Wednesday, March 31, 2010

"God Will Find a Way:" Part 2

Maundy Thursday – “April Fools!”

Luke 22:7-20
7Then came the day of Unleavened Bread on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. 8Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, "Go and make preparations for us to eat the Passover."
9"Where do you want us to prepare for it?" they asked.
10He replied, "As you enter the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him to the house that he enters, 11and say to the owner of the house, 'The Teacher asks: Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?' 12He will show you a large upper room, all furnished. Make preparations there."
13They left and found things just as Jesus had told them. So they prepared the Passover.
14When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. 15And he said to them, "I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. 16For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God."
17After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, "Take this and divide it among you. 18For I tell you I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes."
19And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, "This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me."
20In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.

Once again, we find the mysterious Jesus acting mysteriously. Just like Palm Sunday, he seems to know what will happen before it happens. On Sunday, there was a donkey waiting. Today, there’s a room ready for thirteen men to celebrate Passover.

You’d think by this time, the disciples would realize that when Jesus says something is going to happen, it will happen! After two occasions like this, they might have put a little faith in statements like, “The Son of Man will be killed and on the third day rise again.”

But here they are, gathered in a borrowed room, on the most holy night of the Jewish faith. It’s the last time they will be together, though they don’t know it yet.

They’ve reached the end of the feast. They’ve eaten the bitter herbs and unleavened bread. It’s just about over when Jesus lifts the bread. “This is my body . . .” Then he lifts the cup. “This cup is the new covenant . . .”

It hasn’t really sunk in yet. The twelve don’t really “get it,” that when Jesus says something is going to happen, it happens! Somewhere in the back of their minds, they’re hoping that Jesus is wrong. Maybe they’re waiting for Jesus to shout, “April Fools! I just was just messin’ with you!”

The meal ends in drama, with Judas named as the betrayer. Three disciples follow Jesus to Gethsemane. Still, it hasn’t sunk in because Peter, James and John fall asleep while Jesus sweats blood.

Then, on Friday, as they watched their friend and teacher die, maybe they were thinking they were the fools! Fools for thinking Jesus was different. Yet, he ended up like all those other pseudo-messiahs – dead at the hands of Caesar.

So sure were they that the last three years had been a fool’s errand that all but John deserted Jesus. Peter made a fool of himself by cursing at a servant girl who recognized him as a disciple of Jesus.

You’d think by now, they would know – when Jesus says something will happen, it happens!

They dispersed, thinking themselves the greatest of fools. Little did they know that, on Sunday morning, they really would feel like fools, though not for the reason they expected.

Little did they know, they God would find a way to defeat even death!

Challenging Complacency

I found out recently that it really is true what they say about the internet - never put anything on there that you don't want someone to read, or read in the future. So, I've tried to keep the embarrassing college photos off facebook! I can't control all the crazy people I went to college with, though.

Anyway, I was meeting some people from my new church (so new that I won't be their pastor for another 2+ months). One of them said, "I read your blog, the letter to the Bishop." Outwardly, I responded, "Oh, really?" Inwardly, I was "Oh, crap!" It turns out he was impressed with the letter (Whew!) - more impressed, actually, than the "Bish" himself.

That event inspired me to return to "persisting." I started this thing as an effort to express myself in light of some of the changes within my Annual Conference, as a way of resisting the change. I later realized that I would be better served to persist in defining myself, writing in answer to the question in the tagline: In what will I persist, no matter the place, no matter the time, no matter the circumstance?

Persisting is always better than resisting. Persisting is better because it helps you stay on course. In pastoral ministry, there's always things that draw you away from what is most important. Admittedly, what is "most important" may change from church to church, or from time to time in one's tenure. If you persist in what you determine to be God's direction for you, then you will be more honest, more open to God, and a better leader.

An example: At my current church, I (along with my wife) discerned that God was calling us to do something for the teenagers of our community. They were lost, confused, lacked healthy adult influence and spiritual direction. We also believed that by working with and through the kids, we might open doors to reach the parents. All signs indicated that my church could be convinced to join with us.

After a year and a half of this venture - youthspace - we've had varying success. Some kids have found a church home, and more importantly a Savior. Their parents haven't. We've learned that most of these parents are so overwhelmed by poverty, drugs, general "Jerry Springerish" drama, that they've pretty much opted out of a lot that has to do with their kids. The church turned out to be more alarmed by the presence of "out of control" kids than we predicted. It is astounding how much most of these kids didn't know (We gave many of them their first Bible, and their first Communion).

Because it didn't meet with outstanding success, because it didn't change the community, or change the church's relationship with the community, is it a failure? Were we wrong? Did we hear God wrong? The answer to all questions is "No." We did something. We were not satisfied with the status quo. We tried!

