SLIDE 3: WHY GO TO JERUSALEM?
Why go to Jerusalem? Couldn’t Jesus see it was a bad idea leading to a tragic end? But then we need to appreciate that standing still may not have been an option for him either. Look at Luke 13: 31 Just then some of the Pharisees came up and said, “Run for your life! Herod is looking for you. He’s out to kill you!” 32 Jesus said, “Tell that fox that I’ve no time for him right now. Today and tomorrow I’m busy clearing out the demons and healing the sick. . . 33 Besides, it’s not proper for a prophet to come to a bad end outside of Jerusalem. 34 Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killer of prophets, abuser of the messengers of God! . . . 35 You won’t see me again until the day you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.'”
SLIDE 4: HEROD EXECUTED JOHN THE BAPTIST
How much of this passage reflects twenty-twenty hindsight of the gospel writers we do not know. But surely this passage along with Jesus’ constantly staying on the move during his ministry reflected the reality that Herod was looking for him with murderous intent. Indeed, we must remember that Herod arrested John the Baptist and had him executed before Jesus began his ministry. If Jesus had stayed in the Galilee, rather than going to Jerusalem, he probably would have been killed anyway.
SLIDE 5: HE MIGHT HAVE HID OUT FROM HIS ENEMIES
Now we can speculate that Jesus might have stopped preaching, teaching and healing, and have gone off into the hills or the wilderness and hid out from all of his enemies. All he had to do was give up the ministry to which God had called him. But then Jesus would have had to give up his integrity, his prophetic authenticity. On some level he must have known that if he continued proclaiming the coming of the Commonwealth of God he was going to forfeit his life, and by going to Jerusalem, he might make his life count.
SLIDE 6: LIKE MARTIN LUTHER KING GOING TO MEMPHIS
So, maybe Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem did make sense within the larger frame work of his life and ministry. Like Martin Luther King insisting on going to Memphis, when his life had been threatened. He could have stayed in Atlanta, but then he would not have been Martin Luther King. He wasn’t crazy he was just faithful to God’s calling for him. And so Jesus knowing he faced danger either in Galilee or the Capital, set his face toward Jerusalem.
SLIDE 7: ENTRY INTO JERUSALEM
The entry into the City on Palm Sunday made perfect sense in the larger context of what Jesus was attempting to accomplish. He wanted to confront the Roman overlords and the collaborators in the Temple with his call to embrace the Commonwealth of God, rather than the Empire of Rome. At the same time Jesus was riding into Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives to the East, Pilate was leading a squadron of cavalry through the Jaffa Gate into the City from the West – two opposing parades. And the Temple authorities felt caught in the middle.
SLIDE 8: A MEETING OF THE CHIEF PRIESTS
The Gospel of John claims to record a meeting of the High Priests at which they decided to seek Jesus’ death. John 11:47 The high priests called a meeting. “What do we do now?” they asked. “This man keeps on performing miracles. 48 If we let him go on, pretty soon everyone will believe in him and his teachings and the Romans will come destroy our Temple and remove what little power and privilege we have left.” 49 Then one of them – it was Caiaphas, the designated Chief Priest that year – spoke up, “Don’t you know anything? 50 Can’t you see that it’s to our advantage that one man dies for the people rather than for the whole nation to be destroyed?” 53 And from that day on, they plotted to kill him.
It is hard to judge the authenticity of this passage in John. On the other hand we believe that the source behind the gospel of John may have been a member of one of the High Priestly families. He might have had access to such information. And while we might doubt the word for word accuracy of the story, it still has a ring of truth similar to the Watergate tapes.
SLIDE 9: FOLLOW THE MONEY
So Jesus was on an absolute collision course with the High Priests and the Romans, and he didn’t improve his odds of survival by turning over the tables of the money changers and challenging the Temple’s system of money lending and their seizures of the lands of peasants who were unable to pay their debts. In A.D. 66 when the Jewish rebels stormed and seized the Temple in Jerusalem one of their first acts was the burning of the debt records, to prevent further land seizures. You know the old admonition “follow the money,” that may be as good an explanation of the execution of Jesus as any other.
SLIDE 10: A BIT OF CLOAK AND DAGGER
So Jesus entered Jerusalem knowing full well the danger, but he wasn’t stupid either. Every day he entered the City went to the Temple to teach, but every night he left Jerusalem to spend the night in a different undisclosed location among supporters in the suburbs. He was probably aware that one of his own followers would betray him, and so when Jesus sent two disciples to prepare the Passover meal inside the City, he didn’t tell any of his followers where that would be. Jesus employed a bit of cloak and dagger: “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; follow him, 14 and wherever he enters, say to the householder, ‘The Teacher says, where is my guest room, where I am to eat the Passover with my disciples?’”
SLIDE 11: LAST SUPPER WAS IMPORTANT
Jesus planned the Last Supper with his disciples, because it was important. As we said last week, the point of that Last Supper was for Jesus to once again imprint his meaning on the minds and hearts of his closest followers, and thereby insure the continuation of the message of love. In his offering of the bread and the wine Jesus gave them a ritual for remembering his message of love. And after the resurrection, when his followers gathered for the communal meal the sharing table, when they remembered Jesus with the bread and wine his living presence was among them.
