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Sunday, March 29, 2015

Waiting on the World to Change

This is the message given in the United Methodist churches of the Wheatland Parish on Sunday, March 29, 2015.  The Bible verses used are 2 Peter 3:3-18.

            This is, of course, Palm Sunday.  We read the story of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, being hailed as a king.  But of course, just a few days later, that same crowd would turn on Jesus.  Incited by the Pharisees and the other Jewish authorities, they would demand that Jesus be crucified.  And of course, he was.
            But he promised that he would come again, and that’s what we’ve been talking about in our sermon series, “The End of Time”.  We’ve looked at some of the prophecies that say there are lots of bad things that are going to happen before the end comes.  Last week, we looked at what happens after those bad things.  We looked at how God wins, and how if we stay faithful to God, we win, too, and God will dwell among God’s people forever.
            So you may be wondering, what’s left?  If we know what happens before the end, and we know what happens after the end, what do we have left to talk about?
Well, what we have to talk about is the waiting period.  Because we know the end will come sometime, but we don’t know when.  As I said at the beginning of this sermon series, the end may come thousands of years from now, maybe even tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of years from now.  Or, the end may come before we finish the service today.  We have no way to know.  In fact, Jesus said that while he was on the earth, even he did not know.
            It’s already been two thousand years.  And some people wonder why Jesus has not come yet.  There are, after all, passages in the Bible that seem to indicate that Jesus was supposed to have come long before now.  In fact, that’s what the early church thought.  The reason the gospels were not written until twenty or thirty years after the fact is that the early church thought Jesus could be coming back any time.  There was no time to write things down, especially as hard and time-consuming as the writing process was back then.  They were spreading the word by talking to people, and they were doing it as fast as they could.  It was only after twenty or thirty years had passed, and Jesus had not come back, that people who’d been with Jesus and had known him started to think, hey, you know, we might not still be around when Jesus comes back.  We’d better write some of this stuff down, so people will know about it after we’re gone.
            And, in fact, some people mock Christianity over that very thing.  You’ll hear people say, “I thought the Bible said Jesus was coming back soon.  It’s been two thousand years.  Where is he, then?  What’s keeping him?”
            That’s not a surprise.  That’s exactly what Peter predicted.  Listen again to what he wrote: 
“Scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires.  They will say, ‘Where is this “coming” he promised?  Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.’”
            It’s natural.  And sometimes even we wonder about it.  After all, it has been two thousand years.  And everything does seem to be going on as it has since the beginning of creation.  The sun rises and the sun sets.  The moon goes through its phases.  The plants sprout in the spring and die in the fall.  People are born, people have children, and people die.  We get up every day, and everything looks the same as it did yesterday.  There’s no obvious reason to think Jesus is going to come any time soon, if ever.  So why should we believe it?
            Well, remember a couple of things.  First, when Jesus comes again, it’s going to be quickly.  Remember, when we looked at what Jesus himself had to say about the second coming, he said this: 
When the Son of Man comes, it will be the same as what happened during Noah’s time. In those days before the flood, people were eating and drinking. They were marrying and giving their children to be married. They were still doing those things until the day Noah entered the boat. They knew nothing about what was happening. But then the flood came, and all those people were destroyed. It will be the same when the Son of Man comes. Two men will be working together in the field. One man will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding grain with a hand mill. One woman will be taken and the other will be left.
Peter confirms that, too.  He says, “The day of the Lord will come like a thief.”  It’s going to come quickly.  We’re not going to get a warning.  There’s not going to be time for Walmart to advertise a second coming sale.  The way it sounds, when we get up that day, it’s going to look like it’s the same as every other day.  Until, all of a sudden, we realize it’s not.
            As for why Jesus has not come yet, well, Peter had an answer for that, too.  He said, “do not forget this one thing, dear friends:  With the Lord a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years are like a day.”  In other words, what seems like a long time to us may be a very short time to God.  Remember what we said at the start of this sermon series:  God sees time in an entirely different way than we see it.  If someone lives to be a hundred, we think they’ve lived a long time.  This country is two hundred thirty-nine years old, and we think that’s a long time.  But to God that’s nothing.  The blink of an eye.  God exists outside of time.  God created time.  God was here before time, and God will be here after time.
            But is that just a dodge?  Is that just a way to avoid the question of why Jesus has not come yet?  And for that matter, even if we agree to that, why has Jesus not come yet?  What’s he waiting for?
            Peter answers that, too.  What he’s waiting for, basically, is us.  You and me and lots of other people.  Peter says, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness.  Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”
            God is waiting to give us more of a chance.  Not just us as the church, not just us as Christians, but all of humanity.  God is waiting to give all of us more of a chance.  God does not want any of us to experience the “second death” that we talked about last week.  But even God’s patience will not last forever.  Peter tells us that God is being patient, but Peter still says that the day of the Lord will come. 
God wants to save all of us.  And of course God could do that.  God is God.  God can do anything God chooses to do.  And you know, it must be tempting for God to do that.  After all, God loves us.  God does not want anyone to experience that “second death”.  It must be tempting for God to just throw open the gates of heaven and say, “Come on in!  Everybody come on in!  I don’t care if you’ve asked for forgiveness.  I don’t care if you’ve repented.  I don’t care if you even believed.  Come on in anyway.  There’s plenty of room for everyone!” 
But God does not do that.  Maybe we wish God would—after all, I don’t want to think of anyone experiencing that “second death” either.  But that’s not how God works.  Why not?  Well, as I’ve said many times, I cannot read the mind of God.  But we need to remember that, while God is a loving God, God is also a righteous God.  And we also need to remember that God gives us free will.
That means God gives us the right to make choices.  And that includes the right to choose to reject God and God’s salvation.  I’m sure God is not happy when we make that choice.  But God still allows us to make it.  God does not impose God’s will on us.  Sometimes God gives us some strong nudges and some strong hints, but God still does not force us to believe or to follow.  God gives us the choice.  And of course, we then have to deal with the consequences of our choice.
Two thousand years ago, Jesus entered Jerusalem in triumph.  Less than a week later, he was killed.  But Jesus triumphed even over death.  And at some point, Jesus will return in triumph, entering the New Jerusalem.  We don’t know when that day will be.  But we know it will come.
Everything that is on earth will end at some point.  This sermon series is ending.  Our lives on earth will end.  Someday the earth itself will come to an end.  In fact, someday even time will come to an end.  But the one thing that never ends is God.  God always has been, always is, and always will be.  And if we have faith in God and believe in Jesus as our Savior, we will never end, either.  We will be God’s children, and God will live with us forever.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

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.

