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Archive for March, 2016

I Believe?

But these things are written so that you will believe that Jesus is the Christ, God’s Son, and that believing, you will have life in his name.”  John 20:31 (CEB)

The week after Easter the lectionary always has the story of Thomas, the disciple who doubted.  What we often miss (because we focus so much on his story) is that Jesus showed the other disciples earlier his hands and his side.  They saw the wounds and believed, too.

Thomas really has had a bad rap by being called Doubting Thomas; yet, it’s important to learn from him that doubt is a normal part of the journey of faith.  I remember one of my colleagues asking, “Do you ever wonder if this is all a crock?”

In the silence that descended on the room where we were meeting with a bunch of other clergy, we could almost feel the shock and tension his question caused. During our discussion that followed, we all agreed that doubt is normal and helps us to grow stronger in our faith when we work through it.

One of the most agonizing experiences for me as a pastor is to watch especially the teenagers and young adults in the congregation struggle with believing.  As they grow older, their perceptions and interpretations are challenged, and often they turn away from God or at least put God on the “back burner.”

We do that as adults.  Many people who have felt the call the ministry enter seminary and find that the stories of Jesus they heard in their childhood are very different when examined through a theological exegesis.  Some work through it, and some drop out of seminary and quit the church all together.

The last verse of the gospel of John reminds us that what we read in the Bible is only a small pinch of who Jesus was and his impact on the world.  We begin with scripture, but we also have our experience, the traditions of the church (which can get muddles sometimes!), and our ability to learn and figure things out.

My Bible study participants recognize that I am always learning from them, as I hope they are learning from me.  If we are closed to learning new things and having our boundaries pushed, we will give up and stay stuck in a faith that is not active but static.  We may not literally SEE the hands and feet and side of Jesus, but we all want to have more proof.

So, if that’s true, let’s look for Jesus Christ at work in the world through acts of grace and mercy, compassion and love, care and concern for the poor and outcast or for those in trouble, sick, lonely, grieving, seeking, hoping, wishing, longing to know the hands and feet of Jesus through us.

Perhaps some of the doubting is because the church (the people ARE the church) doesn’t live out their faith.  Too many come to worship to meet their own needs rather than to discover what God is calling them to do for Christ in the world.

How do we bring Christ to the world?

How do our actions and words reveal him?

In what ways can we bring the kingdom of God more fully into reality?

“These things are signs in Jesus’ name so the world may believe that Jesus is the Christ, God’s Son, and that believing, the world will have life in his name!”

How do you work through your doubts?

How are you offering Christ to the world?

 

Why Seek the Living Among the Dead?

“. . . ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead?  He isn’t here, but has been raised.  Remember what he told you while he was still in Galilee, that he must be handed over to sinners, be crucified, and on the third day rise again. Then they remembered his words.”  Luke 24:5b-8 (CEB)

This year, I chose the Luke 24:1-12 passage to use as the basis for my sermon on Easter Sunday.  The verse that kept popping up at me was “Why do you look for the living among the dead?”  As I reflected on this, I wondered how many times we really do look for the living in dead places.

Maybe there is a tradition in our churches that is really a dead place and no longer excites people or has been meaningful for many years, yet, we continue to do it over and over again.  Maybe there is a bad habit that tears us down and makes us sick or affects our health.  I know how hard it is to break unhealthy habits!

Or perhaps we are caught in a dead-end job or a bad relationship.  There are any number of things that are really “deadwood” in our lives, things that are dead zones – maybe even like the tombs of our lives.  Do we keep going back to them expecting to find something new – something with life in it?

The women went to the tomb expecting to find Jesus’ dead body, and instead they found an empty tomb.  He was no longer there.  He had been raised.  What’s more, he had TOLD them this would happen.

Sometimes in grief, we forget things that our loved ones have told us, but as we move forward, we often begin to remember more and more of the positive qualities.  For some people, if the relationship was not healthy, the good memories may not appear, but for many of us, we begin to see the love and joy that the relationship brought us.  We can hold onto the gifts we were given in the relationship.

For the women at the tomb that morning, the experience of hearing that Jesus was alive was one of great joy and excitement.  They ran to tell the disciples.  In Luke they did not encounter Jesus, but they took the word of the two divine beings at the tomb.  It would only be later that everyone would encounter the risen Christ.

