Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Easter - Simple, Strange, Challenging

Preached on Easter morning, March 27, 2016
Scripture readings: Isaiah 25:1-9; Luke 24:1-12
It’s a strangely simple story.
What happened on that first Easter, in the resurrection of Jesus, is very simply told.
Before the resurrection, Jesus’ body was physically broken, disabled, and dead in the grave. After the resurrection, Jesus’ body was physically healthy, strong, and alive, and on the loose.
Holy Saturday Dawn
March 26, 2016
In some ways, we might not want it to be so simple as that. And if everything that could be told were told, maybe it wouldn’t be so simple.
Even as a miracle, it might be possible to tell the story of how some higher laws of physics went to work, at the command of God, and what happened to the chemical and cellular structure of Jesus’ dead body, and what changes took place to result in his risen, living body. Yet I doubt if knowing those answers would really satisfy anyone.
Besides, human nature being what it is, if we had any idea of the details of how it happened you can rest assured that humans would try to perform resurrections themselves. That’s the direction where the most passionate medical researchers would like to go. That’s the direction that medical quackery would like to go, too. It’s the promise of what we baby boomers want most of all, the secret of eternal youth.
God, in his wisdom and compassion, has given us only the simple truth to see what we would do with it. And it is a good question. What are we to do with the resurrection? What are we going to do about it? What is the challenge of the Resurrection?
It’s strange.
As simply as the event of the resurrection is told, sometimes we would like something even simpler, something easier to grasp; because the resurrection, the way the scriptures tell it, is not easy to deal with.
The simple truth, “now he’s dead, now he’s not,” wasn’t easy for the disciples to deal with. It’s not something that happens. Everyone knows that. It wasn’t easy for them to accept or believe, until they met Jesus alive, and well, and more amazing than ever.
Priest Rapids Lake/Columbia River
Desert Aire/Mattawa WA
Easter, March 27, 2016
Luke tells us that they thought the women’s story was nothing but nonsense. In deciding that the resurrection was nonsense, the disciples took the same way that a lot of people take, even today. In that way, they prove that they were as modern as we are. The resurrection isn’t the invention of gullible people.
When they faced the shocking truth that the resurrection was not nonsense, the disciples took the next easiest way of dealing with it. Suddenly Jesus was there with them, and they had to deal with it, so their next theory (at least for a few moments) was that Jesus was a ghost; a spirit. This was what they thought when Jesus met them in their hiding place. (Luke 24:37) If the disciples had stopped there, they would have believed in what you might call a spiritual resurrection.
There are a lot of choices before us, of how we could deal with a “spiritual resurrection.” Any of these options would be simpler, less strange, than dealing with the real thing.
We could say, “The body dies, but the spirit lives on.” That would be simple, but it’s not what the resurrection is about. The resurrection is much, much more than this.
You could say that the discoveries that Jesus brought to the disciples’ lives had died in their hearts, when Jesus died. The things they had learned from Jesus were of timeless value. They must not let those truths die.
That could have been a kind of spiritual resurrection. For instance: Jesus had taught them to open their minds about spiritual things: about God himself, and God’s purpose for human life. Jesus taught them to look deeper and look higher than they had ever done. They must not let this die. But the resurrection of Jesus is about much more than this.
Jesus taught them to welcome sinners and outcasts, and share the kingdom of God with them all. All people can be transformed by the love of God. Love your enemies and do good to those who persecute you. They must not let this die. But the resurrection of Jesus is about much more than this.
Jesus stood up to the powers that be, in all their pride and hypocrisy and injustice. Jesus spoke the truth about them. They must not let this die. But the resurrection of Jesus is about much more than this.
The disciples were suddenly face to face with Jesus. Jesus was now able to appear in rooms where the doors were locked and he was able disappear before their very eyes. These were tricks he had never done before he died. And so it was that, at first, they thought they saw the ghost, the spirit, of Jesus. And some people stop right there, even though the scriptures don’t stop there.
Some people say that Jesus came back to prove that there is life after death, and that death isn’t the end. They must not let this knowledge die. But the resurrection of Jesus is about much more than this.
And, besides, if Jesus came back from the dead to prove that there really was life after death, then he came back for no good purpose, because most people believed that already, in some form or other. The disciples already believed this, or else they wouldn’t have taken Jesus to be a ghost or spirit. The resurrection of Jesus is about much more than this.
When, in the gospel of John (14:19), Jesus says, “Because I live, you shall live also,” he did not mean to say, “Because I survive, you shall survive also.” Jesus did not survive death. Jesus conquered death. Paul says, “In all these things we are more than conquerors, through him who loved us.” (Romans 8:37)
With the God we meet in the Bible, with the God we meet in Jesus, heaven is not about spiritual survival and life going on. In Jesus, heaven is about conquest. Heaven is the first installment in a great victory. Heaven is the beginning of the great reversal that goes from death to life.
When the angel asked the women at the tomb, “Why do you seek the living among the dead,” he meant that Jesus was now the great contradiction of the way the world is.
When you look at the prophets, especially the ones who say the most about the age to come, the age of the Messiah, they tell you of a world that is completely changed. Nothing would run the same as it does now. The Lord himself would come, and swallow up death, and dry all tears. The Lord himself would come, and undo all death: all grief, all pain, all sorrow. Isaiah says it, “He will swallow up death forever. The Lord God will wipe away the tears form all faces…” (Isaiah 25:8)
