Tuesday, May 31, 2011

No such thing as 'over-confident' in God

On Sunday I shared the second in a series of messages based on a book written by Mark Batterson.  The book called, Soul Print, is about claiming who God created you to be so that you can live into the life and destiny God has planned for you.  Below is the first message in the series.  I will be following with the second tomorrow.  I hope you are called into at least thinking about who God made you to be, and why God might have made you the way you are.  
Mark Batterson is a pastor in Washington, D.C. and is one of my favorite authors and communicators, here is a link to buy the book, if you are so inclined: here

1 Samuel 17:32-40 (NIV)

32 David said to Saul, “Let no one lose heart on account of this Philistine; your servant will go and fight him.”33 Saul replied, “You are not able to go out against this Philistine and fight him; you are only a young man, and he has been a warrior from his youth.” 34 But David said to Saul, “Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, 35 I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it. 36 Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God. 37 The LORD who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.”  Saul said to David, “Go, and the LORD be with you.”  38 Then Saul dressed David in his own tunic. He put a coat of armor on him and a bronze helmet on his head. 39 David fastened on his sword over the tunic and tried walking around, because he was not used to them.  “I cannot go in these,” he said to Saul, “because I am not used to them.” So he took them off.40 Then he took his staff in his hand, chose five smooth stones from the stream, put them in the pouch of his shepherd’s bag and, with his sling in his hand, approached the Philistine.
Over the next several weeks we will be looking at the unique design that God has for each of our lives.  We will be doing this in part, through a book, called ‘Soul Print’ by Mark Batterson
As we think about, talk about and seek out what God might have planned for each of our lives we will consistently look the life of David for examples of important turning points or defining moments in his life.
As we look at those defining moments in David’s life, we will (hopefully at least) gain insight into the potential defining moments in our own lives.
But before we skip ahead to David’s story, or even our own, I want to share with you why I chose to share this book – and the ideas that came to me from it –
Mark Batterson is one of my favorite Christian authors.  I have heard him speak several times and something about the way that he is able to communicate the Word of God really speaks to me.
So, when I heard he had a new book coming out, I was pretty excited.  Then I saw the title, read the description and (to be honest) got a little less excited. 
The book sounded like a typical ‘self-help’ book with some Christian language thrown in for good measure.
That type of book simply doesn’t appeal to me. 
Don’t get me wrong.  I know that we all need help.  But I really believe that as long as we are talking about how we can ‘help ourselves’ we are looking to the wrong place for help. 
I think all of our big, important problems are, simply, beyond us.
But, as I really like Batterson’s work, I got the book anyway.  And I read the first page:
‘There has never been and never will be anyone else like you.  But that isn’t a testament to you.  It’s a testament to the God who created you.  You are unlike anyone who has ever lived.  But that uniqueness isn’t a virtue.  It’s a responsibility.  Uniqueness is God’s gift to you, and uniqueness is your gift to God.  You owe it to yourself to be yourself.  But more important, you owe it to the One who designed you and destined you.’
After making clear that this isn’t a ‘self-help’ book he continues: ‘So let me be blunt: you aren’t good enough or gifted enough to get where God wants you to go.  Not without His help.  But here is the good news: there is nothing God cannot do in you and through you I f you simply yield your life to Him.  All of it.  All of you.
This book is all about you, but it’s not about you at all.  The fact that there never has been and never will be anyone like you simply means that no one can worship God like you or for you.  You were created to worship God in a way that no one else can.  How?  By living a life no one else can – your life