            In the past, I've written 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.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

We Win!

This is the message given in the United Methodist churches of the Wheatland Parish on Sunday, March 22, 2015.  The Bible verses used are Revelation 21:1--22:5.

            We’re nearing the end of our sermon series, “The End of Time”.
            Our Bible readings up to this point have focused on all the bad things that are going to happen before the end comes.  We looked at the prophecy given to Daniel.  We looked at what Jesus had to say about it.  We looked last week at what it says in Revelation six about the breaking of the seals.  Everyone agrees that there are going to be some really bad things that happen before the end comes.
But today, we look at the rest of the story.  And you know what?  God wins!  Even though all these bad things are going to happen, in the end, God wins!  And you know what else?  If we’re faithful to God, we win, too!  You and I and everyone else, if we’re faithful to God, we win!
            Now, I don’t suppose that comes as a shock to anyone here, but it’s an important thing to remember.  And all too often, when we talk about the end times and the second coming of Jesus, we forget it.  We focus on all the bad things.  We focus on the persecution and the disasters and all that stuff.  Now those things are real, and I’m not suggesting we should ignore them.  But we need to remember that those things are temporary.  They’ll come, they’ll happen, but then they’ll go away again.  Their time will end.  And God will win.
            So what does that mean, to say God wins?  Listen to what the apostle John says:
Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.  I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look!  God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them.  They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.  ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.  He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”
            And you know, maybe I don’t need to say any more than that.  I mean, it would make the sermon awfully short, but seriously.  There’s not really a lot more to say, is there?
            There will be no more death.  Why is there death now?  Because it’s only through death that we can go to be with God, right?  I mean, God is present on earth, and sometimes we can feel God’s presence here, but what we see and feel of God while we’re on earth is what the apostle Paul called “a dim reflection” of what God truly is.  It’s only when we leave this world and go to the next one that we can truly experience what God is.
            But when the end comes, God’s dwelling place will be among the people.  God will actually live among people.  People won’t need to die to be in the presence of God.  God will be with people in the new earth.
            And there will be no mourning, either.  And no crying.  And no pain.  Those are things that exist now.  They’re part of the “old order”, as our reading put it.  But when the end comes, that old order will pass away.  God will make everything new.  That includes a new heaven and a new earth.
            So why did God set all that up for the future?  Why does God not do that now?  Why does God not take away death and mourning and crying and pain now? 
Well, I don’t know.  We talked about that last week.  There are all kinds of things about why the world is the way it is that I don’t know.  All I know is that the world is what it is.  In fact, the way this works kind of reminds me of how our lives on earth work sometimes.  Sometimes there has to be some bad stuff before we can get to the good stuff.  I don’t know why the world is that way, either.  But again, the world is what it is.  And all I can do is trust that God has reasons for allowing it to be that way, even if I don’t know what they are.  We either accept that, or we decide that God does not have a reason because God does not exist and all this is nonsense.  It’s our choice.
            But why don’t we talk about this part more?  Why is it that, when we talk about the end times, we focus so much on the bad stuff?  Why don’t we focus on the new heaven and the new earth?  Why don’t we focus on God living with God’s people?  Why don’t we focus on the happy ending?
            I don’t know.  Maybe it’s just who we are as human beings.  It seems like, even in our own world, we have a tendency to talk more about the bad stuff than the good stuff.  You turn on the news, and almost all you hear is all the bad things that have happened in the world.  That seems to be how we’ve defined news any more—bad things happening.  And it seems like it’s always easier to be pessimistic about things than it is to be optimistic.  So maybe it just comes natural to us to focus on all the bad things that will happen before the end.
            Or maybe, we’re scared.  Maybe the reason we focus on all the bad things that will happen is because we’re not sure we’re going to be a part of this new heaven and new earth.  Maybe we’re afraid that we will not be among those who will be God’s children.  Maybe—even if we have a strong faith—maybe, in the back of our minds, there’s a part of us that’s worried that we’ll be among those who will, as our reading says, experience “the second death”.
            I think that’s more common than we realize.  I think a lot of us, even if we have faith, have that feeling sometimes.  We don’t talk about it much, but it’s there in the back of our minds.  We wonder, is God really going to let me into heaven?  Am I really good enough?  I mean, I’ve done some good things, but there are a lot of times I’ve failed.  There are a lot of times I’ve messed up.  And some of those mess-ups have been pretty serious.  With all the stuff I’ve done, is God really going to want to hang around with me?  Is God really going to let me be a part of God’s new heaven and new earth?
            Yes.  Yes.  God is really going to let you be a part of all this.  God does want to hang around with you.  And God wants to hang around with me.  Sure, God knows all about our mess-ups.  God knows more about them than we do.  In fact, God knows about mess-ups that we’ve long since forgotten about.  God knows about all our failures.  And God knows about the good things we’ve done, too.  And God loves us, in both the good and the bad.
            So, are you really good enough to get into heaven?  Of course not!  And neither am I.  And neither is anyone else on earth.  God does not do all this for us because we’re good enough.  God does all this for us because, for all of our failures and all of our mess-ups, we have faith in God.  Our actions may not always show it.  In fact, our actions may sometimes appear to show the exact opposite.  But we still have faith, and that’s all God asks of us.  And if we ask God forgiveness and a second chance, God will give it to us.  And God will give us a third chance and a fourth chance and a fifth chance.  If we have faith in God, God will keep giving us these chances.  God knows we’re not capable of living perfect lives, so God does not ask us to.  God just asks us to have faith and to do the best we can.
            Now, we should not use that as an excuse.  We should not just do whatever we feel like and say, “Well, I’m not perfect”.  But we should not beat ourselves up for our imperfections, and we should not think that God stops loving us or will condemn us for not being perfect.  God knows when we’re doing the best we can, and God forgives the times when our best still is not very good.
            And God does not want us to be scared.  Over and over, the Bible says things like “do not be afraid”.  “Do not fear”.  God does not want us to be scared during our time on earth.  God does not want us to be scared when our time on earth comes to an end.  And God does not want us to be scared of the time when everything on earth comes to an end.
            We don’t have to be scared, because God knows how it all comes out.  And you and I know how it all comes out, too.  We may not know all the details, but we know the most important thing.  We know God wins.  And we know that, if we’re faithful to God, we win, too.
            We know there are going to be a lot of bad things that happen before the end comes.  But if we’re faithful to God, we’ll get through them.  And in the end, God will win.  And so will we.


