Today was an awesome day! In fact, today was a good example of why I love the Army Chaplaincy.
My unit went to the firing range for qualification. Of course, as a Chaplain, I cannot qualify on a weapon but I am can be there with the Soldiers ministering and sharing in their experience. There are not many pastors who can say the same thing!
Today, during lunch, while sharing an MRE in a sunny field near the firing range, one of the Soldiers said, “Hey Chaplain, what’s the deal with Baptism?” This lead to a great discussion of the origins of baptism, it’s significance, and the work of the Holy Spirit!
While the discussion was with a small group of believers, there were some other Soldiers who do not normally attend Chapel services or interact with Chaplains very much. That group worked their way into our discussion as well and before I knew it, there were about 15 of us talking about baptism and the Holy Spirit. It was awesome (and yes I felt the Holy Spirit moving among us!)
I am grateful and humbled that I get to do this. It is an awesome thing to be an Army Chaplain. I look forward to the days ahead (good and bad) remembering that God has called me to this ministry.
Change is never easy but it is part of life. All we have to do is look around us and we see change occurring by the second. The weather. The time. The neighborhood. Our bodies. Some changes are bigger than others – marriage or the birth of a child. Some changes are exciting and bring joy. Other changes bring sadness and loss. Today, I am going through the beginning of a major change that has a combination of many things.
Today was my last Sunday with the congregation of Mt. Denson Cumberland Presbyterian Church. It was planned and I knew today would be my last day since I have BTA next weekend and I would like a weekend off before I go to Fort Hood. I knew it was coming but it doesn’t make it easy.
They are a good group of people who deeply love God and want to bring God to their community. They care about each other and that love comes through every thing they do. They are welcoming and to be honest, the first Sunday I preached at the church, I felt like I was home.
What makes it hard is that I fell in love with the church (as in the people) but God has called me to a different ministry. While I am excited to head to Fort Hood and serve as an Army chaplain, it is not easy to say good-bye and face a bit of the unknown. Would I have been happy if I stayed with the Mt Denson Church? Absolutely!
So what do I take from this time with this church?
- A renewed/restored faith in local congregations. I came to this church burned out and hurt from a rough experience with one congregation and an unexpected ending with another one. I vowed I would never serve in a local church again and worked hard to avoid it. However, God had other plans and I found myself called to this church. The result is a renewed faith.
- I will take their love into the world and to everyone I meet. Mt. Denson CP Church knows no strangers. Anyone who walks in the front door is quickly welcomed and finds a place. They are not oppressively loving but their love (an extension of God’s love) shines through. I take that love with me.
- I will take their passion with me. They are in a good position both financially and with the size of the congregation. If they kept at this size and pace, they will do fine but it is not enough. They are on fire for God and want to show that passion to the community. They are sharing their gifts with the congregation to grow and show God’s love.
Change is never easy but it does come. We can either embrace change or fight it but in the end change always wins. I shed some tears tonight as I was walking and reflecting on my time with this church. They were not tears of sadness but tears of joy and happiness knowing that God worked through me to minister to this church and through this church to minister to me. We were a good combination while we were together. It is okay to shed tears and reflect on change.
“I will not say, do not weep, for not all tears are an evil.” ~Gandalf (J.R.R. Tolkien)
Not all tears are an evil but I cannot dwell on this change. God is sending me to a new place and a new ministry and while I am sad that one has ended, I am excited that a new one soon begins. With God, every day is a joy, a blessing, and adventure. I am looking forward to what is coming next!
Here is today’s sermon based on John 6:21-34:
I want to invite you to a celebration and an adventure. You are invited to join a growing number of people all over this planet in celebrating the good news that the new age of God is literally transforming this present age! You are invited to join them in the unprecedented adventure of allowing God to use your life to change this world. You are invited to dare to believe that God is conspiring through your life and the lives of others like you to make a difference in his world. Quite simply, you are invited to live out your Christian faith among the rest of the world.
God calls us to hope and to action. Our hope is based on the biblical faith that God is very much alive and is very much the Lord of history. God is, even now, working to bring God’s new future into being in this place and this time. God is here!
Our action is made possible by the power of God’s spirit working in our lives to change this world. We are part of that mysterious work that uses the small, the insignificant, the invisible, and the incomprehensible to change the world.
Now, to accept this invitation, you have to do something. First of all, you have to tune your ear so that you can hear the gospel. For example, in the text for today there are two levels of communication going on. This is characteristic of the Gospel of John, where there is always the message of the surface and then the message of the deeper level of the spirit. New Testament theologian Sandra Schneiders says this about the Gospel of John: “The Fourth Gospel has been described as a body of water in which a child can wade and an elephant can swim.”
In today’s lesson we read about the “bread of life.” We know this is a message for the deeper part of us. Jesus is not talking about literal bread, because if he was, one of the disciples would have to ask what kind of bread Jesus wanted. No. He is talking about that which satisfies the hunger of a soul. And aren’t our souls hungry? Our souls hunger for something that we long to provide and often struggle to satisfy. It is this hungering that Jesus is speaking of in today’s gospel.
