Sunday, August 26, 2012

August 26, 2012, "David Spoke of Christ"

Acts 2.22-41

The ancient world had no interest in the resurrection from the dead.

Some said, When you’re dead, you’re dead, and that’s that. Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die.

Others said, The body dies, and that’s good. The soul is freed to then fly off to other world of bliss and beauty.

The ancient world had no interest in resurrection.

But not so the Jews.

Jews believed in the resurrection of the dead - at the end of time, when the final trumpet is sounded, the dead shall be raised - with a new heaven and a new earth,
 creation restored, and all made new.

Remember the debate between Jesus, the Pharisees and the Sadducees?

The Pharisees believed in the resurrection of the dead at the end of time, and so did Jesus.

The Sadducees rejected the idea … posed to Jesus the question about a wife who had married seven brothers, each of the brothers dying in turn.

What a wife - what was her secret? 

Not so far off the mark - after my father’s death, my mother was married twice thereafter, and each of those husbands died as well.

The Sadducees ask Jesus, Who’s wife will she be in the day of resurrection?

Jesus answers dismisses their question as irrelevant - we can read about it in Luke 22. But the point is clear: Jesus believed in the resurrection of the dead.

When Lazarus died, and Jesus finally came by.

He says to Martha, Your brother will rise again.”

Martha replies: I know … I know that he will rise in the resurrection on the last day.

When Paul the Apostle writes about the resurrection, he makes it clear to the Corinthians … resurrection was always a part of God’s plan … if there is no resurrection of the dead, says Paul, then Christ cannot be resurrected either.

Christ did not establish resurrection - Christ is the first part of what God has planned - the resurrection of the dead, God’s way of finally dealing with death.

When the early Christians saw Jesus after Sunday morning, they were stunned! Yes, the believe in the resurrection for the last day. But to have someone in mid-course rise from the dead? This was something new.

So they did their homework.

They turned to their Bibles.

What does it say about resurrection?

The early Christians found it in David.

David foreshadows the resurrection.

It was there all along.

In our Bibles, says Peter.

We just needed a little more light to see it.

And with Jesus, we see it now.

This Jesus, whom you crucified, says Peter.

Was raised from the dead.

Peter preaches on Pentecost Day … he proclaims the resurrection of Jesus from the dead - the flesh and blood Jesus … a bodily resurrection … a body with all the scars, but now a spiritual body … able to move about freely … a body that can be touched and seen … a body now on the other side of death.

The boy that Elijah restored to life still had to die as some later date … Lazarus, brought forth from the tomb, still had to die at a later day.

But not so Jesus.

Jesus is not restored. 

Jesus is raised from the dead.

Jesus is resurrected … flesh and blood transformed … still flesh, with all the scars … still a human being, recognizable and tangible.

He invites Thomas to touch the wounds.

He builds a campfire on the beach and roasts fish … and eat with the disciples.

He restores Peter to the fellowship of faith and recommissions him.

Jesus is the first fruits of God’s mighty harvest - the first moment in the final plan to redeem flesh and blood, to make creation anew.

The crowd rightly asks of Peter, What should we do?

Peter spells it out:

Change your hearts and your lives.

Each of you must be baptized in the name of Jesus for the forgiveness of sins.

The transition is revealed, a new day dawns, a new world emerges out of that tomb.

A new means of forgiveness … no longer through the temple sacrifice, but now through Jesus who is the temple, the priest and the lamb, all rolled up into one mighty act of love.

When Peter proclaims baptism in Jesus as the means of forgiveness, Peter shatters a thousand years of history and faith … 

And to top it all off, says Peter: You will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

The people immediately think of the Prophet Joel, through whom God declares to Israel: I will pour out my spirit upon everyone; your sons and your daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, and your young men will see visions. In those days, I will also pour out my spirit on the male and female slaves

This promise, says Peter, is for you, your children and for all who are faraway - as many as the LORD our God invites.

The promise of the Spirt … the promise of the resurrection … that which is to come - not that we’re raised from the dead right now … that remains to happen.

But happen it will, so that even now, on this side of death, we direct our loyalties to that which is true and good and right and everlasting.
Peter continues preaching … encouraging … Be saved from this perverse generation.”

A generation blind to the possibilities of God’s new day.

A generation stuck in the past, hoping that God would restore Israel’s former glory, military might, national power … a generation looking backward to the glory days of David and Solomon … looking backward like Lot’s wife looked backward … turning into a pillar of salt; immobilized, stuck in time, unable to move ahead.

