Bathrobe Church Jan.15, 2017

January 16, 2017

Bathrobe Church (This is the text of a video I just launched in Facebook Live)

Hi, I’m recording this because our church service was cancelled this morning due to weather. Ever since the last time we had to cancel church, about a month ago, I’ve been thinking that when we can’t get together for a service, we should have some kind of video available of at least the scripture reading for the day.

No livecast can substitute for the spiritual gifts we receive when gathering together to worship, all in the same place. That said, I believe we should use whatever technology we have to “gather” electronically. Epiphany is an inclusive church and livecast on Facebook or Youtube is simply another way to include people.

I wanted to livecast the Christmas Day and New Year’s Day services (which were celebrated with a gathered church service) for those who couldn’t get to the church. But I didn’t have time to iron out the technical issues, and Barry’s hand surgery prevented him from helping me the way he usually does.

So today, church is cancelled again. And I got the idea to have “Bathrobe Church,” which is why I’m wearing my bathrobe. Just like folks who work from home, if we have church from home, we don’t have to change out of our pjs or bathrobes. I’m using Facebook live on my own Facebook page, because I don’t know how to do it from Epiphany’s page and I don’t have permission anyway.

But next week — I’ll be preaching at Epiphany. I am going to find out how to do livecast  on Epiphany’s page, if the leaders agree. If the service is celebrated at Epiphany, that’s where we’ll livecast it. If weather forces us to stay home, I’ll hold another Bathrobe Church next week.

So OK. Here goes. It’s going to take about 25 minutes. I hope you’ll stay for the whole thing. And afterward, I will post the script on my blog: altworship.wordpress.com.

Our Bathrobe Church will consist of the lectionary scripture readings for today, my initial response to those scriptures, a short message on the gospel scripture, a prayer and a benediction. If I knew what the preacher of the day had planned, I would include a hymn and other elements of the service.  If this were a communion Sunday, I would include that too. In fact, for my next Bathrobe Church, I will ask folks to assemble whatever juice or wine and bread or cracker they have on hand and we’ll celebrate communion in our bathrobes too.

We will begin with Psalm 27, verses 1-11, which will serve as a call to worship, and upon which I will make no comment. I am reading from the New International Version.

Psalm 27:1-11New International Version (NIV)

The Lord is my light and my salvation— whom shall I fear?

The Lord is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid?

When the wicked advance against me to devour me,

it is my enemies and my foes who will stumble and fall.

Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear;

though war break out against me, even then I will be confident.

One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek:

that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,

to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.

For in the day of trouble  he will keep me safe in his dwelling;

he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent and set me high upon a rock.

Then my head will be exalted above the enemies who surround me;

at his sacred tent I will sacrifice with shouts of joy;

I will sing and make music to the Lord.

7  Hear my voice when I call, Lord; be merciful to me and answer me.

My heart says of you, “Seek his face!” Your face, Lord, I will seek.

Do not hide your face from me, do not turn your servant away in anger;

you have been my helper. Do not reject me or forsake me, God my Savior.

10 Though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me.

11 Teach me your way, Lord; lead me in a straight path because of my oppressors.

New International Version (NIV)

Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

———————

The Old Testament reading for today is Isaiah chapter 49, verses 1-7. Again, I’m reading from the New International Version

Isaiah 49:1-7New International Version (NIV)

49 Listen to me, you islands;  hear this, you distant nations:

Before I was born the Lord called me; from my mother’s womb he has spoken my name.

He made my mouth like a sharpened sword, in the shadow of his hand he hid me;

he made me into a polished arrow and concealed me in his quiver.

He said to me, “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will display my splendor.”

But I said, “I have labored in vain; I have spent my strength for nothing at all. Yet what is due me is in the Lord’s hand, and my reward is with my God.”

And now the Lord says— he who formed me in the womb to be his servant to bring Jacob back to him and gather Israel to himself, (for I am honored in the eyes of the Lord and my God has been my strength) —

he says: “It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept.

I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”

This is what the Lord says— the Redeemer and Holy One of Israel—

to him who was despised and abhorred by the nation, to the servant of rulers:

“Kings will see you and stand up,  princes will see and bow down,

because of the Lord, who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.”

New International Version (NIV)®  Used by permission

——————

The verses that speak to me in this passage are these:

But I said, “I have labored in vain;

    I have spent my strength for nothing at all.

Yet what is due me is in the Lord’s hand,

    and my reward(N) is with my God.”

That’s the way I have felt ever since the election. That I have labored in vain and spent my strength for nothing at all. But I also realized, the day after the election that this is the way the Israelites must have felt when they were forced into exile into Babylon. It wasn’t only the unjust rulers who suffered under the exile. Everybody did, including the people who were being oppressed by the rulers’ injustice.

So the second part of that verse also speaks to me. “What is due me is in the Lord’s hand, and my reward is with my God.”

In this scripture, Isaiah quotes God as saying that simply bringing Israel back to God is “too small a thing.” Really God? That massive task is “too small”??? This tells me that for a very long time, being a prophet has been difficult for God’s chosen messengers. Telling truth to power, well, to anyone not willing to hear it, is the ultimate thankless job. Even being able to HEAR God’s truth is difficult.

But according to Isaiah, God considered Isaiah’s task within his abilities. The key is to realize that “what is due us” is in God’s hand, and our reward is with God.

Obviously this is not a full sermon. But I’d love to have a discussion about this passage. If you have a reaction to the reading and my comments, please post in Facebook, live or in comments.

———

The epistle reading for today, also from the New International Version, is

 

1 Corinthians 1:1-9New International Version (NIV)

Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes,

To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. For in him you have been enriched in every way—with all kinds of speech and with all knowledge— God thus confirming our testimony about Christ among you.

Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. He will also keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

New International Version (NIV) Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

——-

If I were preaching from today’s lectionary, this is the passage I would set aside and not read — because at Epiphany we typically read only two scripture passages, and perhaps use the psalm for a call to worship or in one of the hymns.

At first glance this introductory passage in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians seems not to have much meat, especially compared to the Psalm and Isaiah.

But, let’s look at it briefly to see why the lectionary committees might have chosen it to accompany the other readings. The challenge in all the other readings, including the gospel, which I’ll get to next, is daunting. What I get from the readings today is that people in every age, in every culture have challenges and threats that seem insurmountable.

And the people gathered in the tiny church in Corinth were no different. Paul’s letter, which I have realized is the New Testament version of a livecast in place of a face-to-face meeting, Paul’s beginning is meant to be an encouragement. He knows the difficulties they’re facing and he’s telling them “you do not lack any spiritual gift” needed to accomplish God’s goals, and God “will keep you firm to the end.”

Just like the Corinthians, we need to hear this today and every day.

———

And last, the gospel reading, which will be read in the NIV:

John 1:29-42New International Version (NIV)

29 The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.”

32 Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. 33 And I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 I have seen and I testify that this is God’s Chosen One.”

35 The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. 36 When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!”

37 When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. 38 Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What are you looking for?”

They said, “Rabbi” (which means “Teacher”), “where are you staying?”

39 “Come,” he replied, “and you will see.”

So they went and saw where he was staying, and they spent that day with him. It was about four in the afternoon.

40 Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. 41 The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). 42 And he brought him to Jesus.

Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter.

 

New International Version (NIV) Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

———-

Herein ends the gospel reading. The word of God for the people of God…Thanks be to God.

OK, if you’re still with me, I have a message I preached on this passage when I was leading alternative worship services at Berea Presbyterian Church six years ago. The lectionary has a way of coming around every three years, you know. If you’re still with me, I’ll read the message now, here in Bathrobe Church. It’s less than 10 minutes long, maybe only 5 or 6 minutes. You can also see it on my altworship web site at:   https://altworship.wordpress.com/2008/01/20/come-and-see/

Given that I wrote and preached it six years ago, I’m amazed at how timely it is today. That’s a pretty good demonstration of the UCC’s slogan: God is Still Speaking.

Have any of you seen the Monty Python movie, “Life of Brian”?

It’s a satire, a complicated and funny commentary on Christianity. The main character, Brian, is born at the same time as Jesus, and their paths cross many times over their lives.

There are several scenes in the movie where people try to find meaning in Brian’s life and try to follow him. He keeps telling them he’s not anyone special, but they are so desperate for a leader to help them rebel against the Romans that they read meaning into everything he does. At one point, he loses a sandal trying to run away from these would-be followers and they pick up the shoe and treat it as a holy relic.

The writers of that movie really captured the spirit of the times of Jesus. There were false prophets and false messiahs and desperate people eagerly following this person and that, all over the place. They had the sense that something big was going to happen – maybe a leader would rise up to save them from Roman tyranny, maybe the world as they knew it was coming to an end! An electric sense of anticipation was in the air.

The movie raises the same point that the gospel of John raises in our scripture today. How do you tell the real thing from the fake or the mistaken?

This story begins with John the baptist, who is a different John from the gospel writer. At the time, John the baptist was more well known than Jesus. In fact, Jesus may have been a disciple of John at first. All four gospels begin the account of Jesus’s ministry by first writing about John the baptist.

Some of the people who wanted to upset the empire and take back their country, and their lives and especially their religion, some of those people moved to the desert and lived like hermits. John was one of the more famous of those desert hermits. He came from the tradition of very unkinglike leaders. He was a man of God, a prophet.

The gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke tell us that John lived in the wilderness, that he wore animal skins and ate locusts and honey – that is, whatever he could find out there in the desert. And people flocked out to see him and hear him and be baptized by him.

