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Monthly Archives: March 2016

What Are Your Resurrection Stories? (March 27, 2016)

Luke 24:1-12

 

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. 2They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3but when they went in, they did not find the body. 4While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. 5The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.6Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” 8Then they remembered his words, 9and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. 10Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. 11But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. 12But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.

The New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

 

There’s a saying in some of my circles which goes, “It doesn’t matter what the topic is, if you get three Christians in a room, you’ll have four opinions.”

That’s true for everything about our faith. We all have different experiences and backgrounds. Because we each have a different starting point, the Spirit of God leads each of us on a different path. This is also true for  the resurrection of Jesus. Believe it or not, there are lots of different opinions about and interpretations of this event.

We have a tendency to think of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead as a right/wrong, black/white, yes/no, either/or dichotomy. But if being human teaches us anything, it’s that there are as many different ways to experience resurrection as there are people. We do a disservice to the resurrection of Christ if we don’t acknowledge the reality that we understand it differently and experience it differently. So no matter what your experience of resurrection is, it is valid and it is necessary in the conversation. Otherwise, this amazing experience we all have ends up nothing more than a happy ending to a nice 2000 year old story. Then we can forget about it and go find our Easter eggs and eat our chocolate bunnies. To know the power of Jesus’ resurrection, we need to listen to each other’s experiences of dying and rising.

What are your resurrection stories? You have them, you know. How has this Jesus event become real in your life? What does your new life look like, and how is it different?

Let me share one of my death and resurrection experiences. Many of you know that I’ve had a struggle in my life with depression. It’s a chemical imbalance that can affect my outlook and my energy. But it’s in depression that I’ve experienced resurrection. Let me explain—

My experiences with depression have made it very clear that I can’t handle everything alone. It’s not healthy to do so, and we aren’t built for that—no matter how much we may think we’re the exception to that rule. No one can be strong all the time. So I reach out for help now. I’m closer to my wife. I lean on trusted people when I need to. That’s a whole different way to live for me, connecting with people in a more authentic way. Not just me serving or helping, but a real relationship where there’s mutual give and take. I see the world with entirely new eyes. It’s a whole new life. I would never have experienced this newness without going through the difficulty of depression.

What are your resurrection stories? You have them, you know.

Where are you asking different questions than you’ve asked before? What’s changed that has brought about new questions? That’s a sign of something new going on. That’s a sign of a death and resurrection experience.

Where do you have a new understanding or new perspective? What are the experiences that have led to that new outlook? Chances are, there’s a death and resurrection story in there.

I’ve come to the realization that resurrection is normal for God, though no less miraculous. It’s part of who God is. And since we’re created in God’s image, it’s actually normal for us too. We experience little deaths and resurrections throughout our lives. What matters is that this is God at work in us. This is God’s gift of new life for each of us. This is who God is and how God comes to us. Resurrection from the dead. New way of living when an old way of living no longer makes sense. New perspective, when our previous views don’t hold water any more. More openness to love, when the things that have divided us become irrelevant. As God brings life from death, we get caught up in that movement and become part of God’s normal resurrection activity.

What are your resurrection stories? You have them, you know.

Still, we hesitate to acknowledge our resurrection stories, or see them as good. Because in order for there to be new life, something else has to give way. E.g., if you get married, you can no longer be single. If you move to the 3rd grade, you will never be in 2nd grade again. Resurrection involves death. Living a new life means part of an old life can no longer exist. Before Jesus could be raised from the dead, he had to die.

That can be frightening. Sometimes we cling to the old and familiar because that’s more comfortable. A new way of living is unknown and, well, new. We aren’t always sure what that will be like. So we don’t always jump into it with enthusiasm.

But resurrection, again, is normal for God. Therefore it’s going to happen—even to you.

Some of us here right now are in that process of resurrection and rebirth. Maybe you don’t see any new life yet. Maybe something old is still dying and you aren’t ready to give it up. But resurrection, again, is normal for God. Therefore it’s going to happen.

Perhaps you are longing for something new, yet it is slow in coming. You want to die to something old and move past it, but it won’t let go. But resurrection, again, is normal for God. Therefore it’s going to happen.

Regardless of where you are or how it happens, know that God is with you in the journey. The God who raised Jesus from the dead is the God who is raising you to new life too. We don’t have to be afraid of living a new life. This is the day of resurrection. For Jesus. For you.

What are your resurrection stories? You have them, you know.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Hallelujah!

