Monday, April 17, 2017

Do Not Hold to Me!

Easter Sunday!
                                                                    John 20:1-18
First Movement:                               
            Most of us do not like change, if it is change from something we like.  I dread the day that I have to adapt to the passing of my parents.  I know many of you have already experienced that change; it probably was not welcomed.  One of the hardest things for me as a pastor is the realization that I have to move from time to time.  Moving usually means learning a new set of 100 – 200 people and their stories; it means getting new doctors; it means finding new places whom you can trust to work on your cars or get them inspected.  It means learning where everything is, at the new place.  It is a very high stress year for a parsonage family as they say goodbye to the old and are introduced to the new. 

            I have several years to go before retirement, but one of the most appealing things to me about retirement is buying a home and being able to stay there as long as I am able.  Even growing up, the longest I have lived in any one house has been ten years.  I envy, in some ways, people who have lived in one place for a long time, because change is hard, but sometimes it is needed.  Sometimes, change can be good.

Second Movement:
            Our resurrection story this morning is from John’s gospel.  It is significantly different than some of the other gospel accounts.  Here Mary Magdalene comes to the tomb and sees that the stone has been rolled away.  First difference is that John only records Mary Magdalene.  Some of the other gospels record two women or two Marys.  There is really no satisfactory account for why John only records the one, other than she was the one significant to  the point he wanted to make. 

            Mary runs to tell Peter and the disciple Jesus loved, which we believe to be John himself.  John never refers to himself as John but only by the distinction of the disciple Jesus loved.  They come running to see.  Peter enters first, but there is no mention of him seeing and believing.  The disciple whom Jesus loves enters, sees, and believes.  John, the one who stood by Jesus’ mother at the crucifiction, is the first one to see and believe after the resurrection, according to John’s gospel. 

            Then, we come to what I really want to talk about this morning.  Mary stands weeping outside the tomb.  She looks in and sees two angels in white sitting where the body of Jesus had been.  They say to her “Woman why are you weeping?”  She says, “They have taken my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”  Mary’s address as Jesus as Lord may be John’s first hint to Jesus being the risen one!  Mary then turns and sees Jesus.  She sees him, but does not “see” him.  She sees him with her eyes, but she does not see him with her faith until he speaks to her.  Then, she really sees him and calls him “teacher.”  This could be closer translated as , “My great one!”   She apparently grabs him when she sees him because Jesus does not say, “Don’t touch me.”  He instead says, “Do not hold to me.”  Or this could also be translated, “Let go of me because I have not yet ascended to my father and your father!” 

Third Movement:  
            This brings us to the point I want to make today.  When Mary recognized who Jesus was, she clung to him because she wanted to hold onto what had been.  She wanted things to return to the way they had been.  She wasn’t ready for a change; she was so excited that things did not have to change as she thought they had.  She thought now Jesus could set up his earthly Kingdom, but John wants us to know there are bigger and better things to come.  This was a change that needed to happen!

            The next  big event for John’s gospel are not all the appearances of Jesus after his crucifiction, but it is the ascension to Heaven to take His place beside the Father as our intercessor and King, to his Father and our Father!  The ascension stories confirm his Messiahship, but it is after the ascension that Jesus sets up his Kingdom.  It is after the ascension that he reigns in a Kingdom where his followers and the Kingdom people are those who receive what he has done on their behalf on the cross!  It is in this Kingdom that his followers strive to let his “Kingdom come on Earth as it is in Heaven,” as we pray in the Lord’s prayer.  It is in this Kingdom that Jesus’ followers strive to love others and make things right!  It is in this Kingdom that things are finally made right, beginning now and consummated in eternity!

Forth Movement:
            Jesus has lived before us and showed us how to live!  Jesus was crucified and died for our sins on Good Friday!  He arose on that first Easter morning!  He made many appearances after his resurrection, but we can only see him through the eyes of faith!  He has ascended to our Father God where he reigns forever!  Do you see him through the eyes of faith?  Do you want to be a part of his Kingdom this morning?  Come speak to him this morning and believe as we have our closing song.  (If you make a first time commitment, please let me know so I can help you with your new walk in Christ!)

Closing Hymn

He Has Been Raised!

Easter Sunrise Service!

                                                                   Matt. 28:1-10
First Movement:                               
            JAMS came to our house Wednesday night a week ago and hid twelve Easter Eggs in our yard with candy in them, except one that was empty.  They left a basket hanging with a note that
said, “You have been egged,” and it explained that 12 eggs had been hidden in our yard, and not to be alarmed when we found one that was empty because it reminds us of the empty tomb.  Wow!  A very neat idea!

