Monday, March 30, 2015

Palm Sunday

"Even the Stones Would Cry Out"
Luke 19:28-40
As I shared with the children this morning,
 I love picturing all of Jesus’ disciples on that first Palm Sunday.
gathered along the path, waiting and watching, and then when they see him coming,   
the whole crowd, including the children,   bursting out in song!

A few years ago I saw a documentary that I will never forget.
It was entitled, “The Singing Revolution” and it told the story of the people of Estonia,
who became an independent nation for the first time  in 1918.

Then in 1939 they suffered a brutal invasion by the Soviet Union.
For years they suffered under Soviet occupation.  More than one-quarter of the population was deported to Siberia, executed, or fled the country.

So what sustained the Estonia people during those long, dark, years of suffering?
Two things: Faith and singing!

From 1987-1991 hundreds of thousands of Estonian’s gathered in public places,
and at a huge outdoor festival to sing their way to freedom.

Hard as it is to believe, the Soviets eventually backed down,
and Estonia re-gained its independence.
It’s as if the people of Estonia, were created to sing these freedom songs
And the truth of the matter is that they were.
They were and we are created to sing.

Just as the disciples did on that first Palm Sunday, when we see the work of God in the world
when we open our eyes and see all the blessings he pours into our lives
our spirit can’t contain the joy we feel and the praise that comes to our lips.

Isn’t that what we feel when we see a newborn child for the first time?
Isn’t that what we feel when we see the most beautiful sunset we’ve ever seen?
Or a double-rainbow?
Or a loved one who recovers from a serious illness?

At times like those, we can’t contain our joy our thankfulness
and our praise to the King who enters our lives
just like He did as he rode into Jerusalem.

Do you remember what Jesus said to the Pharisees
when they tried to get him to order the disciples to be silent?
He said,
“I tell you, if my disciples keep quiet, even the stones will cry out.”

This rebuke to the Pharisees, tells us the Palm Sunday story.
It is a story of passion and pain.
It is a story of turmoil and tension.  And it is a story that must be told.

God is moving powerfully through these events.
These disciples who cried out “Hosanna,” had seen God acting through the miracles Jesus performed.  

But the Pharisees, didn’t see God.
They didn’t see God, because they were clinging to their own self-interest.
They were afraid of their losing power and influence.
But, they could not stop God’s word from going forth.
And they couldn’t stop the urgency of the Gospel message,
the Gospel that we hear even today in Jesus’ words,
“If my disciples keep quiet, even the stones will cry out.”

The whole drama of Holy Week begins with these words.
These words foreshadow the truth, that no powers in all of creation, not a betrayal, a crown of thorns, not even the cross of Good Friday
can separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus.

“If my disciples keep quiet, even the stones will cry out: Jesus, is Lord.”

This is today’s Gospel message.

But some days, we resist that message.
Like Judas, we can betray it when we follow worldly things.
Like Peter, we can deny it.
Like the disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane, we can fall asleep.
We can even be embarrassed by it.

But somehow, God will proclaim the Gospel – whether it is through your life and mine,
or through any means He chooses.
What Jesus said to the Pharisees, is every bit as true today.
God’s Word will go forth.

When we stand in a cemetery, at the grave of a faithful loved one –
God speaks to our hearts that that grave is empty.

When we are weighed down with worry and can’t even find words to pray…
the Holy Spirit intercedes for us in groans that words cannot express.
God’s Word will go forth.
Today we begin the procession to Golgotha, “The Place of the Skull.”
Our eyes are clearly fixed on a crown of thorns, a face that was beaten, a back flogged, and hands pierced with nails.

The “Hosanna’s” of this day, will soon be shouts of “Crucify Him.”
The crowd will vanish and death will come to the One crowned, “King of the Jews.”
But the message of our gracious and loving God is too powerful to be kept silent.

How could Jesus possibly love those who would later yell, “Crucify Him.”

Perhaps a story will help:
Her name was April and she lived in one foster home after another. 
She was moved so much and lived in so many temporary locations that as a coping mechanism,
she withdrew into herself into her own little fantasy world.

Finally, she was placed in a foster home along with fourteen other children. 
They were keeping the children because of the money, sent by the state every month.
They were hard and sometimes cruel in dealing with the kids. 

April found joy in her world of fantasy where she hummed little tunes and sang songs that she made up.  She also pretended to write the songs down and would put them in an envelope.
Her foster mother was bothered about her writing these notes
and wondered what she was doing with them. 

Her worst fear was that April was writing a letter to the DHS, a letter that might trigger an investigation and possibly cause them to lose their monthly revenue.
So, April was forbidden to write her songs or even to sing them. 

