Sunday, March 31, 2013

2013 Easter Sunday Sermon

Matthew 28:1-10 

The Resurrection of Jesus

  After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men.

  But the angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, “He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.” This is my message for you.’ So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.
  Suddenly Jesus met them and said, ‘Greetings!’ And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.’


In 1985, chaos reigned for 79 days.

On April 23, 2985, the Coca Cola Company introduced New Coke. Their market share had been slipping for 15 years, and so they decided to reinvigorate the brand by toying with the original formula that had been in use for 99 years.
The outcry that followed was unexpected.
Their consumer hotline had previously received approximately 400 phone calls a day. Now, they were receiving 1,500 calls a day. People were hoarding old Coke like it was gold, and any Coca-Cola employee was a target of harassment. Protest groups sprang up around the country, songs were written in protest and an event was held in downtown Atlanta in hopes of swaying Coca-Cola to change their minds.
After 79 days, good sense prevailed and Coca-Cola Classic was restored. Almost 32,000 people called the company in response.
It was decided, universally, that the old was good. The new was not desired. Change was not welcome.

We do this all the time—we look at the new and decide that we're more comfortable with the old. Often, this is a wise decision. Just because something is new doesn't mean that it's better. It just means that it's newer. Even if new is better, change is hard. All sorts of factors come into play, including our sentimental attachment to the old. The Coca-Cola company had done rigorous taste tests of over 200,000 people to ensure that New Coke would be a success. What they hadn't counted on was people's emotional attachments to Coca-Cola Classic.
So we have to be careful when we think about new. It's appealing, but it can be difficult.

But let's take a moment and think about life as we know it. How are things going in the world at large? I started reading a book about raising positive kids in a negative world—it was going on and on about all of the problems in the world, from drugs to violence to television, and just when I thought it couldn't get any worse, I realized the book was published almost 30 years ago. The world isn't doing so hot right now.
Think about it for a moment. Think globally. Europe is in the midst of a massive recession where unemployment numbers are too high to contemplate. We are in the midst of a war in Afghanistan that has been dragging on for over a decade. Syria is in the midst of civil war. Uncertainty looms all around the globe. Then bring it a little closer to home. America has unemployment problems of our own. We have inequality in this country, with the gap between rich and poor growing daily. Prices of everything, particularly gas, keep rising while wages remain stagnant. Nothing productive ever seems to come out of Washington, D.C. Now bring it all the way home—think about your own life. We all have struggles of our own. Some of us struggle with illness or loneliness or doubt or despair. Some of us wrestle with demons buried deep within us, and others have current difficulties that sit heavily upon our souls. We all have struggles.
Life is tough. The world as we know it could use a hand, right?

I have great news for you.

Listen again to Matthew 28:1: After the sabbath, as the 1st day of the week was dawning...

On that first Easter morning, a new week was dawning. The old week had passed away, and in its place something new was being born, and this wasn't just a repetition of the old. Things would not just continue in the way they always had. No, on this first day of the new week, as the sun peeked over the horizon, something cosmic was happening, something new, and the old would be gone.
God was doing a new thing. God was building a new kingdom here on earth, one that would replace the old kingdom. God was starting something new.

The old kingdom was ruled by sin, death and decay. The old kingdom, the one that began at the moment of the first sin, the initial betrayal, has been reigning here on earth ever since. Every death, every disease, every instance of brokenness between two people is a reminder of the old kingdom.

The good news is that the old kingdom's days are numbered. God has been building his new kingdom, and in his kingdom there is no room for death. There is no place for disease. Sin and pain and suffering and anger and betrayal won't be able to break into the new kingdom. The new kingdom is marked by life and love and wonder and worship.

God is building a new kingdom, and he is doing it here on earth, in the midst of the old kingdom. All the wonderful things in our lives, from the beauty of a daffodil in the spring to the sound of a child's laugh, are signs of God's kingdom, reminders that God is at work here in the world.

What's even more amazing than the fact that God is brazenly building this kingdom here while the old one still stands is that he is using men and women like you and I to do so. God is at work, and he wants to use us. He wants to use your life, for you to join him in the effort. He wants your time and your energy to be dedicated to building his kingdom, and he promises that there is a place for you in this kingdom. Rather than serve the old kingdom and watch it decay, God calls you to join into this new kingdom work and watch it grow, and you will grow along with it.

This is God's new kingdom work. And it begins here, in Matthew 28, that first Easter morning.

The women had gone to the tomb, ready to anoint Jesus' body, ready to say their final goodbyes. In the old kingdom, there are lots of goodbyes to be said, because death runs rampant, like an unleashed German Shepherd in a spring meadow.
The women went to meet death, but instead saw the beginning of something new, the first building block being set in place as they found life where death once reigned. In the garden, they had thought they would find a dead body in a dark tomb, but instead they found angels in clothes like lightning that proclaimed that Christ was risen, that Christ had conquered death and risen from the grave to prove that men and women might no longer die, to initiate a new kingdom, a new way of life, a new beginning. Christ has conquered death, and the women were the first witnesses, hearing the message from the angels that the old has gone, the new has begun, and that Jesus has gone ahead to lead the way.

Jesus leads the way. He shows us how we are called to live, and then he demonstrates that we are not called to die, that we are a people over whom death has no power. We are a resurrection people, citizens of the eternal kingdom of the reigning and sovereign God, and he leads us forward. The angels tell the women that Jesus has gone ahead of the disciples, and he is ahead of us, too.

He leads us forward. He leads you forward, into a future that is filled with grace and peace and mercy and love. He promises you that your future will not hold death, but rather life. He does not say it will be easy. He does not promise that the road will be smooth.

What he promises is that the new kingdom will prevail, and if you place your trust in him as Lord and Savior, there is a place in it for you.
So let us stop clinging to the old, to the ways of sin and death, to the idea that we have to prevail over our neighbor, to the idea that it's all about us, to the idea that life is about money and success and power. Let's give up those old idols and worship Christ in his glory, join with God's grand effort in building his kingdom. Let's worship Christ with all of our lives and let ourselves be caught up in God's glorious kingdom, devoting our lives and our eternities to his glory.

Let us pray

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Sunrise 2013 Service

John 20:1-10

  Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.


