Sunday, April 19, 2015

He Follows You


You're never walking alone. 

Luke 24:32

New International Version (NIV)
32 They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”

Have you ever wanted to know something, but were just too afraid to ask?

As a kid, we want to know if we can do something or go somewhere, but we don't ask because we are afraid mom or dad will tell us exactly what we don't want to hear. We think we have a pretty good idea what mom or dad might tell us any way. As a teenager, we want to ask that attractive boy or girl out on a date, but we don't because there is fear of being rejected. Maybe we have a pretty good idea what the answer would be any way, so we don't put our heart out there to be trampled upon. As adults, we feel as if we are supposed to know it all already, so we don't ask for answers simply because we don't want to look stupid.We think we have a pretty good idea how we will look in front of others if we go asking for answers and someone looks at us with that face. "What? You didn't know that already?" Not having the answers is a plight that seeks to hurts us more than help us. 

Unless, we have a trusted source to go to when we have questions that arise. 

This Sunday we find ourselves in an in-between place. Easter is long over and gone. Pentecost is on the horizon, but is still several Sundays away. It is on this particular Sunday that we set out on a journey to a little village called Emmaus. There are two gentlemen already on the road. A man named Cleopas and the other goes unnamed. When we are searching for answers that seem silly or weird, sometimes we don't want people to know our names. It adds to the embarrassment. Anonymity is a precious commodity when we are walking to Emmaus. Nobody has to know who we are. What's important is that we are seeking and asking. The two men here at least have each other. They can bounce their ideas and questions off of each other. It's nice to have someone else to lean on. Someone that can identify and relate to where we are and what we are going through. These two men have shared a similar situation as of late. They have both been party to losing someone near and dear to them. They both have lost the same person, in fact. After the traumatic events of the past few days it only makes sense to get out there and clear the head. Taking a walk is a good way to do just that. It's even better when you have someone to walk with instead of going it alone. 

The truth is, many of us have to go it alone. It seems as if there is no one to go with us down the road. many times it feels as if there is no one to relate to us. Maybe we don't want anyone to relate to us. Maybe we have shut the world out. Last week we looked at the disciples who had barred the doors and windows. There are moments where we are walking and seeking, but we choose to go it alone. Sometimes it's easier to raise the hand and request "unspoken" than it is to go into all the details surrounding our hurt.However, what we will soon find is that our choice on the dealing with the matter will soon turnout to prove that we are not alone at all. 

Cleopas and his friend are talking and contemplating when a stranger arrives. 
Another person to walk and talk with is fine. The more the merrier. Only this person seems to have no idea as to the tragedy that has transpired. Quite often when we are mired in our own hurt we think that everybody should already know. This horrible thing happened to me and you don't know about it. How can you not know? Doesn't everybody know? On our course to find answers and peace it will require us to share our story. Maybe several times. It is in the sharing that we work out our issues till we come upon the response we seek. Maybe we need someone who has no history with our story, an outsider's viewpoint, in order to give us a fresh perspective and an honest opinion. 

Lets get right down to what these two men are seeking. 
They seek solace and comfort. What have they lost? Their Savior. Their Lord. Their Messiah. He died a horrible death that no person should have to endure. The One whom they thought would save them. Now, it seems as if salvation is not possible. Their focus is on being set free from the Roman rule over their heads. This doesn't seem within the realm of probable outcome without the One who was supposed to set them free. What are they supposed to do now? They have no idea. So, they decide to walk. It won't fix anything. But, they have been cooped up inside for three days. They need some fresh air. They need to stretch their legs. They need to get away from the place where all the horrible events happened. Maybe a few days in Emmaus will alleviate the suffering a bit. 

Have you ever been to Emmaus? If you haven't you should go sometime. 
We all need a couple of days away to simply spend some time pondering. I recall my weekend walking to Emmaus. My future mother in law nearly insisted that I go.She also paid my way. (You have to have a sponsor and that sponsor will pay your way to an Emmaus walk.) I was "in-between" at the time. I had been living in Southern Ohio for almost a year. I was no longer a Nazarene pastor. (although I hadn't truly accepted that fact yet) I had moved into foreign territory where nothing was familiar and I didn't know anyone. I was lost. I was alone. I didn't know what the future held for me. 2 years later I would make a move from Nazarene to United Methodist. But, right then, I had no idea what I was doing. I knew I needed some time away. I felt in my heart that I needed to some time to re-focus. There's nothing like a couple days away to do just that. And, hey, I didn't have to pay for it. 