 
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Posted by on March 28, 2016 in Sermon

 

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A Tale of Two Visions (Palm Sunday) March 13, 2016

Luke 19:29-40

When [Jesus] had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, 30saying, “Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.’” 32So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. 33As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?”34They said, “The Lord needs it.” 35Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. 36As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. 37As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, 38saying, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” 39Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” 40He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”

The New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

 

One of the hardest things about this Palm Sunday is the contrast between Jesus and Pilate.

1 - Copy Slide 1  Because it’s more than that. It’s a contrast between God’s vision for the world and our vision for the world. Palm Sunday reveals the difference—the gap—that still exists between God’s ways and our ways.

Look at Pilate’s arrival in Jerusalem next to Jesus’. Both have to do with the entrance of a king/power, yet drastically different.

Pilate comes on horseback, in strength, in a mighty parade, surrounded by glamour and armor and legions of Roman troops.

Jesus comes on a colt, in simplicity, surrounded by the poor and the sinners in Jerusalem.

These are not just differences in parade planning. They reveal a deep, core perspective on the way we live, on what it is we truly trust.

We say we believe that Jesus reveals God’s ways, which the Bible refers to as the kingdom of God, right? So what does this contrast on Palm Sunday say about this?2 - Copy

Slide 2 In real life, who would we rather trust, someone armed with incredible strength and power, who (we hope) wields it for good, or someone armed with humility, who’s biggest weapon is a command to love one another?

You see? This day is more than waving palm branches and calling Jesus a king. Palm Sunday goes way deeper than that. Palm Sunday exposes the reality of God’s reign, right here among us, that we have a hard time with.

When you look at 3 - CopyJesus’ message and life and teachings as a whole, it becomes clear that God’s ways still aren’t our ways all the time. We have difficulty with God’s ways because they contrast with some aspects of our preferred culture and lifestyle. For instance:

Slide 3 Which way would we rather live? And yet, Jesus continuously tells us to quit worrying about what we have or don’t have. But it’s hard to trust God’s ways, isn’t it?

Slide 4 Sometimes we eve4 - Copyn try to make our priorities look like God’s priorities. But on Palm Sunday Jesus makes it pretty clear that we’re fooling ourselves. Jesus exposes the difference between the way God actually works and the way we wish God worked. God’s ways are the ways of generosity.

But more than philosophical differences, Jesus calls us to actually follow him. He says that his ways are the ways of truth and life. If Jesus is about God’s reign, and we are disciples of Jesus, then our lives are called to reflect God’s ways in the world. Easier said than done.

Slide 5  God’s ways are the w5 - Copyays of humility, of lifting up the other person. Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem reveals God’s vision that has no room for revenge.

6 - CopySlide 6  Following Jesus means we seek to care for others more than we seek to control our lives and our future and our surroundings.

 

Slide 77 - Copy  Jesus reveals that the way of God is the way of reconciliation. There is no room in God’s vision for aggression and violence.8 - Copy

Slide 8  As disciples of Jesus we follow him into the ways of peace, trusting Jesus when he says “Blessed are the peacemakers.” We work with him in moving toward a future when the wolf and the lamb lie down together. This isn’t easy, nor is it simple. Sometimes we are left with only bad options. And we have to choose the least bad one.

 

Slide 9 The way Jesus chooses to enter Jerusalem reveals that God’s ways are found in meekness rather than might. We stand with those who are pushed aside rather than seek 9our own advantage.

Slide 10 As disciples we do this not because we understand it or even think it’s better. Rather, we are aligned with Jesus in God’s ways because Jesus reveals that God’s ways really do lead to life.

10As we grow in our realization that God’s vision for creation is our call, our identity, our core as people created in God’s image, we contribute to life in the world. To do anything else, no matter how much sense the world around us says it makes, does not reveal God. It does not show love to the world. It does not move us forward in the ways of God. God’s ways, revealed in Jesus this Palm Sunday, reveal God.

God’s love, revealed by Jesus, reveals God.

God’s vision, revealed by Jesus, reveals God.

God’s life, revealed in Jesus, reveals God.

And we, who are surrounded by, immersed in, and filled up with the love and grace of God revealed through Jesus, are even now being changed by it. And today, on Palm Sunday, we have the chance to see our life in Christ even more clearly. To follow him more closely. To reveal the ways of God more fully.

Happy Palm Sunday.