And with that, the book had me.  It had be because I think it clearly communicates two seemingly opposing, but actually linked and complementary truths that we often miss today: We aren’t nearly as great – or capable – as we often think we are.  And there is nothing – really nothing, not anything – that is impossible for us when we have fully submitted our lives to God.
We have a unique and irreplaceable role to play in the story God is telling in the world and playing the role designed for us begins with understanding – or maybe better – discovering who we really are in God’s eyes and who God created us to be.
I mentioned the title of the book, Soul Print, that is a term I had never heard before and it is a term worth defining as we begin to seek out who we really are
A soulprint, like a fingerprint is a unique way of identifying who you are.  A fingerprint, however, is only skin deep.  A soulprint is a unique identifier that runs not skin deep, but soul deep.
Our soulprint is a hardwired identifier of our true identity and our true destiny or calling.
Our ultimate purpose or calling is central to understanding who we really are, because even though we move ‘forward’ in a progression through life – God works the other way around.  Our God always begins (in our hearts, in our minds and in our lives) with the end in mind.
God hasn’t called us to be anyone other than who we are – than who God created us to be. 
We are not ‘just’ anything – we are, each and every one of us, masterpieces of God’s hand.  To think of ourselves as anything other than that is to distort and devalue our true identity
Before David was King, and before he became mighty warrior, he was just the youngest brother in a big family.  A shepherd boy and nothing more. 
But that wasn’t who he was – that wasn’t David’s true identity or his true purpose.  David was a giant killer, a mighty warrior and a great king. 
Over the course of the next several weeks as we seek our own soulprint, we will look at 5 defining moments in David’s life that helped him discover his. 
The first of these, which came as he was preparing to face the giant Goliath, was in some ways the most important, as it paved the way for all that would come after it. 
David had a chance, as he went out to fight the mighty giant, to wear the kings own armor, and carry the king’s own sword.  The finest protection and the best weaponry available to anyone in the world at that time.  But they weren’t right for David, because simply, they weren’t his.  The sword and the armor were Saul’s and David wasn’t Saul.
Instead David took what he was used to, part of what defined who he was – the slingshot that he used daily to protect his father’s flock and grabbed 5 smooth stones and was ready to make history.
All because he was willing to take off Saul’s armor and be himself – exactly who God had called him to be. 
Today’s sermon is subtitled Holy Confidence.  Holy Confidence is not about being confident in what we can do our how well we can do it.  Holy Confidence, is about who we are confident in.  Our confidence becomes Holy only when it is placed on God.  Another word for this ‘Holy Confidence’ is trust.   Trusting in God, having the Holy Confidence that God is in control and we are not. 
Putting our trust or confidence in God is never more important than when we are waiting for something to happen or waiting for our life to start. 
No one ever tells us when ‘our moment’ is going to come.  David didn’t wake up the morning he defeated Goliath and know that that day was going to be the day that defined who he was and that set his life on a different course. 
And if David was anything like me – or like most of us.  I can imagine that he spent many of his days out in the fields tending his father’s sheep, waiting for his life to ‘really begin’.
But here is the great lesson for us.  It was the skills he learned as a shepherd (a slingshot is a shepherd’s tool, not a soldiers weapon) that prepared him for his big moment.  There is no skill, experience or event that is unredeemable or unusable in God’s eyes and in God’s plan.
Finding our true identity and true, God ordained destiny begins with the courage to take off Saul’s armor – or anything else that doesn’t belong on us or to us. 
The next step is letting go of the attempt to control our lives – even the timing of ‘when they will begin’ and having a Holy Confidence that God is intending what is best for us and loves us.

