who was ready to stand with Jesus to the end. What changed?

Well, we left that room and went to the Garden of Gethsemane. We talked along the way, but when we arrived in the garden, Jesus drew me, James and John away from the others. This was not unusual. He often invited the three of us into a more private conversation.

He revealed how deeply troubled he was. We really had never seen him like this. He asked us to stay awake with him in this time and he went a little farther from us. Jesus threw himself to the ground and prayed. He asked the Father that the cup that he was about to sup might be taken from him. Yet, he then said, “not what I want, but what you want.”

We were so drowsy. He came over to us after a while and found us sleeping. It upset him. He encouraged us to pray that we would have the strength to face what was ahead. Yet, he said, “the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” He, of course, was right. We could not focus on prayer. We were just so tired by that time.

Jesus drew away from us again and prayed. He came back and woke us. He went back to pray again. When he came back to us a third time – again sleeping – he announced that his hour for betrayal was at hand.

A large mob with swords and clubs had come. Judas was near the front with some of the chief priests and elders. It was very scary. Judas came up to Jesus and kissed him. This seemed to be the sign that the group was looking for and began to muscle in to grab Jesus. I felt that I could not let that happen. I had access to a sword and I swung it at one of the people in the mob and I cut off his ear. Jesus spoke strongly saying to put the sword away. He said that this was part of the fulfillment of scripture. He then touched the ear of the man and healed him.

You still had done nothing that seems to be anything but brave.

I hear that, but you cannot imagine how things were. We had no control. Jesus had been so upset and had said so many cryptic things about what was ahead. Judas, one of us, betrayed our Lord in our very presence. The mob was ready to grab us all and take us under their control. I tried to respond and Jesus showed me that it was not what he wanted. We did not know what to do and we were very afraid.

So, it happened in that moment as Jesus had predicted. We ran. We just sought to escape and try to be safe. It was horrible.

I can see how you would feel guilty about deserting Jesus, but it was no different than the other 10. Judas was the real betrayer in all that took place.

Yes, but the story goes on. I wanted to see what was happening. I went into Jerusalem and even the Temple area. I wasn’t alone. John was with me. He actually had some contacts there that got us into the area near where they were keeping Jesus. At the gate, the person there asked me if I was one of the followers of Jesus of Galilee. It seemed important to get through and so I denied that I was. At that moment it did not occur to me that I had just denied the Lord for the first time that evening.

The night was cool. Once inside the courtyard, I saw some people around a stove with coals. I moved close to them. It was a poor decision.

One of the women there looked at me and said, “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth!” The charge surprised me. Fear gripped me. With an oath I said, “I do not know the man!” But, with that statement my accent gave me away to another who also accused me of being a follower. Again, I said as strongly as I could, “I do not know the man!” As it came out of my mouth, I could hear in the distance that a cock was crowing. I knew that Jesus was right about me. I denied him three times. I just left there and wept and wept and wept.

That must have been awful in so many ways!

Yes. All of my bravado was false. I could not back it up as fear rose within me. That experience taught me a lot about fear. The more that I have worked through that night, the more I have learned. Fear is one thing, but it also taught me about faith and even a bit about love.

You see, much later, after Jesus arose, he met us at the Sea of Galilee. It was a blessed time very near to his ascension into heaven. In the midst of the conversations, Jesus turned to me and three times in a row he asked me if I loved him. Each time I said, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Each time Jesus commanded me to feed and tend his sheep, his lambs.

Three times. It touched me and changed me. Jesus was making it clear that he wanted me to be one who was to lead his followers. I was forgiven! He would inspire me to bring nourishment to his disciples.

Jesus went on to say to me, “Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.”

I have grown old, my friend. That day is drawing near for me.

But, these years of ministry have brought fearful situations into my life again and again. I have faced them differently. My faith in Jesus and my love for him have allowed me to stay calm. They have allowed me to think clearly. They have assured me that my walk in Jesus is always more important than my life.

Thus, jail sentences, angry crowds, aggressive opponents have all been faced. I am still here. I have been a faithful witness – sinner that I am – to the grace and love of Jesus.

I am so new to all of this. I hope that I can have that courage that you now have. I hope that I can overcome any fears that arise.

It is always Jesus, my friend. Keep your focus upon him. The rest takes care of itself. Fears have a tendency to push that focus upon the troubles at hand. Keep your eyes on Jesus. Use the disciplines that we have discussed here. Focus on the stories of Jesus, be renewed in the Eucharist and remember your baptism, pray regularly, stay connected to your friends in the faith, and then step out to witness as the Holy Spirit leads you. You will be fine.