Maybe a good habit to start is to begin clearing out the deadwood, to stop looking in the tombs of our lives, to turn away from wishing things could be like they used to be and to find the blessing in the life we are in.

Where are your tombs?

How will you turn toward life?

That was Some Parade!

As Jesus rode along, they spread their clothes on the road.  As Jesus approached the road leading down from the Mount of Olives, the whole throng of his disciples began rejoicing.  They praised God with a loud voice because of all the mighty things they had seen. Luke 19:36-37 (CEB)

When I was growing up, the big thing in my small Midwestern town was to have a huge Fourth of July celebration, including a long parade.  Sometimes, I was in it with the baton twirlers, Girl Scouts, or marching band, and other times, I sat on the sidelines and watched.  It was fun each time, and we had a crowd made up of people from many neighboring towns.  Actually, they still do the big celebration, although I think it may be toned down from when I was around.

This Sunday is Palm Sunday, when we remember Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem on a donkey.  For someone to ride into town on a donkey was a symbol of peace and goodwill.  Apparently, Pontius Pilate had ridden through town on a great and mighty “stead” a few days earlier, and he was quite pompous, and he entered with a lot of brandishing of swords to show his superior status as the ruler of that area in the Roman Empire.

So, Jesus enters to shouts of “Hosanna to the Son of David!” and “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”  Yet, he enters peacefully and gently on a donkey.  That would be the most peaceful part of the week that followed.  He knew that entering in this way would continue to incite the religious leaders who wanted him to be arrested and out of their realm.

What was the purpose of the parade, anyway?  We may never know, but we DO know that Jesus seemed to want his presence known in Jerusalem.  In the gospel of Luke, he went on to tell many parables about the Kingdom of God and tried to prepare his disciples for his inevitable death on the cross.  He cleansed the temple, once again offending the religious leaders, many who received financial kick-backs from the sales of the sacrificial animals.

Holy Week was not a quiet week for them, and it ended, of course, in Jesus arrest, crucifixion and death.  This parade almost seemed to be his “last hurrah” and a way of getting attention.  Jesus knew what was coming, and he knew that it was the appointed time for him.

As we journey through this Holy Week with Jesus, may we follow his path through it all:  the good, the bad, and the ugly.  Only then can we truly begin to understand what he endured as he died for our sins and reconciled us to God.  My suggestion would be to read the gospel of Luke each day.  Below is a suggested pattern:

  • Sunday – Luke 19:28-48
  • Monday – Luke 20:1-47
  • Tuesday – Luke 21:1-38
  • Wednesday – Luke 22:1-38
  • Thursday – Luke 22:39-62
  • Friday – Luke 22:63-71; 23:1-25
  • Saturday – Luke 22:26-56
  • Sunday – Luke 24:1-53

Consider taking a few minutes to really ponder what you have read and think about what Jesus did for all of us – for the world.  What are your reactions?  How did you feel?  In what ways did you recognize yourself through the disciples? The crowd? The religious leaders? How will you now celebrate the magnificent message of Easter?

May you have a blessed journey with Jesus this coming week!

Pure Love

Then Mary took an extraordinary amount, almost three-quarters of a pound, of very expensive perfume made of pure nard.  She anointed Jesus’ feet with it, then wiped his feet dry with her hair.  The house was filled with the aroma of the perfume.”  John 12:3 (CEB)

“Pure nard.”  What is that anyway?  According to several sources, it is Spikenard which was an oil based perfume that was often used in anointing kings into office and preparing the dead for burial.  It was also VERY expensive, and when we translate the estimate of what they could have received if they sold it, it would be about $30,000.

Why would Mary “waste” such a precious oil by using it to anoint Jesus’ feet?  What was the point of her action?  If we look back to the events preceding this story, we discover that Jesus had raised Lazarus, Mary and Martha’s brother from the dead.  This prompted the religious leaders to conspire again to arrest him.  They were out to rid themselves of this so-called rabbi who broke all the rules and “must have used some kind of magic” to perform the miracles that he did.