I need to give you a little background and context for today’s gospel reading. The people have followed Jesus across the lake which was no small feat. If we go back a few verses, we read the familiar story of the feeding of the five thousand or the feeding of the multitude – though that just counts the men so we have to assume the number is probably closer to 20 thousand or more. Jesus is sharing his eternal message with the crowd when his disciples realize it is dinner time (aren’t they always worried about something other than what Jesus is teaching!) and come to Jesus and ask how they are going to feed this crowd. While the disciples are puzzling this, a young boy comes forward and shares all he has – five loaves and two fishes. I would like to think the members of the crowd closest to Jesus witnessed this young boy sharing all he had and sheepishly, they begin to pull out their own snacks that were hidden away in their clothing to share. After all, if this one boy is willing to share, they can share too. And so it goes through the crowd as people begin to witness the sharing and before anyone realizes it, there is more than enough food for everyone in that crowd. In fact there is left overs for later.
The crowd, with full bellies, follows Jesus wanting more food for later because they are happy and satisfied – for the moment. They want to continue to have enough to eat and to satisfy their needs and keep their bellies full. They are not truly listening to Jesus. He knows this feeling will pass when they are hungry again and he tells the crowd that he can offer a better sort of bread and he begins with “I am the bread of life”
At our home we used to receive a lot of catalogs advertising all sorts of things from jewelry to electronics. I know you get them too. Have you “heard” the message of these catalogs with their attractive models and beautiful wares? Do you know what they are really saying to us? They’re saying, “You’re not happy. And you won’t be happy until you have what we are selling. Look at us. Don’t we look happy? We are happy! But, you’re not, so place your order today!” And our garages and attics fill to the brim with stuff that we think will make us happy, and we numb ourselves with alcohol and drugs to make us forget that we are not happy, and all the while trying to satisfy the hunger of the soul with the very things that cannot do it! We are seeking full bellies.
This reality is what makes the text from the Gospel of John so incredibly relevant to us today. Jesus is the bread of life. Jesus is not magic and neither is Jesus some form of insurance to buy into for a rainy day. Jesus is the bread of life that satisfies the hungry soul today. Right now. In this moment.
While preparing for this message, I found myself singing familiar communion hymns that I grew up. I pulled one of the hymnals from my shelf and looked up the hymns listed under “Holy Communion.” I found these lines that keep playing in my mind: “You satisfy the hungry heart with gift of finest wheat. Come, give to us, O saving Lord, the bread of life to eat”.
The spirit of those lines is captured in a little parable about a holy man who rested beneath a tree at the outskirts of a city. One day he was interrupted by a man who ran to him saying, “The stone! The stone! Please give me the stone!” He told how in a dream an angel had spoken to him of a man outside the city who would give him a stone and make him rich forever.
The holy man reached into his pocket and pulled out a large diamond. “Here,” he said, “the angel probably spoke of this. I found it on my journey here. If you want it, you may have it.”
The diamond was as big as his fist and perfect in every way. The man marveled at its beauty, clutched it eagerly, and walked away from the holy man. But that night he could not sleep, and before dawn he ran to the holy man and woke him up saying, “The wealth! The wealth! Give me the wealth that lets you so easily give away the diamond!”
Jesus is the bread of life and in him we satisfy the hungry heart. Why do we come here for worship? Not to simply serve God. That is a pagan idea. We do not have to cajole God to be bounteous to us. God already is bounteous to us, because Jesus is the bread of life. We come to be served; to have Jesus put on the apron and spread a table before us. We come to be sensitized to what God has already given. We come to receive the wealth that lets us give away all our riches. We come for the bread of life.
Here is today’s worship bulletin.
Today, my unit celebrated “Family Day”. The Soldiers gathered for a time of fellowship, food, and some fun. The fact that the day began with an outdoor chapel service lead by the brigade chaplain was even better. I admit I will miss this group of Soldiers when I leave the 332nd Medical Brigade in a few months.
However, I am looking forward to being part of a bigger Army community when I join my battalion in a few months. It will be a time of learning but I will be serving God and part of a community that cares and looks after one another. It can make a difference when a community cares and it can be obvious when a community could care less. I have experienced both.
Being a chaplain, I tie my words to the Bible and if we look through the pages of the Bible, people were part of a community from the very beginning. God created Adam and realized that he needed Eve so they could form a community. Abraham and Sarah were part of a larger community. Moses and the Israelites were a community – one that grumbled at times – that traveled together and supported one another. Into the world of the New Testament, Jesus had his closest followers as part of his community and they were surrounded by a larger community which lead to churches today.
Our churches are, in a large part, the last bastion of community in our world today. We all live in communities but when we get home, we go inside, turn the alarms on, and stay behind fences. No one interacts anymore with their neighbors so we have churches left. However, if you are on the outside of that community looking in, it can lead to bitterness. There is a point when you realize you just have to accept not being part of a community and move on.
Today, I was reminded that I am part of a community and while I won’t get to know them as well as I would like, I am accepted into this community. Which reminds me that no matter whether I am accepted into any community on this earth or not, I am accepted into Christ’s community.
I’m forgiven because you were forsaken
I’m accepted, you were condemned
I’m alive and well
Your spirit is within me
Because you died and rose again
Amazing love, how can it be?
That you, my king. would die for me
Amazing love, I know it’s true
Its my joy to honor you
Amazing love how can it be?
That my king would die for me
Amazing love I know it’s true
Its my joy to honor you
In all I do
I honor you
May my actions and words and thoughts be a reflection of this community wherever I may go and wherever I may belong. I pray that I will never forget.
