sojourner, hearer, & follower of Jesus

Category: Jesus Christ (Page 3 of 3)

Bible in 90 – Day 77: Confessional

Then he breathed on them and said,, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven; if you don’t forgive them, they aren’t forgiven.’

John 20:22-23 (CEB)

©2010 Todd Rossnagel

Many of us protestants have a confession phobia. We acknowledge that we need forgiveness but the idea of someone to “hear” our confession and pronounce absolution sounds too “Roman Catholic” and after all, we tell ourselves, “all I need to do is go to Jesus in private prayer and I can receive forgiveness that way.” Is that  all we need to find forgiveness?

This passage always fascinates me because it puts forgiveness in the hands of the apostles, the leaders of the Christian community. They are to be bearers of forgiveness to those that they encounter, their authority for such work comes from Holy Spirit. If they pronounce forgiveness then people will find it, if they do not then people will not. No “standards” are given or guidelines, I guess the Spirit will be the guide.

I know that the idea of someone hearing our confession is scary. Confession places us in a vulnerable place, our hearts poured out, our “secrets” revealed. This responsibility could easily be abused. It would be easier to keep it to ourselves, just between us and God but does it help us to be renewed?

In the best case scenario all Christians should be part of a community of forgiveness. These communities would be places where we can be accountable to one another for our growth in grace, including confession, but also the declaration that we are forgiven. At times this community could call us to task when our behavior does not align with our baptismal covenant, when we fail to live up to the promise we made at our baptism/confirmation/profession of faith.

In my life I have been blessed to find these communities of forgiveness and accountability. Spiritual directors, covenant groups, spiritual friends, have helped me find forgiveness but also find my way back to God at times when I have failed. This direction, restoration, and growth in grace would not have been possible if I would have just “confessed my sins to Jesus.” I am thankful that I made myself vulnerable and was willing to share my difficult journey with others.

I believe that our Christian faith calls us to such communities of forgiveness and growth in grace. So let us find these communities and claim the power of the Spirit given to us to help each other find forgiveness, restoration, and growth in love of God and neighbor. May these communities become our confessional!

Bible in 90 – Day 75: Come and See

When Jesus turned and saw [the disciples of John] following, he asked, ‘What are you looking for?’
They said, ‘Rabbi (which is translated Teacher), where are you staying?’
He replied, ‘Come and see.’

John 1:38-39a

©2010 Todd Rossnagel

Sometimes we ask some seemingly insignificant questions. We come to faith in Christ and find ourselves not really knowing why we are there. We know there was something within us that called us into relationship, into asking questions about the meaning of life, into wondering about God.

I am thankful that Christ is not concerned about our insignificant questions. Where are you staying? The disciples of John asked. Christ’s response, I believe, is the response that we still hear today, come and see!

To come and see means to take a risk. We are not sure where we are going and we don’t know what we are going to find when we get there. We must trust that the one that we are following wants the best for us.

To come and see means that the journey of faith is an adventure. Nothing is guaranteed but a transformed life. Our going means our willingness to continue walking alongside Jesus and those partners in the journey.

To come and see means that we are willing to follow. Following is difficult work, it requires letting go and trusting the one who is leading. Following also requires active engagement along the way, with Jesus and with our fellow sojourners.

I am thankful that Christ is still calling us to come and see! May those of us walking the journey of discipleship become the instrument for others to hear God’s call to the risk taking adventure we call discipleship.

Bible in 90 – Day 74: Few Workers . . .

[Jesus] said to them, ‘The harvest is bigger than you can imagine, but there are few workers. Therefore plead with the Lord of the harvest to send out workers for his harvest.’

Luke 10:2

©2010 Todd Rossnagel

There are so many needs in the world. So much hope to harvest, so much healing needed, so much good news to share! Most of us sitting in our comfortable homes can not imagine how ripe the world is for Good News.

Most of the time I hear this passage in connection to the call to ordained ministry in the church. Who is God calling to tend our congregations?

Fortunately, that is not what Jesus means here. He is talking about bearers of healing, hope, and love in the world. The harvest, the need for healing, hope, and love is larger than imagined, the workers – those willing to be the bearer of that healing, hope, and love in the world – are few.

What are we to do?

We must ask God for the workers. The “workers” are not select people from the disciple pool. The “workers” are people who have responded in discipleship. You see sometimes we tend to read this passage as if this work was the work of a select few, ordained people, educated people, or very involved lay persons.  This is not the case!

I believe that the workers needed are disciples of Jesus, all of them. If we respond, we are responding not to be served but to serve, to be about the harvest of God’s work in the world.

Imagine the harvest if all who claimed Christ as their Lord and Savior responded to their relationship as worker in the harvest. Imagine how transformed our world would be!

The harvest is plentiful . . . may our baptism become our initiation into harvesting for the kingdom!

Bible in 90 – Day 73: Opposition

Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, ‘This boy is assigned to be the cause of the falling and rising of many in Israel and to be a sign that generates opposition so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your innermost being too.’

