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Sunday, April 27, 2014

A Time for Hate?

This is the message given in the United Methodist Churches of the Wheatland Parish on Sunday, April 27, 2014.  The Bible verses used are Ecclesiastes 3:1-13 and Luke 6:20-23, 27-31.

            Today we start a new sermon series called “A Time for Everything”, based on the third chapter of the book of Ecclesiastes.
            We read part of that chapter today.  I’m sure many of you have heard it before.  It gets used a lot at funerals.  But a lot of times we don’t really think about the things it says very much.  
The author of Ecclesiastes tells us that there is a time for everything.  That includes some unpleasant things.  War.  Hatred.  Tears.  Death.  
Now we know those things exist.  In that sense, we know that there’s a time for them.  But why?  Why is there a time for these things?
            And that’s not all the author of Ecclesiastes says.  He goes on to say that God has made everything beautiful in its time.  Really?  I mean, we know these things exist, but how in the world can some of those things be beautiful?
            So that’s what we’re going to talk about in this sermon series.  And we’re going to start out with what may be the hardest to understand.  Ecclesiastes says there is a time for love and a time for hate.  And both of those are among the things God has made beautiful in their time.
            Now, it’s pretty easy for us to understand how there can be a time to love.  After all, we talked during Holy Week about how Jesus gave the disciples the new commandment that they love on another.  Jesus said the two greatest commandments are that we love God and love our neighbor. It seems like it should always be the right time to love.  And of course, as we say all the time, God is love.  And because God is love, we can understand how love is beautiful.
            But hate?  How can there be a time for hate?  How can hate be beautiful?
            That’s why we read the passage from Luke.  Listen to it again:  “Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man.”  Jesus says we are blessed when people hate us.  We are blessed when people exclude us and insult us.  So, if the hatred of others leads to blessings for us, then apparently there must be an appropriate time for that hatred.  There is a time for hate.  And if that hate turns into blessings, then I guess, in a way, that hate is beautiful.
But here’s the thing.  The hatred of others can lead to God’s blessings toward us--but not always.  We are only blessed by the hatred of others when that hatred comes because of the Son of Man.  We have nothing to fear from the hatred of others--as long as that hatred comes as a result of us living the way Jesus told us to live.  
If we do the things Jesus told us to do, if we really live the way Jesus told us to live, there are going to be people who hate us.  That can be true on a global scale, but it can be true on a local scale, too.
If we really live in accordance with our Christian principles, if we really live the way Jesus told us to live, we’re going to stand out from the crowd.  We’re going to be different.  That’s not easy.  It’s not easy to different.  And some people are not going to like us because we’re different.
It’s not easy to be the one who says no when everyone else says yes, or the one who says yes when everyone else says no.  We talk about peer pressure for young people, and it certainly is a problem young people deal with, but it’s not only young people who deal with it.  We deal with peer pressure all through our lives.
I suspect each one of us here can think of times where we went along with something, went along with the group, even though what the group wanted to do was not what we really thought was right.  I suspect each one of us here has done something we wish we had not done, or has not done something we wish we had done, because we’re afraid of what other people will think of us.  We’re afraid other people will think we were weird or strange.  Maybe we don’t think of it as hatred, but we’re afraid people won’t like us as much if we don’t go along.  So, we go along to get along.
It’s understandable.  I don’t know anyone who enjoys being disliked.  I can’t imagine that anyone, anywhere enjoys being hated.  But Jesus says we need to be willing to risk it.  We need to risk being disliked, even hated, because of our belief in him.  Jesus said we will be blessed if we are hated, and excluded, and insulted, and rejected because of him.  If we are willing to risk those things, we will receive God’s blessings.
So, as often happens, we have to make a choice.  We have to choose, basically, whether we want the blessings of the people around us, the blessings of the world, or whether we want God’s blessings.  Because nowhere in the Bible does it tell us we will be blessed if we go along to get along.  Jesus never did that himself.  He could have.  It would’ve made his life on earth a lot easier.  But he never did.  And he never told us to do it, either.
Now, understand, that does not mean that we should walk around looking for trouble.  Jesus did not tell us to go around doing things with the goal of having people hate us.  Jesus did not have a goal of having people hate him.  But Jesus knew that some people would hate him as a result of what he said and what he did.  He was willing to risk that in order to do what God wanted him to do.  And if we claim to follow Jesus, then we need to be willing to risk that, too.
And Jesus tells us that if people do hate us because we follow him, that’s okay.  In fact, Jesus says it’s more than okay.  Jesus tells us to rejoice in it.  Jesus tells us to leap for joy because of it.  It’s nothing to worry about.  Jesus says, hey, that’s how people treated the prophets, too.  And of course, it’s also how people treated Jesus himself.  He says we don’t need to worry about that hatred, because when people hate us because of our faith in Jesus, we will receive our reward in heaven.
That’s a tough thing.  I don’t like it when someone just does not like me, much less hates me.  Again, I don’t know anyone who does.  But we need to be willing to accept it.  And that acceptance, really, comes in two ways.  We’ve talked about the first:  being willing to risk being hated.  But there’s another way we need to accept it.  We need to accept it by not responding in the same way.  
That’s what Jesus tells us later in our reading.  Jesus tells us, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”  In other words, Jesus says that, while there’s a time for hate, there’s also a time for love.
That’s a tough thing, too.  It’s not easy to love someone who hates us.  It’s not easy to love people who exclude us and insult us.  It’s not easy to love people who reject us.
It’s not our natural reaction at all.  Our natural reaction is to fight back.  You insult me, I insult you.  You’re mean to me, I’m mean to you.  We tend to treat each other the way we get treated.
But that’s not what Jesus said.  Jesus did not say we should treat others as they treat us.  Jesus said to treat others the way we would like them to treat us.  In other words, we need to treat people well no matter how they treat us.  And we need to love people even if they hate us.
And Jesus, as usual, gave us the example.  We just went through Holy Week and Easter.  Think of Jesus hanging on the cross.  Jesus was hated.  Jesus was excluded.  Jesus was insulted.  Jesus was rejected.  People did to Jesus everything he talked about in this set of Bible verse.
And how did Jesus respond?  He loved them.  He blessed them.  He prayed for them.  He pleaded with God on their behalf.  He said, “Father, forgive them.  They don’t know what they’re doing.”
We’ve heard that so much that we take it for granted.  We say, well, that’s Jesus being Jesus.  That’s Jesus doing what Jesus is supposed to do.  And it is, but that does not mean it was easy for Jesus.  That does not mean it was his natural reaction.  Jesus, while he was on earth, was fully human as well as fully divine.  I’m sure there was at least a part of him that did not want to love those people who hated him at all.
But he did.  He did the hard thing.  He overcame that part of him that wanted to respond to these people in kind, that wanted to treat them the way they were treating him.  Jesus had enough love to accept what was done to him and love the people anyway.  And that’s what we’re supposed to do, too.
There’s a time for hate, but there’s not a time for us to hate.  There’s a time for hate because when we live our lives the way Jesus told us to, not everyone is going to be happy about that.  But there’s also a time for love.  And when we respond to hate with love, even that hate becomes beautiful.  And then we receive blessings from God.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Right Here Right Now

This is the message given in the United Methodist churches of the Wheatland Parish Sunday, April 20, 2014.  The Bible verses used are Mark 15:42-16:8.

