Monday, April 26, 2010

Heaven: It Starts When We Meet Jesus

Preached on Sunday, April 25, 2010

Scripture Readings: Psalm 139:1-18; Second Corinthians 5:1-10; Luke 23:32-43

A boy was walking down the sidewalk on Main Street in Washtucna and he was about to pass a man coming the other way. The man stopped and asked the boy where the Post Office was, and the boy said, “Well, right now the Post Office here is closed for repairs. You’ve got to go to Hooper. You’ve got to go east on highway 26, and take a right at the first sign to Hooper. Then you keep going till you see the town exactly on your left. Turn left at the next left. Then turn left again. And then go to the white building straight ahead of you.” The man thanked the boy very kindly and said, “I’m the new pastor in town, I’d like for you to come to church on Sunday…I’ll tell you how to get to Heaven.” The boy laughed and said, “Aw, come on now; you don’t even know the way to the Post Office.”

Directions are a kind of map composed of words. Sometimes it’s a challenge to give clear, concise directions. My first summer here I worked in the harvest for the Nunamakers, and one time I got some difficult directions of where to drive my wheat truck. Over the radio Bob said something like, “Go just past where the old granary used to be and turn up that draw.” Bob’s directions were based on a picture of the place that he had in his head, but it was an old, old picture, and I didn’t have a copy of that picture.

Directions are a kind of map, and maps are a kind of picture. The Gospels are pictures of Jesus. They are moving pictures that show who Jesus is, and what he did, and what he promises to us. In a sense, the Gospels are maps and directions to Jesus; to what he teaches us, and to what he promises us.

There is a sense in which the picture, in Luke, of Jesus on the cross, talking with the thief who asks for help, is a map to heaven. It tells us how to get to heaven, and it tells us the timetable of heaven, and the core nature of heaven. The picture, in Luke, of Jesus on the cross is even a picture of heaven itself.

It is also a picture of hell. The picture of Jesus on the cross is a picture of two things. It is a picture of the earth at its worst and a picture of God at his best.

The cross is a small picture that sums up a big problem. The cross boils down all the very worst things that the world is capable of: violence, cruelty, ruthlessness, injustice, lies, the greed for gain and power; the tearing apart of families (Jesus from his mother, for example). Hypocritical religion is there in the picture; the determination (like that of Pontius Pilate) to play it safe at all costs and go along with the crowd; the mutilation, abuse, and suffering of the innocent; and much, much more. All this is visible in the picture of the cross and those who were involved in the raising of that cross and nailing Jesus there.

Earth was intended by God to be a place of peace; peace with God, peace with others, peace with one’s self, peace with the created world. It was intended by God to be a physical heaven, a natural paradise.

But the first humans wanted to be independent from God. They were willing to listen to the voice of the serpent (the voice of hell) in order to establish this new world for themselves where God would not be in charge. (Genesis 3:1-6)

And so it was. They opened a door, and hell came to earth, and entered human hearts, even our own hearts.

We live in a wonderful world that mirrors the glory of God, a world where people can get glimpses of God in the creation, and in the faithful loving relationships of family and friends. It is a world where people help to make each other’s lives better. But we also live in a world where hell can make its entrance.

Just like Adam and Eve, we can play our part in the entrance of hell into the picture of people’s lives. And other people do the same. Other people bring us great gifts of commitment, and encouragement, and patience, and the vision of what could be possible for us. And they can snip away at our souls with little spiritual knives and scissors. And we can do just the same to them. And we really do.

The picture of the cross points beyond our personal, individual lives, to show what we are as a human race. The cross of Jesus, as a human thing, is a blot on the whole of humanity. It shows in miniature what races, and nations, and classes of people do to each other and to the innocents of the world.

And this picture is the map to heaven, because our route to heaven must begin in hell. This is where the dying thief comes into the picture. He saw the hell around him and the hell within, but he saw something completely different in Jesus.

There was a sign nailed above Jesus’ head that labeled him as the King of the Jews, and the thief knew that the people who hung that sign there didn’t believe it. It was the accusation of treason and blasphemy against Jesus.

But the dying thief saw in Jesus that the sign told the truth. Jesus was the gracious king who forgave his enemies from the cross and offered them his salvation and his healing even when they didn’t seek it.

The dying thief saw the hell around him, and in his partner; and he saw it in himself. He knew that he had played his own part in the world that was now killing him and also killing Jesus. He saw that he had nothing to offer someone like Jesus.

He also saw that Jesus, in his forgiving those who played a part in his cross, had something to give him. Jesus could deal with the hell that lived and worked in him. Jesus could take up his case, and pardon him, and change him, and transfer him into the kingdom of God.

As much as I hate to say it, it is true that, for us, our heaven begins with our hell. We must understand the nature of the world we live in and the part we play in it. Even if we thought that we stood apart from the world that crucified Jesus, we must admit that we need grace and mercy because we become so absorbed in our own lives and have so little ability to change the world and the people around us.

Maybe we have already seen who Jesus is. We have seen that Jesus is the king who can forgive us. Jesus is the one who make the difference in us by the power of his Holy Spirit, and with Jesus we find a way to play a bigger part in the work of his kingdom in the world. But often we find that we work in the opposite direction.

Last week, on a very nice spring day, I was doing some personal errands in the Tri-Cities. I was driving south on highway 395 in Kennewick, near Fred Meyer, and I was driving with my windows rolled down. I stopped at the red light and a man in a van stopped in the lane next to me, and his window toward me was rolled down.

I heard a man shout. It was the man in the van and he shouted at me to ask me what road this was, and I told him he was on highway 395. Then he asked me if he could get to Ellensburg that way.

Well, we were going southwest, and Ellensburg was northwest. I quickly thought, in milliseconds before the light changed, that he could possibly get to Ellensburg if he went the really long way round: a very long round-about way indeed.

The man must have read my mind, and he asked if he was going the wrong direction, which of course he was. At that very moment the light turned green, and all I had time to do was yell: “You need to look at your map!”

When we are traveling though a beautiful world that is sadly infected with hell, Jesus is not only a person. Jesus is a spiritual direction. At first the turn offs may not be clearly marked, but there are roads that will take us in the direction of Jesus.

The roads that hell builds all go in one direction. The roads to Jesus go the opposite way. We need to see where we are, and turn completely around, and look for the signs to Jesus. And, when we see Jesus for who he is, we have to turn there, or anywhere else we go will take us the wrong way again.

