Updated: Jan 30
Last week we ended with a prayer representing a counting of the Easter Omer. Today is the Third Sunday of the Easter Season, meaning twenty-two days have passed since Our Lord was offered to the Temple as a sacrifice to God.
Let us pray:
Today is three weeks and one day, as twenty-two days towards the Omer – our measure as fruits of the Lord Jesus Christ – which culminates with our receipt of your Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost.
Guide us this day to learn from your words and find insight from you … as the Word of Life … so we may be strengthened in our devotion to God our LORD and His Holy Son, through the Holy Spirit.
It is important for Christians to adopt a new tradition, which accepts the Israelites’ Counting of the Omer. It is not done without reason … with the simplest reason being: A daily counting by the faithful is a sign of obedience to a rule of ritual.
For Jews today, it represents a dedication to “re-living” the moments in time, from the freedom from bondage in Egypt, until the receipt of the Law of Moses.
Counting the Omer is their obedience to an external rule of ritual that expresses faith in the One God.
As Episcopalians, we partake of the body and blood of Christ because of a new external rule of ritual, commanded by Jesus when he said, “Do this in remembrance of me.” Jesus added to the existing external ritual by saying, “When you do this (as commanded by God),” then remember his role acting as part of that ritual observance.
Counting the Easter Omer then becomes a Christian obedience to an external rule of ritual that expresses faith in the One God AND belief that the promised Messiah has come.
This means that a Christian Counting of the Easter Omer is also in remembrance of the timing of when Jesus Ascended – on the 49th day – with the Holy Spirit coming upon the Apostles on the Day of Pentecost (the 50th day). The Day of Pentecost is when the Law of God becomes written on one’s heart … when one truly becomes Christian.
By doing a ritual that is suggested, or recommended, through external rule, the purpose is to ingrain the external rule internally.
We hear it said of the Eucharist that it is, “An outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.”
We need to be sure we realize that saying does not mean: When one kneels at an altar to eat a wafer and sip some sweet wine, one becomes filled with inner peace.
The reason the Israelites count the days until God presented them with His Law is it took time for that to happen. They had to act as instructed to survive the Passover. They had to follow Moses when he led them out of Egypt. They had to cross through the dry land that had been (and would soon be again) covered with sea water. They had to ACT first; before they could receive THE FIRST REWARD for being God’s chosen people – a Binding Covenant of Agreement.
As a child, I played Hide and Seek. There are rules to that game. In order to let the hiders have time to hide without being seen, the seeker has to cover his or her eyes and count to 50 out loud.
To children, it seems that speeding up the count will make it easier to catch someone who is still not fully hidden, when the count is finished.
Children like to bend the external rules, even while still following them.
Speedily they count out loud: “One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eighteen, twenty, forty-five, FIFTY! Ready or not, here I come!”
The childish mind is so excited about playing the game that it hurries to do all the external rules, because the ACT of seeking is the fun part. The rules limit how soon that fun can begin.
Adults also have the same childish mind, especially when it comes to following the rules.
Who hasn’t seen a speed limit sign posting a specific speed as simply a “recommendation” of what some think a safe speed is? The sign says “55,” but: It is light out; It is not raining; There’s not much traffic. Who does not force oneself to drive under that maximum speed limit?
It is the childlike mind within us that thinks nothing of bending the external rules.
It is important to hear John talking about the “children of God” and see how he was talking to us, here today.
WE are those who “play the game” of Christianity, with the external rules only limiting that pleasure.
WE want so much to be filled with the Holy Spirit that we speed past all the external rules and pretend we have IT …
… until we realize IT does not feel special.
IT is not what corner-cutters would call “an inward and spiritual grace.”
IT is not what childlike minds imagine IT would be like.
IT feels like IT is not there. IT feels like the disciples felt after Jesus had been killed on a cross … cold and empty … frightening … not a fun game anymore.
IT is there, however. You have to do more than follow the rules to get to where you can truly find IT.