            Today we’re ending a sermon series called “Pray This Way”, looking at the Lord’s Prayer.  And I think it’s appropriate that we end that sermon series on Easter, because the last sentence of the Lord’s Prayer says, “For thine is the kingdom and the power and glory forever”.
            Now, if you remember back when we read the versions of the Lord’s Prayer that appear in the Bible, you may have noticed that this line does not appear there.  It’s not in Matthew’s version, and it’s not in Luke’s version.  We think this line was added to the prayer later on, simply because the prayer the way Jesus said it felt unfinished.  It was common, in the early days of Christianity, to say a line like this at the end of a prayer.  And so, the line got added to the Lord’s Prayer and tradition has kept it there.
            There’s certainly nothing wrong with it.  We do believe, as Christians, that the kingdom belongs to God.  We do believe that all power and all glory belong to God.  So, it’s perfectly all right to end the Lord’s Prayer this way, talking about God’s kingdom.
            You know, while Jesus walked on the earth, he talked a lot about the kingdom of God.  He compared it to all sorts of things.  He said the kingdom of God was like a man sowing seed on the ground--some of it would take root and produce and some of it would not.  Jesus said the kingdom of God was like a mustard seed--something really small that would grow into something really big.  Jesus said the kingdom of God is like yeast--just a little of it can work through a whole lot of people.
            But Jesus said other things about the kingdom of God.  And this is why I think it’s appropriate that we talk about this on Easter Sunday.  Jesus said, “The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is in your midst.”
            The kingdom of God is in your midst.  Think about that.  Jesus was telling them that the kingdom of God was right there.  It was right in front of them.  It was not something that they had to go running around and look for.  It was not something that they had to wait for.  It was right there, right now, in the form of Jesus.
            They could not see it.  Why not?  Well, they looked around and saw things that were not the way they thought they should be.  In particular, they saw that the nation of Israel had been taken over by the Roman Empire.  Remember, they were supposed to be God’s chosen people.  God had promised to give them this land forever.  And now, they’d been taken over by someone else.  That was not right.  How could the kingdom of God be in their midst when things were not the way they were supposed to be and there was no sign that anything was changing?
            And probably, if someone was to come to us now and say that the kingdom of God is in our midst, we’d react pretty much the same way.  We’d look at all the things that we think are not the way they should be.  We’d look at war.  We’d look at poverty.  We’d look at crime.  We’d look at illness.  We’d look at broken relationships.  We’d look at the number of children who don’t have God in their lives.  And we’d think, “How can the kingdom of God be in our midst when things are not the way they’re supposed to be and there’s no sign that anything’s changing?”
            That’s why Jesus told us all those things about what the kingdom of God is.  The kingdom of God is not something that happens BOOM, all at once.  It something that takes time.  
When you go out to plant, as some of you will be doing pretty soon, you don’t expect the crop to come up the next day.  It takes time.  A mustard seed grows into a large plant--but not all at once.  It takes time.  Yeast will work its way through a whole batch of dough--but not instantly.  It takes time.
The kingdom of God is here.  We don’t have to go running around looking for it.  We don’t have to wait for it.  The kingdom of God is right here, right now.  It came in the form of Jesus.  But it’s not fully developed yet.  It takes time.
How much time?  I don’t know.  More time than I’d like, quite frankly.  Jesus came two thousand years ago.  To me, that seems like an awfully long time to wait.  That’s a lot of people who’ve been died, who’ve lived in poverty, who’ve suffered from loneliness or broken relationships or all kinds of things.  I would not have chosen to make it take this long.  I don’t like it that it’s taking this long.  I’d like all those things to be over with.  I’d like the kingdom of God to be fully developed now, this morning.
But that’s not the way it is.  So, we have to trust that God has plans that are better than ours.  And, when the kingdom of God is not developed in the time we’d like it to be, we have to trust that there’s are good reasons why not, even if it we don’t understand what those reasons could, and even if we cannot understand how there could possibly good reasons for it.
Or, we don’t.  We don’t have to trust God.  We don’t have to trust God’s timing.  We can choose to think this is all nonsense.  We can choose to think there’s no “kingdom of God” at all, or that if there is it’s still a long way off.  We don’t have to believe or trust any of it.
That’s why we read the story of Jesus’ resurrection from the gospel of Mark.  What we read today is the end of the gospel of Mark.  The gospel of Mark ends with the women at the tomb being told that Jesus has risen, and with those women running away from the tomb, scared and confused, not knowing what to make of it, having more questions than answers.  
Now, if you look in your Bible, you may see some more verses after that.  Those verses were added years later, because people were uncomfortable with this ending to the gospel of Mark.  But personally, I love it.
I love it because that’s how life is.  Life is not something that’s all nice and neat.  Life is not something that always makes sense to us.  Life is not something that always leads to a completely logical and satisfactory conclusion.  Life is something that leaves us with a lot of loose ends and a lot of unfinished stories.  Life is something that sometimes confuses us and sometimes confounds us and sometimes even scares us.
I also love it because if we really think about the kingdom of God, our reaction is likely to be exactly like the reaction of those women.  We don’t know what to make of it.  We have more questions than answers.
Jesus told us that the kingdom of God had come.  It started coming when Jesus came to the earth.  It came some more when Jesus rose on that first Easter morning and appeared to the women.  It came some more when he appeared to the disciples, and they believed.  It came some more when those disciples shared the story of Jesus with others.  And it has kept coming in the two thousand years since. Every time someone makes a decision for Jesus, the kingdom of God comes a little more.
But, again, it’s hard to see it.  It seems like it should not be taking this long.  And so, it’s hard for us to believe it’s still coming.  It’s easy for us to start to wonder.  It’s easy for us to doubt.  It’s easy for us to think the kingdom of God is not truly here, because we cannot see it coming.
But here’s the thing.  The fact that we cannot see things happening does not mean that nothing is happening.  It just means we cannot see them yet.  God works in all kinds of ways, large and small.  God works in all kinds of people, too.  God is touching hearts, and touching lives, every single day, in all kinds of ways.  The fact that we don’t see God at work does not mean God is not working.  It just means we cannot see it right now.
That’s one more thing about those examples Jesus gave us.  Think about planting seeds again.  When we plant seeds, at first we don’t see anything, do we?  We hope something is happening, we think something is happening, but we cannot see it.  It’s only when the plant breaks through the surface of the ground that we know for sure that something was happening.  Until then, we have to trust.  We have to have faith.  We have to believe.  Or, again, we don’t.  It’s up to us.
Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is in your midst.”  It’s right here, right now.  God has planted seeds.  And God continues to plant seeds.  And those seeds are growing.  We cannot see them yet.  But they’re growing.  They’re growing in Gettysburg/Agar/Onida.  And someday, those seeds are going to grow into large plants.  It may take a long time.  Or, it may not.  But it is going to happen.  It will happen at a time of God’s choosing and in a way of God’s choosing.  But it is going to happen.
Jesus brought the kingdom of God to us.  And because Jesus rose from the dead, we know the kingdom of God will never leave.  It will continue to grow until it is fully developed and Jesus comes again.  And then, the kingdom and the power and the glory truly will be his, now and forever.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

No Short-cuts

The message from the Good Friday service at the Gettysburg United Methodist church April 18, 2014.  The Bible verses used are Matthew 27:27-54.

