Words Matter

Words matter. I recently received a text which I will share with you in part. The author remains anonymous, and names have been omitted. “I wanted you to know that if I was looking for a church, I would never even consider your church.” The author accuses us of being rude and extremely judgmental. “I just know some comments and holier than thou comments, totally turn me off and I would never consider attending your church.”

As your pastor, those words cut deeply. I am called to reflect on my own leadership and teaching. As I reflect, I want to challenge each of us to reflect on what comes out of our mouth. In conflict with the religious leaders of his day, Jesus was challenged because his disciples did not practice ritual handwashing. In reply, Jesus said, “It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles” (Matthew 15:11 emphasis added).

Beloved, words matter. Listen to this warning from the letter of James:

How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so.   (James 3:5b-6, 9-10 emphasis added).

As we move through this difficult season, the question uppermost in everyone’s mind is, “When can we get back into the building?” We all want to be back inside where we can be comfortable and greet one another as family. But, as we look forward to that time when we can once again worship in our “family room”, I want to propose a spiritual exercise meant to help us prepare spiritually to be together once more.

In 1978, Richard Foster wrote a book titled Celebration of Discipline, which examines the inward disciplines of prayer, fasting, meditation, and study in the Christian life, the outward disciplines of simplicity, solitude, submission, and service, and the corporate disciplines of confession, worship, guidance, and celebration.

As we anxiously approach returning to worship in the building, I want to encourage us to focus concentrated time on the practice of the inward disciplines of prayer, fasting, meditation, and study.

My suggestion is that each of us commit a specific time each week dedicated to fasting and prayer. As a practical matter, I would encourage each of us to set aside lunchtime on Mondays and Fridays to fast and pray. It is acceptable to drink water during this fast and, of course, if medical concerns prohibit fasting, please do not risk your health. Rather than fasting from food, you might choose to give up television or internet time. The point is to sacrifice the time and something we enjoy to focus our attention solely on God and God’s direction personally and corporately.

As the community of faith let’s make a commitment to fast and pray for our individual and corporate renewal. I suggest that we begin this practice on Monday, August 3, and continue to exercise these disciplines throughout the month of August. If we follow this practice for three weeks, it will become a staple in our lives. We will experience a deeper relationship with God and our sisters and brothers. As we grow in these practices, we will soon feel comfortable adding another hour to our practice of spiritual discipline.

I want to offer some suggestions as you move into the practice of spiritual disciplines. Let me be clear at the outset that my focus in leading you this way is for the ultimate renewal of our church. Returning to the building is not a spiritual exercise. While it will be a welcome relief to the vexing issues we have been dealing with, the building is not the community of faith. The church is not a building or a place. We are the church – whether actually at church, in public, or on-line. Wherever we are, we are the church. We are the hands and feet of Christ in the world.

Moving into this practice of spiritual disciplines, I want us to be guided by meditating on four Rs. Reflection. Repentance. Reconciliation. Renewal.

Reflection. As a community of faith, we take great pride in our relationship as family.  One of the concerns that has been raised since we have been unable to gather is the loss of fellowship with our sisters and brothers. We want to greet one another with a hug or a handshake.

There have been some disappointing consequences in the absence of that fellowship. We can no longer say that we do family well. We need to reflect on the way we have responded to one another during this time of separation. Have our words spoken and written, represented the Christ we claim to serve? Some of our personal opinions have devolved into ungracious and cutting words which do nothing to build up the body of Christ. I am aware of relationships in this family that have been damaged to the degree that nothing less than the Spirit of God can bring healing.

Therefore, the first act of returning to the building is to reflect on how we conduct ourselves outside the building. I am called to reflect on the way I represent Christ in personal conversation, email, texting, and social media. For Disciples of Christ, there is no place where we do not represent Christ. I wonder how Christ would react to my words.

Words matter. The spiritual reflection upon which we embark over the course of the next month will lead us to the second R, repentance. It is important to understand that repentance means more than being sorry. Repentance means a change of direction. I reflect on the words that come out of my mouth or my keyboard. I reflect on my words as the words of Christ. When I find that I have failed to meet the standard of Christ, I choose to change direction. I choose to take a step back before I speak. I offer a sentence prayer for patience and understanding. Words matter. I commit to go in the opposite direction, practicing love and compassion.

