Sunday’s Sermon: Remember with Amazement

It was the first day of a new week.

The first day, Sunday morning, following the Sabbath. It was the first day of the week following a Passover celebration that was unlike any other.

That Passover celebration was a week that began with so much joy and expectation, but ended with an equal amount of pain and suffering. Jesus, the man who was hailed as the King at the start of the week, was crucified on the Friday of the Passover. At the start of that week, Jesus’ followers believed that they were going to witness the inauguration of God’s kingdom. By week’s end, they were dumbfounded at what had occurred and wondered would happen now.

It was the first day of a new week when three of Jesus’ disciples, all women, made their way to Jesus’ tomb. His tomb was quickly secured by Joseph of Arimathea. In the rush to remove Jesus’ dead body from the cross before the Sabbath began, there wasn’t enough time to fully prepare his body for burial. So, Mary Magdalene, Mary, mother of James, and Joanna went to the tomb to complete this task of honoring the Lord’s body.

It was the first day of a new week, but it was also the first day of a new experience and new creation. For these three women would be the witnesses of the greatest news ever delivered to the world. The good news was told to them by two men, angels, who greeted them at the tomb. Much like the announcement of Jesus Christ’s birth earlier in Luke’s gospel, these angels announce to the world a great new hope: Jesus is not to be found in the tomb! He is not there! He is alive! Mary Magdalene, Mary, mother of James, and Joanna became the first to hear the grand announcement of Jesus’ resurrection.

It was the first day of the new week, but more importantly, it was the first day of a new era. God began something new that day, the beginning of a new creation. It began with the joyous news that death could not hold our Lord. The cross was not the final story. The resurrection is the beginning of the story that helps explain all that Jesus did and continues to do through the presence of the Holy Spirit.

Easter is the most important day in the church’s calendar. The resurrection gives power and hope to Jesus’ teaching and confirms to the entire world that he is the Son of Man and Son of God. Without the resurrection and Easter, nothing else would have mattered about what Jesus said or did. The resurrection is the event that defines all we know or ever will desire to know about God.

Easter is a day of celebration. It is the day that we rejoice at the most glorious news that Jesus Christ is alive! We give praise to God that the tomb was found empty. Beyond the lilies, candies, and new outfits, there is a truth that we came to celebrate and embrace again.
It is a truth that we are called to remember this morning. Our celebration of Easter and Jesus’ resurrection is our opportunity to remember the good news that Christ is alive. Every Sunday is truly a chance to do that. On this day, though, it is a chance to relive the story and hear the good news once again.

That news that death does not win. The news that sin does not win. The news that darkness does not control us. The news that Jesus Christ won the battle over sin and death. Jesus is the victor in the cosmic battle between good and evil. His resurrection secured that victory and allows us the opportunity to experience a hope, love, and faith that is truly amazing.

Jesus is alive. It is an astounding bit of good news that we remember this morning. Yet, so often we live our lives as if the tomb was not found empty. We act as if the tomb was found with the stone still covering the entrance and that Jesus’ body is dead. It is a belief that says Jesus has no power, no hope, and no presence in our lives today.

But, that is not the Lord we worship. We do not worship a lord who is dead, but a Christ who is alive. We remember the good news of the tomb being found empty and allow that to shape how we respond to the living presence of Christ that is active in our lives. The resurrection gives us the hope and reminder that God is truly with us. Jesus is living in us, with us, and through us.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ is truly a wonderful thing. It is something to behold and to be amazed by. That was Peter’s reaction to the news of the resurrection. After the three women proclaimed the good news to the disciples, some reacted with disbelief, but Peter had to see it for himself. Luke tells us he goes to the tomb and sees that it is empty. He leaves wondering what had taken place.

It is an act of being amazed by something. We do not know why Peter was amazed at the tomb being empty. Did he believe the reports? Did he believe upon what he saw? One can be sure that whatever he believed, he felt a sense of wonder and awe at the fact that the tomb was empty and Jesus was not there.

Wonder and awe are truly acts of worship. We worship in wonder of all that God has done and awe of the love and beauty of the Lord’s works. At the center of our wonder and awe is the truth of the resurrection. Today we praise God for the fact that God raised Jesus from the dead. It is a raising that leads to a life that never ends. Jesus’ body has been transformed and glorified. That is worthy of our praise.

We especially praise Christ for the fact that the Lord is alive today, but we do so every day. Worship in response to the resurrection is a daily act of living in response to all that God has done. Sometimes in our busyness, we lose the perspective of being lost in the wonder and awe of what took place at the tomb. Yet, that wonder and awe helps us to soak in the glory, love, and hope that came forth as Christ’s light shone into the world once again and for all time.

Every day is Easter for us. Every day is an opportunity to experience the hope of the resurrection and the fact that Jesus is not dead, but is alive. The resurrection is not something that can be boxed away and brought out when convenient. It is a truth that defines everything and helps us to live in response to our love of the Lord.

