Sunday, March 30, 2008

Missing - March 30, 2008

John 20:19-31

A state trooper is parked on the side of the highway, clocking cars with radar … when a slow-moving car approaches, 22 miles per hour.
The state trooper turns on his lights and pulls the car over.

As he approaches the vehicle, the officer notices there are five elderly ladies inside—two in the front seat and three in the back—wide-eyed and white as ghosts.

The driver, obviously confused, says, "Officer, I don't understand. I was going the exact speed limit. What seems to be the problem?"

The trooper, trying to contain a chuckle, explained to her that 22 was the route number—not the speed limit.

A bit embarrassed, the woman grins and thanks the officer for pointing out her error.

"Before you go," the officer says, "I have to ask: Is everyone in this car okay? These women seem awfully shaken."

"Oh," she answered, "they'll be all right. We just got off of Route 127."

Good morning and welcome to Covenant Presbyterian Church …

Let’s begin with a question: What does want God from us?

Today’s text gives us a hint!

Basic and simple:

Be in a place where we can see God!

“Is that all?” you ask.

That’s all … to be in a place where we can see God.

Seeing important things changes our life … when I first saw Donna, life changed for me … oh boy, did it … and when I saw my saw children born, life changed for me … the first time I saw the Eiffel Tower, I wept, and I’ll never forget … I remember seeing Rachel on the dock on the Greek island of Mykonos, waiting for us … I remember seeing Josh in my rearview mirror as we pulled away from the dormitory his first year …

To be in a place where we can see God!

The last place where Satan wants us to be.

The point is simple: We have an adversary!

Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8).

The snake in the grass promised Eve that she and Adam could go their own way, have their own knowledge, make their own decisions, chart their own course.
“And you won’t even need God for any of it … in fact, God is your adversary,” says the snake … “God denied you the fruit of this tree … God can’t be trusted … you’re on your own for this, and you’d better get to it.”

We have an adversary whose purpose is but one thing: separate us from God.

Turn us inward, like a pretzel twisted in upon itself …

The adversary has a simple strategy – keep us outta those places where we could see God … and the heart of Satan’s strategy, separate us from one another … isolate us and keep us alone!

Paul Tillich said: the chief evidence of Satan’s work – the “splintering effect” – the bond of friendship shattered … alone and isolated.

When the foot says to the hand, I have no need of you, and the ear says to the eye, I have no need of you (see 1 Corinthians 12:14-26) …

Several years ago, a book … entitled, Bowling Alone … the author, Robert Putnam, gathered an enormous amount of social data … to reveal what we all know to be true: we have become increasingly disconnected from family, friends, neighbors and our social structures. We are bowling alone!

Bowling alone, we miss the heart of life.

But has a strategy, too … to knit us together … bind us together … love one another as I have loved you.

If Satan’s desire is to splinter us … God’s desire is to build common cause …

God sends the Holy Spirit for this purpose (John 14) to bind our hearts to Christ and connect us to one another …

In the company of others, that’s where we see God!

Gathering places … appointed places … time and date … where we see God.

When I tell Donna that I’ll meet her on the northwest corner of Camden and Wilshire, I’ll be there, and she’ll be there, too.

We make appointments with one another; we keep them … if something delays or prevents us, we make every effort to contact the person, and failing that, we apologize afterward. Appointments are important!

God makes appointments with us … a promise to meet us in certain places.

“Here is where you will see me,” says God!

Yes, there are such places …

Appointed places …
Specific places …

When Israel enters the Promised Land after 40 years of wilderness wandering, Moses says to the people:

Take care that you do not offer your burnt offerings at any place you happen to see. But only at the place that the LORD will choose (Deuteronomy 12:13-14).

An appointed place … not a place of convenience … but a place designated …

The appointed place … where we see God - in the company of other believers … it’s that simple, and that basic …

Wherever two or three are gathered in my name, I’m there, says Jesus (Matthew 18:20).

It doesn’t take a crowd to create a holy place, but it takes at least two …

Where two or three are gathered …

And that’s the last thing our Adversary wants …

That’s the story of Thomas … Jesus came to the disciples, not one-by-one … He came to their gathering.

But Thomas was missing …

Where was he?

Did he have other things to do?
Family matters?
Personal issues?
Was he kayaking on the Jordan?
Did he go hiking in the hills of Jericho?

For whatever reason, Thomas was missing.

When told by the disciples, Thomas gets his back up … unless I see Him with my own eyes, unless I can touch the wounds, I’ll not believe.

Instead of saying, “Sorry guys, I should have been there.” He gets testy, defensive.

I wonder where Thomas was that first night?
What we know for sure is where he wasn’t.

Thomas was missing!

I have no doubt that God comes to us when we’re alone and isolated – Ben Wier held hostage in Lebanon; Martin Luther sequestered in Wartburg castle; the Apostle Paul in Roman chains … the unique isolation of a hermit monk in the jungles of New Guinea, Albert Schweitzer in his African hospital, or a Presbyterian pastor in Cuba.

They’re all alone, but they’re alone in Christ.

But there’s another kind of aloneness … self-imposed by the ego … did Thomas think he was too good to hang with the other disciples? Did he think his grief was so unique that no one would understand?
When the ego isolates us, we’re really alone!
God comes to us in our self-imposed isolation to drive it home.
When we’re isolated by the ego, God’s presence is felt as God’s absence … God creates a vacuum, an emptiness; God doesn’t allow anyone or anything to fill it.
God intensifies our loneliness …
God never abandons us; God is with us always, but when we’re self-absorbed in pride or pity, God intensifies our loneliness until we’re sick of it.

Like the Prodigal Son who goes to the far land … it all seems good at first … on his own, away from the old man … “Yippee, I can do what I want, when I please” … but it all turns to pig slop.

God magnifies the boy’s sorrow … until he’s sick of it.
And comes to his senses.
All I have to do is return home … rejoin the family … get back to the appointed place.

Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Les Payne, writes of his long journey back home: “After wandering decades as a nomad adrift from his own spiritual tribe,” he finally settles on a church in New York City, and finds what was missing from his life all those years: … a place of “collective support and sharing.”

He describes it as “coming in from the cold” and finding a “spiritual mooring” (AARP Magazine, March/April, 2008, p.79).

These days, folks say, “I’m not religious, I’m spiritual.”

Folks are opting out of “religion as usual” …
Folks aren’t interested in labels - Presbyterian, Methodist, Roman Catholic; liberal, conservative, evangelical or Pentecostal … they want God.

Folks aren’t interested in keeping institutions alive … they want God.

Folks couldn’t care less about organized religion … they want God.

Church organization doesn’t excite them … God excites them.

Folks want God, and they want to serve God … soup kitchens and mission projects – they want to make the world a better place, and joining a church and filling a pew doesn’t measure up.