Last week we read from John’s first epistle, where he wrote, “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin.”
John was not actually writing to young children, under the age of twelve.
Today, from the same letter we read John say, “Little children, let no one deceive you.” John also wrote, “No one who abides in him sins.” He continued to say, “Everyone who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous.”
Letters are like rules being explained. The letters of the Apostles – especially those of Paul, but also those by Peter and John – are difficult to understand and often need to be explained.
In this last explanation written by John, the key word, which might be overlooked, is “does.” “Everyone who does what is right is righteous.”
Another way of saying that is, “Everyone who ACTS right is righteous.”
ACTING right says you followed all the rules AND you found IT.
Too often we see ourselves as righteous, when we have “done” nothing “right.” We only know the rules. We know how the game is played. But, we never know that satisfaction that is supposed to come from “playing the game.”
This is because Jesus Christ is left out of our equation. We do not “abide in Jesus.”
Think about that for a moment. “We do not abide in Jesus.”
The Greek word written that is translated as “abides” is “menōn,” which comes from the verb “menó,” meaning, “remains, abides, stays, waits.”
This means that we “live” within the framework that is Jesus. The rules are to do EVERYTHING as Jesus did and would do today.
We know that our bodies are the temple of the soul, but to “abide in Jesus” means to assume the life of the Son of God.
We are expected … as Christians … to “remain in Jesus” character, making HIM become the model for our complete way of life.
Jesus enters us and we pass Jesus onto others, just as all cells in one body share the same DNA. Many cells, one body, one code to life.
That can only happen if we stop ACTING for ourselves, and start ACTING as Jesus would ACT, if Jesus were taking up residence within us.
Now, in the story we heard today from the Book of the Acts of the Apostles, we learn how astonished Peter was because the Jews in the Temple had seen “the lame man healed.”
Jesus likewise healed many people, including the lame. However, if you listen to what Peter said, you see how little Peter did, and we can remember just how little Jesus did when people were healed.
Peter said, “By faith in his name, his name alone has made this man strong.” He had been crippled from birth, and was carried to the gate of the temple to beg for alms.
The lame beggar had asked Peter for money, but Peter said all he had was the name of Jesus Christ. The man reached out to take Peter’s hand, just as he would reach out and take money from strangers. When Peter touched the lame beggar he stood, walked, and even leaped with joy.
The lame man ACTED from faith in Jesus being the Christ of the One God. Peter ACTED from faith to move someone in need, as the hand that offered Jesus, who abided within him.
In the Gospel of Luke, we read of Jesus standing among his disciples and their companions. This happened right after Cleopas and his wife, Mary, returned to Jerusalem to find the eleven disciples (in hiding). They had returned to tell them they had seen the Lord in their home, in Emmaus.
Jesus then appeared, like a ghost … without opening any doors. Jesus asked those male followers who trembled, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?”
Think about that, in comparison to the lame beggar who was healed at the gate to the temple.
I imagine, if anyone had an excuse to fear getting up and walking, it would be someone crippled from birth, who had to be carried and set where he could beg for alms. If anyone would doubt someone telling him to stop begging and get up, it would be him.
But the beggar immediately got up and walked … simply because Peter said the name of Jesus Christ.
The disciples did not have true faith, even though they had said over and over that they believed in Jesus.
People say they believe in the Law too … that external and visible document that says, “Do this, and don’t do that.”
But, how many people have heard, “Ignorance of the law is no excuse for breaking the law?” We love to play ignorant … meaning we love to ignore, because awareness brings with it responsibility.
To the disciples, Jesus was just an external law. He told the disciples what to do, and they did it … sometimes (like children) grumbling under their breath and not liking being told to do some things.
So, with Jesus dead, they were afraid they would get sentenced to death too. Then, there was the ghost of Jesus, come to condemn them for being afraid. So, they shook even more.