Because of the resurrection, we can face the difficult moments that exist in our lives. That is because the hope of Christ was fulfilled and shared through the resurrection. We can be bold and confident in our faith, because the resurrection is our promise that the Lord is with us always. We are truly never without the Lord’s presence in our lives. The resurrection is our promise of God doing something new in our lives, because something new began at the resurrection. A new experience of God’s love, a new reality of salvation, a restoration of what God made perfect.

The resurrection allows us to live in hope and to be hope in a world in need of good news. We claim the good news as our own and seek to share it with others in how we live. The three women did that. They shared the good news with the disciples. Peter did it in his amazement. When we live out the hope of the resurrection and the reality that Jesus is alive, people will notice. They will see that we are living through hope by a power that will never go away.

Today, we remember the story of the resurrection and it brings us to a sense of awe. It doesn’t just have to be today. Like we said, every day is an opportunity to be amazed at what God did in the garden. Every day is an opportunity to remember the resurrection in ways that it impacts our lives today for holy living that impacts the lives of others.

Communion assists us in helping to remember the resurrection and be in awe of Easter. In a few moments, we will gather at the table and share in this holy meal. It is a meal of remembrance of all that the Lord did and has done for us. On this Easter morning, the meal is our remembrance that the tomb was found empty and that Christ is alive. As we celebrate at the table, we stand in awe of the fact that Christ meets us here. His living presence is with us always and truly is with us as we celebrate at the table and worship in his presence.

Friends, take it all in today. Take in the story once again of how the tomb could not keep our Lord and how death does not win. Take in the wonder and awe of the fact that Christ is alive and is with us. And let that be our guide in sharing the Easter truth not just today, but every day.

The stone was rolled away. The tomb is empty. Jesus is alive! Remember the Good News with a sense of awe and wonderment for the great joy of Easter!

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Easter Sunrise Sermon: Darkness into Light

As we gathered this morning, there has been a cloud of darkness that has covered us. The darkness is quite understandable. It is early in the morning. Sunrise today is not scheduled for a few moments yet, so we are just now starting to see some of the first glimpses of the light of a new day.

The darkness that surrounds us, and the glimmer of light shining through, is appropriate this morning. It allows us, I believe, to more fully experience the joy of Easter morning. Today, we gather to announce good news to the entire world. Good news that Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, is not dead! He is alive! Good news that hope has won! Good news that joy is victorious! Good news that darkness has been defeated by light!

However, it was darkness that described how the disciples entered that first Easter morning. It is a darkness that does not just speak of the lack of light, but the darkness of one’s soul and emotional state. Following Jesus’ death, the followers of Christ were in deep despair over what they saw.

Just a few short days earlier, many of Jesus’ disciples experienced what they believed was the tragic end of his ministry. They had witnessed his betrayal from within. They saw his unjust trial that led to a conviction on charges he did not commit, which led to a punishment he did not deserve. They saw him tortured, abused, mocked, and, ultimately, killed on the cross. They thought it was over and they were in pain, because they believed that in Jesus was the One they had been waiting for.

The hours immediately preceding Jesus’ death were the darkest in human history. No one knew what to expect or how to react. They didn’t know what would happen. Would the Roman government and religious leaders come after them? Were they next?

That Sunday morning began as a dark morning, but that didn’t stop their devotion to the Lord. That is especially true for the women who went to the tomb to further prepare Jesus’ body for his burial. John tells us the anointing process began in Bethany, prior to his death, but in the rush to remove Jesus’ body before the start of the Sabbath, the full anointment had likely not been completed. So, the women head to the tomb to finish this task.

John doesn’t focus on all the women, but only Mary Magdalene. She was the first to visit the tomb. She saw that something had happened. The tomb’s stone had been rolled away and Jesus was not there. Mary began to fear that someone had stolen the body. Grave robbing was a common crime in those days. She runs to report the disappearance to Peter and John, who both immediately head off to search the tomb for answers.

All three didn’t know what to expect that morning when they returned to the tomb. In their darkness, we could assume that they figured the worst. Someone had stolen the body and they would have to search for Jesus’ body. When they arrived, Peter and John noticed that the grave clothes were there, tucked away as if no longer needed. They left knowing that something amazing had happened. Mary, however, stayed behind and was able to see it for her own eyes.

What was it that they saw that Easter morning? They saw the Light break into the darkness.

Truly, as the light that is beginning to shine on us this morning, so was it the case that Easter morning so long ago. Mary, Peter, and John were the first to witness that the Light of the World had returned. Jesus is not dead. He is alive!

Today, we gather to celebrate the fact that death could not keep our Lord. Easter is the celebration of what took that gave the world hope. We do not worship a Lord who is dead, but a Lord who is alive! That is hope. We shout with joy of the Good News of the resurrection.

Jesus‘ resurrection is the victory we need. It is the victory over sin. It is the victory over the powers of evil. It is the victory over death. It is the victory over darkness. What the resurrection does is replace all these things with the light of love. It is a light that only comes through the living presence of Christ.

Christ is alive. His light is with us today. That is the good news of the resurrection. No matter what darkness we face, Christ’s light is there. The darkness of our sin is overcome by the light of Christ’s hope. The darkness of death is replaced by the light of everlasting love with the Father, through faith in Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit. The darkness of this world is replaced by the world’s true light.