The dying thief didn’t confess his sins directly to Jesus, but he did confess them in his heart. And he spoke his confession past the face of Jesus, to his partner in crime on the other side of Jesus’ cross.

And the dying thief was hanging on a cross at the time. He was wearing his confession for all to see. What he truly was, was thoroughly exposed. That is also part of the way to heaven. The cross was the obvious “hitting bottom” for that man, although it never hit his partner (who was in the same predicament and went right on standing up for himself and blaming Jesus for not getting them all off the cross).

The repentant thief didn’t bargain or argue with Jesus. He knew he had nothing to bargain with, and no grounds to argue. He just offered himself to Jesus’ care. “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” (Luke 23:42)
He was asking Jesus, as his king, to judge his case. He knew that Jesus knew that he was guilty. The repentant thief was tired of hell, and trusted that Jesus would give him something better than what he had; something better than justice; something better than what he deserved.

Jesus said, “Truly I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43)

The word “today” is linked to “paradise” (heaven) and not to the day on which Jesus was speaking to the man. There is no place in any of the gospels where Jesus uses a phrase like, “Today I tell you.”

Jesus, on the cross, would have been struggling for every single breath. For Jesus, on the verge of death, to be fancy and say “Today I tell you,” would be to waste words and waste precious breath. But “today in paradise” is not a waste of words or breath. It tells us clearly when heaven begins. Heaven begins whenever today is.

Heaven begins for us at the same time it began for the dying thief. It began for him that very day Jesus spoke to him, and he closed his eyes, and his lungs sank in, and he sagged on the cross for the last time. The world where hell had swirled around him, and inside him, went dark and the light he had seen in Jesus on the cross came on, and there was Jesus with him still, and there was heaven with Jesus.

It is like the words of the Psalm, “If I go up to the heavens you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol (the realm of death) you are there.” (Psalm 139:8)
Where the Lord is, there is heaven.

“With me,” is the other key phrase. “With me,” tells us what heaven is. Heaven is being with the Lord. The death of our body is no obstacle to our being with the Lord. Paul says it: “Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. We live by faith, not by sight. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” (2 Corinthians 5:6-8)

This is very straight forward. There are passages in the Bible that compare death to sleep. All that this sleep means is that the body stops and is still. But this sleep doesn’t prevent our spirit, the core of the person we are, from being with the Lord in heaven.

This is true every night when we go to rest in our beds; when we lie down to sleep and dream. I pray in my sleep. I am your pastor in my sleep; in my dreams. I preach in my sleep; in my dreams. Sometimes, in my dreams, I get up to preach and suddenly I find that I’m not wearing any pants. Have you ever had a dream like that?

We are alive even when we sleep; whether it is a sleep we will wake up from or not. We are alive when we sleep for the same reason that we are alive when we are awake, because God holds all his creatures in life. God is with us. We belong to God. Paul says, “Now it is God who has made us for this very purpose.” (2 Corinthians 5:5)

For the dying thief, the repentant thief, life changed in the presence of Jesus. Hell somehow dropped out of sight. We are in heaven when we meet the Lord because, in Jesus Christ, we meet God on the cross; giving his self for us, and to us.

The cross made all the critics of Jesus glad because they thought it would destroy him. There could be no kingdom of God, and no heaven, through something like a cross.

But they were wrong. The cross was the doorway that Jesus built into his Father’s house, even though it is hard for people to understand how a cross could be a door for people to come home by.

For a short time before I was ordained, I served a church in southern Idaho; in Hazelton. In Hazelton and the farms around it, you never used the front door.

Here, sometimes you have to guess. If I go to someone’s house that I haven’t visited before I look carefully, as I approach the house. Is there a walk way to the front door or isn’t there? Does it look used or not?

In Hazelton you didn’t have to guess. You always went to the kitchen door on the side, or in the back. Once inside you probably found that the people there had furniture blocking the front door, or even false draperies covering it. It was as if there was a general plot to make all front doors unusable.

In Hazelton, the front door was for the great people who never came. And so the front door was blocked. The real door was for neighbors and for people who didn’t come with an agenda; for people who didn’t come for something they wanted from you. The real door was to the kitchen where you would have coffee and cookies, or supper.

If heaven has a grand door for the great people, no one will ever use it. Or else we will all use it in the day when all God’s children wear crowns, and when all of us are great and famous. Otherwise the only door to heaven is the cross; the side door, the neighbors’ door, the humble door, the common door, the door for the hungry and the weary, the door for those who come in to be made at home, who come just to be with…

The key to heaven is that we are always with. We are always with the Lord. Heaven really begins the moment we meet him, and it only gets closer and closer. Our heaven has already begun, and death cannot end it.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Heaven: The Promise and Power of God

Preached on April 18, 2010

Scripture readings: Psalm 16; Romans 8:28-39; Luke 20:27-40

The preacher began his sermon with this question: “Who’s ready to go to heaven?” The congregation was startled by this, and so just a few raised their hands. “Who’s ready to go to heaven?” He thundered the question. Everyone shot their hand straight up in the air, except for one little boy. The pastor looked the boy in the eye and said, “Tommy, aren’t you ready to go to heaven?” And Tommy said, “Sure, Pastor, only I thought you were getting set to take us there right now.”

I like jokes about heaven. They tell us a lot about our lives right now: how we think, and what things matter most to us. The jokes about heaven don’t tell us much about heaven though. And I am sort of glad they don’t.

I suspect there will be something like laughter in heaven. There will be an everlasting amazement that produces something like laughter. There will be an amazement that comes from wonder at the power of God, and the faithfulness of God to us.

We will feel something like laughter toward ourselves in everlasting amazement at ourselves. How on earth could we have gotten away with so much foolishness, and worry, and stubbornness in the face of God’s love? How on earth could we have gotten away with all those problems we manufactured in our heads about the future, and about what God wanted from us; our puzzling about how God would do what he promised and take care of us according to our needs?

The story of the woman and the seven brothers was a Sadducee joke about the resurrection. But it was about heaven too. The Sadducees joked about it all because they didn’t believe in either. The Pharisees believed in both; and both heaven and the resurrection went together in their faith, beginning with heaven after death, and leading to the resurrection of the body when God’s plans for the creation were ready to be made complete.