Friday, March 20, 2015

A Change for the Better

As many of you know, my office has moved!   A couple of weeks ago, my office was moved from the education building, where the pastor’s office has been for many years, to the new addition to the Gettysburg church.

Overall, this is a wonderful thing.  I am very excited to have a new office.  At the same time, though, there was a bit of an emotional tug in leaving the education building.  The office there is where I spent much of the last four years of my life.  There are memories there.  On the last day, as I did numerous things for the last time in that location, there was a bit of sadness mixed in with the excitement of moving.

But as I said, overall this change is a wonderful thing.  And in the weeks and months and years to come, it’s going to be an even more wonderful thing.  Change generally is. 

Not every change is for the better, of course, but most of them are.  And even when they’re not, change is just a part of life.  I had a history professor in college who would get upset when someone referred to a certain time period as a “transitional era” because he said every era is a transitional era.  It’s true.  We’re constantly moving from one thing to some other thing.  In life, we are always moving forward or backward.  We are never, ever, standing still.  Even if we’d like to, even if we’re so happy that we’d like to just keep everything exactly as it is, we cannot do that.  It’s not possible.  Everything keeps moving.  All we can do is move with them.

Change, even good change, can be a little unsettling sometimes.  There are still some issues that we need to work through.  There are some ways of doing things that needed to change as a result of the move, and we’re still in the process of figuring out the best ways of doing things in our new space.  It’s going to take some time.  But we’ll get there.  And eventually, these things will stop being “new” ways of doing things and just be the way we do things.  In fact, at some point, they’ll be the ways we’ve “always” done things. 

Change can be unsettling, but we’ll work through it and eventually, everything will be fine.  If you’re going through changes in your life, and those changes are unsettling to you, remember that.  And remember one other thing.  One thing we can count on is that there is One who does not change.  The Bible tells us that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  Through all the changes that life brings, God will always be there, and God will always love us.  And God will see us through all the changes that life gives us, both good and bad.

           No matter how many changes you may be going through, know that God is always there.  And know that you’ll get through all the changes that life brings us.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

For Example

This is the message given at the Wednesday Lent service in the Gettysburg United Methodist Church on March 18, 2015.  The Bible verses used are John 13:1-17.

            In these Wednesday services, we’ve been going through the last week or so of Jesus’ life as told in the gospel of John.  We’ve come now to the last night of freedom that Jesus would have on earth.
            Jesus is gathered with the disciples.  They’re having their last supper together.  Jesus knows that, but the disciples probably don’t.  They know it’s possible—they’re aware of the danger involved in coming to Jerusalem—but they’re probably not thinking about it too much.  The events of what we’ve come to call “The Last Supper”—with capital letters—have not happened yet.  But we’re told that a meal—supper—was in progress.
            And during that meal, Jesus does something really strange.  He gets up, takes off his outer clothes, and wraps a towel around his waist.  He then pours some water into a basin and starts washing the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel.  And he does all this without saying a word.
            Now, I’ve been asking you in these Wednesday services to put yourself into the story, to imagine that you were actually there.  So, suppose you’re one of the disciples.  You see Jesus doing this.  And you know that, at this time, washing someone’s feet was one of the dirtiest jobs there was.  I mean, these people were out in the desert.  They did not have shoes like we do.  Maybe they had sandals—if they could afford them—but a lot of people went barefoot.  Feet got really dirty.  And they got calloused.  And they got cut by the rocks.  And sometimes you stepped in something.  You really did not even want to touch your own feet.  Washing someone else’s feet was a really lousy job.  Nobody wanted to do it.
So this thing that Jesus was doing strikes you as really strange.  But on the other hand, by this time, you’ve been with Jesus for a while, three years or so.  You’ve seen Jesus say and do some strange things in that time.  So, while you’re kind of surprised by this, you’re not shocked by it.  You’ve seen Jesus do stuff before.
            You figure there must be a lesson here someplace, that Jesus is trying to teach you something.  But you don’t know what it is.  And you really don’t feel much like saying anything.  I mean, you know Jesus must have something up his sleeve, but you don’t want to look stupid.  You’ve done that enough already in your time with Jesus.  So you just keep quiet and figure that Jesus will let you know what’s going on when he’s ready.
            You do that unless you’re Simon Peter.  You may have noticed this, but Simon Peter was never one to just keep quiet about things.  If he had something to say, he’d just blurt it on out, whether it made him look stupid or not.  It does not seem to have occurred to Simon Peter that there could be such a thing as an unexpressed thought.
            So, Jesus is washing the disciples’ feet.  He goes around the room.  He comes to Simon Peter.  And Simon Peter says, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”
            And Jesus says, “Well, duh, what do you think I’ve been doing with this basin and this towel?”
            Well, Jesus does not actually say that.  He may have thought it—we don’t really know, do we?—but he did not say it.  Instead, Jesus said, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”
            Jesus goes on, washing the feet of each one of the disciples.  He puts his clothes back on and he sits down.  And then he does explain it.  He says, look, you guys call me “Lord”.  And you’re right to call me that.  I am your Lord.  And I’ve washed your feet.
            Now, Jesus may have wanted to just stop there.  That should’ve been enough for the disciples to figure it out.  But Jesus had been around the disciples for three years or so, too.  He knew that a lot of times they did not figure out what they should’ve been able to figure out.  So he goes on.  He says, right out, this is an example for you.  If I, as your Lord, did this for you, then you should do this for other people.
            I wonder if even then all of the disciples got it.  Did they think Jesus was just talking about washing feet?  Or did they understand that Jesus meant that we need to help each other and serve each other?  Did they understand that serving each other means even doing the lowest, dirtiest jobs there are when that’s what needs to be done to help someone?
            I don’t know.  I don’t know if we understand it, either.  And what I really don’t know is whether we live it.
            Now, I know there are some people who do.  There are people who do a lot of things for others.  Some of you are sitting here tonight.  There are people here who are willing to do whatever it takes to help someone, even if that means doing the low jobs and the dirty jobs.  And you do that without any expectation of applause or thanks. 
In fact, sometimes you go out of your way to do those things in a way so that no one will even notice.  There are all kinds of jobs in our church, in our family, in our community, that just get done.  And nobody ever notices.  In fact, nobody even thinks about the fact that those jobs need to be done.  They just get taken care of.  If the people who do those jobs ever stopped doing them, then we’d notice.  But right now, no.  We don’t.  We don’t notice those jobs, because they’re just done.  It seems like they’re done automatically, but they’re not.  They’re done by people, people who do them with no reward whatsoever other than the satisfaction of being able to contribute to something and of being able to help someone.
When you come right down to it, that’s really what our faith is all about.  Helping each other.  Loving each other.  Doing whatever it takes to help someone, even if that means doing the lowest, dirtiest jobs with no expectation or even desire for thanks or applause.
Now, you may be thinking, “Wait a minute.  I thought our faith was about believing in Jesus Christ as our Savior.”  And it is.  But if we believe in Jesus Christ as our Savior, we need to follow Jesus’ example.  And we especially need to follow Jesus’ example when Jesus specifically told us to.  Jesus said, “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done.”  Jesus spelled it out for us.  He could not have made it much clearer.  If we call Jesus our Lord, we need to follow the example set by Jesus.  And that means being willing to do the lowest and dirtiest jobs there are when that’s what’s needed to help other people.
I want to emphasize that it’s the example of Jesus we’re supposed to follow, not the example of Jeff.  There are lots of times, a lot more than I’d like to admit, where I don’t do this.  And most of you know that already.  There are lots and lots of people here who are better at this than I am, who serve others and do those low and dirty jobs much more often and much more consistently than I do them.  I wish that was not true, but it is, and most of you know that it is.
How can we get better at it?  Well, there’s no magic formula.  But it’s not like this is hard to understand.  It’s just hard to do.  And for those of us who don’t do it, the main stumbling block is ourselves.  The main reason we don’t do these things is that we just don’t want to.  We might tell ourselves all sorts of other things, that we’re not very good at these things or that we don’t know how to do them or that we have other things we need to do or all sorts of other things that we tell ourselves, but those are just excuses.  And when we’re honest with ourselves, we know they’re excuses.  There’s nothing stopping us from following Jesus’ example.  The only one keeping us from doing these things is us, ourselves.
            Now, you might think that, if the only one keeping us from doing these things is ourselves, then the only one who can get us to start doing these things is ourselves.  But I don’t think so.  Yes, we can improve on our own and get better on our own, but my experience, at least, has been that we can only do that for a little while.  Even if we’re sincere about trying to get better, eventually we get in our own way again.  Our old self takes over.  And we’re right back where we started.  We may truly want to get better, but most of the time, we cannot do it by ourselves.  We’re not strong enough.
            But there’s one who is, and you already know who I’m talking about.  God.  The only way I know to get better at this, to become willing to serve others by doing those low and dirty jobs with no desire for applause or thanks, is with God’s help.  We need to pray to God and ask God to help us do it.
            Now, I’m not saying this happens by magic.  I’m not saying all we have to do is pray and boom!—God immediately and permanently changes our lives.  We need to pray consistently and repeatedly.  We need to pray over a long period of time, maybe for the rest of our lives.  Because if we don’t, we’ll forget.  Our old selves will take over.  We need to consistently and repeatedly open our hearts to God.  If we do, God will lead us where God wants us to go.  God will show us what God wants us to do.  And God will tell us what God wants us to say.  And we will, over time, become more selfless and more giving.  We will, over time, be willing to take on those low and dirty jobs when that’s what’s needed to serve others.
            And because Lent is about changing our lives, there’s no better time than now to start doing that.  So let’s pray.  Let’s ask God to help us become more willing to serve others by doing those low and dirty jobs.  And eventually, over time, with God’s help, we will be the people Jesus told us to be.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Second Place

