Monday, April 24, 2017

Faith for Life - The Power for Getting Unstuck

Preached the Sunday after Easter, April 23, 2017

Scripture readings: 1 Peter 5:1-4; John 21:1-19

On a Walk by the Columbia River, Mattawa/Desert Aire, WA
April 24, 2017
When you get to the end of Chapter Twenty, in the Gospel of John, it sounds like John is bringing his writing to an end. Then he starts Chapter Twenty-One and he brings it to an end, for a second time, with these words: “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.” (John 21:25)
I think that’s why John couldn’t quite bring himself to stop. There was so much to say about Jesus. I also think that’s the reason why, when you read about Jesus rising from the dead, in all four gospels, they don’t tell us any of the same things, except that the tomb was empty. There is always too much to say when Jesus is doing something.
In the twentieth chapter, Jesus teaches us about the power of his rising from the dead, and how this power works for our peace, and for our own forgiveness, and for our giving forgiveness to others. It tells us how his rising from the dead gives Jesus the power for sending us (making us sent people; people with a mission like the mission of Jesus).
In the twenty-first chapter, Jesus gives us a demonstration of how his rising from the dead gives him power to be the good shepherd, even after he lays down his life for his sheep. His rising from the dead also gives him the power to make us shepherds like him, if we love him.
Part of our church’s ordination vows (both for pastor’s and elders) is a promise to submit to the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as “God’s word to you.” I have to submit to them as God’s word to me and, if you became a minister or an elder, you would need to vow to accept them as God’s word to you. But, if you’re not what we call “ordained”, that doesn’t let you off the hook.
Besides, our church holds the belief that all of us are ministers. Minister is an old word that means servant. So we are all servants of Jesus, the chief servant, and servants of each other, and servants of the gospel to the world, and servants of everyone out there.
Peter writes, in his second letter, describing himself as an elder and (as such) he addresses his fellow elders, and calls them shepherds. Here, again, you’re not off the hook, you are all shepherds.
When I say that I’m a pastor, pastor is simply a fancy old word meaning shepherd. When I say that I’m a pastor, you shouldn’t quite believe it, because it isn’t exactly true. It’s more correct to say that I am an under-shepherd to the head-shepherd Jesus.
You are shepherds, too. You are not shepherds under me. You are under-shepherds just like me, because you and I serve together under Jesus, the head shepherd.
Also, we are not only shepherds to the church and our brothers and sisters in Jesus. Jesus once described his job this way: “For the Son of Man (Jesus) came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:10) So we’re shepherds to everybody.
Oddly enough, this is the very thing we see Jesus doing in the twenty-first chapter of John. The disciples (bless them) had managed, in just the few days since Jesus rose from the dead, to get themselves lost again: not lost from him or from the Father, but from themselves and from their purpose in life.
In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus gave instructions for the disciples to leave Jerusalem, for a while, and go north, back to their home places in Galilee. The instructions were that they would see Jesus there. (Matthew 28:10)
Someone remarked that, after the resurrection, none of the disciples ever went searching for Jesus. He always came in search of them.
Of course, they wouldn’t even have known where to look, would they? If they went to Jesus’ house in Capernaum, looking for him there, the gospels don’t tell us, but we’ve already noticed that there is way too much to tell.
They went to Galilee, not knowing what to do next. They decided to go fishing, instead. At least that was something they knew how to do, and they might make a few bucks while they were at it.
It was their old way of life. They grew up with it. It felt good. Or it would have felt good, if they had caught anything.
Well they knew all about that, too. Just because you know what you’re doing doesn’t mean it will go well. And they were dealing with nature: with fish and with weather. With our orchards in bloom and our freezing spring nights, I’ve been praying for the farmers. They know what they’re doing, and yet who knows what will happen by the time harvest comes around again. It’s the same with fishing.
The disciples didn’t know how to look for Jesus. They were wandering. They were on auto-pilot. Yesterday, I heard the pastor at Bill Siegfried’s memorial service, talking about the disciples, after Jesus rose from the dead, being “stuck” in the past. I’ve been reading the same thing all this past week, so it must be important for you and me to get unstuck.
The funny thing, here, is that Jesus takes those disciples back in time, in order to unstick them. In the Gospel of Luke (Luke 5:1-11) you can read about the first time, or so, when Jesus found Peter and his friends.
It was almost the same. They had been fishing all night and they hadn’t caught a thing. Jesus told them to go out again and, that time (again), they caught so many fish that they needed another boat to come out to help them haul the net.
Even after Jesus rose from the dead, Peter and his friends had to learn the same old lessons. Both times, they were lessons about themselves. Both times, they were lessons about Jesus being up to the task of taking care of them, and providing for them, and leading them.
In the twentieth chapter of John, Jesus said to them “Peace be to you.” (John 20:19,21) He actually said it twice in close sequence. This time Jesus said to Peter, “Do you love me?” and he repeated the question three times.
The disciples had all deserted Jesus when he was arrested, and Peter had (three times) denied even knowing Jesus. The offering of peace and the question of love may have had something to do with their guilt, shame, sin, and regret. They had all gone through something terrible, and they had all responded badly, and they were lingering over it. They had gotten stuck.
Jesus never mentions their guilt, shame, sin, and regret. He never names them. But Jesus shepherds the disciples in their stuckness.
Jesus repeats his lessons willingly. They don’t look for this. They don’t expect this, themselves. Jesus is the one who knows better, and so he looks for this, and he works it out, again and again.
He repeats himself a lot with you and me; and, boy, do we need it. If this is God’s word to you, then it’s your job and mine to do this (to repeat the same things) for each other, and for those who don’t really know much about Jesus and who aren’t even looking for him. We are willing to repeat the same things over and over, because we know what it’s like to not be looking for Jesus, because the word of God teaches us that we aren’t.
Also, it teaches us that we can be creative, like Jesus. It’s hard to talk about sin. Jesus, at this point, wasn’t saying anything about sin; or about any such things. All he did was talk to them about peace, and love, and taking care of others. We can do the same.
Maybe, like Peter and his friends, we are not only dealing with guilt, shame, sin, and regret. Maybe it was (and is) simply discouragement. So, Jesus teaches us about his ability to find us, take care of us, and feed us, so that we can be shepherds to the discouraged.
We can be shepherds of encouragement. We need it ourselves, and so does everyone else.
One of the secrets of getting unstuck is to not hold so tight to the past and its patterns. “Do you love me?” “Feed my sheep.” “Follow me.” These are not about the past. These are about the present, and the future.
I get awfully stuck in the past. It’s one of my sins. I try to focus on what God wants me to do next. I make lists of things to do, and people to think about, days ahead of time. I have a sticker on my prayer wall that says, “Next Thing.” I need even better reminders than that.
The Gospel of John ends on a note where Jesus says, “Let me get you unstuck, so that you can follow me.” This is his command to every disciple, including you and me.

