Monday, April 14, 2014

According to Luke: Father Forgive Them

April 13
Palm Sunday
According to Luke: Father Forgive Them

Luke 23:32-47    (NRSV)
Two others also, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left.  Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”  And they cast lots to divide his clothing. And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!” The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”
One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

Oftentimes I am amazed that people (you all) show up week after week to hear somebody preach.

I don't get to do it very often --- but more often than not, when I am sitting where you are --- just having the opportunity to listen --- more often than not I leave disappointed.

Sometimes it has to do with the quality of the speaker.
Some people just aren't very good preachers.

But more often than not it has to do with the message that the preacher is trying to convey.  

I can't tell you how many times I have heard --- and Lord I pray that I HAVE NOT SAID --- if you just believe the right things than everything is going to be OK.


If you DO the right things --- then God will not only protect you from evil, but will reward you with all kinds of material goods.

I know that the truth is --- that over the years --- in the well over a thousand sermons I have preached --- that I have said BOTH of those things.

But every now and again --- I hear a sermon that stops me dead in my tracks and it forces me to stop and re-gather myself.

Working on this sermon, listening and reading others, and re-reading the scriptures with new eyes --- did just that.

Maybe it has to do with just where I am on my journey right now --- but our scripture this morning is why I come to church!

It is the familiar story of Jesus dying on the cross --- convicted by Rome for being a revolutionary insurgent.

Jesus is looking out at the crowd 
the people who had lied to convict him
the institution that had let him down
the people who had been systematically torturing him
and the people who had nailed him to that cross (and laughed while they did it)
the crooked politicians who made this all happen

From that place Jesus looks at each of them

And what would YOU do if you were in his place?

I am sure I would scream curses and ugly things at them . . .

But do you remember what Jesus does?

Luke 23:34
“Father, forgive them; they don’t know what they’re doing.”


If you get a chance, go to the library and take out AWAY FROM HER, the 2007 Academy Award nominated film starring Julie Christie and written by Alice Munro.

It is the story of Grant and Fiona Anderson who have been married for 45 years
Fiona has Alzheimer's and has had to move into a nursing home

After a 30 day settling-in period Grant is finally allowed to go and visit Fiona
The problem is --- she no longer recognizes him

even worse --- she has transferred her affections to another man (Aubrey) --- a mute man in a wheelchair who has become her "coping partner" in the facility
           Fiona helps Aubrey play cards
           She helps him with his wheelchair
           She holds his hand
All in the presence of her heart broken husband
           But the truth is --- she has no idea what she is doing

Grant tries to get her to remember
           Reintroducing himself to her --- trying to spark her memory
            He sits for hours in the lounge --- just watching her
She just complains:
           "My, you are persistent."

You can imagine the rejection that Grant feels --- but the truth is she just doesn't remember.

He even takes her out to visit her favorite places --- but still nothing

Grant just keeps on visiting.
And even most amazingly it is obvious that he forgives her

Grant is devastated by the whole situation

But his forgiveness is so complete that when, her friend, Aubrey is released back home --- Fiona goes into a deep depression --- Grant does his best to convince Aubrey's wife to send him back to the Nursing home so that Fiona will be happy again.

Grant understands --- that the reality is --- Fiona just doesn't remember --- and his forgiveness is complete.

Just as Grant forgave his wife --- so Jesus forgives the Pharisees and Romans for what they were doing to him

While Fiona could not help not knowing --- the Pharisees and the Romans should have known better.

The Pharisees knew that the charges against Jesus were trumped up

Pilate knew that the trial was a miscarriage of justice

The Sadducees knew Jesus had healed people

The soldiers understood that crucifixion was torture and, unfortunately, quite enjoyed raping little Jewish girls and stealing Jewish wealth

So where Fiona didn't understand anything and yet Grant forgave her --- those who crucified Jesus knew a lot.

YET --- with his arms outstretched --- nailed to a cross
his face and hair matted with blood
while he was suffering pain you and I cannot even imagine --- that is when Jesus called out to God and prayed: 
“Father, forgive them; they don’t know what they’re doing.”

