Saturday, April 26, 2014


 The challenge is to keep believing.

Last week we covered the subject of believing.
I asked many of you a very simple question. Several of you came forward and shook my hand.
I simply asked, "Do you believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God?"
Those of you who came forward responded simply with a "Yes" or "I do".

So, you believe. In believing, we find new life in Jesus Christ.
But, are you ready for the next step? What is the next step?


Some of you found new life right at the beginning of this series on discipleship, back in January.
If you have been following Christ, you know that it's not always easy. There are distractions, within and without. We could talk about resistance from both sides of the fence. There are times when human beings resist God and demand their own way. That's another sermon for another day. The kind of resistance we will cover today comes from outside ourselves.

If we give into the temptations from the outside, then we begin to see resistance within ourselves. So, one step at a time. We will cover the outside problems first. In doing so, we need to see a very important verse to help us set a firm foundation in our hearts so the enemy doesn't come in and start making problems on the inside. The Psalmist would write...

Psalm 119:11

New International Version (NIV)
11 I have hidden your word in my heart
    that I might not sin against you.

The word. The scriptures. These pages that talk about God and who He is are truly life for us.
These pages are authority because we give them authority. The church decreed ages ago through councils and meetings that these specific books are the ones that make up our sacred scriptures. The Bible. But, at the heart of it, behind all the men and meetings, is God. The author and authority is the one who gave inspiration to these words and this recorded history.

We will look at some very familiar scripture here. It is Jesus' temptation in the wilderness.
Last week was a new beginning for some. A clean slate. A new life. You say you believe. Jesus also knows what that moment is like, as he went through everything we have gone through. Baptism is one of those moments where new life begins. A starting point. We find joy and God shows us that we are his children. And, just as soon as the specialness of the moment has subsided, here comes our enemy to make things hard for us.

Jesus knows this all to well. He is baptized at the Jordan by John the Baptist in Matthew 3. We turn the page to Matthew 4 and Jesus is suddenly out in the wilderness. Have you been in a place where you feel all alone? Have you been in a spot where you feel like you have to answer the questions all by yourself, no one around to ask or help? Jesus knows what it's like as well. The wilderness is not a place we intentionally go to. It looks like Jesus may have done so. But, everything he did was for our benefit. We see what he endures so that we can learn to be strong and grow in our faith. Our own wilderness experiences stem from moments when we might feel we need to be alone. Or, we find moments when we really could use some company, but there is no one to respond to our phone call or text message. We find ourselves in a barren place. All we have in this spot in life is what we recall from the scriptures and whatever newness of life we can sap out of that baptismal experience.

It's been 40 days. The flood supposedly took that long, with all the raining and down pouring. Judgement is never an easy thing to endure. Neither is temptation. But, for Jesus, the 'fun' has not truly begun yet. It is when he is most hungry, at the point of true starvation, that the temptation comes. Our enemy is just about to enter and ask "Are we having fun yet?" in the form of a statement about bread.

 The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”

Bread. Part of our everyday lives and such a simple need. It's no big request. It doesn't seem like much resistance to our cause and direction. But, focusing on God is the mainstay here. For Jesus, he will not satisfy even the most basic of human needs until the time of wilderness is over.

Matthew 4:4

New International Version (NIV)
Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’[a]

More than bread, more than basic human sustenance, the desire to follow God comes first.
Are we willing to follow the Lord and give up even the simplest things in life?
Resistance is cut down when the enemy knows that this area of life is of no use in his wiley schemes.

If the need to feed ourselves is not an ample way for our enemy to seek us out, then why not try to approach us on the grounds of saving grace? Satan takes Jesus to the top of the temple mount. The entire religious establishment can be seen from here. Figuring out why we are here on this earth can be a troublesome issue for the human being. Our enemy knows why we are here, and it troubles him. We seek purpose and a need to belong. We seek it out in the most desperate of places, sometimes. We put ourselves in harm's way, at times, in an unnecessary pursuit of fulfillment. Our enemy knows why Jesus is here. He knows the whole game plan, Or, at least he thinks he does.

The road ahead of Jesus will not be easy to endure. People will not listen. People will try to kill him. There is a temptation to see if God is truly there. We need to know that God is listening and will meet our needs. Why not just put ourselves out there and see if God is watching?

“If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:
‘He will command his angels concerning you,
    and they will lift you up in their hands,
    so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’[c]

We are God's children. Won't God always help us, forgive us, clean up our messes for us? Should we go through life just doing whatever we want to do, saying whatever we want to say, acting however we want to act? God's loves us, right?