            Well, I think we were among the younger of the people they hid these for, so they enjoyed hiding them better for us.  We at first found six, then we found 4 more, and we are still looking for the last two.  Maybe they are down in the bushes more?  Maybe someone came by and saw a couple eggs laying in the yard and helped us out, since it was noon Thursday before we found them, but we found the empty one.  That is the important part of this story.
            This is really a pretty good illustration.  You see, when a chick breaks out of an egg, it cracks the shell and is released, but on these eggs, the shell wasn’t cracked.  When we opened them, they were just empty!  That is the way it was with our story today!  Let’s look at it.

Second Movement:
            Matthew records that on the first day of the week, which would be our Sunday, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary come to the tomb.  There is an earthquake, and an angel of the Lord appears and rolls back the stone and sits upon it.  The guards shake and collapse, but notice what does not happen, Jesus does not walk out of the tomb!  The angel tells them to look at the place where he was laid, but he is not here, “He has been raised like he said!”  He Has been raised!!!  Just like our little egg was not broken like something had broken out from the inside, the tomb was still sealed until the angel opened it.  Jesus is already gone!

            Matthew wants us to know that Jesus did not do this himself.  He did not break out from the inside!  As of Good Friday and the crucifiction, the human Jesus is very dead!  He is as dead as anyone can be!  He cried out, “My God! My God!  Why have you forsaken me!” and he died!  Jesus was dead, but God intervened!  God raised him!  He has been raised!  The words used here show us He was raised from an outside force, that being God!  Matthew wants to make that point loud and clear!  He is not here!  He has been raised!

Third Movement:  
            First, what does this mean to us?  From this perspective, the Easter event is God’s comment on Good Friday.  Jesus cries out, “My God! My God!  Why have you forsaken me!”  The Easter event is God’s answer!  God did not forsake Jesus!  God raised Him up!  Sometimes in life, we may feel forsaken by God, but the Easter event reminds us that God will never forsake us!  In the end, we will be claimed by God, just like Jesus!  God is always there for us!

            Second, in the Easter event, Jesus’ obedience all the way to cross that we talked about last Sunday is honored by God!  Matthew wants us to know that obedience to God pays off!  Remember I told you a while back that Matthew is concerned that we live our faith!

            Lastly, Jesus claimed to be the Messiah!  The disciples thought he was the Messiah, the one who would right the wrongs, set up a Kingdom where things would be made right!  Matthew his spent much of his gospel trying to convince his readers that Jesus was indeed the Messiah, but Good Friday was a tragic no to His Messiah claims!  What about his Kingdom?  The disciples fled in despair!  The resurrection!  The Easter event confirms that he was indeed the Messiah!  His Kingdom is not of this world, but is wherever we let him reign!  It begins in our hearts now, and it will extend throughout eternity!  We are Easter people! 

Forth Movement:
            He is not here!  He has been raised!  Because God raised Jesus, God can raise us too!  God can raise us who are dead in our sins!  We can be put back in relationship with God!  We can live for God today!  We can be a part of what God is doing in the world, and all good things come from God!  We can be a part of the good things God is doing, and we can be a part of letting people know that God loves them and wants to be a part of their lives.  Because of the resurrection, we have the hope that King Jesus will one day right all the wrongs and we will reign with him after this life throughout eternity in a place where all things are good!  He is the Messiah that will right all the wrongs!  Don’t you want to be a part of this?

            As we have our closing hymn this morning, I want to offer for you to make a commitment to this risen Christ.  Come to him who reigns now and forever!  Be a part of what He is doing in the world!  Because Jesus was obedient even to the cross and because God raised
Him up,  you can be given a new start and a new life today.  Just ask God to come into your heart; ask God to forgive your sins and give you a new start.  Tell God you want to honor God as God and want to be a part of what God is doing in the world.  If you do this, let me know so I can help you with your new walk in Christ!  Amen!  Praise God!  He Has Been Raised!

Closing Hymn

Friday, April 14, 2017

Made Worthy!

Holy Thursday!
A.   Read I Cor. 11: 27-29
B.   As for as Christians are concerned,
I believe these are perhaps some of
the most common yet most misunderstood words in the New Testament.  People think - Am I Worthy??
C.   Christ's sacrifice makes us
"Worthy!"  Then what's it talking

Before I tell you let's go back to
that 1st Lord's Supper!


               Matt. 26: 26-30

I.   On this night, Jesus met with his disciples in the upper room for the Passover meal.  While they ate, he took the bread and said, v. 26b  "Take eat; this is my body."

Vines Dictionary Def.   Body:  Soma - is
the body as a whole, the instrument of

A.   The bread represents his physical
1.   Mark 10:13-16 Teacher of
2.   John 4        Jesus cares for
an outcast Samaritan woman!
3.   John 8        He forgives a
woman taken in adultery.
4.   Luke 7:11-15  Jesus is moved
with compassion, and he brings a
widows son back to life!
5.   His life was one of self-
sacrifice, even to his death.
6.   I think of his prayer as he
approached death for his    
disciples and for us!  John 17
(Read 17:1-9)
B.   Jesus was saying remember how I was
when I was in my (Instrument of Life)
          my body!
C.   Jesus' life was an example; he showed
us how to live!