Some news stories are so compelling they force us to pay attention.  The recent election of the pope was one of those stories—the whole world watched as cardinals gathered in Rome to decide the leader of the Roman Catholic church for the near-term future.  Eyes were glued to screens as others stood vigil in St. Peter’s Square.  Many apps were designed and downloaded for the sole purpose of alerting the individual to when white smoke billowed forth from the Vatican.  We were all glued to the process.
The entire life of Jesus Christ seems to have been one of those stories.  People were compelled to pay attention to him.  Those that loved him and followed him couldn’t tear an eye away, afraid they might miss something.  Crowds seemed to follow him everywhere, and when they couldn’t find him they went looking for him.  Even his enemies couldn’t put him out of their minds—they were constantly following him, badgering him, hoping to trick him into betraying his mission. 
Finally, when it seemed as though Jesus’ enemies had gotten the better of him, even his death was compelling.  Crowds came to watch him be crucified, waiting for a miracle that never seemed to arrive.  While many of the disciples abandoned him, the women were compelled to continue to tend to him, to remain devoted to him, to pour out their love upon him even beyond death.  On that first Easter morning, they were compelled to go to the tomb to anoint his body.
Once there, though, they received a shock—the stone had been rolled away, and they rushed to tell Peter and John such news.  A death disturbed could not be received idly, and the two of them were compelled to rush to the tomb, compelled to see with their own eyes.  Such a thing had to be seen.

With many compelling events, once you have seen, that is enough.  You have satisfied your curiosity.   Not so with resurrection.
When the disciples realized Jesus had been raised from the dead, they did not linger in the tomb.  They did not remain there.  Christianity was not meant to stay in the tomb.  No, resurrection draws us in, Easter compels us to come and see, but then Christianity sends us out to tell the story.  We don’t remain in the tomb—we go forth to tell the story.  We are drawn in and then sent out. 

When Jesus Christ was raised from the dead, he demonstrated that death was defeated.  Death no longer had power over us.  In his resurrection, he paved the way for us to follow, to live a life filled with joy and wonder and hope and, when we have reached the end of our time here, we pass through death into still more life to come. 
Death is not a place we stay.  The disciples did not remain in the tomb, content to have seen.  No, just as they were compelled to come and see, they were compelled to go and tell, and we are a part of their spiritual legacy. 
In the resurrection of Jesus Christ, death was vanquished as a destination.  Death is now just a door, an event that we witness but not a place we remain.  Jesus has defeated death, and now we can come and see, go and tell, and live the story of faith in God who has power over death and is victorious over sin.  In Christ, we have hope and we have life.  
Let us pray

Thursday, March 28, 2013

3-28 E-News


Maundy Thursday ServiceTonight! 6:30!

Sunrise Service6:45 on Easter morning

Easter Cantata—10:45 on Sunday morning! Be there!

Community Kitchen Spot
There are a lot of hungry and homeless children of God and the community needs some help feeding them. If you would like to help out, please bring the following items to church this Sunday & put them in the grocery cart.
8 oz. Styrofoam bowls

New Hope News

Sunday School—This Sunday, the adult class will study Philippians.

Pray For:

Christine Dyer

Connie Robinson

The Meulenbergs

All those who are visiting church this weekend, that they may see the presence of Christ among us.


Keith's Random Thoughts

For the last five months, I've been battling ongoing fatigue problems.  I've been tested for everything from thyroid problems to adrenal problems to testosterone to Lyme disease.  Everyone I know has a suggestion for what it might be, from depression to lupus and so on, but at the end of the day, we simply don't know.  We check one thing at a time, hoping that the next thing might be the solution.  But we don't know.

As you can imagine, I am a bit befuddled and frustrated by this.  So I read a lot of things on the internet about ongoing fatigue.  From what I read, I could have anything from cancer to some rare disease that affects 4 people once every 10,000 years.  (I'm exaggerating... but you get the point.  The internet is a wealth of information and a frustrating place to try self-diagnosis.)

One thing that has come up is the role of diet.  Now, I eat pretty healthy, but some things I've read link many diseases back to diet.  I'm not sure how true all these things are, but I'll try anything to feel better.  So, Tuesday afternoon, I became a vegan.
I don't know how long it will last.  I don't know that it will make me feel better.  It's worth a shot, but giving up ice cream and hamburgers and lasanga seems like a lot right now.  If it works, I won't mind so much, but I may well give in the next time I wander down the ice cream aisle.

If it's true, though, then what is going in my body affects how my body is working.

Which is certainly true of our spiritual lives.

What you take in affects what comes out.  The television we watch, the books we read, the things we choose to attend to shape our minds, our hearts and our souls.  The activities we engage in form us into a certain type of people.  Are you becoming spiritually healthier?  Or sicker?

God wants all of us to grow up into mature Christians, at work for God's kingdom in the world.  For us to grow up, we have to be willing to give up some things that may be enjoyable but may not help us develop as Christians.  For us to be shaped into Godly people, we have to pay attention to what we take in, to desire the things that build us up and shun the things that tear us down.

I'm hoping that the food I eat will make me healthier.  I'm also hoping that I have the strength to invest my time in books, television, conversations and recreation that builds me up, that grows me up into the child of God that I am called to be.

Text for this Sunday
Matthew 28:1-10

After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men.
But the angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, “He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.” This is my message for you.’
So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, ‘Greetings!’ And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshipped him. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.’