Matthew 4:7

New International Version (NIV)
Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’[a]

God's love is not to be tested. Have we forgotten the lessons laid before us in the Old Testament? When Israel did not listen, when they went astray and walk their own path, there were consequences to be dealt with. Testing God's love and patience is not a path we want to take. Think of your own children and how much you can take from their mouth and actions. Do you let your own children just do whatever they want, however they want to do it? Any good parent should be shaking their heads "NO". God is our parent. Somehow, we get things turned around when it comes to God. We think he should just cover us no matter what. He's God, isn't he?!?! God's love is unconditional. Yes, his love is. The Christian life comes with conditions to be met. And, one lesson we should learn, preferably very early, is not to put God to the test.

I've never really understood the last temptation.
Does our enemy seriously think he can tempt the Son of God, who is God, in the flesh, to actually worship him? It took some deeper study to understand what is going on here. History has come full circle. All three passages that Jesus quotes are from Deuteronomy. They are from moments when our enemy dealt with the nation of Israel in the past.

What did they do with the bread in the wilderness? They griped and complained. They wanted meat. They wanted things back that they had before, in Egypt, even if the life hey had before was hard. What they formerly had, in their minds, seems better than wandering in he desert. What they needed to do was follow the Lord and let him take them through this dry patch of life to a lusher, fuller way in the Promised land. Jesus makes it clear that the words and direction from God means more than bread itself.

The Israelite people griped and complained some more about God taking care of them. They seemed to think that if God was actually taking care of them then life shouldn't be so hard and rough. Listen to what the Lord was saying to his people.

Deuteronomy 6

New International Version (NIV)

Love the Lord Your God

These are the commands, decrees and laws the Lord your God directed me to teach you to observe in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess, so that you, your children and their children after them may fear the Lord your God as long as you live by keeping all his decrees and commands that I give you, and so that you may enjoy long life. Hear, Israel, and be careful to obey so that it may go well with you and that you may increase greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, just as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, promised you.

Seeing inside the mind of our enemy is a luxury we cannot obtain. Does this last temptation happen purely for history's sake or does he really think Jesus might bow? Is he purely pleading to Jesus' human nature in hopes that the Heavenly Creator might bow down and worship the creation? Why not? Human beings worship the creation all the time. The things we invent. The items that think we need so much in life. Does Satan really think he will win this battle? Maybe he is just that diluted.
Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”

Our enemy knows not just why Jesus is here. He also knows what the battle is truly for. ALL OF THIS. Everything you can see. Who does it all belong to?  Our time. Our talents. Our energy. Our strength. Our families. Our jobs. Our money. Our church. Our cities and towns. Satan is willing to give it all up for just the simple bend of the knee.

The problem is...we don't actually gain anything and our enemy doesn't actually give anything up. All possessions stay with their rightful owners. Paul refers to Satan as the "god of this world". This system of sin we witness in the realm, this way of life, is controlled by this "god". Giving into temptation won't cause our enemy to give up any kind of strangle hold on this realm. It actually strengthens it. And, the process of resistance continues down a spiral path.

Jesus knows the history of his people. Jesus has seen enough. The people of Israel could not follow on these three points. Jesus has resolutely determined that he will. This battle royale has come to a conclusion.

Matthew 4:10

New International Version (NIV)
10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’[a]

 Merriam-Webster would define resisitance as follows...


noun \ri-ˈzis-tən(t)s\
: refusal to accept something new or different
: effort made to stop or to fight against someone or something
: the ability to prevent something from having an effect

Well, bread certainly wasn't new or different. It was the path to obtain it that changed the game.
Going to the top of the temple proved to be a fight. The devil didn't win that one either.
The effect our enemy sought to have on this world, on us, on God himself, was put to an end when Jesus gave it all up for his creation. With arms wide open, the greatest worship mankind has ever witnessed  was performed on a hill called Calvary. A reading of Luke suggests that Satan would leave "until a more opportune time".

Too bad for Satan. That opportune moment turned out to be our victory.
And, I really don't feel too bad about it.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Life In His Name

Easter Sunday 2014

Do you believe?

John 20:30-31

New International Version (NIV)

The Purpose of John’s Gospel

30 Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe[a] that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
Believing. Have we looked that word up before?