It’s his command to every church, including this one. We are commanded to come unstuck, because Jesus has died to make this possible; and Jesus has risen from the dead to make this possible. So, anything is possible. All things are possible. And Jesus says the words you’ve heard him say many times: “Do you love me? Feed my sheep. Follow me.”

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Faith for Life - The Wounded Hero's Arsenal

Preached on Resurrection Sunday, Easter Sunday, April 16, 2017
Scripture readings: Exodus 15:1-3; John 20:19-31
I saw a cartoon once with a young minister talking to his little boy. The minister has his sleeve rolled up, and he’s pointing to a long, jagged scar on his forearm, and he says, “And I got this scar in the battle for the new church carpeting.”
Spring Photos Around Desert Aire/Mattawa, WA
             April 2017
We get other kinds of scars from much worse battles and ambushes.
Jesus got many scars. He was scourged, and crowned with thorns, and nailed to a cross, and he died there. On his way to death he received many wounds. After he was dead, his heart was pierced by a spear. When he rose from the dead, he showed those wounds to his disciples.
Most soldiers would rather not talk about their battles. Still, Jesus was like a soldier showing the scars he had gotten in a war that he had won.
In another way, Jesus was briefing his disciples by showing them his wounds. His disciples would have to take up the fight for themselves because, although the war was won, the enemy had not surrendered and the fight was still going on.
The same fight is still going on to this day. It’s our fight too, and we need to be briefed in the fight by Jesus.
The scars of Jesus are the signs of his victory. The simple fact that he was so terribly wounded, and died, and rose from the dead was the very way he won the war. His scars are his trophies, his medals, from that war.
But Jesus has better trophies than these: the trophies that he is most proud of. After he showed the disciples his wounds, he told them what he had won for them, and for us.
The greatest trophy is everlasting life as the gift of Jesus to us; with heaven first, and then our very own resurrection (the resurrection of all things). When he raised his friend Lazarus from the grave, Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live; and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.” (John 11:25)
After the resurrection, Jesus seemed to be always starting with the word “peace”. We catch him repeating himself, that first day with the disciples. “Peace! Peace!”
When Jesus said “peace” the second time, he began to give his disciples some gifts and instructions. I think it’s not out of line to look at those gifts and instructions as playing a part in the peace he gives to us.
These gifts are his arsenal and strategy. Even peace is part of his arsenal. All of these gifts are his resources for us in the good fight.
I think I should say something about peace, first. Peace, in the Bible, means “well-being”. Peace is a kind of healthiness and thriving. You have peace when things are working well inside you, no matter how things are working on the outside.
Of course, there is an outward peace too. In the outward peace, in a nations peace, in a world truly at peace, everything works. Everything and everyone thrives. We don’t always see a lot of that in our world. That kind of peace will be the rule only when God creates a new heaven and a new earth.
Right now, by the word peace, I mean a spiritual health within. Things are working well in your soul. Also, peace means that things are working well between you and others or, at least, you are relating to others in a healthy way, whether they relate back to you in a healthy way or not.
Even on the cross, Jesus had this kind of peace. This is part of the peace that we need, and that Jesus gives.
The kingdom of God will be a kingdom of peace, because everything in the kingdom of God will work in healthy ways. There will be no injustice. There will be no judging or lording over others. People will serve and take care of each other. People will be free to grow and develop their gifts without fear.
Peace in the church is supposed to be exactly like that. Peace in the church can be seen where the grace of God is evident. People serve and care for each other. People grow together spiritually and in their ability to use their gifts, and there is plenty of wisdom and mercy spread around.
Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” (John 20:21) “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”
There is peace in being “sent people”. It means that wherever you go you have a purpose. You have a mission. You have a mission to your family and neighbors. You have a mission to people who are completely different from you, to people who are strangers, and to people you may never meet. You have a mission to people you disagree with, and you have a mission with people who are in conflict with you. You are always sent.
Sometimes we don’t want to be sent. We want to pursue our own priorities. We want to be on our own, and to be independent, and we want to be uncommitted (or at least selectively uncommitted). If this is what we want, then we won’t receive the peace that Jesus is reaching out to give us: the peace he wants to breathe into us.
Jesus said, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” Jesus was sent from the heart of God. In the first chapter of John, John tells us, “No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side (or the Father’s bosom); he has made him known.” (John 1:18)
