Sunday, March 28, 2010

March 28, 2010, "No East or West" - Palm Sunday

Luke 19:28-40

Everyone loves a parade.

From the Rose Bowl in Pasadena to Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City …

And small-town extravaganzas with a home-coming queen on a flat-bed trailer pulled by a John Deere fresh off the field.

Marching bands and twirling batons … wads of cotton candy and glo-stick necklaces … cheap trinkets and wonderful memories.

Everyone loves a parade!

On this fateful day in Jerusalem, two parades made their entrance … one from the east, from the Mt. of Olives, a Rabbi from Galilee coming into the city on a donkey - as spelled out in the Scriptures – Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, you king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey [Zechariah 9:9].
A beast of burden, quiet and faithful, a farm animal.
When the kings came to Jerusalem, they rode donkeys.
As if to say:
This isn’t about power.
This isn’t about war.

The king is king for the sake of humility.
The king is king for the purpose of peace.
Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the LORD of hosts [Zechariah 4:6].

Did Israel’s kings always live up to such lowly images?
Did Israel’s kings and queens pursue peace and humility?

On this day in Jerusalem, in the spring of the year 30, the week before Passover, there came a man riding on a donkey.
Rabbi Jesus … and his disciples were shouting.
Some folks saw what was happening and spread their cloaks on the ground to welcome him … Who knows, he might be important.
Other stories tell of palm branches being waved – a salute to royalty.
Is this some future king for Israel?
How the people longed for a new day of national glory.
When the nation would once again be sovereign.
With a king and his armies to rid us of our enemies.
When Jesus died at the end of the week, affixed to his cross was a simple sign from Pilate: The King of the Jews.

Because Pilate thought Jesus was the king of the Jews?
Far from it.
Pilate and the Roman authorities were mocking him.
They dressed him in robes of purple and plaited a crown of thorns for him.
They sent a message to the people with the first nail – this is what happens to anyone who threatens Rome… we’re in change, and Caesar is king, and we have no patience for rabble rousers.
But Rome does what Rome does in partnership … a coalition of forces … Rome and the Temple … politicians and religious leaders.
Jerusalem’s temple elite enjoyed a favorable status … don’t get me wrong; they really didn’t like Rome, but they knew what side their bread was buttered on.

Think of Parisians who collaborated during WW 2 – politicians and church leaders signed on with the Nazis; they may not have liked the Nazis, but they knew where the power was.
Jerusalem’s temple officials had an agreement with Rome – We’ll keep the people quiet, and you preserve our power.

So, what was the very first thing Jesus did after arriving in Jerusalem?
That’s right … he went to the temple and made a quite a fuss …
Drove out the money-changers and folks selling souvenirs.
And Jesus says to them, It is written,
      ‘My house shall be a house of prayer;
      but you have made it a den of robbers.

I can imagine the response of the temple leaders:
Yikes, there he goes again, quoting the Bible.
Turning it upside down.
Telling us we’ve got it wrong.
How can we have it wrong?
Look at this place, this temple; it’s beautiful.
Look at Jerusalem - thousands of Passover pilgrims, spending money, filling our inns and buying our trinkets, what’s wrong with that?
St. Peter’s Square jammed with the faithful.
Churches filled on Easter Sunday.
Hey, we all have to make a living, don’t we?
What’s the big deal, Jesus?
Why are you such a problem?
Our Roman overseers are going to get nervous.
Be quiet.
Hush up.
Stop it.
Let well enough along.
Quit talking about the Bible so much.

In Jerusalem that day, there was alternative parade.
Coming in from the west.
Pilate’s parade.
Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Idumea, Judea and Samaria.
Leading a column of imperial cavalry on restless horses trained for war, followed by seasoned foot-soldiers, armed to the teeth.
Think of Moscow’s May Day Parade, soldiers, tanks and mobile missile launchers.
Or a flight of F-16s roaring over a speedway after the National Anthem; the crowd erupts in a great cry.

Pilate’s parade.
From Caesarea Maritima, “Caesarea on the Sea” – a city devoted to Ceaser – 60 miles to the west, a port city on the Mediterranean.
Think Malibu, or Newport Beach!
And where was Jerusalem?
In the mountains to the east – think Big Bear.
Pilate enjoyed his Malibu, who wouldn’t?
But when festival time came, Pilate made the journey to the mountains of Jerusalem, a show for force, just to be sure folks knew the lay of the land and didn’t get any dumb ideas.