Edward Everett Hale, the great American orator, once said, “I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do.” It may seem like a trite comment but there is power behind it. As I was running this morning, I was thinking about the idea of ministry. I have talked with people who tell me they could never be in ministry. It catches me off guard when I think that everyone is in ministry. Every thing we do is for the glory of God. Some people are called to ordained ministry while others are called to hospitality or music or some other ministry. Paul writes:
For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness. ~Romans 12:4-8 (NRSV)
As I think about an army unit, I am the chaplain not the commander, not the cook. I have a specific role within the unit just as everyone else does. My role differs from everyone else’s but I am just as important as the commander or the cook. However, without each part of the body of the unit, nothing would happen. It is the same way in a church. Different people have different roles but it is all ministry and without one person or another doing their piece of the ministry, things will not happen.
We are all in this together so let’s work together for God’s glory. Let’s remember that everything we do should be in worship to God and so there is no small task in ministry or in life. Without the work of each of us, ministry will not happen. Embrace what you can do and do it the best you can!
Today, my unit had a change of command ceremony and I was asked to deliver the invocation. Below is the prayer I used (parts of it are borrowed from other borrowed prayers). It was an honor to be able to offer the prayer.
God of all people, this ceremony marks the passing of the awesome responsibility of command from MAJ Jackson to 1LT Burrows. We thank you for the leadership of MAJ Jackson as he relinquishes command. We pray for your continued blessing upon him and upon his family as he moves to another assignment. We ask for your guidance upon 1LT Burrows as he assumes command of HHC 332nd Medical Brigade. Bless him and his family as they support his leadership. We ask blessings upon all the members of this unit as together we pray in your name, Amen.
When I run, I find my mind wandering between the few running cadences I know:
The Army Colors:
The Army colors,
The colors are blue,
To show the world
That we are true.
The Army colors,
The colors are green,
To show the world
We’re a fighting machine.
The Army colors,
The colors are red,
To show the world
The blood we’ve shed.
The Army colors,
The colors are black,
To show the world
That we’re on the attack.
The Army colors,
The colors are white,
To show the world
That we can fight.
When my granny was ninety-one,
She did PT just for fun.
When my granny was ninety-two,
She did PT better than you.
When my granny was ninety-five,
She did PT to stay alive.
When my granny was ninety-six,
She did PT just for kicks.
When my granny was ninety-seven,
She up and died and went to heaven.
She met St. Peter at the Pearly Gates,
She said, “Gee, St. Peter, I hope I’m not late.”
St. Peter said with a big ol’ grin,
“Get down Granny and knock out ten.”
Granny replied with a big old smile,
“Hell, no, St. Peter, I got a profile.”
However, I don’t spend the entire time I am running just doing the cadences. I also find myself praying and reflecting on scripture and even reciting scripture in my head. In either case, whether prayer and scripture or cadences, the end result is the same. I am focused on something other than me or something other than how far I have to run or something other than what is troubling me. I am able to focus on other things.
This morning, I realized that prayer and scripture serve the same purpose in our every day lives as well. We have struggles, challenges, and even hills to face as we go through our daily lives and prayer and scripture serve as cadences to help us keep going. It is great to have a Bible but it is even better to know scripture by heart so you can refer to it whenever you need it. I have some favorite verses that I depend on in times of trouble and need.
Just a though from this morning’s run.
This morning as I was running, I couldn’t help but reflect on Pentecost. The sky was just beginning to grow lighter and the stars were just a bit dimmer. The birds were beginning to wake and the world was still around me. It was just like any other morning that I run. Then I began to wonder about the Apostles on that first Pentecost. Did their day start out normal? Did they know anything was going to happen? Did they know their world would never, ever be the same after that day?
But nothing, not even my life, is more important than my completing my mission. This is nothing other than the ministry I received from the Lord Jesus: to testify about the good news of God’s grace. -Acts 20:24 (CEB)
I wonder about our day today. Is it going to be different than other days? Is it going to be a day filled with wonder? Or maybe changes? Are we ready? Just some thoughts from my run this morning.
Here is today’s sermon that I preached in chapel during my drill weekend based on 1 Corinthians 9:24-27:
I am a reluctant runner. I dread each run and I am grateful when I am finished. Some of you may feel the same way as well – especially post APFT. Why do it, you may ask? It’s Simple. The Army says I will be able to run two miles in less than 17 minutes. A happy bonus is coming up on my next birthday because I can run it in less than 18 minutes. So I run 6 days a week – reluctantly. But you know what? The Army says so is not a good enough reason. I could simply prepare for a PT test a few weeks ahead of time and pass and go back to walking. The Army says so is not enough. My motivation to keep running, my motivation to take the next step, and my motivation to push myself beyond what I think I can do is God. Because you see, it is not about me, it is not about the Army, it is about God. For my own race and for yours…
- God provides the purpose and the prize
- Context: Putting ourselves into the 1st Century dirt
- Corinth was a major port city and located on an isthmus and rivaled Rome in size and influence; host to the Isthmian Games
- Important part of life in Corinth – offered money and influence
- Second only to the Olympics
- Paul addresses the runners
- Training for these games was very important
- Some athletes trained all day – every day – reference/compare to athlete’s in our modern world
- To win the one and only prize
- A crown of olive leaves – dusty in the corner or on the shelf or under the bed – not something that is important in the long run.
- Temporary, fading, and perishable glory
- Our world is not concerned with God’s race but with the rat race
- Humanity offers that crown of olive leaves in the form of money, fame, glory, wealth
- All temporary according to Paul and not worth the time or effort given the true prize
- “And when the chief shepherd appears, you will receive an unfading crown of glory.” – 1 Peter 5:4 (CEB)
- We want those trophies but what happens to them in the end?
- So how do we stay focused on training for God’s race?
