Sunday, May 26, 2013

More Like Jesus: Crucified & Risen (Sermon for 5/26/2013)

Romans 6:1-14

  What then are we to say? Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.

  For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin.

  For whoever has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

  Therefore, do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. No longer present your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and present your members to God as instruments of righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.



Let’s be honest—uncertainty is hard for us.  We like to be in control of things.  Fear, at the root of it, is the admission that we’re not in control.  I have a fear of heights, but it’s not really a fear of heights.  It’s a fear that whatever height I’m perched upon might somehow give way when I am upon it, leading to a fall to my death.  If you could guarantee that I wouldn’t fall from whatever perilous height we were talking about, I wouldn’t be afraid of it. 

When we’re not in control, our minds have a tendency to trend to the worst.  School ended this week, and whenever I think of the end of the school year I am forced to remember the end of 5th and 6th grades.  It was a bad two year run for me.  The last day of 5th grade was supposed to be a celebration of leaving elementary school.  This was before they had graduations for absolutely everything—our day care even has graduation—so we were just going to spend the day playing.  Instead, we spent the day huddled in the school basement as a tornado passed by far too close.

Then, in 6th grade, I spent the entire night before the last day of school terrified because I hadn’t bothered to do a book report on Anne Frank.  I don’t remember the exact details, but it was a hectic last week of school and I hadn’t bothered to do this report, and this led to me in bed in the middle of the night terrified that I was going to fail 6th grade, stay in middle school forever and never make anything of my life.  We can safely say I carried this just a bit too far.  In both instances I was not in control, and I was scared.

We don’t have a lot of control in this life.  Often, things just happen.  I went to the dentist the other week and ended up having a biopsy done on something that was growing in my mouth.  I went from worrying about flossing to worrying about dying pretty quickly.  As it is, the biopsy was negative, so Rachel can stop looking for better options, but it doesn’t take much for us to realize how little control we have. 

The storms in Moore, Oklahoma are just another reminder to us of how little control we have.  They are terrifying, and every parent’s worst nightmare is being away from your kid and not being able to shield them from harm.  Just the pictures from Oklahoma are terrifying.  This is a mile wide tornado with winds of 200 mph that was on the ground for 22 miles.  It will make you feel pretty out of control pretty quickly.

In times like this, we look to the heavens and we wonder.  We know that God is in control, and so we wonder how and why all this happens.  We wonder what the big picture is, what the answers to our questions are.  We long for certainty and confidence with which to face our fears.

When we talk about baptism, I think it’s healthy for us to talk about fear and uncertainty, too.  Church isn’t a place where you aren’t allowed to be afraid.  We don’t tell the greeters at the door to turn away anyone with any fears.  We don’t look down on you because you’re uncertain.  What we can do is dive into the Biblical text and see what it teaches us about fear, to listen to its words about uncertainty, to learn about the root of our fears and look to the One who created us and who we believe is bigger and more powerful than anything we fear.

One of the best ways to defeat fear is through knowledge.  When we don’t know we’re afraid.

What’s scarier than a spider in front of you?
A spider that was just in front of you, but now that you can’t see.

You don’t know where it is.  That creates fear, because you imagine the worst.  When I learned that it’s incredibly rare to die from a spider bite, even a poisonous spider, my fear of spiders lessened.  When the doctor tells me that the disease I have isn’t that serious, my fear lessens.

So notice the tenor of Paul’s words here in Romans. 
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death.
We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed.
We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again.

Paul has confidence in his theology, and with good reason.  When Paul was converted on the Damascus Road, he received direct revelation from God.  God has given him the wisdom to write this.  God has revealed himself to Paul so that Paul might enlighten others.  In going blind, Paul had the eyes of his heart opened, and his knowledge now dispels the fear of others.

We all fear death in some way, shape or form.  This is the fear that finds us when we’re waiting on lab results.  This is the fear that lingers close in the middle of the night.  This is the fear that lurks in times of natural disasters.  We fear the end.

So what Paul is telling us here is that, in baptism, our understanding of death has changed.  In Christ’s death and resurrection, the landscape has completely changed.  Death no longer has power over us—rather, God has demonstrated his power over death.

So what happens in baptism?  We are joined with Christ’s death.  This is the awful, horrible scene at Calvary, when Christ endured pain and suffering that he did not deserve and died the death that we deserve.  What Paul is saying is that in baptism, that becomes our death, too.  We join in with him in his death, and what that means is that we, too, are dead to sin.  It doesn’t have power over us.  It doesn’t determine our fate.

Because we are joined into Christ’s resurrection, too.  Just as we are united with him in his death, we are united with him in resurrection, too.  In baptism, your eternal life has already begun!  You have already died, and therefore, you need not fear death.  And Paul says that we know this!

There is no uncertainty to fear.  There is no ambiguity about what we do when we are baptized—we know that we know that we know that our old self, the self caught up in the chains of sin, has been nailed to the cross to die.  We also know that we know that we know that Christ’s resurrection is for us, too.  We are free from sin and free for eternal life.  Paul says that whoever has died is free from sin.  And if we’re dead to sin, that means we’re alive to God.  We have been buried, and now we truly live.

So each and every one of you who has been baptized has died.  On the cross, Christ died the death you deserved, and you joined in with him in your baptism.  Then, when Christ was raised from the dead, you, too, walked out of that tomb into new life. 
So you don’t have to fear death.  You’ve already been there.  You can’t go back.
What now? 

Paul closes out with a little paragraph that starts with the word ‘therefore’.  This is what should follow, Paul says.  You shouldn’t ever be comfortable with sin—don’t let it in.  Don’t let sin guide you to places God doesn’t want you to go.  You have been saved from eternal death—let your life reflect your gratitude to God.  Be an instrument of righteousness.  You are under grace.  Let grace guide your steps.  Follow God’s will, not out of fear, but in gratitude.  Let hope and wonder and worship lead you.  Give your life back to God and offer yourself to your neighbor.

Live in the joy of the empty tomb, rather than in fear of the death that once lurked within.  Death has been destroyed.  In baptism, you have been raised to eternal life.
Thanks be to God.
Let us pray

Thursday, May 23, 2013

May 23 New Hope E-News


Church WebsiteYup. It's not working. I'm pretty sure I know why, I'm definitely sure I'm not happy about it, and I think there isn't much we can do about it. Stay tuned...

Church Parking LotIt's beautiful. (Well, it will be when it's done. Which hopefully will be soon. Until then, be aware that not all parts of the parking lot are easily accessible.)