Here’s how Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg describe Pilate’s parade in their excellent book, The Last Week:

A visual panoply of imperial power: cavalry on horses, foot soldiers, leather armor, helmets, weapons, banners, golden eagles mounted on poles, sun glinting on metal and gold. Sounds: the marching of feet, the creaking of leather, the clinking of bridles, the beating of drums. The swirling of dust [p.3].

We still have the two parades, don’t we?
Jesus and Pilate.
Maybe some day, there will be no east or west.
Maybe some day, all shall be one in Christ.
But for now, Pilate and his horses, and Jesus and his donkey - still ride in to our lives from opposite directions.

A week later, Pilate and the temple officials flex their muscles.
Jesus dies on Calvary,
A trouble-maker, they called him.

Two parades that day.

Be mindful:
Pilate’s parade catches the eye.
That day, I might have joined Pilate’s parade.
But it’s Jesus who tells us the truth. Amen and Amen!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

March 21, 2010, "Downsizing"

Philippians 3:1-14

We’ve heard a lot over the last few years about downsizing.

10 surefire signs your company is going to downsize:

10. Company Softball Team is converted to a Chess Club.
9. Dr. Kevorkian is hired as an “Outplacement Coordinator”.
8.   Folks in Marketing are suddenly very friendly with the Personnel Manager.
7. The beer supplied by the Company at picnics has been replaced with Kool-Aid.
6. Weekly bake sales at Corporate Headquarters.
5. Company president now driving a Ford Escort.
4. Annual Company Holiday Bash moved from the Sheraton to the park across the street from the LAX In n Out.
3. Employees are charged for their paper clips.
2. Dental plan now consists of a Company supplied kit (string, pliers and 2 aspirin).
1. Your CEO has installed a dartboard in his office marked with all existing departments in the Company.

Downsizing is no laughing matter … millions of hard-working Americans have been laid off … I have friends in Michigan who can’t find work, because there are no jobs, and it’s been rough here in California, too.
Downsizing is no laughing matter.

Some might say: “Well, it has to be done, now and then. The economy needs this kind of periodic readjustment.”
Perhaps they’re right, but it’s no laughing matter.

Yet American families have found strange blessings in such times … learning to live more frugally does a body good … spending more time together in family activities … less entertainment and more reading … a whole lot less shopping and a lot more playtime with the children.

Downsizing is painful, but American are learning some new values!

Downsizing is how Paul the Apostle describes his journey into Christ!

Paul declares: There was a whole of stuff I loved and was proud of, but when I met Jesus Christ and “saw the light,” I began to shed a lot of stuff, and you know what? It was junk.
It weighed my soul down and made me proud in all the wrong kinds of ways.
I was proud of my ancestry and looked down my nose at others.
I was proud of my religious heritage and thought I was the only one who was right.
I was proud of my hard work and my success.
I was proud of who I was and I was on top of the heap!
Nobody could hold a candle to me.
I knew what was right, and I knew what was wrong.
And I let the world know it!

Translating this into 2010, Paul might write:
I am an American and I am powerful.
I am white and I’m proud of it.
I am Presbyterian and that’s the end of it!
My Daddy is a banker, and my Momma, a neurosurgeon.
I’m a graduate of Temple University, Phi Beta Capa, and a Rhodes Scholar.
I live in New York City and I’ve got a bank account that’ll curl your toes.
I live right and I invest right.
I’m really hard on folks who don’t measure up.
As far as I’m concerned, I’m better than most.
And most can’t hold a candle to me.
I’m top-drawer.
I say my prayers.
I’m top of the heap!

And then one day, on the Damascus Road, Jesus came to Paul and bathed him in a bright light … a light so bright, it blinded Paul and left him lying in the dust of the road.
For three long days, Paul couldn’t see a thing.
The man who claimed to see it all was as a blind as a bat.
The man who led others away in chains now had to be led about by the hand.
The man so confident and so full of himself lost it all in a blaze of light.

There is no smaller package in all the world than a man all wrapped up in himself!

Paul had no room for Christ.
And it took a crisis for Paul to see the truth.
What he valued in his former life had to be discarded in order to gain Jesus Christ!