SLIDE 12: THE ANGEL OF DEATH WILL PASSOVER
Jesus tied the ritual of the Last Supper to the Passover because he was proclaiming that when the disciples gathered at the Sharing Table of Jesus they were creating the Commonwealth of God, and in that sharing they were liberating themselves from the oppression of the Romans and the Temple authorities. He was saying that when the lives of his followers were marked by the blood of the new covenant the angel of death would Passover them. They did not need to fear the Romans or any other hierarchy of control because in Jesus they were free.
SLIDE 13: BE AUTHENTIC
OK that’s all well and good for the followers of Jesus two-thousand years ago, but what does the Jesus story mean for us? First, Jesus’ decision to go forward to Jerusalem was about authenticity. If he was to remain true to his calling, he had to challenge the powers that be, the priests and the Romans in the Capital. Like other prophets of the past he had to speak truth to power even though he was placing his life in danger. He could have walked away, hidden himself in the wilderness or the mountains, but then he would have betrayed his vocation. What I think we can learn is the importance of being authentic, being faithful to our calling as followers of Jesus.
SLIDE 14: LONE RANGERS DO NOT LEAVE BEHIND MOVEMENTS
Now it is true we have to pick and choose the conflicts we will pursue carefully. We should not throw our lives away meaninglessly. We should not pursue martyrdom out of ego. Lone Rangers do not leave behind communities of people or movements that carry on their vision. When John the Baptist was beheaded his followers were sad, but they were not prepared to take over the movement. When Jesus was crucified, after the initial shock, his followers picked up where he left off and spread the message of love throughout the Roman Empire.
SLIDE 15: NO LONGER AFRAID OF DEATH
A third message we can learn from Jesus is that once we are no longer afraid of death, the very power of God can flow through us to others. Because the followers of Jesus experienced his living presence among them after this crucifixion, they no longer feared what the Roman Empire could do to them. Indeed, the more the Empire persecuted the followers of Jesus, the more other people were attracted to the movement, because those people witnessed the authenticity of those believers. And if you think that courage was only 2,000 years ago, just remember the words of Dr. King the night before his death. “I’m not worried about anything. I’m no longer afraid of any man, for my eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”
SLIDE 16: SOMETIMES WE THINK WE HAVE IT ROUGH
Emily Heath wrote a Still Speaking Devotion that speaks to the church’s need to follow Jesus taking risks and confronting power: “. . . as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way through great endurance in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, hunger. . .”
On my first day of preaching class the professor read this passage. And then he said, “That’s what the first Christians endured in order to preach the Gospel . . . you’ll probably survive this class.”
Sometimes we contemporary Christians make the mistake of thinking we have it rough. We have to compete with Sunday morning baseball games and yoga classes. Our pews aren’t full the way they were back in 1950.
SLIDE 17: AMERICAN CHRISTIANS PRETTY COMFORTABLE
Really we modern American Christians are pretty comfortable. And that’s too bad, because the Church actually doesn’t do very well, when its life is easy. Look back at nearly every time the church has been on the wrong side of history, the Crusades, the Inquisition, slavery. What do those times have in common? The church was in a position of great strength and influence in society.
SLIDE 18: TIMES THE CHURCH GOT IT RIGHT
On the other hand look at the times the church got it right. Black Christians in the Civil Rights movement, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Confessing Church in Nazi Germany, Oscar Romero gunned down at the altar in El Salvador. They were hated, targeted, outnumbered, and sometimes they may as well have signed their own death warrants. But they were being the church in a way few of us ever will.
SLIDE 19: FATIH THRIVES WHEN WE ENGAGE IN THE WORK OF TRANSFORMING THE WORLD
Faith does not thrive in comfort. Faith thrives when it is being called to the messy and painful work of transforming the world. Why? Because that is when we are witnessing to the One who transcends all the injustice of the world and who gives us strength to teach a new way.
And allow me to point to Malala Yousafzai as an example. The content of our beliefs is less important than the intensity of our faith in a God of justice and love who gives us the courage to overcome our fear of death. Malala’s faith and courage will inspire millions of other young women and will transform their culture and defeat ISIS more surely than guns or drones or bombs.
Let us follow Jesus into Jerusalem and teach the world a new way.
Deep in Our Hearts
SLIDE 5: LIVING PRESENCE IN THE BREAKING OF THE BREAD
After the death of Rabbi Jesus his followers experienced his living presence among them, especially when they gathered at the Sharing Table for their communal meal. Each day in the Jerusalem Church they gathered for “the breaking of the bread,” when everyone who showed up was fed, and Jesus was remembered in song, prayer, in story, and the ritual meal. We cannot know exactly what they recalled of the night of that Last Supper just before Jesus was arrested. It was a jumble of memories. At the time, none of them had understood what was happening. They were arguing about who would become the Prime Minister in the new government, when they crowned Jesus as the King, while Jesus was trying to say, “Good-bye,” and warned them of the terrible death he was about to suffer.