Jesus describes the disciples as a perverse generation for want of faith … and then Jesus says, If you had faith the size of a mustard seed you could tell a mountain to fly.

Not everyone welcomes the resurrection!

Pilate didn’t want resurrection - an affront to his power, and ordered the tomb sealed.

Rome didn’t want resurrection - it called into question every value of the Empire - ruthless power, love of wealth, reliance on military might, disregard for women and children … Rome relied on death to win the day; death was Rome’s ally … and anyone who’s raised from the dead is a threat to the powers of Empire.

Religious leaders didn’t want resurrection either - it shifts the light from their power to the power of God, so they spread a rumor that the disciples stole the body of Jesus.

The 19th Century writer, Oscar Wilde, captures it well in his play, Salome:

When Herod hears reports that Jesus of Nazareth has been raising the dead, he says: I do not want him doing that. I forbid him to do that. I allow no man to raise the dead. This man must be found and told that I forbid him to raise the dead.

Where is this man? 

Herod’s courtier replies: He is in every place, my lord, but it is hard to find him.

What does it mean to live for Jesus? Not for Herod?

To live for the power of God, not the powers that be?

To live a resurrection life?

We turn to the Book of James for the month of September … no better place to see a life lived for the Risen Christ.

Please read James this week, and read it once a week during the coming month of September.

Together, we’ll learn more about the Christian life.

Amen and Amen.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

August 19, 2012, "Highest Hopes"

1 Kings 8.54-61

We are the People of God!

We follow Jesus,  Son of David, born of Mary in Bethlehem, baptized in the Jordan by John.

How we got here is quite a mystery; it is not our own doing.

A mystery born of grace.

The Apostle Peter says it well:

You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people who are God’s own possession. You have become this people so that you may speak of the wonderful acts of the one who called you out of darkness into his amazing light. Once you weren’t a people, but now you are God’s people. Once you had’t received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

This is one of the first pieces of the Bible that impacted my life in seminary … I remember the classroom … not sure who the professor was, but Peter’s words penetrated deeply into my mind and heart.

This is who we are - powerful adjectives: chosen, royal, holy - this is our story.

The big story ...

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth.

The covenant with Abraham and Sarah … slavery in Egypt; Moses in the bullrushes, and then the Exodus … wanderings in the Wilderness; water from a rock; manna in the morning … and then the Promised Land.

Joshua fit the Battle of Jericho.

Samson slays Philistines with the jawbone of an ass.

Saul is anointed king, and consorts with witches.

David builds Jerusalem, and has an affair with Bathsheba.

Solomon begins with the highest of hopes … he builds a glorious temple in David’s City … at long last, a fitting place for the glory of God.

What begins in hope, is quickly tainted.

Solomon uses slave labor, tips his hat to foreign gods and marries too many women for political gain, including Pharaoh’s daughter.

In the 11th chapter of 1 Kings, it is said of Solomon: the LORD had commanded Solomon about this very things, that he should follow other gods. But Solomon didn’t do what the LORD commanded … and God said: Because you have done all of this … I will most certainly tear the kingdom from you.

The Bible writers tell us the truth … stories we cannot forget.

Which reminds me:

I heard about three sisters -- ages 92, 94, and 96 -- who lived together. One night, the 96-year-old drew a bath. She put one foot in, then paused. "Was I getting in the tub or out?" she yelled.
The 94-year-old hollered back, "I don't know, I'll come and see." She started up the stairs, but stopped on the first one. She shouted, "Was I going up or coming down?"
The 92-year-old was sitting in the kitchen having tea, listening to her sisters with a smirk on her face. She shook her head and said, "I sure hope I never get that forgetful," and knocked on wood for good measure. Then she yelled, "I'll come up and help both of you as soon as I see who's at the door."
Knock on wood … the wood of the cross, if you will … to remember, and never forget the stories.

Good and bad, sweet and sour, glorious and grim.

One might ask: Is there any hope here at all in these stories? Isn’t there a king who can truly lead us? Is there anyone who gets it right? At least enough of the time to push back the darkness? Is humankind forever stuck in a cycle of high hopes and dashed dreams?

On our own, we’re stuck, like a mouse running on a wheel - going no where fast.

We’re stuck in cycles of high hopes and dashed dreams … we crush the head of the serpent, but the serpent nips us in the heel nonetheless. 
Cycles of hope and dashed dreams.