On this Easter morning, all of us face some kind of darkness in our lives. It could be the darkness of family discord. It could be the darkness of personal struggles. It could be the darkness of not having a relationship with the Lord in a deeply personal way. Whatever darkness we face, the truth of the resurrection is this: Christ’s light has broken through the darkness that this world has over us and gives us an everlasting hope.

Mary, Peter, and John saw the light in their own ways that Easter morning. Peter and John looked in the tomb and saw that Jesus was not there and left knowing that something had happened. Mary saw it for herself. What about us? How will we experience the Light this Easter?

In our darkness, we have gone to the tomb searching for what was. My prayer is that we leave this encounter with the light that is with us, in us, and all around us. That is the living Light that is Christ Jesus.

Darkness did not and will not win. Christ is alive! The Light is here! Glory to God in the highest!

Good Friday Sermon: And Can It Be

For more than 2,000 years, people from across the world, Christians and non Christians, have attempted to understand what took place on a Jerusalem hillside known as “The Skull” where Jesus Christ was crucified.

Ever since that fateful Friday, the world has been intrigued by the events surrounding Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion. On the Friday of the Passover celebration, Jesus died a death that was typically reserved for the worst of the worst. His death altered the course of human history. It is still impacting human history today.

Because of the importance of the events surrounding Good Friday, we have used many tools, resources, and acts of worship, to understand what took place and what it means for us. We pour over the Scripture accounts to try to understand each element of the day. We read books from theologians and pastors, who have thought long and hard about what Jesus’ death means for us, searching for some new insight. We’ll watch television specials and movies that attempt to describe the crucifixion in vivid detail to picture what that day might have been like. We’ll come, in an act of worship, to reflect on that day so long ago together.

All of this helps us to wrestle with why Jesus was betrayed by Judas, denied by Peter, wrongly accused by the Roman government and religious leaders, and nailed to a cross to die. They help us gain a head (mind) and heart (soul) appreciation of the event and a reminder of what took place.

I think that is why many of us are here tonight. We need to be reminder of Jesus’ sacrifice and desire to appreciate again the love of the One who came to show us the way to the Father and died a death he did not deserve.

Prior to arriving this evening, we each have had some interaction with this day and Jesus’ death. Some of us are all in. We have claimed Jesus as our faith is centered on the cross. Some of us are on the fence. We like Jesus, but we are just not sure what something that happened 2,000 years ago has to say to us today. Then, there are some of us who are here for some other reason. Perhaps we have struggled with our faith or are even doubting who Christ truly is.

No matter where you are in your walk with Christ, this evening, I want to speak a word of reflection that focuses on what the cross has to say to us today. Thankfully, I am not without help in this task. I have the words of Christ spoken from the cross, which are powerful words that helps us to understand what took place at Calvary.
Of the seven words that Jesus spoke from the cross, there is one that I think is appropriate for us as we reflect on the cross. that we have spoken by Jesus on the cross, I think one is most appropriate for us this evening. In Luke 23:34, Jesus says, “Father, forgive them for the do not know what they are doing” (NIV).

These were difficult words for Christ to say. That is because of the torturous nature of the process of crucifixion. It was a horrible form of capital punishment used by the Roman government to exercise their authority and promote fear in the people. The worst offenders, and mostly slave and foreigners at that, would be punished in an humiliating way.

Scripture and historical accounts give us an idea of exactly what Jesus experienced. A prisoner would be flogged and tortured prior to being placed on the cross. They would be forced to carry either the crossbeam or the cross pole, itself, to their place of execution. It was a public spectacle aimed at increasing the fear of the Roman government among the people. Luke reports that Jesus was unable to carry the cross the entire way. Simon of Cyrene was recruited to finish the journey.

The torture continued in how the prisoner was placed on the cross. They would be nailed or tied to it. Scripture tells us Jesus was nailed, likely three times, to the cross. It would take hours for the execution to lead to death. Asphyxiation or heart failure were the likely causes of death.

Even though it was difficult for Jesus to speak on the cross, he chose to speak. In doing so, he continued his ministry of sharing love and hope with others. With the words “Father, forgive them, Jesus shared his love by offering a prayer of grace that sought the Father’s mercy.

The prayer is truly Jesus’ response to what had transpired. As people tortured him, mocked him, accused him unjustly, Jesus reached out and said “forgive them.” By forgiveness, we mean to pardon someone of their wrongs. We look past it. In this prayer, Jesus asks the Father to look past the wrongs that had been committed that led to his placement on the cross. He is asking for grace to be extended to the sinner.

But, who is the subject of the prayer? Who is on Jesus’ heart when he prays “forgive them?”

Jesus extended forgiveness to those who placed him on the cross. He extended love and mercy to the Roman authorities and religious leaders who worked together to bring an end to Jesus’ ministry. Tortured, mocked, and unjustly accused, Jesus was willing and able to look past their actions. In the midst of deep pain, Jesus showed a love that is truly amazing and divine by extending grace to his accusers. That is the power and depths of Christ’s love.