We have to be able to see the same childish fear is why we are not ACTING as Jesus would have us, filled with the Holy Spirit.
WE are not telling crippled people to walk in the name of Jesus Christ … at least with any real conviction that there is any power behind those words.
We can’t even make ourselves walk without sin.
Now, Jesus “opened [the disciples’] minds to understand scriptures.” That is the first ACT everyone who claims to be a Christian MUST do, before they came be filled with the presence of Jesus’ mind. It actually is one of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit … understanding prophecy; but it is impossible to understand what one never bothers to learn. The season of Easter is ALL about taking that step.
You MUST be able to understand the depth of meaning that is written into the words you have heard before … but never gave much thought about.
That is how children “play the game” of faith. “It is something too great for my little brain.”
I remember as a child I drew a lot of pictures while in the pews of church, while the preacher gave a sermon. He did not talk in childish terms that I could follow. I went to Sunday school and learned the children’s version of the Bible stories, which was fun.
But, the preacher did not speak on my childish mind level … so I tuned him out and drew pictures.
The disciples knew a similar childish version of the writings that led them to faith … the stories and songs they had memorized … but that was not enough to keep them from a fear of everything except God.
But … how many adults are little more than children in larger bodies, sitting in pews tuning out, never hearing Jesus calling them to grow up and be Jesus-like?
You have to take your faith seriously, from an adult perspective, if you plan on God taking your soul seriously when it comes time to judge your life. God knows how much and how little your ACTS have been for Him … and for whatever reasons.
You have to see how there is no one who is going to carry you to church each Sunday, so you can beg for alms from Christ, using every excuse in the book about how crippled you are, and explaining how you deserve credit for having going that far.
See yourself as the cross. Then see Jesus as the usher asking, “Which pew would you like me to place you in?”
You would probably complain that walking on your own is too much work … too hard an ACT to accomplish … rather than have enough faith to get up and leap with joy.
You see, there is no law that says you must learn everything written in the Holy Bible. There is no law that says you must come to church prepared to pass a test each Sunday.
In that regard, a state of lawlessness exists.
John wrote in his epistle, “Everyone who commits sin is guilty of lawlessness; sin is lawlessness.”
Because you do not have the laws of God written on your hearts … because you don’t have the mind of Christ setting the rules for the house you abide in (the body of your soul) … you go the route of least resistance … lawlessness. In that sense, lawlessness is sloth – a deadly sin.
It is easier to sleep-in on Sunday, than it is to wake up earlier and go to Sunday school for adults. It is certainly easier to go and say nothing … and to teach a class? Forget about it!
It is easier to listen to people explain the meanings of the Scriptures .. and doubt you have anything to offer … than it is to talk to others about what scriptures mean to you … when you never thought about Scriptures as something the lay folk need to know.
It is easier to be Christian whenever you feel like it, than it is to ACT Christian 24-7.
There is nothing that says a Christian must do anything that God told the Israelites to do … because you have lived a crippled religious life since birth … thinking you are “saved,” without any need to change.
Peter told the lame beggar, “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.”
He believed. He walked because of faith.
Jesus spent 40 days showing the disciples how to read the scriptures properly. He explained how to understand the meaning behind words that prophesied his birth, death, resurrection, ascension, and return.
Seeing that amazing story unfold before your eyes … seeing it for yourself, on your own, with no one telling you what to think … is as much proof of God … of Jesus as Christ … as it would be if Jesus were to appear right now before us, showing us his flesh and bones, asking for some broiled fish to eat.
Just as you coax a baby to learn to walk, gently assisting it so it won’t fall too hard, giving it less and less help … out of love … babies learn to walk by testing their selves.
Once learned, we all forget ever having been taught how to walk on our own.
Babies do not learn to walk and then regress to crawling the rest of its life, wasting a God-given talent.
The Easter Season is when we learn to walk, so we can receive the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. When we have received IT, then we can truly know the meaning of how Jesus is “an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.”
Little children, in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.