Monday, May 30, 2011

In Memory / In Honor of - some thoughts on memorial day

Romans 12:1-2 (The Message)

 1-2 So here's what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don't become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You'll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.

Ephesians 2:1-10 (The Message)

 1-6It wasn't so long ago that you were mired in that old stagnant life of sin. You let the world, which doesn't know the first thing about living, tell you how to live. You filled your lungs with polluted unbelief, and then exhaled disobedience. We all did it, all of us doing what we felt like doing, when we felt like doing it, all of us in the same boat. It's a wonder God didn't lose his temper and do away with the whole lot of us. Instead, immense in mercy and with an incredible love, he embraced us. He took our sin-dead lives and made us alive in Christ. He did all this on his own, with no help from us! Then he picked us up and set us down in highest heaven in company with Jesus, our Messiah.
 7-10Now God has us where he wants us, with all the time in this world and the next to shower grace and kindness upon us in Christ Jesus. Saving is all his idea, and all his work. All we do is trust him enough to let him do it. It's God's gift from start to finish! We don't play the major role. If we did, we'd probably go around bragging that we'd done the whole thing! No, we neither make nor save ourselves. God does both the making and saving. He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing.

            Memorial Day, like many of our holidays, serves to focus our attention – for one day at least – on an important topic or event.  A Holiday marks something that has meaning for all of us, but for one reason or another tends to get lost in the ebb and flow of our busy daily lives.  And so holidays serve as markers, reminders or signposts that point us to an event or subject that is worry of our attention.
            Memorial Day, of course, is the day we set aside to honor all of those that have paid the ultimate price in protecting the freedoms and liberties we enjoy.  The brave men and women we honor deserve to be remembered and deserve to be honored.  All that we do this weekend – and in truth much more frequently than one weekend a year – should be done in their memory and to their honor.
For most of us I think it is difficult to picture or to really understand what these men and women do and have done.  Until you have actually been in the position of risking your life to protect someone else’s I don’t know that you can really have a full understanding of what that looks and feels like. 
I can’t even begin to compare any of my life experiences with that situation.  For me, the closest I have come to some level of understanding of what that sacrifice might look like is through the movie Saving Private Ryan.
The highly acclaimed and Oscar winning Steven Spielberg movie is loosely based on actual events from WWII.  The story begins with 4 brothers going off to war in different theatres of the fighting.  In one day, just before D-Day, three of the brothers are killed in action.  The army realizing the sheer tragedy of the situation decides to pull the last surviving Ryan brother from action and send him home to his family.  This is complicated by the fact that James Ryan, played by Matt Damon, is a paratrooper and has just jumped behind enemy lines as part of the D-Day invasion.
The rest of the movie follows an Army ranger captain, played by Tom Hanks, and his squad of soldiers as they search the frontlines of the battle for Ryan.  Eventually they find him and his unit in defense of a key bridge that is about to be attacked by the German army.
Vastly outnumbered, the paratroopers and the rangers hold off the Germans until reinforcements arrive.  In the course of the battle all but one of the rangers sent to find and save Private Ryan are killed, including Tom Hanks’ character – who dies from his wounds just as it becomes clear that the reinforcements have turned the tide in favor of the American troops.
With his dying breaths the captain pulls private Ryan close and he says ‘earn this . . . earn this’.  The movie ends with an elderly James Ryan, family in tow, kneeling at the grave of the captain that saved his life.  He explains that not a day goes by that he doesn’t think about the sacrifice that was made for him and that he has tried every day to live up to that sacrifice.  Breaking down emotionally, with his children and grandchildren looking on he turns to his wife and asks, almost begging: ‘tell me I have been a good man, tell me I have lived a good life.’  She does and the movie ends as emotionally as any I have ever seen.
This is an example of the type of sacrifice we are honoring this weekend, and for many of us, it is the only time of year that we are think about just how much has been sacrificed for us and for our freedom. 
Few, if any of us will ever physically experience being saved like Private Ryan.  The trauma of a moment, of an experience like that, it is little wonder that he says not a day goes by without thinking about it.  How could something like that every escape your mind.
If any of us had ever had an experience like that, remembering it, celebrating it and honoring those that made it possible would certainly not be a once a year thing.  But – and you all probably know where this is going -  the truth is all of us have been saved in an even more extraordinary way, in a more profound way and in a more complete way.
Christ stepped into history walked among us, lived and then died on the cross to save you and to save me.  Christ paid the ultimate price, made the highest sacrifice for each and everyone of us.  However, Christ – unlike Tom Hanks and the other soldiers in the movie – chose to sacrifice, chose to trade places with you and with me.  Christ, who is perfectly blameless, holy and in fact God, in making the ultimate sacrifice paid the price for our failures, our shortcomings and selfishness - our sins.
The obvious question then becomes – what should/could/must we do in memory and honor of what God, through Christ has done for us?  Clearly one day, one weekend is not enough to recognize this kind of sacrifice.  We all know that, but what can be done that can properly honor this kind of sacrifice.
Before we can even begin to answer that question, I think we must closely examine just what exactly it is that Christ did for us:
§  This passage from Ephesians 2 puts it into clear perspective:

Ephesians 2:1-6 (The Message)