Luke 2:34-35

©2010 Todd Rossnagel

I remember the many visions and dreams as I held my firstborn son. He was just a little guy, who could barely fit in the outfit we put on him and yet we had big dreams. We could see him growing up to love books, like we did, and music. Maybe he would serve God and neighbor in amazing ways. We had dreams that he would make a difference . . . and we still do.

Other people also had dreams and “prophesies” for the child. He would be a talker, like his dad, or an introvert, like his mom. “He might want to be a pastor some day,” some people said. All of these words were welcomed, appreciated, and many we still treasure to this day seven years later.

We still dream dreams for our oldest son, daughter, and youngest son. Some of those have changed as the years pass by. Seeing our oldest growing into his own has also altered some of our “wishes” for him. He does love reading, he is an introvert, he is also extremely intelligent, has an amazing sense of humor and has become one of my favorite conversation partners.

Imagine someone prophesying that your child will create opposition and will bring about the downfall of a people? No heartwarming wishes, no expected niceness, just plain truth.

Simeon provides a prophetic word of one who brings salvation, but it turns out that salvation will not come easy. The proclamation of God’s love turns out to be dangerous work. It creates tension, conflict, and opposition. The prophet figures that his parents might as well know that their hearts will be broken. The good of the world is dependent upon the falling of their child. Loves wins, but at a cost.

Sometimes we approach Jesus like we approach our children. We imagine it all so heartwarming, perfect, full of potential. Our naivete might serve as a way to help us move forward. Imagine if we truly knew the sacrifices, difficulties, and heartbreaks of raising a child? Imagine if we knew for sure what their future held?

I admire Mary and Joseph. They continued on raising this child in the ways of God and in the ways of their family. In the back of their mind I am sure they kept pondering the words of Simeon. But they kept on, like any loving parent would, no matter what. This was their child, a child that would grow up to change the world forever.

As we continue walking this journey of Lent let us remember that often the good news of the Gospel causes division and strife. But just like raising a child, let us not fear, for the difficulties are the result of what Oscar Romero called “the violence of love.”

Bible in 90 – Day 72: Sell Everything

Jesus looked at him carefully and loved him. He said, ‘You are lacking one thing. Go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor. Then you will have treasure in heaven. And come, follow me.’ But the man was dismayed at this statement and went away saddened, because he had many possessions.

Mark 10:21-22

©2010 Todd Rossnagel

Many of us come like this man, ready to hear from Jesus the “magic” words to eternal life. We have been good people, have followed the commandments, have attended religious services, have acted in moral ways, are we ok? Have we done what is needed to go to heaven?

Jesus must look at us like he looked at the young man, like we look at our children when we realize that they don’t get it. He looked carefully (attentively) and with love, Jesus realized what was missing in this person’s life.

We are so attached to our things. Most of us would not consider ourselves rich by any stretch of the imagination yet we do have many things, most of us are wealthy compared to the rest of the world. Our stuff becomes our security, our identity, our reason to live. Living an abundant life has become for many of us living with more things, shiny, beautiful, new things. We still long to be good with God, we still want to know that our eternity is secured but truth be told, our actions show that our true source of security is not God but the stuff we have.

Today’s scripture reminded me that our security and our eternity belong to God. All of us have heard the expression “you can’t take it with you” but most of us live with an attitude that since we can’t take it with us we might as well hoard it in this life.

Are we willing to sell it all and give the proceeds to the poor? Are we willing to put our security, our eternity, in God’s hands?

Today there seems to be much conversation about the poor. Issues around healthcare, immigration, unionized labor, and education are constant reminders to us about the plight of the poor. Yet these issues do not seem to bring us to dialogue instead they divide us.

I wonder what would happen if we practiced this “giving away” and “trust” in our society today? Maybe the rich in our society could share what they have, not take huge bonuses, lower their salaries, raise wages of their lower level employees, and trust that in the end their business will prosper. Maybe our governments both local and state, and national could put priority on the poor, their needs and their struggles and we together (isn’t government our collective whole?) could find ways to help each other live fully without fear?

Then there is the church, aren’t we called to be about giving, sacrifice, and helping the least of these? Shouldn’t the poor be at the top of our list?

Jesus is looking at all of us who live in prosperity and asking us if we are willing to give it all away and follow him. This seems impossible but as Jesus himself tells us:

It’s impossible with human beings, but not with God. All things are possible for God. Mark 10:27

Bible in 90 – Day 71: Forced

At once the Spirit forced Jesus out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan. He was among the wild animals, and the angels took care of him.

Mark 1:12-13 (CEB)

©2010 Todd Rossnagel

Most of us try to avoid the wilderness. It’s uncertain, mysterious, some might say, dangerous. We normally trod paths that have been walked before. It makes us feel safer that way, the wooded areas around our paths are not be explored, we might loose our way.

Then life happens and we find ourselves forced into the wilderness. Maybe life took us that way, maybe it was the Spirit. We tend to think about these times as times of test, and the bible certainly strengthens this case. What if these are not times of test but times of growth, learning, and discovery? By saying that I am not saying that they are easy. How many times have we pushed through a difficult project – sometimes feeling like we have gone to hell and back – only to find that the experience was one of the most growth filled of our lives.

