Latest Entries »

When-Christians-Get-It-Wrong-Sermon-Slide-Wk2-option2I asked for a response recently on my Facebook page regarding people’s thoughts on Christians, Science and Politics. He are a couple of the comments I received; “It doesn’t even look right to see all three in the same sentence!” “They should all go together in my opinion.”

Others said this; “Ooh, ooh…Fun talk! Pour the wine and gather round my friends!” and “Science and religion are not antithetical but really complementary.” And finally; “Two responses – 1) a perpetually triangulated disagreement; and 2) 3 cats chasing each others tail…”

As we focus on places where Christians get it wrong, we turn our attention to science and politics. We will look at science today, but if you want to hear what my thoughts are on politics, you can check out the video sermons on our website.

For many years, people of the Christian faith have been close minded to the experiments of science. Not accepting some of the findings of great scientists of today. Let’s travel back to Genesis chapter one; In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. This is what I was taught, maybe what you were taught as well. But what does this chapter of Genesis really tell us? Is it a how-to manual on the steps God took to create this world and the universes around us? Does it tell us how many pieces it took to create man?

Think about this, in those days, the entire world was very small, all based out of the middle east. America wasn’t discovered yet; the view of the world was infantile. The people of that day would never have understood how God created this wonderful world, they just knew He did it. Not until around 1492 did we know the earth wasn’t flat!

Case in point; On June 22nd, 1633 the church announces that a certain man was a heretic and confined him to his home for proposing the notion that earth was not the center of the universe. At that time everyone knew that the earth was the center of the universe and that everything revolved around it. Galileo stated the earth rotated around the sun, a notion that put the entire world on its ear. The church starts to get it wrong here. The more we become close minded and unaccepting to the findings of science, the more we become irrelevant to the world, and to those in the world who might not be looking for “how” but looking for “why.” We get it wrong when we become quick to speak and slow to listen, assuming that we know it all. We don’t, there is only One who knows it all, and we need to believe that this One, God himself, can be bigger than we could ever imagine.

Some people who have looked at how the church and Christians have approached science, have stated that we seem to be behind the times or that we are anti-intellectual or “less intellectually active.” Maybe because some well publicized Christians have not wanted to hear about how God could have created this world and everything around it, they just want to say God created, enough said. Many believe that Christians do not want to hear about the findings of science because it threatens their faith. They don’t want to know the ‘how’ portion of the answer, they just want to believe what they have always been told. Think of all of the things we have witnessed the discovery of; countless new animal species, stars, planets, and the list goes on and on. God knew about all of these in the beginning, because he created them. His touch was on all things.

The difference between Science and Faith is this; Science explains the process of how the universe works, faith on the other hand, helps us to recognize why the universe works and what our existence means. While science asks questions like what and how, our faith asks the question why. Science should not undermine your faith and your belief in a God of immeasurable love. The account of creation in Genesis is not to be a science textbook. It does not tell us how God created all of this, but it does tell us that he DID create it. However, this world came into being; Big Bang, Inflation, Evolution, it really doesn’t matter because I believe that however it happened, God was the creator of it. It’s just fun and interesting to learn as we go about the how and when God actually created.

So, let’s remember that we get it wrong when we are close-minded about scientific discoveries. What is the opposite of being close-minded? How about teachable? When we open up our minds and allow ourselves to learn new things, we become teachable. We become respectful by listening and not being argumentative. We also show others the love of Christ when we take the time to truly listen, not judge and learn from everything and everyone around us.

Advertisements

When-Christians-Get-It-Wrong-Sermon-Slide-Wk1-option2I have a friend from high school and we are connected via facebook because he lives across the country from me. As a kid, he was taken to church, attended Sunday School and worship. But as he grew up, he became more and more disenchanted with what the church resembled for him. He stopped going to regular worship and quickly associated himself with Athiesm.

We have discussions over the internet, especially when he attacks Christianity or religion as a whole in a comment. You see, he has a distorted view of what Christianity is all about. But then again, how many others have a similar distorted view, and why do they have this view?