And, never forget that the grace and love that Jesus brings includes a powerful forgiveness for the fact that we still find ourselves in battles with our own sinfulness every day.

I will remember this Peter and treasure your willingness to share these stories of your struggles. Maybe next time we can even talk about the cross itself.

The Lord willing, my friend, that will be our next conversation. Go in peace.

 

SOME QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER FOR PERSONAL CONTEMPLATION OR GROUP STUDY:

  1. What are your thoughts about Jesus washing the feet of the disciples – including the interaction with Peter and even the washing of the feet of Judas? How would you feel about Jesus washing your feet?
  2. If you were to think about the key important experiences of your ongoing growth and renewal in your faith, where would the Eucharist lie in the list of those experiences?
  3. What is the most meaningful aspect of the Eucharist for you as you celebrate it?
  4. Fear is a key aspect of this visit with Peter. Fear changed Peter’s ability to be the person that he wanted to be in that horrible context. He was afraid. Have you instances in your life where fear or its related feeling, anxiety, changed your behavior in ways that you see to be less than what you would want to be?
  5. Fear is a powerful negative motivation. Often, things to be feared are lifted up in advertising, politics and religion to move people toward something. It is also important to realize that people who have been honored for their courage have said that it is not that they did not feel fear, it was just that they chose to not let it change their next actions. In I John 4:18 it says that “perfect love casts out fear.” Peter talked about his fear that night. He later stated that his faith in Jesus and his love for Jesus helped him in later experiences to overcome his fears. How do you overcome your fears in life?
  6. Peter was deeply moved by his interaction with the risen Lord where he was led to say three times that he loved Jesus. Forgiveness in Christ is a powerful thing. How have you experienced your forgiveness? Have there been key moments in your life where forgiveness has made a powerful difference in your life journey?

INTERPRETING – Chapter 9

Hello, Peter! I heard a story this week that I have to ask you about. It was that you, James and John actually saw Moses and Elijah! Moses and Elijah! How did that happen and how do you remember that?

That was a powerful time with Jesus! We had gone off with him, just the four of us, for a time away. He took us up a mountain. Our conversation was wonderful as we walked and climbed. But, when we reached the highest area of the mountain, we stopped and Jesus began to pray.

As he prayed there was a change that came upon him. His face glistened brightly. His clothing became as white as white can be. As awesome and unusual as this sounds, there was more. Two men appeared and began to talk with Jesus. It soon became apparent that these two were Moses and Elijah!

Really! Moses and Elijah! Was this some sort of dream? Was it a vision? Was it real? How did you discover that they were Moses and Elijah?

That’s a lot of questions! We had trouble figuring out what was “real,” and what was a “vision.” There are aspects of where those two things are not mutually exclusive. Visions are a real part of the journey of some disciples. I have had important visions that have enabled me to adjust my understanding of my faith in Jesus and my approach to life in him. Sometimes they come as dreams, but sometimes they are part of one’s real experience of that day.

As we watched and listened, the three of them used their names so that we were able to know for sure who they were. It was such a powerful time. We found ourselves feeling a mixture of fear and awe over it. It seemed to me that we should stay there as long as possible. I thought that James, John and I could construct some sort of booths for them in which to stay.

But, it was in that moment that everything began to change. A thick cloud came over that section of the mountain. We could not see our hands if we put them up in front of our faces! And then, a voice came in the cloud that said, “This is my beloved son. Listen to him!” That just knocked us flat. We fell face down on the ground in awe.

But, as we then began to look up, everything had changed. The cloud was gone. Moses and Elijah were gone. Jesus was now with us looking just as he had always looked.

Wow! What do you make of that experience? Moses and Elijah! The voice of God!

A lot of things actually. I don’t want you to miss what God’s voice called us to do – and that us includes you! Listen to Jesus! Listen!

I don’t think that there can be a more important experience for a disciple of Jesus than to be a listener. Jesus is always communicating. Each experience, each person, and each moment are opportunities to listen. Too many times we get so caught up in talking. We drown out Jesus’ communications. Somebody once said that God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason – listen more and talk less!

As I have listened to Jesus, both in his physical presence and in the years since, I have heard perspectives on the law and the prophets that have taken me back to that day on the mountain. We saw the great giver of the law and one of the most powerful prophets in conversation with Jesus. The law and the prophets were important to Jesus, but he handled them differently than the scribes and Pharisees.

How so?

Well, first, in dealing with the law, it was with a real sense of authority. Jesus would say, “You have heard that it was said,” and then he would quote some aspect of the law or well-known interpretation of the law. He would follow this with, “But I say to you” and then he would share his strong interpretive understanding of that aspect of the law.