He told them to repent and ask forgiveness of their sins. He told them he was the “voice crying in the wilderness” that the prophet Isaiah wrote about. Like Brian in the movie, John told his followers he was not the one they were looking for. He said he was preparing the way for someone greater than him, someone whose sandal he would not be worthy to untie.

Last week, we read the scripture from Matthew telling about how John baptized Jesus. And the heavens opened up and a dove descended and some heard God say about Jesus, “this is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.”

The gospel account we’re reading today elaborates on John’s reaction to Jesus. “He is the lamb of God,” John tells his followers. In essence, he says “this is the guy I’ve been telling you about.” This is the one I’ve been preparing for.”

How does he know? John saw evidence of the Holy Spirit descend on Jesus. So John the baptist tells two of his disciples that Jesus is the one he’s been preparing them for. Jesus walks by and John says it again, “there he is, there’s the lamb of god.”

None of the gospels give a clear account of what John the baptist said about Jesus other than this. A dove come down, the holy spirit is on him. He’s the lamb of god. He’s the son of god.

But what did that mean?

Andrew and the other disciple, who isn’t named in this gospel, have already been searching for something – a leader, the messiah, someone to deliver their people from bondage. We know this because Andrew and his companion are disciples of John the baptist. They’ve been listening to him, probably have repented and been baptised by him.

They’ve heard him say there’s another one coming and he’s even greater than John. That’s a pretty good recommendation, because John really captured people’s attention. So if John says Jesus is the one he’s been talking about, that’s good enough for Andrew and his friend.

So they take off after Jesus, just start walking behind him, maybe trying to catch up. And Jesus turns around and asks them, “what are you looking for?”

Notice he doesn’t say, “what do you want?” He says, “what are you looking for?” Now, is that because he knows what they want? Or because he is less interested in what they want, he wants to know if they’re searching, if they’re open minded, rather than thinking they already know who he is and what they want from him.

Knowing what we know – that the two disciples of John are responding to John’s description of Jesus as the lamb of god – wouldn’t you think they’d answer with some explanation, like, “well John says you’re the one he’s been talking about.” Some kind of question, “are you who John says you are?” or maybe, “what does it mean that you’re the lamb of god?”

But no, They ask, “where are you staying?” The word in the original was the same as the ones in English translated as stay or remain, and in this passage the word is used five times. Stay, stay, stay, remain, remain. They’re not asking where he is spending the night. They are asking something deeper. Where’s your center? Where’s the foundation of your life?

They call him rabbi, teacher, which is a sort of an indirect way of saying, can we follow you?

“Come and see,” Jesus says.

They do. They go and see. They not only see where Jesus is living, they see his resting place, the center of his being. They stay with Jesus all day. The gospel doesn’t tell us what Jesus said or did to inspire people to call him the messiah, the son of god, the lamb of god.

We don’t know what Andrew and his fellow disciple said or heard. We don’t know what they did. We only know the result. After spending the better part of a day with Jesus, Andrew goes and finds his brother, Simon, and tells him, “we have found the messiah.”

He brought Simon to Jesus, who seems to know all about him already. Jesus calls Simon “Cephas” or “Peter,” both names mean “Rock.” We who know the rest of the story know that Simon, called Peter, will become a follower solid as a rock, sometimes thick as a rock, on whom Jesus will build the church. So Andrew asked Jesus, what is your foundation, what is your rock, and Jesus said to Peter, I’m calling you rock.

But notice that it is Andrew who tells Peter, the rock, about Jesus. Andrew who was following John and seeking the messiah, the anointed one of God. Andrew who asked Jesus, “where are you staying?” can we come too?

It took Andrew less than a day one-on-one with Jesus to decide that John was right. This is the guy.

Think back in your own life to a time when you understood Jesus to be the anointed one, the son of God, however you would say it. A time, maybe you were a child, maybe you were grown and beginning to examine what you believed. Maybe it came on you unexpectedly during a time of crisis. Maybe it dawned on you gradually. Maybe it was something someone said. However it came to you, You KNEW that Jesus is special. One of a kind. The son of God, God incarnate. That Jesus was the guy.

Whether it was sudden or gradual, at some point, you probably wanted to share this knowledge. You wanted to tell someone close to you that Jesus is the guy. He’s the one we’ve been longing for and expecting. We’ve found the messiah.

How would you explain that to someone else?

John talked about a dove. Andrew simply told his brother, “We’ve found the messiah.” The gospel writer doesn’t tell us the rest of the conversation, but I’ll bet Andrew said something like, “come and see.”

And so Simon Peter did come and see.

This is an interesting take on how the disciples “found” Jesus. John told Andrew, who went to Jesus, and Jesus told him, come and see. So Andrew did. Then he told Peter, who also went to see Jesus for himself.

Jesus didn’t hand out fliers. He didn’t go on Oprah. He didn’t ask John to get his followers together so Jesus could make a speech to them. No, Jesus just walked by and let those who saw the Spirit in him tell others. John expressed it one way. Andrew expressed it another.

And when people asked Jesus what it was all about, he said, “come and see.”

So if you haven’t had that moment when you understood on a gut level that Jesus is the guy. Or if that moment seems long ago and you need a refresher, I’ll say to you, “come and see.” Spend some time with Jesus – in prayer, in scripture, in the company of other followers – and see for yourself.

And if you have spent that afternoon sitting at the master’s feet . . . who have you told, “we’ve found the messiah!”? And who will you tell today and tomorrow, “Come and see.”?

Praise God, amen.

———

I’ve never prayed on camera with people I can’t see, with whoever is watching. As you probably have noticed, I haven’t said anything spontaneous so far in the 20 or so minutes of this livecast. That’s the way I preach, especially if I want to keep it short and make every word count. I’m afraid of rambling or forgetting my train of thought.

So I will read a short prayer and end with the Lord’s Prayer. Please join me, using the words most familiar to you. If you have additions to our prayer, please feel welcomed to post them on Facebook and mark them as part of the prayer.

O Holy one, we praise you for the opportunity to come together in (for us) a new way. We trust that our prayer today falls under Jesus’s description of two or more gathered in His name.

You, Mighty One, who sits high and looks low, you hold us in the palm of your hand. Grant that we feel your love in our struggles, whether they are small and petty or great and earth-shaking. Lead us to do your will.

We pray for those who are sick, that they will feel your healing love, whether through caregivers, medication or other treatments.

We pray for those in prison, whether it’s physical incarceration or the prison of addiction or abuse. Let your light shine in their lives and be reflected into others’ lives around them.

We pray for our world, that we can come together to face and resolve the causes of climate change that threaten your whole creation.

We pray for peace — peace in our hearts, peace in our families, peace in our neighborhoods, our nation and our world. Not the imperfect peace as we understand it, but your peace, which passes all understanding. Help us to perceive it and share it to your greater glory.

We pray in the name of the triple strength God: God the creator, God the redeemer and God the holy spirit, Amen.

Please join me in the Lord’s prayer:  Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be your name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day your daily bread, and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.

Here is my sendout and benediction:

As you take off your bathrobes and venture into the everyday world, know that God is with you, that you do not lack the gifts needed to accomplish God’s will, and that your trust in God is strengthened by God’s trust in you, God’s beloved child.

And may the peace of God the creator, Jesus the redeemer and the helping, healing Holy Spirit be with you now and always, Amen.

Advertisements

It’s a good thing it’s not all up to us.

April 27, 2008

Bulletin April 27

Scripture: 1 Peter 3:12-22 Acts 17:22-31

John 14:15-21

Message April 27

It was a congregational meeting, almost 30 years ago. The budget-cutters were wringing their hands. “We’re spending more money than we’re collecting,” they said. The membership committee was worried. Membership was down to half what it had been a decade earlier.
These church leaders looked down the road and what they saw scared them. They thought it was all up to them, and they didn’t know what to do. They talked about cutting back – close the building during the week to save utility bills, cut the Sunday School budget, cut back on mission contributions.
But a young mother stood up and said that this congregation would run out of people before it ran out of money, especially if they kept running the church like a closed club. She referred to the parable of the talents and she begged the congregation not to bury their considerable resources in the ground. The people who died and left the church money in their wills wanted it to be used to increase the kingdom.
The congregation prayed for guidance and searched their hearts.
Instead of cutting the budget, the Session voted to hire a Christian Education director. Years later, their second CE director went to seminary under the care of this congregation. She was the congregation’s second woman ministerial candidate. I am the seventh.
If you had asked this comfortable congregation struggling to find its place in an inner tier suburb where their children were becoming a minority in the public school … if you had asked them to become a major supporter of women in the ministry, they would have looked at you like you were daft. “Why us?” They would have said.
It’s a good thing it’s not all up to us.
God had plans for them.