Repentance does not come easy. We are often so entrenched in our opinions that we cannot tolerate another’s thoughts. Disagreements can be a healthy part of human interactions. We share ideas, gather new information, gain new understanding and insights into what others are thinking, feeling, and experiencing. What is not acceptable is when those disagreements devolve into personal attacks and insults on one who does not share our beliefs.

Oswald Chambers makes an interesting observation relevant to this point: “It is perilously possible to make our conceptions of God like molten lead poured into a specially designed mold, and when it is cold and hard we fling it at the heads of the religious people who don’t agree with us.”

Sadly, his quote is often too true within the body of Christ. I have a close friend with whom I often disagree on matters of politics and religion. The disagreements have never turned personal. There has never been name-calling or attacks on one’s personal appearance or intellectual abilities. We love and respect one another too much for that level of pettiness.

Reconciliation. When we reenter the building, we will find ourselves face-to-face with some of the same people with whom we have been in deep conflict. It should be extremely uncomfortable to sit across from, or heaven forbid, shun a member of the family because of ungracious, thoughtless words. Words matter.

The reflection that I will engage in over the course of the next month will lead me to a sense of Godly repentance. The need to change direction and attitude requires that I seek reconciliation with the sister or brother with whom I have been in dispute. This may not be easy and likely will not happen overnight. But, simply sitting in a sanctuary, does not a church make. The act of being the church requires work, discipline, sacrifice, and understanding.

Let me suggest that you take time during one of your periods of fasting and prayer to read 1 John 4:7-21. If we honestly sit with those words for a while, we will quickly come to understand that we cannot be the children of God while holding a grudge against a sister or brother. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.  (1 John 4:21 emphasis added).

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus has a great deal to say about interpersonal relationships among his brothers and sisters. “If you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire.” (Matthew 5:22 emphasis added).

He goes on to instruct. “when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:23-24 emphasis added)

Excuses don’t count. “She started it!” “He said it first.” This is not a school playground. This is the body of Christ. If we want our community to represent the Christ we love and serve, then we will seek forgiveness and reconciliation with our brothers and sisters. God will not bless division.

Renewal, reflection, repentance, and reconciliation will open the door for God to renew our church. My ongoing petition is that God will pour out the Holy Spirit on us in such a powerful way that merely to walk through the door will bathe one in the presence of the Almighty.

When the Holy Spirit empowered the early church, lives and circumstances were transformed. Luke describes it this way, Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. (Acts 2:46-47 emphasis added).

What we cannot tolerate, what will, in fact, be the death knell of the church is the criticism leveled against us that we are rude, cutting, and intolerant. When the church is the body of Christ, the community sits up and takes notice. The early church enjoyed the goodwill of the people. Sadly, as the text noted above indicates, we would not enjoy the same affirmation.

I challenge all of us to fast and pray Monday and Friday at noon beginning August 3 and continuing through the month. Let us all honestly, reflect on our relationship with God and our brothers and sisters in Christ. Repent for the words and actions that we may have expressed toward others. Change direction and seek reconciliation where we feel God leading us. Remember, God will not, cannot forgive one, who does not practice forgiveness. Renewal of the church is not about where we worship, but who we worship and how we treat one another.

– Jim

There Are NO Instructions…

Over the last few weeks I have come to realize a significant gap in my education. College, seminary, and graduate school did not prepare me for the current situation. There was no course titled Pandemic 101. I wish there had been. I would like to have had a textbook that outlined the steps a pastor takes during this type of crisis. A lecture or two from someone who had been through the experience. But alas, no such course exists, there are no textbooks and no lectures.

We do affirm as the people of God that we have absolute confidence in the creator of the universe, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is the only one who sees the end of this crisis as we struggle to walk through it each day.

Since we don’t have a pandemic textbook to walk us through the next steps I will suggest that we can take some steps in discerning God’s will and plan for the future. The first and most obvious step is prayer. It is impossible to discern God’s will without spending time listening and talking with God. God is a good listener.

Let me further suggest that we practice patience. If we believe that God is omniscient, then we believe that God has purpose and works in every situation. God doesn’t always work the way I want, but I’m not God. Prayer for God’s direction and patience will help us as we walk through this difficult time.