The story of the woman and the seven brothers was a joke about heaven and the resurrection; and the Sadducees told it to frustrate and annoy the Pharisees. They liked to push the Pharisees’ buttons, and it was so easy to do. They thought the story would push Jesus’ buttons too. The Sadducees saw Jesus as having much more in common with the Pharisees than with them.

Their joke seemed to present an unsolvable problem. But it was only unsolvable because it was inspired by those problems we create in our heads about what God really wants and what God really gives; and how God will arrange his plan to take care of us and share his strange glory with us.

What allowed the Sadducees to get away with telling their joke was that they only accepted the first five books of the Bible as the most important truth. These five books they called the Book of Moses. These were possibly the oldest of the Jewish scriptures. There is no mention in them of an afterlife in heaven.

Jesus told them that if they really wanted to learn about God, and the power of God, and the real message of those scriptures, then they would realize that, even though there seemed to be no account of an afterlife in heaven in those books, there was a reliable account of a God who could be counted on to provide his people with a life in heaven after they died.

When the Sadducees told their joke, Matthew and Mark tell us that Jesus’ first answer to them was almost rude. “Is this not why you are wrong, that you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God?” (Cf. Mark 12:24; Matthew 22:29) But their question was rude. They were toying with him.

Then Jesus quoted from the words that God spoke to Moses from the burning bush in the Book of Moses, the Book of Exodus. It was a statement that even the Sadducees would have to respect. (3:6) “I am the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.”

Those are the first three generations of the people of Israel. The Lord had spoken to Abraham to take his wife and servants and the orphaned nephew who lived with him, and go somewhere, through the wilderness, through the desert, to a land that the Lord would show him. It is that journey of faith, led step by step with God, led through times of hardship, and danger, and doubt, and back to faith again, that is the beginning of the story of the people of Israel and of our own story. Abraham’s journey of faith, and the journey of his son Isaac, and Isaac’s son Jacob, is our journey of faith, and hardship, and danger, and doubt, and back to faith again.

The journey of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, was a long, long walk. It was an intense and personal journey. There were strong, intense conversations that went on between these ancestors and their God. The Lord often showed the most intense interest in what they were thinking and feeling, and in how to have the most impact on their lives.

It was all about love. One of the Biblical words for this love is covenant. Sometimes the concept of covenant has been compared to that of a contract. But modern contracts are legal instruments that are designed to be upheld and enforced by a court of law.

A covenant is a relationship. It is life altering. Marriage is a covenant. A covenant begins with a promise that is given in order to bind and pledge life to life. Covenants are not made to be broken. They are made for life. A covenant comes from a heart that is prepared to trust, and love, and commit. There is such a promise, such a covenant, deep in the heart of God for his people.

In the very meanness of the Sadducees’ joke, it was very nearly a dirty joke, because it joked about marriage, and sex, and death, and love. And it belittled them all.

In the Old Testament law (Deuteronomy 25:5-10), if a married man died without having a son, the brother of his who had the most seniority was supposed to take the man’s wife as his own and the first son born between him and that woman was to be named after the man who had died, providing him with a namesake; making sure that the name of the dead man would live on. We can understand the importance of this in a small town, at least when we have a sense of tradition and notice how families either disappear, or remain among us under the disguise of changing names. In Washtucna those who have long memories, or think about the heritage of their own families, realize there are missing names: like Bassett, and Gildersleeve, and Sutton, and Helmes, and Gillis, and others.

The law was designed by God to nurture a surprising instinct: that it was wrong for a name to be lost. The loss of a name meant the loss of a family, but also the loss of the person. The laws of God nurtured the instinct that families, and relationships, and individual persons should never end. They should never go away in the sense of ceasing to exist. They needed to be somewhere kept.

Somehow, in God’s scheme of things, it was possible for his law to lead to a leap of the imagination that was the same as a leap of faith. The leap would carry you from the importance of the immortality of a name to the immortality of the person. The leap would carry you to the place where you would understand that immortality and everlasting life were the right things to hope for. They are somehow the very things we are made for.

And so Jesus says it and makes it clear. He said this: “But in the account of the bush, even Moses showed that the dead rise, for he calls the Lord ‘the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’ He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.” (Luke 20:37-38)

We need to see how it is true that Jesus is not only talking about the resurrection, which is what the Sadducees were joking about, but also about a life after death, in heaven, for those who live in covenant with God. Jesus says that Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob were and are among the living.

Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob died almost two thousand years before Jesus walked the earth. Jesus knew this perfectly well. And Jesus said, “To God all are alive.”
Some people will object and say that this is just a metaphor, just a way of talking, just a beautiful idea, that even when a person dies and passes into nothingness, the complete memory of them is preserved in the mind of a loving God. And that treasured memory will live on in the mind of God forever, and perhaps even be recreated at some future date which is called the resurrection. These people would say that, between death and the recreation of life in the resurrection, we do not really live any longer; at least not in any active or conscious way.

The problem with this is; how are you and I alive right now? How can we possibly be alive right now unless we are (like Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) alive to God? If there were no version of us functioning in the mind of God at present, we would not be alive ourselves. But if we, and those who have passed away, are all alive to God, what difference would death make to the essential reason for our existence? “He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.”

If God so cares for the preservation of a name, if God designs his law for Israel in such a way to make sure that a person’s name does not disappear, will God not design his own sons and daughters in such a way that they, also, do not disappear; even when they seem to go to another place where we cannot see them or touch them?

You and I are alive because to God all are alive. My grandparents, and my father, and his brother, are alive because “to God all are alive”. “God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.”

There will be a resurrection for us, some interval after our death. But we will not become alive as a result of our resurrection. We will be resurrected because we will already be alive to God. We will not live because we are resurrected, we will be resurrected because we live. And we will live because Jesus lives.

Resurrection is the gift of the living God to people who are really alive. Heaven is a place of life.

This is all about love. God values love. “God is love.” (1 John 4:8) The Sadducees did not know this because, as Jesus said, they did not know the scriptures or the power of God. They told their jokes about things they did not understand.

The Bible gives us few specifics about heaven. What we know comes to us under the cover of parables, and poetry, and symbols used by Jesus and the apostles. Heaven is like a wedding, like a city, like a garden, like the harvest, like a coronation feast, like singing, like something made from gold and jewels, like light, like open gates, like happy triumphant people at the end of a game or a fight: like seeing Jesus, and being with him, and becoming like him, and knowing it.

Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are the first members of a big family that has lasted thousands of years. But they are like all families. Families are people who have a personal history that means something and makes them belong to each other.

There are parents, and spouses, and children. There are success stories and stories of failure. There are times of tragedy, and shame, and punishment, and reward. There are times of faith, and times of idolatry (the worship of this world instead of the worship of God).

Think of that wretched family in the Sadducees’ joke: the family of the seven boys who died, and the poor woman who tried to be a wife to each one. That is a sad story.

Jesus changes that story: that mean, cruel, nasty story that the Sadducees laughed at and used to taunt and torment people of faith. Jesus changes that story to say, with heaven, that God can take the confusion, griefs, sorrows, tragedies, hopes, loves, and relationships of our lives and transform them. God can take everything in our lives and make them worth lasting forever.

God uses the new life in heaven and in the resurrection to bring healing, and victory, and reconciliation, and justice, and grace. This is what Paul says, “In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:37-39)

I would say one more thing about trusting Jesus’ good intentions when he said that there is no marriage in heaven, or in the resurrection. He did say that, in place of being simply human, we will remain human and yet become something more. He said we will be like the angels. I would just say that we don’t know what that will be like.

Imagine real childhood sweethearts. Imagine a little girl and a little boy playing in the sandbox together. Imagine them playing house together. Imagine the boy being teased about this girl being his girlfriend, and so he avoids her and breaks both their hearts for a while.

Then imagine them, one day years later, falling in love again, and getting married. Would the two children of years ago be able to imagine the love and the relationship of marriage that would be theirs in the years to come? Would the newly weds ever yearn for the good old days when they played house together?

The future life will be as different from this life as happy marriage is from happy playing house. It will be more than we know, and not less. This is true both of married and single people. And there will be ways of being one, in our future life, which surpass our ways of being one in our present life.

God is the lover of life and the lover of love, and the Lord of both. Jesus said, “I have come that you might have life and have it abundantly.”

The proof of this is that Jesus joined us in life, and in death. Jesus took the criminal who hung on the cross beside his, and Jesus promised him to take him that day to be with him in paradise.

And Jesus conquered the power of our death in his resurrection. His life now is unimaginable. Our life to come is unimaginable, but it is promised to us by the scriptures and by the power of God in Christ.

Monday, April 12, 2010

The King: The Rule of School

Preached Sunday April 11, 2010
Scripture Readings - Psalm 145; Matthew 28:16-20

Anyone eighteen years old or under should stop listening for the next two and a half minutes.

When I was a kid, up to the time I graduated from high school, if you had asked me if I liked school, I would have said “no”. If you had asked me if I hated school, I would have said “yes, absolutely”.

I knew I was going on to college, and I found no silver-lining in that. But, little did I realize that I was just about to begin to like school.

I think I first learned to like school in college, because college seemed to be more about learning than school had been before. I always liked to learn and at last I found my chance.

Before, I had loved to read, and I read all the time. In fact I read much too much for my own good. But that didn’t seem to count in school. In school, book reports seemed to matter more than reading the books. In high school I loved science, but high school science seemed to be just as much about well kept lab books as it was about doing experiments. (And yes, I know the argument for well kept lab books.) I loved history, but my western civilization teacher read to us out of her college textbook, and my American history teacher spent his class time showing us history movies, talking about basketball, and flirting with the girls in the class.

I’m telling you the truth. I am also telling you nothing but the truth. But I am not telling you the whole the truth. Therefore I have just exaggerated, but I have told you the truth.

I loved to learn, but I hated school. I am sure I would have loved school if it had seemed to really be about learning.

OK anyone eighteen years old and under can listen again, if you can hear me.
Following Jesus is like school. Jesus said, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20) The word disciple means learner.

The eleven disciples who were left after the crucifixion were Jesus’ disciples. That means that they were Jesus’ learners. Now Jesus was making his learners into teachers.

Only they would still have a lot of learning to do. Their job was to learn how to make learners of all the nations. Their job was to learn to pass on the passion for being a learner. They were called to make the whole world into Jesus’ school.

Following Jesus is like being part of a very large, very complicated school. For all the billions of men, women, and children who have followed Jesus, for thousands of years, all around the world, there has always, and ever will be, only one teacher, and that teacher is Jesus. All the rest of everyone who ever has (or ever will) follow Jesus is a student in this school; and (of all things) an assistant teacher in this school.

Everyone is a student. Everyone is an assistant teacher. The curriculum, the lesson plan, is Christ; the ways and commands of Christ; the heart, and mind, and life of Christ; the grace, and power, and good-news of Christ; the humanity and the divinity of Christ; and the saving sacrifice and the resurrection of Christ.

The Church is the Body of Christ. It is also the School of Christ; the student body, and faculty, and staff of the school of Christ. And that is why we have a problem.

When I was in school I had teachers who were not good teachers because, somewhere along the way, they had stopped loving to learn or they had stopped loving to teach. They should have been there in school as much for the purpose of learning as any of their students. And they should have been there for shear love. And, then, a lot of students weren’t there to learn either. This is often true of the Church as the School of Christ.

And there is so much else to do to maintain a school; and I am not just talking about the building. I am talking about the holiness of planning and organization.

The first generation of the church (probably in the first year of its life) practiced planning and organization. At first the apostles did everything, and there was almost no organization at all. But they had people in the church with special needs to be met. There were people who were poor and needed help and food.

The apostles, who continued to be disciples and learner/teachers, took care of this along with everything else they did. And then people began to complain that they were not doing their job, and not everyone was being helped in a fair way.

So, the apostles invented the idea of a group they called “The Seven”. You can read about this in the sixth chapter of the Book of Acts.

These seven eventually became known as deacons. They became a common feature of the churches started by the apostles. Deacon means servant, and their special job was to help the people who needed help.

The Seven had a job description and a set number of members. And so the apostles created the first church committee, the first session, the first administrative board. And it was a blessing to the church. The school of Christ had peace and order so that it could be a good place of learning. (Acts 6:1-7)

Organization can be holy, even when that organization is called a denomination. But there can be problems with this. Organization can also be a substitute for Christ and the gospel. It is possible for the church to put more effort and energy into organizing and maintaining than it does in speaking the words and doing the work of Christ. Let us never do that, and let us stop doing that when we go astray.