“Father, forgive them; they don’t know what they’re doing.” --- this is the most amazing story in all the bible

And it gives me great hope!
If Jesus could be gracious to those who tortured and killed him --- then he will be gracious to me too!

It is in these few little words that I can find hope because to me they show what God's real attitude toward humanity it.
          Not a "I am gonna get you" God, as portrayed in the new movie Noah

          But rather a "I am gonna love you" God.

How can we ever fear --- how God will treat us --- when we finally come face to face, when God loves us so completely!!!

Isn't this the message of Jesus throughout the Gospel?
Luke 6:27-29   (NRSV)  “But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt.

Jesus asks us not only that we do to others as we would have them do to us --- he also asks us to do exactly what he has done.

The bible is filled with stories of God's undying love for us

That is the kind of God I put my hope in

That is the kind of God I want to hear preached.

I want to share one more story --- then I will let you go and try to get your head around this idea of God's most amazing grace for us.

Donald Miller --- whose Storyline conference I attended in February tells a great story from his time at Reed College.

Reed has a reputation as being one of the most liberal colleges in America.  

Every spring they hold what they call Renn Fayre, a three day festival that is really one huge party.  

All students are required to write a senior thesis that consumes both semesters of their senior year.  Renn Fayre (short for Renaissance Fair) was designed to celebrate the accomplishment of turning in your senior thesis.

When Miller was at Reed, Christians were not really welcome, but one year this group that he was a part of decided that Renn Fayre would be a good time to come out of the closet.

They were discussing how they might do this and Don suggested that they should build a confession booth in the middle of the campus with a sign that invited people to come and "Confess your sins."

Don Miller, in his book, Blue Like Jazz wrote: 
"I said this because I knew a lot of people would be sinning, and Christian spirituality begins by confessing our sins and repenting.  But I also said it as a joke."

Actually, after he suggested it, he tried to talk his friends out of it.

One of his friends however ran with the idea.

Miller writes this:
"Okay you guys." Tony gathered everybody's attention.  "Here's the catch."  He leaned in a little and collected his thoughts.  "We are not actually going to accept confessions."  We all looked at him in confusion.  He continued, "We are going to confess them.  We are going to confess that, as followers of Jesus, we have not been very loving; we have been bitter, and for that we are sorry.  We will apologize for the Crusades, we will apologize for televangelists, we will apologize for neglecting the poor and the lonely, we will ask them to forgive us, and we will tell them that in our selfishness, we have misrepresented Jesus on this campus.  We will tell people who come into the booth that Jesus loves them."

Can you imagine doing something like this in the middle of Munster?  
Maybe during Three Floyds' Dark Lord Festival or even during the Third of July Fireworks celebration?

But they actually did this --- and it was life transformative.  
To confess and most importantly to KNOW that you are forgiven.

You see, I have figured something out about being a follower of Jesus.

Being a follower of Jesus is the greatest thing in the world --- I love following Jesus --- His way is life changing.

But what I figured out is what Jesus was saying from the cross.

You see, even though I have been told my whole life that Grace is free and I am forgiven --- I DIDN'T BELIEVE IT

I thought in order to receive grace I had to do something
You know what I mean
believe certain things
well, at least respond to God's love

But this passage reminds me that God's grace is NEVER dependant on me!

To those who tortured and crucified Jesus he prays to God:
“Father, forgive them; they don’t know what they’re doing.”

To each of us --- Jesus prays to God
“Father, forgive them; they don’t know what they’re doing.”

Jesus loves you! PERIOD!

Just try and get your head around that.


According To Luke: A Last Supper

According To Luke: A Last Supper
April 6, 2014

Today we continue our look at Jesus' last week according to Luke.  Today we are looking at the story that takes place on what we commonly call Maundy Thursday.

Once again, as we read Luke's version of this story it is pretty clear that Jesus had made arrangements for the Disciples to carry out his plans.

If we look at the preceding verses from our text this morning we find these words:
(Luke 22:7-13 The Message)
The Day of Unleavened Bread came, the day the Passover lamb was butchered. Jesus sent Peter and John off, saying, “Go prepare the Passover for us so we can eat it together.”