The One and Only is Jesus, who came to earth from the Father’s side, taking up our human nature. We have to be sent from the heart of the Son who is in the heart of his Father. We have to serve where we are sent, knowing the very heart of God. We have to know what it means to say, “God so loved the world.” This is an essential part of our arsenal: the arsenal of the wounded hero Jesus.
We are not sent just to serve any old way that suits us. Jesus was sent as the incarnation of God; as God present in the flesh. We are sent to incarnate Christ. We are sent to be the hands, and the feet, and the voice of Jesus in the world around us.
We can only do this, though, if Christ has taken us, and sent us from his own heart. We have to be sent from his love if we are ever going to embody it. His love is grace, and the best grace is freely given. The best grace is unconditional.
“And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” The Holy Spirit is the Giver of Life, the Breath of Life.
The first time anyone in the Bible breathed into a person to give them life was in the story of the creation of the first humans. In the second chapter of Genesis it says this: “The Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” (Genesis 2:7) The older translations say that God’s breath, or Spirit, made the man (the human) into a living soul. I like that translation. The ancient people thought of souls.
In partnership with Father and the Son, the Holy Spirit is an agent of creation. In the creation, in the Book of Genesis, only of humans is it said that their soul is something that God has directly breathed into them. Other scriptures tell us that there is some way that all other creatures have their life from God’s Spirit. But Genesis tells us that our life is different from any other creature. What God has breathed has made us into living souls in his image.
Sin robs us of the true life of the soul. Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit into his disciples to make them truly alive, spiritually and personally alive, as they (and we) were created to be. Jesus made them alive within, in a way that they could never have imagined on their own.
Peace comes from Jesus breathing into you. Jesus breathes a presence that makes you alive in a way that you could never guess beforehand.
Without the breath of the Holy Spirit we can act like good people. We can act and talk like religious people, but there’s no true life in it.
Without the Holy Spirit, we are only a bare image of life, just a picture; maybe even just a cartoon (or a stick drawing) of life. Without the Holy Spirit, we are only play acting; and we will always be afraid of being found out. We can’t have peace that way.
We are sent, simply, to be truly alive; to be real, genuine people, each in our own unique way but, most of all, in God’s way: Jesus’ way.
Jesus said, “If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” (John 20:23) The best way you can forgive another person is to give them Jesus, and also to be Jesus for them.
Real forgiveness, the most important forgiveness, comes from God. Jesus is saying, “If you let someone know about me, then they can experience forgiveness. If you don’t let someone know about me, then they may never experience true forgiveness.”
But, in order to have peace, and to share peace with others, we need to know that there’s a proper time to speak of Jesus, and there’s also a proper time to simply be Jesus. To know the gospel, sometimes, people need something besides talk. The Holy Spirit will change you into a real, living person who can know the difference between the time for talk and the time for service.
Then the Holy Spirit will show you when other people need some explanation from you, to explain why you are so different. Then you have the chance “to give a reason for the hope that is in you.” (1 Peter 3:15)
There is something important about Jesus’ using his resurrection as the time to give his disciples their instructions and their arsenal for bringing forgiveness into the world. You can’t have real forgiveness without the resurrection.
If there was only the cross, and no resurrection, then you would have only the kind of forgiveness that brings pain and guilt. Without the resurrection, you would have a sacrifice for sins without any victory.
Forgiveness is so hard, and so costly, that some people will say that they can forgive, but they can never forget. So, their forgiveness always carries a chip on its shoulder. It gives comfort and peace to no one.
Forgiveness is costly, but real forgiveness needs victory. The resurrection takes the cross to the next step. The cross forgives sins, but the resurrection reverses the effects of sin. It brings true change.
This is a mystery, but this is why the Bible can say that God not only forgives sin, but even forgets it. I can’t explain this, but God speaks through the prophet Isaiah in order to say this: “I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.” (Isaiah 43:25)
We feel lost because we can’t forget what we regret. Peace comes when we know that God has forgotten what we regret. Then this new life calls us to forget as well. Or this new life gives us the gift of acting as though we have forgotten.
There comes a time when we are told by God to forget our own sins, and to forget the sins of others. That gives us (and them) God’s peace.
We are sent from the heart of God. We are breathed into by the breath of the Holy Spirit of Life. We are people of forgiveness, who can bring the message of forgiveness to others.

These are the trophies and the arsenal of a wounded Savior who give his awards to us. These are the trophies of a risen Savior, who enlists us in a war that’s already won. This is the power of the resurrection for the life we are living today. If we believe, then we will have this new life in Jesus’ name. We will have it now, and we will have it forever.