Let us be the school of Christ. Let us be makers of disciples. Let us make learners around us. Let us look at the horizon and think of the whole world, as our Lord does. If our call is to be learners and make learners here in this place, let us think how we are a small part of a plan for the whole world, because our classroom is the world.

We must look out. We must look inward to know ourselves and turn around and open ourselves to the grace, and mercy, and love, and power of Christ. We must look in to repent. We must look out in order to serve. We must look out because the Lord tells us so. He tells us, “Go!” When you are going somewhere you’d better look out.

I want to comment on the details of this story to help us know how to be the school, the learner/teachers, of Christ.

The eleven of the twelve who were left, went to meet Jesus in Galilee. They worshipped, but some doubted. Their doubt was not a lack of love. It was not a lack of conviction that Jesus had died and had risen. Perhaps it was still hard for them to grasp who Jesus was, and is. Perhaps their doubt was more like fear, because they didn’t know what would happen next, or whether they could face what was coming.

All of this does not come easily. The author Dale Brunner says that the church is always bi-polar. We are always bi-polar between faith and doubt. Jesus knows this. It was going on, with his disciples, right before his very eyes.

It doesn’t matter to him, in the sense that our being bi-polar, or imperfect, in our faith is not an obstacle to being his learner/teachers. Jesus didn’t tell the doubters to stand aside or come back again when they had sufficient faith. He gave them all his calling, his mission, his blessing, his promise. That is what matters.

Who doubted? It was one of the eleven who were left. Was it Peter, James, John? Was it Matthew? Is it you or me? Yes it is! Jesus says, “Go! And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

They worshipped. Worship is surprisingly simple. It means you kneel, you bow, you spread yourself on the ground at the feet of Jesus. You don’t have to pray, or talk, or sing. Just lie there and be quiet. Lie there, and then: “Go!”

Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” Authority, in the Bible, means power; strength. Do you need strength? Do you need strength to live and follow through on your choices in life? Do you need strength to truly follow Jesus; to stretch, to do something wild and daring, to serve in hard ways when you have no idea what will come of it, to speak without knowing what to say? Do you need strength to forgive, or strength to trust in your forgiveness? Do you know that Jesus has all strength because he has all authority?

Do you need help with something bigger than heaven and earth? Probably not! So Jesus is more than strong enough for you.

Jesus said, “Therefore go.” Go! We think we follow Jesus by coming, and we do. Jesus says, “Come, follow me.” (Matthew 4:19) But we also follow him by going, because he is going somewhere and following means our going too.

Sometimes we don’t know whether we are coming or going. Following Jesus means that you don’t stay stuck. Jesus in always on the move and he will pass out of sight unless you keep moving with him.

The church also must always keep moving. We need to figure out how. We always have to pray about this.

“Make disciples of all nations.” Literally Jesus uses disciple in the form of a verb. Jesus expects us, as disciples, to be a verb, and not just a noun, a word of action and process. And he expects us to make other people into verbs as well. “Disciple all nations.” Nations are made of individuals, but nations are also the world.

Jesus’ authority in heaven and earth should make us think of the words of the Lord’s Prayer. “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

Discipling people means bringing God’s will, and the order of heaven, into people’s hearts, and minds, and actions and lives. Discipling the nations means bringing God’s will and the order of heaven into the world. It means the whole world, and every nation, and even the smaller nations like Kahlotus and Washtucna and Hooper.

Authority, in the Bible, also means freedom and ability. Can learner/teachers make their families, and their work environment, and their communities more heavenly? The authority of Jesus means that Jesus has the ability to work through you to make you a learner/teacher who can make learner/teachers out of others.

Helping others to understand and know Jesus is part of this, but not the only part. There is a lot involved in God’s kingdom coming and God’s will being done on earth as it is in heaven. There is a lot involved in the relation of human beings to God. There is a lot involved in relating the way the world works to God.

It is like Jesus’ odd order of things; where he puts being a learner/teacher before being baptized. Sometimes it is one way around, sometimes another. The order doesn’t matter. Jesus can change the order in which things get done.

“Baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…” Putting something or someone “in the name” of someone else was a banking term in the ancient world. It meant legally putting something into someone’s account and giving them ownership.

A learner/teacher of Jesus is a person who has come under the ownership of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. We do not own ourselves. We belong to God. By our words and our actions we show whether God owns us or whether we really think we own ourselves. We cannot make learner/teachers of Christ any other way. Or else we will make them frauds and hypocrites like ourselves (because we are all sinners).

I think you can see there is a lot to learn and that we, as the church and the school of Christ, have something to share that is life-changing and life-giving. Let us not stand in the way of learning.

It is all based on Christ and his promise to be with us always. This meal is a sign of his presence with us, and in us. We are called to go, and we cannot go unless we have the strength of coming, and eating, and being filled with Christ every day.

Monday, April 5, 2010

The King: The Rule of the Last Word

SERMON Dennis Evans 4-4-2010

Main Easter Sermon

Scripture Readings: Psalm 93; Matthew 28:1-10

From the early hours of Friday, all of the friends and followers of Jesus had been hammered over and over again by one bleak, dark message. It was a steady, unchanging message of danger, fear, death, and grief. Danger, fear, death, and grief defined them, and defined their world. It was all they knew, and all they could see. There was no answer to this message.

Their leader Jesus had been arrested, tried, and executed; crucified, for capital crimes against the state and against the established religion: treason and blasphemy. With their leader gone, they expected the mopping up operation to begin at any time, and take them too; yet life went on.

In spite of death, when life goes on, so does love. Since love goes on, some of the women who followed Jesus plucked up courage to go to the place where they had left their dearest love. It was the place where some of their dearest hopes lay too, even though those were now lost hopes. The place was the tomb of Jesus; their leader, their love, their hope.

The door of the house where they were staying was locked behind them in fear, as they went out into the predawn shadows of the narrow stone streets of Jerusalem. The pre-dawn sunlight rounded the horizon and struck the top of the great Temple, and the tops of the towers of Herod’s palace, and trumpets blared from the Temple to greet the morning sacrifice, and from the city walls to announce the opening of the gates. Now people could go in and out, between the country and the city, without being stopped for questioning. It was the beginning of a new day, the beginning of a new week, and life went on.