 1-6 It wasn't so long ago that you were mired in that old stagnant life of sin. You let the world, which doesn't know the first thing about living, tell you how to live. You filled your lungs with polluted unbelief, and then exhaled disobedience. We all did it, all of us doing what we felt like doing, when we felt like doing it, all of us in the same boat. It's a wonder God didn't lose his temper and do away with the whole lot of us. Instead, immense in mercy and with an incredible love, he embraced us. He took our sin-dead lives and made us alive in Christ. He did all this on his own, with no help from us! Then he picked us up and set us down in highest heaven in company with Jesus, our Messiah.
            And, of course, we all know this story.  We all know how Jesus did all of this for us – all by himself, willingly he choose to humble himself from his throne in heaven, willingly Jesus walked all the way to the painful, shameful death on a cross.  Willingly Jesus came to live and die, to suffer pain and anguish and fear and rejection and eventually to conquer death and bring freedom.  All for us, all for you and for me Jesus laid down his own life for ours.
In some ways this is where the illustration with the movie must end:  You see, there is no way we can live up to the charge that Tom Hanks’ captain puts on Private Ryan.  Simply put there is nothing we can do to earn or live up to what Christ has already done for us.  It just can’t be done, all of us have already fallen short of that mark.  This is emphasized in the conclusion of the passage from Ephesians 2 – v. 7 – 10:
7-10Now God has us where he wants us, with all the time in this world and the next to shower grace and kindness upon us in Christ Jesus. Saving is all his idea, and all his work. All we do is trust him enough to let him do it. It's God's gift from start to finish! We don't play the major role. If we did, we'd probably go around bragging that we'd done the whole thing! No, we neither make nor save ourselves. God does both the making and saving. He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing.

While we can’t earn what Christ has done for us, we are not only able, but we are called to respond to Christ’s sacrifice.  To live our lives in light of and in response to what God has done for us. Listen again to the end of the Ephesians passage, as it sheds some light on what that response should look like:  joining in on the ‘good work’ Christ has already begun and has prepared us to do.
·         There is also insight into what this might look like from this morning’s passage from Romans, lets first look at v.2:
Romans 12:2 Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don't become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You'll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.

Embracing what God does for you is joining in on the ‘good work’ that he is already doing.  It isn’t all about us, responding to Christ’s sacrificial love is instead about working with Christ in the world.  It is about living into the life Christ has saved you for.
Again, what becomes clear from both of these verses is that even our response is not about us – the best response we can have – that which will honor God most is simply being who he made us to be. Daily remembering Christ’s sacrifice and focusing our attention on him is the only way to see what he has planned for you and to know what he is calling you to do. 
This brings me back to the last connection to Memorial Day and to Saving Private Ryan and a central aspect to the life that we have in Christ – Freedom. We all know that Our soldiers daily put their lives on the line, and sometimes give up those lives for your freedom and mine.
In the movie Tom Hanks and his squad of heroes gave their lives for Ryan’s freedom.  But as many people say, and we all recognize as true, ‘freedom isn’t free’ – freedom bought at that price comes with more than a little bit of responsibility. 
Private Ryan, very understandably, felt a very real responsibility to live up to the life he had been given, the life that those soldiers’ lives had bought.  He felt a need to ‘live a good life’ and to be a ‘good man’ in response to that gift
We have each been given the gift of freedom as well, that is what Christ won for us on the cross.  And we all know that it was a costly, costly gift.  And just like it was for Private Ryan, our freedom bears with it a measure of responsibility.
We were not freed for ourselves and for whatever desires or impulses we might have.  Rather we were freed from our bondage to sin and to the death that sin brings. Sin, the thing which traps us, trips us up and turns us into what we are not, were not created to be and don’t want to be.
We are freed to follow the call of Christ, to jump into the kingdom life of a child of God and to become the person that God has made us to be.
It is important to remember, however that our freedom, our salvation, our calling isn’t about special events, holidays or one weekend a year.  Our faith, and the life lived in response to Christ’s love isn’t about showing up once a week on a Sunday morning to put in your time and do your duty.  No, as the Romans’ passage says, ‘Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering.’ 
Honoring and remembering what Christ has done for you is about living your life, every day, every moment in light of the love and work of God.  I don’t know just who or what God made you to be – I have a hard enough time figuring that out for myself.  But I do know that everyday, as we try to work out what it is we are supposed to be doing and who it is we are called to be, we are to live each day, each hour, each moment in the light of Christ’s sacrificial love. 
      Holidays and celebrations are all well and good, but it is in your everyday live, your eating, sleeping, hanging out with friends, going to work, doing work around the house, going to school life.  It is that life – the one you live in everyday that has to be placed as an offering to God. 
It is in our everyday lives where we can show that we honor, remember and understand what it is that Christ did for us.  In his immense mercy and with his incredible love Jesus, despite our egos and our faults and all our sins, Jesus embraces us with his incredible, undeniable, sacrificial love.
And with that love of God we went from dead in our sins to alive – alive and free in Christ.  That love of Christ, and the life and freedom it brings us is what we are called to remember, honor and celebrate every day.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