A love he shared with the larger community in Jerusalem and everyone who shared in the mockery that day. Part of Jesus’ experience that Friday morning were the chants of “crucify him!” Chants that drew in stark contrast to the shouts of “hosanna” that filled the Jerusalem streets earlier in the week. Even though Jesus still had a vast number of followers, it was clear Jerusalem community had expected and wanted someone else. Their desires for a king, in their own image, blinded them from seeing the Savior in front of them. That blindness continued to the cross where people mocked Jesus to “save himself” in order to prove he was the Messiah. He never relented. Jesus did something better. He looked past their words, attitudes, and wants, and showed compassion.

A compassion Jesus showed to each of us. When Jesus spoke the words, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they are doing,” Jesus was praying for us. He was praying for all of humanity that existed before, lives today, and ever will live. We were on Jesus’ heart and mind on the cross, because it was there that Jesus paid the ultimate price for our sin and disobedience.

Our sin placed Jesus on the cross. When we think of sin we think of violations to a known will of God. It is those things that we do that disappoint God. Sin wasn’t supposed to be a part of God’s creation, yet it came about when Adam and Even disobeyed God’s desires. We live into our tradition of sin, today, when we go about things our own way, ignore God’s wishes, or seek to do things that are harmful to ourselves and others.

Even though we placed Jesus on the cross, our Lord offered compassion, love, and forgiveness to us all. That forgiveness seeks to close the distance that our sin created between us and God. Jesus offered his entire self so we could be free of the guilt of sin and reunited with the Father. The One who entered the world without sin, became sin so we may have a deep relationship with our Creator. By dying the death we deserved Jesus wiped the late clean between us and God. We call this justifying grace. The cross pardons us all and invites us to hear Jesus praying for us when he prays “forgive them.”

It’s humbling to think that Jesus, our Lord, would go to such great lengths for us so that we might be reunited in our relationship with the Father. What the cross represents is the greatest act of love and self-sacrifice that the world has ever known.

A love that is, perhaps, best represented in the lyrics of Charles Wesley’s classic hymn, “And Can it Be.” Wesley reflects with deep love and admiration on what Jesus did on the cross and the grace available.

One of the lyrics goes like this:

And can it be that I should gain/ An interest in the Savior’s blood?/ Died he for me, who caused his pain/ For me, who Him to death purused./ Amazing love! How can it be,/  That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?/  Amazing love! How can it be,/ That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

Indeed, it is an amazing love that placed Jesus on the cross. A love so amazing that it looks beyond our sin, looks beyond our hurts, looks beyond our brokenness, and invites us to receive forgiveness and grace through the loving arms of Jesus Christ. Love nailed Christ on the cross and it is a love that we can receive tonight through accepting the free gift of God’s grace, whether it is for the first time or the 100th time.

The tendency after this service and time of reflection is to rush to Easter. We cannot rush to Easter this evening. We must find ourselves here and take in this moment. We cannot enjoy the riches of the hope of the resurrection until we find ourselves at the foot of the cross and hear those words of Jesus spoken directly to us: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing.”

Truly, Amazing love, how can it be, that Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

Sunday’s Sermon: What Kind of King is This?

Palm Sunday always greets us with a sense of excitement. There is a breath of anticipation that comes in reading the story of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem and the reciting of “hosanna.”

When we hear the story and study it, we can’t help but picture the grand processional that takes place. As Luke describes it, Jesus arrives into Jerusalem on the back of a borrowed donkey surrounded by his followers who shout “Blessings on the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven.” It’s an exciting day, filled with anticipation, and the hope of the fulfillment of a promise. Will this be the time that Jesus will claim his messianic throne?

The story surrounding Palm Sunday is one that seems like a grand royal procession. We can easily draw to mind a picture of royal acts of celebration. There is music being sung by the disciples in praise of Jesus. There is a mode of transportation. A group of people surround the king. At the center, is a king preparing to enter his royal city, Jerusalem. It’s a magnificent scene filled with power, joy, and celebration.

We look forward to the pomp and circumstances of Palm Sunday. It’s the day we celebrate with palm branches, special music, and anticipatory words that remind us of this day of Jesus’ entry into a week of painful rejection, deep sacrifice, and the greatest love we have ever experienced.

The narrative Luke tells of Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem seems nothing like some of our modern displays on Palm Sunday. Luke describes a scene that is quite simple. There are no trumpets. There are no royal pronouncements. There are no palm branches. There are no large crowds. There is just Jesus and his followers entering the city with the shouts of praise in response to all that Jesus had done. Luke, a gospel particularly focused on how Jesus interacts with the poor and the forgotten, takes great care in making Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem a simple yet powerful celebration between himself and those who followed him.

I’m grateful for Luke’s telling of Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem for the Passover. The simplicity of Luke’s narrative allows us to experience what occurs as Jesus rides into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey. What we see is that Jesus rides into town to claim what is rightfully his, which is his kingship as the divine Son of God. Jesus enters Jerusalem to fulfill the messianic mission. In doing so, Jesus allows us to see what it means for him to be our Lord.