New Hope on Facebook & Twitter
New Hope on iTunes

Maundy Thursday Meditation

1 Corinthians 11:23-26
  For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.



What better way to begin a Presbyterian Maundy Thursday service than by talking about the new pope of the Roman Catholic church?
I’ve been particularly impressed by the new Pope Francis.  It would be easy to get caught up in the pomposity of being the pope and the lavish lifestyle that is available to him.  Instead, he has chosen another path, just as he did when he was Cardinal of Buenos Aires.  There, he donated the mansion of the Cardinal to a missionary society and chose to live in an apartment.  In Rome, he has opted not to live in the papal apartments, choosing instead to live in community in a nearby guesthouse.  He sneaks out to attend mass with others, and he even called the man who delivers his papers to let him know he wouldn’t be returning, just in case the man hadn’t heard that he was elected pope.  He’s a man of simplicity, and he lives it out, rather than merely talking about it.
In other words, his actions proclaim a truth that is within him.  His actions serve a purpose—through them he is enacting something.  I haven’t heard a single word the pope has said, but I have learned a lot about the man and what he believes by watching him live.  Every decision he makes reflects the man’s inner truth.
So we gather tonight and hear these words from 1 Corinthians:  For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
Did you catch that?  Every time you take communion, by your actions, you are proclaiming the death of Jesus Christ.  Our actions are embodying our proclamation of Christ’s death.  By gathering tonight for worship, by repeating what we have done so many times before, we are proclaiming Christ’s death.
And when we proclaim Christ’s death, we are doing more than just looking to the cross, because Christ’s death means far more than just one thing.
To proclaim Christ’s death is to proclaim the eternal love of God, a love so deep that the sin of humanity was not a big enough obstacle to prevent God from reaching down and saving us.
To proclaim Christ’s death is to proclaim the awesome power of God, power so complete that even the bonds of death could not hold him, for his death is never the end of the story, because Christ shatters the power of death so that we might have life.
To proclaim Christ’s death is to proclaim that our God is not content to remain in the heavens and save us from afar, keeping his hands clean, but rather that our God loves so deeply and desires relationship so badly that he is willing to descend from heaven and walk among us, set an example for us, and be raised up on the cross, taking death and sin and shame upon himself so that we might not suffer the eternal punishment that we deserve. 
To proclaim Christ’s death is to proclaim an eternal, powerful God who wants to be in relationship with us so deeply that no price was too high to pay.
To celebrate communion is to proclaim Christ’s death.
That is what we do tonight.  We gather to witness to the awesome love of God.  We gather to proclaim something bigger than ourselves.  We gather to remember what God has done.
And every time we gather at church, the intent is that what we celebrate here, what we do here, becomes a part of us.  Jesus was teaching the disciples at the Supper just as he is teaching us, for we are being formed as disciples.  If we are paying attention, what we are doing here goes with us when we leave.  The church is to be a sending place, like an airport, where we gather from disparate places and are sent back out into the world. 
So we gather and learn new ways of being.  We enact and embody the faithful life.  We proclaim his death here, and then we go back into the world, ready to continue our proclamation, ready to live for him.
Friends, what we are doing tonight matters.  Our actions matter, because they form us as disciples and they proclaim a greater truth to the outside world.  So let us take seriously the task before us, and let us carry this proclamation outward, so that they way we live continues to proclaim the awesome power of God.
Let us pray

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Luke 14:25-35

Dear Luke,
That story I can explain!  To a novice in the faith, it would seem, at first read, a bit of a strange story.  But it requires a bit of history to unfold the true meaning.  Jesus is telling the story to an audience of Jews, the people who were originally chosen by God.  In this Christian’s opinion, they would be the original invitees who, by rejecting Jesus, spurn the invitation to come in to the party.  In his anger at their rejection, the invitation is then extended to those that were once considered outsiders, the non-Jews.  I would say that this is done in love—Jesus is trying to help the Pharisees see that it is of the utmost importance that they accept him as Lord.  At the same time, I think it’s important to note the exceedingly great generosity of the host—there is a great desire that the house be filled, that all hear the invitation to the party.  So there is anger at the rejection, but Jesus is telling the story in the midst of Jews.  I hear that as a warning, not a condemnation. 
What follows this particular story, Luke, is what I believe to be the most difficult teachings yet.  I do not want to soften their blow or round off their sharp edges—but I do believe that these, too, are spoken in love, out of a deep desire for all people to know him as Lord.  You may reach a different conclusion, but I hope you hear these words with an open mind and ruminate upon them for some time before reaching your final decision on just what they mean.  I will admit that I still wrestle with these teachings.
There was a large crowd following Jesus at the time.  Many probably were there because they had heard of him and wanted to see such a celebrity.  Some were probably devoted disciples, and the majority of the crowd was probably somewhere in between these two poles.  What Jesus said almost certainly drove some of those curious seekers away, but we have certainly found that Jesus was not afraid to say something that might be viewed as harsh or challenging.  I have to believe that there were some who were drawn into even deeper discipleship by the challenge he offers.
He told them that if any of them did not hate their family, including wife, children and siblings, they could not be Jesus’ disciple.  They needed to hate even their own life, too, for it was necessary for them to bear a cross and follow him in order to be a disciple.  He then asks a rhetorical question—if anyone there was going to construct a tower, would they not first spend time calculating the cost, determining if there were enough funds to complete it.  The alternative is to begin the work and not bring it to completion, leaving the builder open to ridicule by those who see the evidence of his poor planning.  Kings, too, spend their time in planning.  If they see that they are outnumbered by the opposing force, rather than engage a bigger foe in battle they will first send a party to seek the terms of peace, in hopes of avoiding an embarrassing and painful defeat on the battlefield.  Jesus then turns the conversation back to himself, telling the crowd that all who seek to become a disciple must give up their possessions. 
He finishes with a brief teaching about salt, reminding the crowd that once it has expired, there is no hope of restoring its flavor or purpose.  It is thrown away, not fit for service.  
Luke, Jesus is trying to prevent the crowd from half-hearted discipleship, from making a commitment in a flurry of emotion and then realizing that there is little interest in seeing it through, for the cost is too great to bear.  Had you committed yourself at the beginning of this series and then found that Jesus was far too demanding, too challenging, it would have been rather embarrassing for you to admit to your family and friends that you were giving up the title of Christian.  It would be better for you to never take discipleship on if you do not intend to go all the way with it.  Jesus wants the crowd to choose to follow him, but he wants them to be aware that he asks for everything from them—nothing is safe from his Lordship.  If the crowd intends to follow him because it is the popular thing to do, they will only find disappointment at the end of that path.  If, however, they take his words seriously and offer him all they have and they are, then they will find the path that leads to true and abundant life. 
I am glad you are counting the cost, Luke, and I pray that you find that what Jesus offers is well worth the cost.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Luke 14:7-24