Just five years ago, another congregation celebrated their 150th anniversary holding their breath. They had enough money to pay their pastor, but their long-time members were dying off and few younger people were joining to replace them. Children’s Sunday School had all but ended, for lack of children to attend.
One Sunday, a poor African woman who had moved into the neighborhood came to worship. The congregation welcomed her. As a result of that welcome, she brought friends and family. They were Liberian refugees, the poorest of the poor, having spent as many as 15 years in refugee camps. The church leaders prayed for guidance: what are we to do to help these people when we hardly have enough money to get by ourselves?
They sought a grant and leased a school bus. 23 adults joined the church, many of them through adult baptism. The Sunday School is so full they have trouble finding teachers and buying curriculum. But it is a problem they seek to solve with joy. They still have money problems, but they’re no longer frightened of the future.
If you had asked Carondelet-Markham Memorial whether they should seek to serve an immigrant refugee population, they would have looked at you like you were daft. “Why us?” They might have said.
It’s a good thing it’s not all up to us.
God had plans for them.
Neither of these congregations planned their rebirth. What they have in common is that most of the members clearly loved their church and they loved God.
God sent someone to show them how they could use their gifts to increase the kingdom.
Those of you who are regulars at altworship have already realized that this message is a departure from my usual message. Usually I tell a story right out of scripture. Today, I’m applying the scripture first.
Lets look briefly at the gospel message and the letter from Peter. Jesus tells his disciples and Peter tells his listeners that God will not desert them. They are not alone when they seek to do God’s will. Neither are we.
When we forget that, we practice what one author (whose name I cannot recall) has called practical atheism. That is, we act like it’s all up to us, as if there was no God to guide and help us.
I am as guilty of this as any of you. Each week I prepare an altworship service and a message wondering who will be there to participate. On those Sunday afternoons when I know none of the regulars plan to attend — my daughter Julie and her boyfriend, Ben, my preaching partner Serenia, Pastor Gibson-Turner, the elders Cozart – when any of them or maybe all of them have told me, “I can’t be there tonight,” I wonder, who am I doing this for?
And then I pray that God will send someone to worship with me. And I remember, I am doing this for God. If it’s God’s will that people show up, then they’ll show up. If it’s God’s will that I continue, no matter who shows up, then I’ll continue.
I know Berea is coming to a crossroads. Don’t feel alone. Nearly every church comes to this crossroad – more times than some leaders even realize – what are we doing? And how are we to keep on in the face of these difficulties?
I know, too, that you members of Berea love your church and you love God. The Holy Spirit is in you.
So first, listen to your pastor. She’s been telling you to wait for the Lord.
And next, listen to this preacher. While you’re waiting, pray for guidance. Ask God, what would you have us do?

I brought a book I’m rereading that I recommend for you to read, individually or as a group: “Unbinding the Gospel: Real Life Evangelism.”

And remember, it’s not all up to you.
Jesus did not leave you orphans.

Praise God. Amen.

“I am in the Father and the Father is in me.”

April 20, 2008

Bulletin April 20

Scripture: Psalm 31 (The Message), 1 Peter 2:1-10

John 14:1-14

Message Apr 20
“I am in the Father and the Father is in me.”

Who’s on First. What’s on Second and I Don’t Know is on Third.
That’s the classic American expression of people talking at cross purposes, and cluelessly or willfully, misunderstanding each other. How many times have you wanted to interrupt that routine and say to both Abbot and Costello – Stop it! Who, What, and I Don’t Know are players’ names. The first baseman is Taiwanese and his last name is spelled HU, pronounced like the pronoun, “Who.”

We have a similar misunderstanding being expressed in this Bible passage. Jesus says he goes to prepare a place for the disciples and that he is the way to get there. But do they understand? No. They ask for a map.
He says the disciples know the Father – God – through him. And they ask for an introduction.
In essence, the disciples want to Google God. Just give me the search terms and I’ll find the answer on the Internet.
Our modern-day misunderstanding continues in this passage, when Jesus’s offer to answer prayer requests is reduced to the prosperity gospel: You want a Mercedes? Just ask in prayer and if you trust enough, Jesus will see that you get it.

I believe that language is God’s gift which makes us human. But language also limits us and keeps us from fully understanding God or sharing our insights. So we are thrown back on metaphor, on figures of speech or narratives to tell our truths. Jesus tells his disciples, if you can’t believe or understand what I’m saying, then look at what I’m doing. Or if you can’t understand the words, understand your experience.

I’m going go bite off a leetle tiny piece of this passage and try to understand it through experience. Jesus said he is “in” the Father and the Father is “in” him. There’s a lot of theology hanging on this phrase. I’m going to look at one tiny word, one of the shortest in the whole passage: “in”

In?
As in, “in the groove,” “in the moment” “in sync”

My mother-in-law, Ruth, is tasting, for the first time, the experience of being a journalist. She’s writing a story for the newsletter of her senior citizens’ residence. And she’s having a lot of fun, as well as frustration, in getting this story just right.
She told us the other night in our every-other-day phone conversation that she got some very good feedback on her story from one of her friends. She started revising the story and she got so immersed in the excitement of creation and revision that she missed her hair appointment. She never misses a hair appointment. But she was so caught up in the moment.
Barry and I both recognized the feeling. She was “in” that story, that process of writing, so completely that she forgot everything else, even the sacrosanct weekly hair appointment.

I recognized that feeling. It’s what kept me working at the newspaper for so long. It didn’t happen all the time, just every now and then – driving back from an interview or a breaking news story and the lead would come to me, and I couldn’t wait to get to a keyboard to write it down. I knew what my colleagues meant when they would say, “this story wrote itself.” They were “in” the groove.

Song writers, poets, novelists, have been quoted saying much the same thing. “The characters are in charge of my novel.” “I set out to say one thing, and the song took over.” “This poem wrote itself. I just tweaked it.”

I’ve felt this “in” feeling, singing with choral groups. Not every song, not every performance or worship service. But now and then, the choir or chorus would be singing an especially demanding or meaningful piece of music and everything would come together so powerfully that when we were finished, we would be standing in awe. Sometimes, this awe would bounce back from the congregation or audience in a silence that was electric. I have occasionally been in the audience when that happened with a singer or group in a concert. There’s a hush before the clapping begins, a collective “in sync” of appreciation for what just happened.

I’ve felt this “in” feeling sometimes in prayer. It’s always when I’m praying with someone, whether I’m speaking or someone else is speaking, or in one case, when no one was speaking. When Joseph Pulitzer Jr. died, all the employees of the Post-Dispatch gathered in the lobby and second-floor balcony for a moment of silent prayer. Hundreds of people just standing there, not saying anything. But most of us were praying.
The feeling was so powerful it almost knocked me over. A whoosh of energy that you could almost hear. After we heard the “amen,” I turned to the woman next to me, Sue Thomson, and she acknowledged my unspoken question: “That was powerful, wasn’t it?” she said. And I knew she had felt it too.
We were “in” prayer.

These “in” moments are intellectual, they’re creative, they’re mental, they’re emotional and they’re physical. Mere words can’t begin to describe them, but you know the experience.

So now I’m going to ask you, for a brief – please – description of when you have had that “in” feeling, of complete absorption, essential creativity, spiritual communion, divine unity or oneness.

Tell us about an “in” moment.

Jesus had an awareness far beyond what his disciples – including us – could sustain. For Jesus, his “in” moments were more or less all the time. And he knew them to be divine. He was “in” God and God was “in” him. Whenever we want know what that is like, we have only to believe and trust. In the original language of the gospel, one word stands for these two English words – believe and trust.

“Believe me (trust me): (Jesus said) I am in my Father and my Father is in me. If you can’t believe that, believe what you see—these works. –If you can’t trust that, trust what you see—these works. — The person who trusts me will not only do what I’m doing but even greater things, — The person who believes me will not only do what I’m doing but even greater things.

Believe and trust, whether it’s Jesus’s words or his works. Whether it’s the language of words or of experience. If you want to know God, study Jesus.

Jesus ends this passage with a promise. It’s not about praying to receive material goods or for things to go your way. It’s about having those “in” experiences.

Jesus says, The person who believes me will not only do what I’m doing but even greater things. Because I, on my way to the Father, am giving you the same work to do that I’ve been doing. You can count on it. From now on, whatever you request along the lines of who I am and what I am doing, I’ll do it. That’s how the Father will be seen for who he is in the Son. I mean it. Whatever you request in this way, I’ll do.

Praise God. Amen.

The Good Shepherd

April 13, 2008

Message April 13

Bulletin April 13

Psalm 23 (The Message)

1 Peter 2:20-25

John 10:1-10

Today is Good Shepherd Sunday, the time in the schedule of scripture readings in the Revised Common Lectionary when several passages compare God’s care to that of a good shepherd. In the Hymn we sang, based on the 23rd Psalm, God is the shepherd. In the gospel and epistle passages, Jesus is the shepherd. In both, we are the sheep.

Are any of you farmers or relatives of farmers?
Did you ever raise sheep?

My sole understanding of sheep raising in America comes from a legendary story about my late ex-brother-in-law, Ed. He was my first husband’s oldest brother. We divorced a little more than 10 years ago and Ed died a few years after that. He was born and reared in the city of St. Louis, but he wanted to be a farmer. He majored in Agriculture at Mizzou for a year, then quit and joined the Army. After he came back from the service, he majored in accounting. But he married a farm girl and they bought a farm off Highway 3 between Waterloo and Red Bud.

Ed was an enthusiastic experimenter. He didn’t just plant strawberries. He read up on all the varieties and planted some that were good for freezing and some that were good for making jam and some that were good for eating raw. He planted grapes and made wine. He kept horses and he and his wife, Alice, would buy a couple of calves, feed them and then have them butchered, keeping some of the meat and selling the rest to his relatives.