Notice that Jesus did not go alone. The Spirit, the wild animals (they could be dangerous), there was the tempter, and there were angels. These were like characters in a play. How would Jesus fare in this environment of the unknown?

Mark does not tell us what happened, we will have to go to Matthew for the details. I guess like many of us who have gone through wilderness experiences the details are not so important. What mattered most is that in the wilderness we encountered both adversity and progress. If we lean on the Spirit (after all the Spirit was pushing toward this direction) and let the angels care for us, we might find that in the end the divine visits us there and we come out of the wilderness scarred but a more faithful follower of God’s kingdom.

So may this Lenten season be a journey in the wilderness. Let the Spirit guide you for there will be many temptations to flee, take the easy way out, to give in to false promises and comfortable alternatives. Allow yourself to stay hungry, to remain thirsty, allow yourself not to rush to get out of the experience, set up camp, for alongside the tempter, comes the gracious arms of God, ready to embrace us in the darkness, ready to show us the way in this difficult journey that we call faith.

Desolation is a file, and the endurance of darkness is preparation for great light. -St. John of the Cross

Bible in 90 – Day 69: Seeing

The eye is the lamp of the body. Therefore, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how terrible that darkness will be!

Matthew 6:22-23 (CEB)

©2010 Todd Rossnagel

Sometimes I wake up on the wrong side of the bed. From the moment my alarm clock goes off I begin to view the world through the “eyes” of my mood for the day. All interactions seem like a problem and I wonder why the whole world decided to annoy me!

I am sure that I am not alone and after reading this passage this morning I quickly realize that this has been a problem of the human condition since the beginning, our eyes can truly be the lamp for the body, or it can be its darkness.

No wonder Jesus spent a significant time teaching us to “see.”

In order for our eyes to become lamps our inner life needs transformation. This transformation happens when we engage the practices of our faith, especially prayer and searching the scriptures both individually and in community. The practices are avenues for those of us who want to “see” better to encounter God. God’s spirit begins to transform our way of seeing which in turn changes our way of thinking and our way of behaving in the world.

Spiritual writer, Richard Rohr, in his book The Naked Now says:

This new perspective and foundation allows [us] to see things for what they really are – and also for what they are not at all. It is indeed a radical perceptual shift that the tradition would call conversion. (136)

Let us seek the light and become seers of the light. Imagine how effective we would be in our discipleship if we could “see” in the way of Jesus?

May this Lenten season be a season of learning to see. Through the practices of our faith that allow for God’s Spirit to transform our inner life so that we can be more faithful agents of God’s love in the world.

No More Church Growth: A Year Later

©2010 Todd Rossnagel

A year ago I wrote a piece that quickly became the most commented piece here and at Day1.org. It elicited colorful comments from frustration, to anger, to personal evaluation on my work as a pastor. I even received a letter and a few e-mails from pastors saddened that I had written such a piece and that a few other outlets had published it.

I thought it would be appropriate to write a reflection a year later. Some things have changed, others have not, in the end I still believe what I said. The purpose of the church is not “growth” but the sending out of transformed people to be about God’s mission in the world.

I believe that if we are faithful to our tasks as a church: to worship, to proclamation and teaching, to caring for one another in love, to connect with other institutions in the community on behalf of the poor and needy, we will be successful at our work as God’s people. (Thanks Taylor Burton Edwards for these conversations)

This can only happen if we are intentional as we form people in the way of Jesus. Our baptismal covenant takes doing, not just reciting. Doing takes time, example, and practice. If we do not provide opportunities for people to be about God’s work in the world then how can we expect the church to “grow?”

I also question what growth might mean for the church. More people does not mean more disciples, nor does more people mean more mission being done. Growth needs to mean more than people in the pews, how about growth in transformation, growth in service, growth in love?

Here are some of my learning’s of the past year . . .

  • The power of story – I am still awed at how sharing our story with one another can be a sacred moment. I am constantly touched by times when the biblical story connects with a person’s story. These “eureka” moments are gifts of grace.
  • The power of relationships – time and time again people come to the church not because of an exciting program or because they received something in the mail but because someone meaningful to them invited them to become part of the community of faith. Relationships matter and a disciple of Jesus will naturally become evangelist.
  • The power of accountability – I’ve been blessed to share my faith journey with a few close confidants. One of them is my spiritual director and a few others are close friends and colleagues. These people in my life ask me the hard questions about my discipleship. They call me to accountability for the covenants that I have made in baptism, in marriage, and in ordination. They also remind me of the importance of the faith community. I grow in my relationship to God because these people are part of my life.
  • The power of discipleship – following is difficult work. Most of the time I want to lead, I’m sure that I am not alone in this. If discipleship to Jesus becomes our reason for being church (seeking first the kingdom) then we will grow, we will multiply, we will transform the world. I wonder if we are tapping into the Spirit’s power called down upon us at our baptism?

I’m still a sojourner, in life, in faith, in thinking . . . I don’t have it figured out but I’m constantly asking, constantly in conversation, constantly listening for God’s voice as I continue to seek ways to help people hear the Good News of Jesus.

All this to say that a year later, can we be about our work of discipleship, the work of being agents of God’s kingdom in the world, and let the Spirit worry about the growth?

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