- Look ahead in our planning and living – reference things that will trip us up an d make us sin
- Example of running down the greenway – falling on the ice because I was not watching
- Example of the Soldiers marking every ¼ mile on the APFT course
- “Instead, desire first and foremost God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” – Matthew 6:33 (CEB)
- Pagans in Paul’s day sough riches glory first while believers sough God first.
- Through grace, God has called us all to run the race towards the prize
- What is the prize?
- Eternal life in God’s presence
- I heard a loud voice from the throne say, “Look! God’s dwelling is here with humankind. He will dwell with them, and they will be his peoples. God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more. There will be no mourning, crying, or pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” –Revelation 21:3-4 (CEB)
And so believers run God’s race and God provides the purpose and the prize but
- God <also> supplies the strength and the success
- More running story: breaking down the run into smaller pieces to find the endurance and strength to keep going – yesterday we had Soldiers marking every ¼ mile on the path.
- Paul understood that all strength and success came from God
- Paul was stoned, beaten, rejected, imprisoned, shipwrecked
- He didn’t need the strength to keep going until he hit those moments
- God gave him the strength to get through the minute, the hour, and the day
- Through God, Paul was able to do all things
- Paul became all things to reach out to all people – a Gentile among Gentiles.
- Paul was more concerned with others than himself
- There are many things that distract us along the way
- Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote: ““Whatever course you decide upon, there is always someone to tell you that you are wrong. There are always difficulties arising which tempt you to believe that your critics are right. To map out a course of action and follow it to an end requires courage.”
- Our calling is our race – some think our calling is crazy and discourage us
- Our own doubts and fears
- Our sin
- We have to train to run the race
- Paul says we should train for things that matter: following God
- Reading Scripture, praying, sharing the Good news, and most importantly living
An amazing thing happens when I take my focus off me while I am running and begin to look around me and focus on God. It no longer is a burden nor does it hurt to run so much. My focus is on God and I know that I am running God’s race. It’s not about me, it’s not about the Army or even running, it’s all about God!
Here is today’s worship bulletin.
I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength because he considered me faithful. So he appointed me to ministry even though I used to speak against him, attack his people, and I was proud. But I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and without faith. Our Lord’s favor poured all over me along with the faithfulness and love that are in Christ Jesus. -1 Timothy 1:12-14 (CEB)
This morning as I was running, I was continuing to think about ministry (my ministry and ministry in general) and I realized that it is not easy nor is it “clean”. In fact, if you are going to do ministry, you have to be prepared to get dirty. It’s been said that life is like a box of chocolates well ministry is like a messy garage.
In every garage that I have had, there has always been one corner that is a yucky mess. Usually, I clean it out every once in a blue moon. But, it is futile. It returns to its filthy collection of garage goo. Motor oil, grass clippings, spider webs, sawdust, leaves, golf ball, tennis ball, scrap wood, bent nails and the like pile up in this corner. Life can rarely NOT have cast-offs of one sort or another.
There have been moments when I have seen a garage that had all four corners spotlessly clean. But, those were part of houses where there were no people. But, real homes where real lives are lived have at least one of those gathering spots for dirt, grime and grunge. There is a spiritual parallel to this.
Every human has a chapter or two or more in their life that is ugly. That’s why Jesus died for our sins. He forgave us. Paul elevates this general theme to a higher level. Out of sheer gratitude he thanks Jesus Christ for a generous portion of strength. It is a calling to Christian ministry.
Ministry is not a result of self-generated capacity. Rather, Jesus affirms that those who are called have already been faithful in living for Him. He alone determines who is appointed for ministry.
Some people might think that they have the prerogative to make that judgment but that is only an assumption. Ordination councils can recognize who Jesus has called but He alone has the authority to make that calling. Appointment to ministry is exclusively in His hands.
Paul recalls his past of sins. Yet, all of that has been resolved because of what Christ has done for him. That’s the beauty of grace. While humans judge one another, punish, abandon and marginalize those that they do not accept, God pours out His mercy with generosity.
The Apostle adds more to this spectacular gift of grace. Everyone in ministry is intimately familiar with these additions from His mercy. They are faith and love. Faith and love are like Simple Green which can be used to scrub a garage clean. Faith and love can scrub our souls clean and help us help others.
As children of the resurrection and as Easter people, we are called to do more than just sit back and watch the world go by. We are to dive right into the lives of God’s people and even those who do not consider themselves to be God’s people. If we get messy along the way, so be it. Let’s do ministry and let’s do ministry however we are called to do it.
On that same day, two disciples were traveling to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking to each other about everything that had happened. While they were discussing these things, Jesus himself arrived and joined them on their journey. They were prevented from recognizing him. He said to them, “What are you talking about as you walk along?” They stopped, their faces downcast. The one named Cleopas replied, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who is unaware of the things that have taken place there over the last few days?” He said to them, “What things?” They said to him, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth. Because of his powerful deeds and words, he was recognized by God and all the people as a prophet. But our chief priests and our leaders handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him. We had hoped he was the one who would redeem Israel. All these things happened three days ago. But there’s more: Some women from our group have left us stunned. They went to the tomb early this morning and didn’t find his body. They came to us saying that they had even seen a vision of angels who told them he is alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found things just as the women said. They didn’t see him.” Then Jesus said to them, “You foolish people! Your dull minds keep you from believing all that the prophets talked about. Wasn’t it necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” Then he interpreted for them the things written about himself in all the scriptures, starting with Moses and going through all the Prophets.When they came to Emmaus, he acted as if he was going on ahead. But they urged him, saying, “Stay with us. It’s nearly evening, and the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them.After he took his seat at the table with them, he took the bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he disappeared from their sight. They said to each other, “Weren’t our hearts on fire when he spoke to us along the road and when he explained the scriptures for us?” They got up right then and returned to Jerusalem. They found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying to each other, “The Lord really has risen! He appeared to Simon!” Then the two disciples described what had happened along the road and how Jesus was made known to them as he broke the bread. -Luke 24:13-35 (CEB)
This gospel passage affords us a chance to revisit one of the truly great narratives of the scriptures. In just a relatively brief passage, Luke reviews for us the kernel of Christian life.
