Sunday, June 26, 2011

June 26, 2001, "Welcome"

Matthew 10.40-42

Jesus sends us into the world …
Go, says Jesus to us, because this is how I reach the world.
I reach the world through you.

That’s how God reaches the world.
Through people.

Think of those who bore witness to you for the sake of Christ.

Was it your parents who first bore witness to you?
An uncle or an aunt?
A pastor or a missionary?
Someone in the Peace Corps?
Was it a movie?
A book?
Maybe a sunrise or a sunset.
Maybe a crisis that broke your heart.
A hurt so deep you couldn’t stop bleeding.

Who knows how God works?
How God reaches us.

But this we know.
God works – to rescue the perishing and lift up the fallen.
God works in all things for good.
By love, not by force.
God works gently.
God is there, all the time, and all the way.
We won’t always see God.
But we must never worry.
God always sees us!

How did any of us come to this place today?
Through the love of God.
Long before we knew it!
In wonderful ways we’ll never know.

Maybe there was a moment when we said Yes.
But God said Yes to us before the foundation of the world was laid.
We are able to say Yes to God only because God has first said Yes to us![1]

Last week, I said: “We don’t know when the disciples were converted.”
The Bible says nothing about it.
Even someone as distinguished at the Apostle Paul is reticent about his “conversion” – he says almost nothing about it.

Because human beings love the spectacular.
In America, “conversion” is big business.
TV preachers and traveling evangelists.
From the tents of old and the sawdust trails, to the latest book telling us how to get close to Jesus.
Lights, camera, action.
Dwight L. Moody and Billy Sunday and Aimee Semple McPherson … Paul Crouch and TBN … and a multi- billion dollar publishing industry.
Conversion is big business in America.
Sadly, the business of conversion has only added to our spiritual confusion and religious division.

The kinds of conversion we see in the Bible are very different.
They’re quiet and slow and no one truly knows the moment.
How about Abraham and Sarah?
Or Jeremiah?
Or Jonah?
We read their stories, and there are lots of odd moments, and wonderful moments, and hard moments, but there’s no one moment, no singular moment, nothing all that splashy or profound … just the slow road of faith … a little here, and a little there, two steps forward and one step backward, and it all adds … a God who walks slowly with us, maturing us in the faith, bringing us along the way, like a fine bottle of wine!

The disciples leave their nets to follow Jesus, but do they understand him, in the fullness of God’s revelation?
Of course not!
Matthew leaves behind his ledgers to follow Jesus, but does he have a full grasp of the message, the glory, the love of God?
Not at all.
At the end of the gospel, Matthew 28, on the mountain in Galilee, the writer notes with accuracy, that some worshipped Jesus, and some doubted … and the language could also suggest that while they all worshipped, they all had some doubt in them, as well.

It takes a lifetime to grow into Christ, and then some.

Dear friends, Jesus Christ is the heart of the story.
In him, the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.[2]
He’s the savior.
He’s the LORD of lords and the King of kings.
He’s the one who reaches out to us.
Jesus says, You didn’t choose me; I chose you!
So that we might be transformed.
To have the heart of Christ.
The love of Christ.
The eyes of Christ.

Our reading this morning is simple and powerful.
This is the goal of our transformation.
The simplicity and the power of open arms, open minds and open hearts.
The simplicity and the power of one single word – welcome!

Some years ago, a two-week continuing education event; I went to the airport, but my flight was cancelled because of bad weather along the flight path.
Two days later, when I finally arrived, the conference was well underway’ everyone had already found their place in the seminar room (ya’ know how that works – on the first day, everyone mills around; by the second day, everyone mostly finds their seat; on the third day, it’s a done deal) – when I showed up, I was the stranger, I was the outsider, and I felt it.
The seminar leader knew that, and he made every effort to welcome me and get me on board and into the flow of things.
I’ve never forgotten his kindness.
His alertness.
Out of several hundred people in the room, he saw me, and made a special effort to welcome me.

I remember a Sunday School teacher, his name was Burt … 2nd or 3rd grade … I asked a question one Sunday, and all the kids laughed; I have no idea what I asked, but what I remember is Burt, who replied with kindness and respect; he welcomed my question and made me feel 10-feet tall.
That’s been an anchor memory in my spiritual journey.

