Sunday, March 25, 2018

Jesus Rides into Town - John 12:12-27

Jesus is in Bethany. He has just raised Lazarus from the dead. It would probably be an understatement to say that they are awed and amazed by this occurrence. It was without a doubt the most amazing thing that had ever occurred. So they hung around. It was a huge party, with people laughing and singing and dancing. They had had just has a funeral for this guy and now they were celebrating his life, because . . . because he is not dead. And Jesus was there, they wanted to spend some more time with this man who could raise a man from the dead. The the next day when Jesus set out toward Jerusalem, they followed him. It was a giant moving party and it was heading to the city.
As you can imagine with a thing such as this, word travels fast and news of their coming arrives ahead of them in Jerusalem and people gather. So you have the crowd from Bethany, ushering Jesus down into the city. Meanwhile another crowd begins to the line the streets and is waiting for them. The  mobile celebration is very quickly turning into a spontaneous parade. The partying massed enter town, the crowd that is waiting for them begins to sing, Hosanna, Hosanna and greets Jesus as their King. Meanwhile Jesus finds a donkey and decides to ride it. In this middle of all this  some Gentiles are hanging around on the outskirts of the celebration and ask if they too can see Jesus.
Jews from Bethany, Jews from Jerusalem and a bunch a gentile's from Galilee, all wanting to see Jesus, celebrating, waving palm branches and singing a song to welcome their king into town, with Jesus riding on a donkey. It seems everyone is in on it. But the Jewish religious leaders don't get it. The disciples don't get it until much later. But the crowds know exactly what they are doing. They are welcoming their king into the city.
As we wound our way through Lent, we followed the events of Jesus' last night here on earth. In John, Jesus is tried for treason for claiming to be king of the Jews. And Jesus himself admits that he is king of a kingdom that is not of this world. Here we are a week or so before those events and we have the crowd from Bethany, the crowd from Jerusalem and some Galilean Gentiles all welcoming Jesus into the city as their King. And John tells us that they got it right. In the end Jesus tried and convict for being their king.
The religious leaders don't understand what is going on or who Jesus is. Jesus' own disciples only understand the events of this day in retrospect. But the crowds they get it right, here on this day. They see the amazing things Jesus has done, they hear that he is coming and they see through the veil, to who he really is. He is the messiah, God's anointed, and they welcome him into the city in a manner they feel is fit for who he is and what he is coming to do.
They might not completely understand what all must occur for Jesus to come into his kingdom. They may not exactly know what it means for Jesus to be the messiah, but they clearly recognize him for who he is. And greet him as such. Celebrating his arrival in Jerusalem and hopeful for what he might bring.
The Jewish religious leaders, the chief priests, those who spent their entire lives studying scripture did not get it right. The men who would eventually be the leaders of the Church, did not understand what was going on until later, but the every day people on the streets, they got it. They saw what Jesus was doing, they heard what he was preaching and they understood. They knew who Jesus was and they knew that he needed to be welcomed into the city as their king, as their messiah. They may not have understood that he was going to die. They may not have realized exactly what Jesus's kingdom was or what it looked like, but they knew Jesus. They knew what he had done for him. They understood what he was teaching them. And they saw who he was, even when those closest to him did not. Even when those who had studied scripture and were looking for him, opposed him, they knew he was their long awaited king, God's anointed, the Messiah.
I am going to tell you something, Bible scholars, and theologians, and yes, we pastors, don't always get it. We may know the correct theologies, we may understand all the right ways to talk about difference between initial and entire sanctification. We may be able to explain, salvation, justification, regeneration, and adoption, and point out the work of prevenient grace in a person life. But sometimes when it comes to actually seeing Jesus for who Jesus is, we miss it. We can't see the forest for the trees, or the Jesus in all the theologies.  We get it right when it comes to so many things, but so many times, someone who has walked the life of Christ for more years than I have been alive, understands so much better, sees so much more clearly than I can, perhaps ever will. And more often than not faithful followers of Jesus can teach us pastors, teachers and theologians so much more than we can read or write in our books.
I spend so much of my life, reading and studying scripture. Every week I spend hours reading what people have thought and said about a particular passage. Every week I spend hour upon hour thinking and praying about the sermon passage. And each week I come to you armed with the knowledge I have gained, knowing that in the midst of all the reading and studying thinking and praying, that I have heard a word from the Lord and hoping that I am able to bring that word to you, so that through me you can hear God speak to you each week. It is one of the many humble tasks we pastors and preachers take on each week.
But let me tell you something, we do not hold the market on understanding Jesus. Jesus is not the possession of the learned and the studied, of the pastors and the leaders of the Church. Jesus is almost always best understood by those who see him, by those who have heard him speak to them, by those who have felt his touch on their lives, by those who have seen what he has done and in knowing him, have come to know him. Jesus belongs to the people of Bethany who saw him do an amazing thing among them and could not contain their joy. Jesus belongs to the people of the city, who hear he is coming and gather to sing praises, to worship and welcome him into their midst. Jesus belongs to the outsiders, hanging out on the fringes of it all, who just want to see him, to have a chance to get to know him. Jesus belongs to the every day believers who get up each morning, knowing they love their Lord, desiring to follow Jesus, come what may, and gather each week in in his presence with the desire to know him more.
Palm Sunday is when the crowds get it right, Palm Sunday is when the regular people see Jesus for who he is. Palm Sunday is celebration of you. It is here to remind me that that I don't always gets it, that I do not always have all the answers, and to remind you that sometimes you do. More often than not it is those who live faithfully following Jesus every day, who pray and read your Bibles more faithfully than I will ever know, who truly know who Jesus is, who truly understand what it means to live the kind of lives Jesus calls all of us to live. Today is a celebration that sometime the religious leaders get it wrong, but the people, the worshiping, celebrating, Jesus praising people get it right and we all have a lot to learn from their faith, from their celebration, from their words and their songs. So let us all see them, all of them, and hear them when they say, ““Hosanna!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.”

