Sunday, April 30, 2017

Who Do You Love?

John 21:1-17 (NRSV) 
After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea. But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off.

When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.

This is my favorite resurrection story.  To me it is a powerful story that illustrates the amazing love that Jesus has for us.

This story takes place a few weeks after resurrection day.

In John's gospel, Jesus appears first to Mary, then Peter and the un-named disciple, and then again to Mary who is convinced he is the gardener.

Later that evening he appears to 10 of the disciples who were hiding in a "locked house."

Thomas was not there that evening and says emphatically that he will not beleive unless he can see the wounds on Jesus' body.

And so John tells us that a week later, the disciples --- who are still in Jerusalem and in their locked house --- that Jesus appears to them and invites Thomas to:
"Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.”

And it is here that our story for this morning begins --- how much time has passed since resurrection morning? --- we cannot be sure, but long enough for the disciples to leave Jerusalem and travel the 80 miles or so back to Capernaum.

Remember they would have walked --- so this is a minimum of 4 days, plus since they were being observant they could not have gone the short way through Samaria but would have had to add an extra couple of days to their journey by traveling along the coastal highway or gone up on the other side of the Jordan river.

This is important -- at least two weeks have passed since Resurrection day --- if not more.

The disciples have encountered the risen Jesus on at least two occasions --- but where are they as our story begins?

They have gone back to their day jobs --- Peter and a handful of the disciples have gone back to what they did before they met Jesus --- Fishing.

I want to pause for a second and let that sink in.

I find that fascinating.

Obviously, the resurrection day experiences had not worked their magic on the disciples up to this point.
          They were not out trying to change the world
          They were not trying to defeat Rome
          They were simply trying to survive

In all my travels to Israel --- the site of this story is one of the most powerful to me, and one of my favorite.  There is a small church that celebrates this encounter between Jesus and the disciples, but especially the interchange between Jesus and Peter.

Peter and the boys are out fishing --- and have been out all night when some stranger from the shore suggests that they should be fishing on the opposite side of the boat.


But they listen and cast their nets to the other side and their nets become full of fish.
          The unnamed disciples proclaims that it is Jesus
                    But the others are not so sure.
          They obviously do not recognize this stranger

Peter jumps in the water, leaving the boat and the fish and rushes to shore. 
          Still not convinced it is Jesus

But as they shared together in a meal --- as they break bread together --- they understood who it was with them (even if they did not recognize him).

And then we get to one of the greatest exchanges in the biblical story

Listen again:
When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?’ {Peter} said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my lambs.’ A second time {Jesus} said to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ {Peter} said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Tend my  sheep.’ {Jesus} said to him the third time, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ Peter felt hurt because {Jesus} said to him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ And {Peter} said to him, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep.

What a powerful exchange:  do you --- do you love me more than these?

What is it --- Jesus want to know --- that you really love?

What makes this exchange even more powerful is a nuance in the language that we don't often catch.

In English we have one word for LOVE.

So when we use the word love we can have lots of meanings.
I love the Cubs, I love Meridian Street Church, I love meatloaf.  BUT,
·         I love ice cream and
·         I love Nancy aren't the same

And yet we don't distinguish those "loves" --- we assume the hearer will understand

Ancient Greek did not have this same issue

In Greek there are three main words for love
·         Eros -- erotic love or intimate love
·         Phila --- where we get the word fidelity which means love between friends --- affection
·         Agape --- which means unconditional love

I want you to listen again to this story --- this time with the Greek word for love that is used.

Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you agape me more than these?’ {Peter} said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I phila you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my lambs.’ A second time {Jesus} said to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you agape me?’ {Peter} said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I phila you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Tend my  sheep.’ {Jesus} said to him the third time, ‘Simon son of John, do you phila me?’ Peter felt hurt because {Jesus} said to him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ And {Peter} said to him, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I phila you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep.

Did you HEAR that?

Jesus asks Peter for unconditional love --- when Peter is unable to give that kind of love back --- Jesus accepts him for who he is.

I don't think there is a more powerful story in all the bible.

But the important question for us today --- in 2017 --- is what does this story mean for us?

Maybe first we need to try and understand this word AGAPE or UNCONDITIONAL LOVE

Unconditional love is a phrase that is thrown out all over the place.

We've heard songs about it, seen it in the movies, heard it talked about on Oprah by relationship experts, and read about it in thousands of self help books.
          But, what is unconditional love?

We all want to feel loved.
We think about it, hope for it, fantasize about it, go to great lengths to achieve it, and feel that our lives are incomplete without it.

The lack of unconditional love is the cause of most of our anger and confusion.
It is no exaggeration to say that our emotional need for unconditional love is just as great as our physical need for air and food.

It is especially unfortunate, then, that most of us have no idea what unconditional love really is, and we prove our ignorance with our horrifying divorce rate, the incidence of alcohol and drug addiction in our country, the violence in our society and schools, as well as our overflowing jails.