Jesus walks across Palestine; shapes his disciples for their future work - instills confidence in them.
Why confidence?
Confident people welcome others.

There’s a billboard near my house with a beer ad - the tagline is powerful: “No strangers here; only future friends.”

Now, let’s be clear about something.
We’re all afraid of strangers.
Fear is built into our DNA.
We’re all born fearful.
Fearful of loud noises.
Fearful of strangers.
Monsters under the bed.
And barking dogs.

We carry these fears into life with us.
And I suppose there some good reason for these DNA fears.
After all, it pays to be wise and smart and cautious.

But Jesus knows that fears unchecked become disastrous when we reach adulthood.

Fearful people spend lots of time with their fists ready and their defenses on high-alert … they carry a chip on their shoulder; they never relax; their laughter is nervous and edgy; they attack quickly when they feel threatened … they’re quick to judge; quick to say a hurtful word.

To live beyond these fears, we need the Holy Spirit.
So that we can open our eyes and welcome one another.

Jesus teaches his disciples to be confident.
Confident people live beyond their fear and welcome the world.

Jesus lives the power of welcome.
The woman dragged before Jesus, a crowd holding stones in their hands, eager to dispatch her life and prove to themselves how good they are … Jesus welcomes her, and whatever he writes in the dirt, it’s enough to raise a question in the mind of the crowd, and when he says to the them, If you don’t have any sin in your life, go ahead, throw your stones. Go ahead; kill her, if you’re without sin.

I think Jesus took a chance.
There might have been some in the crowd who thought to themselves, “I don’t have any sin. I’m good. I go to temple, I say my prayers and I read my Bible. Get outta my way so I can throw my stone.”
But that day at least, no one stepped forward.
One-by-one, they slipped away.
Jesus welcomed the woman.

Jesus welcomes Zacchaeus, a despised tax-collector, a collaborator with Rome – a man without a friend, and he’s up a tree - Jesus welcomes him.

Folks bring children to Jesus for a blessing.
The disciples push them away – The Master has more important things than snot-nosed kids.

But Jesus has nothing more important than snot-nosed kids.

The power of welcome.

To welcome prophets and righteous persons, says Jesus.

Who’s a prophet?
A prophet is someone who speaks the word of God  – and what’s the word of God, we might ask?
How about the Sermon on the Mount, or the parables – or Jesus preaching in his home town?
Or the prophets: Micah and Hosea and Jeremiah and Isaiah, Jonah and Obadiah, to mention but a few, or even John the Baptist.

Prophets lift up wisdom and compassion and understanding, and speak truth to power, and power to the weak.
Prophets lift up the fallen; bring down the proud and the powerful, a peg or two.
Prophets level the playing field.
A voice cries out:
      “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD,
      make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
      Every valley shall be lifted up,
      and every mountain and hill be made low;
      the uneven ground shall become level,
      and the rough places a plain.
      Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed,
      and all people shall see it together,
      for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”[3]
Prophets speak God’s justice.

And who are righteous persons?
The word righteous means doing what’s right … what is true and good, no matter the cost, no matter the price.
First of all, the Bible says: God is righteous.
Because God does what is right.
God finds the lost sheep.
God heals the blind.
God challenges the proud.
God lifts up the fallen.
God forgives more often than we could ever count.
God loves more deeply that we will ever know.
God does what is right.

Matthew 25 – the righteous feed the hungry and give drink to the thirsty …  welcome the stranger, and cloth the naked …  visit the sick and those in prison … give special regard to the least of these who are also members of God’s family.

Prophets and righteous persons may not always be Christian.

I have a Jewish friend who speaks words of consolation and acts justly.
I have a Muslim friend full of insight and courage about life.
I have Agnostic friends who are faithful beyond measure.
I have friends who don’t go to church, who don’t read the Bible, but they’re faithful, and loving and kind.
They’re faithful to God’s highest standards.
They do what is right.[4]

I always enjoy being with them.
And they enjoy being with me.

Jesus says, There’s a reward in living this way.
What’s the reward, we might ask?

The reward is to live beyond our fear of strangers and loud noises.
To live with confidence …
To welcome the world around us.
Kindly eyes, and a sense of peace.
Arms wide open, and many friends.
Trusting God in all things.
We feel content.
We laugh easily for the sheer joy of it.
The sun shines on our side of the street.
Because the Son of God shines in our hearts.
And folks see it.
Folks sit up and take notice when they see the light of Christ shining in our good works![5]
It’s a good way to live.