A surgeon, who specialized in the human hand, wrote some reflections on the crucifixion and resurrection. (Paul Brand with Philip Yancey, Christianity Today, April 5,1985, pp. 20-21) His understanding of the hand’s anatomy told him that a large nail driven, as it would be in most crucifixions, through the wrist, would cause the tendons and ligaments in the hand to draw the fingers and thumbs together, into the shape of a claw. The damage done with the body’s weight hanging on the nails for hours (without dramatic medical care) would permanently damage Jesus’ hands. If Jesus had just been brought back to life, he would never have been able to use his hands again, even though the nails were drawn and the wound healed. But the risen Jesus broke bread with the disciples. In the Gospel of John (21), Jesus prepared a meal and barbequed some fish for his friends.
The resurrection conquered death. The resurrection conquered and undid the damage that death does. In spite of the visible wounds, the holes in his hands and feet, Jesus was essentially healed. It was the same body, but changed. The damage was reversed. The everlasting holes were only signs of the everlasting love of Jesus.
The resurrection says that the power of the Lord is at work to heal and reverse evil, to work death backwards, like a dream in which you find yourself pushing and pushing a strange intruder from your house, until you have pushed him out your door. Or it’s like brothers and sisters, as children, having a pushing contest.
Jesus has pushed death out of power because his resurrection is so strong. Jesus and life rule.
Although there is still evil in the world, and although there is still pain, and horror, and death, there is also a power on the loose that works against it. This stronger power works in the lives of people who belong to Jesus; the power to work evil backward, to push it back in our humble, little way, but in a way that will count.
It is not our power that does this. It is the resurrection power of Jesus, the power of God. Paul says that there is a power at work in the lives of those who put their trust in the Lord, if only they will live prayerfully, trustingly, and hopefully. Paul says (in Ephesians 1:19-20), “That power is like the working of his mighty strength which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead…”
It's challenging.
There is a challenge in the resurrection of Jesus. It’s a call for us to live in the power of God. Even Jesus, perfect as he was, when he was resurrected, was the same old Jesus, he was the wounded Jesus (still), and he was a more amazing Jesus than ever before; perhaps, most of all because he was the same. Something new was there, but it only made the same old Jesus more wonderful than ever. This power of God is like that. I have two examples of this.
First a pitiful example: unless you are a gardener. It is about compost. I was watching a gardener, digging compost out of her compost turner. She said, “O this is pure gold.” Well, it was dirt: heavy, dark, rich, sweet dirt (if dirt can be sweet).
But, once, it had been anything but sweet. It had been garbage: rancid, putrid, foul, rotten. Now it was sweet dirt. It was gold for the garden. The power of God is given to us in the resurrection of Jesus, and in the gift of the Holy Spirit who brings the living Jesus to us. His power turns all our garbage into gold.
The good news of Jesus is not about what some preachers call “fire insurance”: that is, it is not just a way to avoid hell when you die and give you the promise of heaven. The good news of Jesus is about transformation. It’s a power that starts now. Everything to come will be different, in its turn, because you have turned your life over to Jesus. That power has taken root. It starts now, and goes on forever, to everlasting life.
The second example is strange story that I never followed to the end. I did this insane thing over ten years ago. I picked up a hitchhiker. Once in a while I do that. In this case I was coming over the first hill from the county seat where I was, and there was a guy right there, walking with his thumb out, and I just stopped for him, as if I were under command, under orders.
He got in and looked at me, and he instantly sized me up (the way people like him have to do in order to survive) and he said, “Wow, and here I thought I would have to ride with someone who was like I used to be.” He had recently been released from county jail in a neighboring county so that he could do some time in the county where I lived. Now he was going back on his way to finish his jail time in the other county.
So instead of driving home I drove this guy to the next county. We talked about his life and his crimes. We talked about the fact that he had become a Christian in jail. We talked about the Lord. We talked until we got to the neighboring county seat, and I dropped him off at the jail.
About a week later, I got a letter from him telling me how he was doing. He told me about his trouble with drugs and alcohol. About his divorce and his estrangement from his kids. But he had been reading the Bible, and remembering some of the things he had heard about the Lord.
He wrote, “You know, I never knew before that God could really love me and forgive me.” He realized the evil he had been doing: destroying those who loved him and destroying himself, because he never knew that God could love him and forgive him.
Now he knew that this was what Jesus was about. So here he was, writing to me about what he knew that he was going to do. He was going to serve his time. Then he was going to find a job. He was going to be the dad he never had been before. When he said he was going to do this, he also said he that knew it wouldn’t be easy but, if he could hold onto what he had found, he believed he could do it.
I never found out where that man’s life journey took him after our brief encounter on the road. But that is the power of the resurrection.
You and I need that same power. You and I are not really so different from my hitchhiker. The resurrection power of Jesus is world-changing event that can change your life, it can change the life of a church, a community, a nation, a generation. That power has begun to change the world.