He believes that all Christians do is pray to an imaginary guy in the sky, and then wait for him to come down and fix the problems that we have in this world. He also points to so much of the history of Christianity and religion; the wars, violence, hatred, condemning, and hypocritical nature of behaviors that he has witnessed and heard about. He has some valid points. But there is so much more to this than what is on the surface.

There has been a lot of research over the past decade and beyond regarding the ‘rise of the nones.’ Those people who claim no affiliation with the church whatsoever. But the truly scary part of the results beginning to be studied is that of the ‘dones.’ These are those who have been turned off by the church.

In a recent PEW poll, they found some of the common reasons why they are leaving the church, and I have to be honest here, some of them do not surprise me. Let me give you this list of reasons…

  1. Religious groups, including churches are more divisive than they are uniting.
  2. There has been more harm done in the name of religion.
  3. They don’t believe in ‘organized’ religion, for them it is more personal. (Nature)
  4. It all about business, it’s all about the money.
  5. There are far too many clergy sex scandals.
  6. The church’s teaching on homosexuality. (We will touch on this topic on another Sunday all by itself)

Jesus had a few words for those in religious leadership. These people were called Pharisees. They were interested in their status and how others viewed them in the community. I was once told an easy way to remember their names, it’s in how you say the name. I’m fair, you see? Appearances were so important to them which led to may wrong actions and bad behaviors. Let’s look at just a few of them.

Matthew 6:1-8 warns us in doing the right things for the wrong reasons. Jesus’ teaching about giving and praying humbly lets us know that God is more interested in our honesty and humble service, than he is with how well we are perceived by others around us. He always has been, and always will be. Are you more concerned with how other people see you than you are about how God sees you?

Matthew 7:1-5 warns about being judgmental. He is telling us that should not point out the sin in other’s lives when we are just as sinful in our own lives. The Pharisees would not acknowledge the sin in their own lives, but would be the first to point out yours. Do you know someone like this? Or does this sound familiar?

We find an interesting passage in Matthew 23:23-24. The Pharisees were tithing even herbs just to make sure people would not accuse them of not following the letter of the law. But this took over their life, it was all about filling every part of the law, they became legalistic.

We’ve all heard about the book; “Don’t sweat the small stuff?” The subtitle is “and it’s all small stuff.” Not true. Jesus tells us that the important things like justice, mercy, and faithfulness. We get so caught up in the little details that we miss the greater message. Over the years, the church has been damaged by the infighting between denominations over things like how and who we baptize, is it a sprinkling, a pouring, or submerging? It is an infant, older child, or adult?

We even disagree about what music to play or sing in church. Should it be only hymns, and if so, which hymns. Should it be just the organ, or is a piano alright? What about a guitar or drums? Should we sing contemporary worship songs? These topics have torn apart churches and Christian brothers and sisters.

Finally, Matthew 23:25-28 are some difficult words to hear. The warning here is about being two-faced. It is about living your life one way while around your brothers and sisters in the church, but then a completely different life outside of the family. I know this one well as I was living one life in the church as a teenager, but a different life at school and with my friends.

Jesus talks about how the Pharisees would make sure they looked good on the outside. They dressed the way they should, said what they should, did what they should, all while out in public. But what was on the inside, was something different. Jesus relates it to washing the outside of the cup, but neglecting the inside. Have you ever found that cup you had been looking for, sometimes in the bedroom of your daughter, that has been sitting for way too long with chocolate milk in it?

Here is the warning for us. We can be presentable on the outside, but if we are not careful, we will be like that spoiled milk on the inside. The danger is that at some point, that spoiled attitude will spill to the outside. We will do or say something that will affect someone else. We run the risk of turning someone away from the church, away from a relationship with Jesus Christ.

Jesus’ warnings to the Pharisees ring true for us, because, like it or not, we are all recovering Pharisees. I think we can all relate to one or more of the things we talked about this morning. This requires a change. This requires our intentional response to God’s message.

I am reminded of something that Garrison Keillor once said; “You can become a Christians by going to church as easily as you can become a car by sleeping in a garage.”

Just because we come to church on Sunday, doesn’t guarantee that we will live our lives as faithful Christians, that requires a response. A response to this message. A response to the knowledge of the growing amount of people who are walking away from the church because of the actions of those inside the church.

