Tag Archives: Christians

Jew or Gentile?

sermon given on Sunday, July 9, 2017

Scripture connections:

Opening: Romans 9:21-24, NLT

21 When a potter makes jars out of clay, doesn’t he have a right to use the same lump of clay to make one jar for decoration and another to throw garbage into? 22 In the same way, even though God has the right to show his anger and his power, he is very patient with those on whom his anger falls, who are destined for destruction. 23 He does this to make the riches of his glory shine even brighter on those to whom he shows mercy, who were prepared in advance for glory. 24 And we are among those whom he selected, both from the Jews and from the Gentiles.

 

Sermon: Romans 9:25, 31-32, NLT

25 Concerning the Gentiles, God says in the prophecy of Hosea,

“Those who were not my people,
I will now call my people.
And I will love those
whom I did not love before.”

 

31 But the people of Israel, who tried so hard to get right with God by keeping the law, never succeeded. 32 Why not? Because they were trying to get right with God by keeping the law[a] instead of by trusting in him. They stumbled over the great rock in their path.

 

Closing: Romans 10:9-13, 16-18a, NLT

If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by openly declaring your faith that you are saved. 11 As the Scriptures tell us, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be disgraced.”[a] 12 Jew and Gentile[b] are the same in this respect. They have the same Lord, who gives generously to all who call on him. 13 For “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” . . .

 

. . . 16 But not everyone welcomes the Good News, for Isaiah the prophet said, “Lord, who has believed our message?”[a] 17 So faith comes from hearing, that is, hearing the Good News about Christ. 18 But I ask, have the people of Israel actually heard the message? . . .

 

Reflection: Jew or Gentile?

Have you ever wondered what it was like to live in a different time? Over the holiday weekend Ancestry.com offered free access to certain records and I started looking at them. Of course I could not remember my sign in but I did discover a World War I draft notice for my grandfather was listed. I was surprised and really should have gotten up to investigate more closely, but did not because I know he never served in the military. But now I want to know more.

Then another question came to mind: If I were living in Jesus’ time, would I have been a Jew or a Gentile? I suppose I could even ask if I would have been a pagan, but that seems a bit too unlikely. This question started my mind spinning and I started putting my thoughts together:

  • Was I born into a religious family?
  • Did I grow up following the religious law or the civil law?
  • Was my dad or my mom the driving force?
  • Was my church strictly structured around The Law?
  • Did church come first or did civil matters?
  • Was my community centered around the church or on business?

 

As you can tell, deciding whether I would have been a Jew or a Gentile lead to many other considerations other than just my personal faith.

Reading Romans, one can get a different perspective of the cultural shift that must have occurred for Paul, but also for other new Christians.   Paul certainly was Jewish before his conversion. Raised in the Jewish faith, having served in the Jewish leadership, his life was immersed in The Law. He knew it so well, he was actively involved in administering justice—or at least that was the Saul of Tarsus as he was first introduced in Biblical literature.

Paul prosecuted the earliest disciples of Christ. Paul was a Jew and the first Christians who were Jewish must have felt confused as they believed Jesus Christ was simply the fulfillment of their own religious foundation. How difficult it must have been to be firmly rooted in a faith and then be prosecuted by your own religious leaders for believing the prophecies had indeed been fulfilled!

With that thought, I wonder again whether I would have been a Jew or a Gentile during those ancient times. I think it is possible to compare my own upbringing and belief system to the Jewish culture. As I look over my history I can see the similarities:

  • I was born into a faith-centered home environment.
  • We attended Sunday school and worship every Sunday.
  • We actively participated in all the age-appropriate activities—choir being the most obvious other than Sunday school.
  • We offered a table grace at all three meals in our home.
  • Dad appeared to be the faith leader because he said the grace.
  • Mom was in charge of the household including the education both after school and for Sunday school.
  • Dad served on the various Administrative Board committees and even as a lay leader.
  • Mom was a soloist and even evolved into the closest thing in our community to an activist for social justice.
  • We attended the carry-in dinners and social functions at church but seldom social events outside of the church.

 

Certainly, in my 20th century life, I was following the social profile that would have been a Jew during Christ’s lifetime.

Now, though, for comparison purposes consider the ancient Gentile. Here was an individual whose life hinged around the daily grind of life. Making a living, providing for the family, and managing to live in the ruling culture of the time. Reading Romans, the first century after Jesus was born, the Roman Empire dominated the Euro-Asian region. No state religion, but the Greek and Latin gods were worshiped. The pagan laws were not as severe as the Law of Moses was in the Jewish culture. For Roman citizens, the law was the ruling emperor’s law.

Today’s Gentiles may be more difficult to identify. Or maybe not because I suspect that today’s Gentiles profile might be like so many of our friends and neighbors, even family members. I believe the Gentiles are all those who have been raised with much of the same expectations as those in church-attending, church-centered families. The difference is they may not see a connection to living one’s faith in relation to their role in today’s world.

Consider how many in our community, maybe even in our church, who live a “good” life, not breaking any laws, working hard to make a living, and doing all the things our society deems appropriate—raising kids, going to sporting events, taking vacations, staying in style, and the list just keeps growing. There may be some curiosity about God and faith, but their lives are ok, maybe even extremely successful by all outward signs. Maybe they go to church occasionally, at least on Christmas and Easter, because they say they believe.

In today’s culture, I believe it is more difficult to see a distinction between the Jews and the Gentile labels that were evident during ancient days of Christ. Yet I believe it is also evident that there is a defined line between those who are living a faith-filled, Christ-centered life and those who are simply living in a spiritual void with all the outward appearances but no conviction of their faith in God.

Paul’s letter to the Romans was a logical argument for Christianity, written to an audience with whom he was not personally connected. Today we can read the letters Paul wrote and evaluate them against the experiences of Christians for over 2,000 years. We can even check ourselves to determine whether we are living the very principles Jesus demonstrated and Paul reinforced in his letters.

Romans is an introduction to Christian living whether one was raised a Jew or a Gentile; whether one was raised in a religious setting or not; or even if one has never had any simply unchurched. Paul assures us that salvation is available to any one who accepts that Jesus Christ lived, died and arose so that we are saved by the grace of God.

Paul’s letter goes on to explain that God genuinely loves us and that we are all equipped with spiritual gifts. We are to use those gifts living as good citizens in our communities. We are to accept all those who believe in Christ regardless of their previous beliefs—another words whether they were Jew, Gentile or pagan. We are to live in Christian unity with one another because God’s mercy is available to everyone.

Again, though, I find myself wondering whether I would have been living as a Jew or a Gentile or as a Christian? As much as my faith is the faith that I was born and raised in—a cradle Methodist as we say, I wonder if I could have been the Jew openly accepted the life, death and resurrection of Jesus in those ancient days?

