Do we know how to blush?
“Were they ashamed when they committed abomination?
No, they were not at all ashamed;
they did not know how to blush.
Therefore they shall fall among the fallen;
when I punish them, they shall be overthrown,
says the Lord” (Jeremiah 8:12 ESV).
Have you ever wondered just how much our society influences you? I have recently been thinking about just how much impact our society/our culture has on me. I believe as a follower of Jesus Christ and a member of His church that I and we (the church) have the greatest potential to be and should be the greatest change agents for the good that our society/our culture has. I often wonder if I and we are living our lives in such a way that is worthy of the calling. As I look through history I recognize that those who changed their world were those men and women who stood out. No one ever changed the world by being like someone else. They weren’t afraid to look different in their beliefs, values and lifestyles. They didn’t let society/culture influence them; no, they influenced their society/culture. Their lifestyle matched their vision and values.
Recently I was reading an article in the magazine Newsweek. It was an article about the underground world on the web of free sperm donors. They had interviewed several donors and recipients of those donations. One donor said that he had donated to over a hundred and loved the idea of lots of people out there that were related to him. A lesbian couple talked of how they had met their donor in parks, parking lots and Starbucks to make the transaction ( this involved receiving and using the fresh sperm).
I finished reading the article and put it down and thought “hum, isn’t that interesting?”. The thought was a thought that said, “well, that is kind of normal for our culture.” I wasn’t shocked or moved. As soon as I had that thought and realized that I wasn’t moved I was convicted. I was convicted that it shouldn’t be normal. I was convicted that I should be embarrassed that my culture can talk about this stuff like it’s normal. I should be embarrassed that I almost bought the lie that it is normal. I repented. My repentance moved me not toward judgement but towards crying out for mercy and towards compassion.
Do we know how to blush? What are we accepting that we should be blushing over? What are we accepting as normal that shouldn’t be normal? We won’t change the world being like the world. I am asking Jesus to help me blush over the things that are worthy of blushing so that I may move out in compassion and mercy. I think the world needs the church to blush again and to lead the world in repentance, love and mercy.
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Message I preached 3 years ago on Easter to finish our journey that week.
New Heavens, New Earth Easter Sunday, 2008
Mission and Vision:
Mission: Raising up followers of Jesus Christ who have intimacy with God, Community with believers, and relationship with non-believers or who live life up, in and out.
Vision: We long to see a church multiplying movement in which the kingdom of God comes. As a result deep, authentic relationship with God and with one another becomes a reality, and our city and the un-reached areas of our world are forever changed by His presence.
Hey let me emphasize the PointTeam Training coming up.
Isaiah 65:17-21 Acts 10:34-43 John 20:1-18
Hey Everybody!!!! I have Good News!!! Today is not the end. It is the Beginning!!!!!
OK, I know, it is the end of our little journey we have made this week together.
Hey, was the worthwhile? I have thoroughly enjoyed this week and I have really enjoyed sharing it with you! I have received several emails and have talked to many people who have really enjoyed this week and have been ministered to by Jesus. That has been a joy.
It truly has been wonderful to think and pray with you all as we followed Jesus to the cross and the tomb.
Easter often does feel like the end of the story, doesn’t it?
Guess what. More good news! It isn’t! It is just the beginning.
Do you think we sell ourselves short on this one?
Many of us give something up for Lent for 40 days; we’ve walked the Holy Week path; we’ve been attentive to Jesus’ story for the last several days.
And now what? Well, maybe we need to have a 40 day party or 50 day party up to Pentecost. If we have given something up for Lent, or even if we haven’t, we should certainly take something up for Easter. What do you think?
Well, I will let you decide what you should do about that.
What I want to do today is help you celebrate the first day of God’s new creation.
That is what it is all about.
The gospels don’t really reach a conclusion – they point on to something more that is still to come.
But what is this something more?
What is Easter all about?
How can it help us find the hope we need that’s going to give us energy for the fresh tasks that lie ahead of us now, here in this community?