That’s the reward!
To live well on God’s good earth.
And when we take our last breath, and close our eyes, we’ll hear the LORD say to us, Well done, good and faithful servant.

We’ll not lose our reward.
To God be the glory.
Amen and Amen!

[1] 2 Corinthians 1.20.
[2] Colossians 1.19.
[3] Isaiah 40.3-5
[4] Romans 2.14-16.
[5] Matthew 5.16.

Monday, June 20, 2011

June 19, 2011, "The Salt of the Earth"

Matthew 28. 16-20

The Salt of the Earth is a modest metaphor … it’s how Christians can flavor the world.

How much salt does it take to flavor a radish?
Yes, just a pinch.
If the lid falls off the salt shaker, and the radish is buried beneath a pile of salt, it’s ruined … too much salt, and nothing tastes good … just a pinch, and the food is always good.
A pinch is all it takes!

God never intended that all the earth should be Christian.
Oh yes, someday, all the world will bow the knee and confess Jesus as LORD and Savior … but that will be a day far and removed for now, and only God can bring it about.
Right now, just a pinch of salt.
That’s what God intends.
Just a few Christians; that’s all takes.
A few Christians here, a few Christians there … scattered throughout the nations  … just a pinch, not a pile, just a pinch.
Gently doing our work.

Christians … the Salt of the Earth.
Jesus envisions the power of our influence.
To flavor the world.
Like good salt, that brings out the flavors of love and life in every culture, every part of the world, in every human life.
Gently, and quietly, even anonymously, to flavor our world, to bring out the best.
The best everywhere.

Salt of the Earth is the story behind the Great Commission … to move out into the world … to engage the world flavorfully, not forcefully.
That people might taste the love of God, and decide for themselves, just how good God truly is.
O taste and see that the LORD is good …

We are the Salt of the Earth … and it works!
Because authority has been to Jesus, for the sake of the earth.
All authority has been given … not just some, not just for heaven, but for earth, as well …

Authority … to love, to make all things new, to restore, to build up, to bless and to hold.

Authority as Jesus lived it …
Not to gain power, but to empower.
Not to rule over, but to stand beside.
Not to give orders, but to invite us to walk with him.

To make disciples might better be translated – to disciple.
To disciple people!
And we know the meaning of disciple.
To be a student.
To help people become students of Jesus.

I’ve been a student of Jesus this week.
Reading Matthew.
And much of it this morning.
I wanted it to be fresh.

Jesus says, everything I have commanded you.
And where does Jesus establish his commandments for us?
The sermon on the mount.
His ministry begins on the mount.
His ministry reaches its culmination on the mount.
Places high and lifted up.
To remind us of Moses and the Commandments.
To remind us of the Mount of Transfiguration.
And the mount on which the Holy City is built.
High places where God comes close to us.

To disciple someone is a gentle thing.
We don’t grab people and threaten them with hell-fire and brimstone and everlasting punishment.
We walk with them for awhile.
Maybe a long time.
We practice kindness.
And we pray.
Maybe we’ll never see the day when someone accepts Jesus … but what is that to us?
Why must we always see the fruit of our efforts.
There’s something selfish about that.
We put it into God’s hands.
Because God does the work.
When and where God will.
And it’s just right, when God does it.
Always is.
At the right time.

I think of Dr. John Fowler in Turkey.
Medical missions, twenty years of labor and love.
How many converted?
Just a few … in that land where it’s hard to be a Christian.
But it’s not about big numbers.
It’s about big love.
And Dr. Fowler has big love.

Dr. Fowler mentioned last night an Anglican Church that’s been there for several hundred years.
Slow and steady.
Steady and sure.
He said, “It’s an example of perseverance.”
You bet.
We don’t give up.
We stay on course.
Slow and steady.

And God does the rest.

Kindness is our greatest power.
Kindness can open someone’s heart to the love of God.

You see, we can’t convert anyone.
Only God can convert someone.
It’s God’s business.
Our business is kindness.
Conversion is God’s business.