As you may know, the Sully Buttes Chargers girls basketball team finished second in the State B basketball tournament.  That’s a fine showing by any objective measure.  Still, if you’d asked the players or coaches after the championship game if they were happy they’d finished second, they’d have said no.  In fact, they were disappointed.  Their goal was not to finish second.  Their goal was to win.

They tried hard.  They did the best they could.  At the time, though, that was not much consolation to them.  Maybe at some point it will be, but at the time, it was not.  When you take a sport seriously, you want to win.  Nobody wants to finish in second place.

As I thought about that, though. I thought about all the times in my life I finished in second place.  There seem to be an awful lot of them.  When I was in seventh grade, I entered a regional essay contest about the dangers of smoking.  I made it into the final three.  I finished second.  When I was in the eighth grade, I was in a regional spelling bee.  I made it into the final six.  I finished second.

In sports, it was the same.  The teener baseball team I played on was pretty good.  Twice, we made it to the regional tournament and thought we might get to the state.  Twice, we finished second.  Even my favorite NFL team, the Minnesota Vikings, has never won the championship.  They’ve finished second four times.

As a lawyer, I won some cases, but there were some I lost, too.  In other words, I finished second.  In a case I took to the state Supreme Court, two justices agreed with me.  Three did not.  I finished second.

It’s never any fun to finish second.  The NFL used to have a runner-up bowl, a game for the teams that finished second in each conference.  Vince Lombardi described it as “a hinky-dinky game played in a hinky-dinky town by hinky-dinky teams, because that’s what second place is:  hinky-dinky.”  Nobody wants a hinky-dinky second place finish.  We all want to win.

On the other hand:

As I’ve written before, when I look at my life today, I have to say it’s turned out pretty good.  I’m very happy.  Would I be happier today if I’d finished first some of those times I finished second?  I doubt it.  In fact, it’s possible that I’d be less happy.  Maybe, if I’d finished first, something would’ve happened that would’ve made my life turn out differently, and worse, than the way it has.

We all dream of having great victories.  We all want to win all the time.  God, though, does not ask us to win all the time.  Even Jesus did not win all the time.  There were people Jesus talked to who rejected him.  There were people Jesus healed who did not even bother to say thank you.  If even Jesus did not win all the time, why in the world would you and I expect to win all the time?  It’s not going to happen.

What God asks is that we be faithful, and that we do our best.  God asks that we do what we can, and leave the rest to God.  If we do what we’re supposed to do, God will do what God’s supposed to do, and things will work out the way they’re supposed to work out.  When we’re faithful, we don’t have to worry about the results, because we’re not responsible for the results.  God is.  We’re just responsible for being faithful and doing the best we can.

It’s okay to be disappointed when we don’t win.  Jesus was disappointed sometimes, too.  We always hope things will work out the way we want them to, and we’re never happy when they don’t.