SLIDE 6: I WILL WRITE MY LAW UPON THEIR HEARTS
We do not know what all they recollected or how accurately they remembered their last meal with Jesus, but somehow in retrospect the words of Jeremiah the prophet helped to sear into their memories the words and actions of that Last Supper. “Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. I will put my law within them, and I will write it upon their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each man teach his neighbor and each his brother and sister, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the LORD; for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”
SLIDE 7: TAKE AND EAT
And so they recollected that he took bread and broke it and said to them, “Take eat, for this is my body broken for you, do this in remembrance of me.” And after supper he took the cup saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood poured out of the forgiveness of sins.” And so each day as the followers of Jesus gathered together to share their communal meal — the Sharing Table — they passed the bread and the cup and once again they experienced the living presence of the Christ among them.
SLIDE 8: MAUNDY THURSDAY
This morning we revisit the words of Jeremiah the prophet in anticipation of Maundy Thursday now only eleven days away. Next Sunday we will re-enact the entry into Jerusalem of Palm Sunday, and then we will gather in the evening of the Thursday of Holy Week to remember that Last Supper Jesus shared with his disciples that has become the focal point of Christian worship.
SLIDE 9: THE MEANING OF LOVE IN EVERY CELL OF OUR BODIES
The point of that Last Supper was for Jesus to once again imprint his meaning on the minds and hearts of his closest followers, and thereby insure the continuation of the message of love. Last week we talked about praying with our hearts, minds, spirits, and our bodies. In the remembrance of the Last Supper Jesus engages all of our senses, sight, sound, hearing, touch, smell, taste. In the eating and drinking we meditate on the message of love with our hearts, minds, spirits, our noses, our tongues, our stomachs. Jesus attempts to engage all of us, in order to imprint the meaning of love not only in our minds but in every cell of our bodies.
Taking bread, Jesus blessed it, broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, given for you. Eat it in my memory.”
He did the same with the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant written in my blood poured out for you.” Jesus gave his followers a ritual method for remembering his message, and lo and behold, when they remembered they experienced the living presence of Jesus among them.
SLIDE 10: LOVE ONE ANOTHER
At that Last Supper Jesus said, “Let me remind you of the most important commandment: Love one another. In the same way I have loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples — when they see the love you have for each other.”
“I’ve told you these things for a purpose: that my joy might become your joy, and your joy might become wholly mature. So again, this is my command: Love one another the way I have loved you. This is the very best way to love. Put your life on the line for your friends. You are my friends when you do the things I command you. I’m no longer calling you servants because servants don’t understand what their master is thinking and planning. No, I’ve named you friends because I’ve let you in on everything I’ve heard from the God.”
SLIDE 11: FRUITS OF THE SPIRIT THAT DON’T SPOIL
“Remember, you didn’t choose me; I chose you, and I have sent you into the world to bear fruit, fruits of the spirit that don’t spoil. As fruit bearers, whatever you ask of God she will give you. But remember the root command: Love one another.”
SLIDE 12: AGAPE
The love embraced by the way of Jesus is best expressed by the Greek word Agape. Agape denotes an undefeatable benevolence and unconquerable good will, that always seeks the highest good for the other, no matter what he or she does.
SLIDE 13: EROS – ENHANCED COMPLICATION
Eros is the love that is enhanced but also complicated by sexual attraction. The passion and intensity of sexual desire is certainly a mystery, and also problematic. God creates sexual desire, blesses it and says, “It is good, it is very good.” But sexual attraction is complicated.
SLIDE 14: PHILEO – MUTUAL TRUST AND AFFECTION
Phileo is the love of friendship based upon mutual trust and affection. Why do we like some people more than others? Who knows? But certainly we find ourselves more inclined toward friendship with some people instead of others. Both Eros and Phileo love tend to be based upon a certain amount of reciprocity. I take care of you, you take care of me.
SLIDE 15: SELF-GIVING WITHOUT ASKING IN RETURN
Agape is the self-giving love that gives freely without asking anything in return, and does not consider the worth of its object. It is a love by choice and refers to our will rather than our emotion. Agape describes the unconditional love God has for the world. Agape is the kind of love we offer to our enemies. Dr. Martin Luther King said, “Certainly I would hope that agape is the driving force in our non-violent movement. It is certainly the ideal for which we aim.” And that reminds me of a story.
SLIDE 16: LOVE OF ENEMIES
A priest was giving a homily based on Jesus’s command to love your enemies. “Now,” he said, “I’ll bet that many of us feel as if we have enemies in our lives,” so raise your hands, if you have many enemies.” Quite a few people raised their hands. “Now raise your hands if you have only a few enemies.” And about half as many people raised their hands. “Now raise your hands if you have only one or two enemies.” And even fewer people raised their hands.
“See,” said the priest, “most of us feel like we have enemies.”
“Now raise your hands if you have no enemies at all.” The priest looked around, and finally, way in the back, a very, very old man raised his hand.
The old man stood up and said, “I have no enemies.”
Delighted, the priest invited the man to the front of the church. “What a blessing!” the priest said. “How old are you?
“I’m 98 years old, and I have no enemies.”