Faith for Life - The Resurrection Revolution

Preached on Resurrection Sunday (Easter Sunday) April 16, 2017, at the Community Sunrise Easter Service by the Columbia River, at Desert Aire/Mattawa, WA

Scripture reading: John 20:1-18

Even though Jesus showed the power to raise people from the dead, his disciples had never been able to grasp that Jesus might also be able to raise himself from the dead; no matter what Jesus said about it before his crucifixion.
Community Easter Sunrise Service
On the Columbia River
April 16, 2017
All four gospels show us that the friends and the followers of Jesus were full of doubt and fear at the discovery of the empty grave. John believed something when he saw it for himself, but we are told (and he’s the one telling the story) that he couldn’t understand it. He couldn’t understand how Jesus rising from the dead formed any part of the witness of the Scriptures.
All of the friends, and followers, and believers of Jesus were properly dazed and wonderstruck. His rising from the dead broke all of the rules of the world as they knew it, and this blew their minds.
We should all be more like them: more mind-blown!
But would that be right? Would that be safe? Isn’t it wiser and much more mature to accommodate, and to accept things as they are? I’ve been told this, many times. They’ve told me, “Dennis, don’t be unrealistic.”
April 2017, Photos Around Desert Aire/Mattawa, WA
 If I had listened to such people, or even to my wiser self, I would never have gone into the ministry because I was told that I didn’t have the aptitude or the gifts for it. I already knew that. I didn’t even want to do it.
If I had listened to such realistic people, I might not even be able to drive a car. But that’s another story.
The good news of Jesus made me unrealistic and foolhardy. Jesus himself forced me to be unrealistic and foolhardy.
Jesus forced an alternative reality on those who knew him and loved him most. There is another world beside the world as we know it. Jesus rules both worlds but it’s actually that alternative world that will have its way over you and me. That alternative world will win. This world as we know it, this world that we are so tempted to accept and accommodate ourselves to, will pass away.
Something inside us knows this. Otherwise our outrage, and anger, and sorrow, and grief, in the face of so much wrong in this world wouldn’t make any sense. If we were made for the world as it seems to be to everyone else, we wouldn’t have enough imagination to be outraged.
We know this. When the world maddens us, when we madden ourselves, we are right to respond so. Let’s not “settle” for things, or settle for ourselves, or settle for others as they are. Jesus represents something completely different and, truly, so much better.
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! He rules. He has defeated evil, sin, corruption, sickness, pain: all of this world’s injustice. Jesus has conquered death. He rules over it, and he will destroy even death, in time.
We know this is right. The Bible tells us so. Love tells us so. Jesus tells us so. I believe our greatest growth will come from learning to live accordingly.
This growth is what prepares us for Jesus, because Jesus has created the reality that makes this growth possible. He makes life in the new reality possible, by dying on the cross for the sin of the world (and for our sin) and so becoming the conqueror of that sin; and by rising from the dead, and so becoming the conqueror of death.
Sometimes this seems too much for us. We don’t want to be so wonderstruck, and surprised, and overwhelmed by glory.
I think, in our churches, we try to keep things safe. We’re like Mary Magdalen, holding onto Jesus in such a way that tries to keep everything from changing.
That’s why Jesus told Mary to let him go. We want to hold onto Jesus and keep things steady and familiar. Jesus wants us to let him go, at least for our own sake, so that he can push the boundaries for us. We want to hold on when Jesus wants us, ourselves, to go forth, and to be willing to push the boundaries of our own lives. Jesus wants us to push the boundaries of our serving him and our neighbor.
Jesus wants us to let go, so that we can go forth for him, and with him. Jesus wants us to let go, so that we can go forth for him and for others.

That’s why Christ has risen.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Faith for Life - The Mission of God