Dear Theophilus,
Your last paragraph I find rather fascinating.  It was probably easy for you, a disciple of Jesus Christ, to write, for you love to think of Jesus’ love for all people.  For those of us on the outside looking in, it’s similarly easy to see Jesus as someone who keeps offering statements that seem divisive and almost cruel to those who move in different directions than he.  You frame his divisive and harsh words in the light of love, and I can’t help but think of teachers I had who pushed me harder and faster than I would have liked.  It was easy for me to resent them at the time, but as I look back I deeply appreciate their influence in my life.  Do you suppose that the Pharisees came to appreciate Jesus’ words at a later date, after all this was said and done?  Or do you think that his words caused them to build such elaborate defense mechanisms within their minds that no time could sufficiently erode them and give them the chance to appreciate his challenges?  Obviously, we have no idea as to the fate of these men, but perhaps they later realized Jesus’ motives.  I suppose that you are right, but it is easy to hear his words and wonder why more people didn’t oppose him. 
For instance, the story you told took place when Jesus was on the way to dine at the house of a Pharisee.  I have record that the dinner contained some teachings by Jesus that doubtless left some of the men there feeling a bit put out.  Jesus was observing the way that some of the guests self-selected themselves for places of honor around the table, and he couldn’t help but tell a parable that was a thinly-veiled jab at the men of the present banquet.
Jesus’ parable was an instruction to all listening to never take the place of honor for themselves.  The danger of this is that if someone more deserving of this place arrives, it will be a disgrace when the host displaces you and causes you to take the lowest place so that the more deserving person may have the seat of honor.  Rather, the thing to do is to sit at the lowest place so that you might be honored in the presence of many when the host invites you to a higher place.  Those who seek their own exaltation, Jesus says, will only find humiliation, while exaltation will be the result of humility.
Having surely ruffled some feathers with the guests, Jesus then turned to his host, instructing him not to invite friends, relatives and other rich associates to a meal.  Such activities are often only done in the hopes of receiving a return invitation.  Jesus tells the man to instead invite the poor, crippled, blind and lame, for a blessing will be the result of such generosity.  Repayment will not come in the form of return invitations, but will rather take place at the resurrection of the justified. 
Had such an event taken place within the walls of this house, I would imagine the only sound you would hear would be the shuffling of nervous feet, and the only sight you would see would be the tops of the guests’ heads, for all would be looking down, in hopes of avoiding the glare of the one who spoke such words.  I’d imagine the same was true in this house, and someone, in hopes of breaking such an awkward silence, spoke the words, Anyone who eats bread in God’s Kingdom is surely blessed!
Rather than let the conversation move on to something minor, Jesus seized on the opportunity and told yet another parable, in hopes of making sure that his point was not lost.  He told a story of a man who sent out numerous invitations to a grand party and, when the appointed time arrived, sent forward a slave to the invitees that all was now ready.  Rather than a joyous affirmation of their desire to attend, however, the slave returned with the news that all had made excuses for their absence.  Some had to go see land they had bought, while another was busy trying out new oxen.  Still another had just been wed!  You can imagine the mood of the host when the news was received—he was downright angry!  Determined to move on with the party, he sent the slave out into the town and told him to bring in the same group that Jesus had referenced earlier—the blind and poor, the crippled and the lame.  He had planned a lavish feast and had no desire for an empty house, so the host ordered his slave to compel others to come in, so that the house may be full and the feast enjoyed.  He had spite for the original invitees, adding to the slave that none of them will enjoy the lavish feast.
What do you have to say to this, Theophilus?  Is this exceedingly generous or extraordinarily harsh?  It hardly seems polite to offer such stories in the company of one hosting you for dinner, and yet you say that these stories are done in love.  Where is the love in this, Theophilus?  Please explain this matter to this uncertain soul.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Luke 14:1-6

Dear Luke,
I do not think ill of you for your thoughts regarding Jesus Christ.  You are not the first to find him mentally unstable.  I know of others who believe him to be insane, and I understand the conclusion—I agree with others who believe that if you don’t agree with the declaration that he is God’s Son, then all that is left is for him to be insane.  When you slow down and consider the claims he made about himself, it’s a reasonable thought if you don’t accept his divinity.  Obviously, I accept his claims of divinity, and therefore do not find him insane, rather believing that he sees the world through a different lens.  The death of which others warn him, the threats to him that others pose, are seen in a different light than if they were directed at you or me.  We would be fearful, but he is confident in his mission and his identity.  He is not going to flee from threats, but will rather stay faithful to his identity and to his mission.
I’d like to say a thing about this mission in regards to your letter.  You referenced how you wished that many will be saved and how challenging you find the call to discipleship.  It’s important to balance this with his statement about wanting to gather Jerusalem like a mother hen gathers the chicks.  Jesus has a deep longing for humanity and wants us to be saved, gathered under his wings, accepting his protection.  His mission to come and help us see life as it really is intended to be lived, in communion with God, rather than caught up in all the other things that we use to define life.  Jesus comes in love, and while not everyone will accept that love, he doesn’t come in the hopes of excluding or condemning.  The mission of God is to gather everyone to himself, and Jesus’ eyes are firmly focused on that mission.  So the narrow door may not be the easy way, but Jesus longs for us to choose it.
I think Jesus loves to heal people, too.  Recently I sent you news of a controversial healing, when Jesus healed a woman in the synagogue on the Sabbath.  Well, Jesus was up to it again!  This time, though, he gave the Pharisees the chance to object before he healed her.  Another Sabbath found him on his way to enjoy the hospitality of a Pharisee when a man suffering with dropsy appeared before him.  The Pharisees were watching him closely, and Jesus gave them the opportunity to speak up before he healed the man.  He asked them if it was within the law to cure the man on the Sabbath.
The Pharisees knew they were trapped.  They knew that if they said no, then they’d be accused of being hard-hearted and cruel before this suffering man.  They knew that if they said yes, they’d be setting aside the law out of compassion for another.  As a result, no sound escaped their mouths, though I have little doubt there was much they wanted to say, out of frustration or anger or admiration for all that Jesus was.
Jesus healed the man and sent him on his way, an action that has become somewhat of a footnote in a story that is more about the rather one-sided conversation between Jesus and the Pharisees.  For the man, it must have been a life-changing moment, accompanied by shouts of joy and sheer amazement.  I wonder if the Pharisees allowed themselves to be caught up in the wonder of it all, or they were too busy stewing over Jesus’ challenging of their legalism.
When Jesus returned his attention to them, he asked them another question—if your child or ox falls into a well, will you do whatever it takes to pull them out, even if it is the Sabbath?
For this, too, they had no answer, because while their hearts may have known the answer, to speak it aloud might just change everything.
Picture yourself, Luke, as the child in the well, or the man with dropsy.  Jesus wants to save.  His mission is to gather people to God.  He’s not eager to condemn or happy for controversy.  He pushes on people and their misunderstandings of God, but he does so out of a willingness for them to have their eyes opened so that they might worship God in fullness and freedom.  I know this is a struggle to grasp, but I hope you see the love of God radiating out of Jesus’ every word and action.  It’s not all easy to understand, and sometimes you have to look a little harder than others, but I truly believe that Jesus has come to save out of love, that he longs for us to all enter by that narrow door.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

2013 Palm Sunday Sermon

Matthew 21:1-11 

  When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, ‘Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, “The Lord needs them.” And he will send them immediately.’ This took place to fulfil what had been spoken through the prophet, saying, ‘Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’

  The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!’ When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, ‘Who is this?’ The crowds were saying, ‘This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.’