Someone said to me recently, “You can have it all. But just not at the same time.”
Is that really true?
We can have it all, if we’re patient?

But we can’t have it all … even if it’s parceled out over time.
There isn’t enough time to have it all, and is that what life is all about anyway? Having it all.
All is big word, isn’t it?
Do we even want it all, when we think about?
A life of endless getting?
The one who dies with the most toys wins?

All over the Bible, the great exchange … our stuff, surrendered and handed over, in order to gain the goodness of God!

God asks Abram to leave all the usual suspects behind …
Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house.

Boom, boom, boom: country, family, zip code.

And then, says God,
Go to the land that I will show you.
I will give you many descendents.
I will bless you and make your name great.

God rebuilds Abram’s life from scratch!
A new country.
A new family.
A new zip code.

Abram couldn’t have it all.
It’s this or it’s that.
Stay where you are, and remain who you are!
Or leave where you and be transformed!

Jesus invited the fishermen to follow him.
They had to leave their father behind, they had to leave behind their boats, their nets; they had to leave behind a future in the family business.
They couldn’t have it all.
They couldn’t remain on the boats and follow Jesus at the same time.
It was one or the other.

Joshua says to the people:
Choose this day whom you will serve … the LORD your God, or the gods your ancestors served in earlier times.

It has to be this, or it has to be that.
You can’t have it all.
Choose today whom you will serve.

Jesus says:
No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one or love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth [Matthew 6:24].

Paul was headed in one direction.
But the LORD gave Paul an opportunity.

A blinding light.
To knock some sense into Paul’s head and heart.
To cut a few lines and set Paul adrift.
To be lost in order to be found.
Paul realized what every follower of Jesus learns one way or the other – we can’t have it all – it has to be one way or the other … it’s self, or it’s Christ, and to try for both leads only to dysfunction and confusion.

Paul realized that he was clinging to nonsense.
The stuff he prized wasn’t worth the effort.
Don’t get me wrong.
Paul was no heathen.
He was deeply religious, profoundly moral, and unflinchingly committed … he was a good guy, and we’d want him for our neighbor – the lawn would be mowed, his kids would be well-behaved, and he’d be a model citizen.
But on the Damascus Road, Paul saw through it all … it was getting in the way, it was bogging him down, it had no life to it.
He had to give it all up, start all over again, in order to gain Christ!

In the Season of Lent, we have a chance to ask some pretty deep questions of ourselves.
Lent is a crisis of sorts.
A momentary derailment.
The death of Jesus for the sins of the world.
Our sins … large and small.
Our sins … secret and public.
Our sins … personal and national.
Our sins … dark and greedy.
Our sins … vanity and shallowness.
Our sins … religious and political.
Our sins …
When we stand before the cross of Christ, it should throw us for a loop.
Throw us into a crisis.
Drive us deep, and drive us into another world.
Drive us into the arms of God!

Lent should give us pause.

What are we holding on to?
What are the elements of our pride and puffery?
By what standards do we measure our worth?
How do we look at our future?
What is God asking us to let go of, so that we can grasp the golden ring of faith?

Lent is never easy.
But, then, what is?
Things of substance are always a challenge.
The soul is tested; the soul is tried!
God puts serious questions to us because of God’s great love.
Lent is a time to think big and look at Christ on the cross.
Lent is a time to dig deep and look at the things we value.
Lent is a time of surrender.

To let go of some things.
In order to gain Christ.

The surpassing value of knowing Jesus Christ our LORD!

Amen and Amen!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

March 14, 2010, "From Now On"

2 Corinthians 5:16-21

Things change.
And I’m glad they do.
Because a change of scenery does a body good.
We take a vacation to see some new scenery.
We read a book to find a new idea, and change the scenery of our mind.
A change of scenery does a body good!

And Christ is a huge change of scenery for all of us.
Everything old has passed away … everything has become new.

From now on, Paul writes.

From this moment onward …
Because of Christ …
The Bethlehem Baby.
The boy in the temple.
The young rabbi baptized by John in the Jordan River.
The teacher of the fisherman.
The stiller of storms.
The healer of broken bodies and broken dreams.
The Man of Sorrows who bears the burdens of the world.
Christ in Pilate’s courtroom.
Christ on the Cross.
Christ in the Tomb.
Christ risen from the dead.
Christ ascended to glory, and from thence he shall come to judge the living and the dead!