This is the challenge of the resurrection of Jesus for us. This is just a glimpse of what the resurrection is about. It is a thing both for this life and for eternity. Christians are people of the resurrection. Are we?

Easter Sunrise - Dawn of a New World

Preached on early Easter morning, March 27, 2016
Scripture reading: Luke 24:1-12
Easter shows that God has come into the world as a human being to die on a cross in order to make us wrong about this world that he rules as Lord. Easter still shows that we need to learn our mistake.
Priest Rapids Lake/Columbia River
Desert Aire/Mattawa WA
Easter, March 27, 2016
The men disciples, who stayed at home, were wrong because they were too grief-filled to come to the tomb to, even find out that they were wrong. The women disciples, who came to the tomb were wrong because they came to the tomb of Jesus to grieve and to mourn.
The grief, the pain, the anger and the numbing loss of the disciples at the dawn of the first Easter were right, so far as it all went. It was the first healthy step on the way to something more.
It was the first healthy step on their way to knowing Jesus, risen and alive. But, unless they learned to know this risen Jesus, their first healthy step would never take them to the Jesus they needed; the Jesus who would protect them from repeating the old mistake of this world.
We need to know the risen Jesus so that we know that suffering, death, corruption, and evil don’t have the last word. They don’t rule. It’s true that they still suck, but Jesus rules. In Jesus, life rules this world. 
In Jesus, God has made this world so wonderful that it is nearly beyond our understanding. Jesus shared our death so that all shall be made alive. “As in Adam, all die; even so, in Christ, shall all be made alive.” (1 Corinthians 15:22)
Usually we are at a loss in the face of our own defeats and griefs, and at the defeats and griefs of others, and at the pain of the whole world. The surprise of Easter means that sometimes we ought to be at a loss and wondering what to do next, in the face of something too wonderful for us to understand.
We ought to be “at a loss” (wondering) how to live in a world where the resurrection is the rule and the promise of God in Christ. We really don’t know how to live in such an empowered world. The resurrection happened to give us a God-empowered world. We don’t know what to do in such a world.
The other disciples thought the women were crazy and talking nonsense. These disciples had to be overcome, just as the angels overcame the women at the tomb. We have to be overcome by the resurrection in order to really understand and be changed by it.
It takes babies months, and even longer, to learn how to see and hear, and how to interpret, and how to relate to the world around them: the faces, the hands and arms, the voices and the noises, the warmth and the cold, the fullness and the hunger, the poopy-ness and the cleanness, the light and the dark that surround them.

What Jesus did for us, and for the world, on the first Easter, is an event that, when we find it, is greater than being born. We ought to be giddy. We ought to be off balance all the time, trying to take in a whole new world. We have been born again into a world where every moment could begin with the words, “Christ is risen.”

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

A Firm Foundation - Jesus' Campaign Strategy

Preached on Palm Sunday, March 20, 2016
Scripture readings: Zechariah 9:9-13; Luke 19:28-44
You know that scientists are studying the various species of animals that live north of the Arctic Circle. Well, they’ve noticed a particular set of big white bears that act very odd. One day these bears show a whole lot of energy and playfulness. The next day they just mope around, and snarl and growl when another bear gets too close.