Luke employs a literary conceit throughout his gospel to make a central theological point: where the other gospels have Jesus throughout his ministry moving back and forth between Jerusalem and Galilee, Luke’s gospel has Jesus on a continuous single journey toward Jerusalem. For Luke, Jesus’ entire ministry is prelude and progress toward the single goal of what happens at Jerusalem in the Lord’s suffering, death, and glorification at Passover.
In today’s passage, the two disciples are walking away from Jerusalem, that is, they are walking away from the entire goal of Jesus’ mission. But in an immense irony, they meet Jesus on the road, even though they do not recognize him. This “stranger,” Jesus, explains to them all the scriptures that foretold how the Messiah would have to suffer before he entered his glory. At the conclusion of the journey, Jesus makes as if he will go on, but the disciples invite him to spend the night with them. During supper, Jesus breaks bread and blesses it, and the disciples recognize him in the breaking of the bread.
How often in our lives do we walk away from Jesus only to encounter the Lord in some stranger we had not factored into our equations? How often do we find the Lord because we offer hospitality to someone we meet on the road? And when we break open the scriptures and break bread at our sharing in the Eucharist, is not our Lord there to be found?
Yesterday, the lectionary text visited the road to Emmaus. You probably know the story. Two disciples are walking along with Jesus and they don’t recognize him. There are various theories as to why but it is interesting because clearly they knew him and spent time with him.
We have the closest disciples – the ones we refer to as apostles. In the last hours of his life Jesus was sharing a meal with his disciples. One them, Philip, said, “Lord, show us the Father.” Jesus replied, “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been with you all this time? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? (John 14:9 CEB). At that point, Jesus had been with Philip and the other disciples for approximately three years.
It has now been almost two thousand years since Jesus was raised from the dead and proclaimed as Lord. That is over 600 times as long for his disciples to be studying him! Has this not been long enough for us to recognize that seeing Jesus is seeing the Father? Why do we still think there’s someone else besides him? We have 2000 years of church history and tradition. We have scholars who have studied Jesus’ words and teachings. In fact, I have my own collection of Jesus’ teachings – the Bible and yet I am not sure I always recognize him either. Why?
It is because we have not looked closely enough at Him. By all means, seek Christ anew!
Easter is behind us and we are faced with months of commonality until we get close to the season of Advent. We traveled the journey of Lent towards joyful anticipation of Easter and then it is past. We are a resurrection people but what do we do in this season when the joy of Easter is slowly fading away from us?
I’m sure about this: the one who started a good work in you will stay with you to complete the job by the day of Christ Jesus. -Philippians 1:6 (CEB)
Like New Year’s, at Easter, I think a lot of people make a commitment to come to church more often and be a better person. I mean, how can they not when we look at the resurrection and realize what it means for us.
Take, for instance, walking in love. A believer reads a passage in the Bible, and the Holy Spirit uses it to remind them of areas in their lives that need some work. They come away encouraged and ready to love, love, love. They’re filled to the brim with the love of God, and start letting it pour out on others.
This goes on for weeks, and one day they stub their toe and cuss. Then they cuss at the dog, and maybe even the kids. This starts a tailspin of strife, and everyone in the house ends up grumpy (except the dog—he’s just doing his best to stay out of the way at this point). The next morning they feel like they’ve been drug through the mud. Guilt overwhelms them, and they think that they’ve blown it entirely.
But no, He who began a good work in them will complete it. So they fell off the horse. All they have to do is get back on and pick up where they left off.
We may falter from time to time but if God can be patient with us long enough to finish the good works that were started within us, then we can be patient with ourselves and get up and keep going. God will not abandon us because we make a mistake – it may be hard to imagine sometimes but somehow in someway, we are part of God’s plan and so those works he began in us will grow and reach maturity one day. I look forward to looking back and seeing God’s work in me even when I don’t think it is there or I feel like I have failed. Then, I can be like Paul and say:
I have fought the good fight, finished the race, and kept the faith. -2 Timothy 4:7 (CEB)
I realize I have covered a lot of ground this week. We went from hiding disciples to how they are connected to one another. This morning, I decided to bring some of those ideas to our world. We are like the disciples in many ways and we need the church as much as they needed it.
The believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the community, to their shared meals, and to their prayers. A sense of awe came over everyone. God performed many wonders and signs through the apostles. All the believers were united and shared everything. They would sell pieces of property and possessions and distribute the proceeds to everyone who needed them. Every day, they met together in the temple and ate in their homes. They shared food with gladness and simplicity. They praised God and demonstrated God’s goodness to everyone. The Lord added daily to the community those who were being saved. – Acts 2:42-27 (CEB)
Carry each other’s burdens and so you will fulfill the law of Christ. -Galatians 6:2 (CEB)
You or someone you know has said that phrase at one time or another. The trend in recent years is for people to view their spirituality as very individual. People will spend “me time” on things like yoga, a cup of tea on the porch during sunset, or experiencing God in nature and call that their “church.” It’s important to have personal time with God through prayer, meditation, reading and reflection, and it’s great to find unique ways to experience God in nature or whatever works for your personal worship time. However, it’s also important to pursue God together in community.