'Doubting' Thomas gets a bad rap . . and other thoughts after Easter

Two days in a row, hopefully I am getting back into a rhythm with the blogging.  Today, I want to share the message I gave at Good Shepherd the Sunday after Easter.  It is an exploration of the question, 'What now?' after Easter, but more than that it is a look at the disciple we know as 'Doubting Thomas' and how he can actually serve as an example to us of how to respond to the truth of the resurrected Jesus.    

John 20:19-31 (NIV)
 19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.
 21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
 24 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus[a]), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”
   But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
 26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
 28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
 29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
 30 Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe[b] that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

In many corners of the church this Sunday in our Christian calendar is called ‘low Sunday’.  The reason for this is that in many, if not most churches this is the lowest attended Sunday of the year. 
In fact many of my first opportunities to share the Word of God in worship were on one of the two ‘low Sunday’s’ of the year (the other being the Sunday after Christmas).  That is because it is fairly common, even for pastors, to take this Sunday off. 
In a way, I guess, this makes sense.  Lent is a busy time.  Holy Week, is in many places, including our church, a time of many opportunities for worship and study – opportunities that require extra time and commitment. 
But the idea of taking the Sunday after Easter ‘off’ really doesn’t make sense at all  - not we really understand what it was we were celebrating last week, and what we are called to proclaim this and every day. 
The ‘Low Sunday’ after Christmas, kind of makes sense.  Taking some time to rest and recuperate after we have had a baby is understandable; it takes a lot of out of the Body, but after a resurrection? It seems like that would be energizing, revolutionary, invigorating, and world changing. A lot of babies have been born, but no body has ever risen from the dead before. After declaring the resurrection, I would think the following Sunday would be packed.
This weeks Gospel reading seems to support the idea, that it is not a week to take off, but a time to get a lot done.  As we are hear living in the light of the resurrection, we ask the simple but all important question: What now?  Now that Jesus has risen, what now?  Now that death and sin have been conquered, what now?  Now that Jesus has given us freedom, live eternal and a full, whole life in the present, what now?
We will be trying to answer that question over the next two weeks.  And we will do that by looking at how those first disciples of Jesus answered the question.  This morning we will focus on Thomas
I have always felt sorry for Thomas, because I think he gets a bad rap.  For whatever reason, he wasn’t in the upper room when Jesus first appears to the disciples (He could have been anywhere – getting lunch for the group, gathering information, seeking out friends). 
Although ‘doubt’ is the word we most often associate with Thomas, maybe it should be another word, like ‘brave’.  After all, in chapter 11 of John’s gospel it is Thomas that urges the disciples to follow Jesus to Jerusalem, ‘so that we may die with him’; and he is the one that leaves the upper room, again for whatever reason, when the rest of the disciples are there, hiding from those that were responsible for killing Jesus.  
But, understandably maybe, Thomas says he wants to see the Body, see the wounds – which if we remember all of the other disciples have seen with their own eyes at this point. Jesus arrives and very graphically shows him the wounds, and in a very intimate gesture, invites him to place his finger and hand inside them. There can be no doubt that this is the Body of Jesus the Christ, very man, very God.
That Jesus literally, physically rose from the dead is the foundation of the Christian faith.
The living, breathing body of Christ is the proof Thomas and the other disciples needed to believe in all that Jesus had told them and to begin to live into that faith in a new way, with a new understanding.
This new understanding is seen in the confession that Thomas makes after seeing Jesus:
"My Lord and my God," essentially summarize the entire Gospel. One should capitalize, bold, or italicize the "and" in his statement. Jesus is Lord, our Lord, but Jesus is also God, the "I AM," the dwelling of God in the flesh. 
And notice the pronoun -- "my" Lord and "my" God, not "the" Lord and "the" God because this confession is not about intellectual assent to a certain understanding but a claim about relationship. A relationship that changes everything, a relationship that transformed who Thomas was and transforms who we are if we enter into it.
If we have been successful in getting ourselves unstuck from centuries of giving Thomas a bad rap, we now find ourselves behind closed doors.
Twice in this passage Jesus comes through locked doors to meet the disciples.  This is not an accident, and it recalls earlier moments from this gospel, in chapter 10 and 18, where Jesus tells his disciples that he is the door – the way, the truth and the life – and that they can only and will enter into life and relationship with God, through him.
