April 2024


Stay Close to Jesus, We Stay Close to One Another

Stay Close to Jesus,We Stay Close to One Another Taken from my Red Rock News Article (4/26/24) Rev. Dona Johnson | April 28, 2024 During Jesus’ days vines were grown all  over Palestine. These vines needed a great deal of  attention if they were to produce the best of fruit.  Some vines needed trellises to raise them off the  ground so the plant could receive more light. The  ground needed to be cleared and cleaned. A young  vine was not allowed to produce fruit for three  years and so, each year it was severely pruned and  cut back so it could conserve its life and energy.          Jesus tells his disciples that he is the true  vine and his Father is the gardener. And his Father  cuts off every branch that does not bear fruit so  the branch will bear much fruit. Then he says, “I am  the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me  and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from  me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me,  you are like a branch that is thrown away and  withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into  the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my  words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it  will be done for you” (John 15:1-8).         The vine and branches metaphor teaches us about God’s relationship   with his people and their relationship  with him. God wants to be close to his people and God’s greatest  desire is that his people abide in him. In other  words, God’s great desire is to stay close to his  people. “Abide in me,” means to continue to in a  daily relationship with Jesus, characterized by trust,  prayer, reading his Word and obedience. In other words, safeguard your relationship with me so I  may abide in you fully. A mutually loving and  committed relationship requires cooperation.  All  branches linked to the vine are equal. No branch is  singled out in anyway as being bigger or better,  and all branches are called to do the same: abide in  the vine and bear fruit, and submit to being  pruned. For most of us, abiding will mean to  remain in constant contact with him. Abiding in  Jesus will mean arranging life, arranging prayer,  arranging fellowship with other believers in such a  way that there is never a day when we give  ourselves a chance to forget him and run the risk of  becoming detached from God.          One important textual point of the “vine  and branches” metaphor is the vine not only  represents Jesus Christ but also his Church. Those  people who abide in Jesus Christ also are called to  abide in the koinonia, the community of Christ and  arrange their lives around it. Our current North  American culture is accustomed to high rates of  volunteerism and philanthropy—all very  remarkable gifts. However, there is the temptation  to view our membership and involvement in  nonprofits and faith communities as something  wholly up to us—we initiate our membership in a  particular faith community and its ministry or  terminate our involvement at will. Many people  feel they are entitled to decide whether they  belong, participate or cut ties. Thus, being a  voluntary member of a faith community means  joining and resigning are rather easy things in our  current culture. No big deal. Many of us have  become consumers of religion. We stop abiding in  this congregation or that congregation because it  doesn’t suit our preferences or we run into conflict  and quit altogether. But Jesus conveys to us it is a  big deal to resign or severe ties with the body of  Christ. When we resign or quit, we do damage to  God’s mission. Faith does not grow nor is it  nourished in a vacuum. Together, when we abide  in the life-giving vine of Jesus Christ, God gives us  the spiritual capacity to abide with one another in  genuine love and fellowship.          Together we will always produce more fruit  than if we work in a vacuum or work alone in a silo.  Staying close to Jesus enables us to stay close to  one another. God then multiplies our efforts!  Amen. 

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Lessons on the Road to Emmaus 