No one knows when the disciples were converted.
It was a long process.
Even after three years with Jesus, they’ not at all clear … even as Matthew notes, some doubted, or maybe all of them had a little doubt.
Conversion belongs to God.
It’s a long process.
It takes a life-time.

I’ve heard pastors talk with one another on a Monday morning – “How many people came forward yesterday?” … “How many conversions?”
Look, with all the right pressure and harsh preaching, we can get people to do anything.
Lots of people have “converted” under duress.
They were frightened.
They were cajoled.
They were pressured … and that does more harm than good … it may build statistics, but it doesn’t build the kingdom of God … it doesn’t change hearts.

Only God does the converting.
Even Saul’s story.
When was the conversion?
On the road in the blinding light?
When he fell down.
When he got up.
When he was blinded?
When Ananias prayed for him?
When the scales fell from his eyes?
When he went to Arabia?
When he went to Jerusalem?

Conversion is a slow and beautiful process.
Some things happen all at once, of course.
But the real story is a story of time.
Time to think.
Quiet moments.
As God works in our lives.

It’s important for us to appreciate the power of kindness.
A gentle work!
Being with someone.
Kindness counts for everything.
And it’s effective.

Think of the Christians who’ve made a difference in our lives.
What were they like?
For me, they were all gentle and wise.
All of them were kind.
All of them were patient.

Jesus then takes us to baptism.

Baptism is grace.
Pure grace … something given to us.
Something good.
Something godly.
Just given to us.

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
All of God.
Not just some of God.
But the whole realm of God’s mercy and goodness.
Creation, salvation, empowerment.
The Father.
The Son.
The Holy Spirit.
Nothing more needed.
Nothing left out.
We get all of God.

Teaching people to obey, says Jesus.

Wow … let’s unpack that word.

For many, it simply means conformity.
Conform to someone’s rules.
Do this, do that; don’t do this, and don’t do that.
When someone is telling us what to do, how does that make us feel?
It never makes me feel very good?

But the word obey is beautiful and wonderful.
It means to listen.
Listen deeply.
So deeply that something changes inside of us!

Think of a parent trying to make a child understand something really important.
We might walk up to the child.
Put our hands on the child’s shoulders.
Say to them, “Look at me.”
“Look into my eyes.”
And then we might say to them: “Listen to me.”

It’s not about commands, or rules.
It’s not about conformity.
It’s about listening.
Listening to the one who loves us.

To the one who says to us:
Blessed are the poor in spirit …
Blessed are those who mourn …
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness …

Forgive, and forgive again …
Love one another as I have loved you …
Abide in my word …
If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father …

Listen to him, says the Father, when Jesus is baptized.

That’s the word obey.
To listen to God.
And God will do the rest.

The best evangelism is our kindness.
We can help clear the way.
Give people encouragement and love.
We help them listen.
Listen to God.
We help them listen.
Because we’re listening, too.
That’s our task.
That our work.
And that’s how we join with God to make this a better world.

After all, we’re the Salt of the Earth!

Amen and Amen.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

June 12, 2011, "The Glory of Many Tongues" - Pentecost Sunday

Acts 2.1-11

How big is God?

We used to play a little game with Josh …
We’d ask, “How big is Josh?” and he’d raise his hands as high as he could, and we’d say, “Sooooo big!”

How big is God?
God is “soooooo big” …
Big ideas …
And big risks.

When God announced to the heavenly creatures God’s plan to create the universe, I believe there was immediate applause and cheering … it’s a big idea, and heaven was ready for it.

And then God announced the creation of a very unique creature – a creature in God’s own image – a strange amalgam of dirt and spirit … a mortal with divinity in its DNA … a critter with its feet on the ground and its head in the sky.
And when God made that announcement, I think heaven held its breath … this was going to be a big risk! … can dirt hold divinity; can divinity be embodied in dirt?
Can there be a creature that walks on the face of the earth and holds it’s head high, high enough to see heaven?

I think the angels held their breath.
They knew it was going to be risky.

But God is very creative.
God is soooo big.
Big ideas.
Big risks.

Well, it wasn’t long before heaven’s worst fears came to pass.
Adam and Eve plucked the apple and walked away from God.
And God walked right along with them.
God walked them out of the garden, and God made clothing for them …

They’d need good clothing.
It was going to be a long journey.
From here to eternity.
God walked with them all the way.