Reflections for Holy Week

March 25th – Palm Sunday

Thought for the Day:
Who is Jesus anyway?  What did he do on this earth?  How are you like the people in the streets on Palm Sunday?

Isaiah 50:4-9
How has God called you to be a teacher?
Do you ever feel that the message that God has given you to teach has fallen on deaf ears? 
Do you ever feel as if God’s message has brought disgrace upon you?

Psalm  118:1-2, 19-29
Is it always easy to rejoice in the Lord and give thanks to him?

Philippians 2:5-11
What does it mean to have the mind of Christ in you?
How can you empty yourself of all that you are so that God can fill you?

Matthew 21:1-11
Who were the people worshiping? 
What about Christ were they drawn to?
What does it mean to truly worship Jesus and not a false image of who we think he is?
John 19:38-42
Does it surprise you that Nicodemus is in this story?
How had Nicodemus changed since we saw him last in John 3?
Jesus, their savior, the one they believed to be the Messiah, God’s own anointed is dead.  He has utterly abandoned them.  It seems that everything that he lived for and everything that he was has been crushed. Jesus is gone. 
How do you think Joseph and Nicodemus felt as they took Jesus’ body to the tomb?
How do you think you would feel?

March 26th - Monday in Holy Week

Thought for the Day:
What have you given to God?

Isaiah 42:1-9
How is Jesus’ last week embodied it this OT passage?
If we are called to act like Christ how does this passage call you to act or change the way you act?

Psalm 36:5-11
What does it mean to say that God is steadfast? 
How can your love for those around you be more like God’s steadfast love?

Hebrews 9:11-15
What does it mean for Jesus to enter into the High Place of God?
How do you enter into the High Place of God?

John 12:1-11
This woman offered something precious to her, which had great value up to Jesus, what precious and valuable things have you given to God?

March 27th, Tuesday in Holy Week

Thought of the Day:  
What does it mean to walk through life they way that Christ did?

Isaiah 49:1-7
How does is the life of Jesus reflected in this passage?
How is your life as a follower of Jesus reflected in this passage?

Psalm 71:1-14
Is it easy for you to trust God in times of struggle?
Is it easy to trust God even when it seems that your “enemies” are “winning”?

1 Corinthians 1:18-31
How is the cross foolishness to this world?
What is the wisdom in it, to those who know Christ?

John 12:20-36
How is dieing to yourself and living for Christ  like a stalk of wheat that has been planted?

March 28th, Wednesday in Holy Week

Thought of the Day:  
Is it easy to trust God and follow Christ in the darkness of life?

Isaiah 50:4-9a
How is God your hope? 
What does it mean for God to be your salvation?

Psalm 70
How can you rejoice and be glad when people and things in this world seem to be against you?
Hebrews 12:1-3
How are the lives of Christians that have gone on before you good examples to follow as you follow Christ?

John 13:21-32
Are there ways that you have betrayed Christ in your life? 
Do you really and truly understand that Christ has compassion on you and forgives you for all your failings? 

March 29th, Maundy Thursday

Thought of the Day: 
How does the rituals of the Church affect your life and your walk with Christ?

Exodus 12:1-14
What does it mean for us to remember the Passover as Christians?

Psalm 116:1-2, 12-19
What do you give back to God as a token of your love?  What things do you give to God as an offering?
1 Corinthians 11:23-26
How does the Lord’s Supper having meaning in your life? 

John 13:1-17, 31b-35
What does it mean that Jesus is our servant? 
How can you follow his example in your life?

March 30th, Good Friday

Thought of the Day:  
Christ did what he did and went through what he went through because of his love for you.  How have you in your thoughts, actions, words etc helped crucify Jesus?

Isaiah 52:13-53:12
How is it that you like a sheep has gone astray? 
How are your actions responsible for Christ’s death?
Psalm 22
Why do you think the Psalmist cries out to God like this?  Have you ever felt like this?
Hebrews 10:16-25
What do you think it means for God to write God's law on your heart?
How are you/can you be changed by the laws of God being something inside of you instead of something external to you?
What ways can you can encourage others to love and good deeds?

John 18:1-19:42
In our lives we often treat Jesus in the ways that the different people in this passage did.  In what ways have you been a Judas, a Peter, a Caiaphas, a Pilate a member of the crowd, or a soldier?

March 31st, Holy Saturday Week

Thought of the day:  
What does it mean for you to trust God when everything in life seems to be falling apart?

Job 14:1-14
Job is aware of his mortality, that his life will be over one day.  It gives him some perspective on how great it is that God, who is immortal, cares for him. 
What does it mean to you that God cares about you?

Lamentations 3:1-9, 19-24
Have you ever felt like God has turned against you? 
Is it easy for you to remember that God's love for you is steadfast and that the mercy that God is willing to show you will never come to an end?

Psalm 31:1-4, 15-16
Is it easy for you to trust God? 
Do you truly allow God to be your rock, your fortress?