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.
Plastic Spoons
Paper Napkins
8 oz. Styrofoam bowls

New Hope News

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

Church Office—Will be closed Monday, May 27.

Pray For:
Lynn Meyer & Christine Dyer

Mary McMillan

John L. Wright


Keith's Random Thoughts

24 people died in Oklahoma due to the tornadoes this week. The pictures are heart-wrenching. What can be said in the face of such chaos and destruction?

It seems like we've been asking that question a lot lately. Between the violence of nature and human's violent nature, we're constantly wrestling with big questions in the face of death and pain.

It's amazing to think that the Bible gives us plenty of opportunities to examine just how people respond to pain. If I were to make up my own religion, I think I'd omit all those parts where the people are in despair and misery. I'd certainly not have the leaders of that religion be in pain. I can't imagine inventing a God who is familiar with pain.

In the Bible, some people hurl big questions at God. Others weep and wail for the lives that are lost. Others demand a response from the people, while still others fall on their face and worship God. It seems as though there is no simple Biblical response to suffering, which makes me feel better about my often complicated response to suffering and pain.

When Caleb is upset, what he really wants to know is that we care. He is very careful to throw tantrums where we can see them, to seek us out when he is crying. He's figured out by now that we're not always able or willing to fix what ails him, but he does want to know that we will not turn a blind eye to him.

To be honest, I want the same thing from God. I want to know that God cares. I believe that God will bind up all my wounds and redeem this broken yet beautiful creation in the distant future, but what I really want when I'm hurting is to know that God loves me and wraps me in his arms, even when he isn't going to fix it for me.

In our response to the pain and suffering of others, we show them that we care and, I believe, we demonstrate that God cares. Kevin Durant, who plays basketball in Oklahoma City, gave $1 million to tornado relief. People were instantly impressed (and rightly so) by the fact that he cared enough to give such an amount. You may not be able to give such a sum, but the part you play still matters, because it communicates to others that you care.

As Christians, we join in God's mission when we reach out to others. We show God's love. We can't answer a lot of big questions, but we can remind others (and ourselves) that the God of the universe cares for each and every one of us, loving us as though there was only one to love, as Augustine said.

Text for this Sunday
Romans 6:1-14

So what are we going to say? Should we continue sinning so grace will multiply? 2 Absolutely not! All of us died to sin. How can we still live in it? 3 Or don’t you know that all who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 Therefore, we were buried together with him through baptism into his death, so that just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too can walk in newness of life. 5 If we were united together in a death like his, we will also be united together in a resurrection like his. 6 This is what we know: the person that we used to be was crucified with him in order to get rid of the corpse that had been controlled by sin. That way we wouldn’t be slaves to sin anymore, 7 because a person who has died has been freed from sin’s power. 8 But if we died with Christ, we have faith that we will also live with him. 9 We know that Christ has been raised from the dead and he will never die again. Death no longer has power over him. 10 He died to sin once and for all with his death, but he lives for God with his life. 11 In the same way, you also should consider yourselves dead to sin but alive for God in Christ Jesus.

12 So then, don’t let sin rule your body, so that you do what it wants. 13 Don’t offer parts of your body to sin, to be used as weapons to do wrong. Instead, present yourselves to God as people who have been brought back to life from the dead, and offer all the parts of your body to God to be used as weapons to do right. 14 Sin will have no power over you, because you aren’t under Law but under grace.

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Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Luke 23:50-56

Dear Theophilus,
It is indeed a terrible scene, a fate I would not wish upon my worst enemy.  I cannot bear the thought of looking upon the cross, seeing a broken and beaten body there, suffering such a terrible death.  He certainly did not deserve it, and I hope that those Jewish leaders felt pangs of regret for the rest of their lives for what they had done to orchestrate his death.  Perhaps the tearing of this curtain helping move that guilt along. 
But what now?  There he is, dead upon the cross.  You speak of hope and life and forgiveness, yet the man who is supposed to bring all of those is himself dead.  What makes him different than any other person?  How am I supposed to believe all of those things when he could not even escape death?  Some evidence of his power in this regard would be helpful.  I can scarcely offer myself to a man whose story ends in such a fashion.  You say that the story does not conclude here, yet I find it hard to fathom where else it goes.  I have a reliable record that says a man named Joseph, from the place called Arimathea, went to Pilate to ask for Jesus’ body.  I don’t know too much about the man, other than that he was generally regarded as a good man, a righteous man, a member of the council who is said to have not been a part of the conspiring against Jesus.  It is said that he was eagerly awaiting God’s kingdom, and so he certainly watched Jesus with keen interest. 
He went and claimed the body, laying it in newly-hewn tomb after wrapping it in a linen cloth.  The women who followed and loved Jesus watched to see the tomb and the way his body was laid there, so that they might anoint the body with spices and ointments, giving it the proper and respectful treatment the body of a beloved deserves, rather than the disrespectful abuse it had received at the hands of the Romans.  They were required by law to rest on the Sabbath, and since this was just before it, they would not be able to treat the body until after the Sabbath.  Their wait must have been torturous, as they were surely encompassed by mourning and wailing for the death of the man they loved.
That is what I know, Theophilus.  I do not imagine we have omitted many details.  What more is there to say?  I know you have many thoughts about the life of this man, but his death seals my ears to any more of them.  I simply cannot choose to place my faith in a man who, while performing extraordinary miracles, dies in such an ordinary and awful way.  This last act destroys what confidence I might have had in him and leads me to conclude that perhaps he was not the intriguing singularity I was beginning to believe that he was.
I am sorry, friend, but I cannot offer my faith to placate you, even though part of me would like to.  It is simply beyond what I can do.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Luke 23:44-49

