Monday, March 29, 2010

Palm Sunday has come and gone

So, Palm Sunday is already over and we are now almost halfway to Maundy Thursday - the sad day with the funny name. Below is the transcript from the Palm Sunday message.
As part of the service, during the children's message I talked about how we are kind of like the palm branches: we can be used to praise God (just like on Palm Sunday), but we can also be a piece of what leads Jesus to the cross. While I was talking to the children, I formed one of the palm branches into a cross to illustrate the point.
Sometimes we are a face in the crowd on Palm Sunday, praising God with our lives and other times - far too often - we turn and twist our lives in a way that points Jesus to the cross.
The thing about being part of the crowd, and this is the thing that we so quickly forget, is that being a part of that crowd is a choice. We have the choice, we make the choice to use our lives to respond to God's passion and love for us with praise or to respond by twisting our lives into a arrow pointing Jesus to the cross.
Jesus had a choice too, he had lots of choices actually. Every minute of his life here on earth he could have made the choice that we weren't worth it. That all of our faults and sins and slights were too much and that he was going back home to heaven.
Instead, he continued to make the choice, every minute of every day, to live a life of passionate sacrifice because of his love for us.
. . . Sorry, I forgot I had already written the sermon. Oh, well, here it is:

Luke 19:28-40 (The Message)

God's Personal Visit

28-31After saying these things, Jesus headed straight up to Jerusalem. When he got near Bethphage and Bethany at the mountain called Olives, he sent off two of the disciples with instructions: "Go to the village across from you. As soon as you enter, you'll find a colt tethered, one that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it. If anyone says anything, asks, 'What are you doing?' say, 'His Master needs him.'" 32-33The two left and found it just as he said. As they were untying the colt, its owners said, "What are you doing untying the colt?" 34They said, "His Master needs him." 35-36They brought the colt to Jesus. Then, throwing their coats on its back, they helped Jesus get on. As he rode, the people gave him a grand welcome, throwing their coats on the street. 37-38Right at the crest, where Mount Olives begins its descent, the whole crowd of disciples burst into enthusiastic praise over all the mighty works they had witnessed:
Blessed is he who comes,
the king in God's name!
All's well in heaven!
Glory in the high places!

39Some Pharisees from the crowd told him, "Teacher, get your disciples under control!" 40But he said, "If they kept quiet, the stones would do it for them, shouting praise."

Prayer: God open our eyes to your work in us and around us. Guide our hearts and our minds as we seek you and seek your will for our lives. Allow us to hear your words as you speak through me. Hide me behind your cross, so you are what is seen and speak through me so you are what’s heard. Amen

Today is a big day in our church and in the life of the church universal

· Palm Sunday – a day of celebration. A day where we remember (and often reenact what is usually called Jesus’ ‘triumphal entry’ into Jerusalem.

· It is also the beginning of Holy Week, the most important week in the life of our church

· But to be honest – for me it has always been a difficult part of the story to really get into or to ‘enter’.

o It is the beginning of a story (or maybe the beginning of the end of a story, and I know how the story ends – so I just want to skip to end so I don’t have to dwell on or think about the rest of the story.

· It seems to me to be a Sunday of contradictions.

o Palm Sunday usually is focused on the celebration

§ Hosanna, Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Here comes David’s Son – the rightful and deserving King!

· These are the words that ring out from the crowd of people that greet Jesus as he enters the streets of Jerusalem

· These are the words that are echoed in this church and in churches around the world on this and every ‘Palm’ Sunday.

o But Palm Sunday, is also the start of Holy Week

§ And we all know what Holy Week holds

· Maundy Thursday & Good Friday

· Judas betrayal

· Peter’s denial

· Jesus’ trial

o Jesus’ suffering

· And finally Jesus crucifixion and death

· The contradiction is so stark in so many ways

o Maybe no where is that more evident than in the role that the crowd plays in Palm Sunday and in the Holy week to come

· The crowd that was shouting Hosanna on Sunday is the same crowd that shouts ‘Crucify Him’ Thursday

o There weren’t two different crowds – one that hailed him as king and the other that was shouting him down as a criminal.

o Instead there is just one crowd, made up of people that praised Jesus and longed for his word on Sunday and were calling for his head and wishing him dead come the weekend.

§ How did that happen? How could that happen?