What I experienced on my weekend away was not what I was expecting. 
It May of 2001 in southern Ohio. It's been 14 years now. Some people and moments are cloudy in my mind now. But, the one thing that sticks with me is how it made me feel. I think I went in expecting to find purpose and meaning. A new direction for life. A reaffirmation of my calling. I got none of that. God knew the one thing I needed to hear. That He loves me. It's taken 14 years for much of that to sink in. A life filled with unrealistic expectations will squelch the message of God's Love. We tend to get ourselves wrapped up in what we want and what we think. I wonder how much of what these two men on the road to Emmaus actually believe is filled with unrealistic expectations. They expected some messiah to just swoop in and save the country in one felled swoop. I'm sure God could do that if He wanted, but that wasn't the plan. The plan was the God loved the world so much that he sent his Son. Anybody who believes in the Son would find eternal life. They would find forgiveness. They would find mercy. They would have their whole life turned upside down. Love is completely foreign to a person who isn't looking for it. The Israelite people talked about God's Love for them, but wanted to smite their enemies. Jesus came along and said love your enemies. Jesus sought to relieve them of their unrealistic expectation in order to show them what Kingdom he was talking about. A heavenly one. A kingdom without borders or personal ownership. A place where everybody was welcome. A place where the lion lays down with the lamb. There is peace. There is love. There is God. 

Luke's account says that the stranger takes the time to open the scriptures.
It's as if they start at Genesis and work their way to Revelation. (In their case, probably till Malachi.) He shows them what they seem to be missing. He fills in the blank spots and gives them understanding. But, understanding is incomplete without experience. Up until now their experience has been filled with grief and sorrow. In just a moment, their expectations will shift and they will see what they had been missing. 

They arrive at the house. They've had a long walk. The stranger thinks he'll go on ahead. The two men are hungry, They figure the stranger is hungry too. Why not stay and eat a bite. They go in and begin to break bread together. The stranger takes it upon himself to bless the bread. Suddenly their eyes are open. It's Jesus! And, just that fast it's gone. Before they can reach out and touch him, before they can say anything in retort, he is gone. What would you do? If you had an epiphany like that, what in the world would you do? If you knew that you had it all wrong and then your outlook was turned upside down, what would you do?

These two know exactly what to do. 
They have to tell someone. They have to share the message. God loves them so much that he sent his one and only Son. They believe now. That belief causes them to run. They run all the way back to Jerusalem. 7 miles, the scriptures say. I haven't run that long or that hard in a long time. Have you ever felt that kind of urgency? Have you ever been touched with God's Love so mightily? 

There are moments when we are encouraged to follow.
There are moments where he follows us. He helps us get out focus back. Then we realize that things are out of sync. He needs to be in front. It's needs to be about God's Love. And, the unrealistic fades away.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Hide and Seek


You have to get lost if you want to get found. 

John 20:19-23

New International Version (NIV)

Jesus Appears to His Disciples

19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.
21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
 The first thing that would go through anyone's mind after the onrush of an ordeal like the disciples have been through is to say - "Did that really happen?"

Yes, it did and they know it all too well. Have you ever been afraid? So afraid that you didn't feel safe? There are moments where we feel as if all is not right unless we lock every door and window in order to feel protected. Fear and depression can ride in the same car. It's a ride to little city called "Futile". That's how everything feels in that place. These disciples might be feeling at this moment like everything is futile.  Have you ever been there? I'm sure many of us have been in a place or felt like using those two hard-hearted words - "Why bother?" 

As incredulous as it might sound to hear this, it's ok to be there. We need to be there. Because, it is only there that we find Jesus in the way these disciples did. It was in a place where all the doors & windows were locked in hopes of keeping the world out. It is in this place we find that Jesus can still get in. Somehow, someway, he simply appears. In the midst of our hurt and pain, he just shows up. 

During the next few weeks our sights will change. We are still focusing on that word - FOLLOW.
We have followed into this New Year. We have followed through Lent and prepared our hearts for the Cross and Easter. We have celebrated the Resurrection and been to the Empty Tomb. Where do we we follow to next? Our calendars tell us the next major place is called Pentecost. There's a lot of preparation that goes in to this next major event. We have to follow along and see what it means to get ready. We have to put ourselves in the shoes of these disciples and see what they experienced. And, in doing so, we might find that we share similar know-how. Like knowing sadness and depression. Like knowing what it is to be afraid. Like being afraid of the outside world so as to lock ourselves away from it. These disciples have quite a ways to go before they are ready for Pentecost. And, so do we. 

