4/29/2012 Sermon: “The Lord, my shepherd”

Psalm 23:1  The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.  2  He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; 3  he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake. 4  Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff – they comfort me. 5  You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

6  Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD my whole life long.  

Good Shepherds.  Last year, for the last two weeks of March, I went hiking with a small group across the West Bank of Palestine, following what they called the “Nativity Trail” – the path that Mary and Joseph would have taken from Nazareth to Bethlehem, or at least some parts of it.  I’d say about 80-100 miles of walking, @ 10-20 miles per day.  We slept in hotels, homes, and Bedouin tents, and ate ourmidday meals under countryside olive trees.  One thing I learned from this experience is that Bible people must have been in shape, or at least better shape than I was when the walking started!  From green, lush fields on the north to the deserts of the south, it is amazing how a climate can change in such a short distance.

 I never went a day without seeing shepherds and sheep, no matter where I was.  Over thousands of years, this entire area has known about sheep and goats.  They are everywhere.  It might be one of the first places on earth where sheep and goats were domesticated.  Sheep and goats can provide a living for people who live in harsh places.  They can give you protein and clothing.  Even today, the Heifer Project probably gives away more sheep and goats that any other farm animals.  David, the king who wrote Psalm 23, probably thinking about his own life as a shepherd 3,000 years ago, was having exactly the same experience as the shepherds in Palestine today.  Except for the cell phone – and the satellite dish on his tent.  There are still thousands of shepherds living in the hills of Palestine.

 So, it’s natural that one of the more common themes in scripture is that God’s people are a flock.  God is the shepherd.  The earliest attempts at paintings of Christ show him as a young man with a lamb on his shoulders. And he would tell a parable about leaving 99 sheep to find one that’s missing.  If we’re the one that’s lost, he searches for us.  He called himself “the good shepherd.”  I asked our Muslim hiking guide – does that make sense, that a shepherd would leave the flock to go find one?  And he said yes.  By instinct, sheep will mostly stick together, even if the shepherd is not there.  If one is gone, it means it’s in trouble, something is wrong – and sheep are expensive.  They are valuable. The shepherd really can’t afford to lose one; he/she has to go.

 So, now I have this image in my mind, actually a whole collection of images.  Shepherds with sheep.  Usually about 20 sheep.  Usually one shepherd.  Sometimes young, sometimes older.  Sometimes with a dog.  Always with a stick of some kind (that’s how you know they are a shepherd).  Coming over a hill.  That’s what they do all day.  It might sound boring or unchallenging to us, but their family’s livelihood depends on them, and if they aren’t watching the sheep, everything falls apart.

 The Lord is my shepherd…  We like Psalm 23.  This could be the most well-used part of the bible beside the Lord’s Prayer.  When I was in second grade, I received my bible in front of the church and recited Psalm 23 from memory.  When I’ve done services at nursing homes, I usually read Psalm 23 out loud because it seems to be something people can remember when other memories are gone.  We almost always include it in funeral and memorial services.  It brings comfort and peace.  This is mostly because of the first few lines.  But it’s also an adventure story, so get ready for some action.

 The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.   He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters;  he restores my soul.   We need God to watch out for us because we are in trouble on our own.  Big trouble.    God takes us to green pastures and still waters.  We have no idea where those things are:  Green pastures and still waters. Spiritual food and water.  The place where your soul is restored.  I was wondering, how are these sheep coping in the desert?  I don’t see food or water here.  But I just didn’t know where to look.  There are springs of water in the desert, sometimes cisterns where the shepherds have collected rainwater in the winter, little patches of grass near these places, and your shepherd knows where to take you.  It’s best to follow.  Without the shepherd, you’re in trouble.  But God will take you to the place where you can e restored.

 He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.  Now the adventure starts – God is taking us somewhere.  It would have been nice to stay in the green pastures by the still waters, but we’re moving.  There are forces out to get us that we have no control over – and may not even know about.  Nature is full of predators, and humans are no different from any other animal.  We need protection!  Maybe even from each other!  So God leads us in the right paths… for his name’s sake – not for our name’s sake, but for his.  God has to be known as the one who will take care of us – God has a reputation to uphold.

 Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff – they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.  The shepherd is taking us to the green pastures and the still water, but we have to walk through the valley to get there.  The valley is the place where you don’t want to be.  At sunset, that’s where it gets dark first.  The valley is where predators hide in caves and behind rocks. 

 We slept with Bedouins for a couple of nights in a big tent.  One night, after our usual meal of chicken and rice, a few of us started throwing our chicken bones in the campfire.  Our hosts asked us not to do that because the smell would attract animals we didn’t want.  Maybe that’s the verse in the psalm we can relate to the best – we all have that dark valley where the “wild things are.” 

 Walking through that valley it gets so dark, you don’t know if you can make it through, it’s dark and you’re breathing fast and your heart is racing and it’s hard to see what’s ahead and you start to lose your orientation…  And it gets so scary that you can forget that the shepherd is right there, walking with you. 

 Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil, for you are with me.  Did you even notice that you stopped talking about God and started talking to God? God, you are with me.  God was with you all along.  And of course, this is what God wanted all along:  What God has wants is a relationship with you.  God wanted you to speak, so that God can have conversation with you – a relationship!  It’s been a long walk and it’s about time you said something!

 And now you’re at God’s table.  We step into the room and look… that’s where the banquet is.  You are not alone!  You’re having a meal with all the other scared sheep – and enemies.  We were even less alone than we thought!  God doesn’t eliminate the enemies; God takes away the fear of enemies.  We can eat at the table in peace, even if the enemies are there.  And your cup is overflowing.  This is the part I really like – the overflowing cup.  Just when you think you’ve got enough – God gives you more.  In the presence of adversity, in the presence of major trouble, God gives you more than you were expecting.  When the dark times come, remember that overflowing cup.