Thomas Merton said it well: “I have no time for anything but the essentials. The only essential is … is God Himself” (Silent Lamp: the Thomas Merton Story, by William H. Shannon, p.142)

The church needs to pay attention.

We’re here to love God and lift up the name of Jesus.

Make God the essential!

That’s the point of being the church: God and God alone.

A place where Thomas can touch Jesus and come to faith … My LORD and my God!

Thomas found Jesus, and Jesus found Thomas in the company of the frightened! They were all frightened and distressed, but they stood together, arm-in-arm.

That’s why they were together … that’s why we’re together.

Not because we’re so faithful, but because life is so frightening …
All week long, we’re hammered by the adversary; our reserves are drained … we do good things and bad things … we serve high causes, and we serve ourselves … we give, and we take; we’re charitable, and we’re stingy; we love, and we hate; we’re kind, and we’re crude … a little of this and a little of that … all rolled into one big lump called life.

We gather together to find the greater strength …

We gather together because in our gathering is where will likely see God … here on a Sunday morning, in a prayer meeting, a Bible study or breakfast with a Christian friend.

I heard a sad story last week … a pastor refused to call upon a dying child because Mom and Dad weren’t members of the church. They attended for years; faithful in all regards, but never signed on the dotted line. Only when begged by another staff member did the pastor call, and then only for five minutes.

That’s why the church has to be careful.
We forget the essential!

We have beautiful buildings, and sometimes our buildings overshadow the gospel.

We have membership rolls, and sometimes those rolls mean more to us than Christ!

We have robes and stained glass, and sometimes robes and stained glass are more important than grace and love.

We have organs and liturgy, and sometimes the forms overwhelm the faith …

We forget to be real … we forget to be humble … we forget who we are … the company of the frightened … not the high and mighty … just beggars telling each other where we can find good bread!

Jesus came to the company of the frightened!

They saw God!

Could it be a downtown cathedral with vaulted ceiling and grand organ? Folks dressed and coiffed expensively?
Could it be a storefront on Vermont – 18 people singing their heart out in Spanish? Raising their hands in Pentecostal fashion.
Could it be someone’s dining room table on a Monday night with corn beef and cabbage?
Could it be salad and soup with a friend at the Coffee Company?
Could it be two Christians reading the Bible together in the company lunchroom?

A week later, it says, they were together again … and this time, Thomas was there. Amen!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Opening Day - March 23, 2008

An Easter Message by the Rev. Dr. Michael VanHorn, pastor of Trinity Church in Livonia, Michigan, a friend of Pastor Tom Eggebeen.

Matthew 28: 1-10

People of God, Woody Allen was once asked the question, “Do you believe in the afterlife?” “Yes,” he said, in his typically paranoid manner, “but I’m afraid no one will tell me where it’s being held.”

Early on the first day of the week, the two Marys make their way to the cemetery. They are not thinking about life after death; They are simply thinking about death. Jesus has been killed, and this is their first chance to properly complete what had been a hasty burial process before sunset on Friday, the start of the Jewish Sabbath.

So far in the passion story of Matthew, these women have been on the sidelines – passively watching as Jesus slowly dies on the cross; then loyally sitting opposite the tomb as Jesus is laid to rest; and finally dutifully waiting out the Sabbath until they could come to pay respects.

The quiet faithfulness of these women is finally rewarded on Sunday morning. They have come, out of custom and devotion, to perform a funeral ritual for the dead, and are thrust center stage into a new world.

As I mentioned last week, Matthew punctuates the important moments in his Gospel with seismic activity – both political and geological. When Jesus was born, and Herod learned of this potential rival King, Matthew says that “all Jerusalem shook seismically.” As Jesus rides into Jerusalem and is hailed as Messiah King, the city once again trembles at the prospect.

Then Matthew records, at the very moment Jesus dies on the cross, the temple veil is torn in two, the earth began to quake, rocks split open, and – as a prelude to the last days – the bodies of many saints walk out of their graves! This event shakes up the whole cosmos, prompting the Roman soldier to exclaim, “Truly this was the Son of God!”

What is interesting to me is that these symbolic and physical earthquakes all seem to be for the benefit of outsiders – for Herod and his courts, for the crowds in the street on Palm Sunday, for the Roman soldiers at the cross – as if to say, “Listen up! In this man Jesus, the world is being undone and remade! Power is being turned upside down. This is a world where the dead do not stay dead!”

The same is true on Easter morning. Matthew records that there is a sudden earthquake, because an angel of the Lord has descended from heaven, and has rolled away the tombstone. His face shone like lightening, and his clothing a dazzling white. The effect being that the hardened Roman soldiers left to guard the tomb tremble with fear and fall into a dead faint.

One of my favorite verses in the whole Bible is found in the previous chapter of Matthew – where Jesus, already dead, still worries the Religious leaders. So they come to Pontius Pilate, asking for a band of Roman soldiers to guard the grave – to prohibit any foul play or theft of the body. Listen to the unintentional irony in Pilate’s response: “Take the guards and make it as secure as you can.”

Here you have the government and religious authorities conspiring together to keep Jesus “nailed down,” so to speak, where he belongs: in the tomb, where he is no longer any trouble. Another ironic element of this account is that the religious leaders, who had condemned Jesus for working on the Sabbath, are now spending a frenzied Sabbath trying to keep the lid on the coffin!

But despite the official seal, the gigantic stone, and the armed forces, their efforts are infantile and even laughable “against the power God is about to release.” (Brown, 27)

Raymond Brown points out a hint of sarcasm in Matthew’s account. The militia posted for the sole purpose of keeping the story of Jesus buried, fall down like dead men when the tomb is torn open by the angel. “This is truly ironical: Jesus lives and those set to prevent that are as dead.” (Brown, 27)

One of the real difficulties about Easter for us contemporary Christians is, similar to the problem of Christmas, how to separate the sentimentality of the holiday from the real theological point. We surround ourselves with symbols of fertility – spring flowers, baby chicks and bunnies, pastel-colored eggs – partly, I suppose, because we’re sick of winter and long for warmer days.

The trouble comes when we simply throw the resurrection of Jesus into the same category, and start to think about it simply as a symbol of springtime optimism, a metaphor for the natural occurrences that we long to see happening outside. But, let’s be clear: Easter is not simply an emotional fix for seasonal affective disorder!

One preacher writes that Easter is far more than a “cheery Good Morning” on a warm Spring day! Here you have earth tremors, and “an angel with bit of an attitude” sitting on the stone that sealed the tomb – “the very messenger of God reclining on death’s door as the whole world recovers from its shaking.” (Davis, 80,81)

David Davis says that this is God “taking on the powers of sin and death, [and] the angel sitting on that stone… [is] God talking smack… Divine trash talk [against the forces of darkness]… Resurrection with an attitude.” To paraphrase Annie Dillard, this day calls for more than frilly Easter bonnets and a new Easter ensemble, we should all be wearing crash-helmets and life preservers!

