One Week of Upsetting the Norms

One Week of Upsetting the Norms

The events of Jesus’ passion are the most significant moments in not just the history of our faith, but all of human history. We position these events, traditionally, in a week-long celebration known as “Holy Week” or “Passion Week.” No matter how the week is named, the purpose is the same and that is to celebrate and commemorate the moments that lead up to Jesus’ arrest, death, and resurrection.

When we come to Holy Week, however, we mostly focus on just a few moments within that week, especially towards its end. We focus on Jesus procession into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. We dine with Jesus and the disciples in the Upper Room and pray with them at the Garden of Gethsemane on Maundy Thursday. We mourn at the foot of the cross on Good Friday. Those are, traditionally, the moments we focus on, yet there is vastness of experiences throughout the week that we rarely talk about.

Among those moments we rarely talk about, how can they lead us to a deeper faith? What within those moments that don’t get the attention can help us to understand how Jesus went from a heralded king on Sunday to being treated as a traitor and blasphemer by Thursday? Those two questions, and others, are what we are going to use to center ourselves throughout Lent. We will examine these events that transpire early in Holy Week and contemplate upon how they advance the narrative of the conflict between Jesus and the religious elites. As well, we will see how they enable us to experience what Jesus was doing in the world and our lives today.

Our journey with Jesus through Holy Week begins with one of the most intense moments in the Gospels. It was a moment initiated by Jesus in response to something he saw when he entered the Temple. Yes, we are talking about the time Jesus flipped the tables and cleaned house in the Temple. It is one of the places that challenges our idea that Jesus was always mild-mannered. (That is what we desire of Jesus, by the way.) What took place and why should it matter to us today? Continue reading “One Week of Upsetting the Norms”

Yes, Love Your Enemies

Yes, Love Your Enemies

Today is Transfiguration Sunday. It is an important day in the Christian calendar. We studied it, this week, in our Bible Study, but for everyone we’ll give you a brief introduction into what this day is about.

Matthew, Mark, and Luke each describe what took place on either Mount Tabor (near the Jezreel Valley) or Mount Hermon (in the Golan Heights). The event is where Jesus’ appearance was magnified before Peter, James, and John and they were able to see the fullness of his divinity. It comes after Peter confessed Jesus as the long-expected Christ, Savior, near Caesarea Philippi and serves as a pivot point in the gospels. From this point forward, Jesus is solely focused on the cross and resurrection that will take place in Jerusalem.

Before they leave the mountaintop, though, there is a voice that comes from a cloud. It is the voice of the Father. In a scene like what took place at Jesus’ baptism, but this time for all to hear, the Father identifies Jesus as God’s son. The voice also says, “listen to him.”

To listen is a command of obedience. To listen is to do more than just be quiet and hear what someone is saying. To listen means to hear what is being shared and apply it into your life. To listen to Jesus means to not just hear what he says, but to put into practice his very teaching.

We might understand that, but there is no place where we have more trouble listening to Jesus than what Christ teaches in Matthew 5:43-48. Once again on the shores of Galilee, Jesus speaks to the disciples and gathered crowd. He calls those who would follow him to do something that is, both then and now, challenging. He calls those who would follow him – seek to walk with the Lord – to love their enemies. Continue reading “Yes, Love Your Enemies”

Peacemaking in Difficult Times

Peacemaking in Difficult Times

As Jesus was starting out in his earthly ministry, there was a deep spark and excitement that surrounded what he was doing. He healed the sick. He taught in a way that inspired. Up and down the coast of Galilee, Jesus was making a difference in such a way that people were wondering what was going on. They wanted to be a part of something that inspired and seemed different.

At the same time, though, they were wondering what this Jesus was all about. Why should they follow Jesus with more than just their words and affirmation? What will Jesus ask of them if they were to follow him?