Preached on Good Friday, April 14, 2017

Scripture reading: John 19:1-37

“It is finished!”
That’s what Jesus said.
Stations of the Cross
Our Lady of the Desert
Mattawa, WA
April 2017
Jesus was not finished, but his mission, the reason for his coming and walking on this earth was very nearly completed. The best was yet to come. But the worst part (not for his friends, but for him) was over now.
Jesus, on the cross, was one, great, open, bleeding wound, one man-sized mass of pain, from the scalp of his head to the soles of his feet. He was wounded by thorns, and the lashing of a special torture whip, and spike sized nails. The nails had torn the tendons in his hands and feet and they had severed the medial nerves in his wrists. And yet, he had to use those hands and feet to lift himself up, to take each breath. The nails held him in such a position that he was forced to use his arms and legs, his hands and feet, over and over again, to push and to pull himself up in order to take each breath: or else not breathe at all.
Somehow Jesus still wanted to breathe, but he was getting very tired. Up and down his body, the lashes of the scourge, tipped with sharp bits of metal or bone had torn through his skin and cut deep into the muscles underneath. In places, he had been cut to the bone.
It’s possible that there are people who have physically suffered more, and for a longer time, than Jesus did. But who wouldn’t say that Jesus had suffered enough?
Right at the start of Jesus’ ministry, John the Baptist had looked at him, and had seen the super-human nature of his suffering. John said, “Behold the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29)
Think of what went on inside of you, sometime, when you were completely defeated and demoralized; or completely ashamed and distressed, because you saw the real wickedness of something you had said or done. Think how you felt when you were struck by the brutality and the injustice in this world. Imagine that experience multiplied by the billions and billions of lives of all the people who have ever lived, or ever will live.
Imagine all of this resting on your own shoulders. Imagine all of this wringing at your heart. Deeper than the wounds in his body, Jesus felt this.
It was sin that judged Jesus and nailed him to the cross. If you have ever been able to see the presence of sin in yourself, if you have ever known that the hurt of what you have said or done is really a part of you, then you know that you have a part in the hurting of Jesus, in the judging of Jesus and nailing him to the cross.
If this talk of sin makes you uneasy, then you should know that Jesus was also judged and nailed to the cross by the very best things this world has to offer. Jesus was judged and nailed to the cross by Roman law and order, and by the Roman peace.
Almost everyone in that world was grateful for that law, and order, and peace. It had made their world a better world: a safer world.
But the motivation behind the scourge, and the nails, and the thorns of the cross (the shakers and movers behind this cross) were the leaders of God’s own people who got involved and set it in motion.
Don’t mistake what I’m saying. I’m saying that it was the spiritual people (the holy people) who did it. The good people did it. I’m saying that people like me did it.
The best things in the world killed Jesus because they didn’t want to be found wanting. The truth is that even the best things and the best people in the world can be found wanting. They wanted to justify and prove themselves.
When Jesus said, “It is finished!” he meant that he had completed his work, and done the job of standing in for you (for you at your worst, and at your best). Jesus carries your pain. Jesus carries your burdens and sins. Jesus also carries your pride, and your faulty goodness. He carries all of this away from you, in his death on the cross. They are defeated by his sacrifice.
What Jesus has done is enough. It is more than enough, for you and for the whole world.
“It is finished!” means that the work you need him to do for you is complete and perfect. It’s all there. It can never run out, or be used up.
Jesus is God incarnate, God in the flesh. What Jesus has given to you on the cross is the infinite mercy and love of God. If you want to see God and the evidence of his love, it’s there on the cross, reaching out its arms. You are on your way to being finished when you find your life complete in him alone.
Look at the cross.
In Jesus, this cross is you.
In Jesus, this cross is the world.
On the cross Jesus makes us know ourselves. When the best things in the world stand up for themselves they shut God out and kill him.
This is who we are and what God must do for us; nailing our lives to the cross (Colossians 2:14).
This is the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world.
Seeing the cross is seeing God, and looking into God’s heart.

This is love. This is glory.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Faith for Life - The King of Humility and Peace

Preached on Palm Sunday, April 9, 2017

Scripture readings:
Zechariah 9:9-10 (Mention that the Hebrew word “ani” means humble, not only gentle: "humble and riding on a donkey"); and John 12:12-19