1 Peter 4:1-8
What do you think it means to live by the will of God as opposed to living by human desires?

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Lenten Series: The Trial Part III - John 19:1-16a

John 19:1-16a – Jesus on Trial Part III
Here we are, for the last three weeks we have walked with Jesus on the last night before his death. Jesus went from the Garden where he was praying to the house of Annas, from there to the house of Caiaphas, and then to Pilate. Last week we looked at the first part of the trial that occurred in Pilate's house. And Today we have the final part of that trial.
Let me remind you that Pilate was woken up at three in the morning, by the chief priests and the temple police, asking him to put Jesus on trial, who they say is a treasonous traitor committing vile treachery, by setting himself up as a king over and against Caesar. They tell Pilate that he needs to hurry because in the morning they need to celebrate the Passover, and while they are on that fact, they can't come inside, because if they do so they run the risk of being too unclean to celebrate Passover.
So when our passage lets us know that it is now noon, it is letting us know exactly how long they have been at this. Pilate has talked to Jesus, but cannot find anything he can hold against Jesus. Pilate talks to the Chief priests; they insist that Pilate do something about him. He goes back in talks to Jesus, back out to the Jewish leaders and so forth. He tries to mollify them by having Jesus beaten. But they won't have it. He even offers to release Jesus, to pardon him, as if he were guilty, but the emperor was kind and let him go free in honor of their Passover, but they insist they would rather have Barabbas the bandit instead. There is not pacifying them.
Pilate's next step is to meet them halfway, he has Jesus beaten and humiliated and then plans to release him, but again they will not hear of it. This time instead of simply requesting he be killed, they insist he is a traitor to the emperor and must die the traitor's death, he must be crucified.
This is like a movie we have seen over and over again. We know every line, every move, how each scene is put together, each every camera angle, every cut. We know exactly how it goes. There are no more surprises. These are the events that make us Christians. These are the events that lead to salvation; these are the events that will lead us to the tomb on Easter morning. We have walked down this road before; we know all the landmarks, all the turns in the road, all the trees, all the bumps along the way. Yet at least once a year we follow in this path, we continue to remember who Jesus is and what he did for us and what happened to him just prior to his death. Because in doing so we once again are reminded who we are and what it means to follow Christ in all things.
He is beaten, he robed in the mockery of a king's robe and a crowned with thrones. He is questioned and questioned and questioned, but no matter what, Pilate cannot find what his crime might be. The Jewish leaders keep insisting that it is treason. They say Jesus desires to be a usurper king, a traitor to the emperor. It all takes us to the last phrase, “Then he handed him over to be crucified.”
Whether or not we or someone we care about has power is something with which many of us have been concerned throughout the course of the recent barrage of Nor'easters that have come our way in recent weeks. Every day the news will tell us how many continue to be without power, with some gaining power after nearly two weeks, only to lose it again when the next storm hit. Whether or not we had power in this storm was the difference between enjoying the snow in comfort and warmth, and being left inside in the cold, doing everything with our power, to stay warm when we had no power. “I have the power,” is the cry of the hero in a Saturday morning cartoon show I watched as a child. Of course these are two different kinds of power. But either way most of us want power. We like to have things in control, we like to be in control. We like to have the power.
Power is very much something that also concerns everyone in this passage. Everyone wants power. The chief priests want to power to have Jesus killed without having to actually do it themselves. They want the power to have Jesus killed tonight, on their terms, in their time. They throw their power around by insisting that Pilate handle this situation, NOW, in the middle of the night. They take their power and laud it over him, by not only insisting this be done immediately, but that they must stay outside, forcing Pilate to in to try Jesus inside, but to repeatedly come out to talk to them. They want Jesus to be tried, they want to be the witnesses in the trial. They are the accusers. They are the ones who turn him in. They feel they are in charge. They feel they have all the power, in fact in the end it is they, and not Pilate who get to choose Jesus' means of death. They decide that he will be killed as a traitor, that he will be crucified.
Pilate is that one that has all the legal power. He is the one to whom they must ultimately bring Jesus to be tried. Pilate is the one whom Caesar, the emperor, has sent to keep the troublesome and rebellious Jews in line. One of his main jobs there is to keep the Jews from rebelling and to squash any sign of uprising. He has the power to get rid of anyone he feels inhibits his ability to keep the peace. He has the power to condemn anyone who rises up against Caesar or anyone who seems to have an inkling of separating the region from the empire. In fact Pilate lets Jesus know exactly what kind of power Pilate holds over him, the power to have him put to death and the power to have him released.
It appears that Jesus has none of the power. Before this final episode he is arrested and then carted from one place to another in a series of shame pre-trials and finally brought here to stand trial before Pilate, the representative of the ultimate political power of the Roman Empire. The Jews have power over him, they have trumped up charges, serve as false witnesses and are saying all the right things to not only have him put to death but to be tried and convicted as a traitor, to be crucified.
He responds to Pilate’s questions, calmly and humbly. At first his answers seem to satisfy Pilate. Pilate does not release him. As the night turns to morning and morning becomes noon, nothing seems to move Jesus closer to release. Jesus seems to have no power to affect the outcome of the events as they are unfolding. It seems that the Jews and Pilate hold all the power and Jesus has absolutely none.
John began his gospel with these words, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being (John 1:1-2 nrsv).” Jesus is the Word of which John spoke. Jesus was not only with God in the beginning, not only the one through whom all creation was made, but Jesus is God. Jesus literally (and not the figurative form of “literally' that is popular right now, I literally mean, “literally”) has all the power but is using exactly none of it. Paul quotes an early Christian hymn when he tells us that Jesus, “who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness (Phil 2:6-7 NIV).” Another version translates it this way saying that Jesus, “emptied himself,” when he became human, “taking the form of a slave (NRSV).” Jesus, while ultimately holding all the power of the universe, uses none of it and, “became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross (Phil 2:8).”
Jesus in becoming human, is much like the Genie in Disney's Aladdin who has, “Phenomenal cosmic powers! Itty bitty living space.” Jesus like the Genie living in his bottle, has phenomenal cosmic power, because he is in very nature, God but is living in a much smaller living space than would normally become the God of all things, he became human and in doing so limited himself, emptied himself of the power he could choose to use. Jesus is the one with all the power but does not use any of it, gives it up to come to earth, to teach us, to guide us, to do what needed to be done to bring us closer to God. He allowed himself to become powerless for our salvation; gave up everything for us.
Jesus may have the right and the ability to use all the Power that is and ever was and wield it as he sees fit. Yet, he restrains himself and uses none of it. The Jews and Pilate are doing their best to through the weight of their power around. Meanwhile the one who holds all the power (not only power over all of them, but the one through who all power, including any power they might have) remains seemingly powerless. In becoming incarnate, Jesus allowed himself to be subject to all that it meant to be human and here during this trial, that means containing any power he might have, giving up any opportunity he might have to use that power and in doing so is truly showing what it looks like to be the one who has the power. Having power but using or not using that power for the good of other, for the good of ALL, is what it means to be truly powerful.
As Christians, it is our calling to be like Christ, in all things. Usually when we talk about being like Christ we are talking about loving people as freely and wholly as Jesus did while he was here on earth, being giving and compassionate like Christ, but there is more to being Christlike than that.
We are called, most especially at this time of year during Lent, when we are thinking about Christ's death, to be humble, and obedient like Christ. We are called to wield power like Christ. In all things we are to be like Christ. Paul, just prior to the hymn I quoted early tells his readers that we are to be like Christ in all things, “having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.” He goes on to say, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus (Phil 2:2-5)”
Being like Christ, having the mind of Christ means that we put the interests of others a head of our own. We are to respond to the world around us not always looking to ourselves and our own good, but we are to respond selflessly giving up what belongs to us, what we deserve, what is our due and instead look to what is best for those around us, giving up our rightful due, our power, our control, to allow Christ to work in and through us in this world.
We are to have the mind of Christ, who had all the power of the universe, but set it aside, emptied himself of all but love (as another more “modern” hymn goes) to bring salvation to us and to this world. Who in that love gave up everything that belonged to him, gave up everything he deserved, gave up all his rights and all his power, and died for us. We are to have the mind of Christ, the attitude of Christ, the humility of Christ. That does not simply mean being kind, caring, compassionate human beings, who always respond in and with the love of Christ toward others in our lives and in our world, (as if that is easy in itself), but it also means that even when the power belongs to us, or even when we deserve to have the power, when it is our right, when it is what we belongs to us, instead of wielding it wildly like everyone else in this passage, we are to be like Christ and empty ourselves of the privilege our power might give us and give it away.
In this world there is power we deserve, power we have earned, power our position in society gives us, power given to us because of our job or our career, power afforded us because of our education, power we deserve. We all have power of some kind. Give it up. The call of Christ is one of self-giving, self-sacrificing love. Love that gives sacrificially, love that reaches out to others in all things, the does not demand what is our due, love that does not demand what we deserve, love that does not demand what we deserve, but instead gives up any power we might have and give generously to the world around us, giving up what is our for the benefit of the kingdom, so that all might come to know Jesus, willingly empties ourselves for the sake of Christ, so that other might know the love of God we know.