Our misconceptions of unconditional love began in early childhood, where we saw that:
when we did all the right things
when we were clean, quiet, obedient and otherwise “good” --- people “loved” us.
They smiled at us and spoke in gentle tones.

But we also saw that when we were “bad,” all those signs of “love” vanished.

In short, we were taught by consistent experience that love was conditional, that we had to in some ways buy “love” from the people around us with our words and our behavior.

What’s wrong with conditional love?

We see it everywhere we look, so what could be wrong with it?

Imagine that every time you paid me fifty dollars, I promised to tell you I loved you.
We could do that all day, but at the end of the day would you feel loved?
No, because you’d know that I “loved” you only because you paid me.
We simply can’t feel fulfilled by love we pay for.

We can feel loved only when it is freely, unconditionally given to us.

The instant we do anything at all to win the approval or respect of other people — with what we say, what we do, how we look — we are paying for the attention and affection we receive, and the truth is we can’t feel genuinely loved.

There’s only one kind of love that can fill us up, make us whole, and give us the happiness we all want: unconditional love.

It is unconditional love that we all seek, and somehow we intuitively realize that anything other than that kind of love isn’t really love at all — it’s an imitation of the real thing.

Unconditional love — true love — is so different from the kind of love most of us have known all our lives:
Unconditional Love is caring about the happiness of another person without any thought for what we might get for ourselves.

It is not Unconditional Love when we love other people for doing what we want them to do.
Under those conditions we’re just paying for love again.

It is clear to me that what God desires of us is unconditional love --- and even when we fail to live up to it --- which we often do --- God's unconditional love remains.

Psalm 136 reminds us that “God’s steadfast love endures forever.”

1 John tells us that “God is love”.

John 3:16
          "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son,”

God wants us to love unconditionally

But the challenge is --- most of us create conditions.

I can run the gamut on the conditions we create --- but we do it intentionally and unintentionally all the time.

Unconditional love means loving people even when we disagree with them.

The reason this is so difficult for some is that the United Methodist Church has been struggling with how inclusive we will be with people who are LGBTQI.

We have struggled over these types of issues before --- and not always with a great deal of success.

In the 1840's the church split over racial issues --- and even when we came back together --- we really didn't welcome our black brothers and sisters into full acceptance, instead we created what we called the Central Jurisdiction for our black brothers and sisters which was solely created along racial lines. 

It wasn't until 1968 that we abolished the Central Jurisdiction --- but racial prejudice and segregation have not disappeared in the United Methodist Church.

Now you can argue that it is not the same issue --- and you would be right, BUT . . .

All I know is what Jesus told me to do:  "Feed his sheep."

Bishop Elaine Stanovsky wrote Friday on behalf of the Western Jurisdiction College of Bishops:

The Judicial Council ruled today on challenges to the election of an out gay bishop in The United Methodist Church. The ruling is long and complicated, reinforcing the reality that the church is not of one mind about inclusion of LGBTQI people and sexual practices outside heterosexual marriage. We thank the Judicial Council for allowing the Commission on A Way Forward to do its work. We have said from the beginning that we trust the commission to find new ways for United Methodists of varying perspective to live and serve God together.

Karen Oliveto, is still a bishop of The United Methodist Church, assigned to the Mountain Sky Area, with all the rights, privileges, responsibilities and protections that every clergy person enjoys. The decision refuted the claim that bishops have the right and responsibility to declare a candidate for election as a bishop ineligible without due process.

On the other hand, the Judicial Council expanded the definition of “self-avowed practicing homosexual,” making it clear that the church is still not open to full LGBTQI inclusion.

While the Judicial Council ordered a review of Bishop Oliveto’s qualifications for ministry, the Western Jurisdiction is already in the process of responding to complaints that were filed after her election. This process will continue according to the provisions of our Book of Discipline.

Bishop Bob Hoshibata from the Desert Southwest Conference wrote this yesterday

I encourage us to remember that at the center of this contentious debate is a person who has been called by God to proclaim God’s love to all persons in the name of Jesus Christ. Bishop Oliveto graciously gives unselfishly of herself as a pastor and as a colleague bishop and I give thanks for her courageous faith and her strong caring leadership.

Although the Judicial Council’s ruling does not immediately nullify Bishop Oliveto’s episcopacy, it does in other statements make it clear that our Church does not yet support full inclusion of LGBTQI persons. Because we are not all of one mind, I call us all to pause for moments of reflection and prayer, breathing deeply to take in God’s spirit. Just as the breath of air gives life and strength to the body; let God’s spirit give us spiritual strength and reassurance that God loves you. For those who have been marginalized and hurt repeatedly by The United Methodist Church, especially LGBTQI persons, I repeat: God loves you. Even when you feel that your Church doesn’t love you, God loves you.

I am praying that we will find the courage to live together following the words of Jesus:
“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another (John 13:34-35).”