Today I am fortunate to have the 2,000 years of Christian history to support the arguments for Christ. I am fortunate to live in a society that allows freedom of religion. Yet, in truth I wonder whether I am a Jew or a Gentile in behavior. Am I too caught up in the legalistic structure of our faith to open my heart, my mind and my doors to others regardless of their personal history? Am I afraid I cannot preserve the church in which I am so comfortable that I fight any change? Am I able to live in unity with others regardless of where they are in their faith journey?

If I did not have my faith in God, I would not see the value in this life I do have. If I did not follow the one commandment to love others as I want to be loved, I would be hiding within my own home fearing the unknowns. If I did not believe that God has given me gifts to use in this world, I would not be able to do what all I try to do.

My challenge to each of us here is to consider just what role do you have personally or we as a full church have in reaching out to the other Jews, Gentiles, pagans or unchurched. Do we honestly open our hearts, minds and doors to all in hopes that they too can discover God’s grace and salvation through his son Jesus Christ? Do we live the very example of a Christian right here in our own community?

Our responsibility is to find ways to demonstrate the motto that the United Methodist Church adopted in 2004: Open hearts. Open minds. Open doors. Let us truly be remarkable with our efforts to make sure that our church is being Christ-centered in this community.

Closing prayer:

Dear God,

 

Open our hearts so they may be filled

With love for one another as Jesus taught.

 

Open our hearts so we may see

those in our community in need of your love.

 

Open our minds so they may be filled

With the methods and means to share your love.

 

Open our minds so we may grow

our spiritual gifts to serve and love others.

 

Open our doors so we may see

The lost, the lonely, the sick, and the hungry.

 

Open our doors so we may serve

To welcome those needing your love.

 

Only with you can we be

the Christians you call us to be.

 

In your name, dear God,

And in the name of Jesus Christ,

And the Holy Spirit, amen.

 

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Who is this?

given on Palm Sunday, April 9, 2017–6th Sunday in Lent 2017:  A season of mindfulness

 

Scripture connection:

Zechariah 9:9-10, NLT

Rejoice, O people of Zion!

Shout in triumph, O people of Jerusalem!

Look, your king is coming to you.

He is righteous and victorious,

yet he is humble, riding on a donkey—

riding on a donkey’s colt.

I will remove the battle chariots from Israel

and the warhorses from Jerusalem.

I will destroy all the weapons used in battle,

and your king will bring peace to the nations.

His realm will stretch from sea to sea

and from the Euphrates River to the ends of the earth.

 

Matthew 21:1-11, NLT

As Jesus and the disciples approached Jerusalem, they came to the town of Bethphage on the Mount of Olives. Jesus sent two of them on ahead. “Go into the village over there,” he said. “As soon as you enter it, you will see a donkey tied there, with its colt beside it. Untie them and bring them to me.

If anyone asks what you are doing, just say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will immediately let you take them.”

   This took place to fulfill the prophecy that said,

“Tell the people of Jerusalem,

‘Look, your King is coming to you.

He is humble, riding on a donkey—

riding on a donkey’s colt.’”

The two disciples did as Jesus commanded. They brought the donkey and the colt to him and threw their garments over the colt, and he sat on it.

     Most of the crowd spread their garments on the road ahead of him, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. Jesus was in the center of the procession, and the people all around him were shouting,

“Praise God for the Son of David!

Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord!

Praise God in highest heaven!”

The entire city of Jerusalem was in an uproar as he entered. “Who is this?” they asked.

     And the crowds replied, “It’s Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”

 

Mark 11:1-11, NLT

     As Jesus and his disciples approached Jerusalem, they came to the towns of Bethphage and Bethany on the Mount of Olives. Jesus sent two of them on ahead. “Go into that village over there,” he told them. “As soon as you enter it, you will see a young donkey tied there that no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks, ‘What are you doing?’ just say, ‘The Lord needs it and will return it soon.’”

     The two disciples left and found the colt standing in the street, tied outside the front door.  As they were untying it, some bystanders demanded, “What are you doing, untying that colt?”  They said what Jesus had told them to say, and they were permitted to take it.  Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their garments over it, and he sat on it.

     Many in the crowd spread their garments on the road ahead of him, and others spread leafy branches they had cut in the fields. Jesus was in the center of the procession, and the people all around him were shouting,

“Praise God!

Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord!

Blessings on the coming Kingdom of our ancestor David!

Praise God in highest heaven!”

     So Jesus came to Jerusalem and went into the Temple. After looking around carefully at everything, he left because it was late in the afternoon. Then he returned to Bethany with the twelve disciples.

 

Luke 19:28-40, NLT

     After telling this story, Jesus went on toward Jerusalem, walking ahead of his disciples. As he came to the towns of Bethphage and Bethany on the Mount of Olives, he sent two disciples ahead. “Go into that village over there,” he told them. “As you enter it, you will see a young donkey tied there that no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks, ‘Why are you untying that colt?’ just say, ‘The Lord needs it.’”

     So they went and found the colt, just as Jesus had said. And sure enough, as they were untying it, the owners asked them, “Why are you untying that colt?”

     And the disciples simply replied, “The Lord needs it.” So they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their garments over it for him to ride on.

     As he rode along, the crowds spread out their garments on the road ahead of him. When he reached the place where the road started down the Mount of Olives, all of his followers began to shout and sing as they walked along, praising God for all the wonderful miracles they had seen.

“Blessings on the King who comes in the name of the Lord!

Peace in heaven, and glory in highest heaven!”

     But some of the Pharisees among the crowd said, “Teacher, rebuke your followers for saying things like that!”

     He replied, “If they kept quiet, the stones along the road would burst into cheers!”

 

John 12:12-19, NLT

     The next day, the news that Jesus was on the way to Jerusalem swept through the city. A large crowd of Passover visitors took palm branches and went down the road to meet him. They shouted,

“Praise God!

Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord!

Hail to the King of Israel!”

     Jesus found a young donkey and rode on it, fulfilling the prophecy that said:

“Don’t be afraid, people of Jerusalem.

Look, your King is coming,

riding on a donkey’s colt.”

     His disciples didn’t understand at the time that this was a fulfillment of prophecy. But after Jesus entered into his glory, they remembered what had happened and realized that these things had been written about him.

     Many in the crowd had seen Jesus call Lazarus from the tomb, raising him from the dead, and they were telling others about it.

     That was the reason so many went out to meet him—because they had heard about this miraculous sign. Then the Pharisees said to each other, “There’s nothing we can do. Look, everyone has gone after him!”