The trumpets of dawn, the Jewish trumpets in the Temple, and the Roman trumpets on the walls reminded the women of the powers-that-be of their day. These were the powers that had killed Jesus.

And then there were other powers, behind the power of Rome and the Temple, much stronger and more universal than they were; and much more deadly. There was the power of self-righteousness, the power of rumors and lies, the power of anger and fear and hatred, the power of injustice and indifference, the power of wealth, the love of power, and the violence of power when it is insecure.

Jesus never opposed Rome or the Temple outright, but he had opposed these secret powers that lurked behind them. He claimed to bring a different kind of power where none of these dark powers would stand. He claimed to bring the power of the kingdom of God, and Jesus shook the powers-that-be with the weapons of forgiveness, humility, servanthood, speaking the truth in love, care for the poor and the weak and the sick and the outcast and even the sinner.

The women, who were on their way to the tomb of Jesus, had been among the weakest people in a world that loves power. They had learned to fit into this world, but Jesus taught them not to fit in.

It looked to them as if Jesus knew something; that he knew a way to win and defeat the way the world worked under the powers-that-be. The powers even trembled at Jesus, for a short time; for a few days maybe.

But the day of the cross clearly changed that. The way the world worked under the powers-that-be reasserted itself and snuffed Jesus out on the cross. This is how these women and the other disciples would see the cross in the predawn hours of that first day of the week, so long ago in Jerusalem.

There is another thought that Jesus tried to teach them. They remembered it, and they remembered how serious Jesus was about it, but they didn’t understand it. It didn’t make sense to them.

Jesus had told them something that was the very foundation of his mission. The very core purpose of his mission explained why he seemed strangely, and almost insanely determined to die. Jesus called himself the Son of Man, and this is what he said about his mission as Son of Man: “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:28) And at his last meal with them, Jesus gave them a cup of wine to share and he told them: Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Matthew 26:17-18)

Somehow, underneath all the powers-that-be, underneath all the powers that Jesus opposed, there was another power that was at work in every human life, from the strongest to the weakest, from the some-bodies to the nobodies. This underneath-power could only be defused and destroyed by the power of sacrifice and forgiveness.

The underneath-power at work in all human beings was called sin, and it was the thing that robbed human life of love, and peace, and goodness. Sin was a life buried in the power of the self that separated all humans from God, from others, from nature, and even from their own true, God-created life.

They knew that Jesus seemed determined to die, and that his death was his plan to take down the underneath-power of sin that made the world work the way it did, and made this such a dysfunctional planet. They had heard him say as much, but they didn’t understand it; and where was Jesus now? Where had all his courage, and faithfulness, and sacrifice gotten him?

It had gotten him defeat, and death, and a grave.

And yet it didn’t end there. As the women entered the gate of the stone fence that enclosed a garden where the tomb of Jesus was, and where the Roman soldiers kept watch, there was a rumbling, the sound of trees swaying, the rattle of loose rocks rolling down the hillside, and the women felt unsteady on their feet. The earth shook.

There in the garden a light like lightening seemed to fall through the air and land on the great millstone door of Jesus’ tomb. It was alive, and they felt its holiness. The soldiers collapsed in a dead faint. The women thought they would faint, but they didn’t.

A person full of light opened the door of the tomb and spoke to them as they stood among the fallen soldiers. The angel spoke to them: “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go, tell.” (Matthew 28:5-7)

Then Jesus comes to meet them. He lets them touch him. He says the same thing the angel said: “Don’t be afraid.” Then he says another thing the angel said: “Go and tell.”

There is a story the women were told to “come and see” and “go and tell”. Just as the instructions form two parts, the story they are to see and tell has two parts.

The empty tomb tells the two parts of the story. It is a reminder of the powers that caught and killed Jesus. It is the proof of their seriousness and their strength. It is also a reminder of what Jesus promised to be able to do. It is the proof of Jesus’ strength.

We live in a world where the powers of nature can be scary and awesome. But the scariest thing about this world is the use of human power.

By this I don’t just mean government. I mean that all our human abilities seem bent out of shape. We misuse our thoughts, and our emotions, and our relationships. In life we have power over ourselves, to some extent, and power or influence over other people’s lives, and we misuse this power. And other people misuse their powers over us.

We misuse our powers by neglect and by control. We are unjust and then we are unmerciful. We don’t see. We don’t listen. We forget the wrong things and remember the wrong things. We harm ourselves and we harm others. This is our personal power.
And then when you get groups of people together (families, organizations, communities, nations) all this becomes multiplied and amplified. There is the potential for things to go powerfully wrong. There is great good in this world; and great wrong.

The power at work within us and among us as humans is the real powers-that-be that killed Jesus, and this is serious stuff. The empty tomb is a reminder of this story.

And then there is the part of the story about how this tomb got empty. This part of the story begins with the fact that Jesus was killed, but also makes it clear that his life was not taken from him.

Jesus sought out the confrontation with the powers of the world and with the powers of our rebellious hearts. He chose the confrontation. He chose the death, in order to defeat the powers of wrong that are so much a part of us, so that we could die on that cross with him. He chose death so that he could rise from the dead. He chose death so that he could live as the conqueror of death, and so we could live as conquerors too, and be his conquering brothers and sisters.

Jesus wanted those who loved him and followed him to understand this and so he arranged a meeting in Galilee, where their memories of him were strongest. There he would tell them, “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

The cross alone, without the resurrection, is like forgiveness alone. Have you ever tried to forgive someone and give them another chance; a second chance; a third, fourth, or fifth chance; a tenth or twentieth chance…and it didn’t work? You gave them grace, but the grace did not seem to take hold?

The cross without the resurrection is like forgiveness without the power to transform. But the resurrection is the victory that gives power to everything that the cross of Jesus is about. The fact that there is a power in the resurrection tells us that there is really power in the cross, which looked so much like defeat to his friends.

If we are the brothers and sisters of Jesus (and this is what he wants to call us) then the resurrection of Jesus tells us that everything that we do to live as the people of the kingdom of God has the inherent power of the resurrection in it. What we do for the love of Jesus, and what we do for the sake of his love for others, and for the world he so loves, has the power of Jesus, the victory of Jesus, in it. It is the resurrection of Jesus that gives power to the crosses that we bear in life.