I long for the day when the entire United Methodist Church will understand that we are called to love all persons. I will never stop leading our Conference in proclaiming that love. God’s love given abundantly and freely to all persons is a model for us to emulate in our lives, in our congregations, and in our communities. I continue to hope and pray that we will live and work together honoring the richness of God’s diversity so that even if we do not think alike, we will love each other. Let us be inspired by John Wesley, who asked:
“Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion?  Without all doubt, we may.”

I don't have an easy answer --- All I know, is I hear Jesus ask me: ‘Steve, do you agape me more than these?’ (hold up book of Discipline and bible)

I try --- but I know that I often fail in loving God fully and loving my neighbor as myself.  Too often I put conditions on that love.

Scott Bader-Saye reminds us:
“Following Jesus will mean surrendering the power that masquerades as security in order to love the neighbor and welcome the stranger. It will mean avoiding the safe path in order to pursue the good.”

I want to close with these words from the late Dr Elisabeth K├╝bler-Ross
If we make our goal to live a life of compassion and unconditional love, then the world will indeed become a garden where all kinds of flowers can bloom and grow.

That is the garden that the master gardener is calling me into, a garden where all kinds of flowers can bloom and grow.

And I pray that someday I will be able to say; when Jesus asks me again and again and again --- "Steve do you Agape me?" 

I pray that I will be able to say --- Lord, look at my life --- you know I not only loved you as a friend, but I strove to love you and all of your creation with unconditional love.  Amen.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

EASTER A World Turned Upside Down

(John 20:1-18 NRSV)  Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. {2} So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him." {3} Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. {4} The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. {5} He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. {6} Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, {7} and the cloth that had been on Jesus' head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. {8} Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; {9} for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. {10} Then the disciples returned to their homes. {11} But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; {12} and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. {13} They said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping?" She said to them, "They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him." {14} When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. {15} Jesus said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?" Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away." {16} Jesus said to her, "Mary!" She turned and said to him in Hebrew, "Rabbouni!" (which means Teacher). {17} Jesus said to her, "Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, 'I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'" {18} Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, "I have seen the Lord"; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

Last week, we talked about the two parades that came into Jerusalem on that day that we know of as Palm Sunday.

Lots of things have happened during this past week
·         Jesus overturned the tables of the money changers in the market
·         Jesus angered the religious authorities
·         Jesus celebrated the Passover with his disciples
·         Judas sells out Jesus to the Religious Authorities
·         Jesus, while praying the in the garden of Gethsemane was arrested by the Roman officials
·         Jesus was tried before Jewish leaders, before Herod and also the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate
·         Finally he was condemned, beaten and ultimately crucified

It’s was a busy week!

But without Easter
Without Easter --- we wouldn’t be here this morning.

If Jesus’ story had ended with his crucifixion, my hunch is Jesus would have been forgotten, remembered only by a small few who viewed him as a failure.

Jesus would have been just another Jew crucified by the Roman Empire, an empire that executed thousands upon thousands on the cross.

Maybe the Roman—Jewish historian Josephus would have left us a word or two about this preacher who was executed, but in all likelihood you and I would never have heard of him.

Or what if the Disciples had just gone home?

What if they figured that the guy that they had been following, well, they decided that he wasn’t all that they had imagined?

Where would we be today?

I have thought about that a great deal this week . . .

Not only, what would have happened if Jesus was never resurrected, but also: WHY?  Why was Jesus resurrected?

As I tried to come up with an answer I thought of three possible reasons why Jesus was resurrected.

Was Jesus resurrected for Jesus benefit?

Did God resurrect Jesus because he had not finished what he had started?

At first blush, that makes lots of sense, if you think about it; Jesus left a lot to be done.

But under further scrutiny, that just doesn’t make much sense for a number of reasons

1.       Jesus tells us on the cross that it is finished
(John 19:30 NRSV)  When Jesus had received the wine, he said, "It is finished." Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

The things that Jesus came to accomplish had been accomplished, so there was no reason for him to be resurrected to complete what he had started. 

It was finished

2.       Would God make Jesus come back to that broken and battered body to interact with the people who just killed him?

I cannot image that God would allow Jesus to continue the suffering that he had to endure dying as he did on a cross

I don’t think that Jesus was resurrected for Jesus sake.

But what about for the Disciples?

Did God resurrect Jesus for the benefit of the Disciples?

It seems pretty clear from the gospel stories that they never really understood what Jesus was all about.

So, did God resurrect Jesus so that they could figure it out?

Again, when we look quickly at the stories it is obvious that the Disciples did not expect or anticipate that Jesus would be resurrected.

When Jesus was crucified, we are told that they fled and were in hiding, afraid that what happened to Jesus was going to happen to them

John goes so far as to tell us that on resurrection Sunday, after Mary has already come and told them that she had encountered the risen Christ, that they were still hiding.
(John 20:19 The Message)  Later on that day, the disciples had gathered together, but, fearful of the Jews, had locked all the doors in the house.