Definition of BELIEVE

intransitive verb
1 a :  to have a firm religious faith
   b :  to accept something as true, genuine, or real <ideals we believe in> <believes in ghosts>
2:  to have a firm conviction as to the goodness, efficacy, or ability of something <believe in exercise>
3:  to hold an opinion :  think <I believe so> 
transitive verb
1 a :  to consider to be true or honest <believe the reports> <you wouldn't believe how long it took>
   b :  to accept the word or evidence of <I believe you> <couldn't believe my ears>
2:  to hold as an opinion :  suppose <I believe it will rain soon>
be·liev·er noun
not believe
:  to be astounded at <I couldn't believe my luck>
At sunrise service I figured nobody would be up for an english lesson.
It's early. We're all just glad we made it church safely and without falling asleep.
You've had breakfast by now. Your brain is chugging along. Hopefully you're in learning mode.

What does it mean to believe?
I remember Easter Sunday as a teen. I had gone through church membership class. Several weeks that started back in winter time and brought us up to this moment at Easter. There was baptism. Each one of us got into a white robe. Walking down into a big baptismal tank, behind the pulpit and platform, each one of us came to the pastor who recited our proper name and sent us backwards into the water. 

"In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit"
Later in the service we would all stand down front on the steps going up to the platform. The pastor would come and, one by one, he would ask us, "Do you believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God?" I honestly remember not being sure about my answer. It's amazing how much information goes through your head in a split second. It's amazing how much we retain after so long. I remember looking up into the balcony. We had majestic stain glass windows in that old Disciples of Christ church. They all told a story.

Jesus kneeling in the garden, in the window on the west wall.
Jesus knocking at the door, in the balcony wall to the south.
The empty tomb with an angel and two women, in the balcony wall to the east.

The empty tomb scene was where I was looking, as the sun came streaming through that morning. 
The Rev C. Reid Miller came to me, shook my hand, and asked me the all important question.
I hesitated for a split second, as I looked up into that window and caught the scene.
"Yes", I replied. It was that simple.

A bible was given to each of us. I had a similar one from when I was around kindergarten age. Both of them gone to the wind now. The bindings haven fallen apart years ago. The scripture that was all important to me from both of those old books, an RSV and an NRSV, were as follows.

John 3:16

Revised Standard Version (RSV)
16 For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 

John 3:16

New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

John had to have been awake that night when Nicodemus drew near to speak with the Teacher.
Nicodemus comes at night when it would be less conspicuous. Less chance of anyone seeing or making a fuss. Jesus shares words that would go down in the annals of history. But, how is one to believe such astounding things as mentioned here in the scriptures? The blind given sight. The lame walking. Healing given to a woman who is bleeding inside. Water turned into wine. 

And, then there are the teachings.
"Do unto others as you would have then do unto you."
"If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also..."
"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God."
"If you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly father will forgive you."

Jesus didn't just say to do these things. He actually did them.
How much easier is it to believe when you see the teaching lived out in front of you?
Hanging on a cross put there, by the very people he is trying to save, he does not plead for his own release, but for forgiveness for those who need it the most.

And, he saved the best for last.

He dies, goes into the grave, a tomb. Wrapped up in cloths, with spices to preserve the body, Jesus is there for three days, the scriptures say. And, then suddenly he is not. John's account should be most trustworthy. He sees it with his own eyes. He touches it with his own hands. He beholds the glory of the one and only. He was there at the tomb. He saw the cloths and the stone rolled away.

All of the disciples ran away. None of them stuck by what they said they believed.
How many of us are guilty of doing just the same? It's hard to hang on to something we cannot see or put our hands on and say, "Hear it is!" Now, they are greeted by a risen Jesus, the one they forsook and given words of of comfort.

"Peace be with you."

He shows them his hands and side. He eats in their presence.
He comes to them when they feel they have no where to turn. 

In their darkest hour, the light turns on, filling the empty place in their hearts.

How many of us come like Nicodemus?
We come when it is dark. We try to inconspicuous. We don't want to draw a lot of attention to ourselves. And, yet, here you are, on this Easter Sunday. In this church, a place very familiar to your personal history and family make-up. Do you believe? Do you really? I'm not just asking if you believe that God exists. The letter of James, further back in the New Testament would state that "even the devil believes". We aren't doing much for ourselves if we simply believe in the existence of God. 

Do you believe? 
Do you do unto others, thinking of their needs first, putting other people first, because that's how you want to be treated? Or, do we read that verse only thinking about ourselves and making sure everyone is giving us what we want, the way we want it.