 And now at this banquet, God anoints us, which means we are chosen by God for a special purpose.  In those times, only special people were anointed with oil.  People with a special calling – a special purpose.  The oil is usually scented – to make you smell better after a long scary walk. It’s a comfort smell.  It’s all around you; it permeates you.  It’s an embrace from God.  It’s a step of faith to let God touch you with the oil – to absorb God through faith.

 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD my whole life long.   The sheep who are worshipping in the house of God don’t have to worry.  When you are with God, you are home.  The green pastures and the still waters are nice, but the safest place is in the presence of God, even though God the Shepherd may give a nudge with the rod and the staff every now and then.  That’s better than being vulnerable to the wild beasts who would love to be having you for dinner tonight.  But you can breathe deeply.  You’re safe.  This was all about getting you to trust God, to give yourself to the Good Shepherd, to surrender to the care of Christ.

 Psalm 23 was written by somebody on their way from one place to another, somebody who knew the good things of life as well as pain and suffering, somebody who knew that without God, they were in a dangerous place.  The valley may not be something that you are walking through today, but you will. The people in this room represent many dark valleys; we each have one – or have had one.  You know what I’m talking about; you have many friends here who know about this experience.

 Though none of us gets out of life without walking through that valley, it’s clear that God doesn’t intend for us to stay there forever.  The valley of the shadow is something we all go through with God, with Christ and with each other.  Let your faith be an encouragement to someone else this week.  Ask God for the opportunity to share. Remember that there is a green pasture and still water waiting for you.  God will take you there, and your soul will be restored. 

 Prayer

 O God, there’s danger everywhere.  We lock our houses and our cars and we never talk to strangers.  But the more we hide the more dangerous the world gets and the more frightened we become.  We forget that in all places and in all things, you are ready to give us the security we need.  We are so preoccupied, we lock you out too.

 Show us what it means to be people in your family, sheep in your flock together, depending on you together.  Give us faith in your Son together; give us a new vision for worship together.  Use us to make our world a safer place.  Let there be at least one pocket of resistance to the violence and terrorism we see all around us.  Amen.

Those old recordings…

 

A number of years ago, a church member gave me an  Edison phonograph; it’s little over 100  years old. Maybe you’ve seen it in my office – the oak box with the big horn.  With the phonograph, I also received some records – cylinder “tubes” that play two minutes of sound.  In the early part of the last century, this was the average person’s first opportunity to go to a store and buy a single piece of audible entertainment.  For thirty-five cents!  That translates to about $7 today, just for some perspective.

 I enjoy the recordings and have collected them over the years, these sounds from another time.  It’s fascinating to learn what our grandparents and great-grandparents thought was entertaining.  To some degree, the entertainment was simply that this machine could talk and sing to you; it was a miracle.  There weren’t recording stars at first, no Frank Sinatra or Madonna or Justin Bieber.  The machine was the star!  It could play brass bands or snippets of Vaudeville acts.  Your favorite hymns.  The performers were incidental, sometimes not even identified.

 The comedy genre was huge.  Two-minute bits of singing and/or speaking intended to provoke a laugh.  A lot of it was pretty corny, as you might guess, especially after a century.  Some of it is a little hard to figure out because of a word or phrase with a lost meaning.  Much of it is downright offensive, the opposite of funny to us.  Without even listening to the recordings, just looking through the titles will make you wonder how our culture could be so racist or sexist.  But it was – profoundly.  And a lot of people bought those records.

 We look back and judge.  After the initial reaction, you realize that our sensibilities developed in a constructive direction (mostly – we aren’t done yet!).  It just took time and a lot of collective soul-searching.  Realizing that free speech still allows for some unfortunate contributions, at least in some aspects, our culture evolved positively and moved on.  Today, of course, technology has improved our ability to record – and allows our recordings to quickly spread.  It’s an unwise person who is careless with web-based social media!  I find it interesting that many people react harshly to to what they see and hear through their computers/televisions, with no memory of what was being said a century ago,  as if obnoxious “entertainment” is new.

 I wonder sometimes how those early artists would feel about their recordings if they knew how we receive them today. I suspect that even in their lifetimes, there were a few who were wishing they could have at least one or two of those records back.  But that’s clearly not possible.  On the other hand, think of the wonderful gift of preserved sound, the recordings you enjoy every day, your favorite songs, the artists who may have had a part in shaping your life.  What an amazing gift.  But the gift had some issues to work out in its early days.

 In a few years, our own children will be sifting through the “recordings” we’ve left behind.  Especially through our church, we are leaving a wonderful gift for them (I suspect they might not understand some of the humor!).  But as we allow God to use us, there is a foundation of faith and trust, of caring and concern, that we are leaving behind.  And it’s beautiful.  Lives are being changed.  God is clearly at work.

 What is the legacy we want to leave?  What’s your gift?  Have you got a great new idea?  A passion?  How do we want to build on the gifts God has already given?  What are the recordings we want to leave? 

 “Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”  (Philippians 4:8)

 

You give them something to eat!

Have you ever been to a beautiful place that’s hard to get out of your mind?  About a year ago, I had the opportunity to walk across across much of Israel/Palestine with a small hiking group.  We basically followed the route travelers have walked for many centuries when going from Nazareth in the north to Jerusalem in the south, through a region commonly known as the West Bank.  I arrived a couple of days early so that I could visit the area around the Sea of Galilee, about 30 miles away, where Jesus and his disciples spent much time.  That’s where he met the fishermen to ministry with him.  John, James, Peter, and Andrew, and many others, followed.  It began here, on the northwest shore of this large freshwater lake, and many other gospel stories took place nearby.  Unlike other biblical sites, this area is essentially unchanged geographically, and it’s beautiful.