We see this in the symbols and words Luke uses. Luke is very careful in describing what takes place. Luke is the only gospel writer to describe Jesus as king as he enters Jerusalem. Jesus’ entrance gives us a glimpse of the kind of king Jesus is, has been, and will always be.

The entrance into Jerusalem shows us that Jesus is the king of peace. It is an unique statement for Jesus to make and an interesting time to do it. The Messianic promise came with expectations of a military revolutionary who would destroy the Roman Empire and return the Davidic king to his throne. The offer of a king of peace also was counter to the Roman idea of peace, which was central to their civilization. The Roman peace was formed around the premise that maintaining the status quo meant serving Rome’s interests. Both ideas were founded on militaristic goals.

However, Jesus does not enter Jerusalem to be a revolutionary. The charges leveled against him on Thursday evening and Friday morning cannot stick. Jesus does not desire to be a military combatant. He comes as the offerer and maker of peace. Jesus is peace, because he is the one who offers the way to reconciliation to the Father. The procession of Palm Sunday leads us to the darkness of Good Friday. It is on that day Jesus took on our sin and died the death we deserved. It was an act of love that renewed our relationship with God through faith in Christ. This is peace that brings about a sense of calm, hope, and love to our lives.

Jesus brought his peace into the world. He rode into Jerusalem on the back of an animal that is the image of peace and humility. There are no military promises to end the Roman empire. What Jesus offers is the promise of reconciliation and peace where there was once distance between us and God. Only Jesus can offer us this peace.

The entrance into Jerusalem also highlights Jesus’ servant heart. Leaders are not always seen as servants. Sometimes that we are seen as people who were to be served. We can see this in the displays of the Roman government, especially of Herod Antipas. As the tetrarch, or ruler, of Judea, Antipas would enter Jerusalem at the start of the Passover. He did so with a big display to exhibit his authority and the power of the Roman government. He would ride in on a big war horse to showcase his power. Antipas never saw himself as the people’s servant nor was he interested in a mission other than his own.

Jesus is a contrast to this display of power. He came not to be served, but to be a servant. The servant nature of his kingship and lordship was on full display when Jesus entered Jerusalem. His entire journey to Jerusalem was about his servant nature. Jesus came to do the Father’s will and to care for the least of these. It was to express the Father’s love for his people and creation and desire for all to be in relationship with him. That was Jesus’ mission. He came not to fulfill his desires, but those of the One who sent him.

Jesus entered Jerusalem knowing what was in front of him. He knew the mission would be fulfilled far removed from the pomp and circumstances of his entrance into Jerusalem. For his mission to be completed, Jesus had to experience an unthinkable death so that the entire world could experience grace, hope, and love in a new way. Jesus came as a servant because the mission wasn’t about him. It was about the Father and all of us.

For that reason, Jesus entered Jerusalem as a king who would suffer for his people. Think about how strange that sounds. A king willing to give his life for his people? That is unthinkable. When we think of kings and leaders, the idea of someone taking on the cause of suffering does come to mind. Instead, we think of kings and leaders as sending others out to suffer for a given cause. A king or leader who suffers for their people is uncommon.

Jesus is the type of uncommon king that is willing to suffer for his people. The entrance into Jerusalem was another recognition of the suffering nature of his calling. No one expected a Messiah who would die for his people. No one expected a Lord who would lay down his life so others could experience everlasting joy in the Father’s care. Jesus knew it was the only way for the mission to be fulfilled. He came to Jerusalem to die on the cross and to suffer for our acts of disappointing God. Jesus entered Jerusalem to suffer for us.

As the coats and palm branches laid on the ground, Jesus eyes were focussed on the cross. The journey during this Passover led Jesus to the most torturous form of capital punishment. It was there that Jesus would show the peace of God, the Lord’s servant call, and the suffering nature of the Messiah’s love for all. Jesus came to fulfill all the promises of the Messiah and to establish a new relationship between God and the Lord’s people. Jesus came to show what it meant that he was the king and Lord of all.

Christ’s followers knew Jesus came to exhibit his kingship. It is why they properly praised him as the “king who comes in the name of the Lord.” They  may not have known the lengths Jesus was willing to go to show what this meant, but they knew Jesus is the Messiah. Jesus’ followers gathered to praise him for his mighty name and the work he came to do.

Some who gathered along the streets of Jerusalem that day wanted the disciples to stop praising Jesus as king. For unknown reasons, some Pharisees wanted the disciples to stop praising Jesus as king. They were fearful that the message of Jesus as king would upset the Roman authorities. To be honest, though, Jesus’ reign as king challenged the religious leaders, because it called attention to how they had fallen short of God’s desires. Jesus wasn’t the king they wanted. They wanted one who suited their own interests and not those of the Father.

Jesus is clear. He says nothing can prevent the message of his kingdom from being shared. He makes an interesting analogy. He says even if his followers were quiet then the stones would shout in praise. What Jesus says is that all of creation was yearning for this moment. Noting can keep this message, and mission, from being fulfilled.

While nothing can keep the message of Jesus as king from being shared, it is a message that demands a response from us. How will we respond to Jesus’ kingly rule? Jesus’ kingship and Lordship challenges us to see how we have accepted who Christ is and made the Lord’s truth central to our lives.