 

Weekly memory verse: Who is this? (Matthew 21:10, NLT)

 

Weekly challenge: Step outside and study a flower. Look at the buds and see the promise of the bloom. Look back at your life. See the promise and know how much God loves you.

 

Reflection: Who is this? How do you know?

 

Has not the rain and the sunshine transformed our world these past couple of weeks? Looking out the windows this morning is very different than just a week ago as the trees are leafing out, the lilacs are budding, and the spring flowers are opening up. The earth is celebrating new life.

Today is Palm Sunday, the last Sunday of Lent and the beginning of Holy Week. The celebration starting today darkens as the week relives the final days of Jesus. Thursday is the day for Jesus’ final supper with his disciples. Friday is the darkest day as Jesus is nailed on the cross and dies. Saturday was the Jewish Sabbath, so the day is simply empty as no work could be done after sunset on Friday through sunset on Saturday.

The Passion Story unfolds as Christians review the Christ story from the joyful entry into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey through the events of his arrest, trial, crucifixion, and burial. The week connects the generations of Christians throughout time and the world. The Passion Story connects us to our own belief and we should know the answer to the question: Who is this?

Can you answer that question with confidence? Can you walk into the sanctuary this morning and quickly identify the purpose of the palms and the procession of the kids around the room? Can you share the story with others who may not even know what Palm Sunday, Passion Week, or Easter is? Learning this one small verse, Matthew 21:10, becomes the key to mystery of faith which we share during communion: Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again. (198914)

The answer for the question “Who is this?” begins with the scripture from Zechariah. The prophet had said that the Messiah or the King of the Jews would arrive on a donkey. And that is what Jesus did by riding into Jerusalem for Passover on the back of the donkey. The procession was a message to all the people, including the Pharisees, that Jesus was indeed who people were saying he was. The public display was out of character for Jesus, but the method was a way to affirm the answer to the Jews that he was indeed the promised Messiah, the Savior, the king they had long anticipated.

Each of the gospels includes a version of the procession of Jesus into Jerusalem. Each one includes the palms and the donkey, but only Matthew includes the question, “Who is this?” Why?

The key is remembering to whom the different gospels are written. Matthew with the question, was written specifically for the Jewish people. The question is asked to make a point that the readers would know how Jesus fulfilled the prophecy in Zachariah. Mark was written for Roman Christians, Luke was written to Theophilus and the Gentiles, while John was written to new Christians and those seeking to know more.

All the gospels describe the procession in basically the same manner. Palms were waved to show respect for high-ranking officials even throwing the palms and coats on the ground on which to walk. Even the donkey was chosen because of its significance. The donkey represents one coming in peace. If a horse had been chosen, that would have symbolized war or a military leader.

The gospel of Matthew included the description of the palm procession to make sure that the Jewish people could identify who Jesus was and that he fulfilled the prophecy that was almost 500 years old. The non-Jewish people in the Greco-Roman culture, though, also recognized the same symbolism. Mark, Luke and John all include a description of the procession with palms and the donkey. Everybody in the crowd would know the meaning, and the ensuing generations would also know that the man riding the donkey was Jesus, the man who was dramatically changing the belief system of so many in the area whether Jew or Gentile.

Why is this important today? Why are we waving palms here in our community 2,000 years later? Why do we need to answer the question “Who is this?”

God wants a personal relationship with us; and if we cannot answer who Jesus was, then we risk having no relationship with God. We can attend church every Sunday. We can read all we want about Jesus. Yet, to experience God in our life, we must be able to answer that we know Jesus. We must wave our palms and honor him, respect him, revere him, and yes, fear him. Experiencing God on a personal level comes by listening to God and obeying Him, said O.S. Hawkins (Hawkins 2015, 441).

Palm Sunday gives us the opportunity to openly express our knowledge of who Jesus is. We have the palm branches, we can sing out our praises, and we can answer the question that Jesus is the son of Man and the son of God.

Palm Sunday marks the beginning of Jesus’ final Passover (remember he was Jewish) as the human incarnation of God. Jesus announced to the ancient world that he was the Son of God by riding into Jerusalem on a donkey with all his followers/disciples waving palms and shouts of acclamation. Palm Sunday is much like a flower popping up in the garden getting ready to bloom.

We anticipate the joy of Easter this morning, but first we must relive the full experience of Passover with the final days of Jesus and his disciples. We may be excited to extol (Hawkins word) or proclaim Jesus today, but we know the story continues through the horrors of a betrayal, a trial, and a crucifixion.

As we wait for the full bloom of the flower, we wait for Easter morning when Christ was resurrected. We know that God’s desire to be in a relationship with us was so important that he could no longer wait for us to figure it out on our own. Instead, he was born as a man in order to bring us into a real life experience with him.

We can answer the question “Who is this?” because we have the relationship with God. We see our lives unfold into a thing of beauty just like the spring flowers bursting forth around us. We have learned that God’s way of living in a loving relationship with one another is the very purpose God sent Jesus to walk with us in this life.

As Holy Week moves forward, keep the image of the flower opening from the bud to a full bloom present in your mind. You are a flower in God’s garden, and because you know God’s love and you have chosen to live according to his commandments, you will continue to bloom.

[Share the video of tulip opening.]

Closing prayer

Dear Gracious Father,

 

We lift up our palms to you

Showing that we know you personally,

Because we experience your love

And believe in your promise.

 

We lift up our palms to you

Thanking you for sending Jesus

To teach us,

To heal us,

To forgive us

And to grant us eternal life.

 

We lift up our voices

Answering others who ask,

“Who is this?”

So we can share the story

Of our relationship with you,

God, the father,

the Son,

and the Holy Spirit. –Amen

 

 

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Time to reflect: Are we really Christian?

given on Sunday, January 1, 2017.  The service includes communion and the reaffirmation of faith as presented in the United Methodist Hymnal.

Scripture connections:

Opening scripture: Psalm 8:1-2 (NLT)

O Lord, our Lord, your majestic name fills the earth!
Your glory is higher than the heavens.
You have taught children and infants
to tell of your strength,[b]
silencing your enemies
and all who oppose you.

Scripture connection: Matthew 25:31-46 (NLT)

     31 “But when the Son of Man[a] comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit upon his glorious throne. 32 All the nations[b] will be gathered in his presence, and he will separate the people as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will place the sheep at his right hand and the goats at his left.

     34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. 36 I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.

     37 “Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? 39 When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’

     40 “And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters,[c] you were doing it to me!’

     41 “Then the King will turn to those on the left and say, ‘Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his demons.[d] 42 For I was hungry, and you didn’t feed me. I was thirsty, and you didn’t give me a drink. 43 I was a stranger, and you didn’t invite me into your home. I was naked, and you didn’t give me clothing. I was sick and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.’

