Palm Sunday 2013 sermon on living with Jesus as our King, a sign of something better yet to come…
I feel challenged to continue to understand and live out our ministry in the world as defined by the Gospel and the Missio Dei (mission of God), not by every cultural debate and divide. Regardless of any Supreme Court decision, how will the church embody God’s righteous reign in and for the world? Jesus is Lord, not any political or cultural mindset. Both justice and righteousness matter intensely to God. Like Jesus we take our stand with and among real people where they live. But we actually kneel, submitting to God’s kingdom, confessing our own shortcomings as we profess a clear faith in God and enter into loving relationship with our neighbor. We cannot compromise God’s revealed vision of morality (but must confess that we, too, have failed) and we dare not compromise God’s revealed vision of love (even as we admit that we have in the past).
Jesus on the cross was demonstrating the incredible power of a new kind of love. Violently abused, he suffered for the sins of others. Tortured by an ancient military Empire, he suffered with conquered and marginalized people everywhere. Hanging on the cross he asked the Father God to forgive his enemies, for they did not understand what they were doing. Can we rightly live with anything else in our hearts?
In this week Christians call Holy, as we remember Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection, may we join Jesus’ continuing mission to embody the righteous rule of our loving God. May that be a surprising sign in our world of something better yet to come…
Palm Sunday worship: 10:30am
Good Friday Communion Service: 6:30pm
Easter Sunday- Fellowship Breakfast: 10am, Resurrection Celebration: 10:30am
This Sunday is Palm Sunday, beginning Holy Week. Christians around the world celebrate Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem for the last week of his earthly ministry. Jesus entered Jerusalem for the last time to shouts of praise and prayers for the deliverance of God’s people. Hosanna is essentially a Hebrew prayer for deliverance: something close to “Save, I pray!” The people longed to be delivered from Roman cruelty. And Jesus was arriving to set them free. But it was a different kind of freedom he came to bring. Jesus experienced the political problems that every resident of Judea and Galilee experienced. But he knew he needed to attack evil at its source: the stain of sin in the human condition. There would always be another conqueror, but there will only ever be one savior. Jesus was a king of a different kind, a king who would lay down his life, absorbing the full violence of an empire to set his people free from sin. Blessed is he who comes in the Name of the Lord to bring full salvation to everyone. From slave to emperor, from laborer to President, everyone needs Jesus. Thank God, he came to save us!
Yesterday was an interesting day. My first destination was interesting: the Jewish Federation of Northwest Indiana. A Jewish man who is a follower of Jesus and a member of our church invited me to a luncheon with an introduction to the Passover Seder meal. I felt extremely welcome as perhaps the only Gentile in the place. They were all interested in my ministry and family. It was a very meaningful presentation on the events of Passover and a sacred meal which remembers God’s mighty acts in delivering His people from slavery. Then we shared a lunch together loosely based on the elements of a full Seder meal. Nice. God’s theme of redemption did not begin in the New Testament and I gained a richer appreciation of God’s early redemptive work as recorded in the Old Testament. Everything in the New Testament builds on this foundation.
I got up from my chair and drove 4 hours to watch Iowa defeat Indiana State in the first round of the NIT. All the while, I was sitting next to one of my best friends. Lon is a Christian Counselor with ministry training who has a keen interest in theology and happens to be married to a girl my wife and I grew up with. It’s endless what we have to talk about. Our discussion turned to Rob Bell and the controversy surrounding his new book. If you know theology, my opinion is that Rob Bell is trying to be like Paul Tillich, a theologian from the 1950′s. He wore big plastic glasses and started writing a series of popular theology books. The most famous was The Courage to Be, which, in my opinion was very similar in topic and impact to the new What We Talk About When We Talk About God by Bell. Tillich’s book was not really aimed at academics. It wasn’t full of long footnotes because it was trying to have a conversation with the thinking public. He went on tours, gave lectures and became a pop culture icon. When he visited the campus of the University of Chicago it was pretty big news. TCtB focused on the sense of God that all of us have in common. It became part of a larger conversation. Frustrated many, encouraged others. So I think Tillich is Bell’s template. He’s talking past the academics, trying to speak to a different audience. Now that would be fine, but here’s the problem.