Is there hope?

In us?

No, never ... but in God.

In all of the stories, an overarching theme: a golden thread woven into the stained and tattered history of humanity: God, and God’s commitment: I shall be your God, and you shall be my people … a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation.

Not because you’re smart or powerful or big. Only because I love you.

That’s why, in these stories, there is no fear of losing God’s mercy … Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, thou art with me. We can sin mightily, but we cannot out sin the grace of God.

In these stories, of course, disgust, shame and sorrow … but no fear that God would ever desert us - I will never leave you for forsake you … we can hurt ourselves, we can hurt others, but we cannot tear apart the love of God for us.

No illusions … the Bible writers see clearly … we are what we are … Luther said it well: we are at the same time, righteous and sinner … as Paul said: the good I want to do, I don’t do; the evil I don’t want to do, I do.
That’s the way it is.
No illusions in these stories.
No pretending.
Just honesty.
And always the love of God!

So in these stories, there is always courage, too … courage to keep on keepin’ on … to try it again … to start all over - to give to others the same grace, the same mercy, the same compassion and kindness with which God has redeemed us from the pit of death.

These stories are anchored in the love of God … it’s the love of God that proves the saving strength … 

Paul cries out: Who will save me, wretched man that I am? And then declares, Thanks be to God.

We don’t give up, because God never gives us!

In the center of the story, Jesus the Christ.

A small baby … a giant shift.

A cross, an empty tomb and Pentecost Fire.

Things changed.

No longer land and boundaries, as it was for Israel and Judah … it’s now the whole wide world.

No more a king with palaces and soldiers, but the Prince of Peace who instructs his disciples to put away their swords, and turn the other cheek.

No longer a temple in Jerusalem, because Christ is the Temple … Christ is the High Priest … Christ is the Sacrificial Lamb.

No longer dietary laws; all food is good.

No longer marked with physical circumcision, but a circumcision of the heart.

What Israel couldn’t do, Jesus did.

What we can’t do, Jesus does.

So that we can do what we must - love one another as he has loved us … God loves you; God loves me, but only we can love one another.

And only with love, are we the church of Jesus Christ … only with compassion are we instruments of his peace on earth … only with humility are we servants of the gospel … only with hearts open and generous can we feed the hungry, cloth the naked, visit the prisoner.

Through Christ - we’re chosen:  to know the Father, receive the Holy Spirit … to love what he loves; and do what he does.

We have much to do, but we never lose sight of the big story … God’s love … at work in all things, for good … for the good of all humanity … for the good of creation … God will get us there, sometimes because of us, and often in spite of us … but God will get us there.

It’s been said: If we read the Bible consistently, sooner or later we’ll come out a Calvinist, and I believe that.

Because the God of the Bible holds the world together … we may have great powers, powers for good, and powers for evil, but there is yet a greater power guiding the world, the universe, bending history, moving us toward the omega point - the Great God Almighty, LORD of Hosts, Creator of heaven and earth, the God and Father of our LORD Jesus Christ.

Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father,
There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not
As Thou hast been Thou forever wilt be.

It is God who chooses us before we can ever choose God … 

It is God who fills our empty souls with the royal love of Christ.

It is God who lays it all out, from beginning to end, with a love that will not, cannot, let us go.

And when the end comes, we’ll not clasp the hand of Christ.

We’re not strong enough for that.

In the end, Christ will clasp our hand, and he’s strong enough to do that.

This is my story, this is my song,
Praising my Savior, all the day long.
High hopes, indeed! Amen and Amen!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

August 12, 2012, "The Blood Runs Red"

1 Kings 2.31-34

The great English novelist, Charles Dickens …

His Tale of Two Cities ...

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, 

it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, 

it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, 

it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, 

it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, 

we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, 

we were all going direct to Heaven, 

we were all going direct the other way ...

Dickens’ description of Paris and London just before the French Revolution … describes well those fateful last days of King David … the transfer of royal power to Solomon.

David is old and David is dying.

What will happen now?

David’s older son, Adonijah, proclaims himself king.

He and his friends throw a party.

Bathsheba runs to David … tells him what Adonijah has done.

David may be old … infirm and weak.

But he knows betrayal when he sees it.

David declares that Solomon is the king.

David’s friends rally around Solomon.

Adonijah’s friends fear for their lives and flee to the four corners of the country.