Dear Luke,
Again, Luke, you are missing the point.  Jesus did not come to amuse and amaze—which is certainly what would have happened had he descended from that awful Roman torture device, meant to make execution as painful and prolonged as possible.  Jesus came to transform, to save the world from sin—and only death could pay this price.  While climbing off the cross was possible and would have saved a few, his death was necessary to save many.  As for how the story ends, Luke, I promise you that the end is not quite as near as you may believe.  Hope is not lost, my friend, despite the fact that it shines quite dimly at this particular hour of our adventure.
Around noon, darkness descended over the entire land for around three hours.  I wonder how many connected the darkness with the crucifixion of Jesus—I doubt many did, but surely some looked upon the man on the cross, believed by many to be the Son of God, and feared the ramifications of his death.  Perhaps the darkness even swayed some to believe.  Either way, it was indeed humanity’s darkest hour—we hung the perfect Son of God on a cross, killing the one who was meant to save us.  It had been prophesied long ago that we would do so, but that does not make the actuality any less sad.  It is an awful truth, Luke, and when I think of his innocence and humanity’s guilt, even my own sin, that led him to the cross, I have to pause and collect my thoughts, for it is surely overwhelming. 
As the sun’s light was failing, the curtain in the temple was rent in half.  This curtain served to separate the holiest part of the temple from the rest of the temple, and such an event would have thrown the entire temple into a tumult.  Chaos would have ensued, and many priests would have prayed fervently.  I take it to mean that access to God was no longer controlled in the temple—that because of Christ, we all had access to God.  There was no more curtain. 
Jesus, having hung upon the cross for hours, life draining from him, found the strength to cry once more.  His words were those of a man pierced by the nails and the hatred of his enemies, and yet within him there was a love fiercer than you or I can fathom.  Luke, the breadth and height and depth of God’s love is more than you or I can imagine.  God loves you enough to hang on the cross for just you, I believe.  He dies so that each and every one of us might have the chance to be forgiven, to be saved.  There was a centurion there by the cross who witnessed the death of Jesus, and he was moved as he heard Jesus say, Father, I offer my spirit into your hands.  With those words life went from him, and the centurion offered, to no one in particular, the confession that Jesus was innocent.  He then went on to praise God.
The rest of the crowd, having spent their time mocking Jesus and offering him nothing but hatred, returned to their own homes beating themselves, perhaps not fully aware of all that had happened but knowledgeable enough to know that it had been significant.  Jesus’ friends, including some women from Galilee, watched from a distance, sorrow holding firmly onto their hearts. 
There on the cross, the dead body of the Son of God, sent to save the world, hung for the world to see.  There, on display, was evidence of the totality of man’s power—to kill and destroy, to take life, even from those who do not deserve it.  Jesus Christ died on the cross.  Many would say it was because the Roman Empire had sentenced him to death due to the convincing arguments of the Jewish leaders.  I know better.  It was because he loved humanity enough to suffer and die on our behalf, taking the weight of our sins upon his shoulders and paying the cost that we could not afford to pay.  He gave his life so that all who believe might have life eternal. 
He died for our hope, Luke. 

Monday, May 20, 2013

Luke 23:26-43

Dear Theophilus,
What a horrible scene you describe.  Religious leaders, who I always imagine should be promoting peace, calling for the death of a man who dared to oppose them.  A Roman leader, giving in to their demands and sentencing a man to death, even though he doesn’t believe the man guilty of any crime that justifies the sentence.  It’s awful.  I don’t know how Jesus stood for it if, as you say, he had the power to flee that place. 
It’s all so hard to understand—you say that he had to die in order for the price of our sins to be paid, and yet I, too, wonder if there wasn’t another way.  Surely, if God is so powerful, another way in this wilderness could have been made, right?  It all seems so barbaric.  I never asked anyone to die for me—and yet you say that dies for all.  I don’t know how to respond to such an act, Theophilus.  I should be grateful for it, and yet it seems so unnecessary that he should die in such a manner for so many people who did not know him, even for those of us who are not particularly bad people.  Is my life so contemptible that I require the death of an innocent man to transform it into a good thing?  I have never thought so.  And yet you say such a thing is necessary even for people like me. 
While I may be confused about this whole path of events, the Jewish leaders had no such troubles.  Delighted at the condemnation Pilate had offered, they led Jesus away, grabbing an innocent bystander along the way so that Jesus, already beaten, tired and weakened, would not perish on the way to his crucifixion and deprive the leaders the joy of watching him suffer while elevated on such an awful invention.  I do not know the origins of crucifixion, but I can scarcely think of a more barbaric tool that elicits more suffering and pain than that one.  It is as though the Romans believed that it was not enough just to kill a man—they had to break his soul along the way. 
If the leaders had any doubts, I’m sure they displayed none, just happy to get their way and have Jesus out of their hair.  Simon of Cyrene, the bystander enlisted to carry the cross, followed Jesus as they made their way to Golgotha, known appropriately as the Skull.  Along the way, many people followed in the procession, all of them curious, some of them furious.  Jesus had gained such a public reputation for all that he had done in Jerusalem and the surrounding countryside that his death would not be a quiet, unnoticed event.  Many would come to see, and of those, a great majority would weep and wail, for they had been captivated by his teachings and moved by his miracles.  Doubtless, some of those who had been healed showed up to see the tragedy unfold.  Some of these women were beating themselves and wailing loudly, but Jesus addressed them directly, calling on them not to weep for him, a single man, but for all their daughters and sons, for Jesus said that a day would come when people would say that those who could not bear children, the barren with empty wombs and un-nursed breasts, would be blessed rather than those with many children.  In those days, Jesus says, hope for the future will be so dim and the present misery so difficult that people will implore the mountains and hills to fall upon them and cover them, becoming a tomb in which to end their misery.  Jesus then asks rhetorically if they will weep when the wood is still green and cannot be burned, what will their response be in a time when the wood is no longer green?
Upon their arrival, Jesus was hung upon the cross between two common criminals.  His hands were nailed to the crosspiece and his feet nailed to the vertical beam, then he was elevated for all to see.  Meanwhile, his clothing was distributed among his captors by gambling, as they cast lots for it in the hopes that it would be a piece of valuable memorabilia.  It’s reported that, upon reaching the height at which he would die, he prayed an astonishing prayer, one asking for forgiveness on behalf of his executors, claiming they did not know what they were doing. 
It’s hard to support the claim that they didn’t know what they were doing—they’d been plotting this for some time, although one could certainly make the case that their bloodlust and hatred blinded them.  You, Theophilus, would argue that they didn’t understand themselves as hanging the Son of God on the cross.  It’s hard for most of us to understand how God would let such a thing happen—many in the crowd that day felt the same way.  They wondered why this man who saved so many others through rich and wondrous miracles couldn’t save himself.  They felt that such an act would be a proof of his identity as the Messiah, God’s chosen.  The soldiers, too, joined in to such questions, but rather than posing the questions among themselves they mocked Jesus with their questions, calling upon him to save himself, since he was the King of the Jews.  Someone even though it would be a nice touch to hand a sign upon the cross labeling this weakened and dying man as the King of the Jews, perhaps as a hint to all those around about who the real King was and what might happen if you challenged him. 
Jesus could not find peace even in these last hours.  Even one of the criminals hung upon the cross beside him mocked him in this manner, imploring this man to save himself as well as the criminals if he was the true Messiah.  The world didn’t understand, Theophilus, any more than I do.  Death seems so unnecessary, so unnatural, if his identity was truly as he said it was.  What an amazing display that would be—to see the man descend from the cross for all to see!  Surely, many more would worship God, right?  I’d be impressed!
The other criminal didn’t join in this mocking.  Rather, he took Jesus’ side, asking the other criminal if he had any fear of God, since his condemnation was the same as this innocent man, who had committed no crime.  He admitted that he and the other criminal deserved the death they were receiving, but he knew that Jesus did not, and as he neared his own death he asked Jesus to remember him when Jesus entered his kingdom.  An odd place for a conversion, Theophilus—apparently the sight of a beaten and bloodied Jesus was still enough to create faith in this man. 
Jesus responded with a promise that the criminal would join him in paradise that very day, but it seemed a promise unlikely to be fulfilled, given the present circumstances.  I see three men, dying on a cross with a crowd around them to observe such horrors.  Jesus, who apparently has power to descend from such heights, uses none of it and continues on toward death while the crowd awaits a miracle that would make all things clear. 
I see no hope in this present situation, Theophilus, and I struggle to see how a religion could have formed around this man, much less one that would exist more than a week beyond a rather demonstrative and final death.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Pentecost Meditation for 5/19/2013