A walk along Priest Rapids Lake, Columbia River
Desert Aire/Mattawa, WA
March 2016 
These bears are either really up or really down. So the scientists have decided to name these strange animals “bi-polar bears.”
Palm Sunday really was a bi-polar day. There is a lot to learn from Jesus’ coming to Jerusalem for that last Passover. He comes unarmed into a city full of powerful enemies, who will gladly pay a price for his head.
Jesus, just as gladly says, “Here I am. What are you going to do with me?” And, of course, Jesus knows that the answer is that they will crucify him and kill him.
This was his very purpose for coming to Jerusalem on that happy parade day. He came to be greeted by a cheering crowd in order for them to kill him. The cheering crowd didn’t realize that they were preparing Jesus for his sacrifice to die for their sins and ours.
Jesus is the extreme sacrifice for our sins. In that sacrifice, the same power that created us carries us through a death to ourselves into a resurrection that transforms us. Jesus, dying on the cross and rising from the dead, restores us to harmony with God, with others, with our world, and with ourselves. The drama of Palm Sunday leads to this sacrifice and this transformation.
Let’s look at a couple parts of this drama of Jesus coming to Jerusalem, and how they apply to our lives. How does Jesus come to us and to our world? What does he bring to us?
This leads us back to the bi-polar bears. They represent a huge range of feelings and emotions, and so does the God we learn to know through Jesus.
Some religious people are afraid of a God with strong feelings and emotions. As an escape from this, they say that part of what it means for God to be God means that God is far beyond our intense thoughts and feelings. They believe that God is beyond all human emotional connections and attachments.
But that is not the religion of the Bible. In the Bible, God is what he is, all the time, perfectly and completely; and this God is very intense in what he is.
God is full of feelings and emotions. God is love and compassion; perfectly, and completely, and all the time. God is full of peace and joy; perfectly and all the time.
But God is also passionate about goodness, or the lack thereof. God in his love and passion for goodness is deeply outraged by sin, and evil, and suffering, wherever he finds it. God is outraged by injustice and hypocrisy, wherever he finds it.
God even hates death. God hates death perfectly, and completely, and all the time. It’s right for us to feel awkward, and afraid, and empty, and completely at a loss in the presence of death because God wept in the presence of death when Jesus stood by the tomb of his friend Lazarus.
Jesus wept. Jesus is God weeping.
But Jesus was glad to do more than weep in the presence of death. That is why God was glad to die for all of the death that infects this world.
Out of the abundance of what God is, and out of his wealth of feeling, he comes to us with the specifics of what we really need most, and what our world requires most, in our time and place.
Sometimes we don’t know what to expect from God, because we don’t see clearly what we need, or what the world around us needs. This can be confusing.
Actually this is not much different from what we are. It is a perfectly simple thing to tenderly hug a little child and then, ten seconds later, scream at the same child because that beloved child is about to pull down a pot of boiling water on their head. A good parent can be trusted to be all that they need to be, at any moment, all the time.
What confuses us about God comes from our temptation to be one kind of person in the presence of certain people, and another kind of person with others: one kind of person in business, another kind of person at home, another kind of person on the golf course, another kind of person with friends, and another kind of person at church.
The person we show ourselves to be, in any given situation may be a deception. There is, often, something untrue about us that makes having faith in God confusing. Knowing a bit about ourselves, can we trust the Lord to be what he is perfectly, and completely, at any given moment, all the time?
Jesus is God in the flesh. When God became human in Jesus, we see this amazing ability to suddenly change, before our eyes, from one depth of emotion to another, according to what is needed. But Jesus is really what he is all the time.
Everyone with Jesus was excited, and joyful, and afraid, as they came up over the last hill (the Mount of Olives) that would bring them into sight of the Holy City. But, Jesus was calm, with the calm that comes from being in control. He shared his calmness with his disciples by giving them something to plan. He gave them a mission to carry out. “Go into that village and fetch me the donkey colt, for my mount.” His calm and control calmed them.
As they approached the walls and gates of the city and the Temple, so full of powerful enemies, with their troops and guards, the disciples and the crowd burst into song, and that song put heart and backbone into them.
Jesus surely sang along with them. He sang for joy with them. Jesus is always ready to sing for joy.
But there were frowning people in the crowd. They were dressed like leaders of the synagogues and of the Temple, and they looked like men who didn’t hear the word “no” gladly. “Jesus, stop these people from singing about you as their king!” “No! If these were silent, the stones would sing.”