Jesus as the door is a life giving image, providing pasture, protection, and provision. The provision that Jesus gives is fully realized in that locked room when Jesus breathes into them the Spirit. Thomas is not there for that first giving of the spirit.
The story of Thomas reminds us once again of the grace upon grace through Jesus. Jesus comes back for Thomas because as the parable Jesus tells in chapter 18 shows us, he will not lose a single one of those whom the Father gave him.
We tend to forget that the disciples who did happen to be in the room when Jesus became "the door" once again also needed to see for themselves. Jesus' first resurrection appearance is for Mary in the garden, to which she responds by going to the disciples and saying, "I have seen the Lord!"
Now, the disciples do not say "Great! That's amazing! We believe you!" There is no response to her announcement. Instead, Jesus finds them  huddled somewhere without Thomas – but full of fear. 
They have to have their own encounter with Jesus. He appears to them and they rejoice when they see the Lord (20:20). The disciples then say the same words of Mary to Thomas, "We have seen the Lord," but Thomas has to have his own encounter with the risen Christ.
Having to have your own encounter with Jesus is not a new development with the resurrection – we saw it a few weeks ago in the story of the Samaritan woman at the well. With the towns people saying to her: "It is no longer what you said, but we have heard for ourselves."
This is not a slight against her but confirmation that believing in Jesus is not about believing in someone else's experience of Jesus, but having your own encounter with the Word made flesh.
On this first Sunday after Easter, these words are for us. You can believe in the resurrection all you want, but in the end that's not the point. The resurrection is not only just the resurrection, as incredible as that is, but that Jesus is the Resurrection and the life. Belief and life are synonyms in the Fourth Gospel, as promise for our future, and as grace in our present.
We are here, sitting in this place and worshipping our God because at some point in our lives each of us has encountered Jesus Christ. 
It could have been as a child, at a Christian camp, through the words of a friend or loved one in a time of need. 
But whenever it was and whatever it looked like.  We have had that experience, and it was for us a ‘resurrection appearance’ – a time when the body of Christ and the truth of the resurrection was real enough to see, to touch and to know.
The purpose of these resurrection appearances, like the ones that the disciples experienced is not so much to prove the resurrection as it is to send us as Jesus has been sent.
Easter is not just coming to a wonderful, inspiring worship service, it is being sent back into the world, empowered by the Holy Spirit, to bear witness to the identity of God as revealed in Jesus.
But we know that there is no longer a body to be seen, felt or touched  – so how do we continue in faith and how do we begin to share that faith with others?
The answer is as simple as looking around this room – we are the body of Christ – the world will see, know , feel and be touched by the body of Christ – or not – because of us. 
Not only does God love us – but God trusts us with this all important task – showing the world the truth of the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the promise of full, kingdom life that the living, breathing, walking, talking, serving body of Christ holds.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Cleopas and some other guy . . . and you and me

Sorry that it has been quite a while since I have posted anything.  It has been a very busy few weeks.  Anyway, over the next few days I will be posting my last few sermons, and some other blogs as the opportunity arrives.  First in the line is the message I shared yesterday.  It is a second in a series of two messages that asks the question, 'Whats next?' after we have been presented with the truth of Easter.  
I do hope to be more regular with the blogging again and I do hope, that some how, these words might find meaning for you.  
God Bless.

Luke 24:13-35 (NIV)

 13 Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles[a]from Jerusalem. 14 They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. 15 As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; 16 but they were kept from recognizing him.
 17 He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”
   They stood still, their faces downcast. 18 One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”
   19 “What things?” he asked.
   “About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. 20 The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; 21 but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. 22 In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning 23 but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. 24 Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.”
 25 He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.
 28 As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. 29 But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them.
 30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. 32 They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”
 33 They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together 34 and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” 35 Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread.