Walking past the traditional place where the loaves and fish were multiplied (above), I imagine that moment happening.  Several thousand people were gathered there on the green lakeshore hillside, in the “middle of nowhere,” simply to be with Jesus (Mark 6:30ff).  Losing track of time, they are becoming hungry, with no concessions or convenience stores nearby.  As the size of the crowd starts to get “Team Jesus” worried, he says something completely counter-intuitive to his disciples: Take your two fish and five loaves and… “You give them something to eat.”  It was a faith exercise, to say the least!  The presence of Jesus made all the difference.

The church doesn’t just exist to meet needs, we thrive on meeting needs; that’s when we are at our best.  I believe that’s when we are most connected to God, when we simply trust Jesus to take our resources and multiply them, when we love God and look for neighbors who need love.  Like Jesus, we look around us and see a great crowd with many needs. Like him, we have “compassion for them, because they [are] like sheep without a shepherd.”  The difference we can make together in our community and our world is exciting.

 

4/22/2012 Sermon: “A Good Reason for Joy”

In Luke’s gospel today, we are still in Easter Sunday.  Women have been to the tomb of Jesus, but it was empty.  Angels told them he had risen from the dead.  When the rest of the disciples were told this story, they thought it was nonsense.

A little later in the day, two of those disciples have a long conversation with Jesus on the road to Emmaus, but they don’t recognize him until he breaks bread with them.  After he suddenly disappears, “They asked each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the scriptures to us?’” (Luke24:32)

They went immediately back to Jerusalem to tell the others, it’s later that same day, they are describing what happened on the road and….

Luke 24:36 As they were saying this, Jesus himself stood among them.  37  But they were startled and frightened, and supposed that they saw a spirit.  38  And he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do questionings rise in your hearts?  39  See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself; handle me, and see; for a spirit has not flesh and bones as you see that I have.”  ­41  And while they still disbelieved for joy, and wondered, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?”  42  They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43  and he took it and ate before them.  44  Then he said to them, “These are my words which I spoke to you, while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled.”  45  Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46  and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47  and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name to all nations, beginning fromJerusalem. 48  You are witnesses of these things.  49  And behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you; but stay in the city, until you are clothed with power from on high.”

Years later, the writer of 1 John has thoughts on what it means to be a follower of Jesus, a believer in the resurrection of Jesus.  You become a child of God, and through Jesus, overcome the sin that once separated you from God.  God makes this possible through faith in the living Christ.

1 John 3:1 See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2  Beloved, we are God’s children now; it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. 3  And every one who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. 4  Every one who commits sin is guilty of lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. 5  You know that he appeared to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. 6  No one who abides in him sins; no one who sins has either seen him or known him. 7  Little children, let no one deceive you. He who does right is righteous, as he is righteous.

 A Good Reason for Joy.  Let’s say you’ve settled back for comfortable afternoon in the recliner.  The book is in your lap, your eyes are getting heavy…  And then the doorbell rings – how annoying.  Climbing out of your recliner, a little cranky because you were almost asleep, you shuffle to the door and pull it open. To your shock and amazement, you find glaring lights, cameras and a guy holding an over-sized check for ten million dollars. Against all odds, you have won the sweepstakes, the lottery, the big cash giveaway. What do you think might be your first reaction?

The video of most of these big winners usually shows them with their mouths and their eyes wide open, dancing around, screaming “I don’t believe it! I don’t believe it!” Or maybe just screaming.  First: disbelief.  “Nobody I know ever wins these things” and then total joy – “Yes, it’s true, it’s really happened to me.  Our lives are changed forever. It’s what we’ve always hoped for!”

Later on, a lot of them find out that the money just adds a huge layer of complication to life, but sweepstakes winners are a good example of how people look and react when they “disbelieve for joy.”

That’s Luke’s description of the reaction of Jesus’ disciples when the risen Christ came to them, and it’s perfect — they “disbelieved for joy.”  They couldn’t believe it!  When Jesus died on that cross, they had buried all their hopes in that tomb with him, and probably some of themselves too.  Maybe, somewhere in the backs of their minds, they still heard Jesus talking about his death and resurrection. But like winning a big lottery jackpot, the chances of a miracle like that actually happening were, what, one in . . . an eternity?  Just the slimmest chance.  And then, there he was. Standing right in front of them eating a fish!

In the 1st century, when this gospel was being written, there was a heresy developing called Gnosticism.  Gnosis is the root word for knowledge.  The root of the word prognosis.  For Gnostics, salvation comes through the attaining of special knowledge and God is only interested in your spirit.  According to Gnosticism, your body is bad – you should punish it and then leave it.  Jesus would not want to live in a physical body.

So, when the disciples saw Jesus, they weren’t seeing a real person, according to that thinking.  This is why the gospel writers make sure we know that the risen Jesus could be touched and Luke says he actually ate a fish, which may also be a touch of Luke-humor.  You don’t think he was real?  When was the last time you saw a ghost eat a fish?  In the Gospel of John, Jesus tells Thomas to touch his hands and side.  Then Jesus makes breakfast for everybody.

And they disbelieved for joy.  Now, let’s tell the truth. When you think of all the possible places you might find yourself totally surprised by a good thing and “disbelieving for joy,” is church the first place you think of?  You might find some joy at a family holiday. Or a birth, or a graduation.  Or maybe when seeing an old friend or relative you lost touch with. Or maybe by catching sight of a beautiful sunset.  Sunday mornings in church aren’t usually our first pick of joyful moments.

And that’s our own fault.  We want this time to be predictable, and predictability has its place.  But the church should be the place where we expect to be shaken up by the Spirit, grabbed and tickled on the bottoms of our feet by the power of the Good News of the gospel.  Jesus showed up alive and stood there, physically, right in front of us eating a fish!  But wait, let’s be respectable, comfortable, understandable, predictable.  3 hymns and a sermon.  Now really, this is all okay, but I’m convinced that we should also be having fun – experience some joy – sing a song!  Let go!

Sing Joy to the World – 1st verse. 

Joy to the world! the Lord is come;
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare him room,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven, and heaven, and nature sing.