In Jesus’ voice I hear two emotions at the same time: joy and indignation. This comes from being in the midst of happy people, and being faced with others who try to bring everyone down. Jesus stood in the defense of joy. And he stood against the killjoys.
And, then, the next thing you know, Jesus was weeping.
Jesus comes to Jerusalem to confront. Jesus comes to invite people to faith. Jesus comes to celebrate. Jesus comes to weep. Jesus comes to die; to offer himself on the cross. He comes to conquer death.
Far too many of the people in Jerusalem did not want Jesus to give them what he thought they needed. But: what about you?
Is there something the Lord needs to confront you about? You probably know that there is. Do you need him to invite you to faith, and openness? Do you need to be given a job to help Jesus do something (like the donkey mission)? Do you need to have joy, and sing with Jesus? Do you need Jesus to weep over you, or with you? Do you need to know that Jesus came to die for you?
Jesus designed his coming to Jerusalem, and he brought with him everything that he was. Jesus is abundantly full of every range of feeling and emotion for you, for this moment, for this time in your life. There is something he can communicate to you, as you need it, if you will stop and listen.
There is one more thing about the way Jesus comes to you; and that is Jesus’ way to success. Jesus is the King. He is the Lord. He is God. Jesus is always that, and that is his success. The fact that he is what he is (king, and Lord, and God) is our success too.
But, his enemies didn’t believe that Jesus was any of these things. They only believed that Jesus was on a campaign to make himself king and rule against their will. They thought it was all a plot, and a scheme, and a trick.
They thought that his campaign included that parade with the palm branches, and the cleansing of the temple, in order to create an excited fan base that would follow him anywhere. They thought that these were part of his strategy to take over the country. They thought that, if they let him continue this strategy, he just might succeed. They thought they could only defeat Jesus by killing him.
Jesus’ friends sort of thought the same way. They believed (with fear and trembling) that Jesus was the right man to be king and Messiah. They didn’t understand a lot of what Jesus claimed to be. They didn’t understand why Jesus didn’t consistently campaign in ways that would grow his fan base and turn them into an army that would fight for him.
They hoped, with all their might, that this Palm Sunday parade was Jesus’ campaign for an army. They were willing to hope that the parade into Jerusalem, and the cleansing of the Temple, would be an effective strategy to claim the kingship. They thought that it was possible for this strategy to rouse the people; so that the people would stand up for Jesus, and give Jesus their successful support in his campaign to be King. The worst thing they could imagine was for Jesus to be arrested, and killed.
That would bring their hopes to an end. The friends and enemies of Jesus tended to think along the same lines; and so do we.
The enemies of Jesus couldn’t stop him. The very methods they used to defeat Jesus were the actions that gave Jesus success.
They crucified Jesus, never dreaming that crucifixion was part of the campaign, all along. Their success made possible the sacrifice that Jesus came to give, for the life of the world, and for us.
Even if we are the friends of Jesus we may be tempted by this world’s standards and rules for success. Christians often place a lot of their hopes and fears on the outcomes of elections and presidential campaigns. They see a lot riding on who succeeds and who fails the campaign.
Success is good, and comfortable, and desirable. I like success; but sometimes success is superficial.
The work of God (the work that changes our hearts and minds the most) is often found in the experiences that look like setbacks, and frustrations, and defeats. This is simply the truth.
Our salvation is in the death of Jesus on the cross, and his resurrection from the dead. Our own transformation of life is basically found in our own crosses, in the times when we must die to ourselves and live by faith in Christ. That is where the real power of the Lord is to be found.
We don’t see this. It always surprises us. But this way of the Lord (his strange way of working through crosses) is typical of Jesus. Maybe he’s right to take us completely by surprise.
Perhaps God cannot take us any way but by surprise. It is as if the Lord came to us, most of the time, under our radar.
I used to have a favorite walking place around the Palouse River. I often watched fighter jets swooping through the canyons. They came right down between the cliffs. I could see the pilots in their cockpits. I am tempted to say that they would fly between one and two hundred feet above the bottom of the canyon.
Not a "fighter jet"
Maybe they were flying higher, but they looked awfully close. I think they were training to fly under the enemy’s radar; and under their own radar too.
This is God’s way, as well. God comes to us, in Jesus; through a human being on a dusty road long ago, through a man on a cross. He comes to us in his own humility, and sacrifice, and pain, and human feeling. He comes to us in our own humility, and sacrifice, and pain, and human feeling.
But Jesus will do more. Jesus will succeed. He will overcome. He will live forever and ever. And so Jesus comes to us with hope; because he has taken everything he shares with us in common, and Jesus rises from the dead, and promises to share his victory with us.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