But things went from bad to worse.
Violence and war, murder and greed.
This little creature, with divinity in it’s DNA, made all the wrong choices …
And God said, Maybe I made a mistake.
So let it rain.
Rain and rain and rain some more.
Gonna wash them right outta my hair.

But there’s one man – Noah.
Noah, build me an ark.
Take some animals, two-by-two.
Because I wanna start over.
And you and I and the animals in the ark will start a new world.

Well, we all know how that worked.
After the flood, Noah plants a vineyard, makes wine and gets flat-out drunk and passes out in his tent, buck-naked – an embarrassment to the family.
And things only get worse.
In the turning of a few pages, the descendents of Noah become rich and powerful …
They speak one language … and God knew, then and there, that one language wouldn’t work … one language creates power, but the wrong kind of power …power to build towers to heaven.

From the beginning, God wanted humankind to spread out upon the earth … care for God’s Big Garden, nurture it, protect its creatures, enjoy it.

But, here they are, speaking one language and building a tower to heaven.
So God confuses their language.

Humankind is capable of many sounds … the human mouth, the larynx, the lungs and throat … there’s no end to the sounds we can make.
Like someone’s iPod playlist … from Rachmaninoff to rap … from Beethoven to the Beatles …
The Wycliffe Bible Translators have identified nearly 7000 languages …
That day, on the plains of Shinar, God decided that humankind would do better with a confusion of tongues: many languages, many sounds, to give full expression to the glory of language.
One language can no more express the wonder of life than one form of music can express the musical scale. Praise the LORD with trumpet and harp and tambourine and dancing and cymbals …
Praise the LORD with many languages, many tongues, many sounds.

All of this to match the wonder and glory of God.
God’s big ideas.

How big is God?
Sooooo big.

Big enough to love the whole wide world.

When God called Abraham and Sarah, God called them for the sake of the whole wide world.
To be a blessing to all of humankind.
To undo the damages of sin.
To rebuild human community.
To restore creation and make it safe for all of God’s creatures.

Genesis 12 – the Big Idea.
The Big Plan.
The Big Risk.
Abraham and Sarah.
Blessed to be a blessing.
For the entire world.

God is satisfied with nothing less than the whole wide world, every creature, great and small – the far-flung stars and you and me who bear God’s image.

When Jesus is born in Bethlehem, God initiates a new strategy … but it’s the same Big Idea … full of Big Risk, and full of world-sized love.
Paul’s letter to the Ephesians …
Paul’s letter to the Romans …
The mystery and the music of the Book of Revelation … it’s the world that God loves, and wants … to make it new … to make it good … nothing lost, and no one left behind.
God hasn’t given up the Big Idea.
And God won’t give up.
God won’t give up until the day is won and creation healed.

Jesus initiates a new chapter in God’s Big Idea … and it’s a Big Risk that Jesus takes … a risk big enough to cost him his life on the cross … to prove to the world that love is greater than all of Rome’s military might, that love is better than all the religion humankind can create … that love alone can save.

On Pentecost Day, the city of Jerusalem was filled with pilgrims … from throughout the Mediterranean World, many tongues and languages and sounds.
I imagine the streets of Jerusalem that day.
Like Brooklyn, New York.
Or downtown LA.
A dozen blocks, a dozen languages and dialects.

When the Holy Spirit came to the faithful … with tongues of flame for all of them … they were empowered with the mystery of language.

They went out and proclaimed a message of hope, that in Jesus the Messiah, God had initiated a new chapter for all of humanity … a message for everyone … in their own tongue.

On Pentecost Day, God affirms the glory of many tongues.
The pilgrims in Jerusalem heard the gospel in their own language.
God didn’t create a new language for Pentecost.
Nor did God use a single language that day – it would have been quite a miracle if everyone had understood the gospel in Hebrew, or Greek, or Latin.
But that would have been a small miracle.
No, the real miracle is a big miracle - everyone heard the gospel in his or her own tongue.

I think of missionaries – and Bible translators – who endeavor to translate the Bible into everyone’s language.
As of 2005, at least one book of the Bible has been translated into 2,400 languages … but there are nearly 7000 languages in the world, so there’s lots of work ahead of us.

God thinks big.
God loves language.
After all, it was the power of language by which God created the heavens and the earth.
And Jesus is called, the Word of God.