     44 “Then they will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and not help you?’

     45 “And he will answer, ‘I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.’

     46 “And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous will go into eternal life.”

Reflection:

2017 is here!   Granted this is an annual event, welcoming a new year, but today we greet the year on Sunday and we are here to worship together in that space after Christmas Day when one year winds down and a new year begins. This morning, we gather to begin another new year together.

Tradition says this is a time to make new resolutions on how to improve one’s life. Maybe the change is in one’s personal life choices, or maybe the change is how we choose to live our lives outside of our homes whether on the job or in our interactions within the community. Today, stop and reflect on what your life is and ask yourself: Am I really a Christian?

Our tradition is to participate in communion on the first Sunday of the month. It is an ideal time to reconfirm our conviction that the wonder of Christmas brings us into a relationship with God; a relationship that lasts throughout our human lifetimes that continues on into eternity.

As 2017 opens, let us stop for a moment and reflect over the lessons of Advent. The wise men identified a star that drew them to Bethlehem in search of the Messiah. An internal force drew them to join together and find the baby Jesus.

When they reached Bethlehem and saw the baby, they knew the identity of God and chose not to return to King Herod. Instead, they resolved to go home with the knowledge that the baby was the Messiah, that he was named Immanuel, God with us.

Angels gave the name Immanuel both to Mary and to Joseph in separate locations. The name unlocks the identity that this baby was God choosing to be with us in order to demonstrate how to live as Christians.   God chose to live the human experience so to establish a covenant with us.    The wonder of the manger signifies the reality of God living in the most difficult circumstances just as any human might live. There was no special treatment, no royal residence, nor any slaves to attend to God. God lived the most difficult, unforgiving lifestyle showing us how to live in relationship with others. God lived for everybody so that we can be forgiven of our sins and granted eternal life.

God fulfilled a promise to us. Do we fulfill our promise to God? Communion reminds us of God’s sacrifice for our salvation. The words we hear and repeat connect us to the generations of faithful Christians who have carried the story throughout the millennia and continue to tell the story. We use the bread and the cup as tangible or real reminders of God’s promise to us.

[Sharing the bread and the cup                UMH p. 15]

Continuing the reflection:

         Certainly taking communion is a visible sign of being a Christian, but 2016 has been filled with visible signs of people saying one thing but doing something else. Being Christian is a demanding job, but when one maintains the lifestyle, the demand turns into a joy. The highs and the lows of daily life do not separate one from God but rather tightens that bond.

A couple of weeks ago I was introduced to a hymn, Let Us Build a House, that reminds us of how important it is to live a Christ-like life if we are to maintain a tight relationship with God. Listen to this hymn and ask yourself: Am I really a Christian? Are we, as one of God’s church families, living the Christian principles?

[Play the hymn Let Us Build a House also known as All Are Welcome.]

Are we really Christian? Are we welcoming all into God’s house? Are we doing what God asks us to do? Are we helping others to discover the joy of living with the promise of God to be forgiven and to receive eternal life? Or are we failing?

Accepting God’s promise of salvation is done through our sacrament of baptism. This first day of a new year is a good time to reaffirm our commitment to be in relationship with God. Today, we close with an opportunity to remember our baptism, to reaffirm our relationship with God.

Listen carefully to the words of the rituals and ask yourself: Am I really a Christian? Do I demonstrate the very same values that Jesus did? Do I forgive others when they hurt me? Do I do whatever I can for others as much as I can? Do I let other things or other people to separate me from God?

Let us keep the wonder of Christmas throughout the year. Let us do all that we can to share the love and grace of God with others in any way that we can. Let us make sure that we maintain a healthy relationship with God. In doing that, we will do all that we can for all we can in all the ways we can.

[Reaffirmation of Faith                                    UMH p.45]

Closing prayer built on the study The Wonder of Christmas:

Lord,

You are with us now and forever.

As we close one year and open another,

We are filled with the wonder of Christmas.

 

Today we remember the wonder of the star

Guiding the wise men from afar.

May we look to the sky and know your presence.

 

Today we share in the bread and the cup

And know the wonder of the name Immanuel.

Be present with us through the struggles ahead.

 

Today we look upon the manager

And know how much you endured for us

Assuring us you understand our challenges, too.

 

Today we renew our commitment as Christians

And thank you for the promise you made

To forgive us and grant us eternal life.

 

Guide us to keep the wonder of Christmas alive

In our hearts and minds and actions,

To be truly Christian in our world today. –Amen

Closing scripture: Ecclesiastes 3:9-13 (NLT)

What do people really get for all their hard work? 10 I have seen the burden God has placed on us all. 11 Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end. 12 So I concluded there is nothing better than to be happy and enjoy ourselves as long as we can. 13 And people should eat and drink and enjoy the fruits of their labor, for these are gifts from God.

 

 

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Mission Rebounds: The Old Testament scorebook

given on Sunday, February 28, 2016

Scripture connection: Isaiah 55, NLT

Invitation to the Lord’s Salvation

55 “Is anyone thirsty?
    Come and drink—
    even if you have no money!
Come, take your choice of wine or milk—
    it’s all free!
Why spend your money on food that does not give you strength?
    Why pay for food that does you no good?
Listen to me, and you will eat what is good.
    You will enjoy the finest food.

“Come to me with your ears wide open.
    Listen, and you will find life.
I will make an everlasting covenant with you.
    I will give you all the unfailing love I promised to David.
See how I used him to display my power among the peoples.
    I made him a leader among the nations.
You also will command nations you do not know,
    and peoples unknown to you will come running to obey,
because I, the Lord your God,
    the Holy One of Israel, have made you glorious.”

Seek the Lord while you can find him.
    Call on him now while he is near.
Let the wicked change their ways
    and banish the very thought of doing wrong.
Let them turn to the Lord that he may have mercy on them.
    Yes, turn to our God, for he will forgive generously.

“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord.
    “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.
For just as the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so my ways are higher than your ways
    and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.

10 “The rain and snow come down from the heavens
    and stay on the ground to water the earth.
They cause the grain to grow,
    producing seed for the farmer
    and bread for the hungry.
11 It is the same with my word.
    I send it out, and it always produces fruit.
It will accomplish all I want it to,
    and it will prosper everywhere I send it.
12 You will live in joy and peace.
    The mountains and hills will burst into song,
    and the trees of the field will clap their hands!
13 Where once there were thorns, cypress trees will grow.
    Where nettles grew, myrtles will sprout up.
These events will bring great honor to the Lord’s name;
    they will be an everlasting sign of his power and love.”