God doesn’t allow difficult times to teach us something. God allows difficult time to build character. The nature of our character is clearly on display in the ways in which we speak and act toward one another.

We are not in this alone and it’s not about what I want, but about building up the body of Christ. Over the course of the next few weeks you will notice some changes in worship as we seek to involve others, working toward a safe and healthy reopening so all can join in corporate worship. Moving forward we will continue to offer worship online each Sunday morning at 10:00, Have your Hurd?, Wednesdays with Wolfe, and How’s Your Prayer Life? Some small group activities will begin to hold functions at the church. It is our intention to move forward prayerfully and carefully. We need your prayers and your patience. I’ve been a pastor for almost forty years. This is my first pandemic. Please be gentle.

National Day of Prayer

Today, May 7, is set aside as the National Day of Prayer. The National Day of Prayer is an annual day of observance held on the first Thursday of May, designated by the United States Congress, when people are asked “to turn to God in prayer and meditation”. The president is required by law to sign a proclamation each year, encouraging all Americans to pray on this day.

The modern law formalizing the annual observance of a National Day of Prayer was enacted in 1952, although earlier days of fasting and prayer had been established by the Second Continental Congress from 1775 until 1783, and by President John Adams in 1798 and 1799. Thomas Jefferson established a day of prayer and thanksgiving, but this occurred while he served as governor of Virginia.

The National Day of Prayer shares common roots with the celebration of Thanksgiving; both were national proclamations establishing a day of prayer. In the New England Colonies under British rule, traditional observances in late fall called for prayer and thanksgiving, while observances in the spring or summer called for prayer and fasting. The fall observance was established by President Abraham Lincoln as the official Thanksgiving holiday in 1863. The spring observance was established by President Harry S. Truman in 1952 as the National Day of Prayer.

In the community of faith, every day needs to be for us a day of prayer. We don’t require an act of congress to call us to prayer. As the children of God, we celebrate the opportunity to carry our joys and sorrows, celebrations, and disappointments to the great “I Am”.

Paul instructed the Thessalonians to “pray without ceasing”. The New Living Translation says simply, “never stop praying.” St. Augustine declared, “True whole prayer is nothing but love.”

I want to suggest to all of us that in this difficult time of sheltering in place, health concerns, and economic woes that this is a moment when we need to commit ourselves to never stop praying. In our prayer we affirm our love for God and for our sisters and brothers. When we intercede for our neighbors, we see them as God sees them. In this moment of stress tempers flare and angry words are too easily spoken. True whole prayer reminds us that God loves each of us equally and requires that we love our neighbor as we love ourselves.

In addition to prayer, I would like to suggest that we practice the spiritual discipline of fasting. In fasting we turn our attention away from our physical wants and desires and spend time in spiritual contemplation. I would suggest that we choose a meal or a special treat and refrain from that meal or treat until the time we are able to be together as the Christian community once again. The time spent in eating is set aside to be a time of reflection and prayer. Remember the instructions of Jesus. We do not fast to be seen by other people. Don’t tell anyone what you are sacrificing. This is between you and God. We fast and pray for our nation and the world. We fast and pray for those stricken with Covid-19, we pray and fast for the physicians, nurses, and first responders, who risk their own health to care for those who are ill. We pray and fast for those who are suffering severe economic crises because they are unable to work and care for their families. We pray for this community of faith that we will be a community of loving, faithful servants.

True whole prayer is nothing but love. Love God and love your neighbors. Practice prayer and fasting. Trust God. Live in faith.

The letter to the Ephesians ends with this admonition: Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints.

‘May the Lord bless you
and protect you.
May the Lord smile on you
and be gracious to you.
May the Lord show you his favor
and give you his peace.’

No Really, What WOULD Jesus Do?

As we talk together today, I want to remind us of something important. In John 15:4 Jesus states, Abide, in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. Disciples are persons who have made a firm, settled commitment to abide in Jesus. The only way to bear fruit that represents the message of Jesus is to be in relationship with Jesus.

As this time of “sheltering in place” drags on with no end in sight, it seems that fewer and fewer of us are abiding in Jesus. Tempers are flaring. Angry, ungracious, and unloving words are being thrown about without regard to the damage they can do. These words are often spoken by persons who claim to be disciples of Jesus.