The priest said, “What a wonderful Christian life you have led! And tell us all how it is that you have no enemies?”
The old man replied, “All the SOBs have died!”
SLIDE 17: SPIRITUAL FRUIT
Embracing God’s love for the world, Jesus has appointed those who follow his way to bear spiritual fruit. According to Paul the fruits of the spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control — join me: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
The fruits of the spirit result from practicing the ways of love. But we must remember the kind of love that leads to bearing the fruits of the spirit is agape that always embraces concrete individuals and not some abstract humanity — like in our Peanuts Cartoon.
SLIDE 18: IT’S PEOPLE I CAN’T STAND
Sally: “You a doctor?! Ha! That’s a big laugh! You could never be a doctor! You know why? Because you don’t love humankind, that’s why!
Linus: “I love humankind. . . It’s people I can’t stand!!”
SLIDE 19: FOLLOWING THE WAY OF JESUS CHANGES OUR HEARTS
No, when we love with agape, we open ourselves up to the needs of individual human beings. Individual people will make inconvenient demands. They sometimes stink and have bad breathe, and they are sometimes narcissistic and are lacking in social graces. Individual humans in need often don’t come from our own socio-economic or ethnic group. The needy ones most of the time are not part of our club and yet they desperately want help and crave acceptance. Following the way of Jesus is a challenge that will change our hearts as Jeremiah said, I will put my law within you, and I will write it upon your hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
SLIDE 20: ONE ACT OF LOVING KINDNESS AT A TIME
And how are our hearts changed? Listen again to Jesus. “Remember, you didn’t choose me; I chose you, and I have sent you into the world to bear fruit, fruits of the spirit that don’t spoil. As fruit bearers, whatever you ask of God she will give you. But remember the root command: Love one another.” Trust God. As we follow Jesus performing simple acts of loving kindness, especially when we don’t particularly feel like it, God will change us, and like those first disciples after the resurrection the living presence of Christ will come alive in us.
No Matter What
SLIDE 3: OUR LIVES ARE A PRECIOUS GIFT
Once again this week we turn to the Psalms. A Psalm of Thanksgiving reminds us of the importance of gratitude in our spiritual lives. Wake up each morning praying thank you O God, and we have set the tone for the day. In offering thanks we are acknowledging we did not create ourselves. Our lives are a gift precious and wonderful to behold. For as another Psalm says: “we are fearfully and wonderfully made.”
SLIDE 4: PSALM 8
When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what are we humans that you are mindful of us, your created children that you care for us?
Yet you have made us little lower than the angels and crowned us with glory and honor. You have made us stewards over the works of your hands; you have appointed us to care for all things. . .
Lord, our God, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
SLIDE 5: STEWARDS OF CREATION
The earth is a gift we cannot take for granted, for God appointed us to be stewards of creation and not rapists and pillagers of our environment. Care for the earth, care for each other, in particular care for the poor and defenseless, because they are God’s special ones.
SLIDE 6: CRYSTAL CLEAR WATER
We can learn to appreciate the gifts that are offered to us. Hear, a story about gifts. A young man while roaming the desert came across a spring of delicious crystal-clear water. The water was so sweet he filled his leather canteen so he could bring some back to a tribal elder who had been his teacher.
After a four-day journey he presented the water to the old man who took a deep drink, smiled warmly and thanked his student lavishly for the sweet water. The young man returned to his village with a happy heart.
Later, the teacher let another student taste the water. He spat it out, saying it was awful. It apparently had become stale because of the old leather container.
SLIDE 7: I TASTED THE GIFT
The teacher replied, “You only tasted the water. I tasted the gift. The water was simply the container for an act of loving-kindness and nothing could be sweeter.”
SLIDE 8: GENEROSITY
Gratitude is also the beginning of generosity. A wise woman traveling in the mountains found a precious stone in a stream. The next day she met another traveler who was hungry, and the wise woman opened her bag to share her food. The hungry traveler saw the precious stone and asked the woman to give it to him. She did so without hesitation. The traveler left, rejoicing in his good fortune. He knew the stone was worth enough to give him security for a lifetime. But a few days later he came back to return the stone to the wise woman.
I’ve been thinking,” He said, “I know how valuable the stone is, but I give it back in the hope that you can give me something even more precious. Give me what you have within you that enabled you to give me the stone.”
SLIDE 9: ONE GREAT HOUR OF SHARING
Gratitude and generosity are part of the way of Jesus, and we have a wonderful opportunity today to further our practice of generosity as we receive our One Great Hour of Sharing. OGHS is the one time during the year, when we make a special offering to support Church World Service our organization that provides disaster relief and hunger relief around the world on behalf of thirty-seven Protestant Denominations. When we see food and blankets being passed out to people after an earthquake, or a flood, or a typhoon, often that is Church World Service serving as the hands and feet of Jesus in the world on our behalf. Compassionate generosity is the natural outflow of gratitude.
