Sunday, March 25, 2012

March 25, 2012, "The Time Has Come"

5th Sunday of Lent
John 12.20-33

The Seasons of the Church Year were crafted in the Northern Hemisphere, in Europe … which is why Christmas is celebrated in December.

We don’t know when Jesus was born.
But the church choose December.
There were pagan festivals that time of the year - festivals that celebrated the turn of the season, the coming of springtime, the renewal of life, the birth of hope.
What better time to celebrate the birth of the messiah?
In the coldest and darkest time of the year … but if we pay attention, we’ll see that the darkest and coldest day of all is a prelude to the coming of the light!
The Celebration of the Christ Mass, Christmas - Jesus  born in the darkest time of the year, when the weather is cold and mean … when nothing lives, all is dormant - then, the dawn of a new age.
The Savior is born … the light of the world appears in the darkness … the fragrance of hope in the air.

The Season of Lent - from an old English word that means “lengthen” - because the days are lengthening, at least in the Northern Hemisphere. 
Lent is a promise: we’ve made it through the worst of times - spring is its way … brighter are the days … the earth warms, trees bud, birds sing. 
2 more minutes of sunlight in the morning, and two more minutes of sunlight in the evening.

The Season of Lent.
A reminder.
A time to learn:
God at work in all things, and in all things, God at work. 
When it’s dark and cold, God at work.
When things can’t get any worse, God at work.
When all seems lost, God at work.
The work of love… a great love … a love willing to go the last mile, and then some.
God’s life on the line for our sake … to be with us when it’s dark and cold, to be with us in our temptations and sorrows, rejection, denial and betrayal … to die with us … that we might live with God! 

In a late-night movie this week, Barbara Stanwyck, 1933 film, portrays an American missionary to China in a time of civil war and unrest. 
 “The Bitter Tea of General Yen” … General Yen discoveries that his servant-girl has betrayed him to his enemies; he has the young girl arrested and sentenced to death.
Barbara Stanwyck pleads with General Yen to be merciful to the young girl. 
General Yen challenges her to take on the young servant-girl and watch over her … and should the servant girl betray General Yen again, the missionary will forfeit her own life.
Stanwyck hesitates … General Yen contemptuously says, “You missionaries are all alike - it’s all just words. You don’t believe any of it any more than I do.”

The General’s words caught my attention … I have no idea what I would do in such a moment … would I put my life on the line for someone else? Really … put my life on the line?

In order to find out what happened, you’ll have to see the movie … but the point remains, the question … but not about you and me this time, but God …
Would God put God’s life on the line for us?
Just how far would God go to save us?
The Devil in the Wilderness says to Jesus:
Feed them, stuff their bellies with bread.
Dazzle them with tricks of the trade.
Bow down and worship me, and I’ll give it all to you - it won’t cost you a dime, not a drop of blood.
They’re called “temptations,” because that’s what there are - temptations to save his own skin - the Devil plays to the weakness of the flesh, a weakness we all share, a weakness that even the Son of God knows in his bones … 
Yet in those awful moments of temptation, the Son of God reaches deep into Scripture … deep into the heart of love.
Higher ground.
Greater purpose.
To do the work needed.
Not to save his own skin, but to save a dying and broken world.
Putting his life on the line.
Purest love.
The highest expression of love the world has ever know.
The righteous for the unrighteous.
The pure for the impure.
The just for the unjust.
The sinless for the sinful.
The Son of God for you and for me.
The Lamb of God for the whole wide world.
Jesus the all-in-all:
Jesus the perfect Lamb of God.
Jesus - the High Priest.
Jesus - the Temple.
Jesus - the Alpha and the Omega.
The beginning and the end.
Jesus, our all-in-all.
A cross for a throne.
A wreath of thorns for a crown.
The Great God Almighty reaches down to lift us up!

The writer of Hebrews [10.22-23] says it well:
Let us draw near with a genuine heart.
With the certainty that our faith gives us.
Since our hearts are sprinkled clean.
From an evil conscience.
And our bodies are washed with pure water.
Let us hold to the confession of our hope.
Without wavering.
Because the one who made the promise is reliable.

Lent is a time for us to renew our promises to God.
Review our life.
Set aside the lesser things that occupy too much.
Embrace again the love of Jesus.
Renew our efforts to live the Gospel-Way.
The Way of Jesus … who calls us to follow him.

