Monday, April 27, 2009

Who is Jesus, Who are the theaves and wolves? Psalm 23 John 10:11-18

Jesus revealed God's radical love in the cross. Before he died he spoke of his death. in John 10 he said that a ture shepherd was entirely ready to face death in defense of those he was called to protect. That's how valuable you are to God. Jesus said he was ready then to face death on behalf of his sheep. Looking back towards Good Friday and Easter we see that Jesus meant it. He wasn't pontificating when he said that he was a good shepherd. He was and is ready to take on the wolves and theaves who threatened his sheep.

The gospels have given us us rich images of God at work in the person of Jesus Christ. In John's gospel Jesus' own "I am" statements helps us see who him

  • I am the Messiah John 4:26

  • I am the bread of life John 6:48

  • I am the light of the world John 8:12

  • I am the door for the sheep John 10:7

  • I am the good shepherd John 10:11

  • I am the Son of God John 10:36

  • I am the resurrection and the life John 11:25

  • I am the way, the truth, and the life John 14:6

  • I am in the father and the Father is in me John 14:10

  • I am the true vine John 15:1

  • I am not of the world John 17:14

Jesus' simple sentences give us glimpses of God at work in his person. This weeks reading in John 10:11-18 invites us to explore Jesus work as shepherd and to explore what great lengths he's willing to go to in our defense.

In my first couple years as a pastor I remember preaching about this text. I asked out loud why sheep have reputation for being so dumb. One man in the congregation spoke up, "They can't be that dumb: they can always find their way out of a fense if there's a whole or on top of hay stack or building if they have half a chance to get there." Cordette was absolutely right. Jesus wasn't comparing us to dumb animals by calling us sheep. He was revealing both God's view of our nature and the distance that he would go to save us.

Jesus' mission, to be shepherd of our lives, runs head long into our rugged independence and our willful, and sinful, resistance to God. Sheep aren't that dumb. We humans have been given so much by God. We were made to please God. Yet we can choose to use all our gifts destructively. The shepherd who knows his sheep knows our abilities and our temptations

Jesus loves us enough to runs headlong into the worst that humans can do to other humans. Jesus has pledged to be our shepherd. He is the one with the rod and staff of the 23rd psalm. He's the one and He knows very well that he came to save a people who believe they don't need saving. Jesus knows very well that their are theaves and wolves ready to reach in and do us harm.

Jesus promised to the shepherd and he kept that promise on the cross and he will keep that promise unto the fullness of time.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Witnesses beginning in Jerusalem....

Jesus stepped out of the tomb and that same day he begain appearing to his followers. His risen presence surprised them. Yes, He'd promised to come back from dead, and He did; but his friends who heard his promise to rise still didn't expect to see him. God has been on the move, in ways we don't always expect, ever since.

Jesus' rising set his friends free. On Good Friday most of Jesus' followers just shrunk back into the crowd. They feared for their own lives. A few women and men stayed back waiting until he died to pick up his body so they could beary it. Meeting Jesus after death was just the beginning of their transformation. John reports that at their gathering the evening after Jesus' rose they barred the doors because of fear. As His friends gathered together in Jerusalem to tell their stories about meeting Him after death He surprised them by meeting with them again.
Meeting Jesus again emboldened his followers. They were released from the fear of the crowd and from the fear of death. Jesus was moving fast setting them; and all of us free. Meeting Jesus emboldens his friends today. We believers are free. He told his friend that they were called us to be witnesses starting right there in Jerusalem. Jesus said that the news shouldn't remain hidden; the time was coming when they would have power to spread the news.
Seeing the Risen Lord Jesus at work in our world today is still wonderful. Jesus was transformed in his rising, His friends were changed too and we are transformed as we meet him alive and well after death.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Jesus Easter Greeting: Peace

Jesus' resurrection rightly surprised his friends. When they met him again for the first time, after he'd risen from the dead, they didn't immediately recognize him. Jesus friends didn't expect to meet their old friend Jesus. They loved and remembered Jesus; but he was dead. They had no earthly reason to recognize him or expect to meet him.

Meeting Jesus alive after he was dead defied human reason 2000 years ago. Meeting him in flesh and blood today still defies human reason and experience. Some believed then, just as some believe today, that God has the power to raise the dead. But the day of resurrection seems very distant to us.

Martha, in John 11:24, told Jesus that she hoped to meet her dead brother Lazarus again on the day of resurrection. But that day, in her imagination, was way off in the future. Jesus responded by raising her brother from the dead that very same day. Resurrection came so quickly it caught everyone off guard. We in the church confess in our ancient creeds that we believe in the resurrection of the body. We hope for the day when we are reunited with all believers who are caught up in the great cloud of witnesses. Jesus' friends learned that the resurrection may be closer than they ever imagined it could be; and the very same lesson may be true for us.

We later believers have something to learn from the disciples' reactions: God's resurrecting power is unexpected.

We might want to make fun of Thomas' doubts in John 20 when we ought to be admitting that we our own doubts about Jesus' rising. Thomas wasn't alone in not seeing the full power of God to make the dead rise. In John 20:16 Mary met Jesus risen by the tomb and thought he was a gardener. In Luke 24:13-35 two disciples met Jesus while walking to Emmaus in the afternoon on Sunday but didn't recognize him. They spent a good bit of time together with him walking and talking about the cross and the predictions of the Messiah's dying and rising in scripture; but they didn't recognize Jesus until he broke bread with them.