Having church was God’s idea. From the early beginnings and throughout the Bible, God’s people have worshiped together in community. In the Old Testament, God spoke to a nation, not just an individual. Worship happened at Mt. Sinai, and then in the Temple, and continued in the synagogues. In the New Testament, Jesus called 12 disciples that mostly spent time with him in a group. He didn’t go around meeting people one on one. He fed the 5,000 and preached the Sermon on the Mount to a large group. Jesus instructed his disciples that he was building His church, and in his last earthly prayer in Gethsemane, prayed that we would have unity and be as one.
Most of the New Testament letters are addressed to churches – groups of people. And when Jesus spoke again in Revelation, He had a message for the churches, not just individuals. Acts chapter 2 tells us that the new believers even met together every day. The New Testament letters are full of instructions on how we are to relate to one another. Hebrews 10:25 even specifically tells us not to stop meeting together with other believers. We are to forgive, be patient, and realize that we are all different parts of the same body.
We’ve all experienced hurt, disillusionment or just boredom with church at one point or another. Sometimes we need a break. But it’s important to remember that church was God’s idea, that He wants us to continue to meet together, and that great things can happen through fellowship with other believers.
It’s not just going to church out of tradition, to be able to boast of large membership numbers or to get more in the collection plate. Being together in community results in discipleship, accountability, generations passing on wisdom, counseling, praying for one another, serving alongside others to grow the church and reach the community, a powerful worship dynamic and so much more.
If you’re holding out for the perfect church, you’ll never find it. Wherever there are humans, there are flaws. Sometimes, our flaws get magnified and there are abuses and offenses that happen. But there are good churches out there with caring people, servant leaders and people who are at least trying to build solid community. It may take some time, and some faith and patience on your part, but keep praying and trusting God to find the right church for you.
As we look in the mirror, we also have to realize our own sins and faults that contribute to a faulty church. We can begin to examine ourselves and begin to change…but let’s change the Church from within, not abandon God’s vessel to bring light to the world.
This morning as I was running, I was thinking about a lot. This week, I have been focusing on the acts of the apostles as they moved from fear to evangelism. I passed a neighborhood watch sign in my neighborhood and thought about how we have a crowd of people in my neighborhood but no real community. Too often the church is exactly the same way.
Then I remembered the feeding of the multitudes stories in the Bible like the one found in Mark 6:30-44 (CEB).
You can hardly blame the disciples for being a little irritated with Jesus. Here they have just returned from their first missionary adventure, weary yet bursting with energy to share with him “all they have done and taught.” In response, Jesus invites them to go away with him “to a deserted place by themselves” (Mark repeats this twice for emphasis). The first-ever-recorded church retreat is interrupted, however, in part because of the success of their own outreach. The crowd sees them going, recognizes them, and follows them. The disciples, together with Jesus, have begun to establish relationships with the people, and they are no longer anonymous.
When Jesus sees the throng amassed on the shoreline, he is moved to compassion and cancels (or at least postpones) the retreat. For him, it is time to get to work. We can imagine that the disciples had a somewhat different reaction. By the time night falls, they are both frustrated with Jesus and fatigued by the work. In context, Jesus’ response to their rather sensible suggestion to send the crowd away seems almost incomprehensible: “You give them something to eat.” The crowd has now become a burden.
Yet that seems not to be what Jesus has in mind. The disciples assume the resources for this repast must come only from them. Jesus instead sends them into the midst of the people to assess what resources might be available from those they are called to serve. They are not impressed by what they discover, but Jesus is not dissuaded. What they have will be enough.
Then, in a move that is often overlooked in the retelling, Jesus prompts the disciples to act in a way that they must have found mystifying at the time. He directs them to have the crowd sit down in groups on the green grass. Not just any size groups, but groups of fifty and one hundred. In that moment, the crowd becomes a community. Then, to reinforce their role as leaders, after blessing and breaking the loaves and the fish, Jesus gives the food to the disciples to set before the people. It is they, not he, who feed them.
Without diminishing the miracle, notice how fundamentally this move alters the dynamic of the narrative. You can visualize the significance of the transformation. I picture a supply truck arriving in a refugee camp, the hungry crowd gathering as a frenzied pack to get their share of the scarce resources before they quickly disappear. In community, the dynamics are altogether different. Sitting in a circle, you connect with those around you. As you pass the bread from person to person, aware of how many people it has to feed, you are less likely to take more than your share, both because you can see the faces of those around you and because the collective will of the group would not allow anything else. You can imagine—though Mark does not say it—that those who might have had a little extra tucked away, afraid to share with the hungry crowd, now are more willing to add theirs to the collective pot, knowing that there will be enough for them, too.
Mark’s narrative invites us to abandon our assumptions of scarcity and trust the abundant resources of the communities in which we serve, both inside and outside the congregation. While there are certainly times when going on retreat is appropriate and getting away to a deserted place by ourselves is just what the doctor ordered, Jesus refuses to let the needs of the crowd be ignored because that is our need. If we come to feel that it all depends upon us, then the recourse is not to escape for a time, only to return so that once again we can be the sole provider of leadership in our congregations and communities, but to look more deeply, to “go and see” what resources are present that we have not yet discovered. The promise of community, and the testimony of organizing, is that we will discover resources in such abundance that not only will the community discover its capacity to meet its own needs, but our own spirits will be fed in the process. At the end of the day, there is a basket for each one of us, too.