But the lightening-flash angel is not in the cemetery only to put the fear of God into the solders – it is also there to proclaim the fearful good news to the faithful Marys. Like most angelic visitations, and unlike our Precious Moments images, the angel first has to defuse the terror of the situation, “Don’t be afraid,” it says, as angels are wont to do.

“You have come looking for something that isn’t here – the crucified and dead corpse of Jesus. I’m here to tell you that He isn’t in the grave. Just as He promised, He has been raised up. Look for yourself at the slab where you saw His body stretched out.”

Not only is Jesus alive, but He is on the move: “Go quickly and give His disciples the news, He has been raised from the dead. In fact, He is going ahead of you to Galilee. You will see Him there. Remember what I have told you.”

This is no time to hang around graveyards, Jesus has work to do, and so do you! This is how the Gospel works. You wake up in the morning prepared to go about the business of death, ready to accept the painful reality, and get on with life, and before lunch, the whole world has changed. Not by anything we do – it’s all the work of God.

Notice the language in the text. We usually talk about the resurrection as if it is something Jesus did for himself, as if he set the alarm clock on Thursday night and it went off on Sunday morning – but that would render the resurrection to be something of a parlor trick; like the magician who is chained up into a box and dropped into a tank of water. The audience wonders if he’ll get out, but the magician KNOWS he will!

But Matthew’s angel repeats it twice, “He has been raised.” The New Testament reiterates the phrase multiple times, “God raised Him from the dead.” Jesus went to the cross knowing that His death was a real death, not simply a three-day game of hide-and-seek. If anything would happen, if Jesus was to be vindicated, it would have to be the work of God on His behalf.

This is why we must never forget that the Easter message is about God, not about the inevitable coming of Spring, or the optimistic power of the human spirit, or even about the possibility of going to heaven when we die.

Easter is the improbable message of the death of death, the conquest of the last enemy, and the good news of the dawn of a New Creation “where there will be no more mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things will have passed away.”

The ancient Church fathers liked to refer to Easter “the first day of the New Creation.” Easter is an earthquake that undoes the story of humanity so filled with wickedness and sin and destruction and mortality. Today is the beginning of a new world, the first day of New Creation.

As much as the angel announces to the women, “Do not be afraid,” the world that you know – a world of disappointment and shame and fear of death is a thing of the past, the angel essentially says to the Roman guard, and Pontius Pilate, and the authorities, “Be very much afraid,” because your only power – torture, intimidation, and the threat of execution – no longer has supremacy.

Life has overthrown death. As if to drive the point home, the women no sooner leave the cemetery than they are stopped dead in their tracks by the living, breathing Jesus. One word of greeting, and the women fall down, grasping His feet, to worship their risen Lord. Matthew wants to make it perfectly clear that this is not a shared hallucination, nor is it the apparition of a spirit.

Jesus is flesh and blood. They can touch Him. They can cling to His feet, which, according to John, still bear the marks of crucifixion. This is the Gospel’s answer to the question raised again and again: Does it really matter if Jesus was really, bodily, raised from the dead? Matthew says that it does.

The challenge comes from two directions today. First, there are a group of scholars from the misguided Jesus seminar who argue that the stories of the resurrection happened this way: The disciples sat around, after Jesus was executed, reminiscing:

“Hey Andrew, do you remember the good old days when we used to hang out with Jesus?” “Yeah, those were good times. I can still remember his sermons, how meaningful they were. It’s almost like I can hear him now – almost like he’s right here with us.”

“Wait a minute, Andrew, maybe you’ve got something there! Maybe Jesus is still alive in His teachings – maybe if we just close our eyes and believe hard enough He will still be here with us!”

The idea of these scholars is that what really matters is not that Jesus actually walked out of the tomb, what really matters is that he lives in our memory, in our hearts. But things don’t really work that way. People don’t just rush off to face the lions or the firing squad based merely on a warm reminiscence of someone’s philosophy. It requires something more.

The second challenge to the physical resurrection comes, not from liberal scholars, but from well-meaning Christians. Some years ago a survey was done among Church-going Christians about some of the basics of the Christian faith. More than 60% of those polled said that the phrase from the creed “the resurrection of the body” was simply another way to say “the immortality of the soul.”

In other words, many Christians are convinced that the Christian hope is simply for an immaterial soul or spirit to ascend into non-physical heaven for eternity. That is what many religions teach. That is what many ancient philosophers believed. But that is decidedly not what Christianity teaches.

The Christian faith teaches that bodies really matter. God created us as physical creatures, and, through the bodily resurrection of Jesus, God promises to also physically raise us from the dead. Someone might ask, “what difference does it make – so long as we live forever?”

The difference is whether God redeems only part of His creation or whether He redeems all of it. Why do we grieve when another Christian dies? Isn’t it enough to know that their soul is in heaven with God? No, it isn’t! Because death is an intruder – an enemy – that has stolen away someone we love.

I don’t know if you remember the aftermath of the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin. His granddaughter was interviewed, and through her tears she lamented that she would never “feel the touch of his warm hands again.” Bodies actually matter.

Southern preacher Fleming Rutledge once commented, “Virginians think they love Robert E. Lee. They don’t love Robert E. Lee. They love their image of Robert E. Lee. In order to love someone, you have to have them right there.”

The fact that these women can cling to Jesus’ feet, and the fact that all the disciples will actually touch Jesus, and share a meal with Him, is God’s message to us that the resurrection promises to undo all the work of evil and death in the world, not just part of it.

This is a matter of justice and not simply sentiment. It will not be enough to say to parents in Africa, “Yes, your child has died of AIDS, but her soul is in heaven.” It will not be enough to argue that the victims of genocide and war will live on in disembodied bliss, much less in the memories of those who loved them.

Ten years ago, Matthew Shepard was cruelly beaten and crucified on a fencepost, only to die of exposure three days later. After he died, Shepard’s parents started the Matthew Shepard Foundation to address the problem of hate crimes. Many would argue that something good came out of this murder – but ask his parents:“would you rather have the Foundation or have your son back?”

I think you know the answer. Deep down, when we consider the gravity and depth of evil in the world, we all know that nothing less than full restoration will do. Something has to happen of cosmic proportions, something that can work backward into the human history of evil and untie the Gordian knot of suffering and death entirely. This is why Peter Gomes calls Easter “confrontation of the highest order.”