Martin Luther said this about Noah and the flood, “If it were not for the storm on the outside, you couldn’t stand the stench on the inside.” Is this how the church is for some? Is this the reason so many have left?

Are you part of the stench? Or are you those who are trying to clean up the mess?

Easter-Sunday-2018We live in uncertain times. We wonder what will happen tomorrow, or the next day, or the day after that. Have you ever found yourself not wanting to get out of bed, afraid of what waited for you that day? The doctor will be calling with the results from last week. Your boss called you in to a meeting tomorrow and you don’t know what it’s about. Your spouse has said they want to talk, what could that mean?

Fear and uncertainty grip our lives on a daily basis. But being afraid is not something we want others to know about us. It sounds like a weakness and we don’t want to appear weak, so we give it different terms, like stressed. Are you stressed out? Have you had feelings of anxiety, worrying about the future or just the daily things going on in your life? These could be signs of fear. Fear can keep us from enjoying all the little things of this life. Fear paralyzes us and holds us down when we should be out enjoying what life has to offer.

Mary Magdalene, Mary, mother of James, and Salome make the journey to the tomb on that first Easter morning. They are bringing spices to anoint Jesus’ body and wondering along the way, just how will they move that big stone to gain access to the body? Here’s what we do know. According to the gospel of Mark, they arrived at the tomb and the stone had already been rolled away. The fear that was already there because of the death of Jesus, starts to grow even more as they wonder what happened.

They went to the open tomb and entered. They didn’t find Jesus! What they found was a young man, dressed in white, sitting on the right hand side. They were scared. They were afraid. Where is Jesus, what have you done with him? What is going on here? The young man responds with “Do not be alarmed. You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; He is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him.” They are told to go and tell Peter and the rest of the disciples that Jesus has been raised from the dead and that he was going ahead to meet them at the rendezvous point they had set up earlier. So, the women left, but how did they leave? They left scared. Scripture says they “fled the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”

Two ways we can look at this. One, they literally said nothing to anyone about what they saw. Or, they didn’t say anything to those they passed on their way to meet up with the disciples. They didn’t want to get stopped and distracted and risk forgetting anything they saw that morning at the tomb. They were determined to deliver the message to those whom they were told to give the message to. This is where the original manuscript of Mark ends. So, if this is the actual ending of Mark’s writing, what can it tell us?

For me, it tells me two things. First, is that we don’t hear about the women telling everyone about the resurrection, because it points to our calling. We are to tell people about our risen Lord. Mark leaves the story unfinished, because it is. Jesus Christ has risen from the dead and is alive forevermore. But do you remember the job he gave to his disciples, and also to us? We are to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Even if we are afraid of what will happen to us, we need to share this message.

But it also tells me that we live in uncertain times. And as the young man in the empty tomb tells the women that first Easter morning, we hear it again today. Do not be afraid. You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised. He is not here. He is not in the tomb, so stop looking there. That is a grace filled message. That is a hope filled message.

If you are going through anything in your life right now, the fact that Jesus rose up from the grave is the best news you could ever hear. Because it means, as Fredrick Buechner once said, the worst thing is never the last thing. Just when we thought all hope was lost, when Jesus was crucified, died, and was buried, the resurrection happened. Resurrection can happen in your life. Resurrection can happen in your family. Resurrection can happen in your relationships. It can happen in this church, this community, and even in this world. Resurrection will happen! It will happen to you and it will happen to me.

Crucified

Sermon-Slide-Wk6Hosanna are the shouts we hear, palm branches are waving in the air, and people are celebrating as Jesus enters Jerusalem riding on a donkey. It is a great day! The people feel that the day has finally come when Rome will be ousted out of power and their people will finally be released from the oppression they have been under for so many years. Palm Sunday.

But what they expected and what they got were two very different things. Jesus came to release everyone from oppression, but not with the sword and fighting. He taught the way of love, servanthood, and sacrificial giving. This did not sit well with those expecting a warrior savior who would lead them into battle against the Romans, and they killed him for it.

We have traveled so far this Lent season as we have focused on the last 24 hours of Jesus life on earth. From the celebration of the Seder meal and the last supper, through betrayal, condemnation, sentencing, and even torture and humiliation. We have finally reached the worst thing, crucifixion, death on a Roman cross.