That all leads me to say this: I will always persist in challenging complacency.

There is always more to do, always something new to do, in ministry. That's because God is always more than we can concieve! God is always creating something new!

Monday, March 29, 2010

"God Will Find a Way:" a three-part Easter sermon

Part One: Palm Sunday – “Shouting Stones”

The intensity that accompanied the following of Jesus was “amped up” in the days preceding Passover. It seemed Jesus was purposely causing trouble:

  • He healed people on the Sabbath – twice.
  • The Pharisees approached him with a warning: “Herod wants to kill you!” Doing his best Clint Eastwood imitation, Jesus replied, “He knows where he can find me. Make my day!”
  • He told fabulously deep parables: The prodigal son, the lost sheep, the rich man and Lazarus
  • He talked about the end of the world and the destruction of Jerusalem.

Worst of all, he kept saying that he was going to die!

He did all of this while he was walking toward Jerusalem.

Jerusalem was a “hornet’s nest.” It was the Jew’s holiest city. The time was Passover, the holiest feast of the Jewish faith. Crowds of people poured into the city from all over the known world. Some of them were disgruntled people; Rome ruled the city of their temple. If the wrong mood got started, it would be like throwing a match in a powder keg. If the wrong sort of leader started causing trouble, Rome would not be happy.

The Jewish leaders were understandable on edge. They ruled only because Caesar let them rule. They were allowed a modicum of power as long as they kept “the Jews” in line. Rome liked its subject people to be compliant. They weren’t afraid to enforce that compliance with violence – even death, if necessary.

Luke 19:28-40
28After Jesus had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. 29As he approached Bethphage and Bethany at the hill called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, 30"Go to the village ahead of you, and as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31If anyone asks you, 'Why are you untying it?' tell him, 'The Lord needs it.' "
32Those who were sent ahead went and found it just as he had told them. 33As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, "Why are you untying the colt?"
34They replied, "The Lord needs it."
35They brought it to Jesus, threw their cloaks on the colt and put Jesus on it. 36As he went along, people spread their cloaks on the road.
37When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen: 38"Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!"[
a] "Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!"
39Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, "Teacher, rebuke your disciples!"
40"I tell you," he replied, "if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out."

The stuff about the colt only seemed to heighten the mystery – “Who is this man and how does he know such things?” He heals lepers, isn’t scared of Herod, and knows the future!

People gather to praise him – shouting and singing as they walk beside Jesus on his borrowed donkey. John tells us that “a large crowd of Passover visitors took Palm branches and went down the road to meet him.” Matthew and Mark say the people threw their coats on the road, along with the palm branches – a sign of reverence. They didn’t even want his donkey’s feet to touch the ground. The truth is probably a combination of the four reports.

Whatever it was, it was a huge commotion! Just exactly what the High Priests and Pharisees didn’t want to see! Too great a commotion, and Rome might silence them – permanently! Too much trouble and their heads would be on the chopping block.

But what’s the big deal? It was Passover, after all. Didn’t they expect a celebration? The Jews were celebrating the day when God delivered them from an unjust ruler named Pharaoh. Its not too big a leap to imagine that they might, with Jesus the rabble-rouser in the lead, decide that God wanted to deliver them from another unjust ruler – Caesar. They might take matters into their own hands!

Here they were, waving palm branches, a symbol of royalty. Here they were, shouting for Jesus, riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, just like the Prophets foretold. Any good Pharisee that valued the status quo, that valued the sensitive state of affairs that granted them jus a little bit of power would know: this means trouble!

So, in a well-meaning effort to save their own necks, and the necks of the pilgrims who have come to Jerusalem, they approach Jesus with a command. “Tell these people to hush! They’re gonna get in trouble acting like this!”

“Mr. Pharisee,” Jesus replies, “Don’t you know? You can’t hush the praise of God! If we stop, the stones on the road will pick up the cheer!”

“Don’t you know, Mr. Pharisee, that no earthly power – not you, not even Rome – can quiet the true praise of God?”

God doesn’t care who wants his people to hush, when there is praising to be done, He will find a way to make it happen, even if He has to use a bunch of rocks by the side of the road!

2000 years later, there are still Pharisees in this world who would just as soon hush all Christians who want to praise God. Sometimes we want it to hush because it makes us uncomfortable. Sometimes it embarrasses us. Sometimes it even might make the “powers that be” think we want to cause trouble.

Jesus’ reply tells us that God doesn’t care if we’d rather have things quiet. If there’s praising to be done, He’ll find someone or something to do it!

So great is God’s power that no effort of human will can stop it. No political party can stop it! No earthly ruler, no well-meaning “church person” can silence the true praise of God!

If there is praising to be done, if there’s “rabble” to be “roused,” God will find a way to do it!