We all know the words of Jesus as recorded in Matthew 7:12 In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets. This text is known as the Golden Rule and most of us would quickly give intellectual affirmation to its veracity. Intellectual affirmation is not the same as living out the basic premise of this command. In our lives as the children of God we need to be practitioners of this rule, not merely robots reciting a creed.

Let’s consider these two questions. First, what does it mean to abide in Jesus? Second, what does it mean to bear fruit?

To abide in Jesus means that we have decided, to live our life as if Jesus were living it. In other words, when people see us, hear us, or read our words they are seeing, hearing, or reading the words of Jesus. Now that’s a problem. It is difficult to reconcile our angry outcries and name-calling with the life of Jesus as Jesus would live it in me.

I have a close friend with whom I sometimes disagree. Neither one of us resorts to name-calling or hateful language. We love and respect one another and we seek to abide in Jesus, therefore name-calling, angry words, and threats have no place in the conversation. We can effectively agree to disagree without damaging the relationship. We have been friends for more than thirty years.

Abiding in Jesus means that we need not stoop to personal attacks. Personal attacks obfuscate the underlying issue. Using an abusive name in an argument destroys the integrity of our position. More damaging, it diminishes our witness as a disciple of Jesus.

The most striking example of this is found in political discourse. A policy or position is put forth with which I strongly disagree. Rather, than analyzing and explaining my opposition, I blurt out, “You’re stupid!” In that comment I did not address the issue, I simply attacked the person.

This response is known as Ad hominem (Latin for “to the person”) or against the person. This term is applied to several different types of arguments, most of which are fallacious. As indicated in the example the argument is fallacious because genuine discussion of the topic is avoided by attacking the character, motive, or other attribute of the person making the argument, rather than attacking the substance of the argument itself.

If I truly abide in Jesus the language of personal attack is never appropriate. The fact that we disagree does not make either of us stupid. The disciples of Jesus had arguments over who was the greatest or most important. Jesus refereed the disagreements without resorting to name-calling. To abide in Jesus means that I live my life as though Jesus were living it through me.

Do my words, either spoken or written in the safe space of social media represent the Lord I claim to love and serve?

The second question, “what does it mean to bear fruit?” is most adequately answered in the words of Paul recorded in Galatians 5:22-23: the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness,  gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.

When I abide in Jesus, I can bear the fruit of the Spirit. It isn’t easy. My blood boils, and I angrily react to much of the political rhetoric that swirls around me in the age of a twenty-four-hour news cycle, that is short on news and long on rhetoric. I’m tired of being told where I can go and when. Frustration overcomes good sense and I thoughtlessly rage at people rather than circumstances.

If we choose to abide in Jesus, we choose to change our thinking. That sounds simple, but it is not simplistic. Jesus commands that we abide in him. That requires a complete reordering of our lives and priorities. The battles we face are not of flesh and blood but are spiritual. That is, they are won or lost in our mind, by our attitude. By an act of the will. We choose to abide in Jesus. Listen to Paul’s words to the Ephesians: Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (4:8)

The apostle says to think about these things. That is to change the focus of our thinking away from disillusionment, disappointment, and the failure of other people to meet our expectations. It is to change our attitude to be like Christ who humbled himself to the point of death.

As we face this anxious time which requires us to practice social distancing, wear a mask, and shelter in place we do so in the presence and power of Jesus the Christ.

Let me share with you a quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

“Jesus is the Lord of the ages and is always with his own, even when things are difficult, and will abide with us; that is our comfort. If tribulation and anxiety come upon us, Jesus is with us and leads us over into God’s eternal kingdom.”

We do not walk this walk alone. We abide in Jesus who is with us, and leads us into God’s eternal kingdom.

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow

When I was a senior in high school, we were required to read Shakespeare’s Macbeth. For extra credit we could memorize the speech “Tomorrow, and tomorrow and tomorrow”.

The last line of the speech describes life as being full of “sound and fury, signifying nothing”. It occurs to me in the present situation that we are being given the opportunity to evaluate the “sound and fury” with which we surround ourselves. I would suggest that this time of waiting is an occasion for us to evaluate our life’s activities and determine where our priorities lie.