           We may not be happy when things don't work out the way we want them to, but we can accept it.  We can accept it because we know that ultimately, God is in control, and we know that ultimately, God will win.  You and I may have some losses along the way, but that’s okay.  Ultimately, God will win.  God’s the champion.  You and I just need to make sure we’re on the team.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Questions Without Answers

This is the message given in the United Methodist churches of the Wheatland Parish on Sunday, March 15, 2015.  It's the third in our sermon series, "The End of Time".  The Bible verses used are Revelation 6:1-17.

            We’re in the middle of our sermon series, “The End of Time”, looking at what the Bible has to say about the second coming of Jesus and about the end of the world.  And as many of you know, one of the books of the Bible that talks about that the most is the book of Revelation.
I don’t know how many of you believe you understand our Bible reading for today from Revelation six.  To be honest, I don’t really think I do.  There have been lots and lots of words and pages written about just what this business of the Lamb opening the seven seals means, as well as about all these things that are going to happen with the seals are opened.
Regardless of what the details mean, though, there’s one thing that does seem to be clear.  There’s a lot of bad stuff that’s going to happen before the end.  That was made clear when we looked at the prophecy from the book of Daniel.  That was made clear when Jesus talked about the coming of the end.  And it’s made clear in our reading from Revelation today.  Before the end comes, there are going to be lots and lots of bad things that happen here on earth.
What we don’t seem to be told, in Revelation or anywhere else, is why.  Why do all these bad things have to happen before the end comes?  Daniel was not told why.  Jesus did not say why.  The revelation given to John does not say why.  In fact, nobody even seems to have asked the question.  Daniel did not ask why.  No one seems to have asked Jesus why.  The apostle John did ask why.
Does that not seem strange to you?  It does to me.  Everyone just seems to accept the fact that a whole bunch of bad stuff has to happen before the end comes.  No one ever asks why all that bad stuff has to happen. 
Maybe when you’re in the presence of God, or an angel, or even in the presence of Jesus under these circumstances, you get too scared to ask why.  Maybe you just accept it.  I don’t know.  But it seems to me that we don’t find times in the Bible when God gets upset when people ask questions.  When we did the sermon series on Moses, we saw Moses asking God questions all the time.  Abraham even bargained with God.  God did not get upset.  I don’t think God would’ve gotten upset if Daniel or John or the disciples had asked why all this bad stuff has to happen before the end comes.  I don’t think God gets upset when we ask why, either.
And we don’t have to wait until the end times to ask that question, either.  We see all kinds of things happening in the world and we wonder, why?  Why does God allow so many bad things to happen?  I mean, some of them can be explained by God giving us the freedom to make choices, and sometimes people make bad choices, and those bad choices affect other people, sometimes lots and lots of other people.  We get that.  We may not always like it, but we understand it.
But there are so many other things that happen that had nothing to do with freedom of choice.  A young person gets cancer.  A baby, the essence of innocence, gets some terrible disease.  An earthquake kills a bunch of people.  Those and lots of other things happen all the time.  And they’re not anyone’s fault.  They’re not the result of a choice anyone made.  They just happened.  From our point of view, they happened totally at random.  And we don’t know why.  And we want to know why.  Sometimes we cry out to God, in anguish or in anger or in all kinds of other emotions.  Why, God?  Why did you allow this to happen?  Even if you did not cause it, you could’ve stopped it.  Why did you not stop it?
Again, I don’t think God gets upset when we ask why.  I don’t see times in the Bible when God gets upset when people ask why.  But here’s the thing.  I also don’t see times in the Bible when God answers that question.  I don’t see times in the Bible when God tells us why.  So that leads to another question.  Why does God not tell us why?
I can think of reasons.  It could be that we would not understand the answer if God told it to us.  After all, God is God.  God is greater and wiser and can see farther and knows more than we ever can.  Maybe it’s like when I took calculus in college and they tried to explain differential equations to me.  I’m sure differential equations make sense if you can understand them, but I never could.  I was totally lost.  I got a C in the course mainly because the professor liked me and felt sorry for me.  So maybe that’s why God does not tell us why:  because we would not be able to understand the answer if God gave it to us.
Or it could be that if we knew the answer we still would not be satisfied.  After all, when we have a terrible tragedy, when we’ve lost everything or, even worse, lost a loved one, there’s no answer to why that’s going to satisfy us.  Even if we assume that God has good reasons for setting up the world the way God did, in that moment, there’s no reason that would be good enough to explain why such a terrible thing happened.  So maybe that’s why God does not tell us why:  because we would not like the answer if we knew it.
Or it could be that if we knew why, it would mess up God’s plan in some way.  Maybe it’s sort of like when you read a couple of chapters of a story and then skip to the ending.  Have you ever done that?  The rest of the story is never as good when we do that.  There’s no excitement to it.  There’s no discovery.  We may go ahead and read the rest of the story, but it loses its impact, because we already know what’s going to happen.  So maybe that’s why God does not tell us why:  maybe at least part of the point of our lives is in the living of them, and so God does not want to spoil the ending for us by explaining why.
I don’t know.  Any of those answers could be correct.  Or they could all be so far off base that it’s laughable.  Because the fact is that I don’t know why things happen, and I don’t know why God does not tell us why.  I don’t know why bad things are happening now.  And I don’t know why so many bad things are going to have to happen before the end comes.
So what does that mean for us?  Since we don’t know why, and we don’t know why we don’t know why, what are we supposed to do?
It seems to me that this is where the choice comes.  This is where we make a decision about our faith.  Are we going to decide that a loving God would never allow these things, and so either God does not exist or God is not the loving God we’ve been told about?  Or are we willing to accept that God is there and that God loves us, and that there is some good reason God allows these things to happen, even though we don’t understand that reason and we never will?
These are not questions we should take lightly.  I mean, we’re in church on Sunday morning, and so we know the answer we’re supposed to give.  But we need to really think about it.  If we don’t, if we just give the answer we’re supposed to give, then we may not be ready when a tragedy hits.  We need to think about it ahead of time.  Are we willing to trust that God is there and that God loves us even when we don’t understand why things happen and we never will?
No one can answer that question for anyone else.  I cannot answer it for you and you cannot answer it for me.  I’ll be happy to talk about it with you, but I cannot answer it for you.  Each one of us has to answer that question for ourselves.
And maybe that’s why God does not tell us why.  Because God does not tell us to understand.  God asks us to believe.  God asks us to trust.  God asks us to have faith.  And faith and trust, by definition, involve not knowing everything there is to know.
I don’t have a nice, neat conclusion to this message.  As I said, each of us has to make our own decision about this.  But I do have one more thing for you to think about.
As I was working on this message, I remembered something I read years ago.  I don’t remember who wrote it.  But they said that, while it’s okay to ask why, we know we’ll never get an answer.  So, instead of asking why, we should ask what.  When bad things happen, what can we do to help?
That’s a question God will answer.  If we try hard enough, and if we open our hearts to God’s leading, we can always find some way to help.  And to the extent we can know why we’re here, that’s why.  To help.  To help each other.  To be there for each other.  To love each other, the way Jesus told us to.
           It’s okay to ask questions we’ll never get answers to.  But let’s remember to ask the question we will get an answer to.  And when we have the answer, let’s act on it.  And who knows?  Maybe doing that will help us be able to accept not knowing why.