            Have you ever watched a movie or a TV show where you already knew the ending?  Maybe you’d seen it before, or maybe you’d just read about it or been talking to somebody about it and they told you how it ended.  And now, you’re actually getting a chance to watch it for yourself.
            When you watch a show that way, nothing ever has quite the same impact, does it?  I mean, we still might enjoy it.  We still might think it’s a good show.  But it’s just not the same.  Nothing about the show grabs us the way it was intended to.  The plot twists don’t surprise us.  The scary parts don’t scare us.  Because we know how it’s all going to come out.  We know how it ends.
            That can be the trouble with reading the events of Jesus’ crucifixion.  We know how it comes out.  We still read the story.  We still think it’s a good story.  But it does not grab us the way it was intended to.  It does not surprise us.  It does not scare us.  We know how it comes out--with Jesus rising from the dead.  We know how it ends--with Jesus ascending into heaven.
            That’s too bad.  The story of Jesus’ crucifixion is not supposed to be treated as a ho-hum story.  It’s not supposed to be greeted with yawns.  This story would’ve been an amazing, a stunning thing to the people who first heard it or first read it.
            Put yourself in the place of someone who was living in the first century A. D.  The gospel of Matthew was written, as far as we can tell, sometime around 70 A. D., so say you came across it not too long after that.  Maybe you’d heard a little about this Jesus character, but after all, he’d died about forty years earlier.  
That might’ve been before you were born, or maybe you were just a little kid at the time.  For me, it’d be sort of like hearing about the Kennedy assassination.  I was four when that happened.  For some of you who are older, it might be like hearing about World War II or the depression.  For those of you who are younger, it might be like hearing about the Iran hostage crisis.  For those of you who’re still in school, it might be like hearing about 9-11.  The point is, it’d be like something you know is an important historical event, but it’s something that either happened when you were not born yet or when you were too young to understand what was going on, so you don’t really know much about it.
So you start reading about it, or--because the written word was not easy to come by and all they had was scrolls--you have someone read it to you.  You read about this guy who could do miracles.  He could change water to wine.  He could make food appear out of nowhere.  He could heal people.  He could drive out evil spirits.  He could even raise the dead.  In fact, even his birth was a miracle, born from a woman who was a virgin.  They call him the Son of God.  They call him the Savior.  They call him the King.
You read about how people flocked to him from all over.  You read about how he taught the people.  You read about how he wanted people to love God and to love each other.  You read about what an incredible, powerful, and yet humble and loving and caring person this guy, this Jesus, was.  He sounds wonderful.  He sounds perfect.  You start to wish you had been around when Jesus was walking the earth, so you could’ve experienced all this first-hand.
And then, you come to this part.  You read about how Jesus was arrested.  You hear about how he was put on trial.  You read about how all these people, the same people who had been so eager to see him, now all wanted him killed.  You read about how when they had the chance to choose between Jesus and another prisoner, they chose to have the other prisoner released and have Jesus killed.
Then you read about how Jesus was tortured.  You read about how he was humiliated.  You read about how he was the subject of insults, the worst insults anybody could think of.  And then you read about how he died.
It would’ve been shocking.  It would’ve been horrifying.  You would not really understand it.  Why would people do this?  How could they have let it happen?  I mean, maybe you can understand why the authorities did not like Jesus, but what’s up with the other people?  Why did they not stop it?  How could they all turn on Jesus so quickly?
And then you check, and you see you’re almost to the end of the scroll.  You figure, this must be about it.  This stunning, incredible, terrible plot twist has happened, and now, the story’s about over.
That’s what the disciples thought.  They were miserable.  They thought the story was over.  That’s what the Pharisees thought, too, although they were certainly not miserable.  They were pleased.  They thought they’d gotten rid of a nuisance, a troublemaker.  
Everyone involved in the story thought the story was over at that point.  They had no idea what was going to come next.  In fact, they had no idea that anything was going to come next.  They thought things would just get back to normal and life would go on.
You and I know better, because we know what’s coming next.  And in a way that’s good, but in a way it’s not.  Because we know that Jesus rose from the dead, it’s easy for us to not think too much about his death.  Because we know Easter Sunday came, it’s easy for us to not think too much about Good Friday.
And that’s too bad.  Because if we don’t feel the pain and misery and despair of Good Friday, we cannot really feel the incredible excitement and joy and happiness of Easter Sunday.
If we jump over Good Friday straight to Easter Sunday, Easter becomes just another day.  We may still like it.  We may decorate our house or hide some Easter eggs or buy some chocolate bunnies.  We may spend some time with our families.  We may even decide to get all dressed up and come to church.  We may have a wonderful day.  But that’s all we have.  All Easter is for us is a wonderful day.
It’s not that any of that stuff is bad.  It’s okay.  There’s nothing wrong with any of those things.  But when all Easter is for us is just another day, even if it’s a wonderful day, we miss out.  It’s not that we’re doing something wrong, exactly.  It’s that we’re cheating ourselves.  We deprive ourselves of the real meaning of Easter.  And so we deprive ourselves of feeling the excitement, and the joy, and the happiness, of Easter Sunday.
The only way Jesus could get to the resurrection was to die.  He could not take a short-cut.  He could not skip over part of it.  Jesus could not get to the joy of Easter Sunday without going through the pain of Good Friday.
That was true for the disciples, too.  The only way the disciples could get to “He is risen!” was to go through Jesus’ death.  They could not take a short-cut.  They could not skip over part of it.  The disciples, too, could not get to the joy of Easter Sunday without going through the pain of Good Friday.
And it’s true for us as well.  The only way we can get feel the joy and excitement of Easter Sunday is to go through the pain and misery of Good Friday.  We cannot take a short cut.  We cannot skip over part of it.  If we do, we won’t really understand what Jesus did for us.  And we’ll prevent ourselves from feeling the true joy, the unbelievable joy that comes from knowing that Jesus died for our sins, that Jesus rose, that Jesus lives even today, and that our salvation can come from our belief in Jesus as our Savior.
We’d like to skip over the story of Good Friday.  We’d like to skip over the story of Jesus’ death.  It’s unpleasant.  It’s sad.  It’s no fun.  It’s something we don’t like to read about, even two thousand years later.  But it’s something we need to read about.  And more important, it’s something we need to feel.
So this year, let’s not skip part of the story just because we know how it ends.  We’ll have a wonderful celebration on Easter Sunday.  But for tonight, let’s focus on Good Friday.  Let’s focus on what Jesus did for us.  And let’s be grateful that Jesus Christ did not skip over Good Friday.  Let’s be grateful that he endured it all, so that our sins could be forgiven.  

Friday, April 18, 2014

All Out Of Love

This is the Maundy Thursday message given in the Wheatland Parish April 17, 2014.  The Bible verses used are John 13:1-17, 31-36.