The scripture says it is "first day of the week". In our modern world that means "Monday".
The word seems to bring with it images of utter disaster. No matter how good or bad the weekend went Monday is still around the corner and we have to start afresh. In the case of the disciples, the first day of the week has arrived and with it has come the dread of having to deal with people they would rather not. Tell me you have not been there. At no other point does the phrase "not everybody is going to like you" stick so well. There are plenty of people who do not like these disciples of Jesus. And, it has come to barring the doors and windows. Is that person at work, in your case? Is that person at church? Is that person family to you? Maybe a friend of your friend and you just wish the two of you could go do something without that annoying third wheel tagging along. 

There are moments, and people, in life that make us afraid, fearful, depressed. 
We want to just come home, lie down on the couch and not open our eyes until the next time we are required to go to work or school. But, even while we are lying there grovelling in self-pity and loathing, we wish and long to not feel that way any more. Does anyone actually want to go through life feeling so down? A positive answer here will get you checked in and medicated. NO! Nobody wants to feel this way. The hurt is too much for the soul to bear. There is a crippling and debilitating effect to living with so much dread. Human beings were made in the image of God, we are told. If this is true, then God has a quality and a virtue we so desperately need. 


What brings joy? A sudden reversal of fortune. A pick-me-up perfectly designed.
For the disciples, they find both. How is that Jesus can suddenly appear? Even when we have locked the doors and we feel as if we have shut everyone out, there is no way to shut our Lord and Savior out. He can come and go as he pleases. What He pleases to do is bring us joy and peace. All he needs to do is speak it and it is. "Peace be with you!" The one who flung the worlds into existence freely gives peace to those who long for it. He shows his hands and his side to the followers that have endured so much. He endured all the pain and suffering of the cross so our sins could be forgiven. Now, the sufferings of that cross are incomparable to the great riches he can bestow. 

Love. Joy. Peace. 
Don't we long to love and be loved? Is there a missing void in your life that needs to be filled? There is only one person who can rush in to the midst of hurting and pain, making all well. Horatio G. Spafford who wrote the well known hymn "It Is Well With My Soul" would have to face one the greatest tragedies any human should ever face.
In 1873, Spafford decided his family should take a holiday somewhere in Europe, and chose England knowing that his friend D. L. Moody would be preaching there in the fall. He was delayed because of business, so he sent his family ahead: his wife and their four children, daughters eleven-year-old Tanetta, nine-year-old Elizabeth "Bessie", five-year-old Margaret Lee, and two-year-old Anna "Annie".
On November 22, 1873, while crossing the Atlantic on the steamship Ville du Havre, their ship was struck by an iron sailing vessel and 226 people lost their lives, including all four of Spafford's daughters. Anna Spafford survived the tragedy. Upon arriving in England, she sent a telegram to Spafford beginning "Saved alone." Spafford then sailed to England, going over the location of his daughters' deaths. According to Bertha Spafford Vester, a daughter born after the tragedy, Spafford wrote "It Is Well with My Soul" on this journey.

 When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.

(Refrain:) It is well (it is well),
with my soul (with my soul),
It is well, it is well with my soul.

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.

What follows is a chance for acceptance and serenity.
“Receive the Holy Spirit.23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

God wants to forgive. God wants to restore.
Now the ability to do so lies with us. Do we release the pain from our hearts and find peace? 

Or, do we hang on to it and continue to grovel? Whether we choose to do so is in our hands. This is not a power play or a scramble for authority. God has given us the way. He is the way, the truth, the life.

Seek life. And find the peace you have been longing for inside.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Follow To The Answers

Your answer must be in the form of a question.

John 20:1-18

New International Version (NIV)

The Empty Tomb

20 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”
So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) 10 Then the disciples went back to where they were staying.

Jesus Appears to Mary Magdalene

11 Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12 and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.
13 They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”
“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” 14 At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.
15 He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”
Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”
16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.”
She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).
17 Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
18 Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.

 I have no answers at all for you today. 