Friday, March 13, 2015

The Time Has Come!

This article originally appeared in the March, 2015 edition of the Wheatland Parish newsletter.

            Our parish offices have moved.  We are no longer in the Education Building.  We are in the new addition to the Gettysburg church!

            Everything is not done, of course.  The outside is not completed (and no, wise guy, that doesn’t mean we don’t have walls).  There is concrete to be poured.  Those things will be done when the weather warms up enough for them to be done.  The fundraising is not done, either.  We have raised over three-fourths of the money, and that’s awesome.  But we still need to raise the other one-fourth.  So, if anyone has been holding off on donating, waiting for the right time, well, the right time is now.

            But even though everything is not done, we can still celebrate!  And we should!  We have a real, functioning, beautiful addition to the Gettysburg church!  That’s an awesome thing!

            Here’s the thing about that, though.  We can and should celebrate the church addition.  But we need to realize that the completion of the addition is not the end of something.  In fact, it’s the beginning.

            Here’s what I mean.  We want to think of our churches, and our church additions, as sacred spaces.  But what makes them sacred?  It’s certainly not you and me.  There is only One who can make a place sacred, and that’s God.  The presence of God is what makes a place sacred.

            But while only God, and not you and me, can make a place sacred, there is something we can do.  We can’t make the church addition sacred, but we can profane it.  As I say that, I’m not using the word “profane” in its common usage to mean vulgarity.  I mean “profane” in the way it was used in the Bible.  I mean “profane” as showing a lack of reverence, even a contempt, for God.

            How can we avoid that?  Well, if what makes a place sacred is the presence of God, then the way for us to avoid profaning that place is to show reverence to God.  And the best way for us to do that is to do the things Jesus told us to do.  Love God.  Love our neighbors.  Make disciples of all nations.  Live as God’s children.  Dedicate our lives, and our churches, to serving God.

            What that means is that we cannot just sit back and admire this beautiful addition to the Gettysburg church.  We have work to do.  There are children out there who need to know about God and need to be able to accept Jesus Christ as their Savior.  There are people out there who feel alone, who feel like no one knows about their problems and no one would care if they did.  There are people all around us who need to feel God’s love.  And the best way for us to help them feel God’s love is for us to show them our love.

            With God’s help, and with the help of many people, we have built a beautiful building.  But if we don’t use it to do the work of God, it will be just a building.  So let’s all work together to do the work of God.  Let’s honor God with everything we do.  Then our sanctuaries, our additions, our basements, and every inch of our churches will truly be sacred.

Thursday, March 12, 2015


This is the message given in the Wednesday Lent service in the Wheatland Parish on March 12, 2015.  The Bible verses used are John 12:37-50.