Acts 2:1-13

  When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.

  Amazed and astonished, they asked, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.’ All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’ But others sneered and said, ‘They are filled with new wine.’



  Before we pray, I'd like to say a few words about Pentecost.

  I read a great article in Christianity Today about Bible translations, and the author was making a point about the act of translation.  In translation, you're converting something that was once unintelligible into a format that the listener or reader can understand.  You're translating an idea into their acceptable format.

  Think about world travel.  When we travel to foreign countries, it is often the case that we cannot speak the language.  It becomes very, very difficult to navigate basic directions and restaurant menus.  We look for familiar words, but it is very easy to get confused and frustrated at your lack of understanding.  If you know the language, however, it is easier, and the foreign world in which you are immersed is instantly more comfortable.  The same is true if people speak English--you cease to be intimidated and can relax, letting your defenses drop.  Foreign concepts are understandable.

  When we think of God, we have to recognize that God had to translate himself for us to understand him.  We do not have minds capable of grasping the reality of the God who exists outside of time and space.  We cannot fathom how God works or how great God is.  Since there is no common language, God must translate himself.

  We find that God has done this for us--in the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ, God translates himself into our humanity so that we can understand him.  So that we can understand and grasp the reality of God's love, Jesus Christ ascends the cross and dies for us.  This is an act of translation, of making God's love something we can grasp.

  Scripture, too, is an act of translation.  Scripture is a translation of the work and majesty of God into words that we can read and understand.  The notions and concepts of the faithful life are on the pages of Scripture.  God's amazing acts are cataloged so that we can grasp a notion of who and how God is.

  When we approach Pentecost, we recognize this as another moment of translation.  We recognize that Pentecost is a time when the truth of salvation is translated into every language available.  Somehow the Holy Spirit uses the witness of the apostles to carry the message into the hearts and minds of the thousands who are gathered in Jerusalem.  God takes the truth of Christ and translates it into every language so that all people can come to know Christ as Savior.

  So we're going to pray in a moment, and I want you to think about what we do when we pray.  One way to understand it is this:

  If you've ever used Google Translate, you've noticed a little flaw.  When you translate something from English into whatever language, you get the closest translation possible.  It's not always possible to translate something perfectly, just as our words always fall short of perfectly describing God.  Often, what happens next is you try and translate that sentence back into English to check it for errors, and this is often where you get a result far different than what you are trying to say.  The translation doesn't always work as it should.

  Our lives work in a similar fashion.  When we read Scripture, we get a picture of what a faithful life looks like.  Often, though, sin works in and distorts our efforts, turning us from God and into ourselves.  We end up focused more on ourselves than on God and others.

  Prayer, then, is part of our effort to re-translate our lives.  We recognize the errors we have made in translating God's truth into our lives, and we hold up our efforts to God and ask for guidance and wisdom, for strength and mercy, so that our translation errors might be fixed, so that our lives might be better translated back into the original.  We worship and praise God for his mighty works and his mighty love, and we ask him to help guide us in re-translating our lives, that they might faithfully point to God as they are supposed to do, rather than pointing at ourselves in sin and self-worship.

  Our prayers are our attempts to re-translate our lives, and we pray for the Spirit's help in doing so.