Journalling Toward the Cross: Fifth Week in Lent, March 18th-24th

This is meant to be used for devotional purposes during Lent. Grab a journal, read the passage, pray, look at the questions, think about your answers and then journal.

Thought for the Week:
What does it mean to be disappointed with the way God is working in your life?  Can you still trust God, even when you see the apparent death and destruction all around you?

Day 1:  Ezekiel 37:1-14
Are there parts of your life that feel dead? 
Do you look around you and feel that you are surrounded by death?
What does it mean for God to give life to that which was dead?
What would new life, look like in the dead parts of your life?
What would it mean for you to allow God to breath life into those parts of your life?
Do you trust God to breath new life into your life?

Day 2:  Psalm 130
Have you ever felt like you are in the “depths,” stuck at the bottom of a metaphorical pit?
What parts of your life are you ashamed of?
When you are at the bottom of your rope is your first thought to call out to God?
Do you ever feel that there is no way you could possibly stand before God?
When you are at your worst, what does waiting for God look like?
Do you trust God when you are at your worst? When you find that you are in a dark place?
What would redemption look like in your life right now?

Day 3:  Romans 8:6-11
What does it mean to set your mind on the flesh?
What does it mean to you that Christ dwells within you?
How does Christ living in you result in righteousness in your life?
How does his presence in your life affect how you live?
How does your life reflect the resurrected nature of Christ? Are you “alive”?

Day 4:  John 11:1-45
What do the sisters want from Jesus? Do you think they expected Jesus to raise Lazarus from the dead?
Can we ask too much of God?
Do you think it is alright to tell God you feel like God failed you?
Have you ever felt like God had failed you? 
What was the truth?
How long did it take for you to see God’s hand at work?