            We talked last week about how there was no one on earth who could really understand Jesus.  We feel bad about that sometimes.  We want to understand Jesus.  The disciples wanted to understand Jesus.  But they could not, and neither can we, no matter how hard we try.  We can understand some things, but we cannot truly understand what it was like to be Jesus or what Jesus went through.  It’s just not possible.
            Luckily for us, though, our salvation does not depend on our understanding.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s good to understand as much as we can.  But our salvation does not come from our understanding.  Our salvation comes from our belief in Jesus Christ as our Savior.  And our Bible reading for tonight had a lot to say about that, so let’s look at it.
            It starts out by talking about people who saw Jesus and did not believe.  They heard what he said, they saw him do miracles, and yet they did not believe.  How can that be?  I mean, can you imagine it?  To have been right there with Jesus, to hear him and see him, and still not believe?
            The Bible quotes Isaiah about these people.  Isaiah says, “They can neither see with their eyes nor understand with their hearts, nor turn.”  It seems incredible.  I mean, we can kind of understand why people might not believe today.  After all, today we’re reading about events that happened two thousand years ago.  But these people were there.  They saw it all.  They heard it all.  How could they not believe what they saw with their own eyes?
            As I thought about this, though, it seems to me that we need to be careful that we don’t start acting too superior to these people.  I think what they did was a very human thing.  It’s something all of us tend to do, and it’s something all of us need to fight.
            The thing is—and we’ve talked about this before—there were a lot of people who thought they knew what the Messiah was going to be like.  He was going to be a mighty king.  He was going to be a warrior.  He was going to lead a revolution that gave the people of Israel freedom.  And Jesus just did not fit the bill.  And so, even though Jesus worked all kinds of miracles—healing people, raising them from the dead, feeding them—and even though Jesus said all kinds of wise things, there were a lot of people who could not see that he was the Messiah.  They had a preconceived idea who the Messiah was, and Jesus was not him.  So, rather than adjust their thinking to fit the facts, they rejected the facts that did not fit their thinking.
            And so do you and I.  Maybe not in the same way, but we do.  We do it all the time.  It’s called a confirmation bias.  We believe facts that fit what we already think and reject facts that don’t.  We do that with our political beliefs, we do it with our religious beliefs, we do it with the people we know.  We make up our minds about something—this is good, this is bad; this is right, this is wrong.  Then, whenever we hear statements about that something, we believe the statements that support what we already think is good and right and reject the statements that support what we believe is bad and wrong.  We don’t do that because we’re evil people.  We do it because we’re people.  We’re human beings.  You do it, I do it, we all do it.
            And the people of Jesus’ time did it, too.  And so some people, when they saw things that indicated Jesus was the Messiah, just rejected those things.  Those things did not support what they already thought.
            It’s something that you and I always have to be on the lookout for.  We need to keep an open mind.  Not so open that we believe anything and everything, obviously.  But open enough that we’re willing to consider things that don’t fit what we already think, and open enough that we’re willing to adjust what we think when we need to.  Otherwise, we might miss out on something really important, the way some people of Jesus’ time did.
            And then there were some who believed in Jesus, but who kept it quiet.  They were afraid the Pharisees would hear about it and be upset with them.  We’re told “They loved human glory more than the glory of God.”
            Now maybe some of us don’t think that one’s much of a problem.  Maybe we feel like we’ve never gotten much human glory and don’t really want it.  But it’s really easy for this one to sneak up on us.  Because while we may feel we don’t want human glory—and we may be serious about that—we probably don’t want human shame, either.  In other words, we don’t want people to look down on us.  We don’t want people to think badly of us.
            And if we take our faith seriously, and if we’re open and honest about it, that can happen.  It’s not that very many people around here are going to look down on us for being Christians.  In fact, most people around here would consider that a positive.  But sometimes people can be uncomfortable if we’re open about exercising our faith.  If you’re at a restaurant with a group of people and you’re the one who insists on saying a prayer before the meal, there are some who’ll be a little startled at that.  When you’re in college and you’re the only one who does not want to go out and get drunk on Saturday night because you want to go to church on Sunday morning, people are going to look at you funny about that.  Even if they don’t openly criticize you, they may not want to be very friendly with you, either.
            There are all kinds of ways in which taking our faith seriously can make people uncomfortable with us and not want to be friends with us.  And then we have to make a choice.  Are we like those Pharisees who believed and kept it quiet?  Are we more interested in what people think of us?  Or are we more interested in what God thinks of us?
            The choice is ours.  Jesus allowed those who heard him to make that choice.  God allows us to make that choice, too.  God will not make it for us.  And we cannot make it for anyone else, either.
            Jesus closed by saying something that I think we all need to remember.  He said that he was not going to judge the people who did not follow him.  He said that was not his role.  Jesus said he did not come here to judge the world.  He came here to save the world.
            Since Jesus is the head of the church, I think that’s a pretty good definition of our role, too.  It is not for us to judge people.  It’s for us to try to help people be saved.
            That means a lot of things, but one of them is that, if we see someone who lives differently from we do, even someone who lives in a way we don’t think is right, it’s nor for us to condemn them.  Jesus did not do that.  After all, Jesus dealt with a lot of people who lived in ways we don’t think is right.  Jesus dealt with thieves.  Jesus dealt with prostitutes.  Jesus dealt with all kinds of people.  And we don’t see any place in the gospels where Jesus condemned those people. 
Instead, Jesus offered salvation to them.  Sometimes they accepted it, sometimes they did not.  But even when they did not, Jesus did not condemn them.  Jesus was sad for them.  I’m sure Jesus wished they would have made a different choice.  But Jesus did not condemn them.  Jesus allowed them to make their choices.  But of course, as with all the choices we make, they had to accept the consequences of their choices.  And so do we.
Jesus said, “Those who believe in me do not believe in me only, but in the one who sent me.  When they look at me, they see the one who sent me.  I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.”
If we believe in Jesus, then let’s do what Jesus told us to do.  Let’s stay open to the things God tells us that may not fit our preconceived notions.  Let’s be willing to exercise our faith openly, regardless of what people think.  Not in an obnoxious way, obviously.  Not in a way that we know will turn people off.  But in an honest and open way.  And let’s not judge people for the choices they make.  Let’s try to help them be saved.
            Let’s not stay in darkness.  Let’s follow the light.  Let’s follow Jesus.

Friday, March 6, 2015

A Change of Focus

           As you probably know, we’ve entered the season of Lent.  One of the things people do during Lent is decide to give something up.  For me, the last couple of years, it’s been Diet Coke.  I’ve given up Diet Coke and put the money I’ve saved toward the Gettysburg UMC church addition project.  I’ve also encouraged others to do the same.

           Now, don’t get me wrong.  I don’t consider giving up Diet Coke to be a huge sacrifice.  I like it, but I can get by without it.  I certainly don’t deserve praise for giving it up.  I look at it more as a way to raise some money for the church addition and to have a little fun at the same time.

           If you don’t give anything up for Lent, that’s fine.  You may, in fact, be in the position of the person who told me the other day, “At my age, I don’t have anything left to give up.”  Giving something up for Lent is fine if it’s something you choose to do, but you certainly don’t need to feel guilty if you don’t.

           I do hope, though, that you’ll take the time of Lent to think about a few things.  I hope we all do.    Specifically, I hope we take the time of Lent to think about our relationship with God.  I hope we think about ways we can make that a closer relationship, a deeper relationship.  I hope we think about how we can make God a part of everything we do, so that every aspect of our lives serves God in some way.

           That’s not easy.  It takes time.  It takes effort.  But we sometimes go about that effort in the wrong way.  We focus on what we have to do.  We focus on how we need to change.  It’s not wrong to think on those things—they’re a part of what we’re trying to do—but we can think too much about them.  Because if we’re going to change our lives in this way, we’re not going to be able to do it ourselves. 

           We need to think about what we’re going to do, but we need to make sure we leave room for God.  If we’re going to change, it’ll be because God changed us.  After all, if we could change by ourselves, we’d have done it by now.  The only way we can change is if we step back and allow God to act.  The only way we can change is if we focus on what God’s doing, rather than on what we have to do.

           So for this season of Lent, and hopefully beyond, let’s focus on God.  Let’s ask God to come into our hearts and change our lives.  If we truly and sincerely ask God to do that, I’m confident that God will.  But be ready!  Because when God changes our lives, God does that in some really unexpected ways. 

           They’re good ways, but they’re unexpected ways, and sometimes they make us nervous.  That’s okay.  Just keep trusting God.  If we trust God, God will always show us what to do, tell us what to say, and lead us where we need to go.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

All By Myself

This is the message from the midweek Lent service in the Gettysburg United Methodist church Wednesday, March 4, 2015.  The Bible verses used are John 12:20-36