There will be blood; everyone knows it. It is the way of kings.

David’s finals words to Solomon - a death sentence on General Joab - who killed General Abner when Abner came to David in peace … who killed Uriah so David could marry Bathsheba. Joab, a man of blood - David used him, but never trusted him.

David knows there can be no security for Solomon if Joab should live.

David breaths his last. David enters death ordering death for another.

Solomon secures the throne.

At his command:

Adonijah, the elder brother, is executed.

General Joab is killed, as David wanted.

The high priest, Abiathar, who supported Adonijah, is exiled.

Shimei, a member of Saul’s household, is put under house arrest in Jerusalem, and eventually killed at Solomon’s command.

The Bible says: In these ways, royal power was handed over to Solomon.

In the telling of these tales, a search for meaning and purpose.

The Northern Kingdom of Israel long gone under Assyrian domination.

The Southern Kingdom of Judah fallen to the Babylonians.

The City of David in ruins.

Solomon’s Temple destroyed.

Judah’s leadership exiled to Babylon.

How did we get here?

How did this come about?

One has to be brave to tell these kinds of stories … let the world see our dirty laundry … now is not the time for glossing over our failures … only truth will do … the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help us God!

God’s people came face-to-face with sobering truth:

We did it wrong … we closed our ears to the prophets; we choose violence over peace … we thought we were the only nation that God was interested in … we were filled with pride, and without sorrow … our best kings, sometimes wise and humble, were still kings: men of violence, war and death … death on every side … the blood ran deep.

Is there hope for us?

Answers are found in the Prophets - Isaiah for one, Jeremiah for another … Hosea and Amos, Micah, Jonah, Nahum and Malachi … hope:

There is yet another king to come.

One night, wise men in the east see a star, and follow it ... angels sing to shepherds in the field … the king is born.

Born in a stable, David’s town, Bethlehem.

30 years later, Jesus is baptized in the Jordan - the river of boundaries - on one side, the wilderness, on the other hope … in that river, on that boundary, to join wilderness and hope together, Jesus is baptized.

For three years, Jesus proclaims the kingdom of God, turns a few heads and overturns a few tables … until the powers-that-be can stand it no more … a mob is dispatched, Judas kisses the master … the powers-that-be choose Rome instead of redemption, choose power rather than peace.

A disciple draws a sword to defend Jesus; Jesus shouts at him, Put away your sword; those who live by the sword die by the sword.

I show you another way.

Beyond violence, war and death.

The way of peace … the way of a cross.

To follow me will take courage and require risk.

You, too, will have to take up a cross if you want to be a part of my work.

Dear friends in Christ:

Can we really choose the power of love today, or shall we remain stuck in old ideas?

A friend of mine recently wrote:

Everyone has a love; something they love or something they love to do. I have a niece who loves animals beyond measure and the art of animation too. And another niece who loves history. I have sons who are athletes with a love for all things baseball. If I ask them for a reason, I might just get a shoulder shrug or an "I don't know. I just do." And that's enough. Your love never needs a reason or a defense - it's yours. All we can do is support each other in finding what it is we love. And when we do, support each other in cultivating it.

Only in love and kindness … if we learn anything from the Prophets, we learn to live justly, to see that all are treated fairly, with special regard for the down and out: the widow, the orphan and the alien.

Because we belong to the real King … the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, that the world might be reconciled to God … 

Dear friends in Christ:

Heaven is already ours; we don’t have to fret about the afterlife, or what happens to us when we die.

It’s earth that needs some fretting … earth waits for our redemption.

Our neighbors wait for love.

The dead in Colorado and Wisconsin wait for us to choose peace.

Millions caught in the crossfires of war wait for so called “christian nations” to put away the sword.

The world waits for God’s People to love as God loves, to forgive as God forgives, to seek wellbeing as God seeks, to calm the storms, to heal the sick, to take care of the poor, to build just societies that love peace more than war.

The world waits for God’s people to final figure it out: Death does not produce life; war does not produce peace; greed does not produce justice.

The world waits for “christians” to be Christians.

God waits for us to seriously follow Jesus.

The one who governs by the Spirit, not the sword.
By his own death, not the death of others.
A cross for a throne.
A wreath of thorns for a crown.

The King of kings, and the LORD of lords.

The Alpha and the Omega.

Jesus is his name.

And it may it be said of us: Those people followed him, and we knew it by their love. Amen and Amen!