You're probably thinking that's quite a statement to make. Especially on a day like today.
Why in the world did you get all dressed up and come out to do your C & E duty if I have nothing to tell you? Oh, I didn't say I didn't have anything to tell you. I said I didn't have any answers. And, now you're really confused. Your keeping your hand on your wallet or your purse 'cause this preacher guy has something up his sleeve and now you don't trust little ol me. 

No really. I have no answers for you at all today. Because none of this makes any sense. 

The entire calendar year I preach from this book. It is chucked full of words about how we are to live our lives. We hear from a guy named Jesus about our morals and our righteousness. (For you C & E people who might not be up with the lingo....that basically means "right living") Most of what we preach year round should make sense. We seem to get the idea that there is a "code of conduct" we follow as Christians. Jesus tells us to love other people. He shows us how to deny ourselves, follow God, give to the poor. All things that should make sense as we go through the course of our lives in the rest of the year.

Then we come to this week leading up to Easter and our nose gets wrinkled up a bit as we take in the account of Jesus' death and crucifixion. Scenes shift to Jesus sweating great drops of blood in the Garden. We see him led away by the religious leaders. He is beaten up and stood up before the people. He is made to carry a cross down the middle of the street, wearing a crown of thorns, bleeding profusely. He is laid upon that cross, nails driven through his hands and feet, raised in the air. Mocked. Spit at or upon. Cursed at. Spear thrust in his side. An earthquake shakes the place and a "Night of the Living Dead" moment takes place in the midst of a dark and stormy sky that causes the veil in the Holy of Holies to be torn right down the middle. 

After all the scripture we've read and heard this week one might say that none of this makes sense. And, I would tend to agree. The mind boggling events don't end here, however. Once things start quieting down and the stormy day passes, then comes the moment when Jesus' body is buried. A couple of men who were 'secretly' disciples of Jesus come and wrap his body up, cover it with spices and aloes, put it in a tomb that no one has ever found to this day, and two thousand years later we are still celebrating this guy named Jesus. This past week, I read the blog post of Dr David Watson, who is on staff at United Theological Seminary over in Dayton. I was impressed that a man of his education and stature would take an honest stance and admit that he doesn't understand the atonement. (For you C & E people, that's how Jesus covers and takes care of our sin. I'm trying to get you caught up here, since you're not with us very much.) He states that there are many issues and doctrines within Christianity that he could effectively and accurately explain. But, the atonement is not one of them. There are many different models of atonement that have been put forth. (How much of our sin is covered? How thoroughly does this answer our need as sinful human beings?) But, none of them seems to completely answer the "why" question. Why did Jesus have to go through this? Why did he have to die this way? Why is this moment so bloody and gory and utterly unexplainable?

Apparently, Dr Watson is not the only one who feels this way. He goes on to state that although many specific doctrines can be found and supported throughout the scriptures (The Trinity, Incarnation) there never has been an atonement model that fits and sticks. No such doctrine was ever accepted widely enough to be included in the discourse of scripture. However, that doesn't stop us from needing it. Just because the answers are not clear does not negate the need for an answer. Atonement, the covering of our sins, is not the only issue that seems to bewilder us on this holiday. This morning we remember some people who came to the tomb of Jesus the Christ, very early in the morning. What we see are people struggling to understand the events that transpired right before their eyes. They witnessed Jesus being taken away. They witnessed his being beaten and flogged. They witnessed him being hung on a crossed and mocked. They saw with their own eyes that he was placed in a tomb, the entranced sealed up. The end. Death is a certainty that does not escape any of us. And, with the rolling of a rock, the sealing of a casket, we feel death's cold snare. It's over. All that's left is to mourn. 

Is there some truth we learned in the rest of the year of covering the scriptures that can help us make sense of this moment. This moment is vastly different. We aren't being told to do something here so much as being encouraged to accept something. It's ok if you don't understand. Come any way. It's ok if you can't explain it. Come any way. It's ok if it lacks definition or color. Come any way. We aren't looking for carefully crafted sentences on this day or vast depiction. I could pull out Merriam-Webster and give you all kinds of description. Our Western culture with our Greek basis for understanding everything would love to go there and give us some grand empowerment by explaining all of this with a mountain of words. The moment is better handled by allowing a picture to be painted. It is in the picture that we see our true feelings. We see what he went through. And, just maybe...the answer unfolds before our eyes, not our dictionaries. 