Lessons on the Road to Emmaus Taken from a Red Rock News Article Rev. Dona Johnson | April 21, 2024 ”So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He acted as if he were going farther, but they urged him strongly, saying, ‘Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.’ So he went in to stay with them. When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, ‘Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?’ And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem. And they found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, saying, ‘The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!’ Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread” (Luke 24:28- 35).        Many Christians have had an Emmaus experience, where we learn to see God with new eyes and in different ways. In the Christian journey there are times when our faith life gets dry. At times like these, we need to be inspired and renewed to get that spiritual hunger back— whether you are new to the faith or seasoned, it happens to all of us. Jesus had just risen from the dead. But some of his friends, his disciples, didn’t believe it. Some still didn’t get it. Two of them, on the same day this all happened, were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking over all the events of the last three days when suddenly a man came up and began walking with them. “What are you talking about?” He asked. The two seemed stunned. Did this guy have his head in the sand? Did he not know what happened? It seemed everyone knew.        They walked and talked. They told him about Jesus. Yet, they still did not understand who Jesus was. This stranger then opened up the Scriptures and told them all about Jesus. When they got to their destination, the man looked as if he was going to continue onward, but the two insisted he come with them into their home and stay with them. They invited him in. Then, as they were at the table and bread was broken, suddenly the eyes of their hearts were opened, the veil had been lifted from their eyes and they realized the stranger was JESUS. As soon as they recognize it was him, he suddenly disappears (From Luke 24:13- 35).       There are several truths we learn from the Emmaus story. First God meets us where we are— in our doubts, confusion and even in times of our disbelief. God doesn’t scold us in these times. Instead, he patiently waits and walks with us. He listens to our hearts. And while others turn away, Jesus remains close. Secondly, we learn Jesus isn’t pushy. He doesn’t force anything on us. The two disciples invited him to stay longer and so he did. Nagging someone about their lack of faith never works. In fact it drives them away. Thirdly, as Jesus broke bread with the two disciples God opened their hearts by grace to receive him by faith. In Holy Communion, God opens our hearts to the real presence of who he is and forgives us our sin. In communion God generously pours out his grace on us. And lastly, we learn that once we meet God face-to-face, just as the two disciples did, we are changed, we are never the same. God puts a hunger in our hearts, a burning desire to know him in deeper ways. Thanks be to God! Amen. When was the last  time you had a  burning desire to  know Jesus, to sit in  his presence and ask  him to stay a little longer?  

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God’s Generosity On Full Display  in the Early Church 

God’s Generosity On Full Display in the Early Church Taken from a Red Rock News Article (April 19, 2024) Rev. Dona Johnson | Jan 21, 2024 For the early church depicted in Acts, the  resurrection of Jesus Christ is less a creedal  statement of individual faith than a creative force of  community formation and fellowship. There was  great passion and fervor being expressed by these  first believers in Jerusalem. They had witnessed a  never-before-seen resurrection. And out of their  faithful witness, God’s divine power and grace was  poured out on them and on all who embraced their  message.          This community was strangely different than  the communities that surrounded it. There was a  deep compassion and love among the people for  one another. Out of this newly formed community,  each person took on an “intense responsibility” for  the other. So much so, they sold their homes and  possessions to provide for others. They shared all  they had. Luke writes, “All the believers were one in  heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their  possessions was their own, but they shared  everything they had…the apostles continued to  testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus…those  who owned land or houses sold them, brought the  money from the sales…and it was distributed to  anyone who had need” (4:32-35).          Generosity is a mark of true discipleship and  more importantly it is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22).  Christian’s who claim to be rich in love towards  Jesus but poor in outward signs of generosity may have other things they love more than God. It’s that  simple. The real tragedy is that there is often some  part of our lives, some part of our activities, some  part of our time and some part or our energy levels  that we, for the life of us cannot let go of. And this  holding on to our lives, holding on to our money  and possessions with such a tight grip is very much  a spiritual issue and a misreading of the gospel.          Over the centuries, the church has been  extremely generous in its capacity to respond to  humanitarian needs. In a 2022 survey, Barna, a  research group found that people give because of  who they are. It is foundational to their identity and  personhood. According to Pew Research Center, 45  percent of adults who pray daily and attend church  weekly volunteered in the past 7 days and 65  percent donated money to the poor and had a  higher rate of care and concern for others.  Christians who devote themselves to worship and  prayer create webs of mutual knowledge,  responsibility and Christ-like support like no other  influence. Although many of us in our culture today  suffer from a consumptive lifestyle, and tend to have a greater desire to protect our lifestyles than  grow in outward generosity towards others, those  who devote themselves to the gospel message  “love God and love one’s neighbor” live in the  overflow of God’s grace and thus, have an insatiable  need to give generously.          Luke gives us a beautiful snapshot of the  early church’s radical generosity on the heels of  Jesus’ resurrection and the Day of Pentecost.  Witnessing Jesus death and resurrection, they had a  fire in their belly after seeing first hand God’s  ultimate self-emptying and sacrifice. Jesus dies  bankrupt and bereft, stripped of all earthly  possessions (including clothes, Luke 23:34.) It is out  of this experience of complete surrender that God’s  generosity is on full display. Losing his life, Jesus  saves it. Forfeiting “the whole world” of self aggrandizing profit, Jesus gains the true wealth of  God’s kingdom. The crucified and risen Jesus thus  inspires his followers even today to find “new” life  not in accumulating more wealth for self-serving  needs but instead relinquishing all they are and own  into God’s hands to experience the true joy of  giving! How might God be calling you to grow in  generosity towards others? Amen. 