I think the ongoing message of Easter is that we need to reach out to the community and take care of one another and we will be surprised at what happens.
Something happened to turn the Apostles from a cowering group of followers into a world-wide (at least the known world at that time) evangelistic group. I mean we are talking about a group of followers who abandoned Jesus at his arrest in the garden (by all accounts) and went into hiding. The gospels are clear that most of them were nowhere to be seen during the crucifixion. Peter was at the trial but then fled after denying Jesus so we have a group who could be labeled cowards and failures. Yet, something happened to turn them around into the leaders of the early church. What was it?
I think there are several things that brought this change.
“I give you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, so you also must love each other. This is how everyone will know that you are my disciples, when you love each other.” -John 13:34-35 (CEB)
First and foremost there was love. We often snicker at this idea but Jesus talked about love and then showed true love when he went to the cross. If you read John’s gospel, Jesus was not a victim of the Romans but went to the cross and his death willingly. I believe the Apostles either saw this or heard about it and realized Jesus’ words about love. If he could do it for them, they could do it for him. It is all about love and what we will do for love.
I am going to take a different path and talk about Harry Potter for a moment. In the climatic scene at the end of Deathly Hallows, Harry and Voldemort and talking about love. Voldemort does not get the power of love and what it will make people do. I think the disciples finally got it and this is what inspired them to go out and share the gospel.
No one has greater love than to give up one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I don’t call you servants any longer, because servants don’t know what their master is doing. Instead, I call you friends, because everything I heard from my Father I have made known to you. You didn’t choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you could go and produce fruit and so that your fruit could last. As a result, whatever you ask the Father in my name, he will give you.. -John 15:13-16 (CEB)
I think the disciples realized this and they realized that while Jesus conquered death God had not fully destroyed death yet. So they knew they would die but they would die in service (and love!) to Jesus and that it made it alright. So what does that mean for us?
You see, death still takes us because God has not yet fully destroyed death. We all will die but we know there is something else on the other side. I think we all help destroy death when we share the gospel with someone. I think we all help death die when we live rather than just breathe. And there is where panic sets in because people often dread having to share the gospel with someone else. It makes us uncomfortable but it shouldn’t because there are other ways to share the gospel. You see, if we, as Harry Potter did, lay down our lives for our friends so they might live, we are sharing the gospel. If we offer a smile to someone on the street rather than look down or look away, we are sharing the gospel. If we offer a hug or a kind word to someone during a bad day, we are sharing the gospel. If we do a random act of kindness with no desire for recognition, we are sharing the gospel. I am not saying that sharing the gospel and offering to pray the “sinner’s prayer” is not important; what I am saying is that when we live our life abundantly in spite of death, we are sharing the gospel. When we live in spite of death, we are storing our treasures in heaven and we are serving God because we are living. It more than simply coming to church for an hour on Sundays. It is more than professing to be a Christian. It is living abundantly and fully and appreciating the life God has given us!
I have been thinking about death a lot lately but not out of fear or a sense of panic. I have been thinking about death in terms of defeating death – that is not avoiding it but living abundantly so when it comes, I have no regrets and death takes nothing from me. I believe this is our challenge as Christians – to live so death takes nothing from us. Let’s stop merely breathing and start living!
A reading from John 13 (CEB):
Before the Festival of Passover, Jesus knew that his time had come to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them fully. Jesus and his disciples were sharing the evening meal. The devil had already provoked Judas, Simon Iscariot’s son, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew the Father had given everything into his hands and that he had come from God and was returning to God. So he got up from the table and took off his robes. Picking up a linen towel, he tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a washbasin and began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel he was wearing. When Jesus came to Simon Peter, Peter said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus replied, “You don’t understand what I’m doing now, but you will understand later.” “No!” Peter said. “You will never wash my feet!” Jesus replied, “Unless I wash you, you won’t have a place with me.” Simon Peter said, “Lord, not only my feet but also my hands and my head!” Jesus responded, “Those who have bathed need only to have their feet washed, because they are completely clean. You disciples are clean, but not every one of you.” He knew who would betray him. That’s why he said, “Not every one of you is clean.” After he washed the disciples’ feet, he put on his robes and returned to his place at the table. He said to them, “Do you know what I’ve done for you? You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and you speak correctly, because I am. If I, your Lord and teacher, have washed your feet, you too must wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example: just as I have done, you also must do.
As I read this scripture, I have several thoughts about lessons to take into the final days of Lent and beyond.
- Today we need to recognize Jesus as the pinnacle of love. I believe as John writes this he is allowing the fullness of Jesus’ work on the cross to be included in this description of His love. It is this verse that projects the love of Jesus over all the events of Jesus’ arrest, trial, death, burial and resurrection. Thus the statement, “he loved them to the end.” This love is extended throughout history to all those who are “His own.” Celebrate His love today.
- A stark comparison to the glory of Jesus’ love is the darkness and betrayal of Judas’ heart. Judas becomes the agent through whom Jesus is found, arrested and tried. Today, we must face the many ways we betray Jesus. We must not allow our hearts to be hard or give a place for the devil to tempt us away from our loving Lord.
- Jesus was full of confidence because He understood His identity and what He came to do. This confidence is seen throughout the events of Good Friday and Easter. We too can be confident in our identity in Christ. Not arrogance, but confidence that we are born of God and going to God when we pass from this life.