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Lenten Series - The Trial Part II - John 18:28-40

As we move through the season of Lent we continue to examine the events of the night before Jesus' death, the night before the fateful day when the Son of God changed everything, forever. All eternity is altered in the 24 hours in which we find Christ in this passage. While Peter was outside on “trial” by the gate and before the fire, Jesus was inside with Annas and then taken to Caiaphas and finally he is taken to Pilate, who is woken up in the middle of the night by the Jewish leaders to settle their dispute with this so called, “King of the Jews.”
We actually began moving toward this night at the beginning of Advent, when we began to think about who Jesus was and who he was born to be. The baby toward which we will traveled through Advent; the cradle into which we peered on Christmas Eve, contains the one who now stands trial before Pilate in our passage this morning.
In the backwards, upside down world Jesus brings to us, where God is a baby, astrologers get it right, where the last are first, the smallest things are of the most importance, children serve as examples of wisdom, the weak are strong, and the humble inherit the earth; Jesus is a king without a kingdom. Jesus’ kingship is brought to light as he is brought to trial for treason. The idea that a king can be treasonous might not sound so odd to you, but it would have been completely unheard of at the time. In fact, it would have been a completely unheard of idea in western society until just a little more than 200 years ago. Prior to ideas of a democratic government and the rule of the people through representatives, treason was not an act committed against the State, it was an act against the King and the King’s rule. Therefore a King could not be on trial for treason. That is unless you are not really the King and are just claiming to be king.
Jesus stands before Pilate on trial for being King of the Jews. He is not the first to be on trial for this crime in the
Roman Empire, and most likely not the first to stand before Pilate who was sent to deal with the “rebellious” Jews who, seemed to have a parade of so called Messiahs, and were continually moving to separate themselves from the glorious Empire. Many so called self-appointed Kings arose, and all them were dealt with swiftly, and permanently. Claiming to be “king” was a charge that Jesus' accusers knew held weight. The cry of a true citizen of the Roman Empire is, “There is no King but Caesar.” So to claim that Jesus is posing as King of the Jews is to accuse him of treason in the highest form.
What has to strike Pilate as odd about this whole thing is that the Jewish leaders bring Jesus to him and ask that he be put on trial for treason for claiming to be King of the Jews, even though he himself has never claimed to be so. So Pilate is woken up, in the middle of the night, by these Jews, offering up one who is said to be their King, asking that he be tried for treason for being their king. But of course Pilate needs to hurry, because they have to go celebrate the time when the Jews fled from an oppressive empire to go start their own country. Passover comes with the dawn, you know, their yearly celebration of their tumultuous exodus from Egypt. So could he please hurry up. And as if that was not too much to ask, Pilate needs to come outside because they can't go inside his “dirty” gentile court, so they won’t be ritually impure, and thus too unclean to celebrate that time when God killed the first born of the king of the country from which they were escaping and all the first born in that whole nation, but saved their own sons, so they could flee in the chaos. Really, guys? Really? You want me to hurry up and put this guy on trial for treason so you can go celebrate the time when your people were treasonous and succeeded?
So they bring in Jesus, this supposed treasonous usurper bent on taking down the Roman Empire, or at least disengaging Israel from the commonwealth and setting himself up as king, which in the eyes of the empire, amounts to just about the same thing. At least that is the kind of thing most people who are brought before the authorities claiming to be king and accused of treason are likely to be attempting to do. Unlike, any faux King who has been brought before him up to this point, Jesus is not brought in full the bravado of a braggart, but instead comes in quietly, resignedly. He does not claim to be a king, and in the end only admits to having been called a king. He explains that he is a king, perhaps not of the Jews but of an other-worldly kingdom.
Pilate: King . . . of a kingdom . . . that is not of this world. Invisible? In the sky? Make believe? Those guys out there are as crazy, and so is this guy in here. I am going back to bed.
Pilate is very quickly fed up with this man who is obviously not making a claim to the throne, nor is he proclaiming anything that could even be remotely construed to be treason, and goes back to the accusers (probably pretty grumpily, remember he has been woken up in the middle of the night) and declares that he has nothing on this guy. Although in the end, after some back and forth, he gives in to them and has Jesus taken into custody and we all know what occurs from there.
So today we have before us this odd little episode which is just one of the many pieces of the puzzle that leads to Jesus’ death, his resurrection and our salvation. And through this passage Jesus is revealed as King. But King of what, King of a kingdom which is not of this world, which has no followers to come break down the doors of Pilate’s chamber to rescue him. The kind of Kingdom whose king is humble and willingly goes to his death. This is the passage that presents to us perhaps the most paradoxical Jesus we could behold. We have the treasonous King, on trial before the authorities. The king who will not claim his kingship, except to say, that if he is indeed king, it is of a kingdom which is not in or of this world. A messiah who is ready to lay down his life and the eternal God-man who will die and become the soon-to-be alive-dead man, who through his death will bring life and it is in being and doing all this that his kingdom is ultimately revealed. Jesus is messiah because he is willing to lay down his life; he brings life because he dies, and he is king because he dies a traitor’s death, and thus allows his kingdom to come to earth. And that all makes perfect sense now doesn’t it.
We as Christians accept a myriad of illogical paradoxes. And that is OK. Jesus does not need to make sense. That is OK. Jesus does not need to be quantified and qualified, to be able to be analyzed and summed up. Jesus just is. Jesus is the messiah. He is the God-man who came to this earth to reunite us with our created purpose, to give us the ability to live in unbroken relationship with God, to restore our relationship with one another and allow us to share the love of the God who calls us into relationship with those in our world.
As such Jesus is our king, the one who made all this possible. His kingdom is one in which we are free to live lives that are rid of the brokenness, and pain we accept as normal and a part of life in this world. Jesus’ kingdom come to earth, means that through him and through relationship with him we are able to infect our world with the love, goodness, kindness and wholeness that can only be found when we live lives of love; love of God, love of one another and love for our world. Jesus’ kingdom is not about rule and power, it is a kingdom of Love. We allow Jesus to reign, for his rule to take hold in our world, whenever we love.
We pray each week for Jesus’ kingdom to come, for God’s will to be done and these things happen in us and through us. Jesus’ kingdom is brought to earth when we, as inhabitants of that kingdom, live out the ordinances of that kingdom here on earth, in our lives. Jesus is king when we love. When we, like him, are willing to do whatever it takes to bring the love of God to the corners and crevices of our own lives. And by that I mean not just loving in the open and bright places, when it is easy to love, but in the dark places, the times when it is tough to love. Love when it would be easier to respond with unkindness, than it would with love. To love those who are hard to love, who don’t want to be loved, who scorn our love, who seem to be unworthy of love. When we love each one who comes before us, when we give and share, respond in kindness, gentleness, and graciousness, instead of anger, malice, and frustration, we are allowing Christ to not only reign in our lives, but in the lives of those who are touched and affected by our actions.
Today before Pilate we see the gentle king who is ready to bring love to the world even as it means his death. Jesus does what needs to be done to bring light and love to the world. We likewise should be willing to love in the face of hate, bring kindness in the face of hurtfulness, and share the love of God in every aspect of our lives.
When we allow God’s love to work within us, when we go to work, when we are dealing with our boss, that frustrating client, when we drive down the road and are cut off by another driver, at the store when someone steals our parking spot, or when we are dealing with the eternally slow cashier, when we are being berated for something we have done, when we encounter someone with whom we simply don’t want to deal, whenever it would be easier to respond with venom, anger, and dismissal, instead respond with Godly kindness and love, that is when we are participating in bringing God’s kingdom to this earth. It is in those moments, in our words of kindness, in our actions of restoration, which Jesus reigns. Jesus is our king, and we carry on Christ's work of bringing God's kingdom into our world. We become the agents through whom God carries out our prayer for God's kingdom to come and for God's will to be done here on earth, in our own lives, in our own actions, each and every day.