Ed didn’t make a living farming. He worked most of his adult life as an accountant. His and Alice’s best, most successful crops were their five children and several grandchildren, all raised on the farm.
Early in his farming days, Ed decided to try sheep raising. I haven’t seen a lot of sheep in southern Illinois, but Ed wouldn’t let that stop him. He figured if you had pasture, you could raise sheep. He bought a ram and some ewes. My ex-husband was a teenager at the time of this story and tells it with great detail.
This ram was one ornery animal. It evidently had not read the scripture passage about sheep responding to their master’s voice. This ram would attack anyone who entered the pasture. Anyone including – maybe especially – Ed. Leading this sheep anywhere would have been difficult, because you couldn’t turn your back on him. He’d butt you. Ed’s wife thought it was funny. But it was a real problem for Ed. He had invested considerable money in this experiment. It would have been the early 1960s. And if I remember the story right, Ed paid $200 for the ram alone.
I don’t know enough about sheep to know if this territorial ram was typical, or if there were things Ed could have done to change the ram’s behavior. Cowboys used to sing to cows to calm them down. Does that work with sheep? I don’t know.
Anyway, one day Ed was in the sheep pasture, tending to the sheep, and he leaned over – to pick something up, or maybe to pull a weed. And the ram butted him in the behind and knocked him flat on his face.
Ed had had it with this ram. This was no placid sheep following his master’s voice. This was one dangerous, annoying animal. So he went over to the house he was remodelling for his family and he got a 2 by 4. Ed played semi-pro baseball in his younger days and he had a pretty good swing. He swung that board and hit the ram right between the eyes. My ex-husband said the ram took one shaky step and just collapsed. He was dead before he hit the ground.
Suddenly all Ed had from his sheep raising experiment was some very expensive stew meat. And a good lesson.
That was the day that Ed decided he would not raise sheep. That there was more to being a good shepherd than buying the animals and providing them with green pasture, still water and protection from predators.
Whenever I’m tempted to romanticize passages in the bible about sheep, I think of that cantankerous ram and how he met his end by butting Ed’s end. Sheep are not cuddly little stuffed animals gambolling through a Disney cartoon. They’re smelly and stupid. A good shepherd understands the sheep and has patience with them, even when they foolishly butt the man who feeds them or when they scatter and run off at the first sign of danger, as in the passage from 1st Peter.
Getting sheep to recognize your voice and to trust you and follow you is evidently not an easy thing. Well, isn’t that the way with people too. Sometimes we follow the wrong leader’s voice, or we fail to recognize the one who would best care for us. We resist and rebel. We’re not good followers. Neither were the listeners of Jesus’s parable.
In the context of this gospel, Jesus tells this parable to doubting pharisees who have challenged him about healing a man blind from birth. These listeners may have wanted to believe Jesus, but they had a lot of baggage – pride, privilege, too much power or too many possessions to give up easily.

Jesus surely had Psalm 23 in mind when he told his parable about the good shepherd. God fills our every need; God leads us in paths of righteousness; God comforts.

But the psalm and the gospel reading both acknowledge that the world is not all green pastures and comfort. The psalmist walks through the valley of the shadow of death (the darkest valley). He feasts in the presence of his enemies. In Jesus’s parable, theives and bandits climb over the gate to get at the sheep.

Jesus was reminding his listeners that some leaders would take advantage of people’s yearning for tender direction from God. In his day, as in ours, there were would-be leaders who would use God’s name for their own purposes, and, in effect, steal and rob the people’s confidence and allegiance.

There were “hired men” who looked on their sacred trust as leaders as just a job that they could forsake at the first sign of trouble.

Episcopal minister, Barbara Brown Taylor, tells about a friend who knows good sheep-raising techniques.

Taylor says, according to her friend, “cows are herded from the rear by hooting cowboys with cracking whips, but that will not work with sheep at all. Stand behind them making loud noises and all they will do is run around behind you, because they prefer to be led.

You push cows, Taylor’s friend said, but you lead sheep, and they will not go anywhere that someone else does not go first — namely their shepherd — who goes ahead of them to show them that everything is all right. sheep tend to grow fond of their shepherds, her friend went on to say. It never ceased to amaze him, growing up, that he could walk right through a sleeping flock without disturbing a single one of them, while a stranger could not step foot in the fold without causing pandemonium.
I guess Ed didn’t keep his sheep long enough to be trusted in that way.
Taylor’s friend said sheep seem to consider their shepherds part of the family, and the relationship that grows up between the two is quite exclusive. They develop a language of their own that outsiders are not privy to. A good shepherd learns to distinguish a bleat of pain from one of pleasure, while the sheep learn that a cluck of the tongue means food, or a two note song means that it is time to go home…They know whom they belong to; they know their shepherd’s voice, and it is the only one they will follow.” So says Taylor in her homily.

This coincides with what Jesus says about a good shepherd, “when he, the shepherd, has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.”

Jesus has gone ahead of us, facing death at the hands of sinners. Then he came back after the resurrection to tell us that the way was safe, that we can trust God to lead us through the darkest valley. Jesus said, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”

As the writer of 1st Peter wrote, “They called him every name in the book and he said nothing back. He suffered in silence, content to let God set things right. He used his servant body to carry our sins to the Cross so we could be rid of sin, free to live the right way. His wounds became your healing. You were lost sheep with no idea who you were or where you were going. Now you’re named and kept for good by the Shepherd of your souls.”

We may have more in common with Ed’s ram than we would like to admit. But Jesus was not weighed down by sin, the way we are. Jesus has infinite patience with us, even when we do the worst. Peter tells us his wounds became our healing.

When we respond to our shepherd’s voice, we are led in right paths. We are followed by goodness and mercy all the days of our lives. The Good Shepherd – who came that we would have life abundantly – has shown us the way.

Praise God, Amen.

Please pray with me.
Gracious and merciful God, our every waking moment is made safe and comfortable through the sacrifice of your son, Jesus. We praise your grace and patience in leading us in paths that lead to goodness and mercy all the days of our lives. We pray our gratitude in Jesus name, Amen.

Now What?

March 30, 2008

Message March 30, 2008

Bulletin March 30

Scripture: 1 Peter 1:1-9, John 20:19-3

When I chose the scriptures and message title for this service, I was thinking of the glory and triumph of the Resurrection, seen through the eyes of someone who has believed it my whole life.

But events this weekend have caused me to see the scripture and title in a completely new light. A friend and colleague of mine, with whom I have been leading worship on Sunday nights, has disappeared, with my car.
On Friday night and Saturday morning, I was worried about the car. But now I’m worried about the friend, because none of the people who care about her has seen her.

She is a recovering drug addict, and the last friend to see her said she was high. At first, I was angry, that this woman who can pray so eloquently and sincerely turned her back on all her friends, betrayed our trust and did the most self-destructive thing she could think of.
Now I’m worried that her self-saboutage may have gotten way beyond her and that she is in serious trouble, maybe even dead. [Note: She has since come back and has gone through several ups and downs since I wrote and preached this message.]

Now what? Feelings of anger and betrayal have changed to worry and fear and grief.

Now what?
I was thinking, originally, that this phrase would express the letdown after the euphoria of learning that Jesus is alive. A message ultimately to breathe in the Holy Spirit and be enlivened and encouraged to share the good news.

But I have been forced back to the emotions of Holy Week first:  The feelings of betrayal and abandonment on the part of Jesus and of fear and grief and disillusionment on the part of his disciples.

Easter for us, because we know the story, begins at sunrise, as we go with the women to the tomb. “He is not dead, he is risen!” we are told. And we sing triumphant halleluias on this most joyous day of the Christian year.

But for the disciples of Jesus whom we read about on this Second Sunday of Easter, the story unfolded more slowly. The news had to break through layers and layers of pain, suffering and defeat.

These witnesses saw him get arrested. They heard the hand-picked crowd that called for his crucifixion. They saw him, maybe even heard him struggle through the streets carrying the cross. They saw the broken body on the cross. They heard that he was buried in a tomb.

They knew the danger they themselves were in, even admitting to know him might get them killed as well.

It’s the anger, deteriorating into despair that I have new feeling for. Imagine for a moment how the people in Jesus’s inner circle felt in those first few days after his death.

Just let it sink in for a few seconds. I know all of you have experiences you can draw on, when all your hopes were dashed. When you suffered the most awful losses.

At some point in that pain, you lifted your head to ask, “Now what?”

Imagine yourself as a disciple, a follower of Jesus trying to make sense out of a senseless death of this great, gentle, godlike man. Imagine surveying your options after following him for months, maybe years, and now he’s gone.
Now what? You ask. Where do I go? What do I do, now that he’s gone? Can I believe anything he said, since they killed him and God didn’t stop it?

Imagine yourself, feeling so sure of Jesus’s words and teachings, having seen or heard of his miracles, his healing. And then having it all collapse with his death.

Now what? You ask.

Imagine, as the news filtered out, well, gossip really, that the body was gone, that some of the women and then some of the men had seen Jesus alive. At first people said it was an idle tale. They didn’t believe it. How could they?

If you heard it from someone who had actually seen Jesus, you might have seen joy in their faces and that might have been enough to convince you of the truth of their story.

But if, like Thomas, you heard it whispered from someone who heard it told furtively from someone who heard it uttered in cautious wonder from someone who heard it from an eye witness… you might be afraid to believe such a fantastic tale.

Now what? You think. What am I to make of such gossip?
Dismiss it and get on with my grief? Go back home and pick up the pieces of the life I left to follow Jesus?

Or maybe check it out, seek to find out more. Now what? What is this story of resurrection?

That’s where Thomas comes into our story. I imagine him dealing with his grief by reading some of the psalms of lament. Maybe even Psalm 22, which Jesus began to say on the cross – “My god, my god, why have you forsaken me?” He’s rolling in grief and suffering, rocking back and forth with the pain. And he’s wondering if there is more bad news to come, of companions arrested and executed, of a general search for followers, perhaps.
Now what? He worries.

And then he begins to hear different stories about Jesus and his followers. Stories so giddy with hope, he can’t believe them.
Thomas was probably among those men who dismissed the witness of the women who first saw the resurrected Jesus. You know, an idle tale such as women tell.

Then more of Thomas’s fellow disciples are saying that THEY saw Jesus alive. Some of them describe a scene where Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit into them. Thomas sees the transformation of the eye witnesses. But the layers of despair are thick. He wants his own eye witness experience. He wants his own moment of euphoria.