            I said at the beginning of this sermon series that one of our goals is to pretend we don’t know how the story of Jesus on earth turns out.  We’re trying to put ourselves into these stories, to try to think the way the people there would’ve thought and to feel the way the people there would’ve felt.  I think it’s really important that we try to do that with our Bible reading for tonight.
            A group of people are in town for the Passover Festival.  They go up to one of the disciples, Philip, and ask if they can see Jesus.
            Now, we’re not told what they knew about Jesus.  This is not long after Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead, so probably they’d heard something about that.  Maybe they’d heard about Jesus’ reputation as a healer.  Maybe they even heard about him as a teacher, as a wise man.
            So, again, imagine you’re one of these people.  We’re getting to meet this miracle worker, this wise man, this man we’ve heard about but never really thought we’d get to see in person.  And he says stuff like this:  “Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed.  But if it dies, it produces many seeds.  Those who love their life will lose it, while those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”  And he says, “Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say?  ‘Father, save me from this hour’?  No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour.”  And he says, “You are going to have the light just a little while longer.  Walk while you have the light, before darkness overtakes you.  Those who walk in the dark do not know where they are going.  Put your trust in the light while you have the light, so that you may become children of light.”
            If we’re among the people listening to this, how do we react?  Well, I suspect there’s a good chance we really don’t have a clue what Jesus is talking about.  Here we were meeting this man that we were kind of in awe of, expecting to hear some great pearls of wisdom, and here he is going on about a kernel of wheat falling into the earth and talking about becoming children of light.  What’s that all about?
            And if we do know what he’s talking about, we’re likely to be even more confused.  Because what Jesus is talking about is his death.  And he’s talking about how he’s going to be glorified in death.  And, he’s talking about how people need to pay attention to him while he’s here and follow him before darkness overtakes us.
            I don’t think any of that would make any sense to us.  Why would Jesus die?  He looks healthy enough.  And how is death going to bring him glory?  Death is just death, right?  And why is darkness going to overtake us?  It all seems so strange.
            We’re not told if they asked him any questions about it.  If they did, though, it does not look like Jesus answered them.  Instead, we’re told that when Jesus finished speaking, he left and hid himself from them.
            And that, of course, would confuse us even more.  Why would Jesus do that?  Why would Jesus say these things, knowing that we’re going to either not have a clue about them or would be totally confused by them, and then get up and leave?
            Well, let’s try to put ourselves in Jesus’ place.  How do you suppose it would feel to be Jesus at this point?
            I would think not very good.  In fact he says, in our reading for tonight, “Now my soul is troubled.” 
See, Jesus knows the situation.  He knows what’s going to happen to him.  He’s going to face things that are probably about as hard as anything anyone can possibly face.  He’s going to be arrested.  He’s going to be tortured.  He’s going to be killed.  And this is all going to happen within the next few days.
Jesus knows this.  But nobody else does.  He’s tried to tell his closest friends, the disciples, but they don’t understand it either.  They say they do, but they don’t.  And Jesus knows they don’t.  Nobody understands it.  And if they did understand it, they would not believe it.
I have to think that’s all tied in to why Jesus got up and left.  I suspect that, in that moment, Jesus just did not want to have to deal with all these people who did not understand and could not understand.  Not that he hated them, not that he was mad at them or anything.  He just needed to get away from them for a while.  He needed to get away from all the questions that were asked by people who were sincere and had good intentions, but who had no idea what they were talking about.  He needed to get away from having to explain things to people who could not understand what he was saying no matter how many times he tried to explain in to them.  He just needed to get away for a little while.
We talk a lot about the sacrifice Jesus made for us through his death.  And that’s entirely appropriate, of course.  Jesus made a huge sacrifice for us through his death.  He took the punishment that should have gone to us.  He died so that we could have eternal life.
But Jesus also made a sacrifice by coming to earth in the first place.  In heaven, Jesus, God the Son, is in the constant presence of God the Father and in the constant presence of the Holy Spirit.  But here on earth, Jesus was cut off from them.  Yes, Jesus prayed, and he could feel their presence with him, and every once in a while something would happen like what happened in our reading tonight, a voice coming from heaven to confirm what Jesus was saying.  But it was nothing like what he had experienced in heaven.
Jesus was both fully divine and fully human.  We don’t know exactly how that worked, but we know it means that Jesus was totally unlike any other being who has walked the face of the earth.  There has never been anyone else who was both fully divine and fully human.  Only Jesus.
And while in a way, it might be kind of cool to be completely unique, it seems like it would also be awfully lonely.  Because there would be no one anywhere who understood what it was like to be you.  Even his best friends, the disciples, did not understand what it was like.  No one on earth could truly understand what Jesus was going through.
I wonder if even the other parts of the trinity, God the Father and God the Holy Spirit, truly knew what Jesus was going through.  I mean, that gets into how the trinity operates and how the persons communicate with each other and I have no idea about any of that.  But I just wonder if even God the Father and God the Holy Spirit could know exactly what it was like to be both fully human and fully divine the way Jesus, God the Son, was.
So here’s the point.  We have a prayer emphasis on people who feel alone.  Maybe there are people here tonight who feel alone because, as I’ve said, there are times we’re surrounded by people and we still feel alone.  If you do, just know that Jesus knows how you feel.  Jesus understands exactly what it’s like to be in a situation where no one understands you.  Jesus knows all about feeling like there’s no one in the world who’s like you, like there’s no one in the world who has your problems or your troubles.  If that’s how you’re feeling, Jesus knows exactly what that’s like.
So talk to him.  Talk to Jesus.  Tell him how you feel.  He’ll understand.  And if you need to go off by yourself once in a while, if you just need to get away from everyone sometimes, it’s okay.  Jesus understands that, too.  In fact, that’s what Jesus did sometimes.
But notice this, too.  Jesus went off by himself for a while, but he did not stay by himself forever.  He eventually came back.  Because he knew that, no matter how much he felt like he was alone, he needed to be around people.  He needed to be around the disciples.  Yes, they frustrated him terribly.  Yes, they got him upset sometimes.  Yes, he sometimes felt like they were never going to get it.  But he still needed to be around them.
Jesus knew that what he was going to face would be too hard for him to face alone.  And he knew that, as frustrating and ignorant as the disciples could be, Jesus knew that they cared about him.  He knew that, in their flawed and imperfect way, they loved him.  And so he came back, and he spent his last free hours on earth with them.
So, if you need to get off by yourself sometimes, it’s okay.  But be sure to come back.  Because what you’re going to face will be too hard for you to face alone.  Life is too hard for us to face and alone.  And there are people here who care about you.  There’s a church that cares about you.  We may be frustrating and ignorant sometimes, but we care about you.  In our flawed and imperfect way, we love you.
            Life is hard, but it’s harder when we try to go through it alone.  So let’s stop trying.  Let’s open ourselves up to each other.  Let’s give each other a chance.  We’re flawed and imperfect, and we’re frustrating sometimes, and we’re ignorant sometimes.  But despite that, we can still care about each other and love each other.  And that’s the most important thing for us to do.