Journaling Toward the Cross: Fourth Week in Lent, March 11th-17th

This is meant to be used for devotional purposes during Lent. Grab a journal, read the passage, pray, look at the questions, think about your answers and then journal.

Thoughts for the Week:
What does it mean that God works in mysterious way?  Are God’s mysterious ways sometimes hard to understand and see?

Day 1:  1 Samuel 16:1-13
Has God ever asked you to do something that went against the way things are normally done?
Have you ever been one of David's brothers?
What does it feel like when you are not chosen?
Have you ever been David?
What does it feel like when you are the chosen one?
Have you ever been Samuel?
Has God ever surprised you with the things and people that God chooses?

Day 2:  Psalm 23
What does this passage actually say?
Read it again slowly, pay attention.
What does the valley of the shadow of death look like in your life?
Do you let God comfort you?
What does God's table look like in your life?
If goodness and mercy are following you, what would it mean for you to slow down, or stop, so they can catch up with you?
What is God saying that God wants to for and with you in this passage?

Day 3:  John 9:1-41
Does this man seek out Jesus?
Has God ever come to you or done good in your life before you even asked?
How do you think this man felt when he was in the middle of these events? When they were questioning him and his parents?
Do you think it felt like his life was better or worse there in the middle of everything?
Sometimes is it hard for your to trust that God has actually performed miraculous things in your life and the lives of those around you?

Day 4:  Ephesians 5:8-14
What did walking in darkness look like in your life?
What does it mean to be a child of the light?
How is your life light now compared to the former darkness?
What do you think are unfruitful works? 
Do you ever find yourself participating in such things?

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Lenten Series: Preparing for Death - The Trial Part 1 - John 18:12-27