The story we need to come and see, the story we need to share, and go and tell, is the story of Jesus that shows us and others how to live in this world. What Jesus faced, and what Jesus did and achieved, helps us to understand the world we live in, and to understand ourselves as human beings. What Jesus faced, and what Jesus did and achieved, helps us to understand his grace and power, and the hope it gives us to live well; to love and serve faithfully, humbly, and joyfully.

This is the message of the resurrection. This is the message that has the final word.

The King: The Rule of "Fear Not"

Easter Sunrise

Scripture Reading: Matthew 27:57-28:4

What does the Bible teach more than any other thing? What is the most frequently repeated commandment in the Bible?

“Fear not!” “Do not be afraid!”

Easter is the day of, “Fear not!”
In just a few minutes, on that first Easter, the women who went to look at the place where Jesus was buried got two “fear nots”: one from the angel, the other one from Jesus himself. “Don’t be afraid.”

That first day of the week, so long ago in Jerusalem, should have been a day of fear. All the followers of Jesus were afraid. It would have been foolish for them not to be. They belonged to a failed and suppressed religious movement that was also accused of being a dangerous political movement. They were accomplices in capital crimes against the state and against the established religion: treason and blasphemy.

Their leader, Jesus, had been executed on the cross, and they had watched as his dead body had been taken down from the cross and buried in one of the tombs that were carved in a nearby hillside. They had watched as the huge millstone door was rolled down into its groove to cover the entrance.

They went home that Friday evening to think about the brutal deaths they had seen, the hopes that had been dashed, the friend they had lost, the danger they were in. It was still sinking in, and that merciful, mindless fogginess of shock was giving way to the full sense of reality. But the reality was only more horror, grief, and fear.

The men (Peter, James, John, and all the rest) didn’t dare leave the house where they were staying for fear of their own arrest and execution. The women who went to see the tomb had only a little less reason to fear, because they were only women and, therefore (in that time and place), less important. But, partly as a precaution, and partly because they could not sleep, they had gotten up before dawn and passed through the stone streets of the city in shadow, and they exited the city gate at the earliest possible time to pass the guards without arousing suspicion.

Out from the northwest corner of the city, into the open air, the barren knoll of Golgotha rose close to the gate, the uprights of the crosses still stood above them against the pale sky as they passed. Just beyond, as the road curved around the knoll, there was a stone embankment, fronted by a stone fence. A cemetery garden, inside the fence, shaded the row of stone doors.

One section of the garden and its particular door was guarded by Roman soldiers. The women would have a gauntlet of armed and armored men to pass before they reached their goal: the tomb of Jesus.

The women may have met this squad of men before. They may have been the same squad that supervised the execution of Jesus, and gambled for his clothing.

If they weren’t the same men, the resemblance was close enough. The association was just as alarming and frightening. The women only wished that Peter and the others had been able and willing to come with them.

What they discovered that morning, at the tomb in the garden, still left them with a choice of whether or not to be afraid. The world they lived in would not seem any different. It would look just the same as it had looked before dawn. But it would be a completely different world, if they could accept it.

What they would find at the tomb of Jesus was a new world where God clearly said, “Fear not!” They lived in a world where the angels said, “Fear not!” They lived in a world where death had been defeated. They lived in a world where evil, and sin, and suffering, and death no longer had the last word. They could find that fear, itself, was no longer alive, unless you were the one who called it to life.
They lived in a world where their dead friend and teacher had become their Savior and Lord. Jesus had turned death back on its heels.

Sin had brought death into the world. Together, they had written a history of tragedy and sadness in a world that had been created for joy and love.

Jesus met all the sin and death of this world on the cross. He had held them close, and they had thrown him down. But now Jesus had thrown them down and held them to the mat.

Now Jesus had risen from death and he was the master. He was, and is, the conqueror of sin and death. Sin and death had brought fear into the world. Jesus has created a new world where the message is “fear not.”

The world we live in gives us a message of fear in many guises. Watch out! Be careful! Be smart! Play along! Don’t rock the boat!

There are real dangers and risks in our world. There are reasons to listen to all warnings about danger, but not when those warnings go against goodness, and truth, and justice, and mercy, and faithfulness, and love. Then is the time to listen to Jesus, and to the new world of the Kingdom of God, where the word is, “Fear not!”
It is like living in a country where there are rattlesnakes. In my years in Washtucna I have only found one rattlesnake in my yard, and I killed that one with a hoe.

When I was growing up, my family lived, for several years, on the edge of my home town. We had several acres with an old orchard, and a barn and some sheds, and a pasture, and the back of the property ended at a place called the Live Oak Slough.
The slough was a low place that had once been a seasonal waterway. It was dry in the summer and sometimes had water in it in the winter, and there were willow thickets and other things, including snakes. I liked walking out there. It was peaceful and relaxing.

One summer evening, when I was about 15 and my youngest sister, Nanci, was about 7 we went for a walk out there and, as we were coming back, I was slightly ahead and I saw a rattlesnake spread out in our path, about three feet away. I got a quick case of goose bumps, and jumped to the side. I said, “Look out, Nanci!” And I pointed at the snake, and Nanci jumped right over it.

I yelled at her for doing that. I think I was right to yell.

The good thing about it all was that really neither she nor I were all that afraid. We went out there any number of times after that.

Natural fear is an instinct that is designed to help us protect ourselves and respond in the direction of life, and safety, and security. But a prolonged fear, a chronic fear, a clinical fear (if such a thing exists) is poison.

There is a fear that is deadly because it is the opposite of life. There is a fear that separates us and isolates us from others. There is a fear that keeps us from commitment and love. There is a fear that makes us betray justice, and mercy, and faithfulness, and hope. There is a fear that is deadly to goodness and the good life as God designed it to be lived.

We can live with Jesus and grow strong in lives that point the way to real goodness, and truth, and justice, and mercy, and faithfulness, and love. We can stand for what is right, and live with joy and courage. We can serve the King and the Kingdom of God.

But you can only hear the real “fear not” when you have met Jesus. The words must come from him.

The women went to look for Jesus. They looked for him in a tomb, and they didn’t find what they were looking for. They found something better.

For some people Jesus is buried in the tomb of the history of long ago, or in the tomb of an old book that even Christians do not often read. For some people Jesus is buried in old customs, and in strange old songs, or in the parrot-like words of those who are only living with Jesus at arm’s length.