- Jesus, full of confidence, had no problem bowing in humility to wash the feet of the disciples. This was another display of His love for His disciples. Humble love always serves. Today we are reminded of Jesus’ example to serve, and we too should serve one another.
- The word “Maundy” used on this day comes from the word mandatum in Latin, which means command. Jesus commands us to follow His example and wash the feet of one another. This should be our commitment today. Who will you serve?
- Jesus uses the symbol of the breaking of bread to represent the breaking of His body coming in hours ahead. The command of Jesus here is to “take” and “eat.” The imagery is hard to miss. To ingest the bread is symbolic of our deep internal need for Jesus. His sacrifice on the cross, the breaking of His body, forever removed the penalty of sin from those who are saved. I encourage you to celebrate the Lord’s Supper this week and remember the body of Jesus that bore the penalty we rightly deserved for our sin. Okay, granted that John’s account does not include the Last Supper but it is part of this story.
- The second part of the symbol Jesus used at the meal is the wine, representing His blood. He clearly states the meaning; His blood was the blood of the covenant for the forgiveness of sin. The cup of Communion reminds us that Jesus’ blood sealed a covenant; a promise that our sin would be forgiven and we would be made right with God. I love the hymn that asks the desperate question, “What can wash away my sin?” This faithful hymn gives the only right answer, “Nothing but the blood of Jesus.” As you take the cup this week be thankful for the cleansing power of Jesus’ blood.
I am certain there are many other lessons we can learn from Maundy Thursday but here are a few to take with us.
A reading from Mark 2 (CEB):
Jesus went out beside the lake again. The whole crowd came to him, and he began to teach them.As he continued along, he saw Levi, Alphaeus’ son, sitting at a kiosk for collecting taxes. Jesus said to him, “Follow me.” Levi got up and followed him. Jesus sat down to eat at Levi’s house. Many tax collectors and sinners were eating with Jesus and his disciples. Indeed, many of them had become his followers. When some of the legal experts from among the Pharisees saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples, “Why is he eating with sinners and tax collectors?” When Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor, but sick people do. I didn’t come to call righteous people, but sinners.”
Do I need the great physician?
It is easy to think: I am pretty good, I don’t do bad things as some people do – steal, rob, rape, murder, etc. On the other hand, do I always think good thoughts about my neighbor, do I envy others because they have things I don’t have and I would like to have – clothes, cars, wealth, material stuff?
Do I ever get angry, say harsh words and thereby hurt people, even the ones I love most? Do I ever listen to rumors, then maybe even pass them on and hurt someone?
Do I get so wrapped up in myself, my wants, my good life, that I don’t have time or thoughts for anything else? Many times that is exactly what happens. Let me be honest. Sinning is sinning. It is not a matter of degree.
If you kept track of sins, LORD—
my Lord, who would stand a chance?
But forgiveness is with you—
that’s why you are honored.
-Psalm 130:3-4 (CEB)
These are comforting words. I need mercy and forgiveness as much as the thief, the robber, the abuser, the murderer. Yes, I do need the Great Physician. I pray for forgiveness. Restore in us, O God, the splendor of your love; renew your image in our hearts, and all our sins remove.
Restore me, O God, and make me a disciple of yours in the name of your dear son, Jesus Christ.
A reading from Luke 14 (CEB):
When Jesus noticed how the guests sought out the best seats at the table, he told them a parable.“When someone invites you to a wedding celebration, don’t take your seat in the place of honor. Someone more highly regarded than you could have been invited by your host. The host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give your seat to this other person.’ Embarrassed, you will take your seat in the least important place. Instead, when you receive an invitation, go and sit in the least important place. When your host approaches you, he will say, ‘Friend, move up here to a better seat.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all your fellow guests. All who lift themselves up will be brought low, and those who make themselves low will be lifted up.” Then Jesus said to the person who had invited him, “When you host a lunch or dinner, don’t invite your friends, your brothers and sisters, your relatives, or rich neighbors. If you do, they will invite you in return and that will be your reward. Instead, when you give a banquet, invite the poor, crippled, lame, and blind. And you will be blessed because they can’t repay you. Instead, you will be repaid when the just are resurrected.”
Look who’s coming to dinner. What do the guests do? And how do we respond? And if we are helping with the invitations, who do we invite?
A parable is simply an earthly story with a heavenly or spiritual meaning. Jesus was having dinner at the home of a Pharisee on the Sabbath. The people were watching Jesus closely. And he was watching them choosing the places of honor. It’s natural to want to sit at the best table with friends, with the host, near Jesus, and to be able to see and hear what’s going on. Who wouldn’t want that? Even some of Jesus’ own disciples wanted places of honor in his kingdom. But Jesus cuts to the chase with his story about humility
Humility is knowing and accepting who you are. Christians recognize that their strengths, talents and virtues come only from God. Most of us invite friends and associates, people we like. Sometimes it’s for business or to return the favor. The more prominent the guest, the more honor they seem to bring to us. But Jesus teaches we should do just the opposite. It takes humility to invite the “nobodies,” the poor, the outcasts of society or even those we simply don’t like. Invite such as these, Jesus says, and you will be blessed and repaid in heaven.
Invite such as these, just as Christ invites us dirty, poor, naked sinners to join him at the central feast of the Christian community – the Lord’s Supper. The Host invites everyone, regardless of who they are, or where they have been, or how they got where they are now. Jesus invites all to come. Everyone has a place at the Lord’s Table.
Dear Lord, teach us to humbly invite everyone to join us at your table. Amen