  Let us pray

Friday, May 17, 2013

Luke 23:13-25

Dear Luke,
That’s precisely what makes this story so powerful!  Jesus doesn’t run or flee!  Even though neither you nor I could escape the unruly mob or the Roman soldiers, we would still try, or we would beg and plead with Herod or Pilate that this crowd was crazy and we were innocent.  We might get flogged or beaten, but not put to death—and that would be enough.  Jesus, however, goes through it silently, like a lamb before the butcher, not speaking up to save his own life because his mission wasn’t to save himself—it was to save the rest of us.
I know you struggle to see this story as any bigger than one man, but surely his silence has to make you curious.  You wonder why he doesn’t try to save himself like any other man would, right?  You wonder why he would be so willing to die before the false accusations of his enemies, right?  It seems crazy to us to let others condemn us to death without at least trying to make our own defense.  But this is exactly what Jesus does because it’s the path that he knows is necessary.  He goes down the path that no mortal man could travel—the path to the violent and public death of an innocent man, all for the sake of someone else—for you and I and for everyone else.  This was the only way to erase the stain of sin upon the soul of humanity, to make a path in the darkness that we have created by our selfishness.  Jesus needed to die on the cross for us to live beyond on our own death, to have hope in the face of despair, and so Jesus was willing to go.  Only a love greater than we can imagine could compel a man to travel this route.  So see Jesus’ silence not as a mark of weakness or despair, but rather as a certainty that this would not be the end of the story, as confidence in the power of a love greater than one you have ever known.  Let your curiosity of the man drive you to an admiration of the Savior.
Jesus found himself before Pilate once more.  I cannot imagine that Pilate was particularly pleased to see him.  He had probably thought himself so clever for dismissing this problem before, but it has resurfaced, and he was determined to now put an end to this sudden disruption.  He did not, however, foresee Jesus’ alleged crimes ending in death, and he gathered the religious leaders to explain this to them.  He told them that his examination, as well as the examination of Herod, has not found Jesus guilty of any crime that would result in the death penalty.  As an offering to them, however, Pilate did say that he would have Jesus flogged before he was released.
Thinking that his statement would mollify the leaders, he must have been surprised at the passion with which they responded.  With indignation in their voices they cried for Jesus to be sent away and Barabbas released.  Barabbas had been previously jailed for both murder as well as taking place in an insurrection earlier, and the Jewish leaders were willing to tolerate such a man if his release was the price to pay for the death of this enemy. 
Pilate did not have the heart to condemn Jesus and wanted to release him, but over his objections to their anger he only heard the response of the crowd, a unified voice crying out for the crucifixion of Jesus. 
Pilate, not to be deterred, cried over their voices, asking them what evil Jesus had committed that might justify the death sentence.  He once more stated that Jesus would be flogged and then released, but the loud and boisterous voices of the crowd eventually swelled to such a crescendo that Pilate gave up his resistance in the face of their bloodlust.  Barabbas was released as the leaders had demanded, and Jesus was granted the guilty verdict that he did not deserve, condemned to a painful and torturous death on a cross, and handed over so that the verdict might be fulfilled.
Luke, I cannot describe the feeling that sits in the pit of my stomach as I recount these details.  It is beyond awful, and while the physical pain of crucifixion gives me pause, the real seat of my horror is the passion of the religious leaders in demanding this fate for Jesus.  He opposed them throughout his ministry, and when it all came to a head they were willing to trample over him so that they might rid themselves of this nuisance.  He had become a source of grief to them, and so they used every tactic they knew to release themselves of his presence.
In all of this, he stood silently by, letting the events run their course, knowing that death was his fate.  It had to be this way, Luke—in order to atone for sin, a blood sacrifice had to be made, and it could no longer be just an animal sacrifice.  That might atone for the sins of one man, but in order to offer salvation to all mankind, it had to be the Lamb of God, the perfect Son of God, the sinless Savior who came to earth to die so that we might live.  I ask myself a thousand times why he had to die, but in my heart I know that only sacrifice could take away the sins of the world.  There was no other way, and so I give thanks that Jesus walked this path, even though it makes every part of my soul ache to picture him standing there, silent, while the leaders cry out with vehemence for his death.  He died so that we might live, Luke, and I hope that my life is a worthy offering of gratitude.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

May 16 E-News


Kids' Musical—Sunday!!!!


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.
Plastic Spoons
Paper Napkins
8 oz. Styrofoam bowls

New Hope News

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

Pray For:
Lynn Meyer & Christine Dyer

John L. Wright

Jacob Geerlings, who graduates from Columbia Seminary on Saturday

Those in the midst of change, welcome or not


Keith's Random Thoughts

The Powerball lottery is apparently up to $475 million today. No one won the measly $350 million last night, so we're ratcheting up the stakes. (I can't help but wonder what would happen if they said, “We're going to leave it at $350 million, because that's more money than anyone needs anyway, and give the other $125 million to various homeless shelters around the country, because that money will make a bigger difference there.”)

Of course, every one of us instantly thought to ourselves about exactly what we would do with $475 million, because that's how we work. I haven't got it all spent, but you could leave messages with suggestions that I would be happy to return when I got back from Bora Bora. (We're called to enjoy the beauty God has created in this world!)

The reality is that you're probably not going to win. (Best I can tell, the odds are about 1 in ~175,000,000)

But that doesn't mean that all those thoughts have to go to waste.

As Christians, when we think about the ideal life, it should be different than how others think about the ideal life, because we believe that it's not all about us. We believe that the goal of life isn't a life of luxury and ease, but a life that joins in with the work God is doing to expand His Kingdom. When we sin, we typically do so to advance our own kingdom. When we are faithful, we are looking to the Holy Spirit for guidance on how to live for God's kingdom. When we are living at our best, we are considering what God has in store for us long before we are considering our own plans and designs. We look to God.

And Scripture tells us that wealth is not bad unless we covet and treasure it. If you are rich, the Bible says in 1 Timothy, you are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous and ready to share. Wealth can enrich the entire community, the entire world, if it is used responsibly. A lottery windfall might support missionaries in the field as they proclaim the Gospel. It should support the local church, and it can also support other missions. It can bless others who are in need of money and stressed out by the lack of it. A windfall can bless so many people in so many ways, doing much to advance the message of the Gospel in the world.

So dream your big dreams. And then look at the list you've come up with. I promise that there will be a few things on that list to keep you busy while you're waiting for the lottery company to call and give you the good news. Whether it's giving time or money, I bet we can all take steps deeper into the generous life if we are willing to share the blessings we have now, be it our health or our wealth, rather than just wait until the oversized check arrives in the mail.

Text for this Sunday
Acts 2:1-13

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.’ All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’ But others sneered and said, ‘They are filled with new wine.’