This has been the challenge of Christ’s kingship throughout time. On the day Jesus entered Jerusalem, all of his followers and, perhaps, even some in the crowd, shouted, “Hosanna! Hosanna! Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” By Friday morning, the shouts of praise had turned to cries of distance with the gut-wrenching words of “crucify him.” Both responses make a declaration of how we view Christ as king. One seeks to praise the Lord for all that he has done, while the other seeks to have no part in God’s kingdom and Jesus’ king of kingship.

As we embark on this Holy Week, the challenge of Christ’s kingdom is as real as it ever has been. A king who has come in peace, as a servant, and offering himself in humble sacrifice for all people may not always be what the world wants, but it is what was needed to bring us back to a relationship with God.

Is Jesus the kind of king that we want? Do we desire Christ to come and be our king and our Lord? These are questions worthy of reflections as we embrace the celebrations ahead.

Jesus has come into Jerusalem, this day, to fulfill his mission. He came to claim his kingship through measures of peace, sacrifice, and suffering. He came to redeem the people through a love that is beyond all measures. That is my kind of king. Is it yours?

Sunday’s Sermon: Devotion Like Mary

In our passage this morning, John describes for us a celebratory dinner. It was a dinner held at the start of the Passion Week just six days prior to the Passover.

We are told Jesus and his disciples were invited to dine at a home in Bethany. It is a small village located approximately two miles outside of Jerusalem. Jesus was familiar with the town. He had taught there and, as John writes in chapter 11, raised Lazarus from the dead there, an act that symbolized his eventual resurrection.

Bethany was a resting place for Jesus on his journey to Jerusalem. Since his transformation Jesus has been singularly focused on reaching Jerusalem. It was there that he would fulfill the mission to redeem humanity. He would do so by offering himself as the sacrifice for humanity’s sin.

John says that Jesus is the guest of honor at this dinner. We don’t know who hosted party, but we might guess it was the homeowner and the larger community. The dinner might have been a celebration of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. We might suppose this based on the fact that John included Lazarus at the meal, along with his sisters, Martha and Mary.

Initially, the meal goes off as we might expect. Martha helps to prepare the feast. Luke describes Martha as someone focused on hospitality. Her way of honoring Jesus is by cooking the meal. Lazarus is sitting at the table likely with Jesus. This indicates that he was also being honored.

Everything was going according to plan until Mary decides to do something unexpected, but not out of character. She takes an expensive bottle of perfume and pours it on Jesus’ feet. She then proceeds to wipe the perfume away with her own hair. It is a deeply emotional act that fits with what we know of Mary. Luke tells us that it was Mary who desired to sit at Jesus’ feet, which was symbolic of wanting to learn from someone. Mary has a deep devotion and love of Jesus and we see this everywhere that she is discussed in Scripture.

What Mary does in this passage is deeply sensual and emotional. It is one that takes over the entire room, both literally and figuratively. Literally, the smell of the perfume filled the entire house. You could smell it everywhere. Figuratively, Mary’s act probably caught the entire party off guard. All eyes likely would have been on Mary and Jesus looking for a response.

Traditionally, this Sunday prior to Palm Sunday is one that we have set aside to focus on Mary’s act. There is a reason for this. Beyond the emotional aspect of her act there is a deeply significant reason that is found in her act of love. What Mary truly has done is to anoint Jesus with these perfumes. It is an act that she does simply out of her love for the Lord.

The act of anointing was an important aspect of the Jewish faith and Hebrew culture. During an anointing, an oil or perfume would be applied to a person.

It is an act that has some deeply religious connotations and can have several purposes. For one, someone could be anointed to take on an important office, such as king or prophet. Anointing oils could be placed on someone as an act of hospitality or as a way of refreshing the body. They could also be placed on the sick. Finally, oils were used to anoint a body following someone’s death. Regardless of what purpose was behind the anointing it was a deeply significant act of faith when it was done. It was an act rich in symbolism and trusting in God’s love, direction care, and protection.

Mary’s act of anointing Jesus with the perfume takes on several meanings. What Mary did was to prepare Jesus for his burial. She can sense that Jesus’ death is coming. Jesus has taught that he would need to die in order for the mission to be fulfilled. Sensing that this day was coming Mary is preparing Jesus for his burial. Mary’s grief, which we see in the fact that she let her hair down symbolic of one’s grief, and love for the Lord led her to make this offering. As well, Mary’s anointing was symbolic of Jesus’ kingship. Jesus is truly king of all. It is a kingdom that does not come through military or political exploits, but through the greatest act of self-sacrifice. What Mary did was a beautiful act of recognizing who Jesus is and he was going to do.

Her act of anointing Jesus’ feet was truly a public act in response to her faith and love of Lord. It was a love fostered by her personal experiences with Jesus. Her experiences with Jesus were deeply personal and transformative. Mary was Lazarus’ sister and she would have been overwhelmed by the fact that Jesus raised him from the dead. As well, Mary was welcomed into fellowship with the Lord. It was something uncommon in those days for a woman to be valued and appreciated. Mary had reasons to love the Lord. These personal interactions transformed her and led her to respond openly to what Christ had done.