Identifying a problem:
There is a problem and it stems from the fact that many of us haven’t really been listening to the music.
What do I mean?
Well, let me remind you that we have been talking about the tune which is the story of Jesus, the bass part which is the Old Testament background, and the middle parts which are us and our world.
Too many of us have listened to the tune of Jesus’ resurrection and we have assumed that it’s supposed to harmonize with a bass part that says that the point of it all is simply to go to heaven when we die. Jesus died and went to heaven, and so will we.
Everybody listen: That is not what the Easter stories are all about.
Everybody got your thinking caps on? This might be a hard one to get our heads around, so lets go as slowly as possible within our time frame.
Old Town on one side mountain and a New Town on the other side. The only way to get from Old Town to New Town is through a long tunnel.
Lets say that you are about to go to New Town and right before you enter the tunnel you see a little child on the side of the road (this child has never been in the tunnel so therefore has never been to New Town and has never even heard of New Town.
She asks you, “Where are you going?” You say, To “New Town”
You drive off into the tunnel and disappear from here sight.
Now, guess what she will probably think? That New Town is in the tunnel. But you know that you will travel through the tunnel and come out on the other side in the sunshine and take a few turns and then finally enter New Town.
OK, Listen: It’s the same with what happens after death. People sometimes think and talk as if “resurrection” was what happened at once, as soon as you die.
Jesus died on Good Friday and he wasn’t raised from the dead until three days later.
Where was He in between? I am probably going to give many of you something to wrestle with here.
Well, in Luke’s gospel he says to the thief, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”
“Paradise” isn’t the final destination. It is the time of rest and bliss which God’s people pass through in order to get to the final destination.
This is where the illustration of the tunnel is not so helpful, because the tunnel is dark and gloomy, whereas the Paradise we are promised is a place of light and rest for God’s people.
But the point is Paradise is not the final destination. So listen: we need to stop talking about going to heaven as though that is the end of the story – that is not helpful to anyone.
So, where are we headed?
Let’s go back to the bass part, to the Old Testament – to Isaiah.
Isaiah speaks of new heavens and new earth and the New Testament writers pick this up in various ways.
So, this is how it seems to work:
When God made this lovely world, he wasn’t making junk. He doesn’t want to throw it away and do something completely different, as though the ideas of space, time and matter (His creation) was a bad one from the start.
No way: he wants to abolish, from within the world, everything that corrupts, defaces and distorts His beautiful creation. He wants to give the world a GIANT MAKEOVER. Wouldn’t that be a great TV Show!?
Listen: New heavens and new earth – like the present one only with everything that’s bad, sad and degrading abolished forever.
That is what we’re promised! Read Isaiah 65 again.
Hey everybody, that is why resurrection matters and not just “going to heaven”
Don’t get me wrong, if you belong to Jesus you will go to heaven to be with Him. That is what Paradise means. But that is just the long, bright tunnel before the New Town begins.
When God makes new heavens and new earth, he will raise you from the dead and give you a new body so that you can live in the new world – and indeed help God run it.
That is the deal; that is what the New Testament promises, even though many have never ever begun to realize it.
Now we are getting to the Point:
When Jesus was raised from the dead on the first Easter day, it wasn’t simply as though he’d gone through the tunnel and out the other side.
Think back to my Old Town, New Town analogy.
It is though the Mayor of New Town were to suddenly appear in the middle of Old Town, plant his flag there and say, “This part already belongs to me; there is a part of New Town right here.”
In Jesus’ resurrection a part of God’s future, of God’s new heaven and new earth, has come forward in time.
The point of the resurrection is that at Easter a part of the future – God’s promised future, his kingdom – has come forwards to meet us back in the present. (kind of like back to the future)
Are you confused yet? One more example to hopefully help:
Let’s say you have a friend in India. You need to know that when it is 10 in the evening here it is already 10:30 in the morning there.