II.  Then he took the cup: vs.  27&28  This is my Blood - a Sacrifice of Life.

A.   The shedding of blood is the sacrifice of his life!
B.   This completed the plan of God to
provide a way for us to be brought
back to God!
C.   Remember the Sacrifice, the
suffering, and his death for us
because he had no sin of his own!

III. Luke adds - "This do in remembrance of me" (Luke 22:19).

A.   Here Jesus institutes the Lord's
Supper as a sacrament.
B.   As we do it, we are to do it in
remembrance of him!  WE are to
remember his:
body – life
Blood – Sacrifice

C.   As we take on this Holy Thursday when Christ first instituted the Lord’s supper, we are to take his life into our lives anew!

Conclusion:   Read I Cor.  11: 27-29 again.

A.   unworthily - "in an unworthy manner"
B.   Vines Dictionary:
The Greek meant - "treating it as
a common meal, the bread and cup as
common things, not apprehending
their solemn symbolic import."
C.   So it means the manner in which we
take it!  Let's take it in
remembrance; let's let it change our


Service of Communion!

Monday, April 10, 2017

The Garden of Eden Undone!

6th Sunday in Lent!
Palm/Passion Sunday
                                                                  Matt. 26:36-50
First Movement:                               
            I want to take us back to a story from the Bible this morning.  There are two creation stories in the beginning of Genesis.  Whether you believe them to be actual historical accounts of how the world began and you merge the two stories together or if you believe them to be parables about how the world began, there are important things that we can learn about the human condition and our relationship to God from these stories.  One of the stories has a story of the fall, and it goes something like this.

            God formed a man from the dust of the earth and breathed in him the breath of life.  God put the man in the Garden of Eden and told him, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.”[1] (Gen. 2:16-17)  Then God saw that the man was lonely and made a woman from his rib. 

            A serpent appears to the woman and the conversation goes like this, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” 2 The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; 3 but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.’ ” 4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; 5 for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God,a knowing good and evil.” 6 [2] (Gen. 3:1-5)

            The woman ate of the fruit and the man who was with her ate as well.  Thus we have the first sin, the sin of disobedience to God.  Perhaps, there was nothing really that significant about the tree, just that it was the only thing God had told them not to do, and they did it!  Thus the human condition.  God tells us not to do something, and that seems to be the very thing that we do.  We’ve all been there and done that!

Second Movement:
            Today is Palm Sunday.  Jesus comes riding into Jerusalem for the last time and they give him the royal treatment, but things quickly turned around.  We look at what happened to Jesus that week during the services of Holy week.  Thursday we will see when Jesus ate with the disciples in the Upper Room and instituted the Lord’s Supper.  Good Friday we will look at the passion.  Today, you are getting a glimpse into what happened to Jesus. 

            Our Scripture today is from Matthew’s gospel.  Because it is arranged chronologically, Matthew gives us one of the best historical accounts of what happened to Jesus.  As Christians who live on this side of the Council of Nicea when they ironed out Christian theology of who Jesus is and gave us the Nicene Creed found on page 880 in our hymnal, we believe that Jesus was fully human and fully God.  If we are not careful, our belief that Jesus was fully human gets swallowed up in our belief that Jesus was fully God. 

            We think, if Jesus was fully God, he knew what was going to happen.  After all, he predicted who would betray him.  He said this night the son of man will be betrayed to sinners.  He had predicted that this temple would be torn down and rebuilt in three days.  The very meal with his disciples where he institutes the Lord’s Supper seems to predict what will happen.  It all seems like Jesus really did not have a choice in the matter.  It all seems to be pretty well written in stone; it all seems very predestinarian.  If he is God, it seems he would be pretty removed from the pain, and this is just an act that is being acted out.

            But here in the gospel of Matthew, we have a clear picture of the humanity of Jesus.  Our scripture today is a significant contribution to our beliefs about who Jesus is.  The Gethsemane event reminds us that Jesus was free to rebel against God’s will!  He does not go to the cross as God’s robot. (Interpretation Commentary)  If he submits to the cross and torture, it is because he learned through prayer to submit his will to God’s will. 

            Jesus isn’t portrayed as a hero of the faith who doesn’t even flinch at the torture, but he is portrayed as very human in his struggles with what is before him.  In verse 38, he says to his disciples, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me.”[3] He is deeply grieved, and then he goes and falls on his face before God (a very human action) and prays, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.” [4]  If there is any way to carry out your plan for humanity besides me going through this, let it happen, but the answer was there is no other way! 