· Can you image being there in Jerusalem that week

o Can you image having welcomed Jesus into the city as the promised liberating king – the savior who is Christ the Lord.

§ And then, merely a few days later those shouts of Hosanna have faded . . .they have been replaced by shouts not of praise, but by ‘Crucify Him’

· So, how does it happen? How does it work? What does it look like? How the crowd gets from Palm Sunday to Good Friday. I can’t imagine doing that.

o How could they turn on Jesus, how could they do that to him

· But then, I began to really think about it

o Could I, would I praise Jesus one day and turn my back on him the next?

· The truth is I didn’t like the answer I came up with

o If I am being honest most of the time it doesn’t even take me several days to go from praising God to turning my back on him.

o Often, all it takes is getting cut off on the way home and engaging road rage – or getting involved in gossip right in the parking lot.

· You see it is so easy for us to stand here and praise God with our words and our actions – but, sadly it is just as easy for us to turn our back on Christ with our thoughts, our words and our actions

o We most likely will never say the words ‘Crucify him’ but it is our actions as much as the words of that crowd 2,000 years ago that nailed Jesus to the cross.

§ When we use our words to hurt others or to cut them down we are saying ‘Crucify him’

§ When we ignore the needs of those around us, because dealing with them would be inconvenient or difficult, we are saying ‘Crucify him’

§ When ever we put our own selfish interests before the will of God we are shouting ‘Crucify him’

· The truth is that if we look closely at that crowd on Palm Sunday and through Holy Week you will see my face and you will see your face as well.

· Our lives are a study in contradiction.

o Just like the palm branch.

§ Used today to praise, to honor and to worship

§ But tomorrow (or even just a little later today) that same instrument of praise and worship is easily fashioned into a cross

· And this is the pattern of our lives.

o We say words of praise, thoughts of worship

§ And then we fail to act to help our brother in need

o The same mouth we use to praise God we use to curse or lie or gossip

o The hands we use to do good work in God’s name is not only used for good deeds.

· But this is the scandal of the Gospel of Christ – he has heard our cries and responded by saying:

o Forgive them Father for they know not what they do

· He has felt our betrayals and denials and said this to us:

o This is my body broken for you

o This is my blood, shed for you for the forgiveness of sins

· Jesus knows all the ways you and I have fallen short and turned our palm branches into crosses – and he knows about all those transgressions to come

o And the gift of grace for you and I is that Jesus does not come in spite of all of that, but because of it. Because of your sins and mine. Because of my cross and yours

o Jesus came, lived among us, died for us and rose again so that all of our crosses could be undone and our crimson sin be turned to white.

· Lets pray:

o God we are here praising you now, but we know that we don’t always praise you. We use our words and actions and sometimes our lack of action to turn our backs on you. Forgive us. Cleanse us of our sins. Renew us, by your sacrifice and by the power of your Holy Spirit so that we may go through our lives as new creations – living into the life you have claimed for us. As we turn our thoughts to your love and sacrifice for us this week guide us as we seek to more faithfully follow you, serve you and praise you.

o Amen.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The one about Mary and Martha . . .

So here is the text from this mornings sermon. The text from John 12 has always been an interesting one at best and a difficult one at worst. It is filled with background on Judas (he was not just the betrayer of Jesus, but a thief and the disciples treasurer) and the strange scene of Mary dumping expensive perfume all over Jesus feet and then wiping it with her hair. As you will read if you continue below I have always struggled a little bit with what Jesus does here. What follows below is my attempt at reconciling it to my understanding. Hopefully the struggle in my heart and mind might serve a Holy purpose for all of you too.

More to come this week as we get ready for Palm Sunday and Holy Week.



John 12:1-8 (TNIV)

1 Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. 2 Here a dinner was given in Jesus' honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. 3 Then Mary took about a pint [a] of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus' feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. 4 But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, 5 "Why wasn't this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year's wages. [b]" 6 He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it. 7 "Leave her alone," Jesus replied. "[It was intended] that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. 8 You will always have the poor among you, [c] but you will not always have me."

Prayer: Eternal God, come dwell among us now. Let us feel your presence and be drawn into your presence. Open our ears to hear your Word, open our minds to understand it. Open our hearts to believe it and open our eyes to see it realized in our lives. Right now Lord, I pray that you would hide me behind your cross so you are what’s seen and speak through me so you are what is heard. Amen.