Maybe those are questions we are asking of ourselves this morning. In fact, I hope they are questions we are asking. Never should we assume we have it all figured out. Never should we be afraid of asking hard and difficult questions in the church about what it means to follow Christ in this time and in this place. When we gather in worship, we come together as members of the body of Christ to discern where God is leading us and what it means to be faithful in the world. Because when the worship service ends on Sunday morning, the worship of God continues as we seek to be the hands and feet of Christ in our mission field of Huntington, Cabell County, the Tristate area, West Virginia, and around the world. To do so means for us to take seriously conversations about how our faith interacts with the world. Continue reading “Peacemaking in Difficult Times”

Following Jesus

Following Jesus

Jesus was about to get started.

He was about to get started on a world-shattering mission and ministry that would call people to see the working of God’s grace in the midst of life. A life that was personified in Christ who, as the Son of God, came to show people the way to the Father’s eternal love and how to live that love out in their lives.

We pick up with Jesus as he has moved into a new neighborhood. He has returned from being near Jericho and the Jordan River to start out on this mission. Jesus does not return to Nazareth, which has been his home since he was a young child after his family moved to Egypt to get away from Herod’s and his attempts on their life. He is setting up his ministry base in a city called Capernaum.

At the time, Capernaum was one of several villages that lined the shores of the Sea of Galilee – which is, actually, more like a large lake – and were prominent with the fishing industry. It was also a community that was financially poor and was a contrast, in many ways, to the Galilean financial base in Tiberias. Even today, Tiberias is full of hotels, shopping malls, and a unique McDonald’s, whereas Capernaum is a quiet area reserved for pilgrims to visit and reflect upon the life of Christ.

For Jesus, though, this was home and it was the launching point. Matthew 4:18-22 picks up on Jesus’ initial ministry and calling of his initial disciples. Matthew’s narrative doesn’t include some of the tidbits we pick up from Luke or John. Luke describes this moment coming after a miraculous catch of fish. John says the early disciples came to Jesus, as we looked at last week, after John the Baptist pointed them to Jesus and said, “that’s the one.” Matthew’s account is intriguing for what it doesn’t include and for what it does show. It doesn’t include any previous relationship or conversation, but comes right after Jesus has called people to see the kingdom of God at work in their midst.

Jesus, in Matthew’s account, starts out after preaching the initial message to call people into this new life. This was the ethic and practice of rabbis, like Jesus, in those days. Rabbis would invite people to be guided by their teaching, so they could grow, serve, and learn what it means to follow God in all aspects of life. Continue reading “Following Jesus”

Sermon: You are Beloved

Sermon: You are Beloved

A lot has happened since we last gathered for worship. There has been nonstop breaking news from Iran to Buckingham Palace. My beloved 49ers hosted, and won, their first playoff game in their new stadium. And, we’ve went through 30 years of Biblical history.

That last part is an interesting detail about how each of the four gospel accounts of Jesus’ life are put together. Two of the gospels – Matthew and Luke – give some details about Jesus’ birth and early life, while the other two – Mark and John – do not discuss his birth and go right into the descriptions of Jesus’ life. Since we celebrated Epiphany Sunday, and gave a little attention to the Magi of Matthew 2, we’ve traversed the majority of Jesus’ life. In fact, only Luke gives us any details about what took place after Jesus was, roughly, the age of 2.

Why is that? The gospels are written in a historical biographical form that was prevalent in the 1st Century AD. That form of writing focused on only including substantial details from the main subject’s life that would give an understanding of who this person was. This often included a focus on the person’s death and final moments. We see that in each of the gospels, which place most of its emphasis on Jesus’ final week before his death and resurrection. Counter this to our focus, today, which would be to include every aspect of an individual’s life from birth through death based upon a common theme.

One aspect of Jesus’ life that all four gospels mention or allude to is his baptism in the Jordan River by John the Baptist. It is one of the most significant moments of his early ministry and launches Jesus’ into the public portion of his earthly ministry. You cannot understand Jesus’ ministry without taking a deep look at why he was baptized. Continue reading “Sermon: You are Beloved”