Looking back this week at Thomas' story and some of the other stories of the resurrection its clear that Jesus' friends weren't expecting to meet him. Maybe the same goes for us. We don't expect to see God and often we don't seem God at work.

This week I am trying to remember that Jesus' friends were witnesses to His death before they were witnesses to the resurrection. They watched his crucifiction at a distance and heard from reliable people that his body had been taken down from the cross and placed in a tomb. Even when trustworthy people told Thomas the Good News it was still to much to believe. This week I am looking for God at work and for signs of new life and I am remembering what Jesus said to his friends. "Peace be with you." He didn't ask them why they failed to believe or doubted. Instead he offered them friendship greeting them with peace.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Fear and Joy

The Good News has always been something announced to humanity.

In Mark, a mysterious young man in a white robe was the first to make the announcement to the 3 women who came to pay their last respects to Jesus. They came to properly annoint and spice his dead body. On their way to the tomb they were worried about moving the stone away. When they got there the stone was rolled away. A mysterious man in the white robe told them,

"Don't be alarmed," he said. "You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who
was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him."
Mark 16:6 NIV

This was news then and it is news today. It is our Christian story, and the core mystery of our Christian faith put as simply as it gets. Jesus was crucified. He has risen.

The young man in white was the first to proclaim the Good News. It caught the women who heard it completely unprepared. They were ready for a dead body; not an empty tomb. They were ready to weep and the news the young man shared caught them off guard and left them in fear.

Fear is a basic involuntary emotional response. We can't prevent it or avoid it; fear happens when the unexpected and inexplicable happens to us and arround us. The experience of fear happens as the unexpected grabs us. The 3 women who came to the tomb were caught in a moment of great surprise. Some commentators will try to explain away the basic involuntary experience of fear. Some even say these 3 women were caught in a moment of awe and reverence and not fear; but awe and reverence wouldn't have moved them to hide the Good News. Fear on the otherhand might and does silence our proclamation.

Some how the joy of Jesus rising overcame their fear. Joy didn't come immediately for the women. The fear held them in silence; but we know today that they didn't sit on the story. We know that the Joy of the Good News overcame their fear. That's God's work in our world. Breaking through fear and doubt through the power of the Word.

May the joy of hearing the Good News announced for us break the chains of fear that hold us bound. May the joy of Ressurrection enliven us as witnesses to Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Palm & Passion Sunday

Sunday we’ll hear the great height and depth of Jesus’ human story. Jesus rode into Jerusalem a long awaited deliverer; the crowds waved palms and the people cheered, “Hosanna, hosanna, blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.

The story didn’t end there. Jesus the King had come but he wasn’t going to have an easy coronation. He was coming for a crown of thorns. He was coming to be lifted up not on a throne of gold but on a cross of wood.
As a kid growing up in a Catholic Church in Minneapolis we read one of the passion stories in church from Matthew, Mark, or Luke every year on Palm Sunday. We read the passion from John’s Gospel in worship every year on Good Friday night. After all those years of reading the Passion in community with everyone else in church my imagination about Jesus has been shaped above all by the words that I heard.
Listen as we read the story of the passion today. Let it just sink in. Let the words swirl around you and move within you. Listen as you and I are the ones who say, “Crucify, crucify him” Every year as a kid I wanted to find a way not to say these awful words. It'd be nice to find somebody else to blame for the cross.
Through the centuries Christians have looked for scapegoats; perhaps if we could all blame someone else and drive them away we wouldn’t need to worry about the cross.
Search all you want; you won’t find anyone else to blame. The hard truth, that all of us humans are to blame for the cross comes through 2000 years later as we read this story of Jesus death.
480 years ago Martin Luther wrestled with his own realization that he had something to do with Christ's death. Luther wrote hauntingly,
The real and true work of Christ’s passion is to make man conformable to Christ, so that man’s conscience is tormented by his sins in like measure as Christ was pitiably tormented in body and soul by our sins. This does not call for many words but for profound reflection and a great awe of sins. Luther's Works, Vol. 42 : Devotional Writings I. Page 10 Edited by Pelikan, Oswald and Lehmann. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999, c1969.
The shame of Christians through the centuries is our misguided search for another individual or group to blame for Christ's death. Look no further than yourself. You can see the very one who Christ died to save. Look at your own sins and see how your life has called out, “crucify, crucify him.”

Our age is ripe with images of the Passion. It’s there in Mel Gibson's film, in Christian art for the last 2000 years, and our own reading of scripture. These are the bloody unpleasant details of God’s saving love for us. Martin Luther wrote,
You must get this thought through your head and not doubt that you are the one who is torturing Christ thus, for your sins have surely wrought this. (Ibid p. 9)
Today we sit in our listening and realize the depth of God's love and the reality of Jesus' suffering for us. But we must not leave ourselves forever at the foot of the cross because Jesus did not remain on the cross. The cross was not Jesus' finale. Christians who were dead because of sin now rise to new life just as Jesus rose.
Today we hear what the devil thought was the end of the story. We hear as our Lord breaths his last on the cross; but in watching both the horror of the cross and the wonder of his rising we see the true heart of God. Luther said that this is God's “friendly heart” which reaches out for sinners. As you read the passion listen to the words that spill from your lips and know that you are the one he died to save. Know that his resurrection happened and that you will rise with him. AMEN.