Last week, I shared some questions with you [there in the bulletin this week] … questions I heard in a podcast lecture … questions that impacted me … questions to guide us into the work and life of Jesus, as we seek to follow him.
Have we learned to forgive?
Have we learned to be the first to seek reconciliation when a relationship goes wrong?
Have we learned to have a generous and grateful relationship with money and material possessions?
Have we learned to overcome our greed and live a life of simplicity?
Have we learned to love people who are different than we are, and maybe don’t even like us, and bless them and pray for them?
Have we learned to turn the other cheek, to love each other as Jesus loves us?
Have we learned to cross boundaries of race, class, culture, to be in relationship with others? [From Podcast, “Homebrewed Christianity,” January 19, 2012]

Lent is a time to learn the power of the gospel!
The time has come.
“Once to every man and nation comes the moment to decide.”
Jesus said: As long as you have the light, believe in the light so that you might become people whose lives are determined by the light.
May it be so … our lives determined by the light.
We’re not perfect.
None of us are … and we don’t need to be!
But we can be channels for the light of Christ … we can be compassionate, we can be wise … if not all the time, at least some of the time, and maybe, even much of the time!
To the glory of God, and the healing of the nations.
Amen and Amen!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

March 18, 2012 - "Eternal Life"

John 3.14-21

Everything written about Jesus always has two themes, at least.
The first theme is celebration: In Jesus, God has done a mighty work … and by the Holy Spirit, that work continues to this very day - lives are changed, witness given, good deeds done, and the world, perhaps, is slightly better.
The second theme is sorrow: The world, it seems, continues on with hatred, war and death …  and, sadly, some of the worst evil has come at the hands of those who claim the name of Jesus and still love war and live greedy lives, and the world slips further into chaos.
In between these two themes, Jesus … Jesus lifted up, as the bronze snake of Moses was lifted up, so that all who looked up to see the bronze snake were healed … so all who look up to see Jesus, lifted up on the cross, are healed, receive life, life so powerful, so good, so pure, that it can only be called eternal life.
Life that endures and abides.
No matter what, no matter where.
Life that defies the darkness and remains true and good.
Life that cannot die … life through and through.
Eternal life … 

The cross is the centerpiece … the strange connection between heaven and earth … 
Earth with all of its sorrows and tears.
Heaven with all of its hope and healing.
Jesus the bridge.
The link.
The love of God, holding it all together … that heaven’s glory might shed light upon earth’s sorrow … and transform the earth into the realm of God … 
Where there is life and not death.
Where there is light and not darkness.
Where there is truth and not lies.
Where there is peace and not war.
Where there is equity and not disparity.
Where the hungry are fed … the naked clothed … the oppressed set free … and every child is safe.

I grew up believing that eternal life happens at the end of our life here … and so much of the business of “getting saved,” is all about going to heaven when we die!
But the Bible has something else in mind … 
Eternal life begins here and now, in the moment that we see Jesus, truly see him as the Wisdom of God, the fountain of life, the hope of the world … when we stand in the Upper Room with Thomas … When we say, with heartfelt gratitude, as Thomas did, My LORD and my God!
Eternal life begins!
In that moment of recognition … acknowledgment … surrender, eternal life captures us, takes root in us, and we begin to live eternally.
We begin to the see the world through the eyes of Jesus … his judgments become our ability to discern falsehood from truth … death from life … light from darkness - that we might know the Father and have eternal life.
Whoever believes in me doesn’t believe in me but in the one who sent me.  Whoever sees me sees the one who sent me. I have come as a light into the world so that everyone who believes in me won’t live in darkness. 
If people hear my words and don’t keep them, I don’t judge them. I didn’t come to judge the world but to save it.  Whoever rejects me and doesn’t receive my words will be judged at the last day by the word I have spoken. I don’t speak on my own, but the Father who sent me commanded me regarding what I should speak and say. I know that his commandment is eternal life. Therefore whatever I say is just as the Father has said to me. 
God’s commandment is eternal life … and what is that commandment?
In John’s Gospel, the very next moment, Jesus washes the feet of the disciples [John 13] … and when their feet have been washed, Jesus says: If I, your LORD and teacher, have washed your feet, you, too, must wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example: just as I have done, you also must do.
A few moments later, Judas leaves the table to betray Jesus, but listen to what Jesus says in the darkest of all moments, I give you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, so you also must love each other. This is how everyone will know that you are my disciples, when you love each other.
In the First Letter of John, it is written: Dear friends, let us love each other, because love is from God, and everyone who loves is born from God and knows God.
To love is to live … to live is to love!
Because love abides … love is greater than faith, greater than hope … there is nothing greater than love.

Here are some questions that may help us understand eternal life, as a way of life … here and now!
Have we learned to forgive?
Have we learned to be the first to seek reconciliation when a relationship goes wrong?
Have we learned to have a generous and grateful relationship with money and material possessions?
Have we learned to overcome our greed and live a life of simplicity?
Have we learned to love people who are different than we are, and maybe don’t even like us, and bless them and pray for them?
Have we learned to turn the other cheek, to love each other as Jesus loves us?
Have we learned to cross boundaries of race, class, culture, to be in relationship with others?
Jesus invites us to join him at the cross … at the bridge between heaven and earth … so that something of heaven can come our way … push back the darkness … restrain the deeds of evil … cleanse the earth and make it good.