What is amazing to me is that this frightened mass of people changed after this event.

No longer were they afraid, but now they were willing to go out and proclaim Jesus and his Way --- even when it ultimately meant their own deaths.

Without a doubt, Jesus was resurrected to transform this ragtag group of peasants into the strongest force the world has ever encountered.

Not an army that would change the world through weapons, but an army that would change the world through the sacrificial love that Jesus demonstrated on the cross.

But is that why Jesus was resurrected?  To straighten out the misfits who had failed to understand him?

Or maybe, just maybe Jesus was resurrected for us --- for you and for me --- and for all of humanity that followed.

Maybe Jesus was resurrected so that we can understand that Jesus is not simply some historical figure, but that Jesus is an ever present reality.

Sometimes, however, I think we get confused as to the meaning of the Resurrection for us.

We think that because Jesus was resurrected that our circumstances will change.

If we believe in the resurrection then no harm will come to us
·         We will be protected from evil
·         Cancer or other illness will not rage in our bodies
·         Our marriages will be secure
If only we believe

But that is not the way that it works

The resurrection doesn’t change our circumstances --- what it changes is our perspective

Resurrection gives us hope!

Have you ever looked closely at the resurrection story as it is found in the Gospel of John?

John tells us something that is not found in the other gospels, which is not unusual in itself, but I find this particular thing very fascinating.

John is the only one who tells us that Jesus was crucified and buried in a garden.

(John 19:40-42 NRSV)  They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews. {41} Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid. {42} And so, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.

Why do you think John wants to make sure that we know that Jesus was crucified and buried in a garden?

Interesting question, but let me ask you:
Where does the Bible start?
Where does the Bible begin?

In the Garden of Eden.

Some people believe that the creation stories are describing a literal event, others believe that it is a metaphor, but regardless the creation story and the Garden of Eden are archetypal stories.

They are stories that describe the perfect place that God wants us to dwell in.

A place with:
·         No sin
·         No bigotry
·         No racism
·         No poverty
·         No crime
·         No hatred

It is a place of shalom --- a place of perfect peace

We don’t live in the Garden of Eden today --- do we?

No, the truth is we have wandered far from it.

We live in a world that at times seems to be the exact opposite from the Garden of Eden.

But John tell us the resurrection story the way he does to point out, in no uncertain terms, that Jesus offers us a return to the Garden of Eden.

Resurrection, for John, is a symbol of restoration

Restoration of the shalom that God created the world to live in.

Think, once again, of the crucifixion story.
(Luke 23:39-43 NRSV)  One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, "Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!" {40} But the other {criminal} rebuked him, saying, "Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? {41} And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong." {42} Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." {43} He replied, "Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise."

God restores the broken and defeated criminal.

No longer is this sinner --- this common criminal separated from God --- but now, through resurrection, he is restored to God.

And God want to restore you and me!

Millions of people have spent great sums of money trying to figure out what their God given purpose is.

Rick Warren from Saddleback Church in California has sold millions of copies of his book called THE PURPOSE DRIVEN LIFE, as people sought an answer to that question. 
But the answer to what our purpose is --- is actually quite simple

Resurrection is an invitation for us to partner with God in helping to return to Eden.

A place where the prophet tells us to
          Love justice
          Seek kindness
          And walk humbly with God

Or as Jesus told us repeatedly, quoting from the Hebrew Bible --- to love God and love our neighbor as much as we love our self!

Easter is the story of God’s shalom --- God’s restoration --- God’s purpose for the world.

One more interesting thing that is found in John’s story of the resurrection.

When Mary Magdalene comes to the tomb looking for the deceased Jesus she is surprised to find the tomb empty. 

She is so surprised that she turns and runs to find Peter and the disciple that Jesus loves and tell them about it. 

They go to the tomb and Mary seems to follow them.

Then Peter and John go into the tomb and find it empty and
“the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus' head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself.”

Not finding Jesus they head back home --- back into hiding --- but Mary stays.

John tells us:
Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet.  They said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping?" She said to them, "They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him."  When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus.

She did not know it was Jesus --- instead do you remember who she thought it was that she was talking too?


What a fascinating image --- John is telling us that resurrection takes place in the Garden and that have been are called to join God in his restoration of the Garden of Eden which is breaking in as a result of Jesus resurrection.

But more than that, he tells us to follow Jesus, the gardener, the one who is working to bring about the restoration of the world.

He is telling us it is time to get to work!

Why resurrection?

Why are we here today?

So that God can show us what we must do!

So be sure to join us next week as we go into the city to help and tend God's garden.

Good Friday TORN

John 19:16b-30
. . . they took Jesus; and carrying the cross by himself, he went out to what is called The Place of the Skull, which in Hebrew is called Golgotha. There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, with Jesus between them. Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” Many of the Jews read this inscription, because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, in Latin, and in Greek. Then the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but, ‘This man said, I am King of the Jews.’” Pilate answered, “What I have written I have written.” When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and divided them into four parts, one for each soldier. They also took his tunic; now the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from the top. So they said to one another, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see who will get it.” This was to fulfill what the scripture says,

“They divided my clothes among themselves,
    and for my clothing they cast lots.”