But one day several weeks later, the foster mother noticed April humming her songs.
And she noticed April was scribbling a note again.
She watched as she folded the note and put it into an envelope
and walked out into the yard, not toward the mailbox,  but toward a tree. 
She climbed the tree and there in the fork of two limbs, she placed the envelope.

Her foster mother immediately summoned her husband, he secured a ladder, and he retrieved the note from the fork of the tree.  He handed it to his wife and she read these words: 
“Whoever finds this - I love you.”

Her love was not limited.
She loved even those who were cruel to her.

That is why Jesus came to Jerusalem. 
"For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world,
but in order that the world might be saved through him.
May the story of this Holy Week, the story of Jesus’ tears of love and his blood shed for you and me,
lead us to the cross,

and from the cross, to the joy of Easter.  Amen.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Jesus, the Son of God

Week 25: The Story

I’d like to begin, by offering a special welcome to our preschool parents and other guests this morning.  As you may know each week during preschool chapel we’ve been going through this Story Bible and learning all the important stories in the Bible.

We started with the story of God creating the world,
and continued through the Old Testaments stories, from Noah,  to Moses,  to King David,
and then the prophets , and now we are turning to the stories of Jesus.

And today as you saw on the video we are looking at the question “Who is Jesus?”
Of course there are many view points out there.
One view point that we’ve talked about this year is called, the Upper Story.
That’s the story of this world from God’s perspective.
The Lower Story is the world from a human perspective.

And if there was ever a Sunday when the contrast between the Upper Story and the Lower
Story becomes clear, this is it.

That’s what we just witnessed on the video.[1] 
Some people see Jesus clearly as the Son of God
and some people see Jesus through the various lenses of this world.

This morning, we can’t help but watch a video like that and start thinking,
how we might answer that question.
“What does Jesus mean to me?   Who is he in my life?

Let me show you another video clip.[2]
It’s the testimony of Bono from U2.

I share that video with you to illustrate the difference between a biography and a testimony.
Each of the Gospels give us a biography of Jesus, sharing things he did and said.
However the central point of each gospel is not simply to convey information about Jesus.
The point is not to record a history for future historians to debate.
The point of each gospel is to give testimony to Jesus and to bring the reader to a point of decision. Based on this evidence,  “Who is Jesus?”

The Gospels, especially the first three, take time to drop hints along the way.
Each is written to force the reader to scratch his or her head and wonder, “Who is this man?”

They do this by allowing us to see Jesus from several perspectives.
Sometimes we meet a person who is seeking out Jesus in a time of need.
Some are curious like Zacchaeus who climbs a tree to see Jesus.
Others like Nicodemus come to Jesus with questions.
Others like the Samaritan woman at the well, aren’t even looking for Jesus.
But he goes to where they are and finds them.

As Jesus moves closer to the cross, the question of his identity takes on a greater urgency.
The disciples are beginning to make statements about him.
The crowds are wondering.
The religious leaders are furious that Jesus himself is making
statements, such as: “Before Abraham was born, I am!”

For them that sounded suspiciously like Jesus calling himself
the “I AM” who spoke from the burning bush to Moses.
Could he be claiming to be not just a rabbi or teacher, but God himself?

In Matthew chapter 16, 
Peter’s confession, “You are the Messiah,” represents the first time that someone had connected Jesus with the hope of Israel.

For the first time in human history,
someone had caught a glimpse of what the prophets had been foretelling.
And yet Matthew shows in just a few verses after this,
that Peter’s understanding was still not complete.
Peter did not grasp the full magnitude of his confession.
Although Peter rightly identified Jesus as the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophesies, 
another question remained.

The Old Testament prophesies contained two strains of teaching about the Messiah.
One thread emphasized the Messiah’s triumphant rule, ushering in a new Israel.
The other spoke of his suffering and death.

When Peter embraced the first thread, the idea that the Messiah had come to overthrow the Romans, but then he rejected the idea of a Messiah who suffers.

He took Jesus aside and rebuked him.  But Jesus countered by rebuking Peter’s misunderstanding, because the cross was coming soon.

Earlier in the Gospels, when Jesus would perform a healing
or his disciples caught a glimpse of his identity as the Son of God sometimes he would instruct them not to tell anyone. And he would say to them, “my time has not yet come.”
But now his time was drawing near. 

The religious leaders of his day were clearly threatened.
The crowds were following Jesus and they would not stand for it.
What would become of their privileged positions and wealth?
What would happen if there was an uprising and the Romans stamped it out?
And so they met secretly and plotted to arrest Jesus and have him silenced.

While this was happening the crowds began to buzz with their own questions.
And the issued boiled down to his identity.
“Who is this man?” they asked.