Scripture tells us of a man who happened to be in town that day to witness the event. His name was Simon of Cyrene. His role as a bystander quickly came to an end when Jesus struggled and fell under the weight of the cross. He just couldn’t carry it any longer. That’s when Simon was pressed into service. He was told to carry the cross for Jesus the rest of the way to Golgotha.

Once at that place, they crucified Jesus between two thieves. There were seven different phrases spoken by Jesus from the cross, but one of the most profound things that happened, occurred upon his breathing his last. At this moment the earth shook, the sky grew dark, and the curtain in the temple was torn in two.

You may ask yourself, what’s so important about someone’s curtains tearing, about needing to do a little interior decorating at the temple, but there was a significant meaning behind this. This curtain was the one that blocked off the ‘holy of holies.’ This was the place that only the high priests were allowed to go. They would approach the altar in this place to offer sacrifices to redeem the people.

Any ordinary person could not enter, they needed the priest to mediate for them. But with Jesus’ death on the cross, the curtain that divided the temple and closed off the special place for the priests was torn, from top to bottom. This was significant because it meant that through the death of Christ on the cross, we are given direct access to God. We no longer need someone to mediate for us.

This should make it so easy for us to approach God, but there are always things that get in the way of our relationship with him. This past Sunday, we identified with those things that get in the way and in a symbol of repentance, we nailed them to a cross.

I wonder what those obstacles are in your life? What is getting in the way of you having a reconciled relationship with God? Is it idolatry, pride, or maybe not being able to forgive someone? Maybe you have a hard time forgiving yourself? The good news for us today is that we can leave it at the cross of Christ and he will take it from us and redeem us, allowing us to reconcile our relationship with God.

What are you waiting for? Stop what you’re doing and reach out for God. Ask for forgiveness and for the removal of those obstacles in your life. Then live the life God so desires for your life.

Torture & Humiliation

Sermon-Slide-Wk5As I examine the torture and humiliation of Jesus Christ at the hands of the Romans, I can’t help but draw similarities to another epidemic we face in our culture today. Bullying is something that has been around for decades, dare I say millennia as we hear about the humiliation of Christ through the torture and crucifixion.

Let me introduce a couple of people to you this morning. Zach is 17 years old. He looks like a normal high school teenager, but he has endured years of taunting and teasing at school. Finally, reaching his limit, looking for someone he could trust, he asked his teacher for help. The response he received? “Tough it out.” They found him, alive, clinging to life as his neck was clinging to a make-shift noose.

Next, we have Andy who is 15 years old. Andy was teased and called out many times on social media and other online sites. Feeling like the whole world was watching as if he were on the next big reality show, his life on display, warts and all. Andy decided it was too much and ended the teasing and hatred with a pistol in one hand, nothing in the other.

For Zach and Andy, God did not seem to care. God could not have created them because they felt like nobody valued them. God did not know the pain they were going through and God certainly did not love them. God was absent. God may have created this world, but he is no longer paying attention to all that is going on, especially in their lives. Why else would he allow those around them to bully them so much? So much so, that they thought the only way out was for them to take their own life, escaping this tortured world.

For Zach and Andy, God might have been interested in his creation when he started, but must have gotten bored with it, leaving this world to figure it all out on its own. God didn’t love Zach. God didn’t love Andy. So they thought.

God does love both Zach and Andy just as God loves all of us! God created Zach and Andy, just like he created us! God knows what is going on in our lives, just as he knew what Zach and Andy were going through. God never leaves us, he has promised to always be there, walking with us in our times of despair, even in our doubt.

How do we know and believe that God loves us? Let me answer this question by exploring God’s actions and God’s words found in scripture. God created this universe, God created this world and everything in it. God created light and darkness, day and night, water and sky, moon and stars, trees and plants; and he also created humankind. God created us in his image. Genesis 1:27; “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” This creation is pleasing to God. In Genesis 1:31 we hear; “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” God created. He created you and me; he also created Zach and Andy, and it was very good.