‘What a waste! What a waste! Just think what good we could have done with all of that money.’ Can’t you just hear Judas saying that as he watched with disdain as Mary poured the expensive perfume all over Jesus’ feet? When you find yourself siding with Judas you know that you are probably on the wrong track, but that is exactly what I have always wanted to do when reading this passage. To me there just always seemed to be something wrong about the message Jesus gives in this text. Isn’t one of our main responsibilities taking care of the poor? Regardless of what he would later do, isn’t Judas right, isn’t it a waste to just dump all that perfume on Jesus’ feet? Is Jesus being selfish or self-centered – does he just like the attention that he is getting? Does Mary ever help out poor Martha, or does she get out of all the work and somehow still end up the favorite?

It would seem that if you take a look around the world today that maybe we have too many Mary’s. Certainly many have taken up Martha’s mantle and push on with doing the work of mission and ministry in our communities and in our world –. This is good, vital and encouraging work that should be celebrated and encouraged.

But there seem to be a lot of us Christians that are all too eager to just listen or talk about our faith, I know that I fall into that category more than I would like to admit. We have lots of people that are very serious about their ‘personal relationship with Christ’ but don’t seem to put that into practice in their lives at all.

Many of those outside the ‘Christian circle’ look at us as Christians as being more concerned about knowing what is ‘right’, looking the part of being a Christian, than we are with feeding the poor, visiting the sick and attending to the needs of those that can’t help themselves.

Too many people talk a lot about being ‘Christian’ but don’t marry any compassionate actions to their beliefs and people see us as hypocrites or uncaring, sort of like Mary sitting there ‘listening’ while Martha did the work.

Of course one part of this passage is undeniably true, from Jesus’ time until now, the poor have remained. It is not just the poor either; it seems like there can’t be more than two or three weeks without some major tragedy or natural disaster that strikes in our country or around the world.

Our daily lives, too, are filled with minor –really just more localized – tragedy and disaster. So, where are the Christians in all of this? Now clearly, many are responding, but Isn’t there a lot more that we should be doing, or maybe isn’t this something more of us should be doing? Isn’t this something all Christians are called to do?

So what is it then that Jesus sees that we don’t? Why is Mary the one that is lifted up?

Mary’s story is a story of a personal encounter with Jesus Christ. Mary quite literally serves at the feet of Jesus. She takes the opportunity she is given and lavishes expensive perfume all over his feet and humbles herself to the point using her own hair to wipe off and clean his feet. This is someone who is completely unconcerned about how things look or about outside appearances. She was utterly overwhelmed by the work of God’s grace in her life and was responding to Jesus in any and every way she knew how and she has soaked up every second she has had in the presence of Jesus Christ. For doing this she is lifted up as doing the right thing by Christ.

Could it be that Mary is spending time with Jesus, serving him, worshiping him, and soaking up his wisdom and grace so that she will have the wisdom, strength and grace to serve him faithfully when he is gone? Could it be that the willingness to serve others has to be fueled by a deep commitment to being in relationship with God?

While it certainly is true that there are still the poor among us, it also seems to be true that encounters with Christ are still happening as well. These special intimate encounters with Jesus Christ, often called mountaintop experiences, can be transformative life-changing encounters.

When you have spent time in the presence of the risen Lord Jesus Christ there is always an effect on your life; you can’t help but be changed.

We always have access to Jesus through the work and presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. In the Word this morning Jesus is calling us to be sensitive to and aware of those special times when we are drawn into His presence; when we have the opportunity to encounter the Living God in a special way, we must take advantage of it.

Jesus, as it may seem at first, is not advocating that we ignore the poor. In fact the most consistent place in which we can encounter Christ in one of these ‘mountaintop experiences’ is by actively engaging in serving others in the name of Christ.

The waste is not of the perfume, but of the moments with Christ – the moments to deepen, refresh and revitalize your faith, so that we are centered in our faith and filled with the Spirit to do the work that God has called us to, a work that will never be complete in this world – to reach out to and serve the poor, hungry, the sick, the least and the lost.

Make no mistake, Jesus wants and expects action from us. But Jesus is first concerned with the state of our souls and the disposition of our hearts and his words carry both wisdom and warning for all of us, those that would be Mary and those that would be Martha.