 

Basketball season is wrapping up and it is almost time for the big college playoffs commonly referred to as The Final Four. Locally the game keeps everybody on pins and needles, too. What is it that makes competition so entertaining! Adrenalin surges when there is a foul or the opponents score. The heart beats hard and the crowd comes alive when the home team rebounds adding points to the team’s score.

Lent is a season of reflection much like when a season ends and it is time to review the team’s performance. The Christian team uses Lent to carefully analyze how well we carry out the mission God has given us: to love one another. If we follow God’s game plan, the result will be the transformation of not only our lives, but the world’s. God’s mission will rebound returning to the Garden of Eden He created.

In order for God’s mission to rebound, Christians must reflect on our individual performance as well as evaluate the team’s performance. This can be rewarding but it also is painful. Lent is the time for such analysis.

Every team does this. Each player must review his or hers own performance, the coach must review the overall function of the team plus his or hers own coaching skills. Then the team comes together for reflection and creates an improved game plan. The mission, God’s mission must rebound.

Right now the video of the world seen daily in the news broadcasts might seem like God’s scorebook filled with losses. Lent is God’s annual video replay. The game plan began with God choosing the team, the ancient tribes of Israel. The playbook opens with the Law now preserved in the first five books of the Old Testament.

Today we know that the Old Testament story is filled with mistakes of the people. The leaders of Israel made mistakes much like coaches who fail to develop a winning team. There is no doubt that the Law of Moses was simple: just 10 rules to follow and none of them complicated. Unfortunately, God’s opponent Satan was uncannily good at convincing humans to make mistakes.

Still, the dismal record of failure also includes opportunities God provided to repent, to make right some wrongs, and to be forgiven. Even when leaders made terrible mistakes breaking the God’s law, God did not give up on his team. Wrongs were righted. God forgave them. They were redeemed.

But look at what else is included in the Old Testament. Not only is the Law provided, illustrated with stories, but also the prayer book. The book of Psalms includes the prayers, hymns and liturgy that we use even today. The prayers reflect the full spectrum of human emotions. Some psalms praise and some cry out, but one thread ties all of them together—God’s love wins; the mission rebounds.

The psalms are the cheers and rants of the crowds. In sports, cheerleaders lead fans to spur the team to put out that extra energy to rebound and make a change in the team’s performance.

Certainly there are times when the cheers fail, but the cheerleaders, the coach, and the team work together to rebound. The psalms are tools that help the faithful continue the mission. God sees; God hears; and God loves. He responds, too, when he hears the cheer “Two. Four. Six. Eight. Who do we appreciate!” The psalms respond, “GOD!”

The Old Testament helps teach men and women how to live a God-centered life. God-centered living affects every facet of life, and reading Proverbs, we find how the wise sayings can guide the faithful to continue God’s work. The scriptures are God’s instruction manuals   including the library of videos to review.

Sadly, as we know in our own lives, humanity has repeated mistakes. It is a pattern we try to stop, but the world throws so many temptations at us that we become distracted from God and we make mistakes again. In reading through the verses of Isaiah, we are told:

Seek the Lord while you can find him.
Call on him now while he is near.
Let the wicked change their ways
and banish the very thought of doing wrong.
Let them turn to the Lord that he may have mercy on them.
Yes, turn to our God, for he will forgive generously.

 

Every time we err, God knows and he is always ready to forgive. The reflective time of Lent gives us that opportunity to honestly evaluate how well we are following God’s mission. The words of Isaiah assure us that God knows and listens for our awareness and confession so that he can forgive us.

The Old Testament records how the faithful succeeded and how they failed to maintain God’s mission. The different stories march God’s story through time. The story does not change even though the culture changes, education changes, political leaders change, commerce changes, and even the climate changes.

Prophets tried to warn the generations that failure to keep God’s mission would lead to destruction. Some prophets, of whom Isaiah is one, spoke openly about how God loves us and forgives us. But forgiveness comes only when one is honestly aware of what they have done wrong. Isaiah’s verses in chapter 55 speak to us yet today:

“Come to me with your ears wide open.
Listen, and you will find life.
I will make an everlasting covenant with you.
I will give you all the unfailing love I promised to David.

 

Are you reading the scriptures? Are you reviewing the video of your life right now? Are you doing your best to stay God-centered?

In the lectionary’s commentary, the only way God’s mission rebounds is if. . .

. . . [we] name our sins and repent of them so that we might have life. . . . Pay attention to the way sin has us in its grip. To truly repent, we need an awareness of what we’ve done—and not done—that’s led us into this waterless land. Repentance reorients us toward God’s love and mercy, where we find sustenance and rest.

 

This is the same thinking a coach has as he reviews the game’s video and enters the next practice. He then offers guidance or advice as to how the player improves. And with each rebound, the mission to win the game becomes one play closer to reality.

Certainly honest reflection and corrective action is necessary and often painful, but the outcome is winning eternal life with God. The commentary shared Augustine’s thoughts about our restless desire to win:

. . . [God] understands our restlessness to be a result of our sin; we are restless because of our repeated attempts to take refuge in something other than God.   When we mistake any other good thing—whether it be love of another person, food, money, material possessions, sex, you name it—for the Ultimate God, Augustine argued, our hearts remain restless, unsettled.

 

God is our coach and he has assistants that are recorded in the Old Testament as prophets. In the New Testament, the story continues with the Apostles teaching God’s commandment to love one another.

God’s mission depends on our rebounding from our sin to follow his commandments. The coaches in our lives are God’s co-workers who can review the video and guide us to improve. Read the scripture from Genesis through Revelation to know the story and to learn how God’s mission is our mission, too. We are responsible for God’s mission to rebound.

Closing Prayer

Dear God,

Each day I read your word,

See your world,

And meet your children.

I am reminded of your love.

 

As we reflect on our lives,

Help us see our actions honestly.

Help us listen to our coaches,

And help us name our errors.

Then accept our pleas for repentance.

 

As we rebound and recommit to your mission

To transform the world by loving one another,

Coach us to improve living a God-centered life

So we can score redemption leading to life eternal

Beside you and your son Jesus Christ. –Amen

 

 

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Supermoon: Super God

given on August 10, 2014

Tonight the second of three supermoons in one year will be visible. Astrologically this is a phenomena that occurs about every 13 months, but this year there are a total of five; the next supermoon is to occur September 28, 2015; in fact, the next three include that one, then one on November 14, 2016, and one on January 2, 1018—none in 2017.

A supermoon occurs when the moon is the closest is can possibly be to the earth.