Isaiah 40:31 declares, “those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” (italics added)

Habbakuk 2:3 indicates that to receive God’s vision requires that one wait for the vision to be revealed. “For there is still a vision for the appointed time; it speaks of the end and does not lie. If it seems to tarry, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay”. (italics added)

There is a time to wait for the presence and power of God to make itself known. It is not in the “sound and fury” that we find the strength to run the race set before us. Rather, we need the times of waiting to be renewed physically and spiritually. It is possible that the sound and fury masks the lessons that God would have us learn.

If we want to discern God’s vision for our lives and for the community of faith, we are required to learn the lesson of waiting. God has vision and purpose which are revealed in God’s time, not ours.

The ancient Greeks had two words for time: Chronos and Kairos. Chronos refers to chronological or sequential time, while Kairos signifies a proper or opportune time for action. While Chronos is quantitative, Kairos has a qualitative, permanent nature. I assure you that God operates in Kairos time not Chronos. We can rant and rave against being told to practice social distancing, and shelter-in-place or we can accept the circumstance in which we find ourselves and, in the waiting, anticipate what God is about in God’s time. We are empowered by God’s strength. We are inspired by God’s vision. We wait in God’s time.

Resurrection of the Lord – April 12, 2020

Suggested Readings:
John 20:1-18
Matthew 28:1-10
Psalm 23

Sunday’s Coming

Friday was filled with brutality and violence. The promise of Bethlehem shattered by nails driven into soft flesh. The One John proclaimed to be the Lamb of God (John 1:29, 36) executed in the vilest manner possible. A stone sealed the entrance to the tomb. The women bereft, waiting for the Sabbath to pass in order to perform the proper burial rituals. Saturday, a quiet day of sadness, reflection, and fear. The pall of death hung in the air.

There is, however, good news. Sunday’s coming!

On the first day of the week, Sunday, God raised Jesus from the dead. Because God raised Jesus from the dead, we can face dark Fridays and quiet Saturdays. Because God raised Jesus from the dead, there is always the hope of Sunday. We may traverse the darkest valley, face an immovable mountain, but we do not face these trials alone. Sunday’s coming!

Christian worship takes place on Sunday precisely because it is the day of Resurrection. We celebrate new life each Sunday as we gather for corporate worship. The music, message, and prayers are all meant to remind us that Jesus is alive.

Regardless of what we experience in life, Sunday’s coming. Sunday is the day when the risen Lord called Mary by name. It is the day when God calls each of us by name and reminds us that even in our darkest hour we do not walk alone because Sunday’s coming.

The empty tomb does not prove the resurrection. The resurrection is proved because Sunday is always coming. New life is always possible because Jesus is raised from the tomb.

The place of the skull is viewed as an ugly black stain on the face of humankind. Crucifixion demonstrates the worst in humanity. Those we love suffer and die. We sit forlornly outside the tomb, lost and alone. Suddenly the darkness breaks and the gloom is lifted. The sun breaks through our despair as we hear the voice of the Risen Lord speaking our name into the pain that we felt was inexorable. Sunday is here! The Lord is Risen! He is Risen indeed! Hallelujah!

Prayer:

Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff— they comfort me. Sunday is here! Christ is Risen! Thank you, Father God, for the inexpressible gift of the Son, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

Holy Saturday – April 11, 2020

Suggested Readings:
John 19:38-42
Matthew 27:57-66

Shabbat Shalom

It was storming the day my dad was buried. The rain pounding so ferociously that we couldn’t go to the gravesite. Rather, we held the committal service in a mausoleum, and he was interred later. I have never been to the actual grave. Some people find solace in visiting the graves of loved ones. Others enjoy looking at old tombstones and noting the dates and times of those long gone. There is often a sense of peace to be found wandering through a cemetery.

Matthew reports that Joseph of Arimathea, asked for the body of Jesus and Pilate allowed him to take it for burial.  John notes that Nicodemus brought a mixture of spices to anoint the body. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there also, sitting opposite the tomb. The afternoon stillness melded into the sunset and the two women hurried home to prepare for the Sabbath.

We know nothing of what occurred on Saturday. The disciples, still in shock and fear, were hidden away. The women planned for the Sabbath and the following day when they would visit Jesus’ tomb and properly anoint his body.