God likes it when things get surprising.  In this place, it’s praise for the good things God is doing.  It’s a sign that we’re alive.  If you can’t be happy here, where can you be happy?

So many people live life in survival-mode, coping from one day to the next.  I remember seeing a documentary on the meaning of our Declaration of Independence, and a part of it that focused on the words “the pursuit of happiness.”  When Ben Franklin saw that phrase, pursuit of happiness, he said, “that means we still have to catch it.”

But apparently, according to that report, much of the world has no idea what that expression means in the way we think of it.  Much of the world is not able to grasp that contentment to the point of being happy is possible.  In some cultures, if you ask people to describe a time when they were happy or felt joy, they scratch their heads.  They don’t really understand what you mean.

There’s a time for the serious side of faith and for a hard look at life. I guess Maundy Thursday and Good Friday would be days like that.  I get serious when I think about what happened on those days and why it happened.  There are major issues God needs us to face together.  I’m not saying that it’s possible to live in a constant state of ecstasy, but most of the Christian year could and should be lived in joy-mode.  With optimism.  With confidence.  Hope is not dead.  God won! Jesus isn’t just alive, he’s alive for you!  See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.  This gives all of us permission to find the silver lining of life’s issues and bring encouragement to each other when we’re together.  Each of us can regularly find ways to celebrate with family, friends, and church family.  Intentionally.  For small reasons and major reasons.

Joy to the World – 2nd verse 

Joy to the world! the Saviour reigns;
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat the sounding joy. 

As you read through that Christmas carol, maybe you’d pick up that it isn’t necessarily about Christmas.  Joy to the world – the Lord is come!  (present tense!)  He didn’t stay in a stable which, coincidentally, was a cave, and he didn’t stay in a tomb.  This is the same Jesus who said, I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. (John 10:10).

It could be that we’re too inwardly focused to have the kind of joy God wants us to have. I think that this is a parable, a revelation of us at worship.  Remember, this empty tomb story happened on a Sunday. Those first disciples of Jesus had layers of reasons to be absolutely despondent.  Jesus is dead.  The religious system and occupying army, mutual enemies, conspired to kill him.  They are stuck inJerusalem, away from home, in hiding.  More than one of them is probably saying, “It’s all come apart; now what do we do?”

We come together on mornings like this with all sorts of reasons to feel lousy, each of us has something significant to worry about.  We walk into worship, in so much pain and grief, that somebody has to rise from the dead to snap us out of it.  The world is a mess, and as Christians, we feel duty-bound to spend all our time talking about judgment and justice. The struggle to live.

But where is the joy? In Matthew 25:21, the well-pleased master congratulates his faithful servant by proclaiming “Well done . . . you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.”  Being joyful isn’t some silly sentiment that serious Christians should avoid. God calls the church to faith and then to live life to the fullest.  In prison, at the edge of death, the Apostle Paul was able to say, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.”  (PHI 4:4)

Not long ago, I saw a news report about an Army veteran named John Crabtree who had been receiving benefits from the government.  Evidently, he had been wounded inVietnamand was now on permanent disability.  One day, out of the blue, he received an official notification from the government of his own death.  Needless to say, this was quite a shock!

Mr. Crabtree wrote the government a letter stating that he was indeed very much alive and would like to continue receiving his benefits.  The letter did no good.  He then tried calling “the government.”  The phone calls didn’t change the situation either.  Finally, as a last resort, this veteran contacted a local television station, which ran a human-interest story about his situation.

During the interview, the reporter asked him, “How do you feel about this whole ordeal?”  The veteran chuckled and said, “Well, I feel a little frustrated by it.  After all, have you ever tried to prove that you’re alive?”

That’s a pretty good question for all of us.  Could you prove that you are alive?  Really, genuinely, deep-down alive?  When was the last time you had an alive moment?  Not the last time you took a breath or had your heart beat inside your chest, but the last time you felt yourself full of life?

I think of times that are a gift from God, times with family or with friends, and especially times of worship, fellowship or mission with church family.

The last thing Jesus says to his people, at the end of this story is this: “You are witnesses of these things” (24:48). Maybe the real test of Sunday is not how you come in but how you go out. We come here on Sunday, called by the Risen Christ. He comes, stands among us, confuses some people, shocks others, and offers peace. He then gives us what we need. To those first believers, it was tangible, visible proof.  He eats a fish.  To others, a word of comfort and support. Encouragement.  Life may look bleak, but God has the last word.  He opens our minds that we might understand the scriptures. Our hearts burn within us.   Then he sends us into the world as his witnesses.

So tomorrow at work or at school somebody asks you, “How was church yesterday?”

“Well, it’s hard to say. You would have had to have been there to believe it.”  But you’re a witness. A witness is somebody who tells the court what they have seen and heard.  Before the court of the world, you are the only witness Jesus has. Jesus came and stood with you, and walks with you today.

Sing Joy to the World – 3rd verse.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders, of His love. 

Prayer 

God thank you for life and for the wonders of your love.  Thank you for new opportunities to face life and start over.  You are the God of the second chance, the one who brought Jesus out of a tomb.  Now bring us out of our own tombs.  Give us an attitude transplant and a new vision of what life can be with you.  Give us each a ministry of encouragement and joy.  In the powerful name of the risen Jesus we pray.  Amen.

4/15/2012 Sermon: “Walking in the light – cleaning the house”

1 John 1:1  That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life – 2  the life was made manifest, and we saw it, and testify to it, and proclaim to you the eternal life which was with the Father and was made manifest to us – 3  that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you may have fellowship with us; and our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. 4  And we are writing this that our joy may be complete.  5  This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him is no darkness at all. 6  If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not live according to the truth; 7  but if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. 8  If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10  If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

2:1  My little children, I am writing this to you so that you may not sin; but if any one does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; 2  and he is the expiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

 Dealing with Dirt.  It seems to me that cleaning, and being clean, is much more of an obsession for us than other cultures.  I remember helping to resettle a family of refugees from Bosnia almost 20 years ago, and that the folks who were training and advising us gave instructions about how to approach the American rituals of cleanliness.  Why?  Because apparently most people who come to this country as refugees don’t obsess about soap and deodorant the way we do.  We had to explain it almost apologetically:  “When you live in America, this is something you do.”