And that is what the soldiers did.

Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.

After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfill the scripture), “I am thirsty.” A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the wine, he said, “It is finished.” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

The memory of it still haunts me to this day.

I was just a teenager.

Some friends of mine from church convinced me to go to a big youth gathering.

To be honest, I don’t even remember who sponsored the event.

All I remember is that there were lots of youth at it.

At some point near the beginning of the event we were each given a small nail, divided into groups and asked to line up behind one of the three wooden crosses that were lying on the ground.

We were then given our instructions.

As we listened to the story of Jesus Crucifixion ---- According to the Gospel of John we were told that we were to focus on the story.

When the reading was over we were invited to proceed to the cross nearest us, knell down, take a hammer, and drive our nail into the cross.

·         With each blow upon the nail we were asked to remember our own responsibility for the death of Jesus.
·         We were asked to remember that it was we who had crucified Jesus, for we were the guilty sinners for whom Jesus died.

It was a powerful, gut wrenching experience.

When it was time to leave --- my friends and I were convinced that Jesus died because of US!

We left judged,
and yet full of hope, for we knew that Jesus had died to save us from our sinfulness.

Like so many who have gone before us and like so many who will gather today on this Good Friday, we left that hall believing that God sent Jesus to die for us; to pay the price for our sin. 

What I have come to realize, however, is that like so many of the commemorations that will take place today --- our actions were really a crime against God.

We judged God to be so vindictive, as to demand a blood sacrifice to pay for our sin. 

We happily accepted what we judged to be God’s grace; the grace of having sent a savior to die upon the cross for our sake.
We gratefully accepted the notion that God would sacrifice God’s only Son to satisfy some sort of cosmic justice; to pay the debt we owed on account of our sinfulness.

If I could, I would return and remove my nail from that cross.

Christians have been doing it for centuries.
Over and over again we gather to remember the events surrounding the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth, and over and over again much of what we do convicts the Creator of all that is and all that ever shall be as some sort of petty, vindictive judge who could only be placated by the blood of his own beloved child.

But we need to see the crucifixion for what it was.

The crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth was not a unique event in the history of humanity.
It wasn’t even a unique event in the history of Rome.

Crucifixions happen every day.
Every day innocent people are humiliated and every day people die abused and shamed.
Every day there is unnecessary suffering.
Over and over again groups, villages, cities, nations, corporations, and races, band together and select scapegoats upon whom they heap their fears, anger and frustrations.

Jesus was not the first and he won’t be the last to feel the pain of abandonment, and cry out:  “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Each one of us in our own way have experienced the pain of losses so deep that we have felt cut off, isolated, desperate and alone.

We have all know the desperation that comes when we feel that there is no way out, that everything is finished, that our life is about to end and we have each of us cried out to God claiming that we have been abandoned or begging not to be forsaken.

The crucifixion is important because it is always happening.

The crucifixion is important because of what it tell us about our humanity.

If someone asked me today to design a ritual so that we could gain some understanding of the crucifixion:
I would not give you a nail and invite you to drive it into a cross.

I think perhaps I would give you a piece of cloth and invite you to tear it.

I would ask you to do it one by one so that we could all hear the sound of the cloth tearing.

And I would invite you not to focus on the moment of Jesus’ agonizing death, but on what the chroniclers of the crucifixion tell us happened immediately after Jesus death.

Do you remember?

At the moment Jesus died we are told that the temple curtain --- the curtain that stood between the people and the Holy of Holies (the most holy place in the temple) --- we are told that the curtain suddenly tears into two.

Suddenly, the separation between the people and God is gone.
The earthly and the heavenly are one.
God and creation are one.
What has been separated comes back together.

Jesus was not crucified because God sent him to die because someone had to pay the price for our sin.

The crucifixion is what happens when we become separated or alienated from our radical interdependence. 

Crucifixions happen when we forget that we are one:
one with God and one with each other.

We share a common humanity and our Creator is an intimate part of who we are.

The crucifixion didn’t cleanse us of our sin, it wasn’t what was needed for God to forgive us.

Crucifixion is what happens when humanity goes astray and we try to control each other.

Crucifixion is what happens when we separate ourselves from the one in whom we live and move and have our being.

The Crucifixion is what happens:
·         when some people are given more worth than others
·         when we turn our backs on the inherent worth and dignity of all living things
·         when we by-pass justice, equity, equality and compassion and try to live off the energy generated by anger, fear and hostility. 

This is the paradox of Good Friday,
sometimes it is in the brokenness and alienation and loss that we come closest to the sacred, when we see most clearly what it is that really matters and what our individual spirits and the spirit of humanity are yearning for.
Sometimes in our suffering the curtain is torn and we see those larger truths that have eluded us.