There is a stillness to Sabbath. It is intended to be a day of rest, ordained by God at the conclusion of creation, it is meant to be a day for regeneration and reflection. The customary greeting on the Sabbath is Shabbat Shalom. Shabbat is Hebrew for Sabbath, and Shalom means peace. It is a common greeting on Friday evening or throughout the day until evening on Sabbath (Saturday). In the exchange of this greeting one is wishing another peace on the Sabbath or wishing them the peace that the Sabbath itself brings.

On this Holy Saturday I wish you Shabbat Shalom. Shalom is a word that means wholeness of relationships; with God and with other people. It is important on Holy Saturday to stop and take the time to reflect on our relationship with God. Lent is the most sacred time of the church year. It is an inward journey that follows the steps of Jesus to Jerusalem, to Golgotha, and ultimately into the arms of the Father. Lent confronts us with the need to examine what that journey means in our lives. Our journey is intended to bring us to Shalom; that is, wholeness in our relationship with God. When we experience Shalom in our oneness with God, we will find it easier to be in healthy relationships with our families, friends, neighbors, and co-workers.

The challenge today is to be still. Easter egg hunts are fun, but not the essence of the day. The psalmist wrote, Be still, and know that I am God! (Psalm 46:10). God’s Word translation puts it this way, Let go of your concerns! Then you will know that I am God. On this Holy Saturday find space to listen for the voice of God. God has a message uniquely meant for you. Be quiet. God is trying to talk.

Prayer:

God, help me to quiet the constant demands of time; the incessant call to do, do, do, and go, go, go. The two Marys sat quietly outside the tomb, weeping and consoling one another, seeking peace. Grant me a quiet heart and focused mind. In the midst of life’s raucous noise let me hear your speaking voice. Amen.

 

 

 

Good Friday – April 10, 2020

Suggested Readings:
Isaiah 52:13-53:12
John 18:1-19:42

It is Finished!

On this dark and painful day we may justifiably ask, “What’s so good about Good Friday?” Jesus has been betrayed, denied, flogged, and crucified. It hardly describes what we would usually describe as a good day.

Good Friday is called Good Friday because, Christians believe, there is something very good about it: It is the anniversary, of Jesus suffering and dying for our sins. “That terrible Friday has been called Good Friday because it led to the Resurrection of Jesus and his victory over death and sin and the celebration of Easter, the very pinnacle of Christian celebrations,” according to the Huffington Post. The Oxford English Dictionary and other language experts support the theory that the name comes from an antiquated meaning of good.

The crucified Lord was the cornerstone of Paul’s preaching. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2). If the crucifixion of Jesus is central to our preaching and teaching, then it follows that there is something inherently “good” in the gruesome events of that Friday afternoon.

One of words recorded as coming from the lips of the dying Jesus is, “It is finished.” In that dying proclamation Jesus assures us that God has accomplished what God intended in the life and death of Jesus. The Anointed One has done all that can be done for fallen humanity. The price for sin has been paid once and for all. The curtain of the temple has been torn (Matthew 27:51); symbolizing that the death of Jesus spans the gulf between sinful humanity and God. Jesus has completed his commission of making God’s love available for all of humankind (see John 3:16).

There is, of course, another act to this drama and that is the resurrection of Jesus. In the resurrection God placed an enduring affirmation of the events of Good Friday.

Jesus is condemned and executed as the lowest of criminals, but God has the final word and, in the resurrection, affirmed that the plan is complete. It is finished! It cannot be modified or improved upon.

Prayer:

Thank you, God, for showing me your heart in the life, death, and resurrection of your son, Jesus. Thank you for seeing in me someone worth loving and dying for. I am humbled by your sacrifice and challenged by your love. Amen.

 

Maundy Thursday – April 9, 2020

Suggested Reading:
John 13:1-17, 31b-35

They’ll know we are Christians by our love

The word Maundy comes from the Latin “mandatum,” which means “commandment.” The tradition is based on Jesus’ command in John 13:34: I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 

The command to love one another is easy to read and often quoted. But what does it look like to love one another?

In Philippians 2:5-8, Paul points out the love of Jesus as demonstrated in the incarnation. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.

 In biblical studies this passage is known as the kenosis passage. Kenosis literally means “the act of emptying”. In these verses Paul is describing the “self-emptying” of Jesus’ own will and becoming entirely obedient to God’s divine will.