            Another very human moment is when he experiences the bitter disappointment of finding his closest disciples sleeping.  He says couldn’t you stay awake for just one hour?  He was going through this and they were sleeping!  He goes back and prays some more!  Perhaps Jesus experienced the most pain not from what the Pharisees and leaders of the courts did to him but from what his disciples did to him.  It was from them he experienced the greatest betrayal!

            Perhaps it is in the Garden of Gethsemane that the greatest price is paid for our sins.  It is there that Jesus encounters his own humanity.  It is there he is faced with the very real temptation to call it off and say, “no, I will not do it,”   but it is there he instead yields to God’s will.  He decides in the Garden of Gethsemane to be obedient even to death on the cross.  He gets there what he needs in prayer to go forth, and from there on, there seems to be no hesitation. 

            Jesus faces head on in the Garden of Gethsemane the same temptation that the first Adam faced in the Garden of Eden, that of the temptation to disobey God, but in this case, Jesus overcame the temptation.  He decides to yield to God’s will and go all the way to the cross.

Third Movement:  
            We see in the Garden of Gethsemane a model for how to overcome temptation.  He prayed, and he prayed!  He fell on his face before God!  He prayed like he taught us to pray in the Lord’s prayer.  Not my will but thine be done!  My Father, the word used here would be closest translated by our word “Daddy.”  This is a very fervent, intiment,  and heart felt struggle in prayer with God.  It is only when we become this serious about our prayer life and our decisions that we will really find our answer. 

Forth Movement:
            So in the Garden of Gethsemane, we see the Garden of Eden undone.  Jesus overcame the temptation to disobey God.  Jesus gives us a model for how we can overcome temptation, and because Jesus was fully human and the pain, struggle,  and death were very real, he is the only one who is able to undo the death sentence that was pronounced in the Garden of Eden.  Because of what Jesus did, the death sentence pronounced at Eden has been undone.  Because of what Jesus did, we can be put back in relationship with God.  Because of what Jesus did, we don’t have to finally die any more, but we can live eternally with God, and that life eternal can begin today!  You can begin the abundant life today!  You can begin a life of purpose today!  You can begin a life where you do not have to fear because whatever happens, God is there and will always be watching over you!  Because of what Jesus did, when this life is over, you will step into your new life with Christ!  Thanks be to God and His son Jesus Christ!  Amen!

            Have you received what Jesus did for you?  Have you received the undoing of Eden for you?  You can come this morning and just say, “God forgive my sins through what Jesus did.  I trust that Jesus has undone the death sentence pronounced at Eden for me, and I want to live for you the rest of my life. Amen!”

[1]The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version. 1996, c1989 . Thomas Nelson: Nashville
a Or gods
[2]The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version. 1996, c1989 . Thomas Nelson: Nashville
[3]The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version. 1996, c1989 . Thomas Nelson: Nashville
[4]The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version. 1996, c1989 . Thomas Nelson: Nashville

Monday, April 3, 2017

Where Life and Death Intersect!

5th Sunday in Lent!
                                                                    John 11:1-44
First Movement:                               
I woke one morning to a contact that a pastor dreads to receive.  I believe we were in the middle of breakfast prep and maybe about to have my first cup of coffee and ding dong the bell rings.  I go to the door and a Sheriff is standing at the door.  He asks, are you pastor Mike?  I say, yes.  He says, we were called to an accident this morning where a man riding a motorcycle last night hit some gravel, straightened out a curve, and hit a tree and was killed. A passer byer saw him lying in the field and called us.  His name is Tom Smith (the name has been changed to protect the innocent), and we found this card in his wallet.  He showed me one of my business cards that I pass out.  He asked, “Do you know him?”  I said, “Yes, he and his family go to my church.”  He then said, “Do you know where they live, and can you go with me to take the news of his death to his family?”  I said yes and quickly grabbed some things to lead him out to the house.

Let me tell you some things about Tom.  Tom was a single parent.  His ex-wife had been in and out of prison, on and off of drugs, and for the most part had nothing to do with him or their 15 year old daughter.  Tom worked and provided for his daughter, and the best I could tell was a loving parent.  He liked to ride his motorcycle.  He wasn’t real regular at church, but he came occasionally.  He worked a lot on Sundays but came when he could.  I think I had given the card to him one time he was there or perhaps at a time I had visited him when he was sick or in the hospital.  He actually lived in a neighboring town with his daughter, and his daughter was also involved with some of the activities at a United Methodist church there.  Tom spent a lot of his time at his mother’s house which was in my parish.  His mother had been a Sunday School teacher in my church for years before I came.  Now, she was one of my shut-ins, and Tom’s sister had moved back to live with her and take care of her.  Tom’s sister was my song leader at church.  Tom usually left his daughter with his mother when he was at work, so that is where I took the Sheriff.