Jesus Christ our LORD.

From now on …
We regard no one from a human point of view.

What an odd thing to say!
Is there any other way to regard one another?
Aren’t we all human?
All so human?

What is Paul getting at?

First, let me say a few things about Paul:
No one has ever understood grace better than Paul.
No one has ever grasped the power and the glory of Jesus Christ better than the Apostle Paul.
Others are equal to Paul, but no one exceeds Paul.

When Paul speaks, we do well to listen.

From now on, say Paul.
From this moment forward.
From this point in time,
We regard no one from a human point of view.

It helps if we understand something about the Corinthians to whom Paul was writing.
Forty miles southwest of Athens.
An important city, diverse and cosmopolitan.
A cultural and commercial hub.
A city known for its artisans.
A colony city – a special relationship to Rome.
Like Park City, Utah, Corinth was known as “Sin City,” what with all of its sailors and a transient population of immigrants from all over the Empire.
“What happens in Corinth stays in Corinth.”
And like the rest of the Empire, the city was dominated by a steep social pyramid: a few at the top, and many more on the bottom, with an educated business class in between.
An ancient writer characterized Corinth as a city without charm and not the least convivial, in spite of its wealth and privilege … a tough town, if you will.
With plenty of religion.
Archeologists have found temples, altars and shrines all over the city.

By the way, there was no church as we would think of it … no Covent on the Corner … no steeples and no stained glass windows – the church of those days was house churches – Christians gathered in homes, often times in the homes of the wealthy, who had the room and the servants to help.
House churches … ten or fifteen house churches.
For the first three centuries, the Christian Church had no buildings anywhere.

But they had their issues.
Someone said to me years ago, I wish we could just have Jesus. Why does the church have so many issues?
Yes, we have Jesus, don’t we?
But Jesus has us.
Here’s the church, see the steeple,
Open the door and see all the people.
And like Pogo observed, We have met the enemy, and he is us.

What’s the problem?
We have eyes, don’t we!
And the eye is always a problem!

Oh my, he’s soooo good looking!
Look how skinny she is!
Wow, they must have money.
Can you imagine how big their home is?
Good grief, did ya’ see the car he’s driving?
Look at his watch.
Yikes, did ya’ see the rock on her finger?

The eye is always a problem, isn’t it?
It’s sometimes said, The first impression is … what? … yeah, the last impression.
And if that’s the case, we’re missing a lot of life.
There’s more to everything than the first glance.

First impression?
Mother Teresa … a tiny wrinkly old lady, going about the streets of Calcutta early in the morning, caring for the sick and picking up the bodies of the dead.
Nelson Mandela behind bars for 27 years …
The kid checking out your groceries.
The man picking up your garbage.

The eye is a problem, isn’t it?
We see friends where there are none … like folks saw Bernie Madoff and his get-rich schemes … lots of people saw dollar signs and thought they could find Easy Street.
The eye is a problem, isn’t it?
We see people and call them stranger.
We see people and label them outsider.
We call them enemies.
The eye is far from reliable!

In the movie, “Avatar,” the Na’vi greet one another by saying, I see you!”
I love that expression.
I see you …
I see you, not just a kid behind the counter.
I see you, not just a garbage man, but a human being.

I led Bible study Wednesday night at First United Methodist Church, Hawthorne – fascinating church … the pastor is Hispanic, a former missionary in Bolivia and Brazil … her congregation made up of Caucasians, Hispanics and Tongans … they have their issues, but as one of them said to me, It’s kinda fun figuring out who the outsider is … we’re all outsiders!

The eye is a problem!
And right into the church it all comes.

Several things seemed to plague the Corinthian Church.
One of the issues, tongue speaking …
The ecstatic gift of the Holy Spirit.
Have you ever heard tongue speaking?
It IS one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
But like any gift, some thought it was the best gift.
The most important gift.
If you could speak in tongues, you were on top of the spiritual heap.
You were a graduate-school Christian.
Ya’ had a leg up on the others.
And others had to look up to you.
You had arrived … you were super-Christian!

The other problem was money and privilege.
The Golden Rule.
You know what the Golden Rule is, don’t you?
Those with all the gold make all the rules.
Paul cautions the wealthy to be mindful.
When you come together, be mindful about Widow Brown who can afford only hot dogs and lives in a tiny house on the wrong side of the street.
Be mindful – be modest – be careful.