First, Mary comes. Let us not do an injustice to this day by belittling the role of the women in Jesus' life and ministry. The females surrounding Jesus were a bedrock of support that kept the work of sharing the Kingdom of God going forward. How many houses did he stay at with the twelve? How many meals were prepared and nourishment given to a weary band of men seeking to share what God wanted to do in the midst of his people. These women made it happen. Now, the one who was closest to him comes to pay her respects. Things are not as they should be as she soon realizes upon reaching the tomb. The carefully prepared and closed up death bed has been opened. I can only imagine what she must feel. For any of us who have put a loved one into the ground, to then come along and find things tampered with, a body missing and garments just lying there. Who would do such a thing? Such moments of grief should not be dealt with alone. She doesn't wait for an explanation. The first thing she does is run and get someone who would care. Those who were also close to Jesus. 

John and Peter come running. A footrace ensues to the tomb of their friend. John arrives first, but is cautious to enter. Peter doesn't seem to hesitate at all. He rolls right into the tomb in loud and proud Peter fashion. What they see defies all they know or understand about death. Jesus is gone. The tomb is empty. And, there is no explanation as to what happened. He's just gone. John is the one, for himself, to state that "He saw and believed". But, with this catch - they still did not understand from the scriptures that Jesus was to rise from the dead. Hmm. Maybe you don't have to be able to explain or understand everything in order to believe. Maybe one doesn't have to write a book on the moment or be able to carefully define all the parameters of what happened on this day in order to accept what has transpired. Just see it. And, believe it. 

Why did Jesus have to through all of this? Because he said so.
Oh, I hated that answer as a kid. And, every time I give it to my own kids I still feel the sting of my younger self enduring the pointedness of the answer. Why can't I go over there, Dad? Because I said so. Why can't I have that to eat? Because I said so. Why can't I take the car this weekend? Because I said so. Grrrrrrrrrrrr!!!!!!!!! There always was a hurtful edge to that response. I wanted a grander expository about why I should do this or that, about the problems and pitfalls of taking this or that road. I never liked having to hear those words. Because I said so. 

For all the joy my boy shows for getting up early in the morning he loses points with lack of direction. He enjoys getting up early. Doesn't always enjoy being told what to do once he's up. (Sometimes, cranky pants should have stayed in bed longer.) Getting dressed is one of those things. He'd stay in his PJs all day is we let him. Yes, some of you are thinking, "What's wrong with that?" Like any good parent, we have to teach our children that they have to face to world and get on with the day. People have to go to work, make a living. Get up. Get dressed. Eat breakfast. Life isn't about watching cartoons all day. Enjoy it while you can. I did. Life can't be like that forever. Why? I have no idea other than the 4 words I would be told over and over again. Because I said so. 

Those words can bring a callous edge to our hearts when we are going through the pain and suffering of having lost someone near and dear to us, however. Have you ever lost someone you love? Mary could really use a hug in this moment. Peter and John ran to the tomb, saw what they needed to see, and seem to leave rather abruptly. They are dealing with their own heartache. Mary is also dealing with her own. She is left there, by herself. I hesitate to put myself in her shoes and feel the pain. No answers have been given. Just emptiness. An empty tomb and an empty soul. The only question that really matters is - where is he? The answer is closer than she thinks. 

How much pain and suffering have you endured in your life? How much sorrow? Do you long for answers? Do you long for explanation? Here's a point a point to ponder. Have you asked any questions? Instead of demanding and asserting that you need something, have you asked for anything? Mary is brought to a face to face encounter with the very person she is looking for. Maybe she can't see it because of the tears. Maybe she can't see it because he has hidden himself. She sees angels. Matthew's account says an angel came down and rolled the stone away and then sat on it. John's account says Mary sees two of them, sitting at the foot and at the head of where Jesus' body would have been. The discourse is similar. "Why are you afraid?" and "Why are you crying?"

Questions. Not statements. 
You might think that's wrong. We ask the questions. God gives the answers.
Maybe that's how it should be. But, in our grief, the roles get reversed. We get ourselves all worked up and into a demanding point of view. We forget how to ask. We start to dictate. So, God has to bring us back to a place where we remember our roles. He starts with the questions. We reply with what we know. Which isn't much. "Why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?" 