For these people, seeking Jesus is like seeking what the women sought at the tomb. They have no reason to “fear not” unless they go seeking for one thing until they find the other thing, and find something beyond their imagination.

You can seek a dead Jesus and still find the living Jesus, just like the disciples did at the tomb in Jerusalem. Jesus will find you on the way, and say, “Fear not!”

You will find someone who is stronger than the powers of this world, stronger than all the sad and brutal stories this world can write. You will find Jesus who met the world’s evils and has conquered them and opened a new world to those who follow him.

You can live with him in the kingdom of God which is the real world today (the world that is coming to be, in a world that is passing away). In this world of faith, where Jesus is alive, we can fear not, and live and act by faith.

Friday, April 2, 2010

The King: Operation Cross

Preached on Good Friday, April 2, 2010
Scripture Readings: Psalm 31:9-16; Matthew 27:11-54

Was the cross the right place for Jesus to be? His friends were in the depths of sorrow because Jesus was on the cross. Their love for Jesus and all he stood for told them that Jesus should not be there. He was in the wrong place.

Those who feared Jesus, or hated him, or laughed at him thought the cross was exactly the right place for Jesus. It was the right place for Jesus because he was not what he claimed to be. He was not the King, the Messiah. He was not the Son of the living God. The fact that God allowed Jesus to be in that place on the cross, was proof that Jesus was a fraud. It was proof that Jesus and God had nothing to do with each other. If Jesus were who he claimed to be, then he should be riding at the head of an army, or seated on a throne in a palace.

Was Jesus in the right place or the wrong place?

Jesus was hanging from nails hammered through his hands and feet into the wood of the cross. He was bleeding. He was bleeding from the nails; and from the gashes of a crown of thorns that had been thrust upon his head, pressed deep into his scalp. He was bleeding because he had been scourged; whipped with a multi-lashed leather whip, tipped with bits of metal that had cut him to the bone: whipped the forty times minus one.

Jesus was dying, being executed as a convict who had committed capital crimes against the state and against the established religion: treason, for admitting he was a king (the Jewish Messiah); blasphemy, for claiming to be the Son of God. In truth, Jesus was being executed on the cross for being himself. Jesus was these things, and much more.

In an odd way, the Roman Governor and the high priests had been driven to insist on Jesus saying these things about himself. Jesus did not ordinarily make these claims about himself; although he was these things. He had always preferred that others trust him, and listen to him, and follow him, not because of who he said he was, but because of what they saw he was. He was what he was.

In himself, Jesus was a humble king, and a humble everlasting Son of God, who ruled by serving, and healing, and setting people free. He ruled not by placing himself at the head of an army. He ruled not by seating himself on a throne in a palace. Jesus ruled by placing himself with the poor, and the sick, and the weak, and the outcast, and those who lived in darkness, and in sorrow, and even with those who lived in sin and rebellion against God. The fact that Jesus was the special friend of such people made the self-righteous hate him.

And in claiming this as his proper place, and his rightful work, Jesus also claimed that this was his Father’s place and work. The Father and the Son always did the same work together. (John 5:19 and 8:28) The Son and his Father were one. (John 10:30)

The cross was a horrible place to be; a place of pain, abandonment, cruelty, mockery, despair, grief. It was so bad that even the sun in the heavens would not shine there. It was as if all the darkness, and the sin, and the evil of the whole the world, and of all time, had settled down in that one spot, on that small rocky knoll shaped like the bony dome of a skull.

Yes, it was definitely the right place for Jesus to be. And he had done his best to get there.

Jesus had been warning his disciples about this for weeks. He had planned the parade the week before, on Palm Sunday. Although he had ridden into the capital on a donkey, even the great Old Testament King David had ridden on a donkey. (2 Samuel 16:1-2) And the palm branches were the welcome banners just as they had been for the Maccabees, the Jewish dynasty that had ruled before the Roman conquest.

Jesus had marched into Jerusalem under the noses of the Roman guards. The crowd that marched with him would have seemed like a potential army, even though they were unarmed. Jesus had created a scene in the Temple. He had called the leaders of the Temple hypocrites and told parables about their judgment.

At the Passover meal Jesus made changes in the order of the feast. He shifted the story of the meal away from the story of the Exodus and the freedom God gave his people from slavery in Egypt. He replaced the old story with a new one. It became the story of the freedom that his people would receive through the sacrifice of his body and the shedding of his blood.

When the authorities arrested Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, his disciples tried to resist and save Jesus. The cross might not have happened.

But Jesus stopped them. He said: “Put your sword back in its place, for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how, then, would the Scriptures be fulfilled, that say it must happen in this way?” (Matthew 26:52-56)

No, the cross was the way it was supposed to happen, according to Jesus. The cross was the right place. Jesus was God in the flesh, who had come to deal with evil, sin, and death; and he had come to destroy them not from the outside, but from the inside.

The whole mission of Jesus was a covert operation: from his birth as a baby in Bethlehem, to his childhood and apprenticeship under his foster-father Joseph in the carpenter’s shop, to his rag-tag ministry on the road, to the place of the cross. To most eyes, Jesus did not look like he was supposed to look, if he was what he was.

It was part of the mission; the operation. Jesus was a stealth Messiah.

It was “Operation Cross.” Operation Cross was God’s plan to break the power of evil, sin, and death, by meeting it personally; by letting it take him in, and swallow him up. Then the Lord, by the means of the power of his life, would blow them up from the inside. It’s true that evil, sin, and death still stand, but they are an empty shell, a defeated hulk, for those who live in Jesus.

Jesus, in his “Operation Cross” had to go inside the lies, the pride, the anger, the violence, and the abuse of sin and death, because we were inside them. He needed to go inside of pain, and sorrow, and fear, and defeat, in order to get us out of there.

Jesus comes to us when we find we are in the wrong place. Jesus comes to us when we are the most helpless, when we think we are most God-forsaken, when we know we are lost, when we feel too weary to go on, when we are most ashamed.

Jesus goes where he is needed. He went to the cross to show that he will come to us anywhere; and to show us that there is no place where he will not be there for us.
The cross was the name of the gate, the way into the enemy camp. And the empty tomb was the way out. When we trust in Jesus we die on the cross with him, and we also rise to new life in him.

Instead of being in our selves and of ourselves, we are in him because he is in us. This is how the gospel works. This is why the cross was the right place for Jesus. And his cross is the right place for us to live through him.