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Luke 23:1-12

Dear Theophilus,
My hands tremble as my eyes race across this parchment.  My heart sags as Peter’s strength fails him, and yet somehow I am amazed that Jesus knew exactly that such a thing would occur.  I, too, join your dismay at the crowd’s anger and willingness to exact their revenge upon a man in their power—each blow sickens me as I think of the man’s innocence.  The leaders certainly take great pride in their position, unwilling to admit that they might be in the wrong.
But why doesn’t Jesus resist?  Aren’t we supposed to struggle and fight for our own lives?  Why couldn’t Jesus show them his power at this moment, drawing them back in awe as they realize who it is they are condemning, helping them see how wrong they have been?  Couldn’t the man who was strengthened by angels blind them with glory unexpected?  I would have wanted to fight for my life, and he goes meekly to death.  It is beyond my comprehension, Theophilus.  I doubt this is the last time I will say that.
The assembly, now certain that Jesus had blasphemed and needing someone with more power than they had to condemn him to death, took Jesus before Pilate, offering their accusations to him.  They accused him of everything from portraying their nation falsely to ordering them not to pay their taxes to Rome, as well as claiming to be the Messiah.
Pilate, undoubtedly intrigued, asked Jesus the same question—are you the king of the Jews?  I doubt the Romans would take kindly to anyone else claiming to be king.  The pages of history don’t reveal them to be a very generous people in that manner. 
Jesus, however, offered the same answer that he had given the assembly—you say so. 
Pilate, lacking the man’s own words to condemn him, told the crowd that the accusations they had made seemed baseless to him.  Theophilus, you can imagine how angry this made the crowds!  They were so determined to be rid of Jesus that they were not about to let some Roman stop them from destroying the prey they had within their hands.  The crowd told Pilate that his teaching was stirring up the people throughout Judea, from Galilee to Jerusalem.
At the word Galilee, Pilate’s ears perked up.  He saw a way out of this—for if Jesus was a Galilean, then Jesus’ fate belonged in the hands of Herod.  So Pilate sent the disappointed crowd on their way, for Herod was in Jerusalem. 
When the crowd presented Jesus to Herod, he was glad to see the man, for word had been circling for some time and Herod was hoping that Jesus might do some act or sign before him so that Herod could know for himself if the rumors were true or not.  Theophilus, I have to say that my attitude would probably be similar to Herod’s—I’d ask Jesus to prove who he was, too.  So Herod was probably quite frustrated, as I would have been, when he questioned Jesus for some time only to be stonewalled.  Jesus was not answering Herod’s questions, and the entire conversation was covered in the shouts and accusations of the other religious leaders.  Herod’s unsatisfied curiosity quickly turned to disdain, and he joined with his soldiers in mocking the man.  Finding no solution to the questions he had and unwilling to condemn the man to death, he dressed him in a purple robe and sent him back to Pilate.
It’s rumored that this event caused Herod and Pilate, once enemies, to become friends.  They both had a curiosity about Jesus and were both frustrated at their attempts to discover the truth of his identity.  I wonder if it would have been different had the crowd of scribes and Pharisees not been breathing down their necks.  No matter, I suppose.  You say that this is the path it had to travel, but I can’t help but see so many places where Jesus could have escaped.  Perhaps this does make the story all the more powerful—I can’t help but wonder what kind of man he was.  I would do everything in my power to save my own skin, but I see the story at the human level, rather than one that involves deities descending from heaven to save humanity.  My mind doesn’t expand, and so I silently implore Jesus to run, to flee, to save himself.  It’s what I would do.


Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Luke 22:55-71

Dear Luke,
Yes, I certainly do know what happens next and yes, I will be happy to include what it means, at least what I believe it means.  This is powerful stuff, Luke, and we’re at the heart of the story about Jesus.  We have reached his arrest and his death is drawing near, so near that his own heart was racing in anticipation.  The first half of his desperate prayer in the garden is probably the death of every man facing execution, certainly the prayer of anyone facing wrongful execution.  The second half is the remarkable part—that he offers his life up as a willing sacrifice if it is God’s will.  I cannot imagine such strength—to give my life because I believed it to be God’s will.  Even if I were so convinced, I could probably try and talk my way out of the arrangement!  As for the angel, I do not know whether that legend is true, but I would certainly need more than my own strength to get through the moment. 
The crowd’s anger does not cease once they have arrested the man.  The leaders of the crowd want Jesus to vanish from their lives.  They’d like this thorn in their sides removed, and they have riled up the crowd in order to assist them in doing so.  Indeed, Peter follows the crowd, desperate to know the fate of his teacher, his leader, his master and friend.  Here the story turns sadder still, when the words of Jesus are found to be true.
 I don’t think Peter had much of a plan when he set out to follow Jesus.  He probably wasn’t sure where Jesus was being led, and there wasn’t much he could do against an angry crowd that vastly outnumbered him, but Peter has always been a passionate actor more than he’s been a relatively level-headed thinker, so off he went in pursuit.  Upon arriving at the high priest’s house, someone kindled a fire in the midst of a courtyard, and Peter slipped into the crowd, believing himself to be unnoticed amidst the large number of people milling about, hoping the darkness would hide his identity. 
Alas, such dreams were dashed when a servant girl noticed him by the fire and announced to the crowd that Peter had been with Jesus.  Peter must have wanted to dive into the fire at that point, noticing every eyeball in the place turn to glare into him, to examine every feature to see if he was indeed worthy of having their anger poured out upon him.  Peter, panicking, said the first thing that came to his mind.
Woman, I don’t know him.
Surely, at that very instant, something deep within his soul leapt up and cried out, but he would not give it voice.  He could not give it voice.  To admit to such a connection would surely mean death, and his fear was stronger than his devotion at this point.  He hunkered down, hoping that all the attention would blow over soon.
But the storm had not yet passed.
Others had now began to examine him closely, and it wasn’t long before another identified him as one of the disciples who was with Jesus.  Each eye again turned to Peter, and stares bored into him as he turned anxiously before the crowd.  Once more, fear won.
I am not one of them!
Humans have a strong desire for self-preservation, and Peter’s was beating any preconceived notions he had insisted on before this moment.  The next hour passed slowly for Peter, each anxious beat of his heart felt like a drum that would announce his presence and true identity to a crowd desperate for action, for resolution.  By the end of the hour, he had started to believe that he would escape unscathed, but it was then that another insisted to the others that his identity as a Galilean meant that he must have been a disciple of Jesus.
I have no idea what you are talking about!
In that very moment, the night air heavy upon this burdened man, two things happened.  The cock crowed, triggering Peter’s memory, and as he recalled the words of Jesus from not long ago he realized that he had fulfilled the prophecy in his denials.  At the time, he had sworn that such a thing would never occur, but here he stood, weak and helpless, desperate to save his own life before a crowd, having denied Jesus not once, but three times.  Also, from another vantage point, the arrested leader, Jesus, turned to look at Peter.  This was too much for the man’s soul, and tears filled his eyes as Peter left the courtyard, weeping painfully at the thought of what he had just done.
Had Peter known the pain that Jesus was going through, his own trial around the fire would have seemed easy.  Perhaps his relative safety would have given him courage to face his accusers.  But he did not know that Jesus was being mocked and beaten by those who had taken him captive.  They poured out their pent-up anger and vengeance upon him, mocking his wisdom by keeping him blindfolded and asking him to prophecy and identify his abuser.  In all these things he kept silent.
It was a long night, and when morning came there was still no relief in sight for Jesus.  The whole assembly convened in the morning, with many of the leaders present, and they had Jesus brought before themselves and asked him to confess that he believed himself to be the Messiah.
Jesus, with confidence lingering in his voice, told them that they would not believe even if he told them, and they would offer no answers to any questions Jesus asked.  But he told them what would happen even if they would not believe—he told them the Son of Man would find his seat at the right hand of God.
The leaders then demanded to know if Jesus was the Son of God, but Jesus only said that it was them who said such a thing.  Hearing no affirmation from him, they decided they needed no further testimony, for they had heard enough from his lips.
Luke, this account saddens me beyond words.  It breaks my heart to see Peter, the devoted follower, denying any knowledge of Jesus, his friend and teacher of three years.  I cannot bear the image of the man blindfolded, mocked and beaten, knowing that others found humor in his pain.  It enrages me to think of the leaders, proud in their knowledge, questioning the man like a common criminal, determined to end his life and soothe their troubled hearts.  All of it is unfair, and yet Jesus went peacefully, like a lamb before the slaughter, willing to obey God’s will.  He didn’t fight and resist and condemn those who seemed to hate him.  He allowed their anger and rage to rule the actions, and in so doing he allowed himself to be condemned despite being innocent.
An innocent man will die in this story, and he’ll do so not because he was unable to free himself, but because he was unwilling, knowing that it was the only path to make it so that guilty men and women like myself would not have to die, but would find hope in this life and beyond death.  The wheels were in motion and Jesus would not disrupt them, despite the physical and mental burden that was heaped upon his broken body. 
All of this, Luke, he does for you just as surely as he did for me.  It was for Peter the denier and Judas the betrayer and every other person that has ever lived—it is mercy and love in action.  We, then, are invited to accept his love and Lordship.