About a week and a half ago, I was having a relatively calm day in the church office when chaos broke loose.  I received a call from the day care telling me that Caleb's lips and hands had turned blue, and they'd like for me to come take a look at him.  So I, filled with medical knowledge and ready to offer a qualified opinion, something along the lines of 'Yes, that is blue', raced over to the daycare, terrified and shaking in fear.
By the time I reached the day care, his color had returned.  I was both grateful for this and terrified of the uncertainty.  I called the doctor's office, and they recommended I take him to the ER.  So off to TC Thompson we raced, one hand on the steering wheel, the other on Caleb.  You can guess as to whether I spent more time looking forwards or backwards on that frantic drive downtown.
Once there, we waited.  And waited.  I was filled with anxiety, while Caleb simply wanted to play.  Rachel soon arrived, and we were both filled with fear and uncertainty.  Caleb only had energy.  Our child was banging on the windows of the room, flirting with all the nurses.  He was the kid everyone looks at and wonders why he was there at all.
It wasn't too long before the doctor walked into the room, and an amazing thing happens when the doctor enters the room.  The doctor's authority immediately begins to allay your fears.  Your anxiety slowly slips away, because your child is suddenly in the hands of an expert.  If anything is wrong, here is someone you can trust who can fix this.  You place your trust in the doctor's authority, even if you've never met him or her, and all is made well.  We were immediately relieved.
Caleb is fine.  They did all the tests and concluded that everything is probably fine, that it was probably a one-time event with an unknown cause, and that we need not worry.  Easier said than done, but there is no need for concern.

Today, we're going to talk about authority.  It's what we recognize when a doctor walks into a room.  They carry that authority with them, and we react to it—emotionally, physically, mentally.  We trust them.  We let them lead.

There are different types of authority in the world.  Today, we’re going to talk about kingly authority. 

Now, a king is someone who comes to rule over you.  A king is someone with power, someone accustomed to being in control, someone accustomed to everyone else deferring to them.  A king isn’t someone who necessarily spends a lot of time with the people, trying to figure out what they want.  A king is someone who tells the people what they want.  A king rules over.

Now, people in that day were used to being ruled over.  The Roman empire had come with their war horses and chariots and dominated the land.  There was no question about who was in charge in Rome—they had come to announce their reign, and they did so with power and authority.  The people were not to protest, or they would be risking their very lives.  The emperor demanded their allegiance, and the people gave it, though not willingly.
So the people were looking forward to a Messiah, but they expected this Messiah to come in the same manner by which the Roman emperor came.  They expected a display of might and power, a king that would liberate the people from their bondage.  This king would rule over them, but it would be their king.

So when Jesus shows up, riding a donkey to signify his reign of peace, the people have a very clear set of expectations.  Jesus, however, has expectations, too.

When Jesus is carried into Jerusalem, he is making a bold claim.  Remember, the Roman empire very much has Jerusalem under its thumb, and it doesn’t have any plans on giving away the keys to the city.  But Jesus enters boldly anyway, making a counterclaim to the people and to their hearts.  Jesus has come to institute his kingdom here on earth, but rather than do so on a warhorse with an army behind him, his kingdom looks differently than what the people expected.  Jesus is not just another ruler that has come to dominate over the people.  Jesus doesn’t want the people to offer their allegiance out of fear—Jesus has come to love the people, and he wants the people to offer their hearts in return, to love him, to love God.

And unlike other rulers, Jesus is willing to be vulnerable, to pour himself out, in the hopes of winning the hearts of the people.

Other rulers, those who rule by strength and might, will never show vulnerability.  But your place in their kingdom is to be under them.  In Jesus’ kingdom, your place is beside him, with him.  Christ has come to share his power, his love and his righteousness.  Christ has come to institute a reign of peace.

Notice what happens when Jesus arrives—the whole city is in turmoil.  Know when else the city was in turmoil?  How about Matthew 2:3, when Jesus was born.  Or 27:51, when Jesus dies.  And again in 28:2-4, when he is raised from the dead.  When Jesus arrives, the city is stirred up.  His kingdom is at hand, and the powers of the world will resist it.

The question is, how will you respond to Jesus’ bold claim on your heart?  How will you reply to the king who has come to rule? 

Will you deny him Lordship, preferring instead to be king in your own realm, preferring your own kingship and authority to his?  Plenty of people choose this option—they like to think they are in charge.  They like to believe that there is no authority over them.  This works pretty well until things fall apart, as they always do. 

Will you acknowledge his reign but prefer to keep him at a safe distance, afraid of what might happen if you offer him your whole life?  This is another option, and it’s not as far from the first as some like to think.  It’s pretty easy to choose this route—these are the people lining the parade route, waving their palms and cheering for Jesus, but whose hearts are twisted and far from God when Friday comes and Jesus is crucified.  These are the people that like the idea of a Savior, but who ultimately aren’t interested in what it means to live within God’s kingdom.  Satan stands at a safe distance during Palm Sunday, watching the emotions of the crowd, knowing the emotion will fade and with it, their allegiance. 

Or will you choose the third option, the one that God longs for us to choose?  Will you choose to let Jesus reign in your life?  Will you let him be king?  Will you recognize what kind of king he wants to be—a king who doesn’t want your blind allegiance, but who wants your heartfelt devotion?  Will you see the one who comes and is willing to be vulnerable, willing to ascend the cross and die for your sins?  Will you recognize the price that he pays for your freedom, and will you return your life in gratitude?

Jesus comes for the lost, for each and every one of us.  He rides into the city on Palm Sunday, into the city that is waiting to crucify him, waiting to punish him.  He rides in not with the power of the world at his back but with the power of the kingdom of God, power that is not used to rule over and dominate but rather to free and to love.  Christ rides with this power, and the city is in turmoil, quaking in uncertainty. 

Palm Sunday is just a beginning.  It is the beginning of his reign, a reign that will pass through death and hell, a reign that will last forever in heaven.  The amazing fact is that Christ comes for you in your sin and invites you to reign with him.  He invites you to take part in building his kingdom.  It is a kingdom not like any in this world, the kingdoms that are built with human hands and strength and will fade away in time.  God’s kingdom knows no end, and Christ boldly rides into Jerusalem to announce the reign of peace that comes with his kingdom.

