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Friday, February 22, 2008

Monday of Holy Week Year A B C Psalm 36:5-11, Isaiah 42:1-9, John 12:1-11, Hebrews 9:11-15

“There is no single action that can be claimed as the exclusive embodiment of Christ in the world. Perhaps Christ becomes flesh in our world in a variety of ways as long as there are people who make themselves available to God for that purpose.” Jirair Tashjian at

In John 12, Mary anoints the feet of Jesus with $12,000 worth of perfume. Judas Iscariot accuses her of wasting money that could have been given to the poor. Jesus affirms Mary’s gift to him instead of agreeing with Judas.

Being available for Jesus’ work is never boring, and usually we find he leads in ways we never imagined possible.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Palm Sunday/Liturgy of the Passion Year A Matthew 21:1-11, Philippians 2:5-11, Isaiah 50-4-9a, Psalm 31:9-16

Today Jesus comes in riding on a donkey.

We waved our palm branches and sang our songs. We welcomed our king. Any king, senator, or prince who comes into Jerusalem gets the same welcome. Only VIPS. It’s like rolling out the red carpet for the president. It’s like being on your best behavior when the principal comes to visit your classroom. It’s like wearing your best suit to meet your boss. It’s common behavior, meant to impress and welcome the king. But is Jesus a king? All he has done up to now is hang around with poor folks and sinners. He sleeps in fields and doesn’t even own his own home. He is a homeless wanderer, sweaty and dirty.

Today I proclaim the liberation of the captives and the coming of the peace of Christ

Passing the Peace means just that. When we greet each other in the name of Christ we spread his peace. Peace is not simply the absence of war. Peace is all of your children safe under one roof, with fresh clothes, clean sheets, open windows, full bellies, and the hope of a safe tomorrow. Peace is knowing you can take your kids to church in the morning without risking arrest. Peace is being right with God, no guilt, Romans says There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

What does the story of holy week mean to me?
It means that I must be willing to be a servant. We have lost the meaning of this word. A servant is low, the bottom of the totem pole, the one everyone either spits on or ignores. Instead of understanding servants we go to fast food joints and expect great service. A fast food employee would probably be the closest we understand to a servant. Wash tables, minimum wage, scrub toilets, fry burgers, drop fries in grease, and deal with people all day who could care less who you are and what kind of person you are deep inside.
Jesus is asking me to be like that?
He is showing by example, riding on a donkey when he has every right to ride on a stallion…he’s driving a sputtering, stalling ford escort when he has every right to be driven in a luxury limousine. He’s refusing to place himself above anyone else.
He’s the last one home when the church has a potluck because he’s sweeping up the food on the floor and washing dishes at the sink, and carrying out trash. Jesus is mopping floors at the church when he has every right to sit in the new recliner watching TV on his new big screen. Jesus is the one who takes food to his neighbor who is laid up with a broken leg and may even be late to work because of his stop. Jesus is the one who invites people over after church and cooks a meal for them when he’d rather be eating out, being served, rather than serving, and then heading to bed for a nap.

Riding into Fayetteville, Arkansas, in a sputtering old car, leaving his limo behind, Jesus stops at every corner to give money to the homeless beggars with signs that say, “Will work for food.”

But while he’s driving that sputtering, stalling vehicle people get the idea that he is the presidential material and not just an average joe. So they start screaming out, “Jesus for President” “Run for office, we’ll elect you!” Jesus only smiles, the sweat pouring down his back because the air conditioner is broken. They get out their checkbooks and tell Jesus if he’ll just run for president, they’ll finance his campaign. If he could just straighten out this country that’s going you-know-where in a handbasket, and make these streets safe again, then everything would be a-ok. They’ve seen his power, they know he has healed that woman who had breast cancer, and that man who had colon cancer. They know Jesus has been hanging around the homosexuals with aids and curing them left and right. They know Jesus has even raised a child from the dead whose single mother was on welfare and didn’t have the money to take him to the hospital. And just before driving into Fayetteville, Jesus was in Pea Ridge at the little league field healing a child whose face was swollen from being slapped around by his stepfather. Day before yesterday he was at the Benton County women’s shelter healing all the bruises and the broken bones left by angry men.

So if Jesus will just become president then everything will be ok again. He’ll put prayer back in schools and give every teacher a copy of the Ten commandments to hang on the wall. He’ll make every principal go to Bible college and teach Sunday school lessons in the cafeteria. Why Jesus will make the hospitals stop fighting the insurance companies and give everyone better care. Why if Jesus has his way when he becomes president he will make science teachers teach creation instead of evolution. Why when Jesus becomes president all the violence will be taken off of TV and instead good, wholesome family entertainment will be shown every hour. Lassie will come home and leave it to beaver will say Yes, sir.

When Jesus comes driving into town in his sputtering, stalling car we will get out our checkbooks and finance his campaign. We will knock on every door with flyers and open voting booths at every church. We’ll get him out of the ripped up pair of ancient jeans and old ratty t-shirt and we’ll put Jesus in a 3 piece suit with a shirt and matching tie.