A Firm Foundation - Naming and Knowing

Preached on Sunday, March 13, 2016

Scripture readings: Exodus 6:2-8; Luke 9:18-27

Walking along Lower Crab Creek
Near Desert Aire/Mattawa WA
February 2016
I was about five or six years old when I first discovered that reading opened up a whole new set of ideas to you. A few months after learning how to read, “see Spot run”, our class had a reading book where the kids called their parents “mother” and “daddy”.
I knew all about calling my parents “mommy” and “daddy”. I knew that they were also my mother and father, but I had never thought of calling them anything but “mommy” and “daddy”. No kid my age called their parents anything different.
So I asked my mommy what this meant and she made a big mistake. She told me that “mother” and “father” were grown-up words for “mommy” and “daddy”.
I was six, and I really wanted to be grown-up, so I started calling my parents “mother” and “father”. In later years, my mother has said that this change in what I called her made her very sad. She could have fixed it, at least a little, by back-tracking a bit and telling me that what the really big kids called their parents was “mom” and “dad”.
At the age of six, I would have taken her up on that. But I soon got set in my ways, and I went on calling my parents mother and father, ever afterwards, when I spoke to them. I was well on my way to being a very strange kid.
At the age of six, I missed the whole point. Calling my parents by a new, grown-up name didn’t make me more grown up at all.
Peter and the disciples learned a new name for Jesus. They knew that they could call him Christ, if he would let them. Christ means Messiah, which means “anointed one”, which means being set apart for a holy purpose, and the sign of that setting apart was to be anointed with olive oil: having oil poured over the head.
Olive oil was the main source of fat in the diet of ancient Middle Eastern people. I don’t know about you, but I love eating fat. For God’s people, olive oil represented the richness and fullness of the Holy Spirit at work in them. People set apart for God’s great purposes were anointed with oil. It was the sign of the abundance and the sufficiency of the Holy Spirit of the living God that would enable them and empower their lives for their special task.
With God’s people, there were three kinds of people set apart by anointing with oil: the prophets, the priests, and the kings. With the Roman army occupying their country, the people of Israel, when they thought about the Messiah, thought about their need for a king to raise up and command an army. They wanted a king to drive out the Romans. They didn’t think about anything else. But getting this anointed king, this Messiah, this Christ.
When the disciples learned that Jesus had a name that they had never thought about before, and when they learned that this new name was “Christ”, they thought of their need for a king. So Jesus told them not to use that name, at least not yet, because they didn’t understand that name. Using that name would keep them from.
They didn’t understand what the name “Christ” really meant, even though it was one of Jesus’ names. They needed to grow up a lot more, and that growth would only come when they learned more about Jesus.
From that moment on, Jesus began to teach his disciples the way they would learn more about him. For one thing, they would never understand what it meant to call him Christ until they watched him die.
I’ve heard that time teaches the same lesson to all of us. No matter how well we may think that we know our own parents, or our dearest loved ones, and no matter what our favorite names for them may be, only time teaches us fully who they are and what their lives mean. Death itself teaches us what their lives mean to us.
With Jesus, it was not only his death that would teach his disciples what the name of “Christ” meant. It was also his rising from the dead that would teach them (and us) what it means to call him our “Christ”.
‘Jesus strictly warned them not to tell this to anyone. And he said, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” Then he said to them all: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”’ (Luke 9:21-23)
The truth is that, because Jesus is the Christ, we can never know what anyone’s name means, or what anyone’s life means without our knowing the Christ. We can’t understand what anyone’s life means unless we know that Jesus suffered many things, and was killed and raised to life for a world of other people, and for those we love, and for us. We can’t understand what our own life means unless we understand that Jesus is our Christ, full of the power and the richness of the Holy Spirit on our behalf, because he suffered, and died, and rose from the dead.
Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” Nobody wants to do that, yet that is what it means to be on the same road as Jesus. Jesus suffered many things and died for us. Jesus denied himself for us; to do us good. Jesus denied himself to rescue us and give us life.
If the name “Christ” means the king (and our King) then the one who writes the laws we live by, and holds our lives in his hand, has given us orders for how to follow him, and how to live. We could call that life a road, and we could give that road a name and call it the Jesus Road.
Jesus gave his life to serve others in love. We give our lives to serve others in love. Love teaches us the difference between living a life that is bent on losing ourselves and a life that is bent on saving ourselves.
It should go without saying that it means nothing to lose anything that you don’t love. We have to love ourselves and realize our true value in order for our giving of ourselves to have value.
And yet, even at this stage, we don’t know what it means. It isn’t enough to watch Jesus die. We have to meet Jesus as the one who has risen from the dead. The Jesus Road isn’t just the road of the cross. It’s the road of the resurrection.
Since Jesus talks about us taking the road of the cross every day, the implication is that, when we follow him, we should also call our road the Resurrection Road, and realize that we can take up our resurrection daily. There is a way of denying ourselves that opens our hearts to receive new life from Jesus.
Of course our resurrection doesn’t belong to us. It belongs to Jesus. He is the Christ (the king) of that road.
Back in the Old Testament Book of Exodus, the Lord told Moses that his people used to called him by the name “God Almighty”. No matter what they went through they found that his power was sufficient. God Almighty’s power was more than enough. They found that God was always in charge, and providing for them, and bringing them through all their adventures. God Almighty was the right name because he had the talent for making the seemingly impossible truly possible.
So the God Almighty told Moses that, from now on, the people of God would use a new name and call him the Lord. (Exodus 6:3) At the burning bush Moses learned that this new name meant “I am who I am” but it also means, in Hebrew, in ways that are too complicated to translate without making the name into a whole paragraph, “I will be who I will be”. (Exodus 3:14)
Learning who Jesus is, as our Christ, is like taking a long road with Jesus every day, and finding out what he will turn out to be. We find that Jesus will be something newer, and greater and greater every day. We are always learning about who and what he will be for us; as our Christ.
This, in fact, is the only way we can learn about each other. We learn by sticking together every day who we will be for each other.
But this is infinitely true of God. We know God through Jesus. Jesus is God come into our world as a true human, a true brother and kinsman of ours. This is how God tells us who he is. It is why it is so true to call God, as we know him in Jesus, “I am who I am, and I will be who I will be.” There is always something we don’t know or understand about Jesus. We need to be ready to find out who Jesus will be.
I think that eternal life will be a road on which we joyfully see more and more of what God, in Jesus, turns out to be, and it will always be new every everlasting day of the day everlasting.
In this life, we know more and more of Jesus as we take our own crosses daily, because every day will call for us to take up that day’s cross. And every day will offer us a new resurrection for that day. This is what Jesus did for us. This is the only way to truly know him, to walk that Jesus Road.

When we do this, we have the right and the experience to say exactly who Jesus is, even though we are still learning who he will be. We will not only be able to say who he is. We will be able to show who he is because we will be like him. We will know his name because we know him.