Jesus knew that time spent at his knee must lead to action, to applying what has been learned and responding to God’s action in our lives. We aren’t supposed to stay at Jesus’ feet forever. But Jesus was also making it clear that why we do something is actually more important than the doing of it. The ‘why’ of who we are and what we are, for Jesus, comes before the ‘what’ of how we act in the world and interact with each other.

Everything we do –Acting like Mary sitting at the feet of Jesus, worshiping him, serving him and seeking out those ‘mountaintop experiences’. Acting like Martha, serving others, working hard, putting action into our faith. Everything we do following the rules, feeding the poor is not done to somehow earn our way into God’s salvation, but rather as a response to the gift of God’s grace in our lives and that ‘while we were yet sinner’s Christ died for us.’ Amen.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Things that are Lost for $500, BoB

So, first, sorry it has been a while. I think the bottom line is I started this blog about a month too soon and I just have been overwhelmed with the move and all the transition stuff. Anyway, here is a transcript from my sermon from this morning. I have included the texts as well. Hope the Spirit speaks to you in some of these words. We had a great time of worship this morning and this message was some small part of that. Praise God.
Also, please forgive the bullet points in the message, its how my brain organizes the words for speaking them. Also, with the passage (all of Luke 15) it is a little long. You have been warned.
So without further ado . . .

2 Corinthians 5:16-21 (TNIV)

16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin [a] for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Luke 15 (Today's New International Version)

The Parable of the Lost Sheep

1 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. 2 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, "This man welcomes sinners and eats with them." 3 Then Jesus told them this parable: 4 "Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn't he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? 5 And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6 and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, 'Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.' 7 I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.

The Parable of the Lost Coin

8 "Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins [a] and loses one. Doesn't she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? 9 And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, 'Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.' 10 In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents."

The Parable of the Lost Son

11 Jesus continued: "There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, 'Father, give me my share of the estate.' So he divided his property between them. 13 "Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

17 "When he came to his senses, he said, 'How many of my father's hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.' 20 So he got up and went to his father.
"But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
21 "The son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.'

22 "But the father said to his servants, 'Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let's have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.' So they began to celebrate.

25 "Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing.26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 'Your brother has come,' he replied, 'and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.'

28 "The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29But he answered his father, 'Look! All these years I've been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!'

31 " 'My son,' the father said, 'you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.' "

· This morning’s Gospel message contains one of the most well known stories, not just in the Bible but in the entire world.

· Sometimes with the familiar we are so used to the story, we somehow have managed to stop hearing it.

o We listen to the beginning of the message and skip to the end without really processing any of the story that we have heard and are so familiar with.

· I think this is often the case with us and the story of the prodigal or ‘lost son’

· For me the key to really being able to ‘hear’ or understand any portion of scripture is context.

o And the context for this story is incredibly important

· The story of the prodigal or lost son comes immediately after two other stories of things that have been lost:

o a sheep in the first parable and a coin in the second

o The story of the lost sheep two other stories that follow it are Jesus’ response to the Pharisees and the religious leaders complaints about who Jesus was hanging out with

· So with that in mind it is good to look at what is going on in the other two ‘lost’ parables

o In the first parable from Luke 15 we have the story of the lost sheep, a fairly familiar story for many its own right.

· The short version is that Jesus says that the a shepherd with 100 sheep, loses one and in response Jesus says that the common and sensible thing – what any Good Shepherd would do – is to leave the 99 sheep to go and find the 1 lost sheep

o The story of the ‘lost coin’ runs a similar course

· In that parable a woman with 10 silver coins, loses one and searches the house up and down looking for it.

o When she finally finds it, she essentially throws a party to celebrate, inviting all of her friends to join in the celebration

· Now, before we move on to talk about the ‘lost son’, there are two things of importance to note:

o First, and I know this isn’t common knowledge for any of us (even here at Good Shepherd), but a good shepherd would never endanger the entire flock for just one sheep.

§ A shepherd would certainly go after the lost sheep, and would go to great lengths to recover it, but only after ensuring the other sheep were safely back in the pen.

o Second, the story of the lost coin always struck me as at least a little strange.

§ Obviously, no one wants to lose money – even one coin, and we would all look hard for the money we lost.

§ But the woman’s celebration always seemed more than a little bit over the top to me.