His pain is so great, he needs to hear and see and touch Jesus to believe the good news of the resurrection.

But he has an answer to the question of Now what? He will stay with the witnesses and hope to see Jesus for himself, the way they did.

Please notice that some of the witnesses, like Mary Magdalene and the other women who went to the tomb, were seeking Jesus when they saw him.
But others, like the people locked in the Upper Room on Easter Evening, they were the recipients of God’s free grace. They did nothing to merit being witness to Jesus’s appearance, except lament his death and fear the same.

Thomas, like the first people that the women told, didn’t believe these first eye witnesses. But Thomas sought to confirm the news for himself.

Jesus is gentle with these waves of witnesses, as the news radiates outward. He appears to several people, gradually increasing the circle of those who have seen with their own eyes, touched with their own hands, the resurrected body of Jesus.

These people have a new, fresh, exciting answer to the question of “Now what?” Jesus told them, As the father sent me, now I send you.

Forgive the sins of others, he said, and they are forgiven in heaven. And go tell what you have seen.

Imagine, then, the glow, the euphoria that would course through their bodies as Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit into them. They would surely forgive Thomas’s doubt, as their doubt had been forgiven by the first witnesses.

But Jesus and the witnesses have a problem. Will Jesus have to appear to every single follower before they believe? This is the crux of the story of Thomas. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed,” Jesus says.

Oh, but that’s not the end of the story.
The writer of John ends with a promise: Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book.

In fact, Jesus and his disciples have been answering that question of “Now what?” for 2,000 years. Receive the Holy Spirit, forgive others and tell them the good news that their sins are forgiven.

The grace of Jesus Christ is STILL appearing to us, perhaps at our greatest moments of despair, when we go seeking him as the women did at the tomb. Or perhaps when we are in a locked room with our companions, fearing the authorities. Or perhaps, like Thomas, when we are sitting in a pew among believers, trying to see for ourselves what all the gossip is about.

Jesus breathes the Holy Spirit into us. Now we are witnesses.

Now what?

We didn’t expect it

March 23, 2008

Message March 23

Bulletin: Mar 23

Scripture: Isaiah 25:1-10, 1 Corinthians 5:6-8, Luke 24:13-49

We didn’t expect that it would snow this morning. No, we didn’t expect snow on Easter Sunday.

But then, Easter is the very essence of what we didn’t expect.

Take Mary Magdalene and the other Mary. In church services all over the world this morning, people read how the two women worried how they would roll the stone away from Jesus’s tomb so they could wash the body and prepare it properly with spices and fresh linen.

They didn’t expect the stone to be moved from the opening. They didn’t expect angels to be telling them Jesus was raised from the dead.

No, they didn’t expect to SEE Jesus in the flesh. But they did.

And they ran to tell the men. They probably didn’t expect the men to believe them. And they didn’t.

Because the men, they didn’t expect that Jesus would show himself first to the women. These men who ran away and denied Jesus, they had expected Jesus would be a triumphant King of Israel and chase the Romans from their land. They didn’t expect him to be crucified.

And they sure didn’t expect him to be raised from the dead.
And so they didn’t expect that Jesus would show himself first to those lowly women who stood on the hill, as close as they could get, while Jesus died.

But he did.

So now, join me on the Road to Emmaus, with Cleopas and his wife. Notice, in scripture, when a person who has as big a role as these two travellers, when one of them isn’t named, it isn’t because the gospel tradition didn’t know the name, it’s more likely that the person was a woman.
So the person with Cleopas is probably his wife.

Lets walk alongside Cleopas and Mrs. Cleopas. Like them, we had been following Jesus. Like them, we thought we knew all about him. We loved him and what he said – Love your neighbor; feed the hungry; free the captives. Like Mr. & Mrs. Cleopas, we saw him stir up trouble in the temple. We heard him argue with the high priests, the Roman collaborators that the empire had put in charge of the most holy place in Israel. Like the rest of his followers, we expected Jesus to make trouble with these powerful people who were not following God’s will. But we didn’t expect him to be arrested, tried and condemned.

Like Mr. & Mrs. Cleopas and the rest of Jesus’s followers, we were not among the hand-picked crowd that shouted, “crucify him,” to Pilate.

No, we didn’t expect Jesus to be killed on a cross, hanged on a tree – that was not just a painful death, but one that was for slaves and criminals, not kings, not the anointed one.

After such a week – Jesus riding in triumph into the city, and arguing with the authorities and then being arrested and condemned and killed – well, we’re doing like Mr. & Mrs. Cleopas. We’re walking back home. We don’t know what to expect anymore.

How do you feel? Defeated? Confused? Cynical? Like Mr. & Mrs. Cleopas, we’re discussing, we’re arguing, probably, about the events of the last week and what they mean.

Then this stranger joins us. He asks us what we’re talking about. We didn’t expect that anyone who had been in Jerusalem would NOT know what had happened. So we told him, at least as much as we understood. We told this stranger what we’d heard from others, from Mary Magdalene and from the disciples who saw the empty tomb. But still, we don’t know what it means. It’s not what we expected.

The stranger explains the scripture to us. We feel our hearts begin to burn with excitement. We didn’t expect to feel like this after the events of the last three days.

When we get to our village, we urge the stranger to stop and stay with us for the night. We crowd into the Cleopas house along with the stranger.

And upon breaking bread together – like we’re about to do here at altworship in a minute – we, like Mr. and Mrs. Cleopas, we recognize Jesus. He has been with us through the whole journey from Jerusalem, talking with us, explaining to us. But we don’t recognize our beloved teacher until he shares food with us. We didn’t expect that.

Talk about not expecting. As soon as we realize he’s with us, he disappears from our sight. But this time, we realize he’s not gone. He’s risen.

Well, if we were talking excitedly before, now we’re in a frenzy. And we turn right back around and go back to Jerusalem, only this time, we’re running, we’re so excited.

We run toward our fellow disciples, holed up in an upper room. “They’re not going to believe this,” we say between breaths as we run.

Now shift scenes. Imagine you’re in the upper room, crowded in there together, the door locked against the authorities, who might just decide to sweep through Jerusalem and arrest any followers of this crucified Jesus.

We’ve heard Mary Magdalene and the other women say they saw Jesus, but it’s so unexpected, we can’t wrap our minds around it. We’re afraid and confused and deeply grieving for the death of all our hopes.
If we’re expecting anything, it’s that we’ll be chased by the Romans all the way back to Gallilee.

And then Cleopas and the others knock on the door and tell us a fantastic tale about meeting Jesus on the road, but they didn’t recognize him. He taught them how his death and resurrection was foretold in scripture. But they didn’t know it was him until he ate with them.

Jesus alive – and explaining scripture and eating with his followers? We don’t expect this. We can’t believe it. It’s too fantastic.

Has the whole world gone crazy? First the Romans and the Judean collaborators arrest and kill the most godly man we’ve ever met. Then his followers say they’ve seen him alive! And that he is not a ghost or a vision, but a real human being who ate with them.

How do we know what to expect anymore?

Yes. Yes. I’m coming to it.

While Mr. And Mrs. Cleopas were still telling us about their experience, here he is in the flesh. “Peace,” he says. “Peace be with you.”

Now, we can be forgiven for being a little slow. The women told us, some of the disciples told us, Mr. & Mrs. Cleopas told us. But we didn’t expect to see Jesus alive, in the flesh, right here in front of us.

It is too much. It’s too good to be true.

Then Jesus is asking us for something to eat. Someone gives him a piece of boiled fish. And he eats it.

Is this really Jesus? The Jesus we saw drag his cross through the streets? The Jesus they took down from the cross, all broken and bloody and dead? Cold and dead. Is this really Jesus?

We’d been following him. We’d been listening to him. But we didn’t expect what he would say next. He goes through scripture and he says, “You can see now how it is written that the Messiah suffers, rises from the dead on the third day, and then a total life-change through the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed in his name to all nations—starting from here, from Jerusalem!

Starting from here, from Jerusalem? Well, we expected a Messiah to deliver us from the Romans, not a Messiah we would take to the nations – including the Romans.

But that’s not all. Now he’s saying WE are witnesses. Well, yes. We are seeing and touching the living Jesus. Now we can understand. Sort of. It’s all so out-of-this-world. But how can we argue with what we see and hear?

What is he saying? WE are witnesses? Witnesses don’t just see, they tell others. And now we understand. The two Marys, Mr. And Mrs. Cleopas, and now the people in the upper room, we’ve seen Jesus and he told us to tell other people.. We’re witnesses.

How are we going to get others to believe us?

Quit asking questions and listen. Jesus is still speaking. He says, “I am sending what my Father promised to you, so stay here in the city until he arrives. Until you’re equipped with power from on high.”

The disciples of Jesus. They didn’t expect him to be killed. They didn’t expect him to live again. They didn’t expect to see him in the flesh. They didn’t expect him to command them to tell others.

But all that happened. And more. Those of us who know the story, know it continues to Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit swept through the disciples and they told everyone. And from there, to the ends of the earth.

When we hear the Easter story, do we still hold onto our doubts? Are we still surprised when Jesus says it’s true, he lives? Are we still surprised when Jesus says, “YOU are witnesses.”

We didn’t expect it, but we are witnesses.

We don’t expect Jesus to give us the power to tell others. But he has. We have the power. We will get the power. We are witnesses.

Say it with me. Jesus lives. He is risen, he lives!

Praise God
Amen.

