Thursday, April 2, 2020

Hosanna, thoughts for Palm Sunday Matthew 21 1-11

This one Sunday started with a donkey and a parade.
Jesus was coming to Jerusalem and the word on the street was Hosanna.

This year with Covid19 we won't have parades or processions. We won't even be able to gather together in one place to worship. Make no mistake, we will still be church. We will still be Jesus' body in the world; but worship will happen in our homes. Worship will happen live on Facebook and in the family and personal spaces where people read this story, pray and sing together or alone—and that word hosanna will ring out in a different way in different places than ever before.

Before the people shouted Jesus had a plan to enter the Holy city. Jesus sent his friends to a village on the way to bring back a donkey. He said if anyone asked why they were taking the young donkey they should say, “The teacher needs it.”
And Jesus rode into the holy city on this donkey colt.
And the people called out Hosanna.
Hosanna.
They shouted it with joy and hope. It echoed the words of a Psalm (Psalm 118:26)

Hosanna/Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the lord.
There's a darkness in our world right now. We call it Covid19 or Corona virus. It's shape is hard to explain. It covers so much of our lives. Part of this darkness is fear and uncertainty. Part of this darkness is grief and death. And it's with the reality, that this darkness is real, that we hear a story of Jesus coming to Jerusalem. This weekend we usually tell this story about Jesus coming to Jerusalem as church every year. We usually have palms to hand out and a choir walking into worship together in song.
But not this year.
See the Good News is still here. Jesus has come for us all. But this year we are calling out Hosanna not in a crowd but on our own. Hosanna.

There's so much in this word Hosanna.
This word that crowds called out as Jesus rode into town on a donkey.
Hosanna. The words been around for thousands of years—it literally means save us Lord. This word somehow fits our moment when our need for God is so real. The people shouted Hosanna when Jesus came. And we sing it and whisper it and say it today.
Save us Lord.
Set us free Lord.
Deliver us.
Hosanna—to the son of David blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna—to God in heaven.

Saying and even more praying Hosanna makes sense on Palm Sunday this year amid countless prayers for the world to somehow someday just go back to normal. We hear this story about Jesus coming to bring hope and light. Jesus is light coming for the world when the darkness is real.

It's not the small parade or the crowds that lined the road that gets my imagination this year. It's not the palm branches that they wave. It's the word they shouted Hosanna—blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord. This story is a prelude to the cross and resurrection. Jesus rode in to Jerusalem on a donkey and the people had hope and anticipation—it was the start of a week of teaching and ministry—that ended with a death and resurrection.
This year the remembering will be different.
But the need for God's help is still the same.
Hosanna—save us Lord. AMEN.
peace and thanks for reading, John.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Living Water John 4

There are a few basics to have in mind about Jesus' story.
Jesus was on earth with a purpose—it's clear in the gospel of John that he was here for a reason. He came to live—to heal and teach bringing the kingdom of God with him every where he went. But there was going to be so much more to his story than just living and teaching in his story. He came to die and to rise breaking the power of sin, death, and evil in the process.

And along the way he met people. Like a woman at a well in John 4. He met her by Jacobs well. They were in Samaria—a place named for a very distinct group of people. They shared a great deal in common with Jesus and his people—but their were distinctions. Divisions that had existed for 1000 years. Distrust and prejudice were clear. And Jesus met her.
It was noon. She was alone at the well. Just think of this moment. This moment when this strange man from that other group says, Give me a drink. Alone at the well she looks at Jesus. She doesn't know him from Adam. She can tell immediately, from how he sounds and looks that He's just some man from that other group of people who would never be caught either dead or alive talking to her kind of people. And she says back to him.

How come you, a Jew, are asking me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink? John 4 MSG
There's a undercurrent of disbelief and mistrust here that is so thick you can cut it. The mutual distrust permeated the lives of every Jew and every Samaritan in Roman controlled Palestine. And Jesus new it. But he came with a mission. The divisions were so real to the people in Jesus day. And there are divisions in our day too.

There are so many divisions. Some created by fear. Some exploited by those who want to be in power. And some divisions that thank God are surmounted. There have always been ways to try to separate people one from the other, and the way it looks, human nature will always find a reason for one group of people to look down on another group.