Are you looking for anybody? It's not enough to just want an answer. You need to have the person in front of you who has the answers you seek. I don't have any answers today. But, I know who to point you towards. He has the answers. You can stop in front of him. You can bring your tears.Your hurts. Your sorrow. You can say whatever you want in front of him. Let it all out. Larry Norman, the famous Christian songwriter of the 60's & 70's would tell of the times he would go sing in a bar and end of having conversations with people about Jesus. Leading somebody to Christ, he would encourage them to pray, right from the heart. People would let out whatever was on their mind. Maybe a few curse words would slip. Maybe the pain of several years of discouragement would surface. The truth is what will set us free. The truth is standing right in front of us. He calls us out by name. He knows us. He is the truth. The Way. The Life. 

He is the Answer. The answer we have been longing for.
These men and women knew it. They witnessed it. They saw it with their own eyes. 

1 John 1

New International Version (NIV)

The Incarnation of the Word of Life

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our[a] joy complete.

Why does any of this make sense? Because God said so. 
In order to find the answers we seek we need to be ok with God being in control.
Life might be crazy. Life might not make any sense some times.  
I'd rather face it knowing God was holding my hand. To hear the still small voice. 
The answer we seek is usually not the answer we find. Jesus is the answer. 
Follow to the empty tomb and find your answer. 

Your answer must be in the form of a question.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Follow To The Tomb

Sunrise Service

Afraid. Yet filled with joy.

Matthew 28:1-10

New International Version (NIV)

Jesus Has Risen

28 After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.
There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.
The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”
So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

 Enjoy the song and then we'll get to the message.

Early morning.
I'm not a fan of early mornings. I'm not a fan of getting out of bed, really, no matter what time it is.
Even though I am writing this long before the Easter sunrise, I know already how I'm going to be dragging my rear. My boy on the other hand... He can't wait for the clock to get to 7. That's when he knows he's allowed to get out of bed. Upon the news he would be getting up at 6, my boy runs through the house shouting and cheering. I have no idea whose child he is.

I wonder whether any of the women involved in the scripture were naturally early risers. It says it was dawn. The sun is barely in the sky. Maybe just the first small edge of the sun has started to break the horizon. If getting out of bed is hard in the first place, then imagine trying to get up with the weight of grief already on your back. Other accounts of the events that have transpired up to this moment have shown weeping and tears. They have buried their Friend. Their Messiah. The One they put their hopes and dreams on. Their Savior. Imagine having to drag yourself out of bed after that day and night.

That groggy walk to the grave this morning would surely be an eye opening experience, however. Even the hard to wake up would be wide eyed and attentive. An earthquake is said to shake the ground. It is said an angel of the Lord came down, rolled back the stone, and then sat upon it. Allow me to unseemly break topic here and say that I hate it when my wife comes in and bugs me when I'm trying to sleep. She has my son programmed to help her in her endeavor to jar me awake and get me out of bed. They will play music on her cell phone. They will sing and shout. They will try to pull the covers back. They will get the dog involved. Brutus finds his way up on to the bed and sticks his wet nose in my face or ear. It's all fun and games until the dog gets involved.

Have you been to a place like this? Have you ever been to a place where you just wanted to waller in your pity and loathing? It seems from the Gospels accounts that the women and people coming to the tomb are doing so out of homage. They are coming to pay their respects. They are not coming here expecting a miracle. Their Savior has died. And, with him has died the chance for miracles as well. The truth in moments like this goes along these lines. God does not need us to expect a miracle before he brings one our way. Are you bothered by the unseemly attempt to jar you out of your state of loathing and pity? Would like to just waller in it for a while? Some of us would. I recall an old country song by a woman named Terry Clark. She sings this song about the ups and down of a relationship going down an argumentative path. She really hits home about how we can feel when in the midst of the moment.

I'll never leave, I'll never stray
My love for you will never change
But I ain't ready to make up or get around to that
I think I'm right I think your wrong
I'll probably give in before long
Please don't make me smile
I just want to be mad for awhile

God knows how we feel. We just want to be left alone.
But, he comes anyway. He brings the thunder and the lightning when we aren't looking for it.
The scripture here says it was too much for the guards. They lay there motionless, like they are playing dead. We took the kids to see the movie "Home" earlier this week. The story is about a race of blob like creatures known as the Boov. Seems like they are constantly on the run from their nemesis, another race known as the Gorg. There's a scene where they call out their brightest minds in the Boov. One of their solutions to over come the Gorgs is to just lie down and lay still. Maybe the Gorg won't see them. The Boov who thinks up the idea just lies there, slightly moving it's eyes. They revisit that Boov several times in the course of the movie. And, there it is. Just lying there. Hoping nobody sees it. Couldn't we put ourselves in the shoes of the guards? God, in his awesomeness, has visited us. And...we just try to not move and... not make any sound. No sudden movements. Just making sure God doesn't notice me over here. Don't need that kind of attention. Just leave me alone.