Today we again look back at Easter and ask the question, now what? 

Last week, we talked about Thomas, his need for ‘proof’ and then how he eventually responded to the truth of the resurrection.  This week we look at another well known story, Jesus appearance on the road to Emmaus.
One of the major – and important – differences in these two stories is the obvious difference in who it is that Jesus appears to.  In the first story Jesus appears to Thomas and the other disciples.  Pretty major characters in the story.  In our lesson today we have Cleopas – who is mentioned here and nowhere else - and his travelling companion, who doesn’t even get named.
They are not important people. They are "ordinary" people who have had the grand adventure of following Jesus and his disciples.  With Jesus’ death they have lost their faith and their hope. They are not looking for him; in fact, they don’t even recognize him when he joins them.
Yet he chooses this place of loss to meet them. When he asks about their sorrow, they are so absorbed in that grief that they cannot believe that this person doesn’t know about their experience. They tell Jesus the story of his own ministry and death, and add the dubious news of his resurrection.
Cleopas and his companion are nobodies who have no idea what God might be doing. They could be any one of us.  Their road to Emmaus is an ordinary road, the road each of us is on every day. This is what sets this story apart from other accounts of Jesus’ Easter appearances.
The story resonates with a sense of the church and its mission and of the tremendous power of the word and the sacraments to connect us with the presence of God.
But its image is of God and a church that walk alongside human confusion, human pain and a human loss of faith and hope.  Emmaus invites us to expect God to find us, and to allow our lives to be invitations for others to find God.
Emmaus challenges us to see that it isn’t our unshakable faith and deep spirituality that connect us with the risen Christ, but our smallest gestures of hospitality and friendship.   And it is in those small gestures and in living our ‘ordinary’ lives of faith that we share the love of Christ and spread that grace and peace in the world
There is no doubt that the story directs us to the church, where we may encounter Jesus in the word and the sacraments.  But not to "the church" that is equated only with this building and only with this time of worship.  We are directed instead to the church that includes those things but also goes out into and meets ordinary people and interacts with the ordinary world, people and a world marked by human loss and human hospitality. 
The Church is You and Me.  This story – at least in some way – is about living our ordinary lives in such a way that those around us are so intrigued by who we are, what we believe and how we live, that they are willing to twist our arms to share more about it with them.
We miss that part of the story in our translations – but the words used to describe the travelers actions in asking Jesus to stay and eat with them might best be understood as ‘twisting his arm’ or compelling him. 
For those travelers on the road to Emmaus, it was in Jesus' characteristic behavior of giving, of feeding, of caring for his sheep that they knew him.  Suddenly.  Fully.   So it is that in order to share the love, grace, peace and salvation of Jesus with others we must reach out with the Bread of Life – that is the Word of God written in Scripture & the bread of sustenance that feeds the very real physical needs of God’s children around us.
In feeding others physically and spiritually, as well as in receiving the bread broken for us with thanksgiving, we are given Jesus.
Cleopas and his companion are us.   They know a lot.  They care a lot.  They think about things and are saddened by their diminished hopes.  And they don't even know that their eyes have been closed until suddenly they are opened. 
From this story, though, we might find hope that Jesus walks with us.  We might find hope that in the breaking of the bread, we catch a glimpse of our Lord.  We might give and share hope by giving and breaking bread (physical and spiritual) for those around us and around the world.
St. Francis once said that ‘It is no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching’.  The meaning in that for us, is that having encountered the resurrected Jesus and the truth of Easter we respond by following the example of Christ
We share the truth and wonder of Easter with those we meet by sharing the Word of God and the giving and breaking of bread.  And most importantly, we don’t just do that here, in this place.
But we must share the truth of the risen Jesus as we go about the journey of our lives – headed wherever God might be calling us. 
We have to proclaim the truth and power of Easter by sharing our experience of Christ and sharing in the breaking and sharing of the bread
We need to be willing to have our destination changed so that we can live lives that are invitations for others to experience Easter and the wonder of the resurrected Jesus for themselves.
Ordinary lives, sometimes unnamed lives of service and kindess.  But lives that point to the extraordinary truth of Easter and the extraordinary love of God. 
Ordinary lives that invite those around us to share in the extraordinary life found in Jesus Christ.  Amen.