  • Gentile or Jew
  • slave or free
  • North or south,
  • Packer or Viking,
  • Black or white,
  • Hockey or Basketball,
  • protestant or catholic,
  • East or west,
  •  rich or poor,
  • rural or urban.
And Jesus crossed one of the dividing lines that existed in his time.
He didn't need to meet her, this woman at the well, at least not as she looked at the world. But Jesus was there with an offer. Living water. For her and all the world. May that living water of grace and new life flow today in a moment of fear. May we overcome division and work for the dignity of all.
Peace, and thanks for reading.
John

Friday, February 7, 2020

living in the light Matthew 5:13-20

Early in his ministry as the crowds started to gather Jesus went up on a mountaintop to speak to his people. He spoke to this crowd of fishermen, farmers, villagers, and peasants about their true identity in Christ. He said something so audacious. He said, You are salt--you are light. His words were more than just audacious--his words were full of hope and purpose. He spoke to the people about God's coming kingdom--the kingdom that Jesus was bringing with him every step. And about how that coming kingdom would transform God's people for the sake of the world.

This sermons started with words about blessing that reshaped how the people around Jesus saw their relationships both with God and with people. Oh Jesus said, you are blessed if you are peacemakers, you are blessed if you're grieving, you are blessed if you have a hunger and thirst for righteousness. Jesus spoke of blessings for those the world might think of as weak and powerless. Forget what the world sees--God sees you as much loved. Jesus sees you as salt and light.

Jesus ministry drew crowds and now on the mountaintop he was opening a vision of the kingdom and also of the role that we as God's people have in spreading the salt and light of the coming kingdom of God.

Jesus words point to his followers.
You are salt, salt for the earth.
You are light, light for the cosmos

Jesus didn't say you might make yourself into salt or light if you try hard enough or become holy enough. He spoke these words of identity to the crowd on that mountain in Galilee. He said you are salt and light. He said this to the fishermen, farmers, villagers, and peasants. And he could have been saying this to any of his followers. Think of this word for everyone who walks with Jesus. Jesus calls the cops, the mechanics, the teachers, the nurses, the doctors, the cashiers, the student, the retired person to be salt for the earth, to be light for the cosmos.

What ever your work might be--whatever your story might be. He said that you have a place in his coming kingdom--you have a role in the beginning of his reign. You, he said, you are salt and light. Jesus was saying something about the people gathered on that mountaintop and about his people ever sense.

In our world people are so quickly reduced down to little more than objects. The world might say you are just a...
  • consumer
  • commodity
  • has been
  • wannabe
  • insignificant
  • a product to be bought and sold
  • a number
Jesus says you your story your life is about so much more. You are known to God. You are salt and light. Maybe we need to forget what our world says--and remember again what Jesus who died and rose from the dead has said about his people. You are salt--you are light.
AMEN.
Peace and thanks for reading
John

Thursday, November 21, 2019

What kind of King comes at Christmas? Luke 23:33-43

Is this a good time to start talking about Christmas?
I know Christmas is still 30 something days away--but maybe, as some folks have decorations up, its helpful to hear the Good News that Christmas is a story of God coming to meet us, to love us, to heal us, and above all to be the king who would die for us. It's good to hear the story and know that Jesus comes to meet the deepest longing of our souls. Long before Jesus' birth Jeremiah wrote about a new branch coming from a great old king's family tree. These ancient words of hope were heard by people living in a time, that like ours, can seem empty of good news and hope. Jeremiah wrote,

5 The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. 6 In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. And this is the name by which he will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness.” Jeremiah 23:5-6 (NRSV)
When Jesus was born angels celebrated his birth. Jesus, in his body, brought heaven to earth. Jesus' life, the teaching and the miracles, fulfilled old promises from prophets of long ago. God's kingdom was breaking through.
But,
the story had twists, turns, and a cross. Luke wrote of what looked like Jesus' final day. The story flipped over in one fateful night. Jesus' friends left him as he was arrested. It happened fast. Armed guards bound him. They lead him away. The religious authorities accused Jesus of blasphemy. They punched and slapped him before handing over to the Roman Army who beat him again. Those in power gave orders that he be nailed to a cross.