Has someone wronged you? Even slapped you in the face, actually or figuratively, and have you turned the other cheek? Are you a peacemaker or a war-bringer? Can you be referred to as a child of God, because people know that there is a peace within you?

Do you believe?
Faced with the most unfathomable story in all of mankind, 9 blue collar men, a tax collector and a soldier are a faced with the seemingly impossible task of having explain why it is they are hanging on to this idea that a dead-man could walk again after having gone through the most excruciating death recorded in history. And, you and I are faced with the same dilemma.

What do you say today when I approach you with the question, "Do you believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God?"

We had this tradition in the Disciples of Christ church that if someone wanted to re-affirm their faith, restate it again, answer the question one more time, then you came down front at the end of the service and the pastor would ask you the question. It was an informal gesture that one could use to join the local church, this local body of believers. But, I always felt it had a deeper meaning. Some churches have a tradition of approaching the altar to pray and grovel before God. If that's your thing, go for it. Approach the altar and talk to God. I'm going to offer you a handshake and a question today. If you feel you need to state your answer again, solidify your feelings on the matter again, then come.

Believing is life.
God loves you so much that he sent his one and only Son.
He'd love to hear if you believe it or not.

Returning Light

Easter Sunrise 2014
The surprise is inside.

For many of us, this is way too early.

If you are a night owl like me, this sunrise stuff is for the birds.
The birds seems to be the only ones who truly enjoy this moment of the day.
My dog gets up way too early, also.
If the windows in the dining room are up a crack and he can hear the birds chirping, then my day starts way too early. "Brutus, hush it! It's just birds. Hush!"

Are the women heading to the tomb on that morning actually "morning people", or are they just weary with grief? There is nothing else to do. They didn't sleep well. Maybe they didn't sleep at all. It seems like they were just at the tomb, watching the stone being rolled into place and sealed with the dead inside. Scripture says they have arrived at the tomb early in the morning. Mark says just after sunrise. John says it was still dark outside. Either way, it's early. Mark's gospel says they are discussing amongst themselves about how they are going to or who is going to roll the stone away. They don't have much light. How will they see well enough to know what they are doing? Who is strong enough to move the gigantic stone? There is nothing to do at home. If they can't move the stone, see the dead, know he is there, then maybe just being at the tomb will be consolation enough. 

John's gospel says it is Mary, all by herself, coming early in the morning, before there is light. 
Well, she certainly couldn't have moved any large stone all by herself. So, why is she coming? The one thing that has brought her any joy and peace in this world has been stolen away. He has been laid in a tomb, dead now. When a light goes out in the world, a void is left to be filled. The only way Mary knows how to deal with it is come to the place where she has last seen him. The grave.

But, as she arrives, the grave is not as it should be.
The stone covering the entrance has been rolled away.
Who could have done this? Did some soldiers come and do this? Did they take the body somewhere else? As if actually seeing him die wasn't enough. Now, someone has taken his body away to who knows where.

That's all is takes to send Mary back home, running. 
What kind of thoughts would be going through your mind if the grave of a loved one had been violated, the body missing? Maybe there are no words or thoughts for that moment. Some atrocities leave us speechless. Mary's only thought is to go and get someone. She finds someone else near and dear to her Savior's heart.

We don't know what the disciples were doing that morning. Why didn't any of them rise early and make a pilgrimage to the tomb? Maybe the grief is too much. The memories too real. Some people have no problem paying their respects. Some were too close to the situation to bear the idea of coming any closer. For whatever reason, they are not present, and Mary has to find them.

The gospel account lays out for us several flash pan moments. The women go to the tomb. Mary runs back, makes an announcement. The disciples run to the tomb. I want to put it in respects of the morning routine. If you're an early riser, you've probably had your coffee. You're sitting at the table when the news comes and in an instant you drop everything to go and see what has happened. That fits the gospel narrative. The disciples had dropped everything once before in order to follow. If you're a night owl, the news comes and you shrug it away like the dog barking at the birds in the morning. "You're kidding right? We watched him be wrapped in cloths and put in a tomb. Go away. I'm not lifting my head off this pillow just because you're yapping about some crazy notion like my dog yaps at birds in the morning. Go back to bed!"