Yes, Good Friday is a day for weeping.

Today as we remember the world’s response to the love that Jesus embodied, we cannot help but respond to Jesus cries, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me) with weeping

We weep at the realization that Jesus is crying out to all those in whom the Spirit of God lives and breathes.

We weep not just for Jesus, but for all the unjust, unnecessary, and untimely deaths that still go on in this world.

We weep for the thousands of children in who will die this very week of starvation, and for the infants who are born into poverty or abuse.

We weep for the children who grow up in war torn lands, collecting mortar shells like some kids collect baseball cards, and for those children of our own city who have been victims of random violence.

We weep for young people in this community who will never be safe in their own homes and for those who do not have a home to go to.

We weep for that young woman who would rather die than suffer any more sexual abuse, and we weep for that young gay person who took their own life when those they loved the most couldn’t accept them for who they are.

We weep for those we love who have died and for those who we have lost because of anger or misunderstanding.

We weep knowing that the crucifixion did not happen once and for all, way back when.

Christ is crucified over and over again as those things that separate us one from anther:
the greed,
and death
threaten to hold us captive to our own primitive urges.

We weep and in our weeping we join Jesus’ plea: “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?”

But we do not weep without hope.

For we know what lies beyond the cross.

We can hear the sound of the curtain that divides us one from another as it is torn in two.

As the cloth tears and we remember who we are and whose we are, we know that: Jesus’ LOVE could not be destroyed, not even by the thing we fear the most, death itself.

Death could not put an end to love.

For Love is stronger than death.

The love that Jesus’ embodied lives on in, with, and through the followers of Jesus down through the ages.

The reality that Jesus’ love lives on; reminds us of the power of love to unite us, to mold us, and shape us --- to propel us toward a more perfect humanity.

Jesus has shown us the way and we can live the abundant life that Jesus was so passionate about.
We can live lives that are free from the fear of death.
Jesus taught us that life without fear frees us from the powers of darkness that enslave the world.

Life without fear is the first step toward justice.

And justice and not violence is the way to peace.

Jesus died not for our sins, but to show us the way to be the embodiment of the Love that is God.

The powers of darkness will have their day.

But the cries of the crucified will not go unheeded.

Christ will come again and again.

Christ is embodied in all those who work for peace through justice, grace and love.

Let the sound of the curtain being torn remind us that the barriers that we erect will not stand; for we are one, one with God and one with each other.

Ultimately, nothing can separate us from wholeness, for in God we live and move and have our being. Now and always, Amen

Monday, April 10, 2017

Where Will I Find You? Palm Sunday

Matthew 21:1-11
When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately.” This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying, “Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”

Nancy and I haven't been here quite a year but one of the things that has surprised me is that Indy doesn't seem to be a city of parades.

Maybe it is just because we moved from the Chicago Metropolitan area and there it seems like every weekend during the spring a summer there is a parade.  Every ethnic group holds at least one parade a year --- and many hold multiple parades.

St Patrick's day
4th of July
Thanksgiving day
and every other day in between seems to be a parade day.

Here, there just don't seem to be many

Can you imagine what it must have been like to have been in Chicago on November 4th last year when the city celebrated the World Series winning team the Cubs?

Some say it was the largest gathering of humanity in the world . . .

I love parades --- don't you?

And why do we love parades so much?

What is it about every parade that attracts us so?

We love parades because we love celebrating with WINNERS!

Whether it is our favorite sports team, or our country --- we love parades because that means you are a winner!

Do you think that there was a parade in Cleveland on November 4th? 
Or did the Bulldogs have a parade last month after losing to the Tarheels?

You would think that there should have been.
          But there wasn’t one

Just like there wasn't a parade for Duke, or South Carolina or Gonzaga.

Parades are for winners
Parades are for champions

And that is why most of us love parades!

For years my parents wintered in a small town in Mexico.
Every year, on Palm Sunday evening they hold this huge parade
          A religious parade
          a parade celebrating Jesus triumphant entry into Jerusalem. 

2000 years ago, Jesus and his rag tag followers crossed over at Bethany and started the decent into the Kidron valley and up the hill on the other side into Jerusalem.

It was a parade, a huge celebration for the winner Jesus who was coming into town and would kick out those evil horrible Romans, and the Jews who were in cahoots with them.

The way Matthew tells the story, the whole town came out to greet Jesus and his followers.

They were so excited at the prospect of his getting rid of the Romans that they were busy waving Palm Branches.

And we say "gee that is nice that they were waving palm branches."
          But that was a really dangerous and subversive thing to do.

That was kind of like me wearing my Duke shirt when attended a game at Mackey arena, watching my Blue Devils beat up on Purdue.
I got lots of dirty looks and was seen as the enemy by many of the Boiler faithful.

The Palm Branch was a nationalistic symbol for the Jews, so to pull it out and wave it at a parade was making a very clear statement to the Roman authorities.