We weren’t always quite this way. Some time ago, I read a book on the history of American cultural practices that said, 200 years ago, in places like our typical New England town, to clean a floor in your home, you would pour sand on it and then sweep it out.  That was how you got your floor really clean.  There really was a time when Saturday was bath day!

 Do you know what this is?  A carpet beater.   It belonged to my grandmother.   It has been in the house where I’ve lived since before I was born.  But I only remember it hanging on a wall in the basement.  I don’t think I ever saw it used, but I can imagine my grandmother hanging a carpet over a clothesline in the backyard and getting her exercise.  I do remember her using a carpet sweeper (not a vacuum cleaner).  Do you remember those?  You find both of these things in antique stores now.

Okay, for most of the last century we’ve used vacuum cleaners.

Dealing with dirt might be one of the oldest human problems.  How to get rid of the stuff in your home – and in your life – that you know shouldn’t be there.  And what do you do about cleaning your soul?  I think you know what I mean.

House-cleaning devices represent a huge industry.  Someone is always trying to make a better vacuum cleaner.  Dedicated scientists will identify a problem – like dirt in the house – and study it.  After years of tinkering, a cleaning machine is produced and marketed.

God has also identified a problem. We could call it a design flaw, but that wouldn’t be right. God doesn’t create stuff with design flaws. Human beings started out morally clean, but with something called “free will.”  That free will is what makes the mess, and we each have something in us that we know needs to be cleaned.  Some big problem or small problem – it might depend on your perspective.  We each have some tendency to do something that works against the will of God and violates our own conscience.  It is sin, and it’s what creates that separation from God we sense.

It’s like a stain -“‘Come now, let us reason together,’ says the LORD. ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.’”   Isaiah 1:18 (NIV)

It’s like dirt that needs to be washed away –  “Blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin … Cleanse me … and I will be clean;’ wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.”   Psalm 51  (NIV)

Jesus talks about the heart being “defiled”  – “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what make a man ‘unclean.’”   Matthew 15:19-20 (NIV):

In its most ancient definition, sin comes from a Greek work that means, “to miss the mark.”  It is a tendency toward destruction and self-destruction.  It is the way we hurt each other.  It is the way we ignore God’s expectations for us; it is separation from God.

And in the passage from 1 John, which I read a moment ago, we get cleaning instructions: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9, NIV).

God sent Jesus to do some soul-cleaning. Christ came to cleanse us from our sins. End of story.  And there isn’t some new invention that will do the job better.

There are elements of our culture that deny sin, or ignore sin, because it feels like such an ancient “puritanical’ word.  It doesn’t make us feel good, and after all, isn’t that what faith and spirituality are all about? Feeling good?

But,  “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”  (v. 8)  If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.  (V. 10)

We love our dog, Pumpkin the Corgi.  But she has lots of hair, and it seems like we are always cleaning it up, especially around this time of year.  Cleaning the house means cleaning up dog hair.  It’s everywhere.  In the corners, on my dark clothes.  Just when I least expect it, sitting in a meeting, or behind the pulpit, there’s a dog hair. I pick it off and hope nobody noticed.  I don’t think it will ever go away.  Kind of like pine needles from the Christmas tree in the living room.

And sin is like that too.  You never really get rid of it.  This is one thing to know about sin: it’s not like you can just fix it and it stays fixed.  Although Jesus died once for our sins and that was enough, and although faith opens the door between God and us permanently, we have to keep asking God to help us clean the spiritual house.

God’s primary tool for cleansing of the soul is worship: When we worship, our souls are renewed, cleaned.  When we worship, we pray, and God’s cleaning service comes into us in the form of the Holy Spirit.  During worship we might hear words that help us search our souls for the things that God needs to clean, and give them to God.  In worship, we have opportunities for confession, and we have connection with other people who are getting their souls cleansed.  Our Catholic friends are onto something; I’ve never used a confession booth, but I think I can appreciate it.  I’ve never talked to a Catholic who enjoyed confession, but how can you ever deal with a problem if you never have to acknowledge it?

In the Protestant tradition, we make our confession to God alone, and to others if we choose to.  But it’s tempting to keep sin a secret.  Aside from never dealing with it, it creates isolation.  You feel alone with whatever it is you struggle with.  But it’s a mistake to think that you might have a problem that nobody else has experienced. It helps to confess these things to God and another Christian, so that you have a partner who can ask you how you’re doing.

If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  (v. 9)

Staying clean spiritually doesn’t need to be hard work. All it takes to get clean with Christ is confession, and then acceptance of God’s forgiveness.  Then walk away. Your spiritual house will be cleaned. It’s as easy as that.

 Prayer

 Go, it’s not hard to picture you as a parent sitting by the window at night, looking down the street, anxiously waiting for us to come home.  We know how we must disappoint you.  We fill our time with insignificant things.  We worry about silly stuff.  We carry secret burdens.  And we admit, we often find that we are more a part of a destructive world than we wish we were.

So God, cleanse us.  We know that these are problems only you can handle.  It’s only you that can take away the sin that makes us less than what we should be.  And so we thank you once again for the cross of Christ where that sin died.  He is our living Savior, and we give ourselves to him.

4/8/2012 Sermon: “He is not here” Easter Sunday

Above:  The traditional crucifixion site of Jesus, in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.  A woman lights a candle while pilgrims wait in line to touch the stone under the altar, which once held his cross.