When we arrived at the house, the Sheriff quickly dropped the news in a formal sort of way and left them with me.  They were in shock to say the least.  The sister was shouting, NO, NO!  in broken English that seemed like her voice would cut in and out, for it seemed like forever.  Even as a pastor, I searched for words that I could say to give any immediate help, but found that the best thing I could do was be there with them until the shock wore off and they were  able to hear a prayer and words of hope.  I found out that Tom’s daughter was on a mission trip with the UMC in the neighboring town, so having that pastor in my cell phone, I called him so that they could get word to the daughter.  This was a great concern for the mother and sister, and I was able to arrange for his daughter to be contacted.   A couple of the adults on the mission trip got together, broke the news to her, and arranged to bring her home early.

This is one of those times when we wake up and all of a sudden we are faced with death, for me and this family!  It is a reality of life: life and death do intersect!
Second Movement:
            Our scripture today is again from John’s gospel.  It has no parallel in the synoptic gospels; it is only in John’s gospel that we have this story of the raising of Lazarus.  Like the story of the Blind man, from last week, had a double meaning about Spiritual blindness, this story has a double meaning about life and death.  Like the water that Jesus offered the Samaritan woman at the well was more than physical water, the life that Jesus offers here is more than physical life. 

            As I read this story this week with fresh eyes, four phrases caught my attention, so I want to tell this story around these four phrases today:
A.                “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” (v. 16)
B.                 “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.  Do you believe this?” (vs. 25-26)
C.                 “Jesus began to weep.” (v. 35)
D.                “Unbind him, and let him go.” (v. 44)

Third Movement:  
A.                “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” 
Jesus and the disciples get the word that Lazarus is sick.  Jesus intentionally waits a few more days before going to help him.  When he does go, he says he is asleep but actually means he has died.  Again here, Jesus says something similar to what he said about the man being born blind so that God could be glorified.  Here he says this illness does not lead to death but that God may be glorified through it. 

After a few days, Jesus and the disciples leave to go to the home of Lazarus.  There is a lot of reluctance by the disciples.  This region seems to spell trouble for them.  The disciples remind Jesus that they have tried to stone him here. (vs. 8)  John records two of these instances in chap. 8 vs. 59 and in chap. 10 vs. 31.  Jesus is still determined to go.  Thomas says, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

I find this greatly ironic!  This is one of several places where the disciples pledge their allegiance to Jesus even to death, and here it is Thomas: the one who would later be branded, doubting Thomas!  It is easy to pledge allegiance when we are in a group of other followers, but what about when the chips are down.  When the chips were down, Thomas and the other followers fled.  It is easy to speak bravely about Jesus when we aren’t afraid anyone who will throw insults or stones our way, but what about when we aren’t surrounded by other Christians?  It is easy for us to testify, sing praises to God, and speak for Jesus when we are here at church, but what about when we are on our own through the rest of the week?  Do we speak for Jesus then?

B.                 “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they
die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.  Do you believe this?” (vs. 25-26)

Jesus arrives at the home of Lazarus (who is now dead) and his sister’s Martha and Mary.  Martha comes out to him first and says, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”  They had faith that Jesus could heal the sick, but death seemed beyond the realm that even Jesus could do anything about. 

After a short conversation Jesus replies with, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.  Do you believe this?” (vs. 25-26)   The word for life that is used here is not the old life which is promised to Lazarus but a new life.  The word is aionios – the life of the final eon.  (Interpretation Commentary) 

This is some deep stuff here, and I am sure those who were with Jesus at the time did not fully understand; they just knew that Jesus brought Lazarus back to physical life, and they just knew that when Jesus set up his earthly kingdom, they wanted to be on his side!  They didn’t hear the hidden meaning, but John wants us to know though after Jesus’ death and resurrection that Jesus has the power over eternal life!  If we believe in Jesus, this life is not all there is!  There is hope beyond the grave!  We will live on with God forever, for we will never die because Jesus has power even over death!  Praise God!  

Herein is the hope for people like Tom’s family!  Even though they would have to figure out who would take care of the daughter for a few more years, and even though they would miss him, there is hope that Tom lives on with God in this new life!  Praise God!

C.                 “Jesus began to weep.” (v. 35)

Don’t you find it ironic that Jesus weeps here?  He has already said this illness is not unto death!  He knows that he is going to raise him up, so why does he weep?  Because Jesus had feelings, and as he looked around and saw his loved ones weeping and those in the crowd who were loved ones of Lazarus weeping, he hurt with them!