Monday, March 7, 2016

A Firm Foundation - Caught for Joy

Preached on Sunday, March 6, 2016

Scripture readings: Jeremiah 1:1-10; Luke 5:1-11
I remember my friend Dick Cochran saying that Jesus’ first true miracle was not when he turned the water into wine. It was when Jesus turned commercial fishermen into disciples.
Dick meant nothing critical by saying this. He just knew a lot of commercial fishermen, and he liked them, and he knew that they would have laughed to hear him say it. God has great saints among the fishing people. But they have a different way of life. They have a very salty way of acting and talking, and they are proud of it.
Walking along Lower Crab Creek
Near Desert Aire/Mattawa, WA
February 2016
It’s one thing to have a real skill; to know how to something practical and essential, and to do it well. When you add to that pride the pride of knowing how to work well under extreme and dangerous circumstances, day after day, the results can be wild, and rough, and dangerous. That’s the pride of the commercial fisherman.
The small Oregon coast town of Lakeside, where I served for five years, had some recreation and retirement people in it, but it was mostly timber workers, and lumber-mill workers, and some fishermen. They were tough people. I’m sure that whenever they looked at me they thought how soft I was: even the ones who knew me and liked me. I’m sure that, in some way that I still can’t imagine, I was simply entertaining to them, and completely out of place.
My friend Hutch was my church treasurer. He had done that for over twenty years. He was almost eighty years old. But he was still a mill worker at heart. He had done that for most of his working life.
He would tell me about how, in his pre-Christian younger days, he would walk down the street with a pipe in his back pocket. He didn’t mean a pipe for smoking. He meant a metal pipe for fighting with. You would want to carry something like that on you, if you were serious about going to the mill town and fishing town taverns of Hutch’s younger days.
Hutch was a great Christian man, and a great Sunday school teacher, but I can’t help thinking that (even at the age of eighty) he still could have killed me, if it came down to that. Knowing Hutch, and many other mill workers and fishermen, I think I know what Peter was like.
I think that Jesus was well enough known, by the time Peter met him, so that Peter knew where Jesus came from and, more or less, the kind of man he should be. Jesus was a rabbi with a reputation for healing, but Jesus was also a carpenter. They shared the footing of being men who knew how to work, and how to do their work well.
Unless Peter thought that Jesus was a failed carpenter, who resorted be being a rabbi as a last resort, Peter expected Jesus to be carpenter-tough. But Peter was confident about being commercial-fisherman-tough and that made Peter the better man, the tougher man.
In Jesus, Peter met his match. Jesus was the tougher man. Peter was the catcher of fish. Jesus was the master of fish. Jesus clearly owned the fish and the sea they swam in. This was the first of what was going to be many lessons about who Jesus was, and is, and about learning to let Jesus have his way.
Letting Jesus use his boat when he had other work to do shows us Peter being polite and voluntary. Peter made it pretty clear that Jesus didn’t know what he was talking about when Jesus told him to take the boat into deep water to really catch some fish. Again, Peter obeyed Jesus politely and voluntarily, against his will and his own better judgement. “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and we haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.” (Luke 5:5)
Peter didn’t mean what he said, because, when the nets were full, he confessed and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” (Luke 5:8) Jesus knew Peter’s business better than Peter did. Jesus was the better man. Jesus was tougher than Peter, and now Peter knew it.
Because of Jesus, the days of Peter’s life as a commercial fisherman were numbered. In his heart, he would probably stay a fisherman all his life, but he would be of use to Jesus by doing something completely different, and he had no idea how to do it.
Even we Christians don’t really know what it means to be Christian. It takes us half our lives, or all our lives, to realize that Jesus is not only a carpenter who builds things. It’s true that he does take charge of building us. But Jesus is also in the demolition business and we don’t cooperate with him in this business.
The gospels use Peter to teach us about ourselves. We are tempted to belong to Jesus by accepting his promises to us, and saying that we will do what he says because he says so. But that’s not enough.
It takes us forever to face the fact that we think we know best about our choices, even as Christians. We know best about where and how to serve and love Jesus.
If we could see ourselves as Jesus sees us, we would see that we think we can get our own way in the end, and that’s a way of thinking that we are really tougher than Jesus.
The great haul of fish told Peter that Jesus was smarter and stronger than him. This demolished Peter’s ego and even Peter’s identity. Jesus demolished how Peter thought of himself, and what he took pride in, and how he made his decisions about what to do next. Because of this, Peter was going to leave behind a kind of work that had been his way of life and his identity.
Being a fisherman had always given him his blueprint for relating to others and making his way in this world. Jesus took that away from him.
Both Jesus and Jeremiah were in the business of demolition and reconstruction. This is another way of saying that both of them were in the business of judgment and grace.
The Lord told the teenage boy named Jeremiah, “See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.” (Jeremiah 1:10) In the Gospel of Luke, when Jesus’ parents brought him to the Temple to be dedicated, the old man named Simeon spoke to Mary about her Son’s future work in demolition and reconstruction, in judgement and grace. “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” (Luke 2:34-35)
Through the death of Jesus on the cross and his resurrection from death to life we all become the objects of his demolition and reconstruction, his judgement and his grace. This is the power of the good news of the gospel. This is also called change. Since the beginning of the creation, the work of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit has always been about change.
A lot of the stress of our lives comes from our conflict with Jesus over what must come to an end within us. Something in us coming to an end is the only way for something we don’t understand to begin. God has wanted to plant and grow things in you and me that we think we don’t want. The thought of going through this scares us.
I’m beginning to wonder if growing old has something to do with accomplishing this. But it should happen long before we grow old.
Jeremiah’s ultimate goal was that God wanted him to build and to plant. That is God’s will for us in Jesus.
That big haul of fish that Jesus gave to Peter seems to have demolished something inside him. It cut Peter to the heart. He felt that Jesus should have nothing to do with him because he had behaved so badly toward Jesus.
This is such an odd thing. A big haul of fish was the very thing Peter lived for. It was his harvest. It was what made Peter happy. It was what gave Peter joy.
In a sense, then, Peter was demolished and rebuilt by the discovery that Jesus knew completely what gave him joy. The demolition that comes from Jesus is for building and planting. It’s for a new life. The demolition that comes from Jesus is for joy.
This calls for a kind of trust from us. It calls us to believe that Jesus knows and cares more about our own joy than we do. This is what Peter saw for the first time in his life with Jesus.
We say, “This is what I am. Live with it.” We think that we find our satisfaction in that. Or we might be tempted to think that being Christian means pretending to enjoy what we don’t in order to please Jesus. In either case we have no idea what Jesus has to offer.
I believe that Jesus is showing us every day that he knows what we really enjoy. He knows where our happiness is. We are like little children making mud pies and throwing a tantrum because Jesus is like our parent giving us a piece of apple pie when we want to pretend to eat our mud pies.
Fishermen catch fish to be eaten. Fishers of people should catch people for joy; only we haven’t learned enough about that joy yet. Christians think they are called to catch people to spare them from judgment, when those same Christians still need to accept God’s judgement for themselves, so that God’s demolition can proceed, and true joy be given to them.
I believe that those who aren’t with us see right through us. They see that (whatever we say) we really don’t know enough about joy.
Only when we learn and trust that we are caught for joy can we understand what God wants with other people. Only then are we truly qualified to fish with Jesus. Only when we know that Jesus has caught us for joy will we know what we have been given to share with them.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Lent - The Awakened Ear