Mark 16:1  And when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. 2  And very early on the first day of the week they went to the tomb when the sun had risen. 3  And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the door of the tomb?” 4  And looking up, they saw that the stone was rolled back; – it was very large. 5  And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe; and they were amazed. 6  And he said to them, “Do not be amazed; you seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen, he is not here; see the place where they laid him. 7  But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him, as he told you.” 8  And they went out and fled from the tomb; for trembling and astonishment had come upon them; and they said nothing to any one, for they were afraid.

 Acts 10:34  And Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I perceive that God shows no partiality, 35  but in every nation any one who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. 36  You know the word which he sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace by Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all), 37  the word which was proclaimed throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism which John preached: 38  how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all that were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. 39  And we are witnesses to all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; 40  but God raised him on the third day and made him manifest; 41  not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42  And he commanded us to preach to the people, and to testify that he is the one ordained by God to be judge of the living and the dead. 43  To him all the prophets bear witness that every one who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

The Jerusalem Syndrome.   A few years ago, Time Magazine printed an article (April 17, 1995, p. 22), about a psychiatric hospital in Jerusalem.  They have a bumper sticker on the door of the reception office that says, “Prepare for the Coming of the Messiah.”  One of the employees probably put it there; it’s a tongue-in-cheek joke in this place because they treat people there who suffer from what they call, “The Jerusalem Syndrome.”  These are people who are overwhelmed by the religious history and atmosphere they find in Jerusalem.  When they come to Jerusalem they take on a new identity.

There was the bearded Italian man they found wandering in the hills around Bethlehem, dressed in a sack with cloth bags on his feet, totally oblivious to the snow that was falling, convinced he was Jesus Christ.  There was the angry German man who called police because the kitchen staff in his hotel refused to help him prepare for the Last Supper.  This hospital sees about 50 patients a year who suffer from the Jerusalem Syndrome.  Sometimes they have two or three Messiahs at the same time, but they don’t fight with each other; each one is convinced the other is a phony.  They’re used to it inJerusalem; not long ago the hospital’s neighbors brought in a woman who was hysterical, and spoke nothing but Greek.  It turns out she was a tourist who had taken the wrong bus and didn’t know where she was.

But what about the real Jesus?  We are so used to hearing and telling the story, we don’t stop anymore to think about how incredible it sounds.  We are here today, in fact, we are here every Sunday because a man was executed on a Friday and rose from the dead two days later.  We say we believe this.  Jesus was either who he said he was or he was one of  those people suffering from the Jerusalem syndrome.  C. S. Lewis said, “Jesus is either the Son of God or he is in the same category as a man who thinks he is a poached egg.”

The challenging thing about the Easter story is that when you hear it, when you really listen to what’s being said, you have to decide whether it’s true or not.  It’s a risk to believe this story, and the only proof is the power of change it has over us.  We change our world not because we have good morals on our side, but because Jesus rose from the dead, we believe it, and God’s Spirit changes us; God’s Spirit working in us makes us alive and helps us see our world in new ways.

Above: Pilgrims wait in line to visit the traditional site of the empty tomb of Jesus in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem.

An Arab chief told a story of a spy who was captured and then sentenced to death by a general in the Persian army. This general had the strange custom of giving condemned criminals a choice between the firing squad and the big, black door. As the moment for execution drew near, the spy was brought to the Persian general, who asked the question, “What will it be: the firing squad or the big, black door?”

The spy hesitated for a long time. It was a difficult decision. He chose the firing squad.

Moments later shots rang out confirming his execution. The general turned to his aide and said, “They always prefer the known way to the unknown. It is characteristic of people to be afraid of the undefined. Yet, we gave him a choice.”

The aide said, “What lies beyond the big door?”

“Freedom,” replied the general. “I’ve known only a few brave enough to take it.”

 It’s a hard thing to step into the unknown.  The stone rolls away from the tomb of Jesus, he steps out, and from that moment on, Jesus begins calling people out of their own tombs.  Break out of that prison.  The story of the Christian faith is the story of people who have tasted freedom.  The freedom no religion can bring.  The freedom that God only gives through faith in the living Jesus and a relationship with him.  This is the kind of prison break that’s only possible with God.

 Today’s reading from Acts is a sermon – by Peter, who, until just before this time was a Jewish fisherman living in northernIsrael.  Peter was preaching to, of all people, a Roman centurion named Cornelius and his friends and relatives.

People in Jerusalem, especially the aristocratic religious leaders, knew Peter as an uneducated man from the hills with an accent.  Cornelius was a rich Roman centurion, an officer stationed in Ceasaria, the Roman base of operations forPalestine, which was a busy seaport and a very picturesque place. Shoreline.  Beachfront.

God gave Peter and Cornelius dreams about each other.  Peter dreamt that he should not be afraid to have contact with people who are not Jewish.  Cornelius dreamt that someone named Peter in a nearby town had a message for him.  So Cornelius sent for Peter and called his friends and relatives together to hear what Peter would have to say.

According to Jewish law and custom, Peter was not supposed to have anything to do with these people, and he had kept away from them all his life.  It was a prejudice that Peter had trouble overcoming (read Galatians 2:11-14; Peter was also known as Cephas), but he went anyway.  On the other hand, Cornelius was an officer in the occupying army – a Roman.  He was not supposed to “fraternize with the enemy,” much less one of the lower class of the enemy.  Socially and economically, the coming together of these people was a mixture of oil and water.  It must have been awkward, to say the least.  I wonder if Peter was having “flashbacks” of the day he stood in the back of the crowd and watched the Romans crucify Jesus.  It’s only that risen Jesus who can bring these two people together and break them out of their prisons.

When Peter stood in front of this group of Romans, his sermon was about believing in Jesus: a Jesus who rose from the dead, and that God changes people who believe Jesus is alive. Cornelius and his friends believed, and they were changed.  In order for Peter to do what God called him to do, he had to forgive Romans.  Forgiveness might be part of your prison break too!

