Here are my thoughts for this Sunday, the 3rd Sunday of Easter and Native American Ministries Sunday. The Scriptures for today are Acts 3: 12 – 19, 1 John 3: 1 – 7, Luke 24: 36 – 48. (Changes in the format were made on 26 February 2008.)
Over the past three years I have had the privilege to hear Eddie Stephenson, an elder of the Ojibwa Algonquin People, present the message on this Sunday, Native American Ministries Sunday. His message was a presentation of the Seven Fires Prophecy and I could not help but make the connection between the traditional prophecies of Native Americans and the prophecy John made in the Book of Revelations.
I may be the only one who sees any sort of parallel between the traditions of the tribes of this land and what John the Seer saw in his prophetic visions while living on the land of Patmos. But it is not the only connection between cultures that I have come across in my career.
Most people are aware of the megalithic stone structure called Stonehenge that stands on Salisbury Plain in southern England. There are many people who relate this structure with the Druids but Stonehenge had been standing on the long before there were Druids in England. This structure was built around 5000 years ago, sometime around 2900 B.C.E. and was built as an observatory, to mark the passage of the sun and the moon through the various cycles and seasons.
What was interesting to me is that on the northern plains of this country and the southern plains of Canada are circles of stone similar in structure (at least horizontally) to that of Stonehenge. A recent news report in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch indicated that a similar structure was found in Peru (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 25 April 2006).
It has been suggested that Stonehenge, the medicine wheels of the northern plains, and this stone temple in Peru all served the same purpose of helping its designers and builders monitor the movement of the sun, the moon, and the stars. It would only be natural that early mankind would look to the stars, the moon and the sun in order to ask basic questions about life and why we are here. That distinctly different cultures would independently develop similar solutions suggests to me that there is just one God, even if He moves in different ways.
That there is one true God is also apparent when we look at the cultures so dominant in our own lives today. Whether we are discussing Christianity, Judaism, or Islam, we need to be aware that though they are three separate and distinct religions, they all have the same God in common. The messages of each religion may be different but the commonality of each religion in tradition and belief is clear.
Now some will say that there is no commonality between Islam and Christianity, since our God is a God of peace and Allah is a god of war. But a study of Islam shows that Allah is our God and is the God of Israel. In fact, many people forget that Ishmael, the first son of Abraham, was the founder of the Muslim nations. Those who would say that we each pray to a different God do not understand the nature of each religion.
But if we say that we pray to a different God, it is because we hold different beliefs and we are not willing to see the connections that exist. This inability to not see the connections extends into the realm of Christianity as well. The troubles of Northern Ireland over the past two hundred years and before are due in part to a lack of understanding of how Protestant denominations developed over the years. To say that the Catholic Church is not a true church is to say that the Protestant Church, which developed from the Catholic Church, is also not a true church. Again, it is what mankind does, not what God intends.
For the Pharisees and Sadducees of Jesus’ time, it was that way. They clearly did not see Jesus in the same way that we see Him today. Rather, they saw Him as a threat and as a danger. For them, religion was something that they could control; access to God was on their terms and if they did not want you to have the access, they made sure that there were barriers in your way. Jesus took away that control and made access to God available to all.
The challenge that Jesus put before us requires that we know why God sent His Son and what the Gospel message is all about. If we ignore the Gospel message and see God’s presence in our lives as only some way to enhance our own lives, then we have missed the meaning of the Gospel and we do not understand why Jesus came to this earth to be a part of our lives.
People are desperately trying to find God and the answers to the questions of life and its meaning in today’s world. People look around them and see signs that the world is a corrupt and evil place; people want to know how to live in such a world. They are asking how it is possible for there to be a God who allows such violence, corruption and evil to exist. They are willing to try new religions or embrace modified versions of the Gospel in order to answer the questions that perplex, confound and confuse them. People today are quite willing to embrace a theology that focuses on obtaining individuals riches while at the same time decrying a society that encourages wealth building at the expense of the soul. Sooner or later, the answers that they receive will prove to be just as perplexing or confusing as the questions they were initially asking. Sooner or later, they will find that solutions that initially fit into the logic of the mind will not fit into the nature of the heart.
This message of prosperity through God’s grace has reverberated through history. But it was the message that John Wesley revolted against and caused him to begin the Methodist Revival.
We are not asked today to take up a new type of religion or embrace other forms of spirituality. Rather, we are asked to look around us and open our minds to the nature of God and what God can do. For if our minds are closed, how can our hearts ever be open?
The message being presented to too many people today is not a message of the Gospel; it is not a message of love, hope, and promise. It is a message of fear and ignorance. As Peter told those assembled before him, many heard the words of Jesus. But they did not understand what Jesus was saying. They could not see that helping others overcome poverty, sickness, oppression and ignorance, they were helping themselves. Their reactions were acts of ignorance and fear. Those that opposed Jesus, those that sought to arrest and crucify Jesus could not see that giving up power and glory was better than holding on. Those that arrested Jesus and crucified Him felt that power on earth was greater than a place in Heaven; they felt that those who had no power or wealth only brought it on themselves through their sins and the sins of their forbearers.
John, in his letter to the congregation (1 John 3: 1 – 7), points out that we may not know what it is that we are to do. But this is not something to be feared. As God’s children, we have been promised an inheritance that cannot be taken away. But we must proceed in faith; we must proceed through our heart if we are to receive this inheritance. As John writes, in our heart and in our mind, we know what is right so we should not be deceived by those who would say otherwise.
In responding to Thomas, Jesus noted that there would be many who would believe through faith rather than through the experience of touching Jesus. Today, in the Gospel reading (Luke 24: 36 – 48), Jesus showed the disciples and followers that He was alive. Jesus showed them that the knowledge that had been theirs before, the words and actions of the prophets, of Moses and Abraham, were fulfilled in the Resurrection. We need not see the Risen Christ Himself to know this is true, for we know it in our heart. But those who seek to find God in this world will not see the Risen Christ unless they see Him in our lives, in our words, in our actions, and in our thoughts.
Mankind has been searching for God throughout the years of existence. In turning to the stars, the Sun and the moon, they sought answers to questions about life and its regularities. These answers brought into play questions about God and our relationship with Him. These questions were answered by Jesus. Now in this day and age, when questions about life still resound through our daily existence, we need to be reminded that the truthful answer is found in Christ. “Seek the truth and the truth will set you free”, Christ told the disciples. To find the truth, we need to open our minds and our hearts. Many out there in the world are looking for Christ because they do not know Him. Our challenge is to show Christ in our lives so that those who seek Him can come to know Him.