As resurrection people, we now believe in the trinity!  We believe that Jesus was God!  We believe that the earthly life of Jesus gives us our greatest revelation of God, so what do we glean from this?  God is a feeling God!  God hurts with us when we hurt!  God rejoices with us when we rejoice!  Because God has lived among us in the person of Jesus Christ, God can give us what we need as we walk this journey of life!  Indeed, we do have a “great high priest who has passed through the heavens.” (Heb. 4:14)  “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin.” (Heb. 4:15)  So we can approach the throne of grace to find grace and help in time of need!  God is there!  God can give us what we need!  Praise God!

D.                “Unbind him, and let him go.” (v. 44)

I love this!  Jesus worked the miracle of raising Lazarus from the dead, but it was up to those onlookers to unbind him, and let him go!

 Jesus is still in the business of raising people from the dead.  Here goes more of that hidden meaning!  We are all dead in trespasses and sins!  We are separated from God!  Through Jesus, we can be given new life!  That life is not just for eternity, but it can start now!  We can be given forgiveness!  We can begin a life of purpose!  Life can have meaning!  That life is through Christ!   But get this, it is the Church who unbinds them, and lets them go!  It is us who gives them a place to serve in the Kingdom of God!  It is us who gives them a chance at this new life!  Praise God for a chance to be a part of what God is doing in the world! 

Forth Movement:
            So there is a lot that we can glean from this passage.  For today, we’ve had to consider whether we stand for Jesus when we aren’t surrounded by Christians or if we like the disciples have good intentions but flea when the heat is on.  As you encounter Christ at the table today, maybe you need to come and pray for strength today?

We’ve looked at the promise of new life in Christ and the hope that brings to us as Christians: eternal life as well as new life today.  Have you received that new life in Christ?  As you encounter Christ at the table, maybe you want to receive Christ today.  Let me know if you do that so I can help you with your new journey in Christ!

We have looked at why Jesus wept!  We have learned to understand God as a feeling God who can help us on our journey.  As you encounter Christ at the table, maybe you need to approach the throne of grace today to find help to help you on your journey?  You can do that as you come.

Lastly, I challenge you church, be a church that is an unbinding church!  Be willing to let new people find their place in God’s kingdom!  Amen!

                                                            Service of Communion

Monday, March 27, 2017

A Man Who Wouldn't be Silenced!

4th Sunday in Lent!

                                                                     John 9:1-41
First Movement:                               
             My dad was converted and baptized after he and my mom met and were going together.  He had been raised in church, but he hadn’t made a profession of faith yet.  Dad doesn’t have a lot of education, but he has learned a lot in life.  He has done well with what he has learned from life.  He is a man with a lot of what we would call common sense. 

He took apart and rebuilt engines for several of our cars in our back yard.  One time, he was working on the tailgate of the truck and struck his finger and brought blood; he turned to me and said, Mike, get me a band aid.  That made such an impression on our neighbors who were looking on that they talked about it later to us, how could he hit his finger like that and just look up and ask for a band aid?  If  he could take it apart, he could fix it.

I can remember one time he took the rear end gear box apart on my 3-speed bike.  He found some parts that had broken and went to a local bike shop to get the parts.  The guy asked him who he he had fixing it.  Dad said, me.  The guy arrogantly said, “When you can’t get it back together, bring it here, and I’ll fix it.  Dad fixed it!  He didn’t have to take it back to him.

Dad doesn’t get up in front of people.  Because of his lack of education, he doesn’t have the confidence to do that, but he lives his faith.  Dad doesn’t go along with the crowd, and when he meets someone who is struggling with life, dad will be one of the first ones to talk to them about it.  Maybe they drink too much!  Maybe they have other problems!  Dad doesn’t come to them as one who has all the answers.  He doesn’t give them a lot of answers, but he tells them in some way that a faith in Christ will make a difference in their lives, and he invites them to church.  I have seen many of those ruffians and some not so ruff show up at church because of those short encounters with my dad. 

Lately, Dad has become more confined to the house and a walker.  He recently got a power wheelchair.  He wanted me to build a ramp for him so he could get outside and visit his neighbor.  This neighbor doesn’t go to church; if I know my dad, he will be building a relationship with this neighbor and inviting him to church.  Dad has never been afraid to express his faith and to invite someone to church.  He has been a great influence on me.
Second Movement:
             Our scripture today is once again from John, and it is the story of Jesus restoring sight to a blind man.  The synoptic gospels have blind man stories, but they are pretty different than this.  John’s gospel has a hidden meaning for us which is revealed in verse 39.  Jesus came that we all might see spiritually!  John’s gospel is probably meant to say something to us about the spiritual blindness of us all; we are all born blind and Jesus can give us new sight spiritually.  Also in John’s gospel they asked who sinned that this man was born blind; Jesus answers that nobody sinned to cause this.  It was a common misconception of the time that if someone had a disease someone had to have sinned to cause it to be cast upon them.  It still is today, but Jesus’ answer was that nobody had sinned to cause it.  We find in other passages in the scriptures that blessings and trials come upon us all.  All of these are good points from the story.