The effect of believing in Jesus is the breaking down of barriers between God and us; between “our” people and other people.  Walls come down.  We see Jesus in them; they hear Jesus through us.  We need each other.  Cornelius needed what Peter had to give.  Peter needed to see that God could reach out through him, and that God cares deeply about people who are not like him.  That enemies could be friends,.  The resurrection of Jesus is what makes this possible.  Faith in the living Jesus is what makes this possible.  It’s a Prison Break!

Think for a moment about the people in this room.  Look around.  Think about somebody who is not the same as you, I mean a person in the room with whom you have not much in common – at all.  On any given Sunday, God has allowed you to worship and have fellowship with each other.  But God wants us to go further.

God, through our faith, calls on each of us to break down barriers between us and them,  whoever “them” is.  God says get rid of the wall between us and them.  This is not something we do on our own.  The Spirit inside us gives us the ability to forgive, to tolerate, to reach out. We do this as individuals and as a church.  And it is not easy.  We isolate ourselves from those who are not like us.  We fear them.  And God calls us to look deep within ourselves and break down those walls, to find opportunities and times and places to practice openness.

God has so much work to do, not just in our town, but in our world and in us.  I pray that God gives us all the vision to see opportunities reach out, to embrace the diversity, and break down our walls, and bring us out of our prisons.

 Prayer

 Bring us out of our habits, out of the tombs and prisons we live in and send us on a mission.  Take away our desire for the things that kill us and bury us, and use us to bring life to the world you love and sent Jesus to die for.  Give us opportunities to show people that Jesus lives in us.  Heal our relationships, give us a greater ability to love and forgive. Make us like him.  Give us eyes that are sensitive to pain and injustice, and hands willing to do something that makes a difference.

We pray with faith that as we give ourselves to you, you will give us the kind of life that never dies, because of the risen Jesus.  Amen.

4/1/2012 Sermon: “Turning the Page” Palm/Passion Sunday

 Mark 11:7  And they brought the colt to Jesus, and threw their garments on it; and he sat upon it. 8  And many spread their garments on the road, and others spread leafy branches which they had cut from the fields. 9  And those who went before and those who followed cried out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!  10  Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that is coming! Hosanna in the highest!”

11  And he entered Jerusalem, and went into the temple; 

Isaiah 50:4  The Lord GOD has given me the tongue of those who are taught, that I may know how to sustain with a word him that is weary. Morning by morning he wakens, he wakens my ear to hear as those who are taught.  5  The Lord GOD has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, I turned not backward.  6  I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I hid not my face from shame and spitting.

7  For the Lord GOD helps me; therefore I have not been confounded; therefore I have set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame; 8  he who vindicates me is near. Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together. Who is my adversary? Let him come near to me. 9  Behold, the Lord GOD helps me; who will declare me guilty?

 Philippians 2:5 (p. 182)  Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6  who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7  but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  8  And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.

9  Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, 10  that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11  and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

 Leader of the Parade; Suffering Servant.  This is a day of contrasts.  The traditional readings for the day are about as different from each other as they can get.  We have the reading about the suffering servant from Isaiah and the story about Jesus making a parade entrance into Jerusalem.  A Good Friday reading and a Palm Sunday reading.  The meaning is summed up in Philippians by the apostle Paul who says Jesus was “in the form of God…  but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant.” And they all head toward Easter Sunday.

This Sunday, Palm Sunday, is the opening scene of the most gut-wrenching week of our history as people of God.  Jesus has to walk from Palm Sunday through Good Friday, to get to Easter Sunday.  And we’re his followers right?  You and I are his followers, are we not?  He takes us with him from Palm Sunday to Easter, and it is not an easy trip. We have to get to Easter Sunday by way of Good Friday; it’s a roller coaster ride and it’s an impossible trip without God.  We can’t do this one on our own; God will get us there.

In Bible stories like these, I always place myself in the crowd.  You can do that too, can’t you?  We all understand what it’s like to be part of a crowd.  We’ve got crowds cheering him on today – you and I could be in that crowd – and those crowds are fickle.  They can’t be trusted.  Then Jesus walks straight into Good Friday – the worst abuse humanity could offer.  I think some of us understand the pain of Good Friday too.  Some of us live there.  Some of us don’t see a way out of Good Friday.  You rightly ask, “What’s so good about this Friday?” And today we hear God say, “You might living in Good Friday, but Sunday’s coming.”  Spread the word. Sunday’s coming.

We make this trip every year, and we pretty much know the way, so it’s easy, right?  It’s a hard thing to let go of your pain; it’s hard to let go of your Good Friday. But in order for God to bring Easter Sunday into our lives, God need us to trust, to let go.  Be willing to turn the page and leave Good Friday behind.

There’s story about two Maine fishermen out in their boat, caught in a fog.  They can just barely make out the coastline, but have no idea where they are.  One of them says, “Well, let’s just get out the “Coast-wise Pilot” and have a look.”

So they get out this book of maps.  And after they fumble around for a few minutes one says, “The page we’re on is missin’.  Tore right out of the book!”

And the other says, “Well, Bert, we’re just gonna have to sail onto the next page!”

We’re getting ready to turn the page.  We’re getting ready to walk through Good Friday, and Sunday’s coming.

Today, we have a parade.  Palm Sunday is about a parade.  In fact, I know of churches that have processions on Palm Sunday to remember what Jesus did when he rode into Jerusalemon a colt.

Picture a parade.  Most of us watch parades from the curb. The cheering crowd does not ever move ahead or change its position. The onlookers stay in one place while the parade passes by in front of them. Eventually they see the whole procession without ever having to move. There’s no risk.  No surprises when you’re a parade watcher. No one gets lost.  It’s safe.

Have This Same Mind.  But Jesus is calling you and me to join in; let everyone see that you’re following.  There’s no such thing as a secret parade!  No such thing as secret faith.  Take a step; step off the curb.  Leave the lawn chair behind.