Will you join him?  Will you join with Christ in his project of renewing and redeeming the world?  After your loud hosannas have ended and there is no evidence of the parade, will you still worship him?  Or, as your passion fades, will you drift from your true king and find a smaller king, a king of this world, and let that reign until you see how foolish it is?

Let us pray

Friday, March 22, 2013

Luke 13:22-35

Dear Theophilus,
This idea of yeast is an intriguing one to me.  This line of inquiry started out as a niggling thought, squirming its way into my consciousness each and every day until I finally allowed it to triumph over me and I began my investigation.  It was a small thought, a minute curiosity, that has turned into a full-on quest to discover the truth about a man who had barely crossed my mind some years ago.  A small nugget, a kernel of yeast, has led us here, and who knows what might happen from here.  There are times in which I am convinced that God is real, that the sense of him is almost tangible, and yet there are moments, days, weeks, in which I am certain that there is no God and that even if there ever was, he has abandoned this world long ago.  I see chaos rising in the world, people killed senselessly, and I wonder where God is.  Wouldn’t now be an ideal time for a return?  Why wait, and let more people die needlessly?  We need hope.  I am not sure I am bold enough to hope in Jesus’ return.
I have news of a question that was asked of Jesus, a question that has been on my mind ever since we started this exchange.  On his way to Jerusalem, in some nameless village, someone asked Jesus if only a few will be saved.
I would imagine that our natural inclination, our human hope, is to wish for the short answer of no.  But you and I both know by that Jesus never gives a short or easy answer when the opportunity arises for a longer teaching!  His reply is below.
There exists a narrow door by which many will seek entry.  They will fail, and yet you are to strive to enter by this door.  Imagine the door to a house that has been shut—when you are knocking at the closed door, begging for the Lord to open it, he’ll reply by saying that he doesn’t know your origin.  You’ll say that you dined with him and watched him teach, but he will call you evil and say that he doesn’t know you.  Imagine your pain when you see Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and the prophets in God’s kingdom and you are excluded.  You will scream in misery.  Others will come, from every cardinal direction, to eat in the kingdom, including many whom you do not expect, some you would put as the last, as the dregs of society, while many of the elite, whom you would put first, are last.
I know, Theophilus, that I shouldn’t still be shocked, but I can’t help but open my eyes wide as I read such accounts.  I don’t know what this narrow door is, but it sure sounds to me like it’s the better place to be!  The life Jesus describes on the outside of God’s kingdom seems awful and painful, especially the knowledge of who else has gone in while you are stuck outside, banging on the door while your pleas fall on deaf ears.  I think this all goes back to our recent conversation—that it’s not enough simply to eat with him, to listen to him—he wants more than that from us.  There is a deeper commitment we must make than only to hear him.  To be honest, though, I wish he’d just come out and say it plainly!  If he could describe the narrow door a bit more clearly, I sure would appreciate it, and I’d probably be able to seek it out a little better.  Instead I find myself scratching my head wondering if a good, ethical life is enough, or if there’s something more I need to be doing.
While I scratch my head in response to his teachings, there were Pharisees who knew that his teachings would be explosive.  For as many bad things as we’ve said about Pharisees, it’s evident that some cared deeply for him and his mission.  In this instance, just after he’d concluded the previous teaching, some warned him that he should leave, for Herod intended to have him killed. 
Me?  I’d be grateful for the warnings and flee for my life, not wanting such a powerful foe nearby.  Jesus almost seems to enjoy such an adversary, dancing just beyond the reach of the sword, perilously close to losing his life.
Rather than thank the Pharisees for their warning, he sends them back to Herod, who he calls a fox, with a message that he will continue to cast out demons and cure people for the next two days, and that his work will be done on the third day.  He then talks about how he’ll be on the way, because he can’t be killed outside of Jerusalem, a city he laments for its past history that includes killing prophets and stoning others who are sent there.  Jesus lovingly describes the city as a people that he wants to gather beneath him, like a hen hovering over her chicks, offering them the protection of her wings.  Theophilus, this is a sweet image, but it seems insane to love so deeply a city with such a reputation for reviling those sent on its behalf!  Jesus then concludes his message to Herod by telling him that his house remains, but he will not see Jesus until the appropriate time, when he will say, the one that comes in the name of the Lord Is blessed.
I cannot imagine what Herod will make of such a message.  It seems designed to further confuse the man, which will probably only irritate him more.  It doesn’t sound like a message from a man who is very concerned about Herod, which is odd considering how much power Herod wields.  Perhaps this is evidence that Jesus is not stable, that he’s not sane, and thus his teachings are the product of a lunatic?  The thought has crossed my mind before, and while it seems callous to accuse the man of such a thing, I cannot avoid the thought, friend.  There are many moments when it seems as though he exists in a different world and the present one which he inhabits can be another reality.  His words confound me, as they seem to have done to many of the original listeners, and perhaps the problem is not mine but his. 
I apologize if you think ill of me for reaching such a conclusion.  I do not mean to provoke you with such an accusation, but I must give voice to the thought that dogs me.  The man is simply an enigma, and every possible reason must be probed.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

3/21 E-News


Men's Breakfast—Saturday! We'll have pancakes and eggs, so come hungry. The weather looks... exciting, so we won't plan on much outside work.

Playground Dedication & Easter Egg hunt—Sunday, March 24 @ 12:15. We'll also have a hot dog social, so feel free to bring hot dog side items to share! (It looks like those prayers for sunshine didn't work very well. Perhaps we just weren't location-specific enough... I suppose the sun will be shining somewhere.)

No Wednesday Night—Next Wednesday, due to Holy Week, there will be no Wednesday night supper. Please skip directly from Wednesday lunch to Thursday breakfast.

Community Kitchen Spot
There are a lot of hungry and homeless children of God and the community needs some help feeding them. If you would like to help out, please bring the following items to church this Sunday & put them in the grocery cart.
8 oz. Styrofoam bowls

New Hope News

Sunday School—This Sunday, the adult class will study Ephesians.

Easter Schedule—Maundy Thursday, March 28 @ 6:30. Sunrise Service: 6:45. Cantata @ 10:45

Pray For:

Christine Dyer

Pray for those who do not know Christ.


Keith's Random Thoughts

Today, the NCAA tournament begins. To be honest, though, I'll probably only watch the next four days. I think they're the best sports days of the year—there are always multiple games on, and it's usually wildly exciting and unpredictable. A team's entire season comes down to 40 minutes, and when the game comes down the wire, it can come down to one minute, one possession, one shot. Everything is on the line.