Morning Prayer for 5/14/13

Bless this day, Lord
Is what I pray
At work, at school, at home, at play

Bless this day, Lord
Is what I pray
That I might somehow find a way
To serve you faithfully, passionately, fully
With my whole heart, mind, self
In the thoughts of my heart
In the words of my mouth
In what I choose to do
And what I opt not to

Bless this day, Lord
Is what I pray
That I might have your wisdom
That I might live Spirit-led
Following the narrow way
That I might see the world as you do
The treasures, first, and what to trash
That I might love my brothers and sisters deeply, as you do
That I might value relationships, service, love
And put away those things that shine
That will slowly fade away.

Bless this day, Lord
Is what I pray
Help me look to you
To see the cross
My sins washed clean
And never forget your love

Monday, May 13, 2013

Luke 22:39-54

Dear Theophilus,
Heavy times, indeed!  I can hardly imagine a room that would have been more somber.  Here they were, gathered for this feast, and despite the storm clouds gathering I anticipated it would have been a ray of light in the midst of that present darkness.  Instead, it seems as though there is more darkness than when they gathered.  Between betrayal and abandonment, I have to wonder about the selection of the disciples!  I know that you say all humans are designed that way, but it seems like it wouldn’t have taken much for Jesus to choose a few disciples that might have displayed a little more fortitude when the enemy bared his teeth!
Nevertheless, these are the men that Jesus chose, and I suppose he chose them for a reason, rather than just opting for the first twelve available men.  I do not know if any more conversation took place at the feast—I doubt that anyone had much to say after Jesus’ announcement that each and every one of them would betray him—so Jesus went, as he was used to doing, to the Mount of Olives outside of Jerusalem.  The disciples followed him, many of them certainly determined to prove to him that they would not fail.  Upon reaching the destination, he gave them a very specific instruction—to pray that they might avoid the trials that awaited. 
Jesus then went a bit farther and knelt down in earnest prayer.  He begged to God, calling him Father, for the cup to be removed from him, but in the midst of his desperate plea he had the humility to submit his own will, offering up his own life if it was God’s will.  It has been rumored that his own strength was failing and that he found himself renewed by an angel, causing him to pray even more fervently, so passionately, in fact, that his sweat was like blood when it splashed upon the ground.  I doubt such a detail, but perhaps it is true.  For a man who wonders whether or not God is even up there, it’s a bit much to imagine an angel offering strength to someone praying to him. 
Theophilus, I’ll admit that I’m a bit skeptical about prayer, and the next bit doesn’t do much to contradict my belief.  Having concluded his own prayer, Jesus got up and found the disciples, the determined eleven, asleep at the watch, exhausted from grief.  Jesus scolded them, asking them why they were sleeping, exhorting them to get up and pray as he had told them.
But it was too late.  Such prayers, if offered, would go unanswered, for a crowd appeared as the words still hung upon the crisp, evening air.  A crowd of any size would have been unexpected at this hour, thus the disciples had to be gripped by fear when they realized that the crowd was for Jesus, and for them, too.  Surely, they would have looked to Jesus for courage, and whatever strength he had, be it angel-sourced or not, seemed to have been transferred, for the disciples asked Jesus if they should attack with the sword.
One of them, not willing to wait for an answer in the face of the threatening crowd, raced forward and cut off the right ear of one of the slaves of the high priest, but Jesus stopped further violence with a cry, “No more!”  In a move more compassionate than most of us could ever imagine, he reached forward and supposedly healed the man’s ear, the slave of a leader of the crowd present to arrest him.  Such power used for such a small act of mercy in the face of one’s enemies must have left some sort of impression on the crowd, even a crowd as malevolent as this one.
At the head of the crowd was Judas, the betrayer, the disciple-turned-enemy.  He went forward to kiss Jesus, the signal in a dark place that this was their target, but Jesus confronted him, asking him if a kiss was how he intended to betray the Son of Man.  I have discovered no record of Judas’ reply, perhaps because it caught in his throat as he realized the totality of his actions. 
Jesus, surrounded by raging disciples and an angry crowd, could not help but ask the chief priests and other leaders of the crowd why they came armed with swords and clubs as though he were some violent criminal.  He reminded them that he had been in the temple daily, teaching peacefully, and yet they chose not to touch him there.  Yet under the cover of darkness, he offered, they found power in their time. 
They had little time or energy to listen to his words.  The crowd was angry and had a purpose, and with that purpose they seized him, leading him away like some trophy to the high priest’s house.  The disciples, that passionate crowd, determined to be faithful, are lost in this record.  The only one whom I could track was Peter, who trailed the crowd at a safe distance, ensuring he was not noticed but not willing to admit that all was lost.
Here we are, Theophilus.  These waters are above me.  My investigations lead me onto the Mount of Olives, where I find record of one who observed the man at desperate prayer, and I discover an angry mob, armed to the teeth, ready to strike the man down.  I am unsure what to make of all of this—I know that Jesus spoke plainly and openly attacked the leaders, but to bring an armed crowd under the cover of darkness seems extreme.  I know that you know what happens next, and I await your reply.  I find myself caught up in the story, but I am sure you will include what it all means as well!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Sermon for 5/12/2013. More Like Jesus: Outward-Focused

John 10:7-18
  So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep.