As a kid I couldn't wait to get up for the Easter Egg Hunt.
Next to Christmas there is no moment of sensation greater than getting a basket full of eggs which in turn are full of candy. In my adult years the glory of the moment has faded. There was one moment when I was 28. My first Easter with my girlfriend's family. My future mother-in-law goes and get me a tackle box. Upon opening the box I find that she has filled every compartment with candy of all sorts, kinds and colors. And, I do mean every single compartment, tray, nook and cranny had some sort of candy in it. It was a grand gesture from a woman who specialized in doing the amazing. For some reason I wasn't impressed. I was 28 and I had outgrown the candy craze of Easter. (Amazing what 14 years does to a person. Now, I can't stay out of my kids candy baskets.) I was in a drab and dreary place in my life. I had found the great girl, but I had recently moved in Southern Ohio. I was in unfamiliar surroundings. I didn't know anybody. I really didn't know these people very well. I was having trouble finding a job. I had no money. At that moment in my life I was in between denominations and I did not have a real place I could call home. The idea of a candy filled fishing tackle box did not immediately brighten my day.

Sometimes, the miracle of resurrection takes a while to burn through the darkness surrounding our lives. Upon entering the tomb, there is not immediate jubilation. There is amazement. That can be clearly seen. Some of the accounts say that angels are seen, outside or inside the tomb. John's account is firsthand. He saw it with his own eyes. Touched it with his own hands. He says nothing about angels. Just the emptiness and the wonder. An empty tomb where they laid their Messiah to rest. Cloths strewn across the slab. Jaws dropped in wonderment. Could it really be?

The disciples go home. Their heads are full and the hearts are wondering.
Mary, however, has not seen enough. She needs answers. She needs closure on the moment.
Her heart hurts and her head is aching. "What have they done with him?"

Some one who she assumes is a gardener appears.
"Tell me", she cries, "where have they taken him and I will get him."

Have you picked up the phone at home and not even needed the person on the other end to introduce themselves. In this day of caller ID, the surprise and joy is snuffed out a bit. The voice on the other end can still bring us happiness. I bit of joy in the midst of a day of sadness and gloom. I imagine that's what it might have been like for Mary. If your eyes have ever been full of tears, then seeing is not important. Dealing with the grief and pain is. For Mary, the only thing that does it, that cures the aching heart is the still small voice.


At that moment, the light returned.
How many of us just need a sign, a message, nothing big or monumental. Just a voice.
That would be enough. A bit of direction. A moment to know that it will be OK.

Again, she goes and tracks down the disciples.
Again, she has amazing news.
Everything is going to be alright. Jesus is alive.

It wasn't as bad as we first imagined. The outcome looked bleak. The road ahead was thought to be unbearable. The road ahead of me at 28, I thought I couldn't go on. But, I did. The next 14 years was a husk of corn that needed to be shelled one pull at time till all the silk was cleaned off and the road ahead was much clearer to see. Your springtime lies ahead of you. Seeds need to be planted. Ground needs to be tilled. What will it bring? What will you face? What will happen? Good? Bad?

You don't know till you open the egg and see what's inside.
Whatever it brings, listen. And, the joy comes in the morning.

Psalm 30:5

For his anger lasts only a moment,
    but his favor lasts a lifetime;
weeping may stay for the night,
    but joy comes in the morning.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Betrayal For Dummies

Maunday Thursday, 2014

The greatest love comes at the hardest times.

Betrayal is likely the most uncomfortable subject to engage mankind.

Our earliest stories, our biblical beginnings, are fraught with the message of man's shortcomings.
Not more than a week or so after God creates all things and calls them "good" do we see mankind betray their very Creator is a blind-hearted effort to be just like Him. The father of our faith was found lacking faith to trust God, not once, but twice and nearly lost the promise God intended for him and Israel. A young man is sold into slavery, by his brothers, and sent off to a foreign land to live with a people he doesn't know, all because of a thing called jealousy.

And, that's just skimming the surface.

All the way through the scriptures we see story after story and see people committing all sorts of sins. And, while the variety of sins for mankind is as numerous as the stars in the sky or the sand on the seashore, there is a common underlying theme to all of it. The pretty present can be wrapped in a number of different packaging papers, but after it is open, the same dreadful feeling comes forth.

For the most part, we see human beings committing grave sins against each other, with sin against God being implied or spoken of through a prophet. God seems to be distant and outside the situation. Now, God has come close in the person of Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul, speaking about our indelible situation of temptation, says the Jesus has felt everything that we feel. He has seen it all. "Been there, done that" would fit the life of Jesus well. He has experienced everything we go through as humans. Even this tragic moment of betrayal.