This is the only solution that can satisfy the demands of perfect justice: God Himself entered into the human condition, to share it, to suffer within it and die for it, so as confront the evil head on. He does this in Jesus in order to restore children to parents, wives to husbands, grandparents to grandchildren – so completely as to restore even the touch of warm hands again.

That Easter Sunday morning, it would have been insufficient to simply remind the two women at the tomb that “the teaching of their master would live on” or even that “the soul of Jesus had gone to heaven.” The only thing that could undo the horror of the crucifixion was the full resurrection of Jesus.

The living Jesus said to the two Marys trembling at his feet, “Do not be afraid; go and take word to my brothers to leave for Galilee; there they will see me.” This is not the end of the story, by no means.

Jesus and His followers now have work to do: proclaiming the coming day when the word “cancer” is no longer in our vocabulary, when schools and malls are no longer war zones, when parents no longer struggle to feed starving children.

Easter is the dawn of that new world, the opening day of a New Creation; where fear and death have lost power over us, because Jesus is alive and is on the move, going ahead of us with the promise of resurrection to new life – not only His body, but ours, as well!

This is Easter with teeth; Easter with an attitude.

+ Amen.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Earthquake - March 23, 2008

Matthew 28:1-10

Ever watch children play tug of war?

First one side, then the other, lots of screaming and shouting … until one team slowly gains the advantage … and finally one last pull, and the game is over!

In my mind’s eye, I see something like a tug of war going on early in the morning of that first Easter … I can see God’s angels on one side of the stone pushing it away, and a host of demons on the other side, pushing to keep the stone in place!

Bear in mind that Satan didn’t want Jesus to die on the cross … for the moment therein Christ dies, Satan’s hold on the world would be shaken; something new and good set into motion the steps of Satan’s doom and the end of all darkness.

Satan didn’t want Jesus to die on the cross.

Satan hoped that Jesus would be distracted … diverted … choose an easier way of it.

Look at the temptations in the wilderness … “feed the world, and you’ll have them eating out of your hand … dazzle them with tricks, and you’ll have them lining up to buy your book … and, by the way, bow down and worship me,” said Satan, “and I’ll give you the kingdoms of the world – no muss, no fuss; no sweat, blood or tears … I can make it easy for you.”

The last thing Satan wanted was Jesus to die on the cross.

Mel Gibson’s movie, The Passion of the Christ, captures this moment powerfully: when Jesus dies, Satan falls to his knees on Calvary and howls like a mad dog … for in that moment, the tide is turned, the Evil Kingdom invaded … to set the prisoner free, to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor!

Satan didn’t want Jesus to die on the cross.

And now, if Satan can’t keep Christ from the cross, maybe Satan can at least keep Christ in the tomb …

Don’t let Him out to tell the world about hope … don’t let new life into this world …

Keep it dark, keep it cold; keep it filled with hatred and suspicion … divide race against race, gender against gender, creed against creed, neighbor against neighbor … build up greed and tear down kindness … let folks join the church but never join Christ … fill the world with noise … create hungers that no one can satisfy … lure people with hopes and dreams that are nothing more than straw … tell people they can live forever, and then fill them with secret fears and deep anxieties … stress them, pummel them, drive them … until they’re bone-weary and tired of life.

If Satan can’t stop Jesus from going to the cross, at least Satan can keep Jesus in the tomb!

But the tug of war didn’t last all that long …

Matthew puts it well … “there was an earthquake” … and uses the adverb: “suddenly” … “suddenly there was an earthquake” … unexpected, unplanned, unanticipated … out of the blue, from nowhere.

Some of us know all too well what an earthquake is like … some here remember the Northridge earthquake, 1994 … some here remember the 1971 San Fernando earthquake … some even remember the 1933 Long Beach earthquake … and just the other day, Morrey was telling me about the San Francisco earthquake … naw just kidding.

Things change with an earthquake … things changed Easter morning; God took creation by the shoulders and gave it a good shake …

When our lives change, we sometimes say, “I felt the earth move.”

A young bride said to me several years after the ceremony, “When you pronounced us husband and wife, I felt the earth move.’

Transition … change … we don’t always like it … we settle in and settle down … we find our place and make our peace … and then something comes along – earthquake … we find ourselves in a new place, a new world, a new time.

A new job, a new town, a new relationship … maybe we left the old willingly … maybe we were ushered out: “Here’s a pink slip for Christmas” … or worse, “you loved one isn’t going to make it” … the earth moves.

Suddenly, there was an earthquake … God shook creation from it’s slumber, God awakened the world to its possibilities … God aroused the powers of life and love.

We live anew … because of Easter.

We live in a new community ...
Our eyes upon Christ …
We engage the world with all the skill and compassion …

We forgive as the Amish did when their community was assaulted with violence and death … we leave vengeance to the LORD, because we’re not smart enough to handle it.
We love unconditionally …
We confess our sins with assurance …
We confess our faith with confidence …

We are Easter people …

We enjoy this world …
We relish a sunset and celebrate the sunrise …
We enjoy good food and fine drink … we go bowling and we cheer on the Dodgers … we watch March madness and throw a good party … we’re Easter people.

We pay attention to the other; we pray for one another.
We make life good for everyone … we share our abundance; we campaign for justice … if someone’s homeless today, we’re all homeless … if someone’s hungry today, we’re all hungry … if someone has lost their way, we’re all lost … because we’re in this together …

The story of a footrace in the Special Olympics … runners dashing for the finish line; one of them falls – they stop, they turn, they help their friend up, and arm-in-arm, they cross the finish line together.

That’s our reality … the earthquake that changed the world.

Matthew says: “an angel of the LORD descending from heaven …”

Here’s the first lesson of the day … only God can move the stone away … we can only go to the tomb and weep; we cannot set the prisoner free nor break the bonds of death …

We apply our best science, and write our finest books, yet we cannot crack the code of death, we cannot roll the stone away … but God does … and God alone.

And what God does, God does well:

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our LORD (Romans 8:38-39).

An angel of the LORD came down and rolled the stone away.

The second lesson of the day, “Don’t be afraid.”

If death is the final enemy, fear is its companion … and anger its consort.

Fear lurks behind every angry moment… the fear of loss – the fear of losing our place, our dignity, our self-respect, our purpose – losing identity, security; losing control, losing our dreams; losing our protective cover …

Show me an angry person, and I’ll show you a person frightened … a person chased by some demon of the mind or soul …

I know it from my own life … whenever anger raises its ugly head, its body is a body of fear … I’m afraid of something, but identifying it can be mighty hard.

What am I afraid of?

What are you afraid of?

Ever since Adam and Eve scuttled off into the bushes when they heard God strolling in the Garden, fear has plagued the heart and clouded the mind.