Some examples that I remember would include: “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also.” Another was: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

These statements were said with an authority and conviction that spoke to our hearts. They were in many ways revolutionary, but in other ways, very consistent with the larger flow of the law and with the influential way that Jesus lived out this understanding. His patient, loving nature helped us to see that his perspectives were much truer to the full sense of the law than what our religious leaders were teaching.

Jesus had a sense that the law led us to be more caring. The law called us to be more truly human and not to settle for our broken humanness. The law led us to be about, to care about, to invest ourselves into, the challenges and needs of our neighbors.

This perspective often came out around the sabbath. Jesus kept the sabbath and worshiped on the sabbath. His sabbath faithfulness never kept him from responding to the need of a neighbor. Thus, he was vulnerable to the charge of “working” on the sabbath. He never accepted that interpretation and, in fact, said that we needed to understand “the sabbath was made for humankind and not humankind for the sabbath.” He used the example of an owner of a cow that fell into a ditch on the sabbath. That owner would certainly help the cow to escape the ditch. He saw his healings on the sabbath to be no different than the rescuing of that animal in trouble. The religious leaders never agreed to this interpretation.

So, then was Jesus against the law or, at least, giving new laws?

No, in fact, Jesus made it very clear that he came to fulfill the law. He taught us that his interpretations took the law to its rightful place. He taught that the law was about fully loving the Lord our God and fully loving our neighbors as ourselves. Those key teachings of the law were paramount for his living out God’s expectations for us. Love mattered to Jesus – costly, caring love. One of the last commands that he gave to us as the twelve was that we were to love one another and that this was essential for our witness of him.

Listen. Love. So important. But, what about the prophets?

Again, Jesus also interpreted prophecy in an unusual way. You and I have already discussed how he accepted that he was the Messiah. But, this messianic journey for him worked from very different prophecies than what was common for that day.

He understood himself to be a suffering servant who would teach, heal and confront religious misunderstandings to a point where he would be arrested, suffer punishment and finally be crucified. Yet, his death would result in a resurrection that would affirm all that he was and what he was calling us to be.

His death brought the gift of forgiveness. He was the culmination of the sacrificial system in the temple of so many centuries. He was sacrificed on the cross for our sins. Yet, his resurrection brought the gift of new life unto eternity for all who believed in him. He wanted us to see that a new life, new perspectives, and new priorities would arise in a life lived in Jesus. This perspective arose powerfully from passages in Isaiah, but they were then affirmed and connected to other prophecies throughout the law and the prophets.

So many of those prophecies had a focus for their own time, but yet, also connected to the fulfillment that Jesus brought through his life, death and resurrection. In many significant ways the entire law and the prophets have pointed to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus as the Messiah, God’s son.

This perspective on the prophecies was totally new to us and it took us a long time to see it come together. Much of it did not come together until after the resurrection, his ascension into heaven and the gift of the Holy Spirit pouring into our hearts.

So, now, at this stage of your life, do you feel you understand much of it or nearly all of it?

Actually, my friend, I find that the more that I understand about the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, the more I discover that I do not yet know. You, through your early journey in the faith, have an angle of understanding that has helped me to go deeper in my walk with the Lord. It is that truth which shows us that none of us stand alone as leaders, or teachers, or even apostles! We need each other – long time believers and new believers. Each disciple has different insights and abilities and, together, we are the body of Christ now on earth.

I understand your point and perspective, but I have hard time believing that I have things to teach you, Peter!

Well, that is in some ways understandable, but our talks together have helped me to grow and learn from this time in prison. They have brought to mind events in my days with Jesus that have fed me and encouraged me through the bleakness of these surroundings. You are, in some ways, like Jesus walking into my prison each week with love and strength. Thank you for coming again this week.

You are welcome, and I plan to come again, but it is time for me to go. Thank you, Peter.

Go in peace and walk in Christ!

SOME QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER FOR PERSONAL CONTEMPLATION OR GROUP STUDY:

  1. How do you listen to Jesus in your daily life? How might Jesus be communicating to you? How might you be missing his messages? What might you do to improve your listening skills?
  2. What differences do you see in how Jesus chose to interpret and understand the law from the other leaders of his time? Can you think of other examples beyond what Peter shared with the new disciple? How does this affect your interpretation of Scripture?
  3. If costly, caring love became a more important ingredient for your interpretation of scripture, what affect would that have on your daily life and walk with God?
  4. Peter felt that costly, caring love was also at the center of Jesus’ interpretation of the prophets and as to how Jesus lived out his calling as the Messiah. What are your thoughts about this perspective?
  5. Peter mentioned the possibility of understanding prophecy with a dual sense of it both commenting on current events of the prophet’s time and future experiences of God’s people. How could that be useful to your reading of the scriptures?
  6. Peter affirmed the new disciple as a resource for his growth in understanding God. Who is God putting in your circle of relationships to strengthen your growth in your walk with God?