Lent is a journey toward the Cross, toward Jesus' death. As we continue to prepare ourselves for remembering that most harrowing week in history through our Holy week observances, we will spend the next several Sundays looking indepthly into the final night of Jesus' life.
Our journey through this dark night, in the life of Jesus, begins right after he just spent time in the garden praying. His prayer time was interrupted (how often does that happen to the best of us?) by a large group of people headed by Judas and some soldiers who had come looking to arrest him (hopefully your prayers have never been interrupted in way). Peter, eager to prove that he is with Jesus to the last, no matter what, lops off the ear of the slave of the high priest (what did he do to deserve that? Not like he had much choice in being there). His name was Malchus. Jesus rebukes Peter for his violent outburst. After this he is brought to Annas, ex-chief priest, and father-in-law of the current Chief priest, which is where our passage picks up today.
This passage features the first part of Jesus' trial, but if we look at the trial the majority of the words spent on this first part of Jesus' trial are not spent on Jesus, but are actually spent on Peter. In fact, it almost seems as if there are two simultaneous trials going on here; one inside with Annas and one outside by the gate and by the fire. While Jesus is inside on trial, before the Jewish leaders, Peter's allegiance is on trial outside in the courtyard.
Not too long ago I listened to a TED talk by Monica Lewinsky. You all remember Monica Lewinsky? It might surprise to know that Monica is only a year older than I am. I was not quite 21 and a senior at ENC when Monica's affair with the president hit the news, she was just 22. We were both really still very young.
I feel a lot of compassion for Monica, not only are we both about the same age. But we both made some pretty bad mistakes concerning the men we let into our lives that year. I know what it is to get involved with the wrong man and for things to not end up in any way I could have imagined. In her TED talk she asked her listeners, if any of them had made any bad choices in their late teens, early 20s. As I said, I know I did. Her guess (and mine too) is that most of us did. And some of us may even admit to making poor choices and bad decisions even as we have gotten older.
She then moves on and asks her audience to envision a world where, the stupidest thing you did not only made international headlines, but was the ONLY thing anyone remembered about you (or perhaps even knew about you). What if what anyone ever thought about you was built from and centered on your biggest failing, the worst decision you ever made, or the dumbest thing you ever said?
Monica will forever and almost exclusively be remembered for the scandal at which she was in the center in 1998. (I will try to remember Monica for the brave words she shared in her TED talk). Thankfully, very few people will remember the poor choice I made when I was 21, and nobody will characterized my life by that choice. Peter on the other hand, very much like Monica is primarily remembered for the worst mistake he ever made.
Everything else we learn about Peter in the Gospels encircles the things he says here over the course of this one evening of his life. When we think of Peter do we first think of his sermon on the day of Pentecost? All the many people he healed in the book of Acts? No, we remember the words he says here. We remember his words on this one evening of his whole life. He spends the majority of his life as the leader of the Church in Jerusalem if not de facto leader the entire Church. He is called the Father of the Christian Church, but before we remember any of that, we always remember three words, “I am not!” in reference to the questions about him being a disciple of Jesus.
Here in this passage Peter is struggling. The self-doubt might have begun when Jesus told Peter that he was going to deny him. The swirling confusion may have set in when they all sat wide eyed when Judas left the dinner the night before, disgraced and heading off to betray Jesus. It may not have happened until he saw the Jewish leaders and the soldiers and tried to do the only thing he could think of doing. Poor Peter always doing and saying before he thinks things through – like he did at the transfiguration offering to build huts for Jesus and the prophets – there I go, reinterpreting all of Peter's life through the lens of what he does here in this passage. Anyway, he draws his sword and cuts off someone's ear, someone who really had nothing to do with what was going on, a mere slave. The seed of unbelief may not have even really been sown until Jesus rebuked him right there in front of the other disciples, Judas, the chief priest, his entourage (at least the slave and one of his relatives), some soldiers and some Pharisees.
We may know who Peter is, a hero of the early Church, but as he trails along with another disciple following this great group of people as they take Jesus off to Annas' house, Peter is not so sure he knows who is anymore? He thought he was a disciple; he left everything to follow Jesus, to learn from his teachings and see what it meant for him to be the Messiah. He thought he was a part of Jesus' trusted inner circle one of the ones there for the Transfiguration, one of the ones Jesus often took off to pray, to teach or to simply have some quiet time. He thought he would be the one who was with Jesus 'til the end. But if Jesus says he is not, then who is he? If he can't do the right thing when Jesus is in the most danger, who is he? Who is he when Jesus is shackled, and being interrogated? Who is he when his Lord hauled off like a common criminal? At this point in his life Peter, has no idea who Peter is.
When they all arrive at Annas' house, the other disciple is let into the courtyard because he is known, but Peter is on the outside. He must feel very much like Aaron Burr as portrayed in the popular musical, when everyone else is let into a room where decisions were made and he was left out and he laments that he wants to “be in the room where it happens.” Everyone is in there and he was standing on the outside, like Peter left at the gate. But then the other disciple tells them to let Peter in and they do. Peter is still not in the room where it happens. He is still not on the inside, he out in the courtyard, warming himself by the fire with the servants and the soldiers.
There in the flickering light of the fire, he has time to begin to think, to doubt, for all the events that have recently happened to begin to swirl around him once again, catching them in their vortex of doubt, and confusion. Who is he, when he can't even get in? Who is he when he needs someone else to vouch for him? Who is he?
He begins to think to himself. Who are you, Peter? What is your place in all this? The one on the outside looking in? The one who is publicly chastised by Jesus? Who are you when one among those whom you held close is a traitor, a betrayer, a Charlatan? Who are you, now Peter?
In the midst of this crises of person, this crises of faith, a question, comes breaking into Peter's confused and self-doubting brain. “You are not also one of this man's disciples, are you?” questions the girl at the gate. The question swirls around in the waters into which Peter has been thrown. The waters are dark and stormy and they begin overwhelm him and then the final question is heaped upon all the rest, “You are not a disciple of this man, are you?” And the waters threaten to engulf him, he is gasping for air, “Who are you Peter? You are not a disciple are you?”