The command to love one another is the most more difficult requirement in all of scripture. To love one another is to empty ourselves of our own needs and desires and seek only the very best for the ones we serve. It is to accept the most menial of all jobs, not because the job is fulfilling, but because we genuinely love the one, we are serving.

In the act of washing the disciples’ feet Jesus offered a tangible demonstration of the self-emptying that is required of a servant leader. Foot washing was the role of a servant, not a rabbi. Jesus willingly emptied himself of his deity to become a human being and showed his love by doing the servant’s task.

There is something poignant in the image of God’s Son washing the feet of fishermen and tax gatherers. The prologue of John’s Gospel reminds us that Jesus is the living Word who was with God in the beginning of creation. Yet, here just a few short hours before his death, God’s Son stripped off his robe and assumed the role of servant.

When he had completed the task, he declared: You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So, if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. (13-15).

Over the course of time many in the church have come to ignore the practice of foot washing. What we cannot ignore is the command of Jesus to practice servanthood. Regardless of our stature, education, or gifts we are called as disciples to live out the image of Jesus in serving others. Jesus did not say, “if you have time” or “if it’s convenient”. Rather, he was quite clear. “I have shown you what you are to do-now do it!”

The challenge for each of us going forward is to be open to opportunities for service in our homes, churches, places of employment, and leisure activities. If we are committed to discipleship, we are committed to service to others.

Prayer:

Thank you, Jesus, for washing dirty feet. Forgive me Lord, the times I make excuses and whine and complain about the tasks set before me. Remind me often that the command is to love one another. The response is to serve one another.  Amen.

 

 

Liturgy of the Palms – Palm Sunday (April 5, 2020)

Suggested Readings:
Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29
Matthew 21:1-11

Save us, we beseech you, O LORD!
—Psalm 118:25

The day had finally arrived. Having set his face toward Jerusalem Jesus now rode triumphantly into the Holy City. He had planned for his entrance into the city by arranging for a donkey to be provided. Riding a donkey, not a warhorse, the goal of the king is not domination, intimidation, and greatness, but humble service. The humble donkey is a sign of peace, not aggression.

Such is the case with King Jesus. He rode into the story of humankind, not as a warrior king, but as the Prince of Peace. The shout “Hosanna!” literally means “save us.” The picture of Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem is a fulfillment of the words of Zechariah 9:9 Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

Although he had arrived in Jerusalem, Jesus’ work of redemption was not yet complete. This day inaugurates the final week of his earthly life and ministry. The crowds today shout “Hosanna!” On Friday another crowd will shout “Crucify!” Both cries are necessary for God’s plan to be complete. To save us (Hosanna!) Jesus will have to endure the cross.

In the Gospel of John, the word “hour” is used in reference to Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension. These events are summarized by the word “glorified.” It is toward this “hour” that Jesus rode that day.

It is for this purpose that Jesus came. When the Word became flesh (John 1:14) it was God entering the world of broken humanity to offer eternal life. Eternal life is a metaphor for living now in the unending presence of God. This Lenten journey is meant to bring us into a deeper relationship with Jesus the Christ, thus enabling us to experience eternal life.

Our Lenten journey does not conclude with Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem. Our journey is a lifelong trek of growing up into Christ (Ephesians 4:15). The disciplines and practices that we have developed along this 40-day journey will continue to determine our spiritual journey.

Our maturity as disciples is contingent upon our commitment to read the biblical text each day, to pray in the Spirit at all times (Ephesians 6:18) and bear the cross of humble service. The journey of discipleship is never complete.

Prayer:
Save us, we beseech thee! Save us from the sin that encompasses us. Save us from the selfishness that motivates us. Save us from arrogance that controls us. Save us to be more like you each day. Save us to be your children in this place. Save us, we beseech thee! Save us to live eternally with you, now and in the future.  Amen.

Suggested Weekly Readings

Monday of Holy Week  April 6, 2020:  Isaiah 42:1-9; John 12:1-11
Tuesday of Holy Week  April 7, 2020:  Isaiah 49:1-7; John 12:20-36
Wednesday of Holy Week April 8, 2020: Isaiah 50:4-9a; John 13:21-32