            There is a second part of this story that I want to concentrate on today.  Before we go there, let me give you a little background.  The writer of the Gospel of John is believed by most to be John the Apostle, the one Jesus loved;  it is usually dated between AD 90 and 110.  John is also believed to be the author of the Revelation of John.  John’s Revelation is dated about AD 96 by most, but some give it an earlier dating of around AD 68 or 69, depending on who the emperor was, that the beast with seven heads represented.  Either way, they were both written during a time when Christians were being persecuted in some way for their faith.

9 When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slaughtered for the word of God and for the testimony they had given; 10 they cried out with a loud voice, “Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long will it be before you judge and avenge our blood on the inhabitants of the earth?” 11 They were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number would be complete both of their fellow servantsh and of their brothers and sisters,iwho were soon to be killed as they themselves had been killed.[1]   (Rev. 6:9-11)

They asked how long, and the Lord told them to wait a little longer.  Some were being killed for their faith.  Others were being boycotted against for being Christian.  Their businesses were suffering.  If they claimed to be Christian, non-Christians would not give them their business!  It wasn’t a popular time to be a Christian.

Third Movement:  
Now, let’s go back to our story of the man who was given sight.  He is questioned about who did this.  The blind man says, “This man called Jesus put mud on my eyes and told me to go wash, and I washed and received my sight.”  They asked,“Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”  Then the Pharisees asked him again how he had received his sight.  He told them the same thing again!  The Pharisees said, “This man is not from God; he doesn’t observe the Sabbath.”  Others said, “How can a man who is a sinner do this?”  They were divided, so they asked the blind man, “What do you say about him?  He at first says he is a prophet.  They didn’t believe him so they called the parents and asked them.  They confirmed he was born blind, but when asked who did it they said, “Ask him, he is of age.”  They go back and ask, he tells them again.  They drive him out.  He speaks to Jesus and affirms belief in him as the “Son of Man.” 

John’s gospel tells of a courageous little Jew who keeps telling the truth and will not be silenced by intimidation. (Interpretation Commentary)  At this time, he had a lot to loose if he expressed belief in “the way.”  He would be thrown out of the temple.  He would be persecuted in many other ways!  His parents knew this; they knew they had a lot to loose if they expressed belief in Jesus. Remember, besides being thrown out of the temple, they may have had  businesses that would be boycotted.  It would cost them physically!  They didn’t want to pay the price.  They said, “ask him;  he can speak for himself.”  This man was determined to tell what Jesus had done in his life.  John wants us to know that it is important to be faithful, even if it is going to cost us!

Forth Movement:
            How about us?  What does it take for us to be silenced?  This young man wouldn’t be silenced!  My dad still plans to go out and visit his neighbor, in spite of the situation of his life.   There was a young girl named Cassie at the Columbine school shooting to whom the shooter held a gun up to her and asked if she believed in Jesus, she said, “Yes,” and he shot her on the spot.  Would we have had the courage to say yes in that case?  Let’s take it down a notch.  If our boss asked us to do something that was clearly against our faith, would we have the courage to respectfully say no and tell them why our faith in Jesus taught us not to do that?  What if we are in a group that is making fun of Christianity?  They are telling jokes that make Christians look bad.  Would we have the courage to say, “Jesus has made a difference in my life!” Would we have the courage to go up to someone who doesn’t seem to care about God, but clearly needs God, and tell them that Jesus can make a difference in their lives?  What about just going next door to our neighbor?  John’s message for us is that even when there is a cost we should stand for Jesus!

            Now, let me hasten to say, there is a difference between standing for Jesus and standing for all of our beliefs.  Some of our beliefs are best addressed in a quote from Wesley, “In essentials, unity, in non-essentials, liberty, and in everything else, charity!”  In some things, we need to allow people the liberty to disagree with us!  We need to pick our battles!  Sometimes we bring persecution on ourselves by trying to make everybody conform to all our beliefs!  But when it comes to faith in Jesus, the one who gives sight to the blind, we cannot be silent!  Tell people what Jesus has done for you!  Tell them that Jesus can make a difference in their lives!  Thanks be to God!


h Gk slaves
i Gk brothers
[1]The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version. 1996, c1989 . Thomas Nelson: Nashville

Monday, March 20, 2017

The Over-Comers!

3rd Sunday in Lent!
                                                              John 4:5-30 & 39-42
First Movement:                               
            I have grown up in some ways with a very sheltered life.  The area we lived in St Louis, at the time we lived there, about 1964 – 1974, was largely white.  I remember seeing one black guy in high school when I was walking by from elementary school.  When we moved to Corning, Arkansas, we moved into a county that had the designation of being lily white and dry.  There were no blacks in the school.  Corning had a past with a bad reputation when it came to blacks.  Blacks from Neelyville, in the past knew not to be caught in Corning after dark.  Things weren’t that bad when I lived there and now, but it is still an area with a high rate of prejudice toward blacks. 