            As many of you know, the events we read about tonight are the events of the last night of Jesus’ life.  That’s why it’s called the Last Supper, obviously.  During this night, in the part we skipped over, Judas would go to the authorities and tell them where Jesus was going to be.  Jesus would go to the Garden of Gethsemane, knowing they were coming for him.  And Jesus would be arrested, tried, beaten, tortured, and killed.
            I asked you last Sunday to imagine you were Jesus on that first Palm Sunday.  I’d like you to do it again tonight.  Imagine you’re Jesus on the last night of your life on earth.  You know what’s going to happen.  You’re probably not looking forward to it, but you’ve accepted it and you’ve resolved to go through with it.  And you’re spending one last night with your disciples.  One last meal with all of them.  Including, of course, the one who’s going to betray you.
            How do you suppose you’d feel if you were Jesus?  What do you suppose you’d do?
            It’s hard to know.  Would you be scared?  I would be.  Even granting who Jesus was and granting that he knew he was going to conquer death itself, I’d still be scared.  This was going to be really hard.  This was going to be really painful.  No one would want to go through what Jesus knew he was going through.
            And then, too, Jesus was going to die.  I mean, yes, he rose again on Easter Sunday, but between Good Friday and Easter Sunday he was, we assume, dead.  We don’t know what happened to him during that time, but something must have.  Some versions of the Apostles’ Creed say that Jesus went to hell.  Some say he broke open the gates of hell and set free all the righteous who were there.  Whatever Jesus did, it probably was not easy.  After all, very few things about Jesus’ life and death were easy.  He may have been scared about that, too.
            But while we don’t know how Jesus felt on his last night, we know what he did.  And from his actions, it looks like Jesus was not all that concerned about himself.  Instead, his concern was all for his disciples.  Jesus used his last night on earth to teach the disciples one last time.  He knew this was his last chance to tell the disciples what his coming to earth had been all about, his last chance to tell them what they were supposed to do and how they were supposed to live until he came back again.
            The first thing Jesus did was wash the disciples’ feet.  But listen to the way this is written.  For some reason, as I was reading this over, these three verses really struck me.  It says:  “Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist.  After that he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.”
What struck me about that is not just the Jesus washed the disciples’ feet.  That’s important, and we’ll come to it in a minute.  But what really struck me about it, and I don’t think I’d ever thought about this before, is how John, in his gospel, goes out of his way to tell us that at this time, Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God.
            In other words, John wants us to know that Jesus knew exactly who he was and where he was going when he did this.  And then, after telling us that Jesus knew all this, John says, “so” he got up and washed the disciples’ feet.  In other words, it was precisely because Jesus knew who he was and where he was going that Jesus decided to wash their feet.
            Now remember what foot-washing was back then.  It was about the dirtiest job there was.  People did not have shoes and socks like we do.  They might have a pair of sandals, or they might not.  They were in the desert.  It was dirty.  It was dusty.  There was animal waste all over.  People did not necessarily trim their toenails.  Their feet would be calloused at best, misshapen at worst.  Washing someone’s feet was the worst job there was.  If you had servants, the lowest servant you had would be assigned the job of washing feet.
            So, here’s what we have.  We have Jesus, knowing full well who he was, knowing that he had power over everything on earth and that he would soon return to God the Father in heaven, voluntarily taking on the worst job there was at that time.
            Now, I would have to think that made an impression on the disciples.  And then, just to make sure they got the point--because after all, these were the disciples, and there were lots of times Jesus did things and they missed the point--Jesus says to them, look, I’ve set an example for you.  This is what you’re supposed to do for each other.  You are supposed to serve each other by doing the smallest, lowest, menial tasks there are.  After all, you call me Lord, so you know that you’re not better than I am.  If I’m willing to do this, you’d better be willing to do it, too.
            And then, a little while later, Jesus tells them why they’re supposed to do it.  He tells them, “A new command I give you:  Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
            That’s what this was all about.  That’s why Jesus washed the disciples’ feet.  It was all out of love.  
That’s why this day is called Maundy Thursday.  The word “Maundy” is a Latin word.  It has the same root as the word “mandate”.  It’s an order.  It’s a command.  On that first Maundy Thursday, somewhere around two thousand years ago, Jesus gave his disciples a new command.  Jesus spent his last night alive on this earth showing his disciples, and telling his disciples, that they were to love each other.  Everything they did was supposed to be out of love.  He said that’s how people would know that they were, in fact, his disciples, by the love they had for each other.
            That’s still how people are supposed to be able to tell who Jesus’ followers are.  Everything we do is supposed to be out of love, too.  We talked last night about how, if we call ourselves Christians, that means we’re supposed to do what Jesus did and go where Jesus went.  That means we need to be willing to do the smallest, the lowest, the most menial tasks there are.  And we’re not supposed to complain about it, either.  We’re supposed to do these things willingly, out of love for each other, just like Jesus did.
            That’s a tough standard, you know.  I don’t usually live up to it.  Maybe once in a while, but not very often.  Some of you probably do better than I do, but I suspect we all fall short of that standard.  In fact, I suspect there were times the disciples fell short of that standard, too.
            But we need to keep trying.  Even though we fail, we need to keep trying.  Because this was not a suggestion from Jesus.  This was not something Jesus thought might be a good idea.  Jesus said this is a command.  Jesus said that showing love for each other is the most important thing we can do.  He said that’s how people will be able to tell that we really are his followers.  Earlier in his ministry, Jesus had said that the two most important commandments are that we love God and that we love each other, and he said those two things are alike.  If we truly love God, if we really understand what loving God means, we will love each other.
            The fact that we are here tonight shows that we have a desire to do this.  Otherwise, we’d have all stayed home.  But we need to have this desire not just tonight.  We need to have this desire tomorrow, and the day after that, and the day after that.  And when we fail, we need to ask for God’s forgiveness and come back with an even stronger desire to get it right the next time.  If we want to truly be Jesus’ followers, and if we want people to know we’re Jesus’ followers, everything we do needs to be done out of love.
            In a little while, we will share in Holy Communion.  Communion is known as one of God’s means of grace.  It’s a way that God puts the Holy Spirit, God’s Spirit, into our hearts.  As we share in Holy Communion tonight, let’s really think about our love for God and about our love for others.  Let’s open our hearts, so that God’s Spirit can come in.  And then let’s have a new determination to have our every thought and action be out of love.  And then, everyone will know that we are, in fact, followers of Jesus Christ.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Following Jesus

This is the message given at the Wednesday Lent service in Gettysburg on April 16, 2014.  The Bible verses used are Mark 15:16-32.