Until, something they could not explain away, happened.
Standing before the tomb of Lazarus, Jesus called out a man who had been dead for three days - 
and to everyone’s  amazement, Lazarus had been raised from the dead.

While some may have claimed that the little girl he raised from
the dead was “just sleeping” no one doubted that Lazarus had truly been dead.
The smell of death was unmistakable.
Jesus demonstrated to all - that he had power and authority over everything in this world.   
Even death could not stop him.

So the question we are all faced with, is whether or not to believe this testimony.
Is Jesus who he says he is?
Is he the Son of God?

Because if he is, that changes everything,
It changes what we live for.  
It changes what we look toward for meaning in our lives.
It changes how we make decisions, how we deal with the bad things that happen to us…
where we look for hope, where we look for peace.

Do we believe that Jesus is the Light of this world?
If so, he is a light that no darkness can overcome.

There is a story about a navel ship that just returned from a tour overseas.
And on that ship there was a young ensign who had shown himself to be responsible and efficient while they were out on tour, and because of that he was given the opportunity to take command of the ship as it made its way out to sea again.

And as the ship was preparing to pull away from the dock, the ensign gives a series of crisp commands and before long he had the decks buzzing with men and the ship left port and began steaming out of the channel.
Everyone involved could testify that the ensign’s efficiency had been remarkable
in fact he had set a record for getting the destroyer out of port.

The ensign glowed with pride and was not at all surprised when another seaman approached him with a message from the captain.
The captain’s message read:
“My personal congratulations upon completing this exercise.”

And you can just imagine the ensign grinning from ear to ear.
But the message continued,
“In your haste however, you overlooked one of the unwritten rules of seafaring. 
Make sure your captain is on board before leaving the dock.”

I’m pretty sure the ensign didn’t intend to leave the captain at the dock.
But he had been so preoccupied with his own agenda, with everything he felt had to be done,
that he just didn’t give the captain a second thought.

Is life like that for us?
Do we get so busy sometimes, and so preoccupied with our own agendas,
that we leave our captain, Jesus, at the dock?

In the Gospels, the outsiders often knew who Jesus was.
The demons all knew Jesus and feared him.

Some of the outsiders, like the Samaritan woman at the well,
came to know who Jesus was and when she realized he was the Messiah, she dropped her jaw in amazement and awe.  She knew that Jesus was the captain, and there was no way that she was going to pull out of port without Jesus on board.

My prayer for each you,
is that in the busyness of your lives with all the distractions
and all the things pulling you in different directions,

that you pause long enough to hear Jesus calling to you,
that you open your eyes wide enough to see Jesus clearly

and when you hear him, and see him
that you will make him the Lord and captain of your life.    Amen.

Monday, March 16, 2015

No Ordinary Man

Week 24: The Story
Have you ever met someone and known almost instantly that they were special –
that you were in the presence of not just an ordinary person?
That’s the effect Jesus had on people.

It became clear early in his ministry that, even though he was the child of a humble carpenter,
he was not just an ordinary man.  When he spoke, people noticed right away that he spoke with authority.  And he was a teacher like no other teacher.

People at that time were accustomed to hearing their rabbis read from the Book of the Law,
telling them what they should eat,  and what they should wear, and how to structure their lives.
But when they heard Jesus teach, he captivated them with stories and parables,
and preaching unlike any they had ever heard
because he came from the Father full of grace and truth.

And Jesus used metaphors from their daily lives
like the parable about the farmer who went out to sow seed.

We find this parable right at the beginning of Chapter 24 in The Story.

“Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, some multiplying thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times.”Then Jesus said, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”[1]

If you visit Israel today, you would see many places where seeds could never grow.
It’s like certain spots in our lawn, where the sprinkler has a hard time reaching
and during the hottest, driest,  days of the year you’d have a hard time getting any seed to germinate.

Jesus is telling those who would listen, how the seed of God’s Word grows.
But standing in the way of that growth are many obstacles.
All kinds of things try to steal God’s Word from us.
The Devil doesn't want us to experience the joy or peace that comes from living in Christ.
Another obstacle is shallow roots.
Sometimes we don’t take advantage of opportunities to grow deeper in God’s Word.
We go in other directions when God is calling us to grow –
which causes our roots to be shallow, and when trouble or hardship come our joy in Christ is stolen away. And we become easily discouraged and lose faith.

At other times, we can be going to church, and growing in faith, until we get sidetracked.
It’s amazing to me to think that 2000 years ago, the things that sidetracked people and took them away from God are still the same as today.
Jesus mentions three things:
  • the worries of life
  • the deceitfulness of wealth
  • and the desire for other things (things that take the place of God)
Does that sound like some archaic list from 20 centuries ago?
You’re right.  All those things, still choke out God’s Word today
Anything that we put in God’s place, becomes our God.