Establishing the price

March 16, 2008

Bulletin: Mar. 16

Scripture: Isaiah 50:4-9, Philippians 2:1-13, Matthew 21:1-11

Does a high-priced meal or glass of wine taste better than a lower priced one? Some researchers in California Tech say their study may show that “you get what you pay for” is not just practical advice. They believe that our brains show a preference for higher priced items.
In the study, participants tasted wine while their brains were being scanned by a functional MRI. (I don’t know how this was done, because the only time I’ve ever had an MRI, I had to lie in this tunnel whose top was a few inches from my nose. I didn’t have room to sip wine, much less have any interest in a taste test.) Anyway, these scientists found that when study subjects were told the wine was expensive, the part of their brain that registers pleasure showed, well, more pleasure, than when the subjects were told the wine was cheap.
Their conclusion, filtered through a report I read, was that If something costs more, our very brain functions lead us to think it must be better, more valuable.
Establishing the price of something is a very important part of marketing. When you’re selling a house, which I’ve done twice, so far, in my life, you want to price it low enough to sell quickly, but high enough to get as much money as you can. Pricing it too low can often make a house hard to sell, oddly, perhaps because people suspect there must be something wrong with it. And the longer it’s on the market, the more wary people will be. Then if you have to reduce it further, that just increases the suspicion.
Marketing is a tricky thing.
On one level, today’s scripture passage is about marketing.
The folks in Galillee where Jesus has been preaching, have spread the word – this Jesus, he’s the real thing, the guy we’ve been waiting for. Many of the followers of John the Baptist have joined Jesus’s throng. The people in Bethany who saw Lazarus raised from the dead have spread the news in Judea, including its capital city, Jerusalem.
So as he approaches Jerusalem, Jesus has buzz. Lots of people are talking about him, about who he is – the Son of God! The Messiah! – and what he can do – make the blind see! Rescue the oppressed! Free the captives! Raise the dead!.
Jerusalem is the key market Jesus must penetrate. But it’s a tough market to crack. It’s where the powerful people are, who feel threatened by Jesus’s message of justice and mercy. It’s the center of the Jewish religion, where the temple is, and at the heart of the temple is the Holiest of Holies, a mysterious place where God is thought to reside.
What’s more, Jesus is coming into Jerusalem just before Passover, when thousands of thousands of Jews and non-Jewish god-fearers have come to observe one of the big holidays of the religion. So Jesus has as wide an audience as possible for him to introduce his teachings to.
Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey, because scripture says that’s how the messiah, Israel’s new deliverer king, will come. It’s a visual symbol that those with a knowledge of scripture would not miss. And this is not just any scripture – it’s one of those books we’ve talked about before, that predict that a rescuer, a redeemer, will come and bail out the enslaved Jews from bondage – in this case, bondage by the Romans and their Judean collaborators like Herod.
This messiah, the scripture promises, will not come with an army, but riding on a humble pack animal. And far from showing humility, this is a powerful symbol about Jesus’s claim to the throne of Israel. He is claiming to be a true Son of David, coming to lead the people to liberation.
Jesus has his advance men who make arrangements for his ride. Word gets around fast and people come and spread their cloaks and other clothing on the road in front of him. They wave palms, a more contemporary and widely known symbol of honor and power than the scripture reference.
On this Sunday before Passover, which we now call Palm Sunday, Jesus makes a big splash. It’s a positive launch for the New Order.
But to clinch the sale, you need more than buzz and a successful promotion. You need to establish the right price.
Jesus’s message of God’s love and forgiveness comes with the very highest price tag. A blood sacrifice of the very Messiah that created the buzz and led the parade.
I am wary of the language in scripture and hymns about “the blood of the lamb,” because such blood language has been misused and misunderstood. But when we’re discussing the cost of our believing Jesus’s good news, we need to understand. Passover, the religious observance that is part of the background of Easter, is all about blood and sacrifice. The crucifixion, the passion – a church word describing Jesus’s death – is all about blood and sacrifice.
We need to know the high price of the gospel – and we need to know who paid it and for whose benefits. These basics have gotten distorted.
So lets recap the background. Passover was the celebration of the Israelites being liberated from Egypt. Pharoah and the Egyptians had to suffer 10 Plagues before they would let the Hebrew slaves go into the desert. The last plague caused the death of the first born in every household – animals as well as people. The only way the Israelites could escape this plague was to kill a lamb and smear the blood on the doorposts of their homes. Which they did. And, as you probably know, that’s where Passover gets its name – the ghost of death passed over the homes where the lamb’s blood was smeared. This is THE classic use of sacrifice in the Hebrew bible. Killing a lamb to save a household from death.
Later, the writers of Psalms used this imagery – though your sins be as scarlet, they will be washed white as snow. It’s a reference to the sacrificial atonement ceremony, where an animal is sacrificed as a sin offering. The priest says, in effect, here, God, please put the sins of the person who gave this animal on the neck of the animal and forgive the person.
So this is where Matthew and other writers in the New Testament get their imagery and symbols when they call Jesus the lamb. It is the passover lamb, the lamb of temple sacrifice that they’re talking about. The writer of Revelation, the last book of the bible, has a series of dreams and visions where the writer sees the lamb of God, and where he sees blood turn white as snow when it touches the lamb.
Through the centuries and millennia of the Old Testament, animal sacrifice was a religious practice not only of the people of Israel, but also of other religions of the Near East. Much ink is spent in Exodus and especially in Leviticus on the types of sacrifice for various purposes – what the parents of a first-born son should buy and give to the temple priest to sacrifice, for instance, and how poor families could substitute pigeons for a lamb if need be.
Animal sacrifice was an accepted practice of the times, in Roman and Greek temples as well as the Jerusalem temple. People understood the currency of sacrifice. There was an established pricing system of lambs and pigeons and rams and bulls, in Jerusalem, and add pigs – and maybe other exotic animals I don’t know – in other religions.
In his last week of life, Jesus goes into the temple and clears out the money-changers – who are there making deals for sacrificial animals as a commercial enterprise. He calls the place a den of theives. It’s not because they’re taking money into the temple. It’s because the whole practice of sacrifice has lost its holy quality. It had become a system of bribery of the Roman-appointed priests. This wasn’t the religion of the God of Exodus. It was a commercialized travesty.
But what the gospel writers understood Jesus to be saying could be paraphrased for our modern ears as, You call this sacrifice to the Lord? This is nothing. You wouldn’t know a true sacrifice to the all powerful God if it walked up and turned over your money-changing table. Like this…
So Jesus offered himself as a sacrifice. In the words of Paul’s letter to the Philippians,
“he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion.”
Jesus established the price, a high one indeed. Why did he do that? For us. He established the price so high so that we would value the purchase above all others. What did he purchase with so high a price?
Forgiveness of OUR sins. Why our sins? Well, first, the gospels tell us Jesus was without sin. And second, we have a hard time believing that God would forgive us – or humankind in general – for our misdeeds and shortcomings. We feel guilty and unworthy. How could we ever expect God to forgive us?
Jesus had to do a tremendous marketing campaign for that.
Lets go back to that study using MRI measurements to establish the value, that is, the good taste of a glass of wine. The article I read didn’t say that the subjects of the study were going to be charged the price of the wine. I assume, although I don’t know, that part of the pleasure that registered in their brains was that they were getting this high-priced wine for free. That increases the pleasure, doesn’t it? How many times have we done something – maybe even spent money – to get something “for free”?
This is one case where the saying, “there’s no free lunch” is just mistaken.
There is. There is a most wonderful case of a free lunch, a get out of jail free card.
In his obedience even in the face of death, Jesus paid the highest price imaginable – so that we could freely accept God’s forgiveness. There isn’t anything we could do that would merit that kind of grace. That’s why we call it grace. It came at a very high price, but for us, it’s free.
When you get something of value for free or a greatly reduced price, do you sometimes hurry to obtain it before the promoters or sellers change their minds? You know a good deal when you see one, so you don’t ask questions, you just accept it? As the saying goes, Don’t look a gifthorse in the mouth.
Our only cost is the obedience of gratitude. God forgives us and in return asks only that we forgive others and try to obey the two greatest commandments, Love God and Love Neighbor.
That’s a good deal, a great value at a great price.

Praise God. Amen.

Do you trust me?

March 9, 2008

Bulletin: Mar 9

Scripture: Romans 8:5-11, John 11:1-45

Somewhere in my last year in seminary I read an observation that there are no funeral rites in the New Testament. I can’t remember the source, but the writer said the absence of funerals in the gospels was because every time Jesus came across a dead person, he brought him or her back to life.

The gospels of Mark and Luke tell us about how Jesus healed Jairus’s 12-year-old daughter, whom everyone had given up for dead. Luke tells us about how Jesus stopped a funeral procession and brought back to life a widow’s only son.

People came to expect this kind of miracle from Jesus. Surely Mary and Martha had expected Jesus to heal Lazarus so that he would NOT die – at least not then.

But that’s the difficulty of understanding the significance of these healing miracles. The people that Jesus healed physically, they’re not alive now. The physical healing, the emotional healing, didn’t last beyond their ordinary lifetimes.

The raising of Lazarus is an important example. If we just take it on the surface, that Jesus could bring people back from the dead, we fall into the trap of seeing Jesus as a magician, a sorcerer with impressive powers. If these powers were that simple, why didn’t Jesus just heal everybody? Why would any widow have to bury her only son? Why would anyone’s 12-year-old daughter have to die an early death? Why wouldn’t Jesus bring back to life every disciple or close friend who died?

These are the kinds of questions that the faith community of the writer of John was asking. If we believe in the risen Lord, why are we dying? Didn’t Jesus promise us everlasting life?
You remember we saw in discussions of scripture earlier this year that a lot of followers of John the Baptist thought the end of the world was near. A lot of Jesus’s followers thought that too. Everything was going to end and they’d all be taken into the kingdom bodily.
But it didn’t happen that way. By the time the gospel writer of John wrote, Christians were dealing with a whole new set of expectations and questions – ones we still hear and ask today.