            As we read those Bible verses tonight, some of you may have wondered why we’re going to Jesus on the cross already.  Aren’t we jumping the gun a little?  That’s more the topic for Good Friday.  We first have to go through the Last Supper and Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane and Jesus being arrested and put on trial and all that.
            Well, we will talk about Jesus on the cross on Good Friday, and we will talk about at least some of those other things in the services to come, too.  But as we complete our sermon series, “Jesus in HD”, looking at fully human and fully divine Jesus, we’re going to look at the reality of Jesus, the fully divine Son of God, being nailed to a cross to die.
            Think of the things that were done to Jesus.  He had already been beaten once, the day before.  Now, they place a crown of thorns on his head.  Do you ever think about how much that would hurt?  I mean, you know how sharp thorns can be.  Think about having a whole bunch of them put on your head.  And I doubt they were gently placed on Jesus’ head, either.  They were probably smacked down on Jesus’ head and pressed in to cause as much pain as possible.  And then, of course, they beat him some more.
            And all the time they’re doing this, they’re mocking Jesus, making fun of him in every way possible.  They put a robe on him that was purple, the color reserved for royalty.  They pretended to worship him.  Then they spat on him.
            I mean, think of it.  You would not treat a dog this way.  In fact, forget a dog, you would not even treat a rat this way.  Even if you wanted to kill a rat, you would not torture it first.  They did not just want to kill Jesus.  They wanted to make him suffer.  They wanted to make him suffer physically, they wanted to make him suffer emotionally, they wanted to make him suffer psychologically, they wanted to make Jesus suffer in every possible way.
            It even continued on the cross.  People walked by and insulted Jesus.  They said, “He saved others, but he can’t save himself.”  They said, “So!  You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, come down from the cross!”
            And of course, the irony of the thing, the thing that probably made this even harder for Jesus to take, is that he could’ve done exactly what these people were telling him to do.  He could’ve come down from the cross.  He could’ve saved himself.  After all, he was the fully divine Son of God.  Jesus did not have to allow these people to do this to him.  He could’ve put a stop to it at any point.
            There are lots of amazing things about the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection, but this one has to be right up near the top.  That Jesus endured all this suffering when he did not have to.  That Jesus allowed all these things to be done to him, refusing to use the power he had to stop it.
            Have you ever thought about what would’ve happened if Jesus had not resisted using his power?  Suppose, when Jesus was on the cross, he finally decided he’d had enough of this.  Suppose he’d said, “I’ll show you!  I’ll show you all!”  And suppose he’d have come down from the cross and stood among them, all healed, with not even the slightest bruise or scar.
            What would’ve happened, of course, is that Satan would’ve won.  Because that was exactly the sort of thing Satan had tempted Jesus to do in the desert.  If Jesus had come down from the cross, he would’ve turned his back on God the Father.  He would’ve gone away from God’s plan for salvation.  He would’ve substituted some different plan, a plan that would not have been created by the completely holy God.  And that plan would not have worked.  We would not be saved from the consequences of our sins.
            Somehow, Jesus found the strength to resist.  Somehow, Jesus found the courage to go through with it.  Somehow, Jesus managed to follow the plan and the path that God the Father had laid out for him.
            As Christians, we talk all the time about how we’re followers of Jesus.  That’s pretty much the definition of a Christian, after all.  And yet, somehow, we sometimes have the idea that if we’re followers of Jesus, that’s supposed to make everything go well for us on earth.  We feel like, if we’re followers of Jesus, we’re supposed to live long and happy lives, we’re supposed to have good relationships, we’re supposed to have success in our careers, and we’re supposed to have a decent amount of material goods.  And any time we don’t get that, and more besides, we think, “Hey.  What’s going on here?  I’m following Jesus.  Why am I not being rewarded for that?”
            But none of that stuff is what following Jesus means.  If Jesus had any material goods, we’re not told about them in the Bible.  His career, while he was on earth, was not all that successful.  Some people followed him, some did not, and pretty much all of them abandoned him at the end.  We could say the same of his relationships with people.  He had some people who cared about him, but he had a lot of people who hated him.  In fact, one of this own inner circle turned on him and brought him down.  We don’t know how happy Jesus may have been while he was on earth, but his life was certainly not a long one.  While we don’t know for sure, tradition says he died at age thirty-three.  Even if that’s not exact, we know it’s pretty close.
            Now, I’m not saying that following Jesus means that we cannot have material goods, or that it means we cannot have successful careers, or that we cannot have good relationships.  Following Jesus does not mean we cannot live a long and happy life.  What I’m saying is that none of that stuff is guaranteed to us just because we follow Jesus.  We may get that stuff on earth, or we may not.  We may get it at some points of our lives and not at others.  God may choose to give us some or all of that, or God may not.  But none of it is what following Jesus means.
            Following Jesus means being willing to do what Jesus did.  Jesus went out to all the people who needed help, who needed hope, who needed healing, who needed love.  Jesus gave them that help.  Jesus gave them that hope.  Jesus gave them that healing.  Jesus gave them that love.  And if we claim to be followers of Jesus, that’s what we need to do, too.  We need to give people help, and hope, and healing, and love, in whatever ways we can.
            And following Jesus means being willing to go where Jesus went.  Jesus went to the cross.  Jesus allowed all these things to happen to him, even though he could’ve stopped it.  Jesus allowed himself to be treated worse than a rat, allowed himself to be tortured and made fun of and beaten and killed, because that was what was necessary for God’s plan to work.
            God will probably not ask most of us what God asked of Jesus.  Maybe God will not ask that of any of us.  God might, though.  There are people being killed for their Christian faith all around the world.  
But even if we are not asked to give our lives, God will ask us to do things that are not easy.  God will ask us to stand up for our faith even when it’s not easy.  God will, sometimes, ask us to be willing to risk people making fun of us for our faith.  God will, sometimes, ask us to be willing to risk our jobs because of our faith.  God will, sometimes, ask us to risk losing friends because of our faith.  There are all kinds of things we may be asked to do if we truly follow Jesus.
And we need to be willing to do them.  We need to be willing to do all of them.  While God will probably not ask of us what God asked of Jesus, God could do that.  If we truly want to be followers of Jesus, we need to be willing follow Jesus all the way.  Even if that way leads to a cross.
That’s easy for me to stand up here and say.  Could I do it?  I don’t know.  I don’t think it’s possible for anyone to know, unless and until we’re placed in that situation.  I’m not sure that Jesus himself knew whether he could do it until the time came.  After all, that’s part of what that prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane was about.
Jesus resisted the temptation to use his divine power.  Jesus was willing to do what he did not have to do.  Jesus followed the plan of God the Father.  Jesus followed that plan all the way to the cross.  
If we are truly followers of Jesus, we need to be willing to follow Jesus to the cross.  As we enter the final days of Lent, let’s think about that.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Of Life, Death, and Cadbury Creme Eggs

This post is an annual Lenten tradition dating back all the way to 2012.

            I saw an article the other day that had good news.  Cadbury crème egg season will be here soon!  Of course, this is a season that is also known as “Easter”.  I realize that, as a Christian pastor, I should value Easter for the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and all that signifies, and I do, but I also value it for Cadbury crème eggs.  They are close to being nature’s perfect food, just above Double Stuf Oreos and just behind mom’s chocolate chip cookies (hi, mom!).

            I saw another article the other day, too.  This one was about health.  Here’s a question for you.  Do you know what the number one risk factor associated with cancer and heart disease is?

            Unless you saw the story, I’ll bet you got it wrong.  It’s not weight or diet or lack of exercise or stress or any of the things we normally think about.  It’s age.  That’s right, age.  The older we are, the more likely we are to get cancer or heart disease.  In other words, the number one risk factor associated with these diseases is one that we can do absolutely nothing about.

            Last time, I wrote about our need to take care of ourselves.  I still believe that, of course.  We should do all we can to stay healthy for as long as we can, so that we can better serve God.  Still, this article was a reminder that no matter what we do, none of us is going to live forever.  No matter how much we eat right and exercise and get our rest and do all the things we’re supposed to do, at some point we’re all going to get old, and at some point we’re all going to die.

            Which brings me back to Cadbury crème eggs.  Each one has six grams of fat and twenty-one grams of sugar.  Each has 24 grams of carbohydrate and 150 calories. There’s a reason these things are not sold in the health food section of the store.  No one would reasonably make the argument that Cadbury crème eggs are good for you.

            But you know what?  We can deny ourselves all the pleasures of life, we can eat nothing but oats and nuts and berries, and we’re still going to die sometime.  I’m not suggesting that we make Cadbury crème eggs the chief staple of our diet.  On the other hand, eating one once in a while is not going to particularly hurt us, either.

            We should do all we reasonably can to stay healthy.  On the other hand, life is not meant to just be endured.  It’s also supposed to be enjoyed.  So use your head, get your rest, and keep yourself in shape.  But eat a Cadbury crème egg once in a while, too.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Choices We Make

This article appeared in the April, 2014 edition of the Wheatland Parish newsletter.

            As many of you know, the Gettysburg High School prom has been scheduled for April 19.  This is, of course, the night before Easter Sunday, April 20.

            The purpose of this article is not to criticize the superintendent, the school board, or anyone else who was involved in this scheduling decision.  I would have preferred, of course, that the prom have been scheduled for a different day.  However, I’ve scheduled enough events in my life to know that doing so is always a difficult thing.  I know that the school only has so many weekends available.  I also know that whenever you schedule an event, there will inevitably be a conflict with something.  It’s impossible to please everyone, no matter what you do.

            The people I’d like to address with this article are the high school students in the Gettysburg church.  Now, I’m smart enough to know that church newsletters are not exactly popular reading material among high school students.  So, I ask the parents of those high school students to point this article out to them and ask them to read it.

            As many of you know, Easter Sunday is generally considered, along with Christmas, to be one of the two most important days of the Christian year.  At Christmas we celebrate the birth of the Savior into this world.  At Easter we celebrate the resurrection of the Savior, who died to take away our sins and rose again to give us the promise of our ultimate eternal life in heaven.  These two events are at the heart of our Christian faith.

            When you’re in high school, though, the high school prom is extremely important, too.  I understand that.  I’m fifty-five, but I’m not so old that I’ve forgotten how important the high school prom is at your age.  I want you to be able to go to the prom.  I want you to have a wonderful time at the prom.  A high school prom can be something you remember the rest of your life.