Hanging on a cross was the opposite of what Jesus' followers had expected. He was their hope--their future king. They wanted him to make things right. A day before they looked at him and saw hope in flesh and blood. And now Jesus, this man of hope, hung on a cross. And in this time and space between death and life old questions about Jesus were spoken out loud. Was Jesus the king they had been waiting for or was he just a fraud?
The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, 37 and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 38 There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.” Luke 22:36-43 NRSV
Jesus are you king? So many had hope he would be their king. And as he was dying the two people who were crucified with him started to speak. One man mocked him--but the other had hope--somehow he saw in Jesus the king he was waiting to meet.
39 One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deridingi him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” Luke 22:39-43.
His friends were gone--but one man still believed Jesus was a king and that he had a coming kingdom. That man--that criminal turned believer was hanging on a cross. He was dying in the same time and the same place as Jesus and in that moment he said remember me when you come into your kingdom. In that space between his own death and life he called out to Jesus. Jesus doesn't save us from our crosses--he doesn't save us from our deaths. He saves us on our crosses--he saves us in our deaths. Resurrection only happens after the worst has come. New life in Christ isn't about unicorns and rainbows. New life in Christ is about death being broken, it's about sin being conquered, it's about evil in all it's shapes and forms being broken. And the one who will break the power of sin, death, and the devil breaks their power by dying only to rise again.

So as we get ready for Christmas it's a good idea to remember the kind of king who is coming--the kind of king who will die to set us free. AMEN.
Peace,
and thanks for reading,
John

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Traveling light trusting God. Luke 10:1-19

Jesus sent 70 people out on a mission: to share some Good News that God's reign is at hand. As church we share their calling in the world. Jesus called these first 70 followers to pray for the Lord to send workers who would be part of the harvest.

The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.  Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves.  Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. Luke 10:2-4 NRSV
Some might say the world looks so different than it did in Jesus day. But need for people to go out into the world is still the same as it was when Jesus sent these 70 follower into the world. They went out with hope in a world where pain and grief were real for so many. Jesus followers today have this same invitation as church. We are invited to go into the fields like harvesters--we are sent into the world where pain and grief are so real with this promise of new life and new hope.

Sometimes I know that I have forgotten the churches calling to go--but truth is this calling has been here all along. Jesus didn't tell the 70 to build a sanctuary and wait until people came in. He told them to travel light. He asked them to go town by town. When they came to a new town the first thing they were called to do was declare peace. If their offer of peace was received they were to stay and share the news of the kingdom. Jesus told them simply,
Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’Luke 10:8-9 NRSV
They were sent out with Good News for all the world; and they were called to share the news one house and one town at time. The news they had to share was good news then and is so good today. God's kingdom isn't far away--it's near by/right at hand today.

Jesus told his followers to accept any welcome--but he he told them that they weren't just to expect a welcome every where they went. He told his friends to be ready for rejection.
...whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.’ Luke 10:10-11 NRSV
The part of this story that gives me such hope is knowing the promise that the kingdom is close by right now. The part that frustrates me is knowing that not everyone will want to hear this news. As a pastor I look at this story and I see direction from God for us about how to be church right now. God has called the church, like these 70 early followers, to go into the world and meet people where they are.

We have a message to share that God's kingdom is close to us right now. And this news that God is near is the news our world most needs. Sinners, like me, need to know that God is near both because that means the hurt I cause others is known to God and because the forgiveness found in the death and resurrection of Jesus is near too.

Peace and thanks for reading,
John

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Hope for Babel Genesis 11 and Acts 2

There's a story in the Bible about Babel that's just a few paragraphs long. Modern day folks would call Babel an industrious city. They had a goal, to make their city great. They wanted to claim a name and a place for themselves in all the world. And at first I wondered, What could God have against this city?.

At first glance their goal of greatness and the unity they needed to work together doesn't seem all that bad. Many people aspire, just like the people of Babel, to prestige. The city kept growing with a common purpose and language holding them together. They decided to build a tower to reach up to heaven. Their tower would put them on par with God. Scripture says God watched and decided to bring confusion. A people united with one language and one goal splintered as new languages just appeared.