There is a lot to think about here.
One thing to think about is the donkey. Jesus had a specific reason for riding on the donkey in that parade into Jerusalem. The donkey sends a message telling us who Jesus is.
Burkett Lake, North of Mattawa/Desert Aire, WA
March 2017
John, the writer of the gospel, tells us what he wants us to be able to see in his gospel. John says, “These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:31)
Each new thing we learn and believe about Jesus, as the Christ, the Son of God, changes us. Each new experience of who Jesus is gives us new life from him, in a new way.
We learn about who Jesus is from that donkey. There is just the sheer fact that, five hundred years before the birth of Jesus, the prophet Zechariah had predicted that the Messiah would come to Jerusalem riding on a donkey. So, Jesus did it.
When Jesus rode the donkey, he wasn’t doing something new. The Lord has one story to which everyone who ever lived and ever will live belongs to. It’s the story of our creation, our falling away, our new life from God in Christ, and the glory that is to come. It’s one ancient story that isn’t finished yet.
The donkey wasn’t just a donkey. For Zechariah, the donkey had meaning. The donkey meant (among other things) humility and peace, and the horses stood for pride and war. So, there were no horses in the Palm Sunday parade.
From time to time, especially during the Roman occupation, individuals had come forward, with a lot of charisma, claiming to be the Messiah, and coming forward to raise an army. They would come for war, and they would succeed in killing some Romans, and some collaborators. And then they, themselves would get caught and killed. Those were the horse people.
Jesus rode on a donkey to say that he had come forward for humility and peace. The only trouble with this is that I don’t know if there was anyone there who actually believed him. I don’t know if there was anyone there who was truly interested in humility and peace. Even the disciples didn’t understand what Jesus was about or what he was really saying, until after the crucifixion and the resurrection.
Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey to say that he was fulfilling God’s plan, as the prophet had predicted over five hundred years before. But Jesus also rode on the donkey in order to tell the people who saw him, what he was really all about, and what God was really like. The donkey was a message about what God wanted to accomplish with the Messiah, because of who he is, as God.
The donkey-riding-incident was one of the deepest messages about who God is, and how God works. Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. That is, Jesus is the Messiah, and Jesus is God with us.
The theme of humility and peace go right through the Bible. In the Old Testament book of the prophet Isaiah, in chapter 42, the Lord speaks of his Messiah this way: he says, “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations. He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out. In faithfulness, he will bring forth justice; he will not falter or be discouraged till he has established justice on earth. In his law the islands will put their hope.” (Isaiah 42:1-4) There is something in the heart of God that loves quietness, humility, and peace.
In some strange way, the new world full of God’s justice (full of the work of God’s making things right and good) were (from the beginning) supposed to get done without any show of force, without a lot of noise. God’s great work was predicted, in these words from Isaiah, to come with humility and peace.
In spite of all the violence in the Bible, and in spite of the apparent violence of God in the Old Testament, I believe there is one very simple, basic example of God’s humility and peace. That example is the people of Israel. This is very mysterious (I know).
In fact, it sounds like a complete contradiction of everything the Old Testament is so famous for. But I believe that the simple fact that God called one single, little family (a sterile and infertile couple), that became a little tribe, that became a little nation that, often, betrayed God, and was often defeated, and enslaved, and slaughtered (and did more than its share of slaughtering), and yet this family, and this part of the story, has continued to exist to the present day: and it says something. It’s a miracle that says a lot about the humility of God.
It even says something about the peace of God. We should study that word “peace” sometime. Peace doesn’t mean that you will have no problems, no trouble, and no conflict. What peace does mean, among other things, is that you will be always held in the strength of a faithful, and abundant, and enduring love: the love of God.
God was in Christ, offering his humility and peace to Jerusalem. Jesus was the face of God’s humility and peace looking Jerusalem in the eye, and looking us in the eye. The look in Jesus’ eye offered forgiveness and a new birth, as a way of returning to the God of humility and peace.
The strangest thing is this. The humility and peace of Jesus on the donkey gives you the freedom to do with Jesus absolutely whatever you want. It is as if he asks each one of us, “Here I am. What will you do with me?”
There were many in the crowd who celebrated the coming of Jesus because they thought he would raise an army and lead a revolution. They thought he came to throw out the Romans and the Greeks. If Jesus failed to do this, they would turn against him. And that’s exactly what they did.
They didn’t care so much about forgiveness and grace, or humility and peace. They wanted vindication. They wanted to get even. They wanted the defeat of their enemies and their own superiority. Maybe this is one kind of peace, but it’s not Jesus’ kind of peace.
I often want to be vindicated. But I am basically a man of words. So, what I notice about myself, when I get angry, or when I feel slighted, or misunderstood, or mistreated is that I rehearse words in my mind, after the event. I imagine what I might say to justify myself, or to prove myself; or to produce shame, and guilt, and regret in others. I make very unhumble and unpeaceful speeches to myself.
I do this. And I would rather run through these speeches over and over again, in my head, rather than to step down, and step away, and have peace. For me, this is a test. It’s God’s test. I don’t always meet this test very well.
The Pharisees represent a different group of people; the people who look into the eyes of Jesus and say: “I don’t need forgiveness. I don’t need a new heart and mind. There is nothing wrong with me. The problem is somewhere else. You’re the one who has the problem.”
This is pride. Pride never has peace, and it’s always offended by the humble, and the peaceful, and the peace-makers.
The Pharisees can represent any of us, even when we love to be followers of Jesus, because we want to be right so badly. We want to be good so badly. We don’t want to see our own failures or our own shallowness.
It is the hardest thing in the world for the proud to say: “I’m sorry. I was wrong.” I know this, because it is one of the hardest things for me to do.
This is another test from God. The Pharisees didn’t pass this test, and they couldn’t live with the challenge of having Jesus looking them in the eye.
They had to close those eyes of Jesus. They had to close those eyes to keep themselves from seeing their true reflection in his eyes.
They had to get rid of Jesus, and kill him. They wouldn’t admit that (in thinking this, and doing this) they were actually killing themselves. The truth is that they were dying, spiritually, on the inside.
Then, there was a different group of people in the crowd. They saw Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead. There were people in the crowd who knew that the blind could see, and the deaf could hear, and the lame could walk, and that people were being made new.
They were finding faith. They were believing, and coming to life in Jesus’ name.
They were the thankful people, and they felt a great freedom stirring in their hearts. It was the freedom of humility and peace, and it was something that they could share with others. It was a new way for them to live in this world.
Jesus came to Jerusalem on a donkey, and people could do with him whatever they wanted. The Pharisees, and the Temple authorities, and the Roman governor couldn’t maintain their authority, and the order of the day, in the presence of a higher power that ruled with humility and peace.
Jesus came the way he did to offer himself as a sacrifice for the sin of the world, at their hands. He simply let them be themselves, and he went on being himself.
In the greatest humility, Jesus actually got his work done by letting them do with him what they most wanted to do. He managed to die for the sins of the world, and our sins, by letting them (and us through them) carry out their sins against him. The sins of our world killed him, and he defeated those sins by rising from the dead as our savior. This is the way he is.
This is the way God is. This is the work of a God who rules and works with humility and peace. This is Jesus, and when we believe in him, we have life in his name.
Because our king is Jesus, we have a different kind of king. Because we have a different king, we have a different life.
Other people boast about their freedom, but their freedom doesn’t change them and it doesn’t make the world a better place. Jesus said, “If the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.” (John 8:36)
The freedom of Jesus takes us somewhere new. His freedom helps us to grow and change, and yet his freedom also helps us to hold onto the things that it would be a shame for us to lose (a certain childlikeness, for instance). A different king lets us see life differently and truly live.
Our different king shows us how to find our way through this world. He makes our values different; and our morals and ethics. He changes the way we see other people and treat them. He changes the way we understand ourselves and our purpose in life as it is shaped by Jesus.
He makes our view of the world different. Jesus makes us see our society, and our culture, and our laws, and our government, and our world deeper than what television and radio and the internet teach us to see. We learn to see to the roots of the real issues of good and evil, right and wrong, justice and injustice.