Fear drives discrimination and war … fear drives the competitive insanity we witness in a market system without restraint and moral compass … fear pits nation against nation; fear builds the bombs and launches the attack; fear of the other builds walls higher than needed – it’s fear that turns us away from the sorrow of Darfur; it’s fear that condemns the beggar on the corner as a no-good lout who outta go and get a job … it’s fear that slams the door on gays and lesbians … it’s fear that excludes those whom we perceive to be different … folks like James Dobson and Pat Robertson play upon our fears – talk radio is full of fear and anger … fear always leads to anger … and anger always deepens our fear!

The child hitting a playmate who touches her toy … resentment against a family member or a friend … an explosive temperament fueled by too much adrenaline … raised voices and angry gestures … the thief in the night; the mugger in the alley – the dictator in his palace; the pimp on the street – all rooted in fear.

But the angel said, “Don’t be afraid” because there’s another reality at work here … something greater than fear … something true and good … the old is passing away; the new is here … take it, live it, follow it … open your heart as wide you can; open your mind to the glory of God … do justice; love kindness; walk humbly with God.

Third lesson: “You’ll find Him.”

“You will find Him” … not in yesterday’s sorrow, but in tomorrow’s hope … He’s ahead of you, already there, and you’ll find Him.

“You will find Him” … not at the tomb, but in the love of life.

“You will find Him” … not in hatred and anger, but in kindness and peace.

“You will find Him” … in every intention to do good, every prayer, every act of forgiveness … every moment of mercy, a charitable deed … a smile and a positive word … a firm handshake and a warm embrace …
“You will find Him” in the morning, and you will find Him in the evening … you will find Him at the beginning and you will find Him at the end … He’s the Alpha and the Omega … He is our All in all.

“You will find Him.”

Ask, and it will be given you.
Search, and your will find.
Knock, and the door will be opened for you (Matthew 7:7).

Fourth lesson: “He has been raised as He said.”

His Word is good!

This salvation business is in God’s hands, and God handles it well … He said it, and He did it!

Can we not trust Him?

Can we not love Him?

Can we not go with Him where’re He leads?

The answer is “Yes!” Ten thousand times over …

We trust Him … His word is good.
We love Him … His word is pure.
We go with Him … His word is true.

He has been raised, as He said!


Sunday, March 16, 2008

Your King - March 16, 2008 Palm Sunday

For a long time, the “triumphal entry” into Jerusalem puzzled me … the cheers and then the jeers … a welcome turned into a firestorm of anger … “crucify Him!”

What’s the rest of the story?

Is this a day of cheer, or day or irony?

Tradition turned this into a festival - pageants and processions, palms and praise, children singing Hosanna … a party, if you will.

Tradition has overlooked the irony of Palm Sunday …

It’s a happy time, all right; Hosanna in the highest … but beneath the joy … the Shadow of Death … the leaders of the City, uneasy and wary … Pilate on the alert to spot a potential threat … temple police and Roman soldiers ready to arrest a troublemaker.

Yet, when Jesus rode down from the Mt. of Olives, it was a festival … though Jesus knew well how it would end, He begins with how it should be.

Jesus the King … making His entrance into the Holy City … for a few brief moments, a real King … not the pretend kings of Caesar and Herod… nor their pretend kingdoms of Rome and Palestine … but the real Kingdom, God’s Kingdom …

A Kingdom governed by grace and mercy …
Forgiveness and fresh starts …
A Kingdom for the woman at the well and a Kingdom for the woman dragged before Jesus charged with adultery …
Zacchaeus up a tree …
Bartimaeus the blind man …
Ten lepers, the deaf and the lame …
A Kingdom for a ragtag band of fisherman, tax collectors and zealots …
A Kingdom of inclusion and welcome …
A Kingdom for all the world, and for all of God’s creatures.

It’s good and right that we celebrate Palm Sunday … here is our King … a modest King without pretense and power … it’s not a stallion He rides, but a beast of burden … the stallion prances and snorts, ready to carry its rider to war; but the donkey plods slowly and patiently, bearing its burden without complaint – as Jesus bears the sins of the world.
A few days hence, Jesus will wear the cross of Rome. “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”

Two processions entered Jerusalem that day …
From the east, Jesus rides a donkey down from the Mount of Olives.
From the west, the Roman Governor, Pontius Pilate, leads a column of imperial cavalry and soldiers.
Jesus proclaims the kingdom of God; Pilate proclaims the sovereignty Roman Empire.
Both enter Jerusalem for Passover: one to keep it; the other to keep it orderly!

Pilate lived in Caesarea Maritima, about 60 miles to the west, on the Mediterranean … Pilate mostly stayed away from Jerusalem, but for the major festivals, Pilate went to Jerusalem, just to make sure everyone understood who was in charge.
The imperial procession: cavalry mounted on mighty steeds, foot soldiers, leather armor, helmets, weapons, banners, golden eagles mounted on poles, sun glinting on armor.
A sight to behold … and the sound of it: marching feet, creaking of leather, clinking of bridles, beating of drums … swirling dust.
The crowds watch silently as the occupying army of Rome rides into town to keep order.

[for the above “picture” of Pilate’s procession, my thanks to Marcus Borg & John Crossan – The Last Week]

Jesus rides in from the Mount of Olives … on young donkey, a colt never before ridden, with it’s mother close at hand to calm the young animal.
His follower shout the traditional word of welcome to the king: Hosanna – “God, save us!” A cry of praise and a cry for deliverance.

“In the highest heaven” … save us in the best way O God. Bring everything you have.
We need serious salvation … we’re a captive people … set us free from the Rome legions.”

Hosanna to the Son of David!
Blessed is the One who comes in the name of the LORD.
Hosanna in the highest heaven!

All of this prefigured in the Prophet Zechariah (9:9-10):

Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem!
Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble ad riding on a donkey, on a cold, the foal of a donkey.
He will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war horse from Jerusalem;
And the battle bow shall be cut off,
And he shall command peace to the nations.

Pilate rides the stallion, a war horse, surrounded by heavily armed solders.
Jesus rides a donkey, an animal of burdens, surrounded by disciples.

Pilate’s procession embodied the power and the glory of am empire. Jesus offers another vision – the Kingdom of God.

The confrontation between these two realms continues throughout the last week of our LORD's life …
On Good Friday, when all was said and done, Pilate washed his hands of the affair and walked away. Just another crucifixion; just another dead Jew … just another day in the life of a Roman governor.

But a momentous day in the Kingdom of God … Good Friday, we call it.

Oh, to have the eyes of faith.
To see beyond the glitter and the gold.
To see beyond the forms of this world,
To see the hand of God.
God’s procession …
God’s love …
To see the Christ …
A modest king,
A lowly LORD,
A very human God!