They believed that Jesus was the ONE
The one who was going to overthrow Rome and establish a Jewish nation once again.

Jesus was a winner.

But, unfortunately our story doesn’t end there.

For you see, while the followers of Jesus were holding a parade on the East side of the city --- and Jesus crossed over the Mount of Olives and back up the hill into the city --- another parade was taking place

This one was entering the city on the west side, and at the head of the procession was Pontius Pilate.

Pilate would come with his army to Jerusalem because of the Passover.
          They were there to keep the peace

Jesus rode into Jerusalem not like a king but instead he entered on a donkey (or if we listen to Matthew he seemed to be on two animals --- a donkey and a colt).

It was a peasant procession

And while the people were excited --- their parade did not have the majesty of the Roman parade on the other side of the city

The Romans came into town with Pilate at the head of a column of imperial cavalry and soldiers.

Pilate was making a clear statement of the power of Rome.

Pilate's procession embodies the power, glory, and violence of the empire that ruled the world.

Jesus procession embodied an alternative vision, a vision of the Kingdom of God.

But think for a moment what happens over the next few days.

Jesus disappoints all those who had gathered on Sunday for the parade welcoming him into town.

By the end of the week he had angered and disappointed every constituent group in town

They decided that maybe he isn’t the one, after all.

And before the week is over, another parade begins to form.

And once again, people come out to celebrate with the victors.

But this time the victors were Rome, and it was a parade through the streets of Jerusalem out to a hill where Rome would crucify their political prisoners.

The crowd that on Sunday was shouting hosanna was now shouting crucify him.

And we scratch our heads and wonder how could that happen
          How could people shout hosanna one day and crucify him the next

But should we be so surprised?

We shout for our team one minute, but when they disappoint us – when they fail us – often we turn on them – wanting somebody to pay for our disappointment --- don’t believe me, just ask Tom Crean

Jesus came preaching a message that the crowd misinterpreted.

They thought they Jesus had come for just them and no one else.

But when he began preaching about caring for our brothers and sisters, caring for the widow and the orphan, making sure that nobody falls through the cracks of society --- they decided they didn’t like that message too well.

Maybe he wasn’t the ONE after all

And so they turned on him

When he wasn’t willing to champion their causes, their agenda, they no longer were interested in him.

Part of our challenge in 2017 is to recognize which parade we are at.

Are we at the Palm Sunday Parade worshipping a messiah that we have created in our own image?  A messiah we want to do our bidding and follow our agenda?

Are we at the state’s parade, riding into town to show our might and our force and to let everyone know that if you mess with us, you are going to pay a huge price.

Are we at the Good Friday Parade, filled with hatred and disillusioned and just wanting to get rid of the do gooder and any cost?

Or, are we at Jesus’ parade --- a parade that takes us to the soup kitchen, the free clinic and the orphanage reaching out to heal God’s children, all of God's children?

The challenge for us, this Palm Sunday, is to recognize which parade we are attending.

God invites us to join Jesus’ parade, but to do that we will have to abandon our:
          Desire to place blame
          Unfulfilled promises and commitments
          Misplaced priorities
          False messiahs

Jesus invites us to join his peasant parade --- the parade of which seeks to transform the world

A parade that understands what God expects of each of us:
(Micah 6:8 NRSV)  What does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

So where will I find you?

Which parade will you be at?

A DISCIPLES PATH Living Extravagantly

1 Timothy 6:17-18   (The Message)
Tell those rich in this world’s wealth to quit being so full of themselves and so obsessed with money, which is here today and gone tomorrow. Tell them to go after God, who piles on all the riches we could ever manage—to do good, to be rich in helping others, to be extravagantly generous.

This morning we are continuing the journey we began last month.

We have decided to follow the fork in the road that Jesus is leading us on.

It's not an easy path --- but we know that is the way that leads to life that really is life!

We are using as our guide for this journey the promises that we make as members of the United Methodist Church.

If we practice the disciplines necessary to fulfill these promises --- we will be well on our way on the path of Discipleship

We began by talking about our prayer life --- our relationship with God

Last week we continued by focusing on our need to participate in worship and in a small group

Today we will look at the third promise we make --- which is to support our church through our gifts.

A while back some friends and I were sharing ideas about sermons when we talk about giving.

One of the pastors said that as he began preaching on the topic of giving a husband turned to his wife and said loud enough for most people to hear:
          "Please, Make the bad man stop!"

I kind of doubt that it is a historical story
          But I know that it is true!

We don't like talking about our money.

Monday at the Bible Study, the group tried to remind me that when we talk about gifts it is more than just our money.

And they are right --- but it is too easy to focus on the use of our time and talents (which Matt will talk about next week) and ignore the elephant in the room --- which is our money.

Even at the Y this week I saw that their focus this month is on generosity. 

And their flyer made this significant comment:  "Generosity is one of those words that are meaningless unless activated by action."

We must GIVE to be generous.