It's easy to start to believe our faith is like that. We think it all comes down to one decision, one action, one choice. There are people who live their entire lives regretting one moment, believing that they blew their chance to be loved by God. There are other people who refuse to forgive, who keep other people consigned to one decision, one identity, one moment in their lives. We boil everything down to singular moments.

The reality is that you are constantly growing in Christ, and we're not always growing in the right direction. Oftentimes, we start growing in the wrong direction, and God prunes us, sometimes painfully, so that we'll cease growing toward sin and grow back toward grace. John 15:2 tells us that God prunes branches so that they'll produce more fruit. No one likes to be pruned, but it's necessary at times, however difficult it may be.

Luke 2:52 says Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor. We're called to do the same—to grow in wisdom as we grow in years, so that we're not the same in ten years that we are today. You aren't defined by one moment or one decision—you are defined by God's grace and his love. In Christ, we are a new creation, and we recognize that sin no longer has power over us. We will continue to sin, but Christ's grace is abundant. To continue to wallow in the misery of past sins is to deny that Christ's grace has forgiven and overcome them. Let us live as a people set free for Christ. Let us grow in grace, allowing forgiveness, of ourselves and others, to dwell over those moments of failure and sin in our lives.

Text for this Sunday
Matthew 21:1-11

When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, ‘Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, “The Lord needs them.” And he will send them immediately.’ This took place to fulfil what had been spoken through the prophet, saying,
‘Tell the daughter of Zion,
Look, your king is coming to you,
humble, and mounted on a donkey,
and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’
The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting,
‘Hosanna to the Son of David!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!’
When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, ‘Who is this?’ The crowds were saying, ‘This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.’

New Hope on Facebook & Twitter
New Hope on iTunes

Luke 13:10-21

Dear Luke,
I understand.  I hope you know that I understand your frustrations.  This is not an easy thing that you have set out to discern, and Jesus does not always make it easy for us to understand him.  Some of the questions you ask are the same questions I ask when I gather with other Christians.  I do not believe that following Jesus requires stunting intellectual growth or giving up on any opportunities to ask questions of what we believe.  I have found answers to many of your questions, and those to which I have not found answers I have come to peace with not having complete knowledge.  I trust Jesus, which means that I am more like a child—when he is doing or saying something I cannot grasp, I am willing to let it lie, to trust that he is working towards something good.  I will ask plenty of questions, and I will doggedly seek answers to some of them, but others I let go, trusting him.
As to what you perceive as threats, I hear them as urgent pleas for people to turn to God.  It is two sides of the same coin, but as one who has found peace with God, I am prone to be more lenient.  I believe that life is a perilous thing, that just as that tower crashed and claimed eighteen lives, our own lives can end today or tomorrow without warning.  We do not have any guarantees, and Jesus is reminding us of this by saying that we need to choose to follow God while we still can, because there may not be a tomorrow for us to use as a day of decision.  I, too, am flummoxed by Jesus’ lack of a return, for I thought he would be back by now, and while I accept that it may be some time yet before he returns, I do know that I am called to be ready, called to have repented and turned my life over to Christ, so that whether he returns or I die, I am prepared to meet him as a sinner who has repented.  Maybe Jesus is trying to strike fear into people, but the thought of eternal separation from God is, to me, a pretty scary thing, so perhaps some fear is justified.
I will not try and answer all of your questions, Luke, but I will be honest about what I believe.  I believe that Jesus is the only way to peace with God, and I don’t want to dance politely around your sensitivities and not claim that exclusivity.  I hope you respect that.  I will do my best to respect you and your search, and to let you dwell in the uncertainty that comes with any honest search of a difficult topic, but I also want you to be clear about where I stand. 
I have news of yet another healing.  It is a controversial one, if you will believe it, for some were very upset and who and when Jesus chose to heal.  In this case, Jesus was teaching in a synagogue one Sabbath when a woman who had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen long years appeared before him.  It’s a dramatic scene to picture, the woman bent over before Jesus, his compassionate eyes turned towards her, and the crowd waiting to see what would happen.  They didn’t have to wait long, because Jesus’ hands soon found her, and he declared her free as she stood straight up, praising God for a healing she had waited almost two decades for.  I am sure the gasp of the crowd was lost in her shouts of praise, but even those who had seen him heal others must have been amazed by what he had done. 
All, however, were not making a joyful noise!  The synagogue’s leader chose the path of indignation, exhorting the crowd to be angered because Jesus had healed this woman on the Sabbath day, rather than using one of the other six days of the week as the time to do this work.  I imagine the plea to the crowd fell upon some deaf ears, but perhaps some were talking themselves into this man’s line of thinking when Jesus rebuked him.
Hypocrites!  Oxen and donkeys you are not afraid to lead to the water to drink on the Sabbath, and yet this woman, a daughter of Abraham, is to spend another day as Satan’s prisoner because it is the Sabbath?  Should she not be freed?
Jesus’ opponents had no answer to him, and they were filled with shame at what they had said, a shame made even deeper as the crowd continued to rejoice because of the things he was doing.  The few opponents were so insistent on resisted his every action, but they could not compete with his vast intellect and ability to overwhelm their petty arguments against his compassionate acts.
It’s easy to look at these acts as small feats, little victories against the forces that oppose Jesus.  But Jesus teaches about how God works through small things.  He compares God’s kingdom to a tiny mustard seed, planted in the ground, that grows into a tree whose branches are filled with nests and birds.  He also uses yeast, something tiny that a woman might knead into a large amount of flour that has an effect that far outweighs its size. 
Jesus is teaching us that God’s kingdom may not always appear dramatic at first, and we may not grasp the whole truth at the beginning, but it grows and grows into something far greater than we might expect if we let God do a mighty work.  We may not understand how it all works, but Jesus assures us that it does indeed work if we trust in God.
I hope this helps you in your anxiety and frustration, Luke.  May you come to peace with your questions, and may you trust God to turn a small seed into something marvelous in your life.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Luke 13:1-9