Listen to how Paul describes our LORD:

Though He was in the form of God,
He did not regard equality with God
As something to be exploited,
But emptied Himself,
Taking the form of a slave,
Being born in human likeness,
And being found in human form,
He humbled Himself
And became obedient to the point of death –
Even death on a cross (Philippians 2:6-8).

Talk about downward mobility … one demotion after another … lower and lower He descends … moving deeper into the human realm … a sacrifice of unimaginable grace … plumbing the depths so you and I can reach the heights.

The details of the story are instructive:

Jesus sends two disciples to secure the colt; not one, but two.
It’s always good to have a companion … we all do better in the company of one another … Bible study, prayer, worship … we can do all of them by ourselves, but we can do them so much better in the company and strength of one another … the Christian life is devoted to rebuilding the human family … tearing down walls; bridging the chasms … welcoming back the excluded … repairing what sin has broken … healing the environment … rebuilding a just economy … seeing to it that the least are cared for; and the cared for never humiliated …

“Love one another,” says Jesus
“Pray for one another,” says Paul.
We’re all in this together …

What we do, we do together … and together, we do it best of all.

When the disciples reach town, they’re to look for two tethered animals – a donkey and its colt – “untie them,” says Jesus and bring them to me. If anyone asks, simply say, “The LORD needs them.”

What a wonderfully human thing to say, “I need them. I need them to finish my work. What I need, you have; what you have, I need.”

Does God need anything?

Yes, God needs what we have … and what we have is a heart … a soul, a spirit … a will and a love.

God owns the cattle on a thousand hills, but God doesn’t own us.

God gave us our character, our strength, our mind and heart … and God gave us a will.
These things belong to us … they remain our charge until the day we give them to the LORD … willingly and joyfully, freely and faithfully.
“Here I am LORD; use me.”
“My heart I give to you, promptly and sincerely.”

Yes, he needs what we have; but what He has, we need.

It’s a remarkable partnership … only we can give Him our will; only He can save us from our sins!

Jesus rides a colt never ridden …
This colt can be ridden only by Jesus.
Managed only by the Son of God.
No one else can take away the sins of the world.

Please note – the colt isn’t taken from its mother.
I suppose the great Son of God might have simply taken the colt from its mother, and with some divine command, break its spirit and render it docile.
But no taking the colt from its mother!

When colts are trained, they are trained with the mother at its side … to calm the colt and help it learn.

No cruelty here … no raw divine power … just a modest king, a lowly LORD, a very human God!

The donkey is a beast of burden.
Pilate rides a stallion.
Can ya’ see the contrast?

Pilate enters Jerusalem to oppress and command.
Jesus is here to bear the sins of the world and set the people free.
Can ya’ see the contrast?

The soldiers bear arms and wear the pride of power.
The disciples shout Hosanna, lay their garments down, and wave palm branches.
Can ya’ see the contrast?

The donkey is a sign of peace.
Pilate’s stallion is a champion of war.
Can ya’ see the contrast?

Christ is the Prince of Peace.
Pilate, the master of war.
Can ya’ see the contrast?

Now some historical observation … in the year 325, Constantine the emperor converted to Christianity.
The empire succumbed to the LORD it had killed … after 300 years of persecution and turmoil, the blood of martyrs won the day.
But something fateful in that turn of events.
The cross of Christ became the hilt of a sword; the violence once directed toward Christians is now directed toward enemies of Rome. … when the Roman Empire collapsed several hundred years later, the church was on the ascendancy … from humble house churches to great basilicas … from pastor to priest … from the simple robes of a rabbi to the garb of power and control.
The lively debate of rabbi and student lost in the rise of the magisterium, replaced by the teaching authority of a church no longer asking questions, but only giving answers … sacraments removed from the home and relocated in the church … only the hands now of the clergy could bestow the water of baptism, and only clergy hands could break bread and pour the cup; only clergy could read the Bible … the clergy were dressed up, and the people dressed down.

Gold crosses and silver chalices, heavy vestments embroidered and bejeweled; inquisitions and institutions … wealth flowed into the coffers of the church - land, power and influence.

Strange, how the church began to look just like an empire.

But today, Palm Sunday, we recall our LORD …
Today, Palm Sunday, we reclaim the mission and the meaning …
We set aside the stallion and ride the donkey …
We shun power,
And embrace mercy.

We set our eyes upon Jesus … a modest King, a lowly LORD, a very human God.

A King, true and good.
A King, loving and kind.
A King to save us from our sins.

Your King and my King.

The King of kings!


Sunday, March 9, 2008

Last Miracle - March 9, 2008

John 11

“I believe in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.”

So ends the Apostles’ Creed … the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting …

When this perishable body puts on imperishability,
And this mortal body puts on immortality,
Then the saying that is written
Will be fulfilled:

“Death has been swallowed up in victory,
Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death is your sting?

The last miracle … the final enemy vanquished …

The last miracle … calling Lazarus out of the tomb …

The last miracle … dealing with the final enemy.

Paul the Apostle calls death the enemy … that which stands over against us … a shadow looming on every horizon … the hushed whisper that steals into our consciousness in quiet moments … “dust thou art, and unto dust thou shalt return.”

The final hurdle … too high for us to jump.
The final challenge … too brutal for us to master.
The final enemy … greater than all our technologies and defiant of all our philosophies.

“Dust thou art, and to dust thou shalt return.”

Our faith is bluntly honest.
The truth is told.

Nowhere in the pages of Scripture is death presented as anything but death … terrible and ugly.

In the Old Testament, death drags everyone down to Sheol, the land of the dead, where joy and praise are no more … great and small, kings and paupers … to the land of the dead.

In the New Testament, it is the wages of sin …

Death is enemy!

Death is not a part of God’s original plan – death has no place in the kingdom of God – death comes as the result of sin … the breach, the broken chain … the chasm that opened up when Adam and Eve plucked the fruit and turned their backs on God … out of that ruptured relationship emerged the shadow of death … like an alien beast slinking out of some ancient crater.

The whole of creation groans under the weight of sin and sin’s wages: “dust thou art and unto dust thou shalt return.”
The little flea and the mighty whale are subject to death … the sunflower of summer and the tulips of spring … the folks we love and the folks we don’t – friend and foe alike: “dust thou art, and to dust thou shalt return.”

The shadow of death casts a chilling shade.

Every ache and pain reminds us.
Every tick of the clock, and every page turned is a poignant reminder of time’s hastening passage.
Every obituary gives us a “lover’s” pinch.

Speaking of obituaries,

Gallagher opened the morning newspaper and was dumbfounded to read in the obituary column that he had died. He quickly phoned his best friend Finney. "Did you see the paper?" asked Gallagher. "They say I died!!"
"Yes, I saw it!" replied Finney. "Where are you callin' from?"