SLIDE 10: ILLNESS IS NOT A PUNISHMENT FROM GOD
I would like to take a few minutes to consider verses 17 and 18 of Psalm 107: “17 Some were sick through their sinful ways, and because of their iniquities suffered affliction; 18 they loathed any kind of food, and they drew near to the gates of death.” First let me say, illness is not punishment sent by God. God does not send cancer, heart disease, arthritis, measles, or influenza to punish us for our sins. Sometimes our ill health can be a consequence of life-style and environmental factors. The most common prescriptions offered by physicians are lose weight and exercise – and for smokers and drinkers, quit smoking and moderate alcohol consumption. Many of us suffer the consequences of not following those simple life-style suggestions. But whatever detrimental effects that result from environmental factors and poor health decisions God is not punishing us. God causes the sun to shine on the evil and the good and sends rain on the just and the unjust. Humans like to think in terms of reward and punishment, but not God – natural consequences maybe, but not reward and punishment.
SLIDE 11: JESUS BY THE POOLS OF BETHSAIDA
There is a wonderful Jesus story from the Gospel of John about healing. Jesus was walking along by the Pools of Bethsaida, where he ran across a lame man who had been lying there for years. The pools of Bethsaida were cisterns just outside the walls of the Temple fed by an underground spring that flowed intermittently. When the spring would flow the waters of the pools would be “troubled,” and popular legend claimed that when the water was “troubled,” an angel from the Temple had come to bathe in the pool. People believed that if a sick person could be the first one into the water, after the angel came to bathe, they could be healed by angel dust in the water.
SLIDE 12: DO YOU WANT TO BE HEALED?
The lame man complained that he had no one to help him get into the pool, and so someone else always beat him to it. And Jesus asked again, “Do you wanted to be healed?”
And when the lame man could finally said, “Yes,” he was healed.
Illness is not a method of divine punishment. Sometimes illness just happens. Sometimes we contribute to our sickness with our behavior – there are natural consequences. Always ask, “Do I want to be healed?” That question may be a key to recovery.
SLIDE 13: WHEN DID YOU STOP DANCING?
Recently, Marrianne Phillips posted a quotation from Gabrielle Roth, who was a dancer and musician with a special interest in movement and spirituality. “In many shamanic societies, if you came to a medicine person complaining of being disheartened, dispirited, or depressed, they would ask one of four questions: “When did you stop dancing? When did you stop singing? When did you stop being enchanted by stories? When did you stop finding comfort in the sweet territory of silence?
SLIDE 14: I HAVE BEEN CLUMSY, AWKWARD, SELF-CONSCIOUS
In response to, “When did I stop dancing?” I think because I have always been clumsy and awkward, I have been afraid to dance. I was heartened at our Celebration Sunday to see so many people willing to join in the “chicken dance.” But I identify with the story told by Rabbi Lawrence Kushner. His daughter told him that if he really wanted to dance, he had to stop worrying about what he looked like on the dance floor. And he told her that if she looked like he did, when he danced, then she would worry too. But what if we could leave behind our self-conscious fears and let ourselves sing and move with the music. Maybe a conga beat like this. . . .
SLIDE 15: LOVE IS PATIENT LOVE IS
SLIDE 16: SIT STILL IN CHURCH!
Maybe we would all be spiritually healthier if we could learn to move and sing in worship and in our devotional lives. Now I know good Northern European conservative folks like most of us were told to sit still in church. Right? My mother was so embarrassed because I could not sit still in church, and then she discovered I was allergic to the wool dress pants she made me wear to church. And Bill Tucker our resident conservative is likely to say, “That’s just wrong!”
SLIDE 17: WORSHIP WITH OUR WHOLE BODIES?
But maybe we might discover new spiritual horizons, if we learned to pray and worship with our whole bodies. After all Jesus said, to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength including our bodies. And, we can manage to move, when we get up hold hands and sing Shalom at the end of worship. Maybe we can learn use our bodies and move at other times in worship.
SLIDE 18: PSALM 150 – PRAISE GOD WITH DANCE
Listen to the joy of Psalm 150: Hallelujah! Praise God in her holy house of worship, praise him under the open skies. Praise God for her acts of power, praise him for magnificent greatness. Praise with a blast on the trumpet, praise by strumming soft strings. Praise her with castanets and dance, praise him with banjo and flute. Praise her with cymbals and a big bass drum, praise him with fiddles and mandolin. Let every living, breathing creature praise God! Hallelujah!
SLIDE 19: STORY-TELLING AND SILENCE GATEWAYS TO THE DIVINE
Story-telling and silence are also both gateways to the divine. We are exploring the power and truth of story-telling as we read and discuss Kee Sloan’s marvelous novel Jabbok, and maybe you have heard some stories this morning worth the telling. And I believe Eddie Colf, who will be leading our Church Retreat in May, will be helping us to explore the sweet territory of silence.
Gratitude, generosity, healing, prayer in dance, song, story-telling and silence. These are all paths to connecting with God. Let us sing and dance to the Lord. Amen.
SLIDE 3: GOD’S GLORY IN THE SKY
This third Sunday of Lent our lectionary lesson comes from Psalm 19, a song of David:
19 1-2 God’s glory is on display in the skies,
God’s creations are on exhibit across the horizon.
Madame Day holds classes every morning,
Professor Night lectures each evening.