But the night of the national convention Jesus doesn’t show up in this three piece suit and Regis shirt and matching tie. We are all ready with our campaign posters waving and NBC, CBS, CNN, ABC cameras all fired up and waiting.
The crowd grew impatient and the leaders tried to calm them down but all of a sudden they started crying “assassinate him”
One of the messenger boys comes running in with a report that they’ve found him.
He’s down in a trailer in beaver hollow road
What those people don’t go to church. What’s he doing hanging around them. They got in their cars and ran down there…
They found the escort in the driveway. Jesus was in the trailer with a single mother. Her four children had the flu in various stages. Jesus sat next to the little girl’s bed and held her hand.
“What are you doing here when you could be out making a difference?” Asked his campaign leader. These people don’t vote! That child can’t even reach the voting booth.
I am making a difference Jesus replied.
Where’s the suit and tie? Where’s the clean shaven image? Jesus we told you to get rid of that beard!

By now all the reporters had crammed into the tiny room.

Why aren’t you at the convention?
I’m doing the work for which I was sent.

The child whimpered. Jesus reached for the cold cloth for her head.

One of the more hot-headed men began screeching! Give us back our campaign money.
This guy is a fraud!

The crowd crammed into the tiny trailer. It began to shake on its rusty rims.

Someone ran back to his fancy pickup and got the shotgun off the rack
He took aim through the tiny window.
How dare he take my campaign money and not show up to be nominated to my political party! He was going to take evolution out of the schools and put the 10 commandments back into the curriculum.

The kick of the gun knocked the man back into the ditch behind the trailer. The bullet went wild and hit the ceiling of the tiny trailer.

Jesus fell over the child. The bullet hit him instead.

Lent 5A John 11:1-45

The story of resurrection...if you have ever stood at a grave and wept like Mary & Martha you identify...

Rising again. What a concept. When my grandpa died in 1987 I prayed that he would rise out of that coffin until I heard they had already flushed his body fluids out and replaced them with formaldehyde. Only then did I think it was hopeless.

Imagine Mary & Martha who have been hopeless. His body stinketh already. And here comes Jesus saying "Roll away the stone."

One "Year A" I had just experienced the worst day of my life as I read this passage. My 20 month-old daughter had had a seizure and turned blue. I thought she was dead but she breathed again. I read this and started sobbing, sitting down to email a New Testament professor friend. If only I could find that email, but it is lost to cyberspace. I explained to him my experience of resurrection and sudden understanding of Mary & Martha.

Now, many of you may say, "But my child did not breathe again." I'm sure my response to the passage would have been different if that had been my case.

But at the bottom of the page I read, "I am the resurrection and the life, no one comes to the father except through me."

Our hope.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Lent 4A Psalm 23

See Post April 22, 2007

Lent 3A John 4:5-42 Come and see

In the summer of 1997 in OKC we went eight weeks without rain. I have never seen such a drought. The last time we mowed our grass was June. It just shriveled and died. We got to a point where the city banned all lawn watering. Then on the news, they warned home owners to water their foundations because they would crack without moisture.
We need water to live. Without it we will do more than crack, we will die. Jesus offered this woman living water, a spring of water gushing up to eternal life. She thought he meant ordinary everyday water, but she would find out that this water was more than she had ever imagined. She would also find out that a typical day at the well turned into the best day of her life.
Just an ordinary day…could anything be more ordinary than going to get water? But so many unordinary things happen. First of all a Jewish man asks her for a drink. Why is that so unusual? Why can’t you just ask for a drink if you are thirsty? Why must all these barriers get in the way?

Jesus using something very ordinary to break down barriers, to call this woman to believe in him.

She thinks he’s a Jew
She judges him based on his ethnic background, his religion. He takes her for what she is. Last week the lectionary talked about Jesus talking to Nicodemus, a ruler, a rich man, a prominent V.I.P. This week the Scripture describes conversation Jesus has with someone almost completely opposite of Nicodemus. A woman, no one would even speak to a woman in public. She is a nobody, of no importance to anyone. She is also a Samaritan, hated by the Jews. If you are from Oklahoma, she is from Texas. If you are from Michigan, she is from Ohio. If you are a white from 1960s Alabama, she is black.
She takes him literally when he offers her living water. She asks him if he’s better than Jacob.
Life is being offering to a Samaritan woman. John wants to show that Jesus did not come to just reach the rich and privileged, although the Gospel is open to them. Jesus offers this eternal life to the outcast. He then tells her to call her husband. But she has no husband. Do you notice that he doesn’t condemn her? He just states the fact of her lifestyle. She realizes he must be a prophet if he knows about her past. It sounds like she lives in Hollywood in today’s time, doesn’t it?

She thinks he’s a prophet
Then she draws him to a conversation about worship.
But he points out that the place doesn’t matter, that it’s the God being worshipped that matters. He draws the focus off of her and points her to God. She knows about the Messiah. He tells her he is the Messiah.