After Lazarus was raised from the dead, a group of people gathered at his home, and, as usual, Martha was busy preparing and serving them a meal.  And, instead of sitting at Jesus’ feet, Mary appeared and began to anoint them.  For a woman to have her hair down in the presence of a man who was not her husband was scandalous.  Even more so, for her to touch a man’s feet was shocking and a very intimate act that was not acceptable in the culture of the day.

Her actions would have made everyone in the room uncomfortable, to say the least.  Perhaps Judas’ reprimand (“This perfume was worth a year’s wages!  Why wasn’t it sold and the money given to the poor?”) came from his discomfort.  Mostly, according to the writer of John, he was greedy and wanted to be able to pocket the money himself. Judas’ actions that followed this story moved the events of Holy Week into view.  He left the party and went to the chief priests to set up his betrayal of Jesus.

So, Mary brings the calm into the middle of the storm.  She offers something that no one else dared to offer Jesus:  her pure, genuine, honest love.  Jesus loved her, and she knew it.  She loved him, not in a romantic way, but in the way that someone loves her savior, the Son of God.  Mary gave what she had, and the cost was the last thing on her mind as she knelt to anoint him for his burial.

Did she know that was what she was doing?  Perhaps.  The rumors and unrest were clear, and the tension in the air probably seemed to vibrate as the religious leaders plotted, Judas arranged to betray Jesus, and the inevitability of his arrest loomed on the horizon.

In the midst of our storms, do we stop to kneel at Jesus’ feet and offer our pure unadulterated love?  Do we recognize him as our savior?  Do we give ourselves unquestioningly to him?  Do we serve in his name?

This is food for thought as we enter the week before holy week.  It’s a journey, this life of faith.  It’s also a choice.  We can choose to follow Jesus or not, but if we choose to follow him, we also choose to love him with all of who we are and to serve him in our world.

Lost and Found

“. . . we had to celebrate and be glad because this brother of yours was dead and is alive.  He was lost and is found.”  Luke 15:32 (CEB)

Have you ever felt lost?  I don’t mean not being able to read a map or trying to find your way out of a store (I did that once, though!  It felt like a maze!).  No, the “lost-ness” I’m talking about brings confusion, indecision, fear, anger, depression, and a sense of hopelessness.

Years ago, I realized my dream of moving to California.  It was the land of movie stars, glamour, excitement, warmer temperatures, and full of opportunity.  That had been my dream since I was in high school.  When I arrived with a friend of mine, we quickly discovered that it wasn’t what we had pictured at all.

Finding jobs was much more difficult than we expected, and when we did find them, we could barely afford to pay the rent on the apartment we had leased.  After two months, we realized that we needed to return to New England which was truly “home.”

Maybe the experience taught both of us that “the grass isn’t always greener” on the other side, and it also may have helped us to appreciate what we had right in front of us all along.  Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz said, “There’s no place like home.”  What most of us need to figure out is “Where IS home?”

In the parable of the prodigal son – or the parable of the son who stayed home or whatever we want to call it, the younger son thinks he can find his way better without his family dragging him down.  This is such a common scenario in so many families.  Teenagers run away from home because they believe things are better elsewhere, and they soon discover that they aren’t equipped to handle the world by themselves, without a support system.

The older son was the dutiful child who remained at home and did his duty, working the fields and tending the flocks.  He didn’t ask for much, but his resentment and jealousy of the younger son (whom he disowned) spent his inheritance and returned to his father’s welcoming embrace and forgiveness.

Hey, as the oldest daughter in my family of origin, I never could understand why my younger brother and sister “got away” with so much!  Yet, they have turned out to be responsible, faith-bearing people who have figured out that life is more than defying parents and trying to get away with things.  We loved them regardless of who they were and what they might have done.  I never had been inclined to push the boundaries, and maybe I should have!

What I think this parable reminds us to do is to stop and count our blessings, recognize the grace of God in our lives, make a list of the many gifts we have been given, and see that “home” is a pretty good place after all.  There is no need for resentment and jealousy because when our hearts are at home with God, we are all loved and treated with an abundance of God’s grace.

Everyone is welcome in God’s house, and we ALL can rejoice when the lost return, even when those “lost ones” are just confused about how to find our way around the house!

When have you felt lost?

How have you found your way back to God?

Where has your heart made its home?

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