  I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”



The average child uses between 2,500-3,500 diapers their first year of life.  The numbers go down a bit in the second year, and potty training is somewhere between a great blessing and a trial by fire for the parents.  No one is sorry to see diapers go. 

Imagine, though, that your parents kept a running tally of every diaper they used, and when you were gainfully employed, they presented you with a bill, having calculated the cost of every diaper and the labor required to change it. 

Or imagine that your parents gave you a bill for the total cost of raising you.  I’ve seen surveys that peg the cost of raising a child to the age of 18 anywhere between $200-$300k, and that’s before you factor in college, an aspect of child-rearing about which Rachel & I are in denial.

You’d probably be somewhat taken aback by the size of the bill, but even more surprised that they were billing you for such a service.  That’s just what parents are supposed to do, right?

And yet, we don’t expect such generosity from everyone.  We had the alternator on Rachel’s car replaced this week, and when we picked up the car, I wasn’t surprised to get a bill from the mechanic.  I expected it, even if I wasn’t too fond of the size of the charge!  When I go grocery shopping, I don’t expect the food to be free, as it was from the refrigerator growing up. 

The mark of love is a willingness to stop counting the cost.  We don’t do a cost/benefit analysis when we prepare to change Caleb’s diaper, any more than my parents debated whether they were willing or interested in tending to my needs when I was a child.  When I was sick, they comforted me.  When I was hurting, they tended to me, even if there were other things they were more interested in doing.  They sacrificed, just as we will sacrifice for Caleb.  The relationship becomes more important than the needs of the individual in it.

This is what Christ is illustrating when he tells us that he is the good shepherd.  He’s trying to paint a picture for us of his love and devotion.

You may have guessed by now that a shepherd was not the primary path to financial stability in the 1st century world any more than it is today.  If you want to be rich and live in a fancy house, you’re probably not going to choose being a shepherd.  It’s not the most rewarding job, either.  It entails long hours and late nights, constantly watching sheep, animals that don’t always look after themselves well.  You have to keep watch for predators and make sure the sheep don’t overgraze a spot.  You watch the sheep to see if there are any injuries.  It’s not an easy job, and sheep have yet to find a way to write thank-you cards or take the boss out on boss’ appreciation day.  Shepherding is not the most rewarding profession.  I suppose you could take out a reward for yourself and eat the sheep, but that’s probably going to endanger your future career.

So why be a shepherd?

Because you love and care for the sheep.  Because you’re dedicated to the well-being of the sheep.  Because you want them to flourish, and you’ve stopped counting the cost.  You aren’t focused on making sure that you get your fair share out of it, and you’re focused on the flourishing of the relationship over your own needs.

Which is what we see in Christ’s love for us.

We could never make up the debt we owe to Christ.  God loves each and every one of us so deeply that he was willing to pay whatever price was necessary to redeem us from the bonds of sin and death.  We had run astray, pursued our selfish interests rather than a faithful life, and placed ourselves in clear and present danger of spending eternity separated from God.

But God, rather than let us wallow in our miserable fate, intervened at a huge cost to himself.  He had to watch his own Son, Jesus Christ, suffer and die at the hands of the very people he came to save.  He had to suffer the depths of hell and death in order to liberate us forever, and he paid the price we could not pay.  We were unable to pay such a price, just as a child is unable to repay his parents.

And God did it all at no charge to us.  We aren’t expected to earn such a reward.  We aren’t asked to pay God back.  God loves us so much that he gives eternal life and righteousness to us for free! 
It’s not even, is it?

But that’s what love is—it’s not even.  It’s not balanced.  It’s focused on the needs of the relationship, rather than on the selfish needs of the individual.

Christ compares the Good Shepherd to the hired hand.  The hired hand is the one who is more interested in his own selfish needs than the overall relationship.  When danger lurks, the hired hand turns tail and runs, focusing on saving himself.  The Good Shepherd is the one willing to put himself at risk for the sake of the relationship.  It’s a vast difference between the two.

When I look at the world today, I see a world that is focused on the individual.  We often find ourselves in isolated bubbles, and we are encouraged to pursue our own needs, often at the risk of endangering relationships with those around us.  It’s supposed to be about me and my needs, and you need to learn to live with that.  Self-giving relationships are on the decline.  Self-serving relationships are on the rise.  The rise of the ‘spiritual but not religious’ trend is directly in line with this idea—we get the notion that spirituality is about me and what I want, and you and your messy life are an irritating distraction, so I’ll stay home and keep this about me.  Religion serves me, and when it begins to cost me something, I’ll leave you behind.

 I believe, that if we as Christians want to be a part of what God is doing in the world, we need to think about how we emulate the life of the Good Shepherd.  Rather than being so inward focused, we need to focus on the life of Christ, which was about putting others first, even at expense and risk to the self.  We need to be washed in gratitude and awe for what Christ has done for us on the cross, and this gratitude should drive us to show this type of sacrificial love for others.

I think the world is hungry for this type of love.  People are so immersed in the self and expect others to pursue the needs of the self, that when they see self-giving love, they are struck by it.

 This is the type of love that drives an individual to show up in a classroom every day to teach kids that may not be great at showing gratitude, despite the fact that teaching is not a path to riches.  This is the type of love we celebrate on Mothers’ Day, the love that pours itself out for the child and never stops to count the cost.

If we’re going to be the faithful church of Jesus Christ, we need to be more focused on the people and world around us than on ourselves.  If we’re stopping to count the cost, we’re not emulating the Good Shepherd.  If we’re wondering about how it will affect us and what the cost to us will be, we’re focused on self.  Christ looked outward.  Will we, as New Hope Presbyterian, look outward, too?  Will we think about how we can show selfless love?  Will we give ourselves up so that others may thrive?  Will we go out into a world and be risk takers?  Will we leave what is comfortable to go to the unfamiliar so that others may know selfless love? 

Or will we seek to protect what we have?

We have a choice to make, about what kind of people we will be, about what kind of church we will be.  We can choose to make it about us, or we can opt to be Christ-like, to let his love transform us into agents of love in this world, selfless love that is more focused on how we can serve the other than what it costs to us.

Let us pray