She thinks he’s the Messiah
The disciples come back but they know by now to keep their mouths shut when Jesus is doing something controversial even when he’s talking to a Samaritan woman. The woman leaves. She runs “Come see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah can he?”
WHOA! Do you realize the significance of what happens here? Jesus empowers a beaten down immoral outcast of a woman to be a PREACHER OF the gospel! These men listen to her and follow her leadership to Jesus! And many believed because of her testimony.

She knows he’s the Savior
What is this gift of God? (verse 10)
When is the last time you ran, not walked to someone with only the excitement that Jesus gives and said, “COME WITH ME TO SEE HIM!”
What makes the transformation in this woman’s life possible? What makes the transformation in our lives possible?
GRACE OF GOD provides the life offered by the Savior
What is the grace of God?
We have a hard time understanding GRACE why?
Because in our place and time we don’t understand how anyone can offer a gift with no strings attached. When we receive something we wonder what is expected of us. When you receive a Christmas card you think OH I didn’t send them one.. When you receive a birthday gift you think oh you didn’t get them one….and on and on.
God offers us a free gift: his love. His life. No strings attached: oh but you say God Expects me to do such and such at church. I OWE him.
That is not what grace is about. It’s not about owing. Now you do respond to his grace but you don’t owe him anything. That would make it an obligatory gift and God doesn’t give to us with strings attached.
Let me relate this to the celebration of the LORD’s supper. It’s a feast. When you give a feast it costs money, etc., but you don’t lose anything because you gain so much by eating with the others (fellowship)
Is this why God created us?
Is this what Jesus offers this outcast, this adulterous woman? He offers her a free gift, with a new life thrown in! What changes her? HE DOES. Only an experience with Jesus Christ can truly change you.
Jesus moves from a dialogue about spiritual water to a conversation about spiritual worship. He goes from offering this woman living water to directing her to true worship, pointing away from herself to God. That is where salvation lies. Getting our focus off of ourselves and pointed to God in true worship. This is not worship just every Sunday morning: but every living breathing moment of our lives.
True worship is not “What I get out of it” It’s putting my focus completely on God. As Arleta has reminded the children in this church what prayer is: putting everything else out of your mind.
Jesus directs this woman away from her troubled life to God himself. She trusted him enough to do it. To get a glimpse of this LIFE he offered. She became so excited she had to run and tell.

If you only knew

If you only knew the gift of God
who is talking to you
you would ask me

If you only knew today what life is like fully trusting in the Messiah you wouldn’t refuse him. You would ask him into your life and he would tell you every thing you ever did.

"He knew everything about me he knew where I’d been and what I’d done come with me come with me to see the holy one." from "He knew everything about me" by Candy Hemphill

Lent 2A John 3:1-17 Ask a question and get a sermon

Dontcha love it when you ask a question and get a sermon?

Nicodemus was probably coming to talk theology with another rabbi. Instead of a nice intellectually stimulating theological conversation he gets a challenge to live a changed life.

He finds that Jesus is more than a teacher and Nicodemus needed to believe in more than signs and more than his religion. You see the Pharisees had constructed a system so precise that one didn’t really need God. He just needed to follow the laws, the rules, in order to be religious slash righteous. The Pharisees formed about 400 years before the opening of the NT. They decided that they need to make this Jewish religion something that could be practiced without a Jewish country or king since they lost all of that. So they constructed a system that could be followed whereever a Jew lived. They also accepted the prophetic writings as Scripture, something their Sadducee counterparts did not. The Pharisees are actually the open-minded ones of the day. They believed in miracles, angels, resurrection. The Sadduccees believed in none of the above, only the law, the first five books of the Bible.

Nicodemus has been living this lifestyle all of his life. He is so righteous, so squeaky clean, no one could find a thing wrong in his past to use against him. He could have run for president. He has worked hard to get to be where he is: one of the leading teachers of the Jews…and hear he finds this guy who has come from no where (Nazareth) and has flocks of followers and performs miracles! It’s like if you were a famous concert pianist and had worked all of your life to be the best and ran into a guy from the back woods who could play and charm audiences with no music training at all. How would you feel?

Nicodemus tells Jesus there is no way he could do what he does without God. A good observation…but see Nicodemus thinks Jesus is just a fine teacher. He doesn’t realize he’s sitting there talking to God himself. It didn’t even cross his mind.

Signs become quite the negative issue in John. Those who seek after signs have a serious lack of faith.
we think we have all the pieces put together and then we find someone like Jesus. He is unlearned, untrained and we have studied all of our lives to know the answers. How in the world does God use someone like him? And what about me?

If Nicodemus is not good enough for the kingdom of God, then who is?
It’s not enough. Then what is?
All of my righteousness is as filthy rags. It’s being born again. What in the world is that? You ask, like Nicodemus did. How can a person enter his mother’s womb and be born? Wesley said this of being born again, “Inwardly being changed from all sinfulness to all holiness.”