3-4 Their words aren’t heard,
their voices aren’t recorded,
But their silence fills the earth:
unspoken truth is spoken everywhere.
SLIDE 4: THE VALUE OF THE STARS
Barbara Brown Taylor in her book Learning to Walk in the Dark suggests we are losing the wisdom “Madame Day” and “Professor Night” can teach us, because of light pollution. When we can no longer see the stars we lose an important perspective on our place in the universe.
“Anyone in need of a tutorial on the cost of too much light does not have far to look. Every time a new gas station goes up on an old country road, the lights designed to attract sleepy motorists kill another layer of stars. Why does it matter? . . . because the Milky way. . . is now invisible to two-thirds of those living in the United States. . . . (When you really get lost in the Milky Way) you risk wondering things that will make you dizzy for days. Where does that path of stars lead? Where does the cosmos end? What lies beyond it, and who are you to wonder about such things? If you are ever in doubt about your place in the universe, this is a good way to remember.
SLIDE 5: LIVING CLOSE TO NATURE
The people who wrote and sang the Psalms lived much closer to the earth and the sky than we modern humans, who spend so much of our time in our climate controlled buildings. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not about to give up central heat in the winter and air conditioning in the summer, but because we no longer experience ourselves as part of the natural world, we miss out on important connections to the experience of the divine.
SLIDE 6: DIVINE TRUTH NOT FOUND IN BOOKS
“Madame Day holds classes every morning, Professor Night lectures each evening. Their words aren’t heard, their voices aren’t recorded, but their silence fills the earth: unspoken truth is spoken everywhere.” The divine truth is not to be found in books, or on the internet, or on our iphones, or in a text message, but in the silence of standing beneath a starry sky, sensing the changes of the seasons and the phases of the moon. Occasionally we experience a snow fall that brings our normal activities to a grinding halt. The snow apocalypse of 2015. A hurricane or a tornado causes us to pause before its awesome power. As a matter of fact the last time I saw the Milky Way in Huntsville was after the great outbreak of tornadoes in 2011 almost four years ago, when we lost power and there was a crystal clear night with no light pollution.
SLIDE 7: JESUS SPENT TIME IN NATURE
We can all benefit by spending time in nature, feeling ourselves as part of our natural world. As I have pointed out several times in the last two months, Jesus spent a lot of time alone in deserted places with trees, mountains and wilderness. He experienced himself as part of God’s creation, and so connected with the divine.
SLIDE 8: SPIRITUAL AGGRESSION
I want to take special care in approaching verses 7 through 11 of our Psalm for many people who like to use scripture as a weapon will fall back on these verses to justify their spiritual aggression:
7 The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple; 8 the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes; 9 the fear of the LORD is clean, enduring for ever; the ordinances of the LORD are true, and righteous altogether.
SLIDE 8 A: SELMA BILL BOARD
Just this weekend we had another example of Spiritual Aggression in Selma. As people were gathering to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge that became “Bloody Sunday,” they were greeted by a bill board erected by a local Klu Klux Klan activist.
It was a picture of the Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest, who became the founder of the Klu Klux Klan with the caption “Keep the Skeer in ‘em.” Racism is still with us and represents abusive spiritual aggression.
SLIDE 9: DISARMING SCRIPTURE
Malcolm Clark gave me a book with the intriguing title, Disarming Scripture. Those who claim that a literal reading of scripture is the absolute truth use phrases like, “the law of the Lord is perfect . . . the commandment of the Lord is pure,” as weapons against anyone who does not agree with their reading of the scripture. Therefore they maintain that all of the commandments in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy, must be kept, except of course those “laws” they don’t happen to like such as the prohibitions against eating bacon, pork ribs, lobster, shrimp, and catfish.
SLIDE 10: STILL SPEAKING CAMPAIGN
One of the best disarmament plans for scripture ever devised was the United Church of Christ “Still Speaking Campaign.” If God is still speaking then the law of the Lord changes and evolves like the rest of creation. We are not stuck with a literal reading of scripture as our spiritual authority.
SLIDE 11: LAWS OF NATURE APPLY EQUALLY
Another way of approaching phrases like “the law of the Lord,” and “the precepts of the Lord,” is to note that the Psalm is not so much referring to scripture as the laws of nature we learn by studying science. So far as we know the Law of Gravity applies to everyone in every circumstance equally. So far as we know the Laws of Thermodynamics apply throughout the universe regardless of your race, color, gender, socio-economic class or ethnic or sexual identity. As Jesus pointed out God makes the sun to shine on the evil and the good. The rain falls on the just and the unjust. We all die, no exceptions.
SLIDE 12: GOD’S REVELATION IS WHOLE
Maybe a different translation of these verses can help put them into perspective:
“The revelation of GOD is whole and pulls our lives together. The signposts of GOD are clear and point out the right road. The life-maps of GOD are wise, showing the way to joy. The directions of GOD are plain and easy to see once we open our eyes. GOD’s way is sure.”
God is not interested in a whole long list of do’s and don’ts. God wants us to wake up, open our lives and learn from life around us and from our mistakes. God wants us to connect with nature and so form a relationship with God’s creation. God invites us into a life of prayer, that we might wake up and connect with the divine.