God knows us. Scripture tells us many times that God knows all about us. In Jeremiah 1:5 we hear a little about God’s knowledge of us. “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart.” God knows about us before we are even born, before we are a thought in our parent’s lives. In our scripture passage for today we see this again in Psalm 139:16, “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” Again, God’s knowledge of us goes back to before we are even born and it doesn’t stop there.  Psalm 139 begins with “O Lord, you have searched me and you know me.” Followed by verses that speak to the knowledge God has for our lives, for our actions, for our good deeds as well as our sins. God knows us, inside and out.

God knows Zach and Andy. He knew the pain they were enduring. He knew what other people were doing to them. God doesn’t want this, he doesn’t want his creation suffering, but these things happen in a fallen world, in a world that is full of sin. Once again, because God allows us to choose. But you see, he also knew about the people around them, those who could help but maybe chose not to, those who could have stood against the constant teasing and abuse which Zach and Andy were facing each and every day.

God loves Zach and Andy, but were they ever told this? Were they ever told that they are loved, period. As much as we would like to rid this world of bullies, we know that would be beyond our abilities. As long as there are teenagers, there will be those who look to make themselves feel better by putting others down. There will always be bullies. So, if this is the case, what should we do? We should let them know that they are loved, that they have worth, and that they are created in the image of the almighty God. Zach and Andy are created, known, and loved by God. We are all created, known, and loved by God.

(For complete message; please visit lanarkumc.com and search past messages.)

Sentenced

Sermon-Slide-Wk4The story of Jesus facing Pilate for trial with the Sanhedrin is one that many of us have heard many times. The details can sometimes become ordinary, we overlook certain aspects of it, and sometimes we just skim right over it. But I want to focus on two themes found here. These relate to the Jewish crowds and also Barabbas, the prisoner who was freed in place of Jesus.

First, I wonder how it was so easy to go from shouting hosannas at the beginning of the week, only to come to this point where hosanna has been replaced with crucify? Did the people really change their minds that quickly? If so, what made them do it?

Some would believe that the crowd who welcomed Jesus on that palm Sunday was not the same crowd that is demanding his death less than a week later. That there were two different politically charged groups of people with differing beliefs. We wouldn’t know anything about that, now would we?

Either way, I can see that some from the original group was there that morning when the shouts started. It was all too easy to get caught up in the mob mentality and go along with the flow. Now, we talked last week about how the Sanhedrin felt threatened and were afraid of Jesus. We said that they might have been afraid of losing their power and status. But what about the people, why would they just blindly go along with what the leaders were saying?

This comes in the form of who they expected the Messiah to be. They were waiting for the one who would come and overthrow the Roman government by force. One that would lead them into battle and defeat the oppressive force once and for all. Jesus coming into Jerusalem earlier in the week, gave them some hope that that was going to happen. But as time went on, they might have begun to realize that Jesus was not going to bring this fighting force.

He continues to teach about loving others, including our enemies. Wait, we’re supposed to love the Romans, not eliminate them? I don’t know about this, Jesus. They begin to get angry with him because he wasn’t what they wanted him to be. They proclaimed in the gospel of Matthew, “Let his blood be on our children.” Oh, the sweet irony. Jesus’ blood would be on their children, but it would be his saving blood. This leads me to Barabbas.

Jesus’ death on the cross, and his resurrection three days later, was for a purpose. It was for our atonement. It was to reconcile us to God. Now, there are many theories of the atonement, how it works, why it works, and the different ways God went about accomplishing it. Some of the major thoughts on this are the moral influence, the Cristus Victor, and the satisfaction theories. But the one that we have portrayed in our story today is the substitutionary theory.

This theory tells us that Jesus took our place, our place on the cross, our place in death, the punishment that we really deserved. That through our sin, we deserve death. But God wanted so much more for us. He longs for the relationship that we once had upon creation. God sends his Son to take our place, to take your place, and my place.

Here in the story, we find Barabbas as the first whom Jesus dies for. He takes Barabbas place on the cross and in doing so, frees him from his sin and offers life. The first person that Jesus takes the place of is a criminal. One who has committed insurrection, murder, and who knows what else. What does that say about God?

I know what it tells me. It tells me that no one is beyond the saving grace of God. No one. I wonder how that makes you feel? For me, it gives me great comfort in knowing that whatever I have done, and whatever I might do, nothing will separate me from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

That’s good news, in fact, that’s great news. God so loves you, that he gave his only son, so that whoever believes in him, will never die but have an unending, abundant life. Amen?