            Over the years, I have had more exposure to people of color.  One of those was when I took a seminary class that included an immersion trip to Oklahoma where we spent time with native Americans.  That ended up being an immersion in cultures in more ways than one.  In my class that went out there, we had about 3 or 4 people of color who traveled with us on the van.  They were on the track for ministry just like myself.  I talked to them a lot during our travels together.  One time we stopped at a Walmart, and one of them jokingly and some seriously commented about how clerks would watch them closer than others in our group because they were black and asked some of us to walk with them.  I became pretty close to these fellow classmates on our trip.

            I like to think that I am not prejudice.  I have come a long way, but when I go into an all black area of town, do I think about it.  Yes, sadly I still do.  I push myself to minister there in spite of my reluctance, if it is in my parish, but I do think about it.  Would I be less inclined to stop to check on a car on the side of the road with black folks in it than white, I am afraid I might be.  I have grown to the point I can see this in myself, and in some ways, that in itself is growth.
Second Movement:
Our story today again is from the gospel of John.  This is a story that has no parallels in the synoptic gospels.  Why did John include it, and what does it mean that he did?  Jesus goes through Samaria on his way from Judah to Galilee in the North.  Most Jews, by the way, did not go through Samaria but instead went around.  The Samaritans were a despised people to the Jews. 

When the Southern Kingdom of Judah fell to the Babylonians, they were carted off to Babylon and given an area in which to live.  During this time, they were able to keep some of their Jewish traditions and were able to maintain a large degree of their identity.  This is when the synagogue was developed since they were no longer able to go to the temple in Jerusalem.  On the other hand, when the Northern Kingdom fell (which included the area of Samaria and Galilee) to the Assyrians, the King of Assyria, sent men in to rape their women and do away with the race that way.  They were a nation of half-breeds!  II Kings 17:24 names people from 5 nations that the king sent in to live in the Northern Kingdom.  In the Northern Kingdom, they lost their identity and they lost their Jewish faith.  Later, in the area of Galilee, the Jewish faith had been restored.  They were still half-breeds in that area, but because the Jewish faith had been restored there, they were in good standing with Judah at the time of Jesus.

So Jesus goes into Samaria, in spite of the fact they were half-breeds!  In spite of the fact that they did not share the Jewish faith as they did in Galilee and Judah!  John likes to use metaphors.  We can see that even more in John’s Revelation.  When metaphors are used, there is a hidden meaning that people of the time get.  In John’s Revelation, there was hidden meaning to all the metaphors that the people got and that gave them hope.  Some scholars think there is some metaphoric language used in this story.  Jesus says to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband.” They would argue that it would be very unlikely for a woman to have actually had five husbands at this time but that this was instead referring to the five nations that the Assyrian King had sent into the Northern Kingdom to rape and/or marry the women.  The sixth man who she was not married to would be the current state of Samaria.  “Knowing everything that I have ever done,” would be referring to Jesus knowing all about this past history of the nation of Samaria.  He knew about their false worship!  He knew about their consorting with Judah’s enemies!  He knew about everything that the people of Judah ever thought the people of the Northern Kingdom was guilty of.  In spite of all this, he still loved them and accepted them!  The living water was still available to them!!  This is a story of overcoming a deeply entrenched hatred and prejudice against the Samaritans.  It is a story of the gospel overcoming divisions between people.      

Third Movement:  
             Christianity has had a long sad history of prejudice and divisions!  There were the Crusades between Christians and Islam.  There was the rift between Catholics and protestants!  Many churches were divided over the slave issue and the rift between blacks and whites!  Jews and Christians have not always been on best terms.  There are still divisions looming today! 

Jesus faced the prejudice of his day by planning a face to face encounter with this Samaritan woman at the well.  You have to come face to face with the “other” before you can ever begin to overcome long standing prejudice.  The enculturation experience I shared about earlier is probably one of the biggest factors for me that has helped me see people who are different than me as people who God loves just like me.  People who are equal to me in God’s eyes!  People who we need to genuinely love and care for as a church!  People who we as a church need to be proactive to include!

Forth Movement:
            Jesus was proactive about overcoming the prejudice of His day and including these despised Samaritans.   As Christians, we are to be over-comers!  We are to bridge the gap between peoples.  Before we can do that, we need to realize our own prejudice.

            As we have our closing hymn, the invitation is two-fold.  First, do you need to come and pray that God would help you with your prejudice towards some group (that the Spirit has convicted you of this morning) and help you to take steps toward overcoming it in your life?  Secondly, do you need to ask God to help you be an over-comer of the prejudice you see in society, just like Jesus?                                      Prayer