For centuries, the church of Jesus Christ used Latin as the language of worship and for translating the Bible.
But one language is too small.
When the Reformation came, Christians rediscovered God’s love of language … people began to worship in their own tongue; the Bible was translated into many languages.

No doubt, many languages are a challenge.
One language makes things easier.
But one language is too small.

The lesson of Genesis 11, the Tower of Babel, helps us understand some of God’s purpose … God decides, then and there, on the Plain of Shinar, that we’d do better with many tongues …
And on this Pentecost Day, here at Calvary, we celebrate the glory of many tongues.

We use English as our “mother tongue.”
Of course.
This is America.

But we celebrate the diversity of language.
And culture and style, too.
How we sing, the clothes we wear, the foods we love.

God is the source of diversity.
God creates the ox, and God creates the butterfly.
God creates you, and God creates me.

God speaks and loves every language of the world.
Several weeks ago here, Ann Marie said Good Morning in four or five different languages.
Today, we heard the LORD's Prayer in variety of tongues … but we all felt the beat: it’s the same prayer, and it’s the same God, and it’s the same message of hope and compassion.

On Pentecost Day, the church of Jesus Christ was given the opportunity to show the world a better way … a celebration of diversity … culture … language … for this is real power of real love … big love … to love one another as God loves us … God comes to us and speaks our own language!
And that’s the miracle of Pentecost!

Calvary Presbyterian Church is Pentecost Church.
Blessed with many tongues and cultures.
Because God thinks big and God takes big risks.
God has given something wonderful to us.
God entrusts us with something mighty big.

Sure, diversity challenges us.
We don’t always understand one another.
We bring different gifts to the Table.
Different styles, different ways of praying.

But we all love the LORD.
And it’s the LORD whom we seek to honor.
Here in this place.
Calvary Presbyterian Church.
Calvary on the Boulevard.
We show the world a different way.
A better way.
A bigger way.
God’s way.

It takes a lot of work.
And a lot of patience.
And a lot of prayer.

But we are blessed today.
Blessed by God.
Who thinks big.
And takes big risks.

A God of many tongues.

O for a thousand tongues to sing
My great Redeemer’s praise,
The glories of my God and King,
The triumphs of His grace!

Amen and Amen.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

June 5, 2011, "Jesus Prays"

John 17.1-11

Jesus prays for us.

Jesus knows that his disciples will face tough times … the powers that rejected Jesus will reject the disciples, too.

The powers of empire … prancing war horses, in oiled leather and polished silver – rank upon rank of battle-tested legions, armed to the teeth and ready for the fight …
Then, or now, nations love the dogs of war.
In the movie, “Apocalypse Now,” Colonel Bill Kilgore (Robert Duvall), demolishes a Vietnamese village with mortar fire and napalm, turns to one of his soldiers and says: "I love the smell of napalm in the morning... The smell, you know, that gasoline smell... Smells like ... victory"

But more than Empire, it was Temple, too.

Priest and rabbi, Sadducee and Zealot … all told Jesus to go away …

Jerusalem’s Temple was a financial powerhouse … every Passover, tens of thousands of pilgrims streamed into Jerusalem, to exchange their national currency for the Shekel, to pay the temple tax – hence the money-changers in the temple courtyard.
Thousands of animals butchered, their blood sprinkled on the altar, parts burned in the fires of sacrifice, the rest sold in the market to feed the city and its pilgrims.

In John chapter 2, the first thing Jesus does when he goes to Jerusalem is to disrupt the temple business … he makes a whip of cords and drives out the sellers of cattle, sheep and doves, and all the money-changers, and shouts at them, Stop making my Father’s House a market place.”

For the rest of the story, the powers-that-be whisper to one another, Empire and Temple: Pilate the Procurator, Caiaphas the Priest – they make their deadly plans, hatch a plot - to do away with Jesus.

Jesus must not succeed.

Jesus says to his disciples:
If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you.
If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own.
Because you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world – therefore the world hates you![1]

The Greek word for “hate” means rejection.
A refusal to recognize.

John 1:
Jesus was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.[2]

A mighty chorus:
Crucify him …
Take him away …
Nail him to a cross …
We want nothing to do with him.
Give us Barabbas, instead.
A terrorist … a soldier … a man of violence and war.
That’s who we want.
We want Barabbas.