Condemned

Sermon-Slide-Wk3I am a second career pastor. I spent about 20 years in the construction equipment rental business. Like many other businesses, there was a lot of competition, some between rival companies, and some within the ranks of the employees. The rental business, like other, was about being the best. We wanted to have the best reputation, the best equipment, best service, and so on. We would go to great lengths to get to the top of the list.

This carried over into the staffing as well. And this made for opportunities to be, frankly, unchristian. I wish I could say that I always did what I was supposed to, that I always followed the guidance of Jesus, but I can’t. I guess you could say that I had a bit of an inferiority complex, as I would always think that others were better at things than I was. I was worried that someone would come in, do things better than I, warm up to the boss, and slowly work me out of a job. I was threatened by others who would be working right under me.

My actions were not always in line with what I believed as a Christian. Between undermining others and trying to make myself look better to the boss, I disregarded some of the basic teachings of Jesus. I would also work myself to the limit. I put in long days and nights. I wouldn’t ask anyone to help because I wanted to be the one who got the credit. All this was taking its toll on me and my family. No vacations, missing from home activities were just a couple of the results. I know now that all of this was done because of fear. I was afraid of losing my authority. I was afraid of losing my position, my job. I was afraid of losing my identity.

But there was more; in doing this, I denied the life given to me in Jesus Christ. My identity was wrapped up in who I was as an employee, as a rental equipment manager, and by how everyone else saw me. I denied my identity as a child of God. With the exception of a couple of ‘Christian events’ in my life, you might not know that I followed Christ. I was denying my relationship with Jesus by what I was doing and not doing, by what I was saying and not saying.

Fear leads us to do some pretty strange things. These could be actions or inactions, speaking up or staying silent.

During the last 24 hours of Jesus’ life, he encountered some pretty awful people. After he was arrested, Jesus was brought before the Sanhedrin, the ruling elders. These people wanted to get rid of Jesus for good. They wanted him dead, out of the picture. But why? Fear. These leaders were afraid and threatened by Jesus, his power, authority, and his following. They saw this as a threat to their lifestyle, to their position. So, even if it meant circumventing some of their own rules, they were going to have him put to death.

During the so-called trial with the Sanhedrin, Peter was facing his own fear. He was afraid of what the people would do to him, and this resulted in denying that he even knew Jesus at all. Then a rooster crowed for the second time. If this can happen to Peter, then it can happen to us.

So many times, I have been a Pharisee and at other times, I have been like Peter. I think we all have at some point in our lives. But that doesn’t have to define who we are. We are all children of the Heavenly Father, the Almighty God, and we are not left in those places of fear. God offers us grace and his grace is available to all. I don’t care what you’ve done, what you’ve said, what you’ve left unsaid, or what you’ve left undone; there’s always grace for you. I have said this before, and I will keep saying it; no one is beyond the loving grace of God. You may think you are too far out there, but you’re not.

You may feel like a Pharisee. You may feel like Peter. But thankfully God covers us all with his saving grace through the blood of Jesus Christ. He does it through this free, unmerited gift of grace and it is in this grace that we have new life in Christ.

Betrayal

Sermon-Slide-Wk2When we hear the word betray and people who remind us of this, we usually think of only a few. The betrayal of Caesar by Brutus, et tu brute? The political betrayer in Benedict Arnold. And certainly, Judas Iscariot, as he betrays Jesus with a kiss.

The scene is another garden in Jesus’ ministry, this time the garden of Gethsemane. Immediately after the Seder supper which was shared with his disciples, Jesus brings Peter, James, and John with him to the garden to pray. It is around midnight and Jesus is feeling the agony of the plan coming to fruition. He tells his friends to keep awake while he goes to pray. After a short time of prayer, Jesus comes back to find his friends sleeping. Now, if we think about this meal as a 4-5 hour celebration full of food and wine, then we can understand why the disciples would have been tired. I know I would have been tired.