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Shut door? No problem for God

Shut door? No problem for God. Taken from a Red Rock News Religion Column (4/5/24) Rev. Dona Johnson | April 7, 2024           Jesus appeared to the disciples on the first  evening of Easter Day. After Jesus’ resurrection, we are told the disciples locked themselves in the  upper room, the same room where Jesus had  shared the last supper with them only days  earlier. Knowing the intense bitterness of the  Jews, the disciples feared for their lives. And as  we all know, fear if left unchecked can be  paralyzing. Suddenly though without a knock or  forewarning Jesus appears. Stunned by what they  saw, the door still locked behind them, they  thought the figure was a ghost. At this point the  disciples were not crediting any of what they saw  as a resurrection. Resurrection was unheard of,  not an option to consider. So, Jesus reassured them by showing them the nail marks in his hands  and feet. Their hearts were pieced with the  inconceivable reality that it was Jesus that they  saw.              Jesus continued to reassure them with  these words, “Peace be with you.” His greeting  meant far more than the absence of conflict or  trouble. The peace he offered them is not the  fleeting peace of the world. No, it is a peace not  dependent on external circumstances. This peace  is a spiritual peace that only Christ can give. And if  you have ever been blessed to feel and sense this  peace in your life—you certainly know it is a  peace like no other peace you’ve ever  experienced. It is a Christ-given serenity—a deep  knowing that whatever trouble you may face in this life—God is with you in the thick of it.  Without any further conversation, Jesus commissions them, “As the Father has sent me, I  am sending you.” Jesus equips them with  everything they will need. He breathes on them  and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Amazingly,  Jesus’ breath is the same breath God breathes  into the nostrils of man—and God breathes his  Spirit into humanity (Gen. 2:7). In effect, as Jesus  breathes on his disciples, equips them with the  Holy Spirit, they too become a new creation, life  from death. They are to go into the world to  proclaim a ministry of repentance and  forgiveness. And what we know now that the disciples didn’t know then is that the disciples  were in for a headwind of resistance. They were  eventually martyred for keeping alive the Good  News—the risen Lord Jesus Christ.               If sin and death could not hold Jesus in the  grave, then moving through a shut door is a piece  of cake. God does not stop for a shut door. His  reach and his power extend far beyond our  comprehension and our capacity. God’s love can  penetrate anything that appears to us to be  stubbornly strong and resistant. God’s love can  pierce the most hardened of human hearts.            In our lifetime doors will open and doors  will close, that’s a given. And it’s so easy to stay  fixated on our losses—what could have been.  Often when a door shuts and we are left in the  wake of a lost opportunity, or we are disheartened by dreams unfulfilled, or we feel  disparaged by the injustices we see in the world,  or we feel as if all our options have run their  course and then you wonder why it seems like  good people always finish last, don’t throw in the  towel, not yet. It’s not over. To many, a shut door  means failure. But if you turn your focus away  from the closed door and look in the other  direction, you will see a variety of open doors  before you—possibilities you never dreamed of  or imagined. So take heart, God does not stop for  a closed door. We who believe live in the promise  and power of the risen Lord—Jesus.  Prayer: May each of continue to risk and welcome new opportunities in our lives—for we live in the resurrection power of the risen Jesus! Amen.

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