Rome lets Barabbas go.
Of course!
Because Rome knows how to handle Barabbas.
But no one knows how to handle Jesus.
So they bind Jesus and put him on trial.
Find him guilty of crimes against heaven and earth.
Condemn him to death.
Priests nod their heads in approval.
Soldiers take him to Calvary.
The powers of Church and State.
Faith and Flag.
And there they crucify him.

Yet Jesus says to the world:
I have not come here to judge you.
To condemn you, but to save you.[3]

Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they’re doing.[4]

The Great Son of God.
Israel’s Messiah.
God’s Lamb.
Our LORD and Savior.
Takes away the sin of the world.[5]

I can hear the world say,
Sin, what do you mean sin?
Look at our power and look at our glory.
Look at our temples and look at our treasure.
Look at the world we’ve built for ourselves.
What do you mean sin?

But sin it is.
And God does something about it.

Heaven’s strategy.
Strange and glorious.
Not a crown, but a cross.
Not a throne, but a tomb.
No pomp and glory, but only the cry of agony.
Here’s how God rules.
Here’s how God loves.
Here’s the truth that sets the world free.

When Jesus stands before Pilate, he says to him:
My kingdom is not from this world.
If my kingdom were from this world,
My followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over … but as it is, my kingdom is not from here.[6]

Jesus follows a playbook written by God.
The world is not won by the sword.
Jesus says to Peter in the Garden:
Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.[7]

And that’s why Pilate hasn’t a clue.
Why the religious leaders miss the point.
All they know is power.

Jesus heads toward the defining moment of his ministry.
The servant surrenders.
Empties himself.
Humbles himself.
Obedient, to the point of death.
Even death on a cross.[8]

The glory of God’s love.
The glory of our redemption.
A new world taking shape.

Creation groaning in labor pains.[9]
Swords beaten into plowshares, spears into pruning hooks, war no more, and every tear wiped away.[10]

Isaiah’s exulted vision:
The wolf shall live with the lamb,
      The leopard shall lie down with the kid,
      The calf and the lion and the fatling together,
      And a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze,
      Their young shall lie down together;
      And the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
    The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
     And the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s   den.
They will not hurt or destroy
      On all my holy mountain;
      For the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD
      As the waters cover the sea.[11]

Jesus prays for us:
That the Father would protect us.

From the lies and deceptions of the age.
That the truth might live in us.
That we might be one.
Even as the Father and the Son are one …

Paul the Apostle writes to the Church of Ephesus:
I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.[12]

Jesus prays.
And so do we.

Calvary Presbyterian Church … a church of prayer.

We pray as Jesus prays:
That God would glorify us.
With faith, hope and love.
Grace, mercy and peace.
Endurance and endeavor.
Purpose and passion.
That we might love as Jesus loves:
And who does Jesus love?
But the blind man beside the road.
The little child struggling to get into his lap.
The woman at the well.
Sinners rejected by the Temple.
The poor oppressed by the Empire.
The lonely and the lost.
The forlorn and the abandoned.
The rejected and the despised.
The widow, the orphan and the alien.

And his love encompasses even the enemy:
The rich who have no need of God.
The proud who have no need of love.
The powerful who have no need of repentance.
Jesus loves them all.

We pray that we would glorify God.
With devotion and faithfulness.
Praise and prayer.
Commitment and courage.
Love and loyalty.
That the world might see our good works and give glory to our Father in heaven.[13]

We pray as Jesus prays:
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done.
On earth as it is in heaven.

That all the divisions of the world would be healed.
Divisions of race and color and status and gender would find no home here at Calvary.
And what a name to have for a church.
The very place where the Son of God was glorified by the Father.
And the Father was glorified by the Son.

We are one in Christ.
And in Christ, we are one.
We are Calvary on the Boulevard.

To God be the glory.

Amen and Amen!

[1] John 15.18-19.
[2] John 1.10-11.
[3] John 3.17.
[4] Luke 23.34.
[5] John 1.29.
[6] John 18.36.
[7] Matthew 26.52.
[8] Philippians 2.6-8.
[9] Romans 8.22.
[10] Isaiah 2.4, Revelation 21.4.
[11] Isaiah 11.6-9.
[12] Ephesians 4.1-6.
[13] Matthew 5.16.