But that different lens, through which we see and live, is Jesus. Jesus is about forgiveness and mercy that give us humility and peace. And peace is the strength of the faithful, enduring, abundant love of God. This gives us a different life, and this is good news that we can practice in our lives, and we can share this good news with others.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Lenten Reflections on the Catechisms - The Lord's Supper

"Lenten Reflections"
Alternating during the Wednesdays of Lent, I am taking turns with the local Lutheran pastor preaching or guiding meditations and reflections on themes from the catechisms.
Shared on Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Scripture readings: 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; Matthew 26:26-29

I wish the Schwan Truck would start making regular deliveries again, because I’m waiting for a new bag of frozen pierogi. A pierogi is like a Polish ravioli. It’s a pasta stuffed with potatoes or other stuff. It’s good stuff. I have a taste for it.
Photos: Burkett Lake, north of Desert Aire/Mattawa WA
March 2017
I have a taste for pierogi because I have (or did have) something that you may not have had. I had a “Baci”. Baci is a Polish word for grandma, and I had a Polish grandma, and (because of her) I’m also Polish. Of course, I’m an American, too, and that’s very important to me. But I’m also Polish.
I know this because my Baci told me so; along with my other older Polish relatives. They told me I looked Polish, although I suspect that this was a love-based sort of “fib”. They also told me that I thought the way I did because I was Polish; and it’s true. I do think like them (at least a little bit) to this very day.
“Jak się masz?" That means, “How are you?”
Since we’re in church I should say, “Pan jest z tobą”. * (I know I'm not saying this right.)
Then, I guess, that you should respond by saying, “A także z tobą.” (That would mean, “And also with you.” You can guess what the other means.)
So, in a way, I am Polish. I’m American, but I change when I eat pierogi. I become Polish. All of a sudden, I become, once again, the kid helping my Baci make pierogi for my family, and learning Polish words. I become the kid who ate the food of Poland with my Baci.
This is a long way to say that the Holy Communion of the Lord’s Supper is an even holier and more powerful meal than pierogi. The Lord’s Supper claims you and changes your identity.
It tells you that you are a different person, and that you belong to someone else. If you will believe, the Lord’s Supper makes you a Jesus-person, and you belong to him.
Some of the old catechisms, the old teaching-questions-and-answers, of the Reformation ask us what are the ways that Jesus uses to make his salvation effective. What are the ways that Jesus uses to make everything that he is, and everything that he has done powerful, and real, and a living part of us? What are the ways that Jesus uses to make everything that he is, and everything that he has done, and everything that he has change our lives, and change the very nature of our world, as we experience it, and live in it? There are several ways.
Those ways are called: his laws, his word, the sacraments, and prayer. The sacraments of the church of the Reformation tradition are Baptism and the Holy Communion of Lord’s Supper.
The tradition I come from says that the power of the Lord’s Supper doesn’t come from the ceremony of it. The power doesn’t come from what the bread, and the wine, or the juice, are made of (when we eat and drink them as part of the ceremony). The power doesn’t come from the authority of the person who is doing the ceremony of the Supper, or who gives us the bread and wine. Our tradition says the power comes, “by the blessing of Christ and the working of His Spirit in those who receive them by faith.”
My Baci had a lot of blessing in her. She had a lot of spirit in her. She had something that made me different (in some ways) from any of the other kids I knew.
In God’s hands, the Lord’s Supper goes deeper than that. The blessing of Christ and the working of his Holy Spirit are infinitely more powerful in the work of changing us and making us different.
My catechism says that the Lord’s Supper is a regulation. That means it’s a rule. We might not like rules, but it should be easy to see what a strange rule it is that requires us to accept the idea that humble things, like bread and wine (or juice) are the way to receive great things.
That should make us think deeply. The everlasting Son of the Everlasting Father came by the power of the Everlasting Spirit to become a baby, who became a carpenter, who became a wandering teacher, who became a victim of injustice who was executed on a cross in order to give us great things.
His rule says that there is no other way than this. The Lord becomes a servant. The servant becomes the King and Savior. The bread and wine become the presence of Jesus: the Servant, the King, and the Savior, the Life-Changer.
It’s the only way. It’s the rule. To become great, you first must be a servant, and even a slave. This is the rule in the heart of God. This is the rule for his kingdom, in the church. This is what God wants to do, in order for his people to carry his kingdom out into the world. God wants to make you become the humble signs of great things.
This is the rule for what he does with bread and wine. It’s the rule of his heart, and he insists on using his rule to change you into something else, and make you his own. He wants his heart to become your heart. The Lord is wonderfully consistent on this point: this rule.
You can see how this regulation of the Lord’s Supper can only be truly received by faith. It’s not the rule of the world’s heart. It’s the rule of God’s heart. It takes faith to receive the Lord’s rule for what is truly great, and to be changed by it. It’s by faith.
My catechism, and the word of God (properly understood), teaches that, in this meal, Christ and the benefits of a new covenant are “represented, sealed, and applied to believers by physical signs.” (Question #92) This just means that what Jesus is, and what he came to do, and what he continues to do, can be communicated to you through the bread and the wine.
When you have been claimed by Jesus, you don’t just see signs with the eyes in your head. You get a new heart that sees, and hears, and knows. A seal was a bit of wax that had been imprinted with a symbol of the identity of the owner of the object, or the maker of a promise. A covenant is a promise.
Parents have to be careful what they promise, because a child always remembers a promise. If you don’t keep it, your child will howl the words, “But you promised.” A child knows that a promise isn’t words. A promise is a reality that they want to be their reality. The Lord’s Supper is about such a covenant-promise, and such a reality.
The Lord’s Supper builds on the promise and covenant of the Passover Feast of the Jewish people. It represents a new life. It represents a journey to the Promised Land. It represents a journey out of Egypt: out of the land of idolatry (which is deceptions and lies), out of the land of human power, and control, and prestige, and out of the land where faith is not the way of life.
Jesus said, “This is my body. This is my blood of the new covenant.” His point wasn’t to say what the bread and wine were made of. He meant to say that the new covenant (his promise) was made from him. Jesus is the promise. Jesus is freedom. Jesus is mercy. Jesus is hope. Jesus is our light, and our Promised Land.
The word “remembering”, for the ancient people of the Bible, meant much more than thinking about the past with your brain. One of the commandments says to “Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.” This doesn’t mean that we can say, “Hey, it’s the Sabbath. Darn, I forgot all about it. It’s too late to do anything about it now.”
Remembering, as all ancient people understood, meant to enact the thing: to make it real, or to let it become real. Doing the Lord’s Supper means living in the world of the cross. With Christians, and among Christians, as the people of Jesus, the whole world (the world as everyone else knows it) has been swallowed up by the world of the cross and the resurrection. The spirit of the season of Lent, means recovering, and rediscovering, what it means to live in the world of the cross and the resurrection.
This strange world doesn’t make us so heavenly minded that we are of no earthly good. We bring this heavenly world into the world that everyone thinks they know, and the Lord’s Supper is a door to heaven from which Jesus comes out to us, and changes our life together, and sends us out into the world.
Remembrance is this. Remembrance is the door by which the kingdom of Jesus works. It’s how he seals us as his own and says, “I own you. My sacrifice on the cross owns you. You belong to me. Be my presence in my world.”
“This is my body and blood” means “this is me on the cross”. This is my offering and my gift to you.
Let’s look at some of the questions of that old catechism called “The Westminster Shorter Catechism”.
Q91. How do the sacraments become effective means of salvation?
The sacraments become effective means of salvation, not because of any special power in them or in the people who administer them, but rather by the blessing of Christ and the working of His Spirit in those who receive them by faith.
How would you describe the experience of the blessing of Christ and the work of his Spirit when you share the Lord’s Supper? Has something ever happened to you there?
Q92. What is a sacrament?
A sacrament is a holy regulation established by Christ, in which Christ and the benefits of the new covenant are represented, sealed, and applied to believers by physical signs.