If you ever visit a little store on the north side of Newark, OH called Ollie's, you'll find a LARGE section of the "for DUMMIES" book series. They have everything! If you are inexperienced in any subject matter there is a book for it. Know nothing about baseball? "Baseball for DUMMIES" Know nothing about the operating system on your computer? "Windows 7 for DUMMIES" Know nothing about politics? "Politics for DUMMIES"

I checked it out to see if there was anything out for the subject of "betrayal". Came up cold.
Now there would be a title we could really use. Especially in the subject matter for this evening.

Our Lord and Savior would know the subject all to well.
On this night we gather to remember that moment in the Upper Room. The Last Supper, some call it. It is the last time these twelve will sit down with Jesus in this manner. There are two different passages that remember the meal on this night. In the Gospel of John, we see Jesus post-meal. He has taken his outer garment off and wrapped a towel around his waist. He then proceeds to go around the table and wash each person's feet. All 12 of them. 24 feet. Nobody offers to wash Jesus' feet. Tonight is not a meeting to discuss how deserving Jesus is for all. It is a moment to show his disciples the true love he feels for them. A moment of forgiveness and mercy, before they even know they need it.

The Gospel of Matthew shows us the actual meal and the conversation in the midst of it.
Lets look in on that moment, right now.

Matthew 26:17-30

New International Version (NIV)

The Last Supper

17 On the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Where do you want us to make preparations for you to eat the Passover?”
18 He replied, “Go into the city to a certain man and tell him, ‘The Teacher says: My appointed time is near. I am going to celebrate the Passover with my disciples at your house.’” 19 So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them and prepared the Passover.
20 When evening came, Jesus was reclining at the table with the Twelve. 21 And while they were eating, he said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me.”
22 They were very sad and began to say to him one after the other, “Surely you don’t mean me, Lord?”
23 Jesus replied, “The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me. 24 The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.”
25 Then Judas, the one who would betray him, said, “Surely you don’t mean me, Rabbi?”
Jesus answered, “You have said so.”
26 While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.”
27 Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. 28 This is my blood of the[a] covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you, I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”
30 When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

The moment we read about in Matthew seems to mirror the events of Palm Sunday.
The disciples were told to go and find a young colt, a donkey. They found it just as it was said.
Now, they are told to go and find a certain man. Preparation are to be made. Everything is just as Jesus said it would be. And, then evening comes.

They are simply eating. How many times have they eaten this meal? Being common fishermen, maybe they haven't partaken in the Jewish rituals much. Blue collar men rarely do. We know the Christmas & Easter types. There is no mention of anyone feeling uncomfortable with their surroundings. It is simply a meal. Much like many other meals they have eaten at holiday time.

Except this one is led by the Messiah. And, he has a statement to make.
"This is my body which is broken for you. Take and eat."
Did they all look at each other? "What does he mean, this is my body?"
They take it and pass it around. Each one partaking in the leavened bread, flat, in remembrance of the people's escape from Egypt all those centuries ago.

The meal goes on. Everyone has settled back into a comfortable place and light conversation ensues. Sudden;y, Jesus has another announcement. "This is my blood of the new covenant, poured out for the sins of many. Take and drink. And, as often as you do this, do it in remembrance of me." Ok, first bread, now wine? What? As if that wasn't strange enough, now Jesus gets up, grabs a towel and a basin of water and washes their feet. They have seen Jesus do a lot of strange things through the last three years. This might take the cake. They have gotten used to seeing miracles. People healed. Lame walking. Lepers skin cleared up. Even the occasional raising of the dead. They have heard some whopper sermons. Witnessed him clear the temple and knock over tables. Feeding 5,000 people.

But, this...this is unexplainable. Uncomfortable.
The King. The Messiah. The one who should be getting accolades and comfort for himself is acting like a servant. The lowliest servant in the house. And, nobody knows what to say.
Except for Peter and his rhetoric, demanding that Jesus wash not only his feet, but his head and hands also; there is no mention of discussion. Except for when the notion of betrayal come forth.

Who likes to be accused of betrayal? When Jesus mentions that someone has done so or is planning to do so, the small group is suddenly a buzz. "Surely, you don't mean me." Yes, there is one in mind. But, any of them could have dunked their sop in the cup after Jesus and been found guilty. Judas will certainly be the chief culprit, for nothing more than a bag of coins. But, any of them could have been thought of a betrayer. It won't be very much longer till they get to the Garden of Gethsemane. Judas brings the crowd with him. Jesus' crowd suddenly vanishes. Not a one was confident enough in their faith to stand along side their Messiah when the time came.