Since Bell left the pastorate he never mentions being part of a community of faith. A lot of Bell’s recent public comments seem to be based on how the church needs to keep up with the world “just because.” In talking about gay marriage he said “that ship has sailed” and the church needs to affirm people where they are. No biblical justification offered. So, while I’m not one of these alarmist people who freaks out every time Bell does something new, I am a bit more concerned about the foundation of his ideas lately. I would like to hear some public comments about how he’s attending a church and serving others and in conversation about the stuff in his books somewhere besides book signings. I’m not actually going to purchase and read this book until I know more about Bell’s context. But the man does know how to come up with fresh language for talking about what he believes. Preachers should take note of that.
This brought me to reaffirm a couple things I’ve always believed. First, what Christians believe has to be grounded in what we understand the Bible to be saying. We need to give the Bible authority to speak into our lives no matter what year it is, or we’re just making up our own religion. Second, what we believe has to be continually lived out with others in the church. We are called by Jesus to be a community. I’m naturally held a accountable knowing I’ll have to see my friends there who may ask me how it’s going. If I fail to attend, someone will notice and check on me. We all need that encouragement to be faithful. By being present and caring, I do the same for others. And when we have disagreements we can talk about it based on the Bible until we get it right.
You can’t really get Jesus in a package that doesn’t include the church. That’s what I’m talking about when I talk about God with my faith community.
Today’s Ashes to Fire reading continued in 1 Corinthians. Paul has established the value of the gospel and the honor due those who proclaim it. But now he gets more personal. He says his great privilege as an apostle is to forego his right to be compensated. He wants to offer the gospel free of charge. This is his reward! There is a secret among mature believers. It is better to give than to receive. Paul was blessed, probably through his Father’s tent-making trade, to supply his needs elsewhere. We don’t know for sure, but if Paul was single this is a little easier to comprehend. But either way it’s a beautiful way of being in the world.
Then he goes on to his larger point. For him, ministry isn’t a career, it’s a way of being in the world. And everyone he meets is someone for whom Christ was raised. He wants everyone, literally “all men”, to walk with Christ. And he’s willing to do anything moral to connect with them. He’s not even worried about the percentages! “That by all means I might save some.” (1 Cor 9:22b) it’s worth it to him to give his life to all that some might be saved. And he’s doing this as a believer, not as a clergyman. So it’s a way of living available to us all…
How precious is the gospel to you? How far would you go to see someone experience it? How far out of your comfort zone would you travel to help it be more real and relevant to someone who needs it? Do you see others who are going astray with compassion or judgment? Do you act with gospel compassion every time? Do you believe the same God could help you live that way? Since I do, I’m asking myself these same questions this Ashes to Fire season…
Paul goes on…
I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings
1 Corinthians 9:23 NRSV
PRAYER—Holy God, in your compassion and mercy, your light breaks forth in our darkness and your healing springs up for our deliverance. Sustain us with your bountiful Spirit as we rejoice in your saving help, in the name of Christ, I pray. Amen.
Beacon Hill Press (2011-09-01). Year B: Ashes to Fire: Daily Reflections from Ash Wednesday to Pentecost (Kindle Locations 731-733). Nazarene Publishing House. Kindle Edition.
Morning prayer from Ashes to Fire. The bright sunshine in Chicagoland made this seem so appropriate…
PRAYER—O Lord, govern my life by your wisdom, so that my soul may always be serving you as you desire, not as I may choose. Do not grant what I ask if it offends your love, which must always be living in me. Let me die to myself, that I may serve you; let me live to you, for you are the true life. Amen. (John Wesley)*
*Beacon Hill Press (2011-09-01). Year B: Ashes to Fire: Daily Reflections from Ash Wednesday to Pentecost (Kindle Locations 467-469). Nazarene Publishing House. Kindle Edition.