Bethlehem – Where Jesus Was Born

The premier performance of a CHRISTMAS CANTATA FOR GUITAR took place at Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Glenshaw, PA on the evening of December 20, 2018.

This is Blair Morgan’s 12 minute WELCOME to the audience of 200+ and the introduction of those performing:

 

This is the CANTATA. The order of songs and other information follows:

 

The Announcement to Mary (Luke 21:26-38)  Blair Morgan

The Talk  Tony Schneck, Kari Smail and Lisa Bleil

Mary and Joseph – The Journey  Tony Schneck, Kari Smail and Chorus

The Innkeeper Blues  Bill Diehm and Tony Schneck

Glory and Peace  Blair Morgan, Lisa Bleil and Chorus

Nativity  Kari Smail and Tony Schneck

We Follow the Star  Brian Bennett, Mark Nurnberger and Dan Smail

Trouble Comin’  Chorus, Tony Schneck and Lisa Bleil

Bethlehem  The Cast and The Audience

All songs copyrighted © Blair and Fay Morgan, 2018

THE CAST

Mary: The Rev. Kari Smail

Joseph: The Rev. Tony Schneck

Angel: Ms. Lisa Bleil

The Innkeeper: The Rev. Bill Diehm

Three Wisemen: The Rev. Brian Bennett, Deacon Mark Nurnberger, The Rev. Dan Smail

Chorus: Ms. Fay Morgan, The Rev. Tricia Schneck, The Rev. Ed Sheehan, Ms. Nancy Sheehan

Spoken Narration: Mr. Connor Schneck

Sung Narration and Guitar Accompanist: The Rev. Blair Morgan

Guitar Accompanist: Mr. Barth Tamenne

DEEPEST THANKS FROM BLAIR MORGAN

  • To Bethlehem Lutheran Church for hosting this premier event and for 20 years ago gifting the guitar he is playing this evening
  • To all who have come out this evening to listen and be a part of this cantata
  • To each member of the cast for their willingness to invest their gifts and time into enabling this cantata to be performed
  • To Myra Fozard, Gene Fozard and Dennis Lane for enabling this event to be on video
  • To Bruce Letterle for enabling this event to be on audio
  • To Miriam Kerr for enabling the words to the songs to be projected during the performance
  • To Joe Kayda for enabling all of the sound system hookups for the event
  • To Mariane Reed for all her help to Blair to prepare and coordinate for this event
  • And most especially to Fay for her encouragement, guidance, insights, additions and love through this whole process of conceiving, writing and performing the cantata

WELCOMING – Chapter 8

Hello, Peter! I almost could not wait to come back and talk. I feel so close to Jesus when we are talking together!

I have told you before that our times together feed my journey with the Lord, as well! And I experienced something today that has me thinking and ready to share!

I heard children’s voices. I don’t know how. It could have come through the bars from the outside somehow, but it actually seemed that they were somewhere nearby in the prison. I thought, “What an odd place for children to be gathering!” It was that thought that reminded me how Jesus was so open to having children around as he taught.

Weren’t children a distraction? Sometimes they make noise, or talk out at the wrong times, or even ask questions that can be inappropriate!

Well, that was what we disciples thought as more and more people would bring children to Jesus for a blessing. Once, when we actually started asking the parents not to do it, Jesus stopped us. He said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.”

This may seem like such a simple thing. He was saying that those children were examples to us as disciples regarding how to receive and be a part of the kingdom. As always, a lot to think about. Children can have such a trust in the leadership, care and support of their parents. I still have much to learn regarding this as a model for my walk with the Lord, but I know that this should be my goal.

I guess that I understand that. I, too, have much to learn regarding faithful trust and obedience. It still seems like those children could be an intrusion when something really important was being taught.

That perspective has a wide significance as to why I think that there is much to consider here. Jesus welcomed intrusions. He cared for people who we would have thought did not deserve his attention. He spent time with people that could have been interpreted by some as a waste. Yet, those encounters so often became investments in changed lives.

Have you noticed in our conversations over these weeks that Jesus listened to, healed and lifted up people who were looked down upon for one reason or another? Jesus accepted the needs and interests of Roman soldiers, tax collectors, prostitutes, Samaritans, and others just the same as anyone else. He was even willing to reach out and touch those with leprosy.

For me, life seemed easier when I could just prejudge who the good people were and the bad people were. In those days that approach fed my sense of self-worth. I would use it to know who I was better than. I am sure that I never would have expressed it that way back then. I am not sure I even would have easily had a conversation like this back then. But, Jesus happened in my life!