Preached on the Wednesday Lenten Service, March 2, 2016

Scripture readings: Isaiah 50:4-7; Matthew 13:10-17

I had a friend in seminary whose name was Roger. Roger couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket. If you were beside him in chapel, while we were singing, you would hear the music go up and Roger would go down. The music would go down and Roger’s voice would go up.
Walking along Lower Crab Creek
North of Desert Aire/Mattawa
February 2016
Roger honestly confessed that he really didn’t think that he heard notes at all. At least he was sure that he didn’t hear them the way other people hear them.
The interesting thing was that Roger loved music and he loved to sing. Music, he said, was something he felt inside him.
I think that’s a very good observation of what music is and does. It’s a very good observation of what hearing is and what our ears do for us. I sometimes think that seeing goes inside us to our brains, and that hearing goes somewhere deeper, to what we call our heart.
What would you miss, if you had no ears, or no hearing at all? What are the things of the heart that you would miss?
What about the ears and the hearing of other people? What would you miss if they couldn’t hear you? What would they miss, if they couldn’t hear you?
(I love you. I need you. You are wonderful. I hurt inside. I am so very sorry. I am grieving. I am afraid. I love you too. I feel happy. God be praised and thanked!)
We walk in the sight of beauty, but we don’t see it. We walk in the sound of love, but we don’t hear it.
What would you miss, if you couldn’t hear? What would others miss, if they couldn’t hear you?
There is a form of deafness that comes from stubbornness and the refusal to hear or listen. There is a form of deafness that comes from pride. There is a form of deafness that comes from our own sufferings, our own injuries, and our own burdens and (in this deafness) we will not hear because we have not shared our suffering, and injuries, and burdens with others. We have not learned to say, “Help me!” Or else we have said, “Help me,” and no help seemed to come.
Jesus gave the treasure of his kingdom, and his healing, and his help in the form of stories called parables. Some people heard Jesus, and they knew exactly what he meant, and his treasure gave them joy and hope. They wanted to follow Jesus. For other people, the stories were no better than their own deafness; no better than the silence they lived in.
Jesus didn’t tell stories in order to shut some people out, or punish them, or keep them trapped within their own silence. I believe that Jesus preserved and prolonged their silence in the hope that their silence would heal them.
Sometimes we need quiet in order to heal. When we have had enough quiet, we become strong enough and willing enough to ask for help.
I believe that if we learn to ask for help, help will come. Somehow we will be heard. If no human help comes, God will hear us, and come. Jesus will come.
I have prayed long, exhausting prayers in a vast silence, and Jesus came to me in that silence. He was also absolutely quiet. He didn’t say a word, but his silence surrounded me with love.
God’s listening silence became his arms around me. It became his presence with me. In such hours and moments as those, I didn’t need anything more. It was enough.
It’s a hard thing to put silence into words. Think about that. And it’s hard to put God’s listening and healing silence into words. You have to be there.
In Isaiah there is a voice that says, “The Lord God has given me the tongue of those who are taught, that I may know how to sustain with a word him that is weary. Morning by morning he wakens, he wakens my ear, to hear as those who are taught. The Lord God has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, I turned not backward. I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I hid not my face from shame and spitting.” (Isaiah 50:4-6
Do you realize that the prophet Isaiah is giving us the voice of Jesus, here? God came into our world, in Jesus, to be a baby who learned to hear. Jesus was taught (as we all are) by what he heard. He was a baby crying and silent.
God came into our world, in Jesus, to be a man, speaking and silent. He came to be a man tortured and killed on a cross for us; crying, and praying, and as silent as his final sigh.
God came, in Jesus, to a world full of crying and silence to be the one who could hear you and come to you. He learned, as a human being, what he knew from the beginning, as God: how to be present, and how to listen.
Our first break-through in the art of hearing comes when we learn the way that Jesus listens to us in silence. Then we will know how to listen to him.
Then we will know how to simply be in the presence of others who need us to be lovingly silent. We will find other people who need us to be that person who can be present, and quiet, and hear them, and listen.