Betrayal is for dummies.
And, the dummies don't realize how much they have left behind in their haste.

Where do we fall short in our Christian witness? Where have we betrayed our Lord?
Was there a moment this past week at the grocery store or the local restaurant?
Was there a moment to stop by a person's house and make a friendly gesture of hospitality?
Could we have called someone and made them feel better about their day?

Could we use a clean slate and a moment to start over again?

For the betrayer, the feeling of being swamped with guilt is enough to make one lose hope.
There is no coming back. There is no joy anymore.
Life is a sad place of feeling regret and shortcoming.

Until we realize why there are wet feet around the table.
God has already forgiven us. God wants us to get up, go forth, and try it again.
The intention is not to allow us to endlessly fail.
The message is that God wants us to get it right. And, no matter how many times it takes, no matter how foot washing and trips to the altar, forcing us to bang our heads on the wood, pleading "Why?", we will find out the eternal truth.

God makes things right.
Even for the betrayer.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Do You Hear What I Hear?

 Those who have ears to hear, let them hear.

Listening is assuredly the most important human device God has given us.
It is also the least exploited for spiritual gain.

We need to listen to what others are saying. Even more, we need to understand what they are saying.

Jesus dealt much with people who did not listen. Interestingly, as we approach this Sunday of Palms and as we remember Jesus' triumphant entry to Jerusalem, two lines of scripture came in front of my eyes. To say the least, they caught me off guard. However, they seem to fit right in with our lessons on discipleship as well as this Lenten season.

John 8:37

New International Version (NIV)
37 I know that you are Abraham’s descendants. Yet you are looking for a way to kill me, because you have no room for my word.

John 8:47

New International Version (NIV)
47 Whoever belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.”

Jesus would chide the religious leaders of they day more than anyone else. There were times where he would say things about people not listening. The general public had their own woes that led them astray. The basic human desires to be fed and taken care of can be enough to cap a person ears and lead them down the wrong road. In the parable of the Sower, Jesus tells his disciples that the people had ears to hear with, but could not understand what it was that God had to say to them. This passage reflected back to Isaiah where the Lord gives the prophet his calling into ministry and immediately tells him that no one would listen to the message that God intended for him to deliver.

What a distressing and unsettling notion that is, sending a person out and immediately telling them that they will be unsuccessful. Heartbreaking. Even the person with the message needs to have ears to hear with in order to understand God has called them to do.

How about the viewpoint from the audience? Isaiah would have gotten his call to speak for the Lord early on, recorded for us in Chapter 6. Has anything changed by the time we get to the end of his book?

Isaiah 58:9-12

New International Version (NIV)
Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
    you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
    with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
    and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
    and your night will become like the noonday.
11 The Lord will guide you always;
    he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
    and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
    like a spring whose waters never fail.
12 Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
    and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
    Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.

Notice the "if" statements in that passage.
If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
    with the pointing finger and malicious talk
 if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
    and satisfy the needs of the oppressed
There are conditions that need to be met in this spiritual life. We are not here to just do whatever we want to do however we want to do it. The condition that God people on his people is that they listen. God's people need to hear, and more than just heard some words spoken and give the clunking sound of nodding the head. Did you/do you understand what it is that God is saying to you?

Do you want to be free of oppression and grief? Do you want to walk away from your depression and doubt? Do you want to rebuild the broken down ruins around you and see something new rise from the ashes? Many people say that's what they want, for their church to grow, to see themselves conquer personal issues in their lives. So, why don't we see those things happening?

See the fear in the passage that is normally is read on this Palm Sunday.

Luke 19:28-40

New International Version (NIV)

Jesus Comes to Jerusalem as King

28 After Jesus had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. 29 As he approached Bethphage and Bethany at the hill called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, 30 “Go to the village ahead of you, and as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it.’”
32 Those who were sent ahead went and found it just as he had told them. 33 As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?”
34 They replied, “The Lord needs it.”
35 They brought it to Jesus, threw their cloaks on the colt and put Jesus on it. 36 As he went along, people spread their cloaks on the road.
37 When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen:
38 “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”[a]
“Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”
39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!”
40 “I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”
Hmm. Everything is going fine in this passage until we get to the last two verses.
Why is it that the Pharisees want Jesus to rebuke the disciples?
Well, we don't really know for sure. We could speculate and we probably wouldn't be far from the truth if we did. Look at the Pharisees historically throughout the concourse of the gospels. Who is always there, ready to shoot down or throw a bucket of cold water on the fire being stoked by Jesus?