I am not.” He gulps for air, tasting the words in his mouth.
He warms himself by the fire. Am I a disciple? He looks toward the closed doors that hold his master inside, he is out here, Jesus is in there. Who is he? Is he worthy of being called a disciple? Is he a disciple? Can he still be a disciple?
Meanwhile, Jesus' identity is also being questioned; they ask him about his disciples, his teachings, who he is, what he wants. Jesus responds by telling them that he has hidden nothing; that he has spoken and taught openly. Everything Jesus did, he did publicly. It is all a matter of record, find someone who heard him, they could tell you what he said, what he did. Jesus has nothing to hide, he is who he is and who he is, is there for anyone with eyes to see and ears to hear.
Yet, Peter is outside even more confused, even more on edge. Who is he? And someone by the fire speaks up, perhaps just wanting to make conversation as they warm themselves together, “You are not also one of his disciples, are you?” Again, Peter, pokes his head up from the trenches of his faith and identity crises and say, “I am not.” But there is another slave of the high priest there, he is a relative of Malchus, he knows this man, how can a person forget the man who cut off his cousin's ear, “Did I not see you in the garden with him?” This time Peter, who can 't figure out who he is, and what he believes, figures out one thing, he is a liar and he denies being in the garden, “Nope, not me.” And then Peter finds out something about himself he could never have ever imagined finding out about himself. He is a betrayer. The cock crows and up from the swirl of confusion and doubt comes Jesus' words telling him that he will betray Jesus before the crock crows. Who is Peter? Who is Peter, if he is not a disciple? He is a traitor; he is one who betrays by denying even knowing even knowing Jesus. He is the one whose faith waived, who failed his Lord. Who is Peter?
I am gonna go out on a limb here, we are all a little like Peter at some times in our lives. There are times when we can't figure out who we are, we doubt our faith, our commitment to Jesus, we don't know which way is forward, which way is back. We have thought unfaithful thoughts. We have not always trusted God. There are times when we could have spoken up and proclaimed the truth of Christ, there are times when we know we did not do the thing we should have done to reflect the love of God, the truth of Christ in a particular situation. We have had faith crises. We doubted what we believed about God, about Jesus. We did not know what it all had to do with what was going on in our lives at the moment. We were unsure if Jesus could really make any kind of positive change in our world, in our lives.
And perhaps you are there right now. Your faith is on uncertain ground. Your belief is not what you think it should be, what you feel is could be. You perhaps feel that you do not trust the truth of Jesus as firmly as the person sitting next you in the pew right now.
You are Peter! I am Peter. We have all been Peter at some point in our lives. Our faith has wavered, our trust in the truth faltered. We did not speak up when we should have. We denied Christ. We did not act in the way we know we should have, we betrayed Jesus. We did not live up to being the Christian God was calling us to be, we were unfaithful. We looked around at the landscape of our spiritual lives and felt as if we were unsure which direction we were heading, which direction to go. We our compass was broken, the map we were using was wrong. We did not know who we were anymore?
We questioned ourselves, “Who am I in relation to Christ?” “Am I a believer?” “Am I really Christian?” “When I am unsure if I believe, am I still a believer?” “If I did not live up to the call of God on in my life, can I still be counted among the faithful?” Who am I? Am a believer? Am I a Christian? Am I a disciple? Can I even call myself a disciple? Would I be lying if I said I am a disciple, would not be a lie if we said, “I am not.”
Our first inclination, might be to compare ourselves to those around us. Peter might have been tempted to compare his faith, his trust in Christ to that of the disciple who was with him. The other disciple knew the Chief Priest, had an “in.” Nobody left him outside the gate. He got to be in the room where it happened, while Peter was still outside by the fire. He might have compared himself to this disciple who not only was willing to follow Christ this far, but went to the gate keeper and told her that Peter was with him and Jesus. He willingly offered up the very information that Peter was unable to give, that he was there with Jesus. Peter failed in every aspect where the other disciple succeeded.
He might have even been tempted to compare himself to Jesus who did not waiver in his interrogation. Jesus never lashed out in violence. Jesus kept calm under pressure. Jesus never obfuscated the truth nor did he ever lie. Jesus never denied who he was. Peter fell short and Jesus rose to the occasion.
When we compare ourselves to the strength we see in others; when we see good Christians all around us doing and saying all the right things, and we are in a place in where we are confused in our faith, doubt who Jesus is, and have found that we are capable of turning our back on our Lord, it is so easy to come to believe that who we are is found in our doubt, in our failure. We want to define our Christianity by this horrible place, we currently find ourselves in.
The assurance we have is the same one Monica has. None of us are 22 forever. We move on, our stories do not end with shame and confusion. The assurance we have is the same as Peter, God is not done with us yet, God gives us another chance, lets us move on, to grow in faith to become the disciple we simply could not be at those moments, in those worst moments of our faith. When we fail Jesus, he does not leave us there in our failure, or even because of our failure. Our story is not done yet. Our faith may be lacking, we may not trust God as we should. We may not act as we should. We might not say the right thing. But we are not defined by our failures; we are not defined by our lack of faith. God does not see us at our worst and call that the end. God continues to walk with, shows us who we can be, even when we fail, even when we are at our worst. Even when we are saying I am not his disciple, Jesus sees that we can still be Peter on Pentecost, we can still be Peter healing people in Jerusalem, we could still be Peter, Father of the Church.
God can use us, God can work in us, God can work with us. When we are the most confused, when we are the most unsure of our faith, that is not the time to give up. That is not the time to walk away, that is the time, to keep warming ourselves by the fire, that is the time to keep trailing along. That is the time to keep trying to figure it out. Even if we denied our faith, denied our own relationship with God, or in some other way not lived up to what it means for us to be the person we know God wants us to be. God will not give up on us. God sees who we can be, who we will one day be. When we find ourselves like Peter, we can cry out like the man with the sick daughter, “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.”
Don't sell God short. God is not done with you, yet. Don't be done with yourself, yet either. This is not the end of your story.