“Have this mind among yourselves” – the mind of Christ, is what the passage in Philippians says.  Live together as followers of Christ.  This is advice the apostle Paul has for Christians in Philippi in the middle of the first century.

Philippi is on the far northeastern coast of Greece, on the Aegean Sea, near Bulgaria, in the part of Greece called Macedonia (read Acts 16).  Paul helped them start their church and these people had been together for 20-25 years. They had a very successful church; it was one of the first churches in Europe.  When Paul talks about how they worshipped and prayed together, he talks about a group of people who really cared for each other – a group of people who really cared for him.

At the time he was writing to them, he was in prison, toward the end of his life, and I can imagine him in some sort of confinement with guards outside the door, and his mind is going back to the good times he had with his friends in Philippi. To this church in Philippi, he quotes an early Christian hymn that says these things about Christ:

Christ is God.  Christ was before Israel or Connecticut or any church.

Christ is a slave, a foot-washer.  As God, what Christ did for us was a choice.  God didn’t have to save us.

 Christ died – on a cross.  He did not have a long, happy career as Savior and then retire.  He died a horrible death for us.  Our sin died with him on that cross.

Christ is alive – God raised him from the dead.

Christ is the ruler of the universe (cosmos) – this same Christ who rode on the donkey into Jerusalem on the way to humiliation.  He didn’t have to do that for us, but he did.  He didn’t have to come, and he didn’t have to care.  But he did.

Paul says, “have the same mind,” as that Christ.  In your lives as Christians and in your life as the church, “have the same mind.”

Jesus faced a fight to the death with evil — and defeated it by giving in to it, so that he could rise above it.  For you and me.  The traditional description of what happens to Jesus is found in the Isaiah reading, which is why many people might think it’s from the New Testament. I don’t think I have ever heard the Isaiah 50 passage quoted without some reference to Jesus, because it is such a clear prophecy about the Messiah.

It was written several hundred years before the time of Jesus’ ministry and the Hebrew people were in exile at the time.  It’s a prophecy.  Prophecies are words from God ( the prophet is a mouthpiece) and these words can do two things: they give truth from God’s point of view and they explain how God is going to cause things to happen that God wants to happen.  The message in Isaiah is that God is going to make salvation happen at a time when everyone thinks it’s impossible.

The people of Israel were in exile.  To give them hope, God sends this message: God is sending a Savior who is a suffering servant.  This savior is not like a movie action hero who destroys all his enemies.  He gives his back to whips.  His beard is pulled out.  He gives his face to spitting and insults.  And through God is vindicated.  God has the last word.

It’s not a pretty picture, by any stretch of the imagination, but it is not the whole picture.  It’s a Good Friday reading.  Sunday’s coming.

 Turning the Page. A few years ago, I went to a funeral for a person I didn’t know.  He was the pastor of another UCC church in CT.  Toward the end of Lent, early in the week, he committed suicide at home.  There are a lot of things wrapped up in that, and I only knew bits and pieces of it.  If you think about it for just a few minutes, you can imagine the waves this kind of event can send crashing down not just on a family, but on a community. He was in his late fifties with grown children.  He was a good pastor and a very troubled person in ways many people didn’t know. It was obvious that people loved him very much.

The church building was crowded early and I sat in a fellowship hall that had been rigged with a large-screen TV.  Standing room only.  I was there because this was a United Church of Christ and because of that he was one of us and that church is also “us.”  The service lasted for two hours and most of that time was given to family and friends who wanted to say something.  His family assured everyone that there was nothing anyone could have done to prevent this from happening. Unbeknownst to many people, this man had lived in a kind of Good Friday for a long time.  When I first heard about it, I thought, “How will they ever recover?”  But it was clear that God was – and still is – working in these people.  It was a powerful thing to see.

This is the sort of situation that makes you want to ask a lot of questions and make a lot of assumptions, a lot of judgments.  I had never been to this place and I don’t think I had ever met this pastor.  I can’t fill in the details – which may not be important anyway – but I have reason for telling you this story.

One of the people who spoke was a deacon of the church, and he had one of the shortest and best sermons I think I have ever heard.   I need to tell you what he said.

This deacon was the person who was called to the police station to pick up this pastor’s personal effects.  Among the things the police had collected at the scene was a bible.  The reason they had taken it was that the pastor had left it open and it had fresh pen marks in it. A verse had been underlined and the verse that had been marked was Romans 7:15, which says this:

ROM7:15  I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.

This underlining was the only hand-written marks in the whole book, and the police sergeant said to this deacon, “We’ve been reading this and re-reading it.  I want you to see what happens when you turn the page.  We thought you should see this.”

It had been marked with the kind of pen that bleeds through thin paper, and when he turned the page, there was a verse underlined on the other side.  And it said this:

ROM8:11  If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.

The sergeant said, “Whoever reads that first verse needs to turn the page.”

This week, can you do that?  Can you turn the page?  Have the faith to turn the page; let God show you what’s on the other side.  Good Friday is around us all the time.  But that’s not where we live when we trust in Christ.  This is a different kind of parade now.  We’re not standing by watching.  We walk arm in arm with somebody who overcame the worst the world had to offer.  He’s alive and Easter’s coming.  Believe it.  Let God give you life.

 Prayer

 God of Grace: On this day we praise you for all that your gracious Son said and did during his last week on earth; for his humility, a servant instead of a ruler; for his boldness in the face of those who wanted to kill him; for his gift of a meal to be shared in remembrance of the gift of his life; for his words of faith and forgiveness even while dying in agony on the cross for us.

We ask your blessing on the services of worship we have planned for this Holy Week. Let your Spirit hold us and reshape us through our self-searching, our grieving, our rejoicing. We pray that this reliving of our Lord’s pain and death leave us uninvolved or unchanged.  Let this week be for us an occasion for re-examining our priorities, achieving greater integrity, and moving into a closer following of you.  Give us the strength and the faith to turn the page. In the name of our Savior and Lord, Jesus. Amen.