This story of Lazarus is for us Christians who did not see the living, human Jesus. It’s for us who feel the presence of Jesus as a spirit, rather than a man. And who live with the realization that all of us who live physical lives will eventually experience physical death.

But we who know Jesus and who are studying God’s Word, we are invited to see death – ours and those of our loved ones – in a different way.

Lets examine the way Jesus viewed death in this story. When Mary and Martha sent word that Lazarus was very sick and needed Jesus’s healing power, Jesus delayed. He waited until he knew that Lazarus was dead and buried.
After four days Lazarus would have been, in the words of the Munchkin coroner in the Wizard of Oz that keep cropping up in my mind, “not just merely dead but most sincerely dead.” No doubt about Lazarus just being in a coma. Jesus waits until he’s stinking dead.

Why? Perhaps because he did not view Lazarus’s death as something so terrible it should be prevented.
He says, I am glad for your sakes that I wasn’t there. You’re about to be given new grounds for believing. ”

Jesus is going to show his disciples – and us – new grounds for believing. And he demonstrates that he’s not afraid to die. The Judeans are just waiting for an opportunity to kill him – they’ve tried to stone him once already, his disciples point out. But Jesus pays no attention to these death threats.

I think Thomas shows a certain amount of bravado when he says, almost with a shrug, well we might as well go and die with him. He’s talking about Jesus dying at the hands of the Judeans. Thomas misunderstands Jesus’s reasons for not fearing death. But at least Thomas is willing to follow, even in the face of death threats.

Both Martha and Mary say, “if you had been here, he wouldn’t have died.” They showed a certain amount of belief in Jesus – they believe he could have healed Lazarus. But they expected healing on their terms. They expected Jesus to come when they first asked, so that he could have prevented Lazarus’s death.

Martha goes further, saying she believes Lazarus will be among those who are resurrected in the end times. But she wanted Jesus to keep Lazarus alive right then. She didn’t want to wait until the resurrection of all the faithful.

What does Jesus say to her?
You don’t have to wait for the End. I am, right now, Resurrection and Life. The one who believes in me, even though he or she dies, will live. And everyone who lives believing in me does not ultimately die at all. Do you believe this? Do you trust me?

This is the key question in this passage: Jesus asks, Do you believe this? Or as some commentators translate it, Do you trust what I’m saying? Do you trust me?

The believers in the gospel writer’s community were discouraged, they were confused. Things weren’t happening the way they expected. Just like Martha and Mary.
And like us. We get discouraged and confused. Things aren’t happening the way we expect. Our friends and our family members die, sometimes even when we pray that they be healed. No matter how faithfully we live our lives, we’ll all die someday. We’ve all had occasion to challenge Jesus – if you had been here …

To our doubts and our questions, Jesus says, do you trust me?

Martha responds with a stock answer, similar to words and phrases we say in the apostle’s creed or certain written prayers or in hymns. She clings to her liturgy, to words that she doesn’t fully understand, but takes on faith:

Yes, Master. All along I have believed that you are the Messiah, the Son of God who comes into the world.”

Then Mary comes, and she says the same thing Martha did. If you had been here,

Maybe that’s why the Message translation says Jesus gets angry. He gets frustrated at the misunderstanding of those who just want another miracle.

But if Jesus is irritated, he’s also sad. Jesus wept. Yes, it is human to grieve the death of a friend. It’s OK to cry, even if you’re the Son of God and you know death does not have ultimate power.
Jesus wept. Jesus wept with the other mourners,

Martha has one more chance to show she doesn’t get it, when she objects to the stone being removed because the body will stink.

Jesus snaps back, Didn’t I tell you to trust me and you would see the glory of God?

And he prays aloud to God, he says, “on account of this crowd standing here I’ve spoken so that they might believe that you sent me.”

So he performs the miracle. Lazarus, who was most sincerely dead, walks out of the tomb, trailing wrappings, his face still covered with a burial cloth.

“Unwrap him,” Jesus says. And we don’t get any more explanation from Jesus or from the gospel writer about why Jesus waited until Lazarus was dead or why he brought him back to life, if only for a little while.

On account of this crowd standing here, he said.

Jesus showed these people, some of whom wanted to kill him, that he had power over death, that he was not afraid of them or of the suffering of death or of death itself.

And Jesus is trying to tell his friends and disciples and the crowd – and us – that we don’t have to be afraid of death either.

It’s a liberating thought, if you let it sink in.

If we trust Jesus when he tells us that we will have eternal life after the death of the body, then we are freed in our bodily life as well. Not that physical death is no longer a reality, but it’s inevitability cannot control us. We don’t have to wait until we die to participate in the resurrection. Just knowing that death is not the end frees us to LIVE, to live without fearing death.

One of the Bible commentors I read regularly, Bruce Martin, a minister in the Evangelical Lutheran Church here in St. Louis, really helped me see how to express this liberation. He says, “The avoidance of death is no longer our chief concern. Because we no longer “stumble” against the rock of self-preservation, we no longer need Jesus to be physically among us (he is immediately present in our faith).”

We may begin to realize the misunderstanding expressed in our lament to Jesus, “If you had been here…’’ Because, of course, Jesus is here. He is here, weeping with us in our grief and suffering, as well as assuring us that he is the resurrection and the life. He has prepared a table for us to share.

Do you trust me? Jesus asks.
You don’t have to wait for the End. I am, right now, Resurrection and Life. The one who believes in me, even though he or she dies, will live. And everyone who lives believing in me does not ultimately die at all. Do you believe this? Do you trust me?

If we live our lives trusting Jesus, that we don’t have to wait for the end to get our reward, we can live more fully here and now. We can know that Jesus is with us and we don’t have to accuse him, “If you had been here…”
He is here.
Praise God.
Amen

Point him out to me

March 2, 2008

Bulletin Mar. 2

Scripture: John 9:1-39

Put yourself in place of the blind man.
Sitting & begging. It’s what you do. You are a grown man, but you live with your parents. Each day, you lean against the synagogue wall and wait for people to give you alms. You are an example to them of a poor sinner – blind since birth — and you are an opportunity for them to practice charity, as well as to feel better than you, because you must be blind for a reason.
You are not asking for healing. You are not asking for anything but whatever someone will drop in your alms basket. And if they don’t put anything in, you pray that they will leave you alone.
Feel the stone wall against your back. Feel your hands resting on the scratchy alms basket between your knees. Smell the dust of the path. Hear people walking by. Most of them ignore you. Occasionally someone will drop a coin in the basket. On a good day, you hear one coin clink against another. Today is a typical day. One coin. You sit patiently. What else could you do?

You hear a group of people walking by, clumped together in the manner of people walking and talking. They pause. You realize they are talking about you. This could be very good or very bad, depending on whether they all want to give charity or all want to make trouble. Some of the members of the group ask, “Rabbi, who sinned: this man or his parents, causing him to be born blind?”
Your heart sinks. It’s going to be bad. You feel your body tense up. You hope they are content with a blanket condemnation and then will move on. You want to grab your one coin and edge away, but you feel them clustering around you.
You hear the teacher say,
“You’re asking the wrong question. You’re looking for someone to blame. There is no such cause-effect here.

–your body relaxes at the tone of his voice. You can hear the compassion in his tone, as the sense of his words sink in. “No cause and effect.” You are letting that sit in your psyche. Then you realize he’s still talking.

Look instead for what God can do. We need to be energetically at work for the One who sent me here, working while the sun shines. When night falls, the workday is over. For as long as I am in the world, there is plenty of light. I am the world’s Light.”

–You listen intently to his words, but they make no sense to you. Light and darkness, you have heard those words, of course. But to you, everything is what seeing people call darkness. This man is saying he is the world’s Light. The cynical part of you thinks, “well good for the world. But what does light mean to me?” But the rest of you responds to his voice.
You are surprised at the peace that settles over you as you listen to this compassionate voice. You begin to hope that this will be a good day after all. When you sense the man squat down beside you, your heart leaps. Is he going to empty his purse in your basket?

You hear his hand scratching in the dust. Then you hear him spit.
You are puzzled, but no longer afraid. What’s he doing?
You feel him very close to you. He puts a hand on your shoulder to steady you, and then – what is he doing?
He’s touching your eyes! You start, but his hands are very gentle. He rubs the fine mud from his spit and the dust on your eyes.
Then you hear that gentle, amazing voice again.
“Go, wash at the Pool of Siloam”
The pool of Siloam. You know it. Siloam means “sent.” It’s very close to the synagogue wall.
You sit there in shock for an instant.
What is this?

Then you feel hands helping you up.

Here’s your moment of decision.
Do you angrily fling these hands aside and tell them if they’re not going to give you alms, to just go on their way and leave you alone?
Or does curiousity get the best of you?
Well, why not? You are pretty good at judging character through a person’s voice. You’ve never heard a voice quite like this teacher’s voice. He said he was bringing light, whatever that is.
OK. So you shuffle to the pool, feeling your way. The group seems to have moved on elsewhere. You feel no one around as you kneel by the pool. Feel the cool water on your hands. Hear it splash as you dip your hands in and bring the water to your face. You rub the fine mud from your eyes.
They flutter open and …
LIGHT! This must be light. It is so … so loud. It is shouting. It is screaming. Then shapes take form. You look down at the water. You LOOK down at the water. You are seeing for the first time. So that’s what light is. So that’s what it means to SEE.

You stand up and LOOK around. You, you’re LOOKING.