Now, when I am at my best, people matter to me. Each person. His or her journey matters. His or her hurts matter. His or her aspirations matter. Jesus did this to me. His love, his gracious interest in who I am and acceptance of me for what I am changed me. His forgiveness for who I am changed me!

Now as each person enters my day and my life I try to listen. How is my walk with God intersecting with their lives? How can I be a good neighbor into their challenges and hopes? Is this a quick interaction or will it be an ongoing relationship? How can I share the love of the Lord into their life journey? That seemed to me to be what Jesus did with each person that he encountered.

That’s a lot to try and be and do! So, that is what you have been doing in our conversations. What is it that the Lord has shared regarding me and you and this time together?

Well, I have been given a sense of your hunger to learn. I have seen your commitment, coming through this prison to me week after week. Your questions are honest and your answers are honest. You want to grow closer to Jesus. I think that you have been careful to encourage me to talk. You have not revealed a lot about who you are. You know that I could be gone before the next time we would meet and you want to make sure that I share as much with you as possible in these times.

I’m not really hiding much about myself, Peter. I am pretty much a regular person who has recently been inspired by the Savior. Through my own interactions with other Christians and our talks, I know that there are aspects of who I have been that must die. I know that there are aspects of who I am that are uniquely of God and need to come alive – to be redeemed, strengthened and blessed for my life journey with Jesus. I get disappointed in my weaknesses at times. I get too proud of some of my accomplishments at times. Those are all pretty regular things it seems to me as a new Christian.

There is a lot of wisdom in that brief analysis. It is not much different than what I would be able to say and I have been walking with Jesus for over 30 years.

What I have learned is that each person has a similar story. Each person has some mix of hurts and blessings, although some of those hurts are much deeper than what many have to experience. Each person has gifts for the work of the kingdom and it is important for those gifts to be enhanced and expressed. Also, some people are blessed with an abundance of gifts and those, too, are, in a different way, challenges to be handled faithfully. Jesus said, “To whom much is given much is required.”

Thus, there is a mix of commonality and uniqueness to be learned and loved with each person. Jesus was amazing with this. Each person mattered. Every situation and encounter were faith events.

Now, I do not mean that Jesus overwhelmed each conversation with kingdom talk. Many times, people really were surprised by how down to earth Jesus was. They could even be disappointed because he did not meet their preconceived ideas of who this rabbi would be and what he would do. They were disappointed by the mix of people with whom he would spend time. They would be disappointed by what he would say or emphasize. For example, they would judge how he handled aspects of the Sabbath or other religious practices.

In fact, in so many ways, this mix of disappointments are what took him to the cross. He wasn’t religious enough for the religious. He wasn’t radical enough for the radicals. He wasn’t triumphant enough for the triumphalists. He wasn’t Roman enough for the imperialists. But, he was expendable enough for all of them and dangerous enough to all of them that he could be eliminated.

But, for those of us whose hearts were touched, who believed in him, who followed him, he was God’s Messiah, the Christ.

Our conversation today began because of children. Jesus welcomed children when others would have sent them away. Jesus welcomed all people, and thus each person, into his journey. Jesus had time for each person. Jesus told stories in which Samaritans were the heroes. Jesus had dinner at tax collectors’ homes. Jesus touched lepers and also had late night conversations with Pharisees. Jesus took healing into the homes of Roman soldiers as well as synagogue presidents.

Thus, you can know that you matter to Jesus. You matter. You are loved and forgiven. Your gifts and abilities are known, appreciated and encouraged for your own growth as the unique person that you are. Jesus does this. It is God’s mission in the world – the way that God’s kingdom comes and God’s will is done. And, the closer you are to Jesus, the more all of this develops and grows!

Thank you so much, Peter! I needed to hear that. But, I also need now to go. I will be back again next week and hope that the Lord will still have you here to talk with me.

Go in peace!

SOME QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER FOR PERSONAL CONTEMPLATION OR GROUP STUDY:

  1. Why do you think that Jesus welcomed the little children to come to him? What can the example of children teach us about how we follow Jesus as disciples?
  2. Who are the people or even groups of people that you are encountering in your daily life that you just do not see and with whom you do not even consider interacting in any productive way? Who would be people that you would avoid because it might affect your reputation, maybe even with your Christian community?
  3. What are ways that you could strengthen your ability to welcome new people into your daily life?
  4. What are ways that you appreciate about how Jesus has welcomed you into the kingdom?
  5. Who have been examples in your life of people who welcomed you and made you feel included in their lives?