Jesus leaves them again to pray a couple more times, each time returning to find them asleep on the job. So when I think about betraying Jesus, I do see Judas’ actions as a betrayal, but I wonder about Peter, James, and John. I find language interesting and after looking up the word used for “betrayed,” describing Judas’ actions, I found that the word in Greek “paradidomai” was also used in 1st Corinthians and is translated as “abandon.”

I find that Peter, James, and John also betrayed Jesus in their abandonment in the times when Jesus needed them the most. They abandoned him mentally by falling asleep, and then later they abandoned Jesus physically by running away right after he was arrested. Peter even took it a step further by denying that he even knew him three times.

So the question becomes, when have we been like the disciples in our abandonment of Jesus? When have we been spiritually asleep? When have we run away from God? I think that everytime we find ourselves not wanting to go and do the things God is asking us to, when we are inactive in ministry, when we have an uncaring attitude, when we are selfish, and even when we are full of pride and not wanting God’s help or guidance in our lives, this is when we are spiritually asleep. We may call ourselves “Christian” but we are asleep. We are going through the motions, but our hearts aren’t in it. This is the emphasis on much of Jesus’ ministry. He was concerned with not only what was on the outside, but more importantly, what was on the inside.

We also betray Jesus when we run away from him and from his calling on our lives. We can see this in sin, when we miss the mark of God’s desire. When we don’t love our neighbors or care for others. When we turn our backs on the church, thinking that we can worship in solitude only. This also comes in our prodigal moments. We feel we know better and don’t need God to live our lives, so we go off and do what we want, only to realize later that we truly need a Savior.

So, here’s the good news for you today. We find Jesus’ response to the betrayals at the end of the Gospel of Mark. Here we find Jesus doing two things. First, he rebukes them and their behaviors. But I don’t see this as a scolding, more of an expression of disappointment. But then he tells them to get to work. He gives them commands to go out into the world and make disciples. With this command, I see forgiveness, just as Peter is reinstated and forgiven for his denials, the rest of the disciples are forgiven and given the task of taking Jesus’ message out to the world.

Whether you find yourself spiritually asleep, or running away from God at this moment, know that God has not abandoned you. Throughout scripture, we are given promises. God never sleeps or slumbers. He will never leave you or forsake you. He loves you and wants to welcome you home. In fact, he runs to meet you, even when you were far away. He sees you and runs to you, and then throws a big party, celebrating the fact that you have returned home.

The Last Supper

Sermon-Slide-wk1Last Wednesday was the beginning of the Lenten season with the remembrance of Ash Wednesday, when we remember that we came from dust and that we will return to dust. We remember our own mortality and begin a journey over the next forty days as we move towards Easter. This is a time of reflection, a time of searching, and a time of self-denial.

We at Lanark United Methodist Church have begun a worship series where we will explore the last 24 hours of Jesus’ life. This will focus on Thursday at 6pm through Friday afternoon. So, the next few weeks we will focus on that here as well.

We begin our journey with a celebration meal celebrated on Thursday evening. We find through some of the gospel accounts that it is time for Passover celebrations. Venues are arranged, tables are set, and the meal is prepared. But this is no ordinary meal. This is a narrative told through a meal. Now, if you think some of your dinners can take a while to serve and eat, think about this; the Passover meal can take up to five hours or more to complete. But we must see that this is not just a meal, it’s a retelling of a story.

The Passover meal, sometimes referred to as the Seder supper, retells the story that the Jewish people have shared generation to generation. It is the story of slavery to freedom, oppression to liberation. It is the story of Moses leading the people away from the oppression and slavery they faced in Egypt under Pharaoh. But it could also be our story. We find ourselves in slavery to any number of things in this world. Then God offers us deliverance.

During the Seder Supper, the participants read, eat, celebrate, and remember. They retell their story, the story of the Jewish faith and the covenant which God made with them. Different elements that are found within the supper retell certain parts of the story. There is the lamb which reminds them of the sacrifice that was made and marking the doorposts with its blood allowing the final plague to Passover their house. A bowl of salt water retells of the tears shed during their oppression as well as deliverance through the Red Sea from the Egyptians and Pharaoh.