Dear Theophilus,
You say that Jesus brings harsh words to the people out of love.  This reminds me of so many things my father used to say while disciplining me.  He would constantly tell me that he loved me while offering discipline that, seen from the outside, would look cruel.  As a child I hated the punishment and found his words to be contradictory.  As an adult, I understand it all.  Perhaps this is the same with Jesus—words that seem cruel are truly loving, meant to encourage a crowd in a certain direction.  Or maybe they are just cruel, harsh words, spoken out of frustration to a crowd that will not follow him.  I don’t know, Theophilus, but I will admit to wearying of these frustrating passages in which I cannot follow the trail that Jesus leaves for me.  I get lost in his words of warning and prediction for actions that may or may not come.  I do not believe I can live each and every day with pregnant anticipation for cataclysmic and decisive events that may or may not come.  It has been years since Jesus walked on this earth, and in those times, what evidence is there to show that his return is imminent?  Many have predicted the actual day, and all have been proved wrong.  What if that’s because he isn’t returning?  I cannot help but harbor these thoughts as this plays out. 
Today, I have received word of more teachings of Jesus, and they are not any clearer to me than many others.  I feel as though I wander a dark corridor, momentarily stepping into areas of light, but mostly just wandering through darkness, the awareness of walls serving as boundaries but little knowledge of what is ahead.  Jesus talks about death and the fate that awaits those who do not follow him, but I will admit to sometimes hearing these words as threats or fear tactics.  It’s hard for this man to grasp all of this, friend, and my frustration sometimes boils over.  If Jesus was who he says he was, why not just come out and show us?
I have learned that there were some individuals asking Jesus about the time when Pilate mixed some of the Galileans blood in with their sacrifices.  Jesus, however, didn’t pander to their question—he instead asked them if the suffering of these particular Galileans indicated that their sins were worse than anyone else.  He then tells them that only repentance will save them from a similar fate!  He uses another instance, the tower of Siloam collapsing and killing 18 people, to teach the same lesson—that they were not worse sinners, and their fate will be the fate of all who choose not to repent.
Maybe I just don’t like being called a sinner, or perhaps I feel like I am not as bad as others, but I don’t like being lumped in with everyone by such blanket statements.  It’s hard for me to believe that my life is so bad that I’ll be banished forever simply because I am not perfect or am skeptical about the claims of Jesus.  Am I not a good person, Theophilus? 
Jesus seems to be issuing ultimatums left and right in these teachings.  He tells of a fig tree that produced no figs for a man for three years.  The man told the gardener to cut it down so that it would no longer waste the space in the garden, but the gardener convinces the man to give it one more year, one more chance, to produce some figs.  The gardener then fertilizes the fig tree, and we are left to wonder if it bore fruit in its final chance. 
I see what Jesus is trying to do here.  I am supposed to be the fig tree, given one more chance to do the right thing.  Maybe I’m not a fig tree, Theophilus!  Or maybe the season is not right.  Or maybe I just don’t respond kindly to threats.  I don’t know, friend, but I’m frustrated with this language.  Perhaps I am just tired.  Please don’t give up on me yet, but I trust that you can see and understand the reasons for my frustration.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Luke 12:49-59

Dear Luke,
These are indeed tough passages for someone sitting on the fence, as you describe yourself.  Jesus is advocating urgency, and yet you have promised to fulfill your search with patience, believing that this will give integrity to it.  I agree with you, and yet I, too, wonder about urgency.  The first disciples felt a greater urgency than we, for they expected Jesus’ return at any moment, but in the years that have passed the urgency has faded some.  We do not know when Jesus will return, but we believe it is as he said—we are to live as though he may return at any moment.  I cannot say that it will be today, or tomorrow, or before I perish.  All I can say is that I believe he will return, and I hope to be counted as ready when he does.  Do not delay your decision any longer than necessary, but do not let pressure force you into a decision you are not ready to make.  You have heard the warnings from the mouth of Jesus against unprepared discipleship.  Make sure you are ready to commit all of your life to Jesus before wandering onto this way of life.  Anything else would be foolish.
We have discussed at length how polarizing Jesus can be.  At one moment he is the picture of love, and then in another he is talking in such a way that those on the fringes of the crowd would depart believing his message to be far too harsh.  Perhaps it is better that they do, lest they become a half-hearted disciple, but to only hear the divisive sayings of Jesus is to get an incomplete picture of the man and the transforming message that he brings.  In this next instance, Jesus tells the crowd that his purpose of coming involves bringing fire to the earth, and he even expresses an interest in having it already there.  I get the sense that he is anxious for the fulfillment of his purpose, for he says that he is under stress for the baptism he will undergo to be completed.  We discussed his baptism some time ago, and so he clearly indicates another event, a far more trying one that will divide people, for he tells people that he has not come to bring earth peace, but instead division.  It won’t be just social groups or friends, but families—fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, extended family, too.  They will be divided, one against each other, on account of Jesus.  It’s hard to picture at first, but it’s no different than what happens in many families today.  When some choose to follow Jesus, their families will turn their backs on them, casting them out, refusing to associate with them.  Some do this out of anger at one for turning their back against family tradition, while others do it to protect their family from those who seek to harm Christians.  For whatever reasons, families will fall apart because of Jesus. 
Jesus goes on to tell the crowd to look around and pay attention.  They are so good at knowing that clouds in the west indicate rain, just as a wind from the south brings heat, but their readings of the earth and sky leave them short, for they seem to be unable to see and understand everything that is happening at the present time.  Jesus has given them enough signs for them to understand exactly what’s going on around them, but many behave as though they cannot see, not because they can’t, but because they do not want to.  They are not prepared for everything that Jesus is indicating will happen, and while they may believe that they can ignore it, Jesus indicates otherwise. 
Jesus concludes this section with an interesting teaching about two people going before a judge.  Jesus urges the two people to make peace on the way, lest the judge allow you to be thrown in prison and forced to pay every penny.  I believe this relates back to the teachings about being ready—we should settle our disputes now, rather than put them off, believing that we will be vindicated in the end when we defeat others.  I think Jesus is teaching us that we need to be focused on God rather than petty things.
Luke, I won’t pretend that I would have understood all of this had I been in these crowds.  I can’t say that I understand it all now.  But I believe Jesus to be the Son of God, and I trust that all of these things I don’t understand will be sorted out by him in the end.  I trust him.  Jesus brings some harsh words, but he does so because the loves the people so deeply that he wants the best for them, and so often people have a history of ignoring what’s directly before them and living with hearts filled with willful ignorance, refusing to believe what some part of them knows to be right.  I don’t want to try and say that I’m superior to you or smarter than you, I have just seen all the facts, heard all the stories and chosen to believe.  When you have heard all that you need to hear, may your decision be a faithful one, and may it lead you to the abundant and true life.