This is true for each of us. When we have experienced the Lord it calls us to respond. The deepest response we can give is to love Jesus. Love is an emotional of deep reverence and trust. Our love of Jesus is an emotion that responds to our faith in Christ with hope, appreciation, and truly delights in all that the Lord has done. It is an emotion based on what God has done in this world. We love the Lord because of how God has acted throughout history. We love Jesus because he died on the cross for you, for me, and for all people. We love because God is with us.

Our love of Christ transforms us. It motivates us to grow closer to the One who came and seeks us. Our love of the Lord is centered in a heart transformed by our encounters with Christ through Scripture, prayer, and seeking to live more closely with the Lord each day.

Love is fostered when it is shared and expressed. We know in our own personal lives that our love cannot stay within. It must be expressed outward, whether it is a kiss to our children, a gift to a loved one, or a kind word to someone we care about. When we love someone we want them to know it, and this is especially the case when it comes to our love of Christ. Expressing our love to the Lord is a deep expression of our faith and is quite holy.

This is what Mary does when she anoints Jesus’ feet. She is making an outward expression of her love of Jesus by anointing him. It is an expression of her deepest most feeling of love and trust in the Lord. It is an act that Jesus appreciates and welcomes.

Not everyone shares this same appreciation. One of Jesus’ disciples is open about his belief that what Mary has done is wasteful. This disciple is Judas.

John notes Judas’ frustration with Mary’s action as a way to focus on Judas’ personality and why he would betray Christ. Judas believes the perfume should have been sold to support the poor. Judas’ appeal might seem understandable. However, there is something deeper going on. Judas is more concerned about his own interests. His discipleship was clouded by greed and self. John says the real reason Judas wanted to sell the perfume was to benefit his own finances. He tells us Judas routinely stole money from donations given to support Jesus and the disciples.

The contrast between John and Mary is clear. While Mary responds out of her love and reverence Judas responds based on a love of self and an unappreciative attitude for who Jesus truly is. It is a love based on his own desires. What John does is open the curtain in order to shine light on Judas’ true devotion to the Lord while highlighting what true devotion to Jesus looks like. This is why Jesus is quick to denounce Judas’ concern. Jesus says Mary is right because his time is short. Mary has shown love to the Lord by caring for him in this moment. Jesus says her devotion is based on a love of the Lord and not of self.

Mary’s devotion begs us to examine how we respond to Christ. Our encounters and interactions with Jesus require a response from us. The basic response is a love of the Lord that transforms every aspect of how we are. Love is truly the most basic element to our relationship with the Lord. It is also the greatest, because it signifies our hope, confidence, and assurance that what Christ did for the world, he also did for us.

Our love of Christ is not simply faint words of expression. It is a real and powerful emotion that transforms everything about us and calls us to live in response to all that the Lord has done for us. Our love inspires us to respond with a devotion similar to Mary’s, by caring for Christ in how we share our love. Mary’s response to her love of Christ was to anoint him for his death and kingship. Our response to love can be seen in so many ways and is truly by living our lives in response to what Christ has done and continues to do in each of us.

What Mary shows us is that it is acceptable to allow our love of Christ to not be a hidden and private expression, but to be expressed fully in how we live and share our love with others. As Jesus says, what we do for others we do to him.

Our love of Christ can be exhibited in so many ways, such as prayer, giving, serving, or taking leadership in the life of the community. For Mary, she expressed her love through the offering of perfume. What about us? How will we respond to the greatest love ever shared to us?

Sunday’s Sermon: Reconciliation in Christ

In the movie Grumpy Old Men, John Gustafson, played by Jack Lemmon, and Max Goldman, portrayed by Walter Matthau, are two retirees who are at odds with each one another. Their feud dates from their childhood and started when Goldman accused Gustafson of stealing his girlfriend. The spat continued into their golden years as they competed for the love of another woman.

It is a feud that is exhibited through practical jokes and name calling. There is, of course, one moment when the feud erupts into a physical confrontation, which had to be separated by Gustafson’s elderly father.

As the movie goes along, it seems that outsiders, typically their children, are wanting John and Max to settle their feud and admit they actually like one another. Max’s son is the one who is really making the push for peace between the two, but his dad wouldn’t budge. When confronted Max’s only response is that John was the one who started it.

While watching this movie the other day, I couldn’t help but think about how it is symbolic of how we seek forgiveness. We do not easily make that first move toward forgiveness. Sometimes, we need someone to help us to make that first step. Of course, sometimes we wait for the other person to make the first move. Forgiveness cannot take place until someone makes that first step.

If this is true for our relationships with our family and friends, then what about our relationship with God? Reconciliation, or forgiveness, in our relationship with God, and we’ll talk about why we need this reconciliation in a moment, occurs when someone makes the move to heal the brokenness that exists between us and God. Who is the one who makes the first move? Does God make the first step? Do we?

When we think of reconciliation, we are thinking about the reunification of a once broken relationship. Reconciliation ends the hostilities and heals brokenness. It takes the discord that existed in a relationship and replaces it with peace.