· (I always imagined the woman’s friends on the other end of the telephone car . . . ‘really? You found your coin . . . great. Oh, and your having a party to celebrate? Ok?)

· I also always thought that the celebration for the found coin would have cost much more than the coin itself.

· Basically, the response given in both of these parables doesn’t make sense:

o The shepherd shouldn’t have left the other sheep

o The woman went way overboard in here celebration

· And then we have the story of the lost son.

· When we look at all of the stories together the point becomes quite clear – God has a deep, unflinching and unending love and concern for each and every one of us.

o God will stop at nothing – spare no expense or personal risk. Even to the point of personal sacrifice and loss to repair and restore his relationship with us.

· That love is shown in the reckless abandon that the shepherd shows – going to foolish lengths to find the one lost sheep

· That love is shown in the exorbitant, over-the-top celebration that the woman has when she finds her lost coin

· And of course, the love is shown in the many gracious and loving acts of the father in the parable of the lost son.

· The stories, while we title them ‘lost sheep, coin & son’ are really about the restoration of something that was lost to where it belongs – sheep with shepherd, coin with its owner and son with father & family

o The joy surrounding all of these reunions is the joy of a completed and fulfilled mission - a mission and ministry of reconciliation

· This mission and ministry of reconciliation what Easter is all about – Jesus came to earth, lived a sinless life of service and sacrifice, even to the point of death on a cross – so that we might have the opportunity at a reconciled relationship with our creator and our God –

o This reconciled relationship not only brings with it eternal live with God, but has the power to fundamentally transform the lives we are currently living.

§ One of the clearest ways our lives our transformed after our reconciliation with God is that it becomes our privilege to respond by joining with God – through the power of the Holy Spirit – in this mission and ministry of reconciliation!

· But back to the ‘lost son’, there is another side to this story.

o That story could just as easily be called the story of a man with two sons.

o Because the ‘lost or prodigal’ son was only one half of that generation of the family. There was as well, the son who never left.

· And for us, I think it naturally raises the question . . . ‘Which son are you?’

o Are you the younger son . . . trying to live life all on your own

§ Seeking fulfillment in power or money or success or the accumulation of things or in lustful relationships

§ Running (either consciously or subconsciously) from who you really are, where you really belong and the people who love and accept you

· Or are you the older son . . . the one that refers to his own brother (who was lost, but now is found) as ‘this son of yours!.

o Fulfilling your duty, but with an empty or even resentful heart

o Devoid of compassion and missing the relationship and connection to those around you in need

o And missing the point – the point that the great joy of life spend in the house of our father and as an heir of the master is that you to have already received your inheritance. Because our father and master is loving, gracious and generous –

o all that is the fathers is already yours when you are in a reconciled relationship with our father, our master and our God.

· Maybe the question really should be, ‘which child are you today?’ because I think we all spend time on both sides of that equation.

· And the Good News for all of us is that Jesus came for both types of children

o To save the one by lifting him out of the pit of sin and death – a fractured relationship with God and to restore them to their rightful place as an heir of God’s kingdom in a reconciled relationship with God.

o And to save the other by allowing them the grace to participate in the ministry of reconciliation and the celebration that comes with each repaired relationship

· A few things to think about as we close:

· First, as the good shepherd and the loving, grace-filled and forgiving father show us – God will stop at nothing to find us and restore a relationship with us

· Second, (a question), if the church is not celebrating the changed life and fate of sinners that have newly reconciled relationships with God and welcoming them into its midst, then what is the church doing?

· Finally, as this story is a reminder that God runs to us, embraces us, restores us and forgives us from our sin.

· The story is also an invitation to join with Jesus in welcoming sinners/outsiders, the left behind and the left out into the kingdom and family of God.

· This ministry of reconciliation is the starting place for all of us in our relationship with God. It is why Jesus came to be among us, it is precisely what the Holy Spirit equips us for. And it is what we are preparing to remember and celebrate at Easter.

· God, through Christ has already reconciled himself to you and God is asking for us to join in spreading the reconciliation to the entire world.

· The story of the lost son doesn’t have a Hollywood ending, instead it ends with the father asking the elder son to join in the celebration and come inside.

o The offer to join in the mission and ministry of Jesus Christ has been made to each of us as well.

· The only question that remains is how will you respond?