SLIDE 13: WARNS OF DANGER DIRECTS US TO HIDDEN TREASURE
I think an alternative translation of verses 11 – 14 can also help us to appreciate the great wisdom of this Psalm and its appropriateness for Lent.
There’s more: God’s Word revealed all around us warns us of danger and directs us to hidden treasure. Otherwise how will we find our way? Or know when we play the fool?
Clean the slate, God, so we can start the day fresh! Keep me from stupid sins, from thinking I can take over your work; then I can start this day sun-washed, scrubbed clean of the grime of sin.
These are the words of my mouth; and the meditations of my heart. I pray they be acceptable to you O God.
SLIDE 14: DISCERNING GOD IN THE EVENTS OF THE WORLD
The revelations of God warn us of danger and direct us to hidden treasure. If we are fully awake and in the present moment the Psalmist says, that we will be able to read and understand the movements of God through the events of the world. There is a Jesus story that addresses this issue of being able to discern what God is up to in the world.
Some Jesus’ rivals were after him again, pressing him to prove himself by giving them a sign from heaven. He told them, “You have a saying that goes, ‘Red sky at night, sailor’s delight; red sky at morning, sailors take warning.’ You find it easy enough to forecast the weather—why can’t you read the signs of the times?”
SLIDE 15: PLAYING THE FOOL
The Psalmist also warns that when we fail to wake up to what is going on around us, we will miss what is right in front of our noses, and we are liable to play the fool. So the Psalmist asks God to clean the slate. Every day is a new day to start over, if we are willing to confess what we have done wrong and turn away from our stupid sins. The Psalmist suggests that our greatest foolishness is to think we can take over God’s work, and replace God with self. Confession is a step toward humility — learning to be content with who we are ourselves, so we do not have to play God. Lent is a time, when we are encouraged to make confession and turn away from sin. Repent and turn to walk with God.
SLIDE 16: EACH DAY IS A NEW DAY TO START OVER
Each day is a new day, a gift, to start over again scrubbed and clean, so that this day need not be like the other past. Today, we can start over by thanking God the moment we wake up and then turning to walk with God. And if we seek the Lord, while she may be found, God will walk with us and guide our steps in the way of Jesus. May the words of our mouths; and the meditations of my hearts be acceptable to you O God.
SLIDE 3: MY GOD MY GOD WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME?
For the second Sunday in Lent we turn to Psalm 22 what I think of sometimes as the Good Friday prayer. “My God, my God why have you forsaken me,” rings out as one of the last words from the cross. Jesus who knew the Psalms, found the words for his anguish and despair.
SLIDE 4: CRUCIFIXION
Crucifixion was an ingenious method of execution that maximized the pain and torment of its victims. In order to expand their chest to breath, the victim would have to pull down on the nails through their wrists and push down on the nail through their feet. After agonizing hours of hanging from the cross, torn muscles spasming, they could no longer pull themselves up enough to take a breath of air. The crucified person died from asphyxiation.
Psalm 22 also inspired many of the details of the passion narrative. For instance the mocking of Jesus at the cross. “All who see me mock at me; they make mouths at me, they shake their heads; ‘Commit your cause to the Lord; let him deliver— let him rescue the one in whom he delights!’”
Or the description of the Roman soldiers casting dice for Jesus’ cloak. “They stare and gloat over me; they divide my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots.”
SLIDE 5: FALL ASLEEP AND NOT WAKE UP
Despite the opening expression of utter abandonment Psalm 22 seeks to assure us that even in our darkest moments God is always close. The Passion of Jesus presents a picture of terrible suffering. And while I believe we are called upon to focus primarily on the love of God and the joy of life, the power of faith, I believe spending some time with the Passion narrative can strengthen our faith. For at some point most of us will experience pain in our lives. I have this wonderful fantasy of living to be 95 years old in perfect health, sitting down in my rocking chair on the front porch on a warm Fall afternoon, falling asleep, and just not waking up. Ideally that is how I would like to leave this life. This last six months, however, has cured me of the fantasy of living another 30 years in perfect health.
SLIDE 6: WOODY ALLEN — “HE LOOKS GOOD FOR HIS AGE”
Although I am reminded of when Woody Allen was asked what he wanted people to say about him 100 years from now and he responded, “I want them to say, ‘Doesn’t he look good for his age?’” No, we are all going to die. We will all leave this life, and most of us will experience some pain before we go.
SLIDE 7: PAIN
Life is good. Life is a gift. But pain can drain the joy right out of life. Pain alters our senses and perceptions blocking our appreciation of beauty and joy. Intense pain can be crippling, long term or chronic pain is demoralizing, interrupting sleep, draining energy, covering life with a gray haze of depression. And yet Psalm 22 tries to tell us that even in the midst of pain and suffering, God is always close.
“For God does not despise the pain of the afflicted; she does not hide her face from us, but hears when we cry to her. The poor shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek God shall praise the Lord. May our hearts live forever!”