Eric Meyers seems right on the mark as a legit scholar pointing out likely identity of this latest “find”. Short version: move along, move along, nothing to see here…
It’s interesting to discover a tomb belonging to 1st century people but that’s about it. No real connection to Jesus of Nazareth or Joseph of Arimathea. If you read the very earliest Christian traditions, 1 Corinthians 15:1–11 (NRSV) you’ll see tradition already in writing within 2-3yrs of the resurrection. The very earliest Christians absolutely believed in the bodily resurrection of Jesus and paid for it with their lives. Eyewitnesses to the event are cited as still living at the time of Paul’s writing of this letter to the Corinthians. There were over 10,000 believers in this world-changing event within a few weeks of it occurring. There is nothing that could ever be discovered archaeologically that could overturn this reality. And no scientific methods exist to precisely identify 2,000 year old remains, if any were found. And without a sample, it would be impossible to compare it to the actual living Jesus. But in the meantime he can sell some books and get a TV show made. Below is the Bible passage, which absolutely proves there were not multiple interpretations of his death nor later theological traditions added onto the story of Jesus. The full Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John Gospels were written a bit later, but this letter by Paul is decades sooner and is referring to written tradition he received right after his conversion, which was right after the resurrection. They didn’t just believe it based on what they saw, they believed it based on the promises found in the Old Testament. So it was a very deeply rooted belief in the Scriptures as well as the testimonies. So there’s just no room for this Book/TV show’s understanding of early Christian faith. The history is just too documented. Instead, I think they’ve found a jewish tomb from the time with similar names… Greek inscriptions were very common for the time… Many/most Jews believed in the bodily resurrection that would follow the judgment so it’s not surprising for the hope to appear. Belief in resurrection in general is different than believing Jesus rose from the dead. That’s what was and remains the specific Christian belief since day one:
The Resurrection of Christ
(Cp Mk 16:9–20)
15 Now I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand, 2 through which also you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you—unless you have come to believe in vain.
3 For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, 4 and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. 9 For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them—though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. 11 Whether then it was I or they, so we proclaim and so you have come to believe.
1 Corinthians 1:4, 8-9 says “I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus…He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”
When I think of grace I think of olympic champions, nice ladies, and forgiveness. One thing all three have in common is a very great power held gently underneath. Grace is not just the unmerited favor of God. It is the power of a risen Savior pulsing through every fully-surrendered follower of Christ. In this Lenten season it’s not all about weeping over our weakness in the flesh. This Lenten season is about overcoming the world, the flesh, and the devil by the grace of God! The power of the Holy Spirit becomes active in every believer from the moment we receive Jesus. That power keeps working in us until we surrender all and a deep transformation takes place. Then that power keeps molding us into the image of Jesus for the rest of our days. Nobody is perfect, before or after encountering this grace. But perfect love is poured out in our lives. And that love can do more than we often think it can. Believe your life can change. The Kingdom of God is at hand! Repent and believe the Good News! John Wesley said it so well:
As soon as the grace of God in the sense of his pardoning love is manifested to our souls, the grace of God as the power of his Spirit is at work within us. And now we can perform, through God, … all things in the light and power of that love. (John Wesley, Sermon 11)
Beacon Hill Press (2011-09-01). Year B: Ashes to Fire: Daily Reflections from Ash Wednesday to Pentecost (Kindle Locations 431-433). Nazarene Publishing House. Kindle Edition.
Today we had a great worship experience as part of Ashes to Fire. After the sermon, where we received a new church member by profession of faith, we moved through three prayer stations reflecting on needed change in our lives.
First, we sat by candlelight and considered areas of temptation we’re facing right now. Most people wrote down areas of testing. Then we moved into the darkness. No lights. We sat and reflected on negative ways we cope with testing. These don’t lead us toward God. They don’t really help at all. In order to grow we must make the choice to leave these behind.
When people were ready, they moved into the light, kneeling at the altar and praying Psalm 25 to the Lord. It was powerful to see people taking tangible steps toward God. There was a strong godly presence in the light.
Then a bunch of us went ice skating! Church life can be like that. We just gave the ashes of past sinful patterns to God. Now we were floating on ice to rhythm of happier music.
Ashes to ice. It’s not a bad place to begin the journey. Can’t wait for the FIRE!!!