            Is it possible for you to both have a great time at the high school prom and be in church on Easter Sunday?  Of course it is, if you choose to do that.  It’s even possible for you to have a great time at the post-prom party and still come to church on Easter Sunday.  And, of course, it’s not just important that you physically be in church.  It’s important that you actually come to worship God, which is what we’re all supposed to do every Sunday in church.  You can do that, if you choose to do so.

            So, it comes down to a choice.  That’s what life is all about really:  choices.  That’s what our Christian faith is all about, too. 

           The choices we make reveal, both to others and to ourselves, who we are and what we value.  Most of the time, it’s really not a question of knowing the right thing to do.  It can be, but most of the time, we know what the right thing to do is.  We just don’t want to do it.  And so, we make excuses for ourselves.  We find ways to justify our behavior.  We know better, but we find ways to convince ourselves that it’s okay to do things we know we should not do and that it’s okay not to do things we know we should do.

           That’s the case here.  You don’t need me to tell you that you should come to church and worship God on Easter Sunday.  You already know that.  The question is, will you do it?  Or will you make an excuse not to?  Will you do what you know you should do, or will you come up with a way to justify not doing it?

           It’s your choice.  The choice you make will reveal, to others but most of all to yourself, who you are and what you value.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Finding a Way to Forgive

This is the message given in the Wheatland Parish on Sunday, April 13, 2014.  The Bible verses used are Matthew 18:21-35 and Matthew 21:1-11.

            Let’s review where we are so far in our sermon series, “Pray This Way”, looking at the Lord’s Prayer.  We started with “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.”  We talked about how important it is for us to acknowledge the holiness of God.  We then went to, “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.”  We talked about how important it is for us to do whatever we can to make earth more like God’s kingdom and to do God’s will on earth.  In our most recent message, we covered, “Give us this day our daily bread.”  We talked about how important it is in all aspects of our lives to trust that God will give us enough for today--enough food, enough time, enough energy, enough inspiration, enough love--and that God will give us enough for tomorrow when tomorrow gets here.
            So now, we come to the next sentence.  “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
            Let’s get one thing out of the way early.  Some traditions, as we do, say “trespasses”.  Others say “debts”.  Others says “sins”.  It really does not matter.  We say “trespasses” because trespasses is an old English word, used in the King James Bible, and United Methodism started in England.  But I think we all know that when we pray the Lord’s Prayer we’re not asking God to forgive us for going on someone’s property without permission.  It’s not that kind of trespasses.  And I also think we know we’re not asking God to forgive us for owing money.  It’s not that kind of debts.  We’re asking God to forgive our sins.
            But asking God to forgive our sins is the easy part of this sentence.  That’s not to say it’s always easy.  Sometimes we don’t really feel like talking to God about our sins.  Sometimes we don’t even feel like admitting them even to ourselves.  Sometimes we want to pretend that our sins are not really sins, that we really did not do anything wrong.  Sometimes we’ll go to great lengths to justify our actions, or our inactions, and try to convince ourselves that everything we do or don’t do is okay.  And believe me, I’m as guilty of that as anyone.
            But even so, we know we’re sinners.  No matter how much we may try to push that thought away, we still know.  And we know we need to go to God and ask for forgiveness.  It’s not always easy to do, but we know we need to do it, and I think most of us probably do it.
            But there’s that second part of the sentence.  This is the part we tend to gloss over.  This is the part we tend to hurry right on past.  We ask God to forgive us as we forgive those who sin against us.
            That’s the tricky bit.  That’s the part we don’t like to have to deal with very much.  It’s one thing to ask God to forgive us.  It’s another thing entirely for us to forgive other people.
            But the thing is, the way Jesus puts it, the one is dependent on the other.  The extent to which we are forgiven depends on the extent to which we forgive.  In Matthew, right after teaching the disciples the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus emphasizes the point.  He says, “For if you forgive others when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive you.”
            That’s the point of what we read from Matthew 18 today, too.  Jesus tells the story of a servant who owed his master a bunch of money and was forgiven for it.  That same servant then went out, found someone who owed him a piddly amount and refused to forgive.  When the master found out about it, he revoked the forgiveness he had given the servant.  Jesus said that’s how it’s going to work for us, too.  He said if we don’t forgive others, we are not going to be forgiven.
            But then, Jesus said one more thing.  He said that the forgiveness you and I give someone must come “from your heart”.  In other words, it’s not enough for us to just say we forgive someone.  We need to feel it.  Our forgiveness needs to be completely and totally heart-felt if it’s going to count.
            And that’s really hard.  Because sometimes we’re not ready to forgive someone.  And sometimes we just plain don’t feel like it.  We feel like someone does not deserve our forgiveness.  We feel like they have not asked for forgiveness and probably could not care less whether we forgive them or not.  And sometimes, what someone did to us really hurt.  It was more than just the ordinary mistake or doing something wrong, it was a betrayal.  And when we feel someone has betrayed us, when we put our trust in someone and they let us down and hurt us, it’s really hard for us to forgive them.
            And that brings us, at last to Palm Sunday.  Imagine you’re Jesus on that first Palm Sunday.  You’re riding into Jerusalem on a donkey.  The disciples are walking next to you.  A crowd forms along the side of the road.  Pretty soon, there are people everywhere.  They’re shouting and cheering.  They’re waving palm branches.  They lay their coats down in front of you.  They lay the branches down in front of you, too, sort of like forming a red carpet for you.
            If you’re Jesus, how do you feel about this?  For some of us, it might be the crowning moment of our lives, making this triumphant, heroic entrance.  But for Jesus, there’s really no way it could have been.  Because Jesus knew what was coming next.
Jesus knew all this cheering, all this shouting, this whole red carpet treatment, was meaningless.  He knew none of these people even knew what they were cheering for.  They wanted someone who would come in and kick out the Romans and establish a new, self-ruled Jewish kingdom.  That’s what the palm branches were all about.  They were a symbol of Jewish nationalism.  
Jesus knew that in just a few days, he was going to be arrested, and beaten, and tortured, and killed.  And he knew that when that happened, not one of these people who were now cheering him on would do the slightest thing to help him.  Not one of them would lift a finger.  In fact, some of the people who were now cheering him on would soon be cheering on the authorities who wanted to kill him.
Can you imagine what that would feel like?  To see all this and know it was all meaningless?  To see all this and know all these people who are so enthusiastically cheering you on would turn on you less than a week later?  
In our Wednesday Lent services, we’ve been talking about how Jesus was both fully human and fully divine.  Because he was fully human, it seems like there must have been a part of Jesus that wanted to strike back at these people somehow.  He must’ve been tempted to bring down lightning bolts from heaven on them.  At the least, he must’ve wanted to tell them off, tell them what hypocrites they were.
So, if you’re struggling with forgiving someone, whether it’s for something that happened recently or something that happened a long time ago, know that Jesus understands what you’re going through.  Jesus knows what it’s like.  Jesus knows it’s hard.  Jesus has been there.
            But Jesus found a way to forgive.  And that's what we need to do, too.  No matter how hard it is to forgive, no matter how much we may not even want to forgive, we still need to try to find a way to do it.  The extent to which we are forgiven depends on the extent to which we’re willing to forgive.  That’s the rule.
            But as I was thinking about this, I remembered something we’ve said in other contexts about God’s rules.  We’ve said that God does not give us rules so that God can send us to hell if we break them.  God gives us rules because God knows we’ll be happier, we’ll do better, we’ll live better lives, if we just do things the way God tells us to.  And that includes forgiveness.  Jesus did not tell us this so that God would have an excuse to send us to hell if we don’t forgive people.  Jesus told us this because God knows that you and I need to offer people forgiveness.
            Sometimes in life, people do really hurt us.  And when they do, it is really hard to forgive.  And as I said, Jesus understands that.  But when we don’t forgive, we never get past the hurt.  The hurt stays in our hearts.  We re-live it, over and over again.  That hurt takes away our happiness.  It takes away our joy in living.  It takes away from our self-confidence.  That hurt even gets in the way of our ability to serve God.  The only way we can ever get rid of that hurt, the only way we can ever truly heal, is to find a way to forgive.
            It’s not easy.  I don’t have a magic formula to tell you how to do it.  I do think it involves prayer.  I think it involves asking God to help us be able to forgive.  I think it involves asking God to help us let go of the past and move forward in our lives.
            Again, that’s not a magic formula.  It’s not like saying one quick prayer is going to enable us to forgive.  It takes time.  It takes effort.  But I do believe that if we keep trying, and keep praying, eventually God will answer our prayer and will help us forgive.
            So the next time you say the Lord’s Prayer, think about those words.  “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  Take a moment and ask God to help you forgive anyone you need to forgive, whether you want to or not.  When we pray this way, God will answer our prayer and get rid of our hurt.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