Before we finish, I want to lift up two examples of eternal life … what it means to build up, to encourage, to bless, to help, to make things better … two examples of eternal life, basic and important:
I celebrate this morning Bob Hinkle - and his years of service for Little League.
And Al Richards - and his work with the Ramona Neighborhood Association.
I celebrate Bob and Al this morning.
And I celebrate Calvary on the Boulevard … all the good you do every day of the week … to make this a better world … to show the world eternal life.
That which endures.
That which abides.
The love of God in Christ Jesus our LORD!
The love we give to one another!
Eternal Life!
Amen and Amen!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

March 11, 2012 - "House Cleaning"

John 2.13-23

Jesus had a hard time of it.
Much of what he said was rejected.
Much of what he did was misunderstood.
It didn’t take long for Jesus to acquire a list of enemies.
They doubted his word.
Suspected his work.
Questioned his authority.
Followed him around.
Harassed him.
Tried to trap him.
Challenged him constantly.
Sound like fun?
I don’t think so.

And in this Season of Lent, we have to pay attention to the Dark Side of our Story.
Jesus came “to save” the world, we say … we call him “our Savior.”
But I suspect - most of us believe that Jesus came to “save the other guy,” right? … that we’re not so bad; it’s the other people who really need Jesus.
But reality reminds every day of something different.
I carry a small Bible in my car … if I’m stopped at an intersection, I might just grab the Bible and read a few verses.
Some years ago, at a light, I grabbed my Bible.
A car pulled up next to me.
Tough looking guy, disheveled hair, cigarette.
And for a fleeting moment, I thought, “I’m spiritual. Look at me; I’m reading my Bible.”
A terrible pride swept through my soul.
Jesus came to save me, too … without him, I’m lost.
Without him, I am blind.
My darkness is severe.
My sin is real.
My pride is awful.
That’s some of my story.
How about your story?
How about any of us?
What about all of us?
Did Jesus come only to save the Muslims?
Or the Buddhists?
Or the guys who rob and kill, the really, really bad guys?
Jesus come to save the world … and that means you and me.
Sometimes it’s Christians who really need saving.
Just because “we’re Christians.”
Before we know it, we’re dazzled with our good deeds, impressed with our righteousness, proud of our purity.
We pat ourselves on the back! Like the Mother Goose Poem:
Little Jack Horner
Sat in the corner,
Eating a Christmas pie;
He put in his thumb,
And pulled out a plum,
And said, "What a good boy am I!"
Our need of salvation never ends! We need God’s love today just as much as we needed it 30 years ago … or thirty minutes ago.

For a few moments, now, let’s look at the Gospel of John.
In John’s Gospel, the first miracle is that of water into wine … a small miracle, in a small town, for a party … a wedding feast.
The host miscalculated.
The wine is gone!
Now what? 
I’ll look like a fool … the party will die … guests will go home laughing at me.
Mary tells her son … and in so many words, says to him. You can do something about it. So just do it.
Jesus says, Bring me what you have.
Huge empty jars trundled into the room.
Fill them with water, says Jesus.
Serve it to the guests.
The best wine of all!
Quite a story to begin John’s gospel.
With a clear point.
The spiritual resources of Judah are depleted.
There’s no more wine left for the party.
Jesus might have said, Who cares? If the host isn’t smart enough to plan ahead, let the chips fall where they may. If there’s no more wine, tough stuff buddy. Let the party end. It’ll serve ‘em right.
But there’s a wideness in God’s mercy!
A small miracle.
In a small town.
To keep the party going.

But there’s more to the story.
In a few days, Jesus appears in the Capital City, Jerusalem.
David’s City, a city set on a hill, Jerusalem the Golden … the heart of Israel’s faith … and on Mount Zion, the Temple - the glorious Temple. 
Huge buildings … still building.
Huge stones … engineering marvels.
Huge choirs … great music.
Thousands in worship.
Lambs and bulls and sheep and goats, doves and sparrows … you name it, you can find it … you need it, you can have it … all for a price, of course.
Jesus finds nothing more than a market place in the Temple Courtyard.
Noise and bustle.
Commodities and commerce.
Religion turned into business.
Business turned into religion.
Jesus is furious!
He fashions a whip.
Drives all of them out, including the livestock … can you imagine the noise? - folks shouting at Jesus, cattle bawling, sheep bleating … 

Jesus scatters the coins of the money-changers … overturns their tables … makes a mess of things … mixes everything up … “Hey, mister, that’s my table. These are my coins. Leave ‘em alone. I work hard all day for this. Get outta here; leave us be; we’re not hurting anyone. Who do you think you are?”

Who is Jesus?
He’s the best wine-maker in the world.
And a trouble-maker, first-class.
At the wedding feast, kindness.
In the Temple, fury.
Jesus wants the wedding feast to continue.
And the feast of fools to stop!
Jesus loves the empty heart, and gladly fills it with the wine of God’s love, and what joy it brings to us.
Jesus despises a heart full of itself, and forcefully empties it out, but what pain it causes us.
The wine and the whip.
The pain and the pleasure.
The transformation of the soul.
The making of a Christian.
Amazing is the love of God!
Amen and Amen!