The supermoon occurs when the moon becomes full on the same days as its perigee, which is the point in the moon’s orbit when it is closest to Earth. The supermoon of August is one of the largest and brightest full moons of the year. The U.S. Naval Observatory says the moon will be 12% bigger and 30% brighter than it was in January 2014. [Accessed on August 9, 2014 at http://www.cnn.com/2014/08/08/us/irpt-august-supermoon/%5D

 

The first supermoon this year was on July 12, and the final one will be on September 8. In one year, three months of supermoon viewings is almost like the return of Hailey’s Comet which occurs once every 75 years.

Can you imagine what it would be like if we were only able to be that close to God so rarely? Fortunately God is with us all the time, in full and open view. Unfortunately there are so many whose lives are too cloudy to witness our Super God.

Think about the comparison of the supermoon and our relationship to God. The moon only becomes super when its orbit brings it the closest it can get to the earth. Now that does not mean the moon disappears or is not ever visible, in fact it is in our night sky each and every day. It does not matter whether it is a cloudy night or a star-filled night. The moon is there.

God is always there, too. In fact we do not have to wait until the sun sets to witness God’s presence. God is with us continually. He is always prepared to hear our pleas, to ease our pain, and to demonstrate his grace. God is our Super God.

Certainly the supermoon is easy to identify and witness. It is a concrete object we have no doubt is real in our world. There is a clear pattern of the moon waxing and waning or more commonly, of the new moon growing to a full moon and then disappearing again as the earth’s shadow shifts through the moon’s orbit. This orbit is repeated every four weeks, and it is so familiar we often ignore it.

Do we ignore God, too? God’s presence is constant and it never has to go through an orbit but maybe we are the ones orbiting God. Maybe we are the reason we do not see God in our lives. Maybe others see God in us, but we are not shining as brightly as the moon. Maybe we shine God’s presence only once in a great while like the astrological event of the supermoon.

Pause for a moment, maybe even close your eyes, and consider yourself as a supermoon orbiting God. Do you reflect God? Do you wax and wane in how you let God shine through you? Have you fallen into an orbiting pattern?

Falling into an orbit around God is easy. Our lives get so busy that we fill up the calendar with monthly meetings, with special appointments—always critical—and we go to work each day whether on a job or as a caretaker or parent. We run all day trying to keep our lives in order and when the head hits the pillow, we drift off to sleep.

If we are to be daily reflections of God, then we must actively participate in God’s commandment and commission.

Matthew 22:37-38

37 Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.

 

Matthew 28:18-20

18 Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations,[b] baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Sometimes loving one another is tough. And then to consider reaching out to others and asking them to become followers of Christ seems like one task too many.

Can it be done? Can we love one another as we love ourselves? Can we share our faith in a manner others want to have that same faith? Sure it can. No one said it was easy, but if we can establish our orbit around God so soundly that even when we are challenged and we suddenly feeling ourselves spin out of control, it is possible to re-establish that orbit.

What tools are needed to maintain that orbit? John Wesley called them the works of piety:

 . . . prayer an essential part of Christian living. He called it, in many of his writings, the most important means of grace.

 read the Bible every day, usually early in the day or late in the evening. . . .

 [He also] emphasized the importance of fasting (giving up something whether food or routine such as internet surfing) and participating in Christian community (typically weekly worship). . . .

[Italic phrases added for clarification purposes. Accessed on August 9, 2014 at https://gbgm-umc.org/umw/wesley/disciple.stm%5D

 

These three disciplines or methods of maintaining a strong relationship with God can keep our orbits safe and steady.

In today’s culture, these three practices may not fit very well into the routines we have established in our lives, but in order for God to shine in our lives, these routines needed to be included and even polished, so to speak, so that others can see God’s presence and feel compelled to seek that same joy in their lives.

Think about how really simple life is when we develop a sound routine of getting up, going to work, fixing supper, relaxing, and even going to bed. These are healthy patterns for our physical lives, so why not establish healthy patterns for our spiritual lives.

Prayer—talking with God. We think about all kinds of things even while we are doing something else. Why can’t these thoughts turn to God? God has been there listening; and if the problems you face are what keeps your mind churning, then God probably has been waiting for you to talk to him rather than to yourself.

Prayer is private, it is your personal tool, it is like going to a counselor to work out the issues in your life. At the same time prayer is your praise and your thanksgiving. When you see something happen that is glorious—like the supermoon tonight if there are no clouds—you are sharing that sense of awe with God, too. When you open up that paycheck and see that total, you thank God for your strength and skills that made that possible.

Private prayer can lighten the load we humans tend to think is way too heavy for us to carry. Remember that guiding verse from Philippians 4:13:  For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. That is one verse that keeps me focused during the week or in the midst of a major life challenge.

Bible reading sounds a great deal like schoolwork, but the key is to find the translation that speaks to you. Ask others which one they prefer and why. If possible, go on line and compare translations. The website I prefer is Biblegateway.com. There are so many resources, and so many choices in print that it can be overwhelming, but let that be part of the fun. Finding God’s word that speaks directly to you makes reading the Bible regularly much simpler, more appealing, and easier to understand.

The stories in the Old Testament probably compare more to our lives before knowing God. We read the stories knowing that even though the Israelites were the “chosen” people of God, they struggled. The life challenges over 5,000 years ago are the same as those today. Following God sustained them and their generations.

The New Testament shows a simpler way of life. The old rules were wrapped up into one commandment and Jesus demonstrated the mannerisms and the temperament needed to follow that commandment. When he did that, crowds of people came to see him, to listen to him, and to witness Super God in their ancient world.

Today, we see the global community right there on our TVs in a moment’s notice. We see the challenges to God and feel the sadness when a natural disaster hits, when a mine collapses, or when one people clash with another people. God’s presence becomes clouded and if we do not do all that we can for all who we can whenever we can, then those clouds will darken and no supermoon will be able to shine through.

The final practice really is worship. Fasting has lost its significance in today’s culture. Traditionally it has meant going without food for a certain period of time, usually a day; but fasting means disciplining one’s self more than anything. Possibly it can take on different images such as no snacks for 24 hours, or no coffee for a day, or no sodas for a week, or maybe shift that idea to a different focus—no internet or no tv for 12 hours, 24 hours, or eve a few days.

The other side of worship is Christian fellowship. Faithful Christians are expected to be in church each week for worship. In fact the United Methodists have somewhat of a standing rule that no one should miss more than four Sundays a year. For many of us that seems undoable, but it is a goal to reach. God will know what effort you are applying.

Of course Christian fellowship can include other activities, too. Maybe a Bible study becomes part of the Christian practices. Maybe it is to serve in one way or another. Maybe it is to join with the others in a mission trip or service activity. The opportunities are there or can be created; and these are the times others can see our super God shining in our own lives.