You Say Good-bye, I Say Hello

This is the message from the Wednesday Lent Service in Gettysburg on April 9, 2014.  The Bible verses used are John 14:1-31 and John 16:16-33.

            What we just read could really be considered part of Jesus’ farewell address to his disciples.  The disciples had been with him for what we estimate as about three years, although the gospels really don’t make that clear.  And now it’s time for him to leave them.
            The disciples did not really understand that, of course.  As we’ve talked before, that’s one of the constants running through the gospels, the way the disciples did not understand what was going on.  But this sermon series is called “Jesus in HD”.  It’s not about the disciples, it’s about Jesus, both the fully human Jesus and the fully divine Jesus.
            We talked a few weeks ago about how lonely Jesus must have felt when he was on the earth, how there was no one who really was like him or who really understood what it was like to be him.  But still, the disciples were his friends, the people he was closest to on earth.  And now, he was preparing to leave them.
            We assume that the fully divine Jesus knew what was going to happen to him, and would’ve known that even though it was going to be hard, he would ultimately prevail, even over death, and that he would go back to heaven and be with God the Father.  That would’ve been a wonderful thought for him.  But still, he was leaving the people he cared about the most on earth.  And leaving people you care about, even when you know you’re going to something better, is still a hard thing to do.
            I find it interesting, though, that the gospels say nothing about how Jesus felt about that.  Jesus’ concern is for his disciples, not for himself.  In all the things we read tonight, and in the parts we did not read, and in the other gospels that describe this as well, all of Jesus words are aimed at preparing the disciples for what’s going to happen.  He’s trying to get the disciples ready.  He’s telling them that things are going to be all right.
            The one time we get a little insight into how Jesus felt is when Jesus prays in the Garden of Gethsemane.  We did not read that tonight.  We’ll get to it next week during Holy Week.  But we know that Jesus asked God that, if there was some other way things could play out, some other way humans could be saved that did not involve Jesus having to die, that God do it that way.  A lot of times we assume that Jesus did not want to go through the pain and suffering and death that were coming up for him, and I’m sure that’s part of it.  I mean, who would not feel that way?  But I wonder if, maybe, a part of that was also the fact that he did not want to be separated from his friends.  
I don’t know, but it seems possible.  It seems like a natural human reaction.  I remember Wanda’s grandmother, when she was near death, saying that she was not afraid of dying, but that she felt bad because she knew how much her family did not want her to go.  Maybe that’s part of what was going on here, too.  Maybe it was not so much that Jesus was afraid of dying, but that he did not want his disciples to go through all the grief of missing him.
Now, obviously, it’s not like Jesus just suddenly found out that he was going to die.  He knew it for a long time.  He told the disciples about it several times.  Jesus knew what was going to happen.  But no matter how much we try to prepare ourselves, it’s still very hard to say goodbye.
And yet we do it all through our lives.  People come into our lives, they stay for a while, and then they leave.  Not all of them, of course.  But a lot of them.  Of course, with the life I’ve led, living in a half-dozen different places, I may be more aware of it than some.  But still, think about it.  
How many people are there that you went to school with that you never hear from any more?  Even those of you who are still in school, I’ll bet there are people who you went to school with as little kids who are not part of your life any more.  And those who are older, think about people you used to work with are no longer in your life.  Think of family members who are no longer in your life.  There’s an old song that says, “The first time that we said hello began our last good-bye”, and it’s true.  Whether we think about it or not, somewhere in the back of our minds we know, when we meet someone, that at some point we’re going to say good-bye.  And good-byes are hard.
But you know, we could also turn that old song around.  We could also say, “The last time that we say good-bye begins our first hello.”  Because good-byes are what make hellos possible.  Letting go of one thing makes it possible for us to take hold of something else.  Moving away from one thing makes us possible for us to move toward another.  If we never said good-bye, nothing would ever change.  And if nothing ever changed, nothing could ever get better.
And that’s even true of life itself.  Just like Jesus, we, we know that at some point, we’re going to die, too.  We don’t just suddenly find that out at the end of our lives.  We may try to deny it for much of our lives, but we still know.  The time will come that we have to say good-bye, not just to a person, but to our lives on earth.
Ideally, we’ll be able to do it the way Jesus did.  We’ll be able to do it, not being sad for ourselves, but instead thinking about others, trying to prepare them for what’s going to happen.  We may not be able to do that, and I’m not saying it’s a sin if we don’t.  I cannot claim to know what it’s like to be in that position, so I certainly am not in a position to judge anyone else.
But regardless of whether we’re able to do it the way Jesus did, we have the ability to go where Jesus went.  What happened to Jesus can happen to us.  Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, because of God’s great love for us and mercy on us, and because of our faith in Jesus Christ as our Savior, we, too, will ultimately prevail, even over death.  We, too, will go to heaven to be with God the Father.  
A good-bye is always sad.  Again, even when we know we’re moving on to something better, it’s still sad.  And Jesus knew that.  When he was talking to the disciples, he told them that they were going to be sad when he was gone.  He told them it was okay for them to be sad.  But he also told them that, eventually, their grief would turn to joy.  Because they would understand what Jesus was telling them.  They would understand that Jesus had died and conquered death and gone to heaven, all to prepare the way for us to go to heaven.  And they would understand that Jesus was coming back to take them along that same way to that same place.  In other words, it was okay for them to feel sad at saying good-bye, because their good-bye would not be permanent.
But he also told the disciples something else.  He told them that after they had said good-bye, they needed to say hello.  He told them to say hello to all the people who had not heard of him.  He told them to say hello to all the people who don’t know God.  He told them to say hello to all the people who need to know they are loved, who need to know their sins can be forgiven, who need to know that they don’t have to be alone, that they have a God who wants to be with them and help them and guide them through their lives.  He told them to say hello to all the people who need to know that salvation is available to them through God’s incredible love and mercy if they just come to accept Jesus Christ as their Savior.
And that’s what Jesus tells us to do, too.  We need to say hello to those same people.  The people who don’t know Jesus.  The people who are feeling alone and unloved.  The people who feel God’s presence in their lives, who don’t feel God helping them and guiding them through live.  The people who don’t know that salvation is available to them through faith in Jesus Christ.  Jesus is telling us to say hello to those people, just like he told the disciples to do.

            Good-byes are a part of life, and we have to accept them.  But let’s do what Jesus did.  Let’s not dwell on good-byes.  Instead, let’s say hello.  Let’s say hello to all those people Jesus told us about.  And then, someday, we’ll be able to say hello to our Lord and Savior in heaven.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Living on Purpose

This is the message from the Wednesday Lent service in Gettysburg on April 2, 2014.  The Bible verses used are Matthew 4:1-11 and Luke 22:39-46.