Yep, the religious leaders.

Those who feel they are in charge or have some sort of responsibility to govern the religious system in this body of people called "Israel" are the ones who shun any possibility of being free. Why is that? From the time of Isaiah and again in the time of Jesus, the so called "leaders" in the Hebrew community are the ones who end up leading their downfall. Maybe there is a disconnect with the issue of hearing what it is the Lord has to say.

Take any teacher in any school system and ask them what the biggest problem is in their classroom and most assuredly the issue will be listening. In an article from Education Week, Larry Ferlazzo writes about the need for hands on instruction with the teacher setting the example for expectations in the learning environment. "Teacher modeling" is an important facet to the learning experience. If the students can see the teacher actually doing a math problem or some part of a social studies experiment, then the students have a much higher chance of repeating the process they see worked out in front of them.

Jesus didn't just tell his disciples or the crowds or the religious leaders what to do. He actually did it.
He didn't just tell people to listen to God. He actually followed his Father's words.
He didn't tell the sick to go to the Temple and find healing. He touched people, on the spot most times, and sent them home rejoicing and praising God.
He didn't just suggest that people forgive one another, but on a cross with spikes in his hands and feet he actually says, "Father, forgive them. For they do not know what they are doing."
There was no better moment of "teacher modeling" than on that day of triumphal entry.

Jesus doesn't come in expecting accolades. He doesn't ride in with an army.
See the message that Jesus wants his people to hear. The message that he has been preaching all along.

"The last shall be first and the first shall be last."

It's a donkey, not a tall, proud horse.
The praises of the common people, not the stately organizations or the religious leaders in the temple.
The cloaks and palm branches, not the riches of an empire or a kingly throne.
It's a very simple entry. Maybe that's what sets of the religious leaders off the most.
There are people who will remember what a church or a family or even a place of employment used to look like. You go changing that environment, even if its for the better, for the good of the organization or family, and you'll find people resistant to change. Jesus found them in the midst of a great celebration. 

Set aside, for a moment, the truth that these people have the wrong notion about why Jesus has come. The common folks think that Jesus has come as king to set them free. They think he will cast off the Roman rule over their heads. Ok, they have it wrong. Still, they can sense something great is about to happen. And, they feel like praising God about it. Why should they be stopped? Is there something wrong with praising God, even if the particulars about the "why" is off a bit? God still likes to be praised. That's why human beings were put here in the first place, to bring glory and praise to the Creator. 

Always has to be a sour puss in the group.
“Teacher, get your disciples under control!” (MSG)
We don't like all this carrying on. It's not what were used to. It's not how we do things. And, more importantly, we aren't stupid. We can read the writing on the wall. If things progress in this manner, we won't be the ones in power anymore. If people feel the freedom to praise God and seek him the way they want too, then what need will they have for us?

Seriously? Why would anyone want to shoot down the possibility for growth and expansion in the kingdom of heaven? Why would anybody want to shoot down growth in their local church? It amazes me how some folks talk about how they want their church to grow, about how they want things to happen, but when it actually starts happening...then the griping ensues.

All these people want is to be free from the vice grip of rule that the Romans have had on them. Jesus comes and shows them exactly why they are in the mess they are in and actually shows them, through his own example, how to loosen that vice grip. The truth in their hearts rears it's ugly head.

They don't want it.

These people praising God and carrying on, get em out of here.
All this celebration and music and singing, get it out of here. 
It's not what we remember. It's not what we're used to. We don't want it. 

It has to be heartbreaking for a teacher when they have given instruction to a child and they have done all they can do to help a child learn, and the child still doesn't get it. 

How much more agonizing it must be when a teacher has done all he/she can do to help a child see how to do a thing, grasp a concept, complete an assignment, and the student, who is bright and capable of understanding, simply looks the teacher in the face and says "NO". 

"I don't want to learn"

OH buddy. You will learn. And, you will listen. And, you will understand.
And, the harder the student makes the process, the harder the lesson becomes.

Do you hear what I hear?
Some might hear praising, and joy, and happiness, and life.
Some might hear nonsense, and ridiculousness, and death.

What we hear and understand will determine what we experience.
Hearing is only part of the lesson. Understanding requires that we use our hearts. 

Jesus rode in on a donkey. Jesus stands at the door and knocks.
He doesn't demand praise. He doesn't demand to enter.
And, if we shun him away, he'll leave. He'll go away and leave us to our own devices.

And, the silence will be deafening.