Archive for March, 2018


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.

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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.