Tonight, get outside and look for a crack in the clouds so you can witness the supermoon. Take the kids out, call your friends, drive out in the country away from city lights, and revel in the glory of God as you witness the second supermoon of the year. Then tackle the month one day at a time practicing to become a super Christian sharing God’s light with others. In September, celebrate God’s grace in your life with the third supermoon this year.

Closing prayer

Dear Super God,

maker of heaven and earth,

creator of the supermoon

as well as the world in which we live.

Hear our prayers as we step forward

in our Christian journeys.

Help us carry on a conversation with you

as we struggle to shine as your children.

Help us to talk out the troubles that shadow

your presence in our lives.

And, when we find joy, peace, and love

in our lives; hear our praises

and thanksgivings.

Share your wisdom through the Bible,

in the words that speak to us.

Help us put those words into use

so others may see your presence, too.

As we open the doors to the church,

strengthen our faith through others

who love you, too.

May we hear your words of grace and love

as clearly as we see the moon on starry nights.

May we find strength and confidence

to share your love, your grace, your radiance

with those still in the shadows. –Amen

 

 

 

 

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Battling Today’s ‘Corrosive Culture’

given on Sunday, July 6, 2014

Battling Today’s ‘Corrosive Culture’

July 6, 2014

 

The headline read:

 

‘Corrosive Culture’ Cited:

Poor management, low morale, distrust and retaliation

are among issues found in review of nationwide system

 

The term ‘corrosive culture’ struck my heart. The descriptor sent cold chills up and down my spine. How in the world could our nation turn from being the world’s leader in social justice, humanitarian aide, and democracy be described as ‘corrosive’?

Unfortunately, another term I heard about 20 years ago had caused almost the same reaction: litigation society. The superintendent of Wentworth Military Academy used that in a casual conversation in which I was included. At the time, the discussion concerned how we were to conduct discipline at the academy honoring the parents’ expectations and what students really needed. The culture was changing and a military academy needed to make some adjustments.

Change is never easy, yet the changes our society has been making are certainly not following the Christian standards exemplified by Jesus. The laws are becoming so complicated that such a simple basic as God’s one commandment becomes lost.

Corrosive culture. The phrase just sums up so much in so many ways. The article itself was focusing on the terrible reports of the Veterans’ Administration of the healthcare system meant to provide for the veterans of all arms and all times of service to this country. As terrible as the investigation reports on the health care system have been, that term honestly applies to a much broader culture than one system.

Of course the deterioration of a culture is not a new problem nor will it ever be eliminated when good and evil continue to battle. John Wesley saw a corrosive culture among the working poor in England, and he determined to show how God’s love can handle the problems while also attacking the source of the problem.

Wesley became God’s hands as he stepped out of the church building and went to the people with needs—food, shelter, and clothing Obtaining the basics of life was as difficult for the working poor in the 1600s as much as it is today. What is different is how globally aware we are due to the immediacy of communication from any point in this world to our own homes in just a span of seconds. We hear it. We see it. We react.

Or do we. Do we react or do we distance ourselves from the corrosion of another facet of the globe’s culture? Are we following Jesus’ example and exercising our Christian authority to intervene in the corrosive effect on our culture?

During the 1960’s when Vietnam was the country’s focus, or when the Civil Rights movement seemed to shake our own neighborhoods, the Methodist Church was in mission. Remember how the Methodist Women were studying the different 3rd world culture, the materials kept introducing new countries, new problems, and I even remember, new food types, as we bought canned tamales and taste-tested them at a dinner.

What happened since then? Have we become lulled into a sense of safety and security? Have world problems eased up? Have we heard from God that everything around us is ok and we can let up? Or have we just closed our eyes and ears to what is around us?

While looking through the little book last week, God Bless America, I started reading and thinking about the different categories, I found an entire section on “justice.” Reading through those Bible verses and reflections, I kept thinking what do I do that addresses the ‘corrosive’ culture and keeps us developing our own faith. The search was on.

The phrase from Hosea 12:6, now at the top of our bulletin, seems so simple and so defining: “. . . hold fast to love and justice”. Hosea, a prophet from the Old Testament, becomes an example of God’s vast love and compassion for his children. He demonstrates how love can overcome so many trials in one’s life, and he also knows that God’s judgment is not human judgment.

During the next few weeks, Hosea will guide us in the art of love and justice. Never does one outgrow or outlive the ability to love as Jesus taught us. Never does one lose the ability to fight for justice even in a corrosive culture. We have no excuse to turn a blind eye or a deaf ear to what happens in the culture around us. We are equipped to stop the corrosion because we have God on our side and the Holy Spirit within us.

Today, renew your relationship with God. Remember your baptism when you accepted Christ into your life. Remember how you raised your kids, and how you pray your grandchildren come to know God. We have the power, we just need to learn how to use it no matter what the calendar says, no matter what our worldly interests are, or what we fear.

The complaints of the corrosive culture can only be addressed if we take a stand and act. Take the challenge. Listen for God. Pray when the reports are corrosive. Write letters when a change needs to be made. Make a determined effort to share your faith with others who need hope. Return to being a proactive Christian. Use the power God gives you to protect our Christian, our American culture.

Listen to the words from Hosea 12:6

But as for you, return to your God,

            hold fast to love and justice,

            and wait continually for your God.

This is our Christian authority and our Christian responsibility—stop the corrosion. Today, as we share in the bread and the wine, pray. Pray for your own directions. Pray for our nation. Pray for our world.

Closing prayer:

Dear loving and just Father,

We are at your command.

We know you see all the corrosion

And hear all the complaining,

We know you sent Jesus to teach us

And to demonstrate your love.

We are ready to recommit

To the call you have for us.

We know you stand beside us

And we have nothing to fear.

Guide us in the days ahead.

Grow our love to overflowing.

Let us become your tool

In battling the corrosive culture

Now and forever. –Amen

 

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Easter Sunday: Who are you?

This sharing of scripture and thoughts ends the Holy Week this Easter Sunday, 2014.  Now Christians have a commandment and a commission to follow.  We need to know who we are to do the best we can.

Who Are You?

 

John 13:33-35 (During the last supper with the Disciples and after Judas left, Jesus went on teaching. . . )

 

“Dear children, I will be with you only a little longer. And as I told the Jewish leaders, you will search for me, but you can’t come where I am going. So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”

 

As we sit and look at each other or drive along the highways or rub shoulders in the stores, we see the faces of friends, family, strangers, and even foes. At those moments we register some tiny sense of recognition or evaluation of how they fit into our personal world.

Have you ever considered what others might think that same moment they see you? Would ‘Christian’ be the first descriptor that registers in their mind? Who are you in God’s eye?

Granted we often say we do not care what others think of us, but what if what we do, how we live, or even how we think is the key to whether or not God considers us his disciple?