Fear. It's crippling. It's debilitating.
We don't want to move. We don't want to get up. Depression is a real illness that can create harm, not just for the patient, but for family and friends who interact with the person as well. I know the feelings as the ailment runs in my family. I know what it's like to be afraid to go out into the world. To feel so crushed by the hurts and pains of life that you feel like you cannot go on. And, then, to feel the "BOOM". To be picked up off your feet and set upright. God, in his awesomeness, can do just such miracles. To pull us out of our tombs and back to new life again.

Do you know what it's like to be afraid?
These women do. They have witnessed the presence of an angel, the holy messenger of God, and lived to tell about it. They came to the tomb depressed, angry, mourning. Now, they are afraid. But the presence of this messenger gives them something that they can stand up with in the midst of their fear.


How can you be afraid and joyful at the same time? The two adjectives don't look like they go together at all. They are headed in opposite directions. The angel tells them that they have nothing to fear. The Savior, this Jesus, has risen from the dead. All is right with the world. The pain and suffering they endured, that he endured, was all just a shadow. The real truth is here in the empty tomb. "Come and see the place where he lay."

There's nothing there now. These very women were the ones who brought spices and helped with the wrapping of the body. They saw it put here to rest. They know, personally, the pain of seeing the stone rolled into place. The feeling of certainty that death had won was all too real. The sting. The hurt. The cold stark reality was turned on it's head in an earth-quaking moment. Who can explain it? When we can't explain a thing,well, that can cause us to be afraid. It is right on point to be fearful of what we don't understand. With the fear came joy, though. Joy, because their Savior was not there. They were told he was alive. If that's true, then we can see why there is joy. Anytime we are told that something is the opposite of what we thought - a critical diagnosis from the doctor, a surely expected grade from a tough class at school, a job prospect we think for sure we will not get - then we see the reversal of fortune. Sadness goes to joy. Dark clouds drift away. All we needed was one moment to experience the thunder and lightning. To feel the earth move under our feet. To feel the sky tumbling down. To hear our name called one time.

That's joy that will cause us to run.
I will cause us to snap out of our downcast demeanor and find someone. We need others. We need to tell them what has happened to us. What we experienced. What we saw. How God pulled us up and out of our depression. To share how good it feels to be blessed. To help someone else through their trouble and hard times. You can't do that unless you know what it's like to be afraid and joyful at the same time. Don't know how that feels? Put yourself in a place where God can use you and you'll understand. Stop down at the gas station some day and just let God use your voice and your words. Go into a nursing home and let God make you a blessing to someone else. You might be afraid. You won't know what to expect or what will happen. But, the joy that comes from being available to God is what overcomes the fear. Fear and joy in the same breath.


Thursday, April 2, 2015

Follow, Even When You Don't Want To

Maundy Thursday 2015

Tonight, we have run through the 13th chapter of the Gospel of John.
It has covered the evening with Jesus and his disciples.They have broken bread together, had a meal, washed some feet and had some discourse. The disciples have watched as Jesus call out his betrayer. Jesus gives and shares with Judas just like he would have done with any of them. There is a time for looking ahead at what will come down the path next. One of them wants to follow, but he is told that he will deny Jesus before the night is through. 

This chapter, at it's core, is mostly chocked full of things we don't want to hear. 
If we stop and put ourselves in the shoes of the people actually hearing Jesus' words we find ourselves in a place where we are asked to love others, wash their feet, share with those who betray us, and deal with the heartache of those who can't support us. 

It's a bunch of stuff we don't want to hear. 

Who actually wants to get down on their knees and be the lowliest servant in the house?
That's what Jesus is portraying to his disciples in this moment. The lowliest servant in the house is the one who gets the 'honor' of going out with a basin and towel. This servant gets down on his/her knees and goes, one by one, around the table until all have had their feet refreshed and cleansed from the dirt and dust of a long hard day. It occurs to me as I put this message together that Jesus maybe has been hanging on to this idea for a long time. Ever since he was disrespected at Simon the Pharisee's house. When no one came and washed Jesus' feet as he sat there and he endured their ridicule instead; it was the tears and hair of a lowly woman who needed forgiveness that came and washed his feet. She didn't even live there. She just barged in and did what she felt she had to do. Now, Jesus is doing what he feels he has to do in order to help his disciples see just who precious they are in the sight of God. He is heading to his death. And, in this fleeting moment, he takes time to teach them that their sins are forgiven before they have even committed them. Before they even realize they needed the forgiveness. Who wants to hear that there is sin in their life? Who wants to hear that they will fail before the moment has even arrived? Who wants to be put in the uncomfortable place of having to be the lowliest servant, meeting the needs of those who probably don't understand or even care that they need it?