They said, “Where do you want us to do this?”

He said, “Keep your eyes open as you enter the city. A man carrying a water jug will meet you. Follow him home. Then speak with the owner of the house: The Teacher wants to know, ‘Where is the guest room where I can eat the Passover meal with my disciples?’ He will show you a spacious second-story room, swept and ready. Prepare the meal there.”

They left, found everything just as he told them, and prepared the Passover meal.

What is unusual about this story?

First, as I already said --- Jesus seemed to have prearranged everything.
The disciples are supposed to meet a man who has already secured a location for Jesus' Passover meal

Secondly --- there is a very confusing request --- the disciples are supposed to meet a very specific man: "A man carrying a water jug" --- the only problem is: Men didn't carry water jugs --- that was women's work.

There is the possibility that this man who offered Jesus the "upper room" so that he could share in this Passover meal with his followers  --- that he could have been a member of the Essene community.

There were four primary groups in Israel at this time:
Elite group who wanted to maintain the priestly class

Believed in the oral law --- spiritual fathers of modern Judaism

Desired to overthrow Rome any way possible


The Essene's were an ascetic movement.
There life was one of self-denial
They lived communally --- sharing their resources
So they had no money
no luxuries
they abstained from women
They lived in the desert in community with their fellow Essenes
They believed the Temple and it's priests were corrupt

The Dead Sea Scrolls are believed to be written and collected by an Essene community that lived at Qumron in the desert down by the Dead Sea.

It is intriguing that Jesus might have had some relationship with the Essene community --- but the truth is --- we just don't know.

Regardless, our story this morning tells us a great deal about Jesus and his dream for God's Kingdom.

Luke 22:14-20    (NRSV)When the hour came, he took his place at the table, and the apostles with him. He said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I tell you, I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he said, “Take this and divide it among yourselves; for I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood."

Right away you probably realized that Luke talks about two cups, he is the only Gospel writer that does that, but he is probably relating it to the four glasses of wine that are found in the Passover Seder meal.  
But again --- we are not really sure.

But some things to note, Jesus says to his followers:
"I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you"
The Message translates it:
"You’ve no idea how much I have looked forward to eating this Passover meal with you"

Luke more than any other Gospel --- stresses Jesus sharing in a meal with other people.
By eating with outcasts --- Jesus has shown his solidarity with them
Jesus had publically crossed the social barriers that divided the righteous from the outcasts
Jesus had embodied God's love to them

One of the things that is interesting is because of the significance of meals in Jesus ministry and the experience of the early church fasting has never been as significant a part of the Christian experience as eating together.
Originally the Lord's Supper was a part of a complete meal not just a morsel of bread dipped in juice.

Right after this story --- Jesus is going to remind the disciples that they are to serve on another.

And so, we provide a meal following a funeral to show our love for one another and to remind each other that in the midst of grief God is there in the fellowship of one another.
Truly that is what it means to commune

As Jesus shares both the bread he tells us we are to remember.

Just as the Passover was observed "so that all the days of your life you may remember the day of your departure from the last of Egypt" (Deuteronomy 16:3) --- so also when we share in the Lord's Supper we do it in remembrance of Jesus.

And what is it Jesus wants us to remember?

His life and ministry --- In another word HIS LOVE FOR US

Following the bread, Jesus offers the cup and he tells us"
"This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood"

This goes back again to the Exodus Passover ceremony described in Exodus 24:8
Exodus 24:8    (NRSV)Moses took the blood and dashed it on the people, and said, “See the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.”

Jesus by evoking these words was reminding us of the prophetic promise found in Jeremiah when he said:
Jeremiah 31:31, 33 (NRSV)The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

And what does this new covenant mean to you and me?
It means that we are forever in a relationship with God.

When we share in this Last Supper with Jesus we are reminded once again that nothing can separate us from the love of God.

We are forgiven and invited to God's table.

There is a wonderful story about the late Cardinal Sin of the Philippines.

When Cardinal Sin was a bishop, a young woman in his parish claimed that she had visions of Jesus.