Being “sealed” is about ownership. What special times, or relationships, or experiences remind you that you are owned by God: that you belong to God?
Q96. What is the Lord's Supper?
The Lord's Supper is a sacrament in which bread and wine are given and received as Christ directed to proclaim His death. Those who receive the Lord's Supper in the right way share in His body and blood with all His benefits, not physically but by faith, and become spiritually stronger and grow in grace.
How do you try, in your life, to “proclaim his death”? How do you “become spiritually stronger and grow in grace” as you become a person of the cross?
Q97. What is the right way to receive the Lord's Supper?
The right way to receive the Lord's Supper is to examine whether we discern the Lord's body, whether our faith feeds on Him, and whether we have repentance, love, and a new obedience - so that we may not come in the wrong way and eat and drink judgement on ourselves.
This concern about the right way, and the dangers of the wrong way, come from the Apostle Paul, in First Corinthians, chapter eleven. The concern isn’t about the danger of guilt, but the danger of coming without repentance, love, and a new obedience. Or it means the faith to come to the only one who can give you what you lack.
William Barclay tells this story: “An old highland minister seeing an old woman hesitate to receive the cup, stretched it out to her, saying, “Take it, woman; it’s for sinners; it’s for you.” (“The Daily Study Bible Series”; “The Letters to the Corinthians”; p. 105)
How might Holy Communion create an experience of a different way of seeing the worth of your life and seeing the worth of other people? How might it serve as a picture of your relationship with Jesus?
There’s a passage that I love, about the Lord’s Supper, in the Scot’s Confession, written in 1560.
“…this union…which we have with the body and blood of Christ Jesus in the right use of the sacraments is wrought by means of the Holy Ghost, who by true faith carries us above all things that are visible, carnal, and earthly, and makes us feed upon the body and blood of Christ Jesus, once broken and shed for us but now in heaven, and appearing for us in the presence of his Father.”
The bread and the cup seem too small to hold all of this; and our time with them seems too short. Our own lives seem too small and too short.
But this is God’s rule for himself, and for us. The rule is that God makes himself your food. How will this change you? What will you do with it? Just think about that.

*Note: About the Polish quote with the asterisk: if you didn’t guess, this would mean, “The Lord be with you.”

(The catechism questions and answers are quoted from “The Westminster Shorter Catechism in Modern English” by Douglas F. Kelly and Philip Rollinson; P & R Publishing Company)