How many of us have dealt with betrayal? Is there someone in your life who didn't keep a confidence or a word you shared with them? You told them not to tell anyone else. You told them because you thought they were your friend. You asked them to be your friend because you thought they would always be there beside you through thick and thin. Then the trust was betrayed. An indecent proposal exchanged. A moment of hurt and anguish that you never thought you would happen into. Jesus knows. He picked these twelve men knowing their hearts. He knows the limitless possibilities the human heart can choose to go. Maybe he thinks or hopes Judas won't do it. The problem seems to be that if Judas didn't do then someone else would. The story or script for Jesus' life seems to be written this way. Someone would have to rat him out to the religious authorities. Knowing full well who he dealing with Jesus still offers his grace and fellowship. He breaks bread with him. He drops his sop into the cup just like Judas. This signifies to all who his betrayer is. But, it also gives Judas one last chance. Don't we all want just one last chance? One last time to make things right. One last moment to turn things around before the train rails over the cliff and into oblivion. The thing is - we have to put our hearts on the line, one last time, in order to give that person a chance. The pain we have to go through in giving that chance makes us wonder if it's worth it. And, then we realize, we need the same forgiveness in our own lives. We need the same chances that everybody else needs. So, we choose not focus it all on ourselves. We focus it outward. We trust that God will take the person, that situation, that hurt, into His hands. It's not about us. It's about God. He is the healer of all hurts.

The last thing we don't want to hear and we don't want to do is give people the freedom to go the way they are going. That's what I see Jesus doing with Peter. Jesus could have protected Peter. He could have kept him from the moment. But, he doesn't. Peter objects to the idea that he will deny Jesus. Like a parent talking to a teenager, Jesus has to be shaking his head. If you only knew... Yes, if Peter only knew what lie ahead. So many of us have no idea what's coming down the road. And, in our arrogance we think we know it all already, have all the answers already, can make our own plans and decide our own fates. How many of us had a parent who stood there with arms crossed, shaking their head, looking at us with that eyebrow of scorn? I'm taken to that moment in the movie Lean On Me with Morgan Freeman. He has the freshman named "Sams" on the roof, telling him to jump.
"The trouble with teenagers is you don't know nothing. The problem with teenagers is you think you know more than people who have already been down the road you're going down."
 I can see Peter and Sams both standing their pleading. Sams wants back in to high school. Peter just wants to go with Jesus, stating that he would follow Jesus to his death. Jesus knows better. He knows that Peter's resolve will fail him. He knows that there will be a moment when he doesn't make it. The questions will come and so will the denial. Of all the kids that could have come back and pleaded for their chance to get back into school, the only we hear about is Sams. Principal Clark threw many kids out. Does that mean they couldn't come back and ask for a second chance? Clark gave Sams a second chance. The truth I see Jesus trying to convey to his followers, especially Peter, is that he knows their potential to fail. He also knows that once they have realized they are at their lowest point, they can wake up, get up, and stumble back to find hat they need. Kicking those kids out of the school, a thing that Joe Clark actually did in real life, was a chance for many of them to wake up and realize that they had messed up. God allows us to fall flat on our faces. He knows what we are about to do and allows us to do it. Can we give people the same freedom? To screw up? To make mistakes? To, most likely, get it wrong, and then rise up, come to their senses and have the epiphany they so desperately need? That takes a bit of surrender, on our part. Jesus has the wherewithal to allow Peter to fail. Later, Peter would look down at his feet. He would remember the night in the upper room. He would have his epiphany. And, things would be be made right again.

Have you heard anything tonight that you don't want to hear?
Have you heard anything that you might need to approach God and find forgiveness on?
Have you felt the tug at your heart that God wants to talk with you for a moment?

He might tell you something you don't want to hear. He might tell you something that will make it all better. And, you might find that second chances are exactly what tonight is all about.