Bishop Sin was given the task of determining if these visions were authentic.

He interviewed her and when he did, he made this request:
"Daughter, the next time you see Jesus, would you ask him what sin your bishop committed as a young priest and then come and tell me His answer."
She agreed

The Bishop knew that nobody knew his sin except himself, his confessor and God

Months later the woman returned reporting that she had seen Jesus again.

"Did you ask Him about my sin?" He asked her?
"Yes" she said
"What did He say?"
"He said, 'I've forgotten.'"

I love that story!

The challenge for us is not that we grasp fully the meaning of Jesus' last supper --- but rather that we open ourselves to the full extent of its power to change us and create intimacy among each other --- the outcasts --- our Jewish heritage --- other Christians and Jesus whom we worship.

The question Jesus wants us to wrestle with as we leave this place today is:

According To Luke: What's Wrong With Jesus?

March 30
According To Luke: What's Wrong With Jesus?

Luke 19:41-48     (NRSV)
As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side. They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.”

Then he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling things there; and he said, “It is written,

‘My house shall be a house of prayer’;
    but you have made it a den of robbers.”

Every day he was teaching in the temple. The chief priests, the scribes, and the leaders of the people kept looking for a way to kill him; but they did not find anything they could do, for all the people were spellbound by what they heard.

Last week we entered Jerusalem with Jesus on what we call --- PALM SUNDAY

One thing you may not have noticed in Luke’s version of the story ---- there are NO PALMS

Instead of waving palm branches --- Luke has the people laying their cloaks on the ground.  
Why no palms?  

I don’t know!

When we read the story carefully there are a couple of things we can note right away.

1. The event was pre-arranged
In verses 30-34 the colt was arranged to be there for Jesus

2. If you don’t know your Hebrew Bible the story makes very little sense

If you don’t  “know” the story and you are hearing it or reading it for the first time you might have thought that Jesus was just tired from his long journey from the Galilee and he needed a lift for the last little bit


That maybe Jesus wanted to be high enough (sitting on the colt) so that the people could see him

But we all know Zechariah’s prophecy
Zechariah 9:9  (NRSV)Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion!    Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem!Lo, your king comes to you;    triumphant and victorious is he,humble and riding on a donkey,    on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

Jesus entry was making a political statement about who Caesar was and about who Jesus was

Luke is lampooning Caesar who would have ridden into the city on a grand white stallion as a conquering king

Instead Luke has the real King (remember Luke starts the Gospel by letting us know through Jesus birth that Jesus is the real king) coming in on a lowly colt

One other thing to notice --- is that clearly a day has past between verse 40 (the end of the Palm Sunday story) and verse 41.

Our story this week begins on this second day ---- Monday ---- of what we like to call “Holy Week”

The day begins with Jesus (most likely) on the Mount of Olives --- standing and looking toward Jerusalem and the Temple

Luke tells us that Jesus weeps over the city because he knows that the people have failed to understand who he really is

They have failed to understand what kind of Messiah Jesus is to be

And, Jesus knows what they days ahead are going to bring

Today, just a little way down from the top of the Mount of Olives there is a rather small --- yet beautiful Church --- that is there to help us remember Jesus weeping over Jerusalem.

The church is built in the shape of a bottle that one would use to collect teardrops ---- it is one of my favorite churches in Jerusalem.

Jesus --- once again --- walks down from the Mount of Olives and back up into the walled city of Jerusalem.

It is there that our main story for today takes place.

Luke’s version of what we often call “The Cleansing of the Temple” is surprisingly only 2 verses long.

Matthew, Mark and Luke all put this story at the beginning of Holy Week.

John, however, puts it at the very beginning of his Gospel --- in Chapter 2

John clearly does this for theological reasons --- and is the longest version of the story.

But I think that we are fairly safe in saying that this event most likely happened where Matthew, Mark and Luke place it ---- on the Monday of Jesus final week.