Soon the town is buzzing. Your relatives and those who year after year had seen you as a blind man begging are saying, “Why, isn’t this the man we knew, who sat here and begged?”

9Others say, “It’s him all right!”

But others object, “It’s not the same man at all. It just looks like him.”

You know these people by their voices. You are so swept up in the controversy you barely have time to notice how they look. You say,
“It’s me, the very one.” You are laughing and crying and looking from one to another, seeing their faces for the first time.

10They say, “How did your eyes get opened?”

You say, “A man named Jesus made a paste and rubbed it on my eyes and told me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ I did what he said. When I washed, I saw.” You can hardly believe it yourself, but the proof is right before your eyes. Before your eyes. You can SEE!

And they say,
“So where is he?”
You hear their skepticism and something else – they are not happy for you at all. Your danger signals rise up. What now?
You answer, “I don’t know.”

They march you to the Pharisees, the religious leaders. You recall that this is the sabbath.
You sit blinking in the light looking from one face to another, looking around the synagogue. You know where you are from the smells and the temperature and, well so many senses other than sight. But now you are seeing all this.
But the Pharisees keep grilling you again on how you came to see.
Your delight has faded and your confusion is hardening into annoyance. You say, “He put a clay paste on my eyes, and I washed, and now I see.”

Some of the Pharisees say, “Obviously, this man can’t be from God. He doesn’t keep the Sabbath.”

Others counter, “How can a bad man do miraculous, God-revealing things like this?” You see they forget you for a moment as they dispute with each other.

They come back at you, “You’re the expert. He opened your eyes. What do you say about him?”

You look around you. So this is light. You look at the faces and match what you see with the voices you hear. Some are curious, some are angry. But they are all turned toward you. They are asking you.

This is so new for you. When did anyone pay attention to what you thought?

A wordless prayer rises in your heart. “Help me, God. What has happened?”

You say, “He is a prophet.”

The leaders don’t believe you. They say they don’t believe you were blind to begin with. So they call your parents.

You see your mother and father come in. You want to run to them and shout with joy! Mama, I can see! I can see your faces! I can see the world! I can see the Light!

But the leaders pull your parents away from you and ask, “Is this your son, the one you say was born blind? So how is it that he now sees?”

His parents say slowly, “We know he is our son, and we know he was born blind.” You hear the anxiety in their voices. You see it in their faces. They continue talking. “But we don’t know how he came to see—haven’t a clue about who opened his eyes. Why don’t you ask him? He’s a grown man and can speak for himself.”
You recall the arguments and murmers in the synagogue that some of the leaders have spoken against this Jesus guy, while others have said he is the Messiah. You feel the tension in the room, you hear the struggle in their voices and you see it in their faces and the way they stand.

They turn to you a second time and one of them says, Give credit to God. Tell the truth. We know this man Jesus is an imposter.

You hear the silence, every eye is on you. You who a few hours ago were ignored by everyone , you are now the center of attention.

How are you feeling? What rises up in you?

You reply, “I know nothing about that one way or the other. But I know one thing for sure: I was blind . . . I now see.”

They say, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?”

You feel irritation taking over from fear.
You say, “I’ve told you over and over and you haven’t listened. Why do you want to hear it again?” You can’t help adding, “Are you so eager to become his disciples?”

With that smart-aleck remark, they jump all over you. They all talk at once, “You might be a disciple of that man, but we’re disciples of Moses. We know for sure that God spoke to Moses, but we have no idea where this man even comes from.”

You recall the gentleness and compassion in the teacher’s voice. You recall the calm and acceptance that radiated from his touch and you start feeling more confident. You know they were being sarcastic when they called you the expert. But you realize you are the expert.
You reply, “This is amazing! You claim to know nothing about him, but the fact is, he opened my eyes! It’s well known that God isn’t at the beck and call of sinners, but listens carefully to anyone who lives in reverence and does God’s will. That someone opened the eyes of a man born blind has never been heard of—ever. If this man didn’t come from God, he wouldn’t be able to do anything.”

Well, now you’ve made them doubly angry. They say, “You’re nothing but dirt! How dare you take that tone with us!” Then they throw you out in the street.

You wander around for a while, looking. Looking at everything. But what are you looking for?

A man comes up to you and asks, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”

This is a different kind of question. You are still trying to make sense of being thrown out of the synagogue, and this question doesn’t seem to have anything to do with anything. The Son of Man?

You feel like closing your eyes so you can concentrate, but, of course, you can’t tear your eyes away from this new found light. You say, “Point him out to me, sir, so that I can believe in him.”

Jesus says, “You’re looking right at him. Don’t you recognize my voice?”

What emotions flood your mind as you say, “Master, I believe.”

39Jesus then said, “I came into the world to bring everything into the clear light of day, making all the distinctions clear, so that those who have never seen will see, and those who have made a great pretense of seeing will be exposed as blind.”

40Some Pharisees overheard him and said, “Does that mean you’re calling us blind?”

41Jesus said, “If you were really blind, you would be blameless, but since you claim to see everything so well, you’re accountable for every fault and failure.”

The Turning Point

February 17, 2008

Bulletin Feb. 17

Scripture

Genesis 12:1-9, Romans 4:1-17, John 3:1-17

Message by Serenia Smalls

If you listened to the message in that song, you could say that the Lady had reached a turning point.

Turning point is defined as a point at which a decisive change takes place. A point at which something or someone changes direction. A critical place.

In our text we see that Abraham had definitely reached a turning point when God simply told him to leave. He said Leave your county, your family and your father’s home land for a land that I will show you and I will make you a great nation, and bless you, I’ll make you famous, you be a blessing, I’ll bless those who bless you, and curse those who curse you. All the families of the earth will be blessed through you.

God directed Abraham to do only one thing. Leave. And in return God would do 8 wonderful things for Abraham. Well, do you think that God could possibly do all those things without Abraham having to leave. I mean let’s face it, the scriptures never indicated that anything was wrong with Horan, his father’s homeland. After all, he knew the culture, he had grown up there. The familiar sights and sounds..everything. Leaving meant he would have to make new friends, learn new culture, familiarize himself with a whole new way of life. No big deal right? Keep in mind that he was 75 years old. You know the old saying, you cant’ teach an old dog new tricks. And if you’ve had any dealing with the elderly, its just not that easy to change. Turning Point. This would definitely take some faith on Abrams part. But the bible says, Abraham just left. He took his wife, his nephew Lot, and all the possessions and people they had gotten in Horan and set out. He entered into what God was doing.
HE HAD NO MASTER PLAN

The book of Hebrews tells us that “by faith Abraham obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going”. He had no map, no AAA brochure, no map quest, no lineup of motel reservations along the way. His caravan simply headed west toward the Mediterranean, and that was that. God had said he would show him where to stop sometime in the future when he got to wherever he was going.

We would struggle with this, wouldn’t we? Not only in our vacation travel, but in guiding our careers and our day to day decisions, we simply have to have a comprehensive plan. ” We do very few things by faith.

Abram didn’t have a clue. If you had met up with his caravan at some oasis, the conversation might have gone like this:

“Mr. Abram, where are you going?”

“I don’t know.”

“Well, how will you know when you get there?”

“I don’t know that, either. God only said he would show me.”

“You have quite an entourage here. When you do arrive, who will supply all the food you’ll need? After all, if you’re going to survive in a new place, how are you going to eat”?

“I don’t know. He just said he would take care of me.”

“You don’t seem to have a security force. Who is going to protect you from the Jebusites, the Hittites, the Amorites, and all the rest of the warring tribes? ”

Abram would just shake his head and wander away.

Romans the 4th chapter and the 16th verse tells us that “this is why the fulfillment of God’s promise depends entirely on trusting God and God’s way, and then simply embracing God and what God does. By doing so, you are guaranteed to arrive at a Point at which a decisive change takes place, a critical place, a turning point.

Abraham is known as the Father of Faith, Well I guess so, because how quickly would any of us leave certain work situations, or sever pleasant relationships or make other difficult changes, without having any details and without knowing everything well in advance. But you see faith is content just knowing that God’s promises can not and will not fail. This is the excitement of walking with God. All throughout the Bible and especially in the book of Acts we never quite know what is going to happen with the next turn of the page, But our faith in the promises of GOD assure us that God is in control and God will do just what he said!! Even with the Apostle Paul, He had no clue of how he was going to Evangelize the world, didn’t even have a desire to until he reached a turning point on the road to Damascus, but he did and is doing so from the grave. Because God mapped out the route along the way.

Beloved, I believe it is safe to say, that all of us, if we haven’t already, will soon be embarking on our turning points. As God, instructs us to move, to leave, to make decisive changes, we must do so, just like Abraham, by faith. That means entering into what God is doing for us, and trusting God to set us right instead of trying to be right on our own, we will receive the promises of God.

Romans 4 Verses 4 & 5 “If you’re a hard worker and do a good job, you deserve your pay; we don’t call your wages a gift. But if you see that the job is too big for you, it’s something only God can do, and you trust God to do it, you could never do it for yourself no matter how hard and how long you worked, well- that trusting him to do it, is what gets you set right with God, By God. Sheer Gift.

I challenge you today, and I do so by the Authority of Jesus Christ, to leave where you are in your faith, step out on the promises of God that He will never leave you nor forsake you, that Hell e with you always even until the end of the ages, that he will make you the head and not the tail, that you’ll be above only and not beneath, He’ll make you the lender and not the borrower, if you just embrace your Turning Point and trust god to guide you, He said, I’ll make you a great nation and bless you, I’ll make you famous and you’ll be a blessing, I’ll bless those who bless you, those who curse you, I’ll curse, and All the families of the earth will be blessed through you.