Do you remember what I said about the offering last week?
          The purpose of the offering is not to raise money for the church.
                   The giving of our gifts is symbolic of giving ourselves.

Each week, as we have talked about these disciplines, I have been referring back to John Wesley and the early Methodist movement.

Wesley's goal was to make every waking moment of our lives centered in the love of God.

By following the roadmap that Wesley set out for us ---- we are able to live our lives in a way in which everything that we say and do is organized around loving God and loving others.

And that includes what we do with our resources.

One of the surprising results of the methodical way of life that Wesley taught was that through cleaner living, being better educated and living more disciplined lives ---- the early Methodists grew in wealth.

Wesley preached a number of sermons to try and head off potential problems that might develop with this new found wealth.

He preached sermons titled:
·         "The Use of Money"
·         "On the Danger of Riches"
·         "On the Danger of Increasing Riches"

The purpose of these sermons was not to raise money for the Methodist Movement

His motivation was his desire to lead the Methodist people into more Christ-Centered lives.

It wasn't their money he was after --- it was their hearts and souls.

When Wesley preached on money his sermons were rooted in the conviction that we cannot be faithful disciples of Jesus unless we learn to manage --- what Wesley called the "excellent gift" of money and to use it wisely "to the greatest advantage."

In Wesley's sermon --- "The Use of Money" --- he laid out three rather simple rules
·         Gain all you can
·         Save all you can
·         Give all you can

I obviously don't have a lot of time to dig into this (but we will spend more time on it in our study groups)

Let's look at each of these concepts:


Pretty self explanatory, but Wesley suggested some guidelines to make sure we didn't pay too high a price for our wealth.
·         Gain all you can without hurting your health
Don't work yourself to death

·         Gain all you can without hurting your mind
Don't cheat, lie or engage in behavior that is not consistent with a good conscience

·         Gain all you can without hurting your neighbor
Loving other as we love ourselves requires that we consider the way our economic practices will impact others

This is the exact opposite advice that Daddy Warbucks offered to Annie
He told her that you don't have to be nice to the people that you pass on the way up --- as long as you don't intend to go back down!


This is not about building huge bank accounts.

Wesley was calling the people called Methodist to live a frugal lifestyle.

Wesley called on his people not to waste their money on silly, overly expensive or needless items.

He called them to a simple lifestyle.

He was challenging us to discover the contentment that Paul described to the Philippians

Philippians 4:11-13   (NRSV)
Not that I am referring to being in need; for I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.


Wesley wanted us to gain all that we could and save all that we could so that we might give it away!

But this is more than just writing a check to a charity.  For Wesley, the purpose of the discipline of generosity is for our lives to be shaped into the likeness of the extravagant generosity of God. 
          A life of Loving God and Loving Others

Jesus describes for us what a life of loving God and loving others looks like in Matthew's Gospel.

Matthew 6:25-33   (NRSV)
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

If we were to live that way --- How would our lives be different?

James Harnish offers six rules when it comes to the spiritual discipline of Generosity.

·         Generosity begins with God

This is kind of a no brainer

Our generosity can never compete with God's

God is the absolute expression of extravagant, self-giving generosity

We are generous to others ---- because God has been extravagantly generous to us

·         Generosity is essential

We cannot be a disciple of Jesus and not be generous --- it just isn’t possible

Our use of money will undergo a fundamental transformation when we stop asking how much of our wealth we will give to God and instead start asking how much of God's wealth we will keep for ourselves.

Generosity is the only antidote to greed

·         Generosity is intentional

Generosity doesn't just happen

We don't just wake up one morning and become generous --- it is something we have to work at

·         Generosity grows with practice

It is a learned behavior that runs counter to everything that our culture teaches.

We live in a world that says grab for all you can

God says share all you can

·         Generosity is joyful

One of the things I have observed is that generous people are some of the most joyful people I have ever met.

When we give all that we can --- we experience the joy of knowing that our generosity is blessing not only our lives --- but also the lives of others

When I am generous --- I am making an active contribution to the building of God's kingdom.

·         Generosity results in blessing.

I wish that I could promise you that if you tithe you will get wealthy. (I will leave that to other churches)

What I can promise you is that if you develop the spiritual gift of generosity --- YOU WILL BE BLESSED and your life will be a blessing to others.

Proverbs 11:24-25  (The Message)
The world of the generous gets larger and larger;
    the world of the stingy gets smaller and smaller.
The one who blesses others is abundantly blessed;
    those who help others are helped.

A well lived life is one that is filled with generosity as our scripture passage today reminds us.

1 Timothy 6:17-19  (The Message)
Tell those rich in this world’s wealth to quit being so full of themselves and so obsessed with money, which is here today and gone tomorrow. Tell them to go after God, who piles on all the riches we could ever manage—to do good, to be rich in helping others, to be extravagantly generous. If they do that, they’ll build a treasury that will last, gaining life that is truly life.

May we all learn to get our wealth and possessions in line with loving God and loving others.