One more thing we really need to keep in mind as we examine this story is that the first hearers of this story ---- whether from the hand of Matthew, Mark, Luke or John --- would have known that the temple was completely and utterly destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE

But even by the time Jesus walked up to the temple on that Monday of his final week, it was clear that it was a shell of its former glory and mission.

Instead of being a holy place ---- which of course was its core identity and function ---- 
it had become a shopping mall, 
a bank, 
a government building 
and a revolutionary symbol wrapped into one. 

The moneychangers and sellers made a profit selling sacrificial animals to the people, 

  • especially the poor (thus the analogy with a mall); 
  • the treasury and records of debt were administered there (thus the bank), 
  • the high priest, who was a Roman appointee, and the scribal lawyers had their offices there (the government) 
  • and the zealots looked to it as a national symbol that, if it could be recaptured, could house a new government (the symbol). 

Every interest group saw the temple as the symbol of salvation, but none of its current functions was going to save the temple or the people.

So Jesus walked right in and drove out the sellers, 
which effectively shut down the temple's sacrificial function for a brief time. 
Jesus was --- in modern terms --- occupying Wall Street. 

He seemed to be announcing a foreclosure on the temple 

Indeed, Jesus would do what the temple could --- would not --- do. 

Jesus came with humility and not hubris. 

Jesus gave himself away instead of pursuing more power, 
calling his disciples to lose their lives in order to find them. 

Jesus engaged in the risky venture of challenging the prevailing religious worldview and risked death on a cross to see his mission through. 

Jesus didn't grasp at another way of salvation, but embodied it in his own life

And, finally, Jesus didn't capitulate to death, but demonstrated the reality of resurrection. 

In short, Jesus showed his disciples that the path of righteousness was the path of suffering and self-denial, and not the wide road of the temple that seemed to be leading straight off a cliff.

One of the ways that this passage often gets preached is as a polemic against selling things in church, (and I hear that from many of you all the time) but it really is so much more than that. 

Jesus is challenging us to look within Ridge Church and ask ourselves if we (as a community and individually) are being faithful to his call. 
Or if we are following the wrong messiah

He seems to be asking us:

  • How do we measure success?

           Is it in numbers who attend --- or lives that have been changed?

  • Do we get so enamored with budgets and buildings, programs and high tech stuff that we fail to ask “Are we really doing what Jesus wants?”
  • Are we so busy chasing more

                         More attendance
                         More facilities
                         More money
That we have begun to equate bigness with success?

In other words --- are we busy trying to grow an institution rather than make disciples one life, one person at a time?

Have we stopped being prophetic and challenging one another to the way of Jesus because it seems too hard?

Instead turning the gospel into something that demands little of us and promises us great returns?

Do we blame others:
Secular society
The government
The economy
When things don’t go the way that we expect?

Are we looking for the easy fix  

  • New programs
  • Better leaders
  • Better coffee

To solve our problems and turn everything around?

Does the church have a spirit of hope or a spirit of defeat? 

If any of those are true . . . then Jesus might be calling us out just like he did the merchants in the temple courtyard

We have to make Jesus the center of our worship and our mission.

What would Jesus want to drive out of Ridge Church?  

Are we really willing to ask ourselves that question?

Thursday, April 03, 2014

More Than A Bucket List --- Review

More than A Bucket List: Making Your Dreams, Passions and Faith a Reality by Toni Birdsong is a cheesy but a fun read.  Good to use as an add-on to a daily devotion.  It is a reminder to slow down and smell the roses.  We all know what it is like to be too busy to reach out and grasp the dreams that we once held dear.

The goal of the book is to help inspire you to seize and act on all kinds of creative dreams that we have ---- things from visiting the Holy Land (which I highly recommend), to donating blood or time at a soup kitchen, a reminder to learn to climb a tree or to take the time to help a child learn to read.

Every few "days" the book includes a list of recommended things to do.  Most of them are no-brainers, but sometimes we just need the nudge and get going.  One of the best was toward the end of the book in which there are a list of messages that we need to change in our lives.

The list of bucket items is divided both thematically and blended with Scripture.

I think that this book would be great for a graduate, newly married couple or just somebody who wants to get motivated once again.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers <> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”