Then there were four cups of wine. These were symbols of the four promises of God from Exodus 6:6-8. It was during one of those cups of wine that Jesus does something new. He breaks tradition within this supper as he shares a new covenant with his disciples. Jesus shares words that are so familiar to us today. As he takes the unleavened bread and breaks it, he shares; “This is my body, which is broken for you.” Then he holds one of those four cups of blessing and shares these powerful words; “Take and drink, this is my blood of the new covenant which has been poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins, do this as often as you drink of it in remembrance of me.”

Jesus makes a new covenant during this special meal with his disciples, but its more than that. Its more than just a covenant with those present, it is a new covenant for all of us. Every time we celebrate this sacrament, we remember what Jesus has done for us. We celebrate with others around us. We give thanks for the sacrifice made on our behalf. And as we celebrate a foretaste of what it will be like at that final meal, we receive that grace of Jesus Christ.

There is so much wrapped up in this special meal that we should never take it for granted, just thinking it’s another ritual from the church. It is so much more. This is one of those moments that we truly enter into the presence of our Lord and Savior through the power of the Holy Spirit, and partake in a spiritual refueling, an awakening, a soul feeding, grace filled moment especially meant for all of us. The table is set, the host is present, come and feast at the table of our Lord.

Website-Sermon-Slide-Wk4This week we conclude our series of topics based on Christian clichés or what we have been calling ‘half-truths.’ These are phrases that we should probably strike from our vocabulary altogether. They may have some truth to them, but I can see how they would hurt more than help those who are on the receiving end of the comment.

Our phrase today is “God said it, I believe it, that settles it.” And on the outside, it might not seem like there is that much wrong with this statement, but when explored a bit deeper, we can see how detrimental this can be. Let’s break it down a bit.

When we hear ‘God said it’ we are almost always referring to the Bible, God’s word. Now you may be asking yourself, I thought we were supposed to following what the Bible says? This sacred book is full of God’s commands and I thought we were supposed to follow those? I would offer you this answer; yes, and no. You see, there are a few problems with this. If we truly take this literally, than we need to follow all of the Bible’s commands or laws, but we may not want to.

Scripture contains passages that I’m sure we wouldn’t want to follow anymore. There are verses that talk about punishments for adultery and a rebellious child as being death. There are rules about what we can eat which eliminates favorites like bacon, shrimp, and lobster. According to another passage, we should not have any tattoos or trimmed beards. And this doesn’t even touch the topic of women being silent in church. God said it, I believe it, that settles it? We need to be careful with how we look at scripture and not make it overly simplistic, unless you want to use Jesus’ comment about which law is the greatest. He said that all the law is summed up in two commandments; love God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and to love your neighbor as yourself. That is a verse I can get behind!

As for the rest, I suggest that we read it within its context. Don’t ‘proof-text’ by pulling a single verse out of scripture and placing a full belief in it without understanding the context of the story this verse is found. It may be absolutely true, but then again, in a particular context it may have a completely different meaning than the one you are trying to prove by using it.

The Holy Spirit helps us with this as we pray for guidance in our reading. The Bible is a living word for us and we need the Spirit’s guidance in determining its meaning for us today. Paul did this as he was confronted by the issue of circumcision as Gentiles were coming to faith and the Jewish people pointed out that the Old Testament law commands circumcision for acceptance among the covenant people. Paul discussed that God was not that caught up in this, but more in restoring the relationship that was lost.

Interpretation and understanding is incredibly important, and must be approached with the Spirit’s help. But here’s something else I know. If we look throughout scripture and our lives today, we come to the question of what is the Word of God? Or maybe the better question would be; who is the Word of God? The Gospel of John tells us that the “Word of God became flesh and dwelt among us.”

Jesus Christ is the Word of God! All we read in scripture should be read in light or through the lens of Jesus. Case in point; Old Testament law commands that an adulterer be stoned to death. But Jesus, when faced with a woman who was caught in the act of adultery, tells the Pharisees and others gathered that whoever was without sin, cast the first stone. Boulders dropped to the ground and everyone walked away. Jesus told the woman that her accusers had left and that he didn’t accuse her either, go and sin no more.

I hope you can see that the phrase ‘God said it, I believe it, that settles it’ is a phrase that is best left alone. Yes, we are a people of one book, but we must remember that the true Word of God is our personal Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. And he told us two commands; love God and love your neighbor. So go and love!