Mrs. Pete Monaghan came into the newsroom to pay for her husband's obituary. She was told by the kindly newsman that it was a dollar a word and he remembered Pete and wasn't it too bad about him passing away.
She thanked him for his kind words and bemoaned the fact that she only had two dollars. But she wrote out the obituary, "Pete died."
The newsman said he thought old Pete deserved more and he'd give her three more words at no charge.
Mrs. Pete Monaghan thanked him and rewrote the obituary: "Pete died. Boat for sale"

Sally was drying her tears when her friend Lois came by. “How’s it going Sally,” she asked. “Oh, all right. I sure miss him, though. But I’m really grateful for the $25,000.”
“What are you going to do with it?” asked Lois.
“I bought a stone with it.”
“A headstone for that kind of money?”
“No, this kind of stone.”

Death remains the great mystery for human beings … of all God’s creatures, great and small, it’s our frontal lobe – the capacity of our mind to contemplate our own end, to know that our days are counted … that time is ticking away – like sand held in the hand, one grain at a time, until the last grain falls, and time is no more!

“Dust thou art, and to dust thou shalt return.”

I’m grateful that God’s Word terms death “the enemy.”

An enemy worth hating … that which steals away love and crushes hope … that which sin created, not God … an enemy with whom we need never be reconciled … to whom we need never surrender … an enemy that deserves to be called what it is: the enemy!

Olivia Manning wrote The Balkan Trilogy and The Levant Triology, about a young British couple, Guy and Harriet Pringle in Romania just prior to the outbreak of World War 2. Guy teaches English in the university of Bucharest; Harriet is a secretary.

When Romania is invaded, Guy and Harriet flee to Athens, and finally to Alexandria, Egypt, and as the war deepens, Harriet is sent home to England by ship.

At the last moment, before embarking, Harriet hooks up with a friend traveling to Damascus.

A few days later, word is received that torpedoes sunk the ship … and Guy believes Harriet is dead.

In the chaos of the Middle East, Harriet is unable to get a hold of Guy. She has no idea the ship has gone down; she has no idea that Guy and their friends believe her to be dead.

Guy is devastated … so many memories of failed promises and delayed kindnesses … he blurts out in a moment of private grief: “I hate death and everything to do with death” (The Levant Trilogy, p.414)

Rightly so … death, the final enemy.

Having told the truth … is there yet a greater truth?

If death is our master, is there anything that masters death? … anything greater then the final enemy?

Some are willing to concede death’s victory.

Nihilists and others who have neither God nor hope conclude that death is the master … all the universe is hurtling toward a dark hole from which there is no escape, and for which there is no meaning; life is nothing but a momentary accident, without reference point, without purpose, without value or destiny.

That’s what some believe!

But it is not so.

“I believe in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.”

From the water turned into wine at Cana to our LORD's triumphant cry by the tomb, “Lazarus, come forth,” Jesus stands in the breach … holding heaven and earth together.
Where there is darkness, He’s the light of the LORD.
Where there are lies and deceptions, He’s the truth.
Where there is confusion and doubt, He’s the way.
Where there is death, He’s the life.

The lost are found by Him.
The blind are given their sight.
The dead are raised to life anew!

The last miracle confronts the final enemy.

It’s quite a story.

News comes to Jesus that Lazarus is ill … “Come quickly,” they plead.

But Jesus takes His time … no hurry for the Son of God … what strikes us as urgent has no urgency for Him.

When Jesus arrives, He’s greeted with the sounds of lament, and a tongue lashing:
“Where were you?”
“We were counting you?”
“You could’ve done something.”
“This wouldn’t have happened if you had been here.”

“Where is he?” asks Jesus.

Off to the graveyard they go, and he commands them to take away the stone … “but he’s already been dead four days … it’s no use; death is doing its grim work; the body stinks; there is no hope.

“Take away the stone,” says Jesus.

And He cries out with a loud voice … loud enough to wake the dead: “Lazarus, come out.”

Lazarus steps from the tomb as if it were nothing more than a Sunday afternoon stroll … wrapped in the linen of death … “Unbind him,” says Jesus, “and let him go.”

To whom does Jesus says those words, “Unbind him”?

To the family and friends there? Of course.
But more importantly, Jesus speaks to death itself: “Unbind him, and let him go.”

Death, you have no jurisdiction here; your word, O Death, means nothing.

I think of John Donne’s poem,

DEATH be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadfull, for, thou art not so,
For, those, whom thou think'st, thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poore death, nor yet canst thou kill me.

When my father died in my 23rd year, six months after Donna and I were married, I remember the drive to Wisconsin … the October sky, overcast, and I remember looking to the clouds, asking, “Where’s my father now?”

I wept bitterly … my heart was stricken …

Before we went into the funeral home, we all prayed in the car … then on to greet family and friends … and there my father lay in state … his life with us, no more. My mother standing beside the casket, her face puffy with grief.

The service, a blurred memory … the slow drive to the cemetery … and many years later, my son and I standing by that grave, I wept, and my son, taller then me, held me in his arms and said, “That’s okay Dad.”

We Christians live in between realities … on the one hand, the reality of death … on the other hand, the reality of Christ!

The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our LORD (Romans 6:23)

I believe in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.

The Holy Spirit whispers to our heart: “All will be well. All will be well.”

The poet Donne ends the poem:

One short sleepe past, wee wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.

Death has met its match in the matchless grace of Christ.

On that terrible cross, the Son of God endured and embraced all of hell’s fury … He was crucified, dead and buried; He descended into hell …

The Harrowing of Hell it’s called … He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits in prison, who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah (1 Peter 3:18-20).

He descended into hell … as far away as one can go from God … to meet the last enemy on the enemy’s turf, and there to proclaim the love of God and the victory of life, to set the prisoner free … to drive the stake of grace through the very heart of death.

Where is my father now?

He is with Christ … along with all the saints in glory, who behold the face of God and sing the songs of heaven:

Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,
To receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength
And honor and glory and power,
Forever and ever! (Revelation 5:12)

But all is not yet complete … my father waits for the final day, the last miracle of miracles … the creation of a new heaven and a new earth … the dead in Christ gathered from the four corners of the world, and all made new … flesh and bone raised up like Ezekiel’s vision … all that we were, all that we are, and all that we hope to be … redeemed and made new … just like Christ … forever and ever, world without end.

I believe in resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.


Sunday, March 2, 2008

Eyes - March 2, 2008

John 9

A little boy came home from school one day and asked, “Mom, where did I come from?”

After clearing her throat and gathering her wits, Mom launched into an elaborate description of human reproduction.

Jimmy listened politely, and when Mom was done, he said, “Oh, I was just wondering, because Susie comes from Pasadena and Johnny from Seattle.”