A whole civilization oriented to it's own greatness came to a stop as God confused the people by bringing in new languages. Many people think the goal of human life is to make a name for yourself. Others think the goal is to be united for common purpose--but it's completely possible to be united for the wrong reason. Babel's quest for greatness was not innocuous. And God stepped in to stop Babel.

Other groups in history found strength in the wrong kind of unity. Germans in the late 1930's were unifying. Slogans spoke to the uniformity the Nazi's aspired to force on others. They aspired to be an empire. Their slogans spoke of uniformity and unity, but to what end?
ein Volk, ein Reich, ein F├╝hrer
one People, one Nation/empire, one Leader
Historic propoganda teaches us that Germany had united. But hind sight clearly teaches that the nation had united for the wrong reason; if we are honest they were united in a quest of greatness at the price both of their national soul and the dignity of other human beings who they relegated to a lesser status. So unity clearly itself isn't always good.

There's another story in the Bible that seems to go in the exact opposite direction of Babel's confusion. It's often called Pentecost. It happened at a festival in Jerusalem. Jesus first followers had gathered together. As the Jesus people gather they mixed in with people from all over the world. Luke, the writer of Acts, names all kinds people from a variety of places, languages, and ethnicities who had gathered together. In one moment they all understood one man, a fisherman from Galilee. They all heard him speaking and they each understood him in their own language. It was the reverse of what happened at Babel. Where confusion had reigned now there was understanding.

The promise of Pentecost is that God is up to something new in our divided world. God is bringing new life and new hope sending God's very real Spirit into our hearts and lives. May we hear the wind of the Spirit blowing in our lives. May the fire of God's love burn in us. May we be part of the kingdom of God breaking in and hope returning to all the world.
AMEN.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Spirit and Peace John 14:23-29

Jesus said a lot the night before he died. What he said has given hope and purpose to his followers ever after. In one evening he called his friends to find greatness in serving. A few moments later Jesus promised to be with his people in the bread and wine of communion. As the evening went on Jesus said he would give his followers a kind of peace that this world can't give. Jesus was naming the deep needs of every human soul—acceptance and companionship—and he promised his friends that they would not be alone. He was promising God's ongoing presence-no matter what. He said that God would be there through the work of the Holy Spirit. Jesus told his disciples that he goes with his people even though they can't see him face to face or hear his voice like they did at supper that night.


Sometimes it feels like we can get lost in this world. At home we started the week worried about stuff, packing, transporting, unpacking, rearranging. I do feel just a little lost right now. And when I got back into the office, all I can say is wow. There were phone calls for help, concerns about the church, and one of my old roommates from 25 years ago sent a message. His beloved has had heart issues since childhood, and now she's been shifted to hospice care. He's 46 and loosing the woman he wanted to grow old with.

We've had calls at church this week from families in crisis and people dealing with grief and loss. There's so much that people are dealing with and it makes my worries about stuff and where to put it seem really pretty trivial. And it reminds me again of the truth that deep down we are all fragile and deep down we all need God's presence every day.

Walking with Jesus doesn't end our fragility—but he promises to go with us in our weakness. Yes you are fragile, yes you can have struggles in this world with people, and money, and time. Yes you are mortal and your body will not last for ever. And Jesus says he will give you a kind of peace that this world can never give. Jesus promises God's loving presence as the Holy Spirit to go with you through your trials and fears. God doesn't cause the trials or the struggles—but the God of love promises to be with you right in the middle of it all.

Down deep every person needs relationships and Jesus is promising to be in relationship with us even when we can't see him. Jesus spoke to the deep needs that his people had the night before he died. Jesus knew his friends would be plunded into deep grief and loss. And his words still speak today of the hope that every person needs still today.

We aren't meant to be here alone. And Jesus talked, that night after supper, about going away. He talked about the days to come when he wouldn't be seen anymore like they saw him that night. He said that he wouldn't speak with his friends like he was speaking with them that night. Jesus' followers know well what he meant. Believers don't see him face to face over supper. But in faith Jesus' followers somehow know that Jesus is still here present and active. The life of faith is all about living in Jesus' promise. He made it clear that while his friends wouldn't see him they wouldn't be alone either. That night he pledged them that the Spirit would come and that they would find a peace this world can never give.

May the peace of Christ and the hope of the Spirit go with you wherever you go.
Peace and thanks for reading, John