There were plenty of other issues, too.

Makes Paul’s letters to the Corinthians fascinating reading …
If anything could go wrong, it went wrong in Corinth.
I imagine Paul laboring long and hard over every word he writes - every phrase – How can I say it? How can I reach them?
Paul writes with passion and with love.
Paul wants Corinth to get it right.
Do it well.
Paul wants want Corinth to know the love and the glory of Jesus Christ!

From now one, writes Paul.
It isn’t about the eye, and how we appear to one another, it’s all about the heart and our common love for one another, because Christ loves us.

It’s not about you, says Paul, it’s about Jesus Christ.

Rick Warren’s book, The Purpose Driven Life, begins with those startling words: It’s not about you!

Like a friend of mine said, tongue in cheek, Well, if it isn’t about ME, what IS it about?

It is all about Jesus Christ.

For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them [vs. 15].

There is no greater transformation of life then when we step into the light of Christ and begin our journey anew.
When we shift from self to Christ.
From the eye to the heart.
And begin to see one another in the light of Christ our LORD!

Think of it as a healing!

We need to be healed of our spiritual maladies!
Our eyes need to be healed, so that we can see one another with the eyes of Christ.
Our hands need to be healed, so that we can open them to one another and give freely of what is ours.
Our feet need to be healed, so that we can walk in the ways of Christ, and even run sometimes, and run hard!
Our mouths need to be healed, so that we can speak truth to one another, and do so with love.
Our emotions need to be healed, so that we can meet the challenges of life with the tools of faith, hope and love, rather than anxiety, anger and selfishness.
Our memories need to be healed, so that we can set aside old wounds and bitter thoughts.
Our hearts need to be healed, so that we can receive the love of God and pass it on to others.
Our ears need to be healed, so that we can hear the Word of God!
Our souls need to be healed, so that we can get on with real life, loving God with all that we are, and loving our neighbor as we love ourselves.

We need healing.
The healing of God!
Without the healing of God, we blunder on.
Trying this and doing that.
Flitting about like butterflies, from one pretty flower to another.
Yet always hungry.
Never satisfied.
Edgy and wary.
Living by the eye.
Regarding one another from a human point of view.

Paul says.
Stop it!
Stop it right now.
Stop, look and listen!
Turn your eyes to Jesus.

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.

No wonder Lent is such a challenge.
Lent isn’t about giving up chocolate or HBO.
Lent is a turning point in our life.
Take the high road.
Not the low.
Choose the best.
Not the easiest.
Reach high and stretch far.
That our eyes could see the world as Jesus sees it!

From now on!

Are you with me on this?
I know that you are!

Amen and Amen!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

March 7, 2010 "Faith Imperfect"

Psalm 63

1. Grammar … imperfect tense …

a. I ate – perfect tense, complete

b. I was eating, when the doorbell rang – imperfect tense – eating wasn’t finished.

c. Teaching English as a foreign language: referred to as “past continuous” or “past progressive.”

d. On-going status …

2. From whence cometh faith?

a. Romans 9:16 So it depends not human will or exertion, but on God who shows mercy.

b. Hebrews 11:1 Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

3. What is faith

a. Three little ponies … [poem by Arthur Guiterman - from The Best-Loved Poems of jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, edited and introduced by Caroline Kennedy.

b. Faith and too much church!!!! [see above, poem by Emily Dickinson, "Some Keep the Sabbath by Going to Church"

c. Calvin: information isn’t faith.

4. The reminder:

a. Those who live by faith have life.

b. Those who live by alternatives have things.

c. Without faith, the soul defaults to power: Cameron movies – “Aliens” “Terminator” (Skynet), “Titanic” “Avatar”

d. Power becomes god for those without faith.

e. Faith transcends all false gods.

f. The lies will stop.

g. So let’s stop the lies now!

h. Where there is power, there is no God … and the more raw the power, the greater the lie.

i. God is found where there is love!

j. Tiny love, big love.

5. Where does it end … “Titanic

a. Jack is by the clock, on the stairway, waiting for

b. Jack to Rose – “don’t let go” – theme … and it takes two to hang on …

c. Psalm 63:8 My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.

d. Don’t let go.

e. But if you should, God will hold you.

f. Romans 8:38ff …