The disciples ask Jesus, “Who sinned?”

Was it his parents?

Was it something this man did while still in the womb?

Wonder how the blind man felt.
Hearing all this talk about sin … amazing, how easily we talk about someone’s suffering … “Oh, did you hear, Brent lost his job? Wonder what he did?”

“Susie’s getting a divorce. She should’ve never married that man.”

“Brad didn’t get into Stanford. He should’ve known better to even apply.”

We look at a homeless man on a bus bench, and silently scold him for being so lazy.

We look at the kid in jail and would love to sit him down for a good lecture.

How easily we talk about someone else’s suffering.

It’s their fault, isn’t it? We would never be so foolish, would we!

It’s called attribution theory:

If we find ourselves in a scrape, it’s not our fault – it’s that stupid boss of ours, that selfish spouse who doesn’t understand; it’s our children who drive us nuts; our parents who make life miserable; the teacher never gives me a break; my dog ate the homework, the devil made me do it, and the 405 was jammed.

Yet if we’re on the top of the game - well, it’s because we worked so hard … we studied the charts and made the right investments … we’re good at what we do; some people are born great, and I just ran harder than everyone else.

Attribution theory …

“Who sinned, this man or his parents?”

But Jesus couldn’t care less about such questions.
He doesn’t play the blame game.

He doesn’t find fault.

It’s not the cause; it’s the care!

When God visited Adam and Eve in the Garden at the time of the evening breeze, to have a mint julep with them – but when God learned how it all went south with sin, God didn’t muck around with causes and reasons … no scolding or moral grandstanding … just mercy.

Things changed, all right … the sweet became sour; the light dimmed – but the last moment before Adam and Eve leave the Garden, God becomes a tailor; God stitches durable clothing … it’s not the cause, but the care!

Speaking of Adam and Eve …

Little Johnny’s Sunday School class were learning how God created human beings.

Little Johnny was very intent when the teacher told him how Eve was created out of one of Adam's ribs.

Later in the week, his mother noticed him lying down as though he were ill, and asked, "Johnny, what’s the matter?"

Little Johnny responded, "I have a pain in my side. I think I'm going to have a wife."

Verlyn Klinkenborg writes about his horse, Ida … one day, Ida comes to the barn with a horrible neck wound – deep and frightening.

The vet is called … anxious moments … the vet arrives – finds a vein after a few tries, gives a sedative … Ida keeps her legs, but her head sags into Klinkenborg’s arms; later that night, his arms still shake from the strain.
The vet shaves the wound, flushes it … lots of stitches later, the wound is closed.

They searched the pasture for what might have caused the ugly would … but nothing could be found … “a mystery wound,” said the vet. “All too common” (New York Times, Feb. 19, 2008).

Who sinned, this man or his parents?

A mystery wound … all too common.

It’s not the cause that counts … it’s the care … the flushing of the wound; the stitches … the love and comfort … holding someone’s sagging heart … taking a hand and going for a beach walk … a cup of coffee when you don’t have the time; a long phone call when you’d just as soon go to bed … keeping Kleenix at hand because your friend will shed a lot of tears.

Jesus heals the man … he spits into the dust to make a poultice of mud …

What in the world is He doing?

Jesus is re-imaging the creation story … when God gathered up a fist full of dust and dirt and fashioned a little critter called human …

But there’s more to the story … this was the Sabbath Day … Sabbath work was forbidden … making the poultice, like kneading dough, that’s a no-no!

Jesus could’ve said the word, and the man would have been healed, but Jesus never misses a chance to tweak the noses of the know-it-alls.

He kneads the dirt like a ball of dough … and tells the man to go wash … and the know-it-alls launch an investigation.
If this were a film, it would be a Laurel and Hardy episode, Keystone cops and Harold Lloyd … falling all over each other to get the goods on Jesus.

As far as they’re concerned, Jesus is a sinner … pure, plain and simple …

He broke the law … that’s what counts …

As for that blind man – must be a mistake.

The parents are called in several times … “Ask our son” they say.

The man is called in and questioned again … joking with them, he says, “What, you want to become his disciples, too?”

They hurl insults at him …

Did they call him names?
Dimwit, dunce or dummy?

Did they insult his mother?

Your momma's so stupid, she ordered sushi well done.

Your momma’s so ugly, she made an onion cry.

Na nah na nah na naaah …

The man tries to tell his story … “one thing I know: I was blind but now I see. Only a man of God could have done this for me.”

“What do you know about God?”
“You’re steeped in sin.”
“How dare you lecture us.”
And they threw him out!

The Pharisees had their noses all out of joint because Jesus did it on a Sabbath Day …

Not the man … not the need.
Not the hurt … not the deed.

Just the day.

Majoring in minors.
Minoring in majors.

Been there, done that.

Haven’t you?

When our children were growing up, Donna and I’d get all upset about clothes strewn on the floor or dirt tracked into the house.

And ever so often, Donna and I would set ourselves down and give ourselves a good talking to … “Hey, these are great kids we have; let’s not lose sight of the big picture – we love them, and they love us, and things are just fine, and we can put up with the small things, because the big things are in great shape!”

The story line is simple: People count more than anything else.

The story asks a simple question: Who’s really blind here?

So many of the New Testament stories pose the same question: Who’s blind? Who can see?

A reminder to us who’ve spent years in the church … religion can be the cause of spiritual blindness!

“We have Moses,” they said! “We know the lay of the land; we know what’s up, but as for this Jesus fellow, we have no idea where he comes from.”

Now let’s be perfectly honest … let’s rewrite the script …

“I’m a pastor; I’ve got a doctorate. I was born in a Christian family; reared in the Reformed tradition – best schools, best teachers; I read Hebrew and Greek; I know the lay of the land.”

That, and 4 1/2 bucks gets me a double latte at the Coffee Beanery.

So where do you fit into the script?

“I’m an elder; I’ve been an elder four terms. I was born into a Presbyterian family; I’ve been a member here 50 years. I know that I know.”

I’ve been a Sunday School teacher … a Deacon, a choir member …

We’ve all been there … claiming the high ground of experience and knowledge … our pedigree, our seniority … the temptation of longevity … we know who’s in and we know who’s out … who’s been naughty and who’s been nice.

And we’ve all had to change our minds, haven’t we? But thank God for the ability to change our minds!
Every change of mind, we grow a little – boundaries pushed back; we see more clearly … the bigger picture – the man born blind: it’s not the cause; it’s the care!

The story is a reminder to pray for healing … our healing, the healing of our eyes …

Let this be our promise today:

I will take the time and make the effort to care!
I will have less of myself and more of God.
I will restrain my tendency to judge.
I will care for those with mystery wounds.
I will release God’s mercy.
I will have the eyes of Christ!