SLIDE 8: SPIRITUALLY WE WANDER
God is always close. Our problem is that spiritually we wander. We are like the sheep who wander astray in Isaiah 53 one of the great suffering servant songs:
4 But the fact is, it was our pains he carried – our disfigurements, all the things wrong with us. We thought he brought it on himself, that God was punishing him for his own failures.
5 But it was our sins that did that to him, that ripped and tore and crushed him – our sins! He took the punishment, and that made us whole. Through his bruises we are healed.
6 We’re all like sheep who’ve wandered off and gotten lost. We’ve all done our own thing, gone our own way. And God has piled all our sins, everything we’ve done wrong, on him.
7 The suffering servant was beaten, he was tortured, but he didn’t say a word. Like a lamb taken to be slaughtered and like a sheep being sheared, he took it all in silence.
8 Justice miscarried, and he was led off – and did anyone really know what was happening? He died without a thought for his own welfare, beaten bloody for the sins of our people.
9 They buried him with the wicked, threw him in a grave with a rich man. Even though he’d never hurt a soul or said one word that wasn’t true.
SLIDE 9: ALL WE LIKE SHEEP HAVE GONE ASTRAY
All we like sheep have wandered. God is close, but we do not sense the divine presence near, for we are intent on what we want, not what God wants. We insist on going our own way ignoring the hints the gentle nudges God provides in trying to shepherd us in the way of Jesus. And especially, when we are in pain, we can turn in upon ourselves wondering how could God be so far away, so far from bringing relief to our suffering?
SLIDE 10: CRISIS
Admittedly, if we have not sought a relationship with God. If we have not cultivated any kind of prayer or devotional life, when pain and suffering come, we can very readily feel ourselves abandoned, and give into despair.
SLIDE 11: REPENTANCE
In his book What Return Can I Make? Scott Peck writes about repentance. He says that repentance means “turning,” turning around to walk with God. Scott Peck then asks the question, “who were we walking with before we turned around to walk with God?”
SLIDE 12: GOING OUR OWN WAY
The answer, no one. We were going it alone, because we liked it better that way. Maybe we could glimpse God occasionally at a great distance, but mostly we ignored God preferring to go our own way. Some of us have drunk the heady wine of the enlightenment and we have even convinced ourselves God is not there at all, for then we are truly captains of our own fate, accountable to no one except to ourselves, and we are free to do whatever we like, because we are the center of our own universe.
SLIDE 13: EGO — CENTER OF OUR OWN UNIVERSE
Our egos like the notion of serving as the center of our own universe, but when confronted by pain, suffering or death, we might want to reach out to something beyond ourselves. And if we have not bothered to cultivate our relationship with God, we may find ourselves unable to make the connection, even though God is close.
SLIDE 14: SEEK GOD WHILE SHE MAY BE FOUND
So where and how do we begin reaching out to make connection with God? First, in the words of the prophet Isaiah seek God while she may be found, reach out to the divine before the crisis. I am not saying that God does not respond when people pray in crisis. God does respond. But if we have no practice reaching out to the divine, we may miss the connection, because we do not recognize the signs of God’s presence. Seek the Lord, while she is near in good times so your faith may not fail when the crisis comes.
SLIDE 15: GRATITUDE
SLIDE 16: ROBERT LEARNS GRATITUDE
Many of you have met our grandson Robert, who spends much of the summer here in Huntsville. Robert has somewhat of a chaotic life. He lives with my son Geoff, who is separate from Robert’s mother, and his mother is not particularly stable. Well, Geoff’s girl friend Tracie texted me the other day and reported. “You have the cutest grandson ever. The other night I made one of his favorites for dinner — baby egg rolls with chicken. After dinner he comes and wraps his little arms around my waist and says, ‘I love you Tracie would you like some help finishing the dishes.’ I asked Geoffrey, ‘did you send Robert down here to thank me for dinner.’ And he had no idea what I was talking about.” When children learn spontaneous gratitude, we recognize they have passed a spiritual mile stone. When we adults express spontaneous gratitude to God, we have passed a spiritual mile stone.
So, wake up in the morning and before anything else, say thank you. Start the day by connecting with the divine, and you will find your life unfolding with love, peace and joy.
SLIDE 17: OCCASIONAL PRAYER OF CONFESSION
Another method of establishing some connection with God is to occasionally offer a prayer of confession. Now some of us are so good at beating ourselves over the head, I only recommend occasional confession, because for some of us it is easy to overdo it. I have provided an insert with some prayers of confession. Find one you like, and pray. Offering confession is a way of making ourselves accountable to God. Accountability through confession also reinforces humility a necessary attribute for our daily walk with God.
SLIDE 18: BE STILL
The last observation I would make for turning and walking with God is to be still. Be still and know that I am God. One of my favorite ways of reminding myself of the need to be still is to sing it. If you know it sing it with me. “Be still, be still, and know, I am God. Be still, be still, and know, I am God. Be still, be still, and know, I am God.”
SLIDE 19: GOD IS ALWAYS CLOSE
Practice the presence of God in prayer, and when pain, or suffering, or death or some other crisis finds us, as inevitably it will, we will reach out to God, like Jesus on the cross and know that God is always close.