            One of the things all of us have to deal with is temptation.  We are constantly tempted to do things we know we should not do, and we’re constantly tempted to avoid doing things we know we should do.  
We can be really good at making excuses for ourselves and justifying the times we give in to temptation, too.  We can convince ourselves that bad is good and wrong is right.  We don’t admit to ourselves that we’re doing that, of course, but we do it all the time.  So, as we continue our sermon series “Jesus in HD”, looking at both the fully human and fully divine Jesus, let’s look at how Jesus dealt with temptation.
Our first reading, from the fourth chapter of Luke, tells us about the devil tempting Jesus with three things.  The first was food.  He tells Jesus, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”
There are at least two ways that had to be really tempting for Jesus.  The first one, the one that seems the most obvious one, is that Jesus was really hungry.  He’d been fasting for forty days.  Some bread would’ve tasted pretty good to him.  In fact, even a piece of moldy, stale, rotten bread would probably taste pretty good after you’d had nothing to eat for forty days.  So, when the devil said, “tell this stone to become bread”, there was probably a part of Jesus that thought, “Hey, that’s a good idea”.
Now, of course, he was fasting.  He had decided he was not going to eat anything for this period.  But, on the other hand, Jesus was out in the middle of the wilderness.  There was no one around to check on him.  He could have a little snack out there and no one would ever know.  It had to be pretty tempting.
And then, too, there’s the way the devil asked the question.  “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread”.  A part of Jesus was probably thinking “what do you mean, if I’m the Son of God.  I am the Son of God.  I’ll show you who’s the Son of God.”  The human Jesus was tempted because he was hungry.  The divine Jesus was tempted to prove that he really was who he said he was.
But he resisted the temptation.  How?  He quoted the Bible.  He said, “It is written, people do not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”
Jesus resisted the temptation because he knew who he was and what he was about.  He knew what he was doing and why.  He was not out there in the wilderness by chance or by accident.  He was out there because God the Father wanted him to be.  He was out there preparing for his ministry.  He knew that, while of course he needed to eat, there was something more important he needed to do.  He needed to get himself mentally and spiritually prepared for all the things that were going to happen to him in his ministry, so he could handle all those things and continue to serve God.
Then the devil takes Jesus to the highest point on the temple, which was the highest point in all Jerusalem.  He tells Jesus “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down.”  The angels will protect you.
That had to be tempting, too.  I mean, that’d be awesome, right?  Jump off a tall building, and not only survive but make a really graceful landing.  Sort of like an Olympic gymnast, except that you’d start from way up in the air and then just sort of stick the landing perfectly.  How cool would that be?
And how much easier would it’d have been for Jesus to attract followers after that?  Think of it.  This guy jumps off the temple and not only survives it but makes it look easier than jumping off a step-stool.  That’d attract attention.  The story’d spread.  Pretty soon, everybody’d have heard about it.  Jesus could’ve saved himself a lot of time and trouble that way.  When people saw him jump off the temple and land like that, they’d have known that only the Son of God could do that.  Everybody would’ve believed in Jesus if he’d done that.  The human Jesus was tempted because it would be amazing.  The divine Jesus was tempted because it would show everyone that he really was the Son of God.
But Jesus resisted the temptation.  How?  Again, he quoted the Bible.  He said, “It is also written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
Again, Jesus resisted temptation because he knew who he was and what he was about.  Jesus knew he had not come to earth to put on a show.  When you look at the miracles Jesus did, they were all to help other people--healing people, feeding people, and so on.  He never did a miracle for his own benefit.  In fact, he often told people not to tell anyone that he’d healed them.
Jesus knew he was not here to glorify himself.  He was here to glorify God.  He could get followers by putting on a show, but that’s what they’d be there for--to see the show.  
Jesus would not have been acting as the Son of God.  He’d have been like a popular entertainer.  People might come to see him, but only because he was famous.  And after a little while, they get bored.  They’d want to see a bigger show.  They’d want Jesus to top himself.  “Okay, Jesus, we saw you glide down from the temple.  What’s your next trick?”  And if Jesus didn’t perform one, they’d move on.  Jesus would’ve been a one-hit wonder, someone who was hot for a little while, and then vanished again.
            The devil was not done with Jesus.  He took Jesus to a high mountain.  He showed him all the kingdoms of the world.  And he said, “All this I will give you if you will bow down and worship me.”
            That had to be pretty tempting, too.  The chance to become the ruler of the earth.  If you’re Jesus, think of all the good you could do as the ruler of earth.  Think of all the people you could help.  You could do away with all injustice.  You could do away with all slavery and oppression.  You could do away with all poverty and inequality.  If you were Jesus, and you were the ruler of the earth, you could actually bring about God’s kingdom on the earth, exactly what we pray for in the Lord’s Prayer.  The human Jesus had to be tempted by the power.  The divine Jesus had to be tempted because he could use that power for good.
            But Jesus resisted the temptation.  How?  Once again, Jesus quoted scripture.  He said, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’”
            Again, Jesus resisted the temptation because he knew who he was and what he was about.  Jesus knew he came from God the Father, and that God the Father has more power than the devil will ever have.  Jesus knew God the Father could’ve given him all the power the devil offered and more, if that had been the plan.  But that was not the plan.  And Jesus knew he’d fail if he followed any plan other than the plan of God the Father.
            But the devil did not give up.  He just waited, biding his time.  And that brings us to Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane.
            We’re not told that the devil was involved here, but I have to think the devil probably was.  After all, this would’ve been one of Jesus’ most vulnerable points.  Knowing he was about to be arrested.  Knowing he was about to be tortured and ultimately killed.  And knowing, too, that he did not have to go through it.  Knowing that he had all kinds of choices.  He could run.  He could fight.  He could use his divine power.  He could do almost anything he wanted to avoid what was going to happen.  The human Jesus was tempted because he did not want to suffer and die.  The divine Jesus was tempted because he knew how easy it would be to avoid all that.
            But again, Jesus resisted the temptation because he knew what he was about.  Jesus knew he had been sent to earth to do those things that were coming up for him.  He knew he was sent here to suffer and die so that the sins of human beings would be forgiven.  Yes, Jesus could’ve made other choices, but if Jesus had made any of those other choices, he would not have been able to do what he came to earth to do.
            Jesus resisted temptation because he knew who he was and what he was about.  How about you?  And how about me?  Do you and I know who we are?  Do we know what what we’re about?
            You and I are not here by chance or by accident, either, any more than Jesus was.  You and I are not here to do things for our own benefit, either, any more than Jesus was.  And God the Father has a plan for our lives, for your life and for my life, just as God the Father had a plan for Jesus’ life.  And you and I will fail if we follow any plan other than the plan of God the Father.  You and I have the ability to make other choices, just as Jesus had the ability to make other choices.  But if we make other choices, we will not do what we were put on this earth to do.
            Temptation is a hard thing to resist.  The things we’re tempted to do are things we really want to do--otherwise, they would not be tempting to us.  And the things we’re tempted not to do are things we really don’t want to do--again, if that was not true, it would not be tempting for us to not do them.
            But you and I know we are here to worship God.  You and I know we are here to serve God and to love God.  And you and I know that the best way we can serve God and to love God is to love and serve the other people God created.  You and I know that we are here to share God’s word and show God’s love.  And we know that any time we’re tempted to do or not do something that goes against that, we’re being tempted to go against the things God put us on earth to do.
            Jesus resisted temptation because he knew who he was and what he was about.  You and I know who we are and what we’re about, too.  And if we remember that, we’ll be able to resist temptation, too.