In my study of these three verses during this past Holy Week, one of the study notes included a checklist of sorts for whether or not we are living this commandment:

Love is more than simply warm feelings; it is an attitude that reveals itself in action. How can we love others as Jesus loves us?

  • By helping when it’s not convenient,
  • by giving when it hurts,
  • by devoting energy to others’ welfare rather than our own,
  • by absorbing hurts from others without complaining or fighting back.

This kind of loving is hard to do. That is why people notice when you do it and know you are empowered by a supernatural source. [p. 1461, The NLT Chronological Study Bible]

 

John 14:15-17 (Jesus continues teaching during that last supper with his disciples.)

 

“If you love me, obey my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you. He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth. The world cannot receive him, because it isn’t looking for him and doesn’t recognize him. But you know him, because he lives with you now and later will be in you. . . . “

 

Who are you? Are you living your life in such a manner that others recognize you as a Christian? Do you know who you are yourself? Are you Peter? Are you Mary Magdalene? Are you Nicodemus? Are you Judas? Are you a Pharisee? Are you Paul, the Jewish leader or the converted Christian missionary? Are you Lazarus? Are you John, the Apostle?

We are asking the same questions today that were asked over 2,000 years ago. If we were walking the dusty paths of our community, would we have recognized Jesus?

Would we have been one of the Jewish faithful still waiting for a Messiah? If we were, wouldn’t we be wanting to hear this man talk? Or would we have looked at him and thought there is no way he could be the new tribal leader.

Would we have judged this man Jesus and his odd set of followers? I certainly cannot imagine what the setting would have been, but today such a person might be traveling in a tour bus or flying from stop to stop. If one man came out of the door and was followed by all these others who did nothing more than what he told them to do or to just sit and listen, I am not sure I would have recognized him.

Would we have been worldly Roman businessmen who happened to be in Jerusalem on business and witness this confusing power play between two religious groups?   If that were the case, would we have stuck to our business meetings and simply ignored the local hubbub or would we have been so curious we checked it out? In our society today, it would be reported on the local news station or posts would popup on Facebook sharing opinions. It would be difficult to hear and to make decisions based on just our own evaluation of the situation.

Who are you today? This Easter morning do you sense the renewal Christ offers us each and every Sunday as we come together for worship? Or do you walk away simply to resume your busy daily life with little regard to spiritual maintenance?

 

John 19:38-42 (The crucifixion was finished, Jesus was dead, and the Sabbath was just about to begin.)

 

Afterward Joseph of Arimathea, who had been a secret disciple of Jesus (because he feared the Jewish leaders), asked Pilate for permission to take down Jesus’ body. When Pilate gave permission, Joseph came and took the body away. With him came Nicodemus, the man who had come to Jesus at night. He brought about 75 pounds of perfumed ointment made from myrrh and aloes. Following Jewish burial custom, they wrapped Jesus’ body with the spices in long sheets of linen cloth. The place of crucifixion was near a garden, where there was a new tomb, never used before. And so, because it was the day of preparation for the Jewish Passover and since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there.

 

Who are you? Are you one of the faithful disciples who steps up even after Jesus has been crucified to take care of burial details? Have you been keeping your beliefs hidden? How do you suddenly have the nerve to show your loyalty even after Jesus is dead?

Trying to understand the events that unfolded that fateful Passover week takes knowledge of the Jewish customs and laws as well as the Roman laws. The situation was complicated and trying to fit all the details together is challenging, but Jesus died and on Friday, the day before the Jewish Sabbath, was the only time there was to do the work necessary to complete burial.

The Apostles and those closest to Jesus were all behind closed doors and in shock. Would you have been there with them or would you have been the secret followers who decided to take matters into your own hands and bury Jesus? Who are you?

John 20:1-2 (After Sabbath, the Jewish people resumed the business week on Sunday morning.)

 

Early on Sunday morning, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance. She ran and found Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved. She said, “They have taken the Lord’s body out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”

 

            Jesus’ disciples included women. Mary Magdalene had already used perfume oil to cleanse Jesus’ feet earlier in the week, but she was considered a prominent, even wealthy, businesswoman and disciple. She and the other women, listed in the other gospels got, to work that Sunday morning because that was what was traditional. Some probably just walked away thinking that the trial and crucifixion meant there was nothing more to know. But not Mary; I wonder just how many women knew that Jesus was the Messiah and were strong enough to carry that belief forward even when word got out that the body of Jesus was missing.

Who are you? Just how do others describe you? Is Christian one of the first descriptors? Or do other words come to mind first such as businessman, farmer, professional, friendly, cold, judging, honest, two-faced? The list goes on and on how people describe each other, but the only thing that truly matters is whether all we meet know us as Christians first and foremost.

I want to be there right at Jesus’ feet. I don’t want to do everything he asks, but I am trying to do it anyway. Who I am depends on knowing why the rock was rolled away from the tomb’s door that day when Mary Magdalene arrived there that first Easter morning. I know Jesus lives. I know that God and Jesus are one. And I know that with the Holy Spirit I can deal with the messiness of this world the way God wants me to—by loving one another just as I want to be loved.

Who are we? We are God’s children and are loved by our father beyond our worldly comprehension. We are God’s hands and feet working with and for each other. We are one huge family who meets to worship together. We are one of so many who seek to know God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost so well that we recognize them in every shape, form, and color there is. We are the ones who understand how a rock rolls away from the tomb’s door so Easter morning we are given the gift of eternal life.

 

John 20:11-18 (To end the Easter morning story. . .)

 

Mary was standing outside the tomb crying, and as she wept, she stooped and looked in. She saw two white-robed angels, one sitting at the head and the other at the foot of the place where the body of Jesus had been lying. “Dear woman, why are you crying?” the angels asked her.

Because they have taken away my Lord,” she replied, “and I don’t know where they have put him.”

She turned to leave and saw someone standing there. It was Jesus, but she didn’t recognize him. “Dear woman, why are you crying?” Jesus asked her. “Who are you looking for?”

She thought he was the gardener. “Sir,” she said, “if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and get him.”

“Mary!” Jesus said.

She turned to him and cried out, “Rabboni!” (which is Hebrew for “Teacher”).

 

Closing prayer:

Dear Father,

Dear Jesus,

Dear Holy Ghost,

Praise and thanks we give to you

this Easter morning.

We acknowledge all the work,

all the pain,

and all the heartache

given for our salvation.

Open the hearts of those here

and those not here.

Help each one of us

find ways to model Jesus,

to reach out to those strangers

yet to meet you.

Let this Easter morning

reveal to us our true selves.

Let this Easter morning

show us how your love

is for all people.

Let this Easter morning

refresh our faith,

renew our energy

to be your disciples today. –Amen

 

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