But the kingdoms of this world do not have the last word.
Jesus came to announce that the Kingdom of God has drawn near.
And everything Jesus does in his preaching, and teaching, and healing,
Jesus is bringing us God’s new kingdom.

My two favorite sermons that Jesus preached
demonstrate how Jesus brings that new kingdom hope to those who are burdened by this world.

When you face life’s deepest disappointments take your Bibles out and read these two sermons.

The first one comes right after Jesus had been tested in the wilderness
and Luke tells us that he returns to Galilee in the power of the Spirit.

And so he goes back to his hometown of Nazareth, and he goes to the synagogue, and he’s handed the scroll of the prophet Isaiah.
And he begins to read:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
    and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”[2]

And he rolls up the scroll,   and with the eyes of everyone fastened on him, he announces:
“Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
This is Jesus way of announcing that the kingdoms of this world do not have the grip on us we think they do.

Draw near and listen.
Don’t let the worries of this world steal this Good News.
Put your hope in me, says Jesus, and the good soil of God’s Word will produce a harvest of blessings.  The good soil of God’s Word will give you a peace that passes all understanding.

Have you ever gone through one of life’s crushing experiences,
a time of bitter disappointment,
and instead of comfort all some people wanted give you was advice?
“Do this.  Try that.”

Was that what you needed?

Jesus knows what we need.
Jesus didn't come simply to give us more advice.
While the Bible is filled with wisdom Jesus knows that we need more than wisdom.
We need world changing Good News.

My second favorite sermon of Jesus, is his Sermon on the Mount.
At the beginning of his ministry,
Jesus announces the world-changing Good News of God, in this way.
To those weighed down by life’s burdens he proclaimed:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
 Blessed are those who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.
 Blessed are the meek,
    for they will inherit the earth.
 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
    for they will be filled.
 Blessed are the merciful,
    for they will be shown mercy.
 Blessed are the pure in heart,
    for they will see God.
 Blessed are the peacemakers,
    for they will be called children of God.
 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.[3]
Jesus doesn’t say,
“Here’s some good advice, do this and do that and you will be blessed.”

He says, “You are blessed.”   “You already are my beloved.”

This week I was reading N.T. Wright’s new book entitled, “Simply Good News”
in which he made this comment about many sermons today:

“In many churches the good news has subtly changed into good advice:
Here’s how to live, they say.    Here’s how to pray.
Here are techniques for helping you become a better Christian
a better person, a better wife or husband.
And, in particular, here’s how to make sure you are on the right track for what happens after death. 

Take this advice, say this prayer, and you’ll be saved.
Here’s how to do it.”
“That is advice,” he says, “not news.”

And then he concludes with this thought.

“The whole point of advice is to get you to do something in order to get a desired result.
Now there’s nothing wrong with good advice.
We all need it. 
But it isn’t the same thing as news.   
News is an announcement that something significant has happened.”[4]

That’s what we hear when Jesus preaches,

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has appointed to preach Good News to the poor.”

Matthew tells us that when Jesus saw the crowds,
he had compassion on them,

“because they were harassed and helpless,
 like sheep without a shepherd.”[5]

And in the Sermon on the Mount, he didn't begin by giving them advice
or God’s wisdom. That’s woven in later in the sermon.

Rather Jesus begins with the world-changing Good News
that God looks at us, and He counts us as His Beloved and Blessed children.

Nothing that happens to us in this world can change that reality.
- not cancer, or  unemployment , or grief, or the betrayal of a loved one, nothing.    

Nothing can change God’s love for you and me.
Put your hope in me, says Jesus and the good soil of God’s Word
will produce a harvest of blessings.

The good soil of God’s Word will give you a peace that passes all understanding.
and a joy that is deeper than the circumstances of your life.

Have you ever experienced that peace?
Have you experienced that joy?

Then you have tasted, the first fruits of the Kingdom of God.

That’s the Kingdom Jesus has ushered in
through his life, and death,  and resurrection.

It’s already here and yet is still to come.

Just before Jesus went to the cross, he looked to heaven and prayed:
“Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you.  
For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.[6]

I close with a quote from Dallas Willard,
the gospel isn't about ‘getting into heaven after you die’
but rather it’s about “getting into heaven before you die!”

May you experience that kingdom life – that eternal life
that God gives us now,
through faith in Jesus  our Lord and Savior.  Amen.

[1] Mark 4:3-9
[2] Luke 4:18-19
[3] Matthew 5:3-10
[4] N.T. Wright  p. 4 Simply Good News.
[5] Matthew 9:36
[6] John 17:1-3