 
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Posted by on March 21, 2016 in Sermon

 

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A Foolish, Wasteful, Outlandish God (March 6, 2016)

Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” 3 So he told them this parable: . . . 11 “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger of them said to his father, “Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. 13 A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. 14 When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. 16 He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. 17 But when he came to himself he said, “How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! 18 I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.” 20 So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. 21 Then the son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” 22 But the father said to his slaves, “Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24 for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate. 25 “Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. 27 He replied, “Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ 28 Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. 29 But he answered his father, “Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ 31 Then the father said to him, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’ “

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

What do you think? Is it possible to overstate God’s love?

Is it possible to exaggerate God’s grace?

Is it possible to make too much of God’s forgiveness?

How can we ever “overdo” these primary aspects of God? If anything, we have a tendency to restrict them or narrow them or lessen them. We usually add some condition to God’s love with something like “when we come to God ” or “if we repent.” That misrepresents God, and makes God into something more resembling us than, well, God.

Which is why this parable is so beautiful. It is about as strong a statement of God’s grace as anything in scripture. Even though we call it “The Prodigal Son,” it’s actually a parable about the hugeness of God’s love, grace, and forgiveness. This is a parable that tells us that God goes overboard, that God is extravagant, that God’s love is so unconditional that it doesn’t make any sense.

Take a look at it. No matter what’s going on in your life, no matter what you’ve done, no matter how hard you work, no matter how good you are,no matter what you believe, the bottom line is the same in this parable: you are loved, you are included, you are wanted as part of God’s celebration of love—love for you.

The younger son asks for his inheritance—basically telling his father he has no use for his father alive. He’s wants to act as if his father was already dead. Are you one who doesn’t get along with your family?

He then pretends he has no family or community that cares about him to the extent that he goes off to a distant country. Are you one who pushes away anyone that might care about you?

He spends everything in dissolute living: completely, selfishly, and foolishly. Are you one who is foolish with money, who wastes it or makes really bad choices with it?

Then he finds himself living out the consequences of his really bad decisions. He’s starving. Are you one who doesn’t have enough?

Finally he realizes there is a source of food—but it’s back home. He has already abandoned his place in the family, so he thinks maybe he can get hired on as a worker on his father’s property. He practices his speech to convince his father to let him work on the farm. Maybe he’s sincere, maybe he isn’t. It doesn’t matter, because—

The father doesn’t give him a chance to make his speech. The father abandons all dignity and decorum and runs out to meet his son and embraces him. The father loves him and welcomes this son regardless of anything the son does or doesn’t do, says or doesn’t say. That’s how exceptional the father’s love is!

Then the father throws a huge party for this wayward son. Everything goes into it! The biggest and most wasteful use of funds there ever was! It’s a foolish thing to do. But that’s how outlandish the father’s love is!

Then the elder son catches wind of what’s going on. The good son, the obedient son, the loyal son. Is that you?

He is resentful that his brother gets everything! Are you one who feels slighted because others are getting more than you are?

He refuses to join the party, because it’s stupid, because it is wasteful, because he resents the injustice of it, because he feels as if all his work for all these years is simply taken for granted. Is this you?

But the father comes out to this son too, just like the father did for the younger son, and pleads with him to join the party. Because the father’s love includes this son too.

And the father tells him that everything he has belongs to this son, and that this son has a special place in the father’s heart. Please come with me. Please come to the party. Please celebrate with me. Please eat and drink and dance. Because I love you both. The father’s love doesn’t leave anyone or anything out. No matter what.

And it doesn’t make sense to us sometimes. And we think God has to have some limits, some conditions. Right? It would be foolish for God to love that way.

And that’s the point. God simply loves you. All out, over the top, foolishly loves you. God throws away dignity, wisdom, protocol, reason because God is head-over-heels in love with you.

Whether you have a close family or your family has disowned you. God loves you completely.

Whether you have a life filled with supporting people or are completely alone. God loves you absolutely.

Whether you are foolish, wasteful, and addicted, or whether you are prudent, wise, and resourceful. God loves you madly.

Whether you’ve cause your own difficulties or whether your difficulties aren’t your fault at all. God loves you passionately.

Whether you love God or whether you disregard God. God loves you fiercely.

Whether you were dragged here or whether you never miss a Sunday. God’s love for you never changes.

Whether you throw away every opportunity or whether you are waiting to be recognized for your hard work. God loves you more than you know.

And there’s a party. For all those God loves. For you. Because sometimes love just makes you celebrate.

 
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Posted by on March 8, 2016 in Sermon

 

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