In this way, reconciliation with God is not something we initiate. We cannot. It is something God initiated. In an expression of the Lord’s love and holiness, God provided the means for reconciliation that healed the broken relationship between God and humanity. This is a central theme in the New Testament and all of Scripture. It is also a central theme in our passage, this morning, from 2 Corinthians 5:16-21. God makes the first move in reaching out to a people that the Lord loves and desires to be in relationship with. God makes the first move in our lives to bringing us back into the Lord’s arm.

Why is reconciliation needed? To understand why we need to look at the entire history of humanity’s relationship with God. In the beginning, God created this world out of nothing. Everything was made perfect. Humanity was a key part of God’s creation. We were made to reflect the image of God. Even more, we were made for a relationship with the One who created us.

Scripture tells us that this relationship was broken when sin entered the world. Sin is the act of disobedience to a known will of God. It first came about through Adam and Eve disobeying God’s commands in the Garden of Eden. Sin is part of each of our lives today. Through our words, thoughts, actions, and deeds, we do things on a daily basis that disappoints God. We disobey what we know to be true about God’s love. Sin severs the relationship of love between us and God. It tarnishes what God created perfect.

It creates a void in our soul. Something is not as it should be. All of us have tried filling that void in some way. We try filling it through pouring ourselves into our work. We might try through our relationships with others. Sometimes, we will try to fill it through destructive behaviors that harm our lives, and sometimes, the lives of others. The one thing that is for sure is that in whatever way we try to fill our holes nothing will fill it. Nothing we can do will fill the hole.

The only one thing that can fill that hole is being reunited with God. Only God can fill that hole and offer reconciliation. The great thing about God is that even though we created the distance in the relationship, God never stops reaching out to us. God’s love is so great that the Lord took the initiative in healing the relationship and paying the cost of our sin. Scripture tells us that an atoning sacrifice is needed to heal the brokenness. This was done, in the Old Testament, through the High Priest who would offer a sin sacrifice on behalf of himself and the entire community. It was an act that would have to be repeated.

In Jesus Christ, reconciliation with God took its fullest form. In Christ, the Son of God, the reconciliation between God and humanity was fully secured. Jesus’ ministry is the “ministry of reconciliation,” as Paul writes. Jesus’ ministry was focused on bringing humanity back into a relationship with the Father and showing us what it means to live in response to this new relationship.

On the cross, Jesus built a bridge between God and humanity. On the cross Jesus served as the High Priest who offered the atonement sacrifice for our sins. Jesus, the one born without sin, claimed our sin and died the death we deserved. His death atoned for our sin. He died for you. He died for me. He died for every person in the world.

It is only through belief that Christ died for us that we can receive the benefits of the cross. That benefit is justification and to be known as forgiven in God’s eyes. We become a new creation. We enter a new relationship with the Lord that allows us to live in grace and hope. When we are reconciled with the Father that void that exists in our lives is no longer present, because we are reunited with the One who made us, shaped us, and has known us from the very beginning. Nothing we could do could achieve what Christ did for us. We didn’t earn salvation or reconciliation with God. It is grace and the mercy of God that led Christ to the cross. Through faith, we can receive the benefits of it by accepting what Christ has done for us.

Reconciliation, truly forgiveness, is a great thing, but it also shapes us for how we live in response. Paul says we are to live as ambassadors of reconciliation. What does Paul mean by this idea of ambassadors of reconciliation? When we think of an ambassador, we might think about a representative of a country who serves on behalf of that country’s interest. The ambassador represents a country’s views and speaks on behalf of that country.

This is what it means to be an ambassador for reconciliation. We live lives that reflect what God has done for us in Christ. This means we represent Christ in our communities. Our lives are to reflect the character, hope, and love of the Father who sent his Son so that we might be in a relationship with the Lord empowered by the Holy Spirit. We allow the grace of God to transform us into a new creation so we can inspire others, through our words and actions, to see what Christ has done for them in their life. In this way, we become messengers of the greatest thing that has ever happened to us by being sharers of the grace of God.

It is a great joy to being reconciled with God. It is the freedom of a new life in Christ and a new lease on the world. It calls us to live our lives in thanksgiving for what the Lord has done.

As we approach Easter morning this conversation on reconciliation comes with a reminder. It is a reminder we are all in need of reconciliation with the Lord. We have all done things that disappoint God. None of us are immune from separating ourselves from God. We are in need of reconciliation with God, of being restored to a relationship with the Father as it was intended from the beginning of time.

God has made the first step in offering forgiveness. The gift of Christ’s grace is available to every one. All you have to do is believe that on the cross Jesus died for you. Accept that grace today, for the first time or the hundredth time, and allow it to transform you in the depths of your soul. However, don’t just hold onto that gift as a possession. Share it with others. Share it with the person you work with. Share it with the person you know who needs grace. Share it with the person whom you’ve never related to simply by the way you live your life.

The grace of God – reconciliation – is available to us all. Will we accept what God has done for us? Will we allow that grace to shape how we live in this world?