Now perhaps your friend forgetting what time it is here phones you in the middle of the night.
What happens with the resurrection is like this.
This whole world is still in old time – ten at night, if you like. Evil and death are still at work. We are all still asleep and we think nothing is ever going to be different.
Suddenly we get, not a phone call, but a visit, from someone who is living in New Time. He is already in the new day. He has gone through death and out into God’s new world, God’s new creation, and to our astonishment he’s come forwards into our world, which is still in Old Time, to tell us that the day has in fact dawned and that even though we feel sleepy and it still seems dark out there the new world has begun and we’d better wake up and get busy.
Hopefully that helps.
What was going on that first Easter Morning?
Once we get the bass part straight, we may be able to understand the tune itself.
John 20:1 says “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb…”
And she ran, Peter and John ran, and they were perplexed, worried and scared because this was something they were totally unready for – they never imagined.
We need to understand that for them the idea of “resurrection” had, up to that point, been quite simple.
It was what would happen to everyone at the end – when everyone got through the tunnel to the other side or when the day finally dawned and the Old Time was abolished forever.
Can you imagine meeting Jesus with his body fully alive, more alive than it had ever been because it had been through death and out the other side?
Only gradually did they understand what had happened.
In His death, Jesus had taken all sin, death, shame and sorrow of the world upon himself, so that by letting it do its worst to Him He had destroyed its power, which means that now there is nothing to stop the new creation coming into being.
Jesus’ resurrection body is the first part of the new creation, the sign of the new world that is to come.
In terms of Good Friday as the sixth day, and Holy Saturday as the seventh day, the day when God rested after creation, the day when Jesus rested after redemption, Easter Day is the eighth day, the first day of the new week.
Listen: this isn’t the end, it is the beginning.
Easter is the start of the church’s mission
The church’s mission isn’t about telling more and more people that if they accept Jesus they will go to heaven. That is true, though we need to be telling they about the new heavens and new earth, but it’s not the point of our mission.
Here is the point: If God’s new creation has already begun, those of us who have been wakened up in the middle of the night are put to work to make more parts of new creation happen within the world as it still is.
This is why we need to leave behind, on the cross, all the parts of the old creation that have made us sad, that have depressed us and our communities, and start to pray for vision and wisdom to know where God can and will make new creation happen in our lives, in our hearts, in our homes and in our communities.
This is what regeneration is all about.
Yes, there will always be people who say that it can’t happen, it’s just a dream.
But that is what people have always said – that is what they said to Luther, William Wilberforce, Desmond Tutu, Bruce Olson, …
Everybody listen: the answer is not better politics (though we need that too), the answer isn’t better government funding (though probably wouldn’t be all bad), the answer isn’t better this or that (we probably need this or that).
The answer is that where God’s people celebrate Jesus’ resurrection they discover that new possibilities open up in front of them.
I believe that we all need to renew our commitment to Lord Jesus this Easter.
We need to claim once more that we stand on resurrection ground, not just for ourselves but because of what God wants to do through us.
We need to claim the victory of Jesus Christ over all that is evil, so that we can leave it behind on the cross and go forward to do new things in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Saturday’s Meditation Waiting
Lamentations 1:1-22; John 19:28-42
I was struck in a new way this week while reading the book in the Bible often referred to as the Lamentations of Jeremiah. Lamentations is what you’d get if you walked up and down the streets of Omaha and allowed yourself to be totally open to, totally aware of, the violence and tragedy all around. And the church from quite early on has seen the Lamentations of Jeremiah as a kind of long-range advance prophetic poem about the sheer desolation and sorrow of Good Friday and Holy Saturday. “Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by? Look and see if there is any sorrow like my sorrow…” (Lamentations 1:12). It is the sheer awful pointlessness, the hopelessness of it all, that should overwhelm us at this time, like the prophet looking around Jerusalem, which had been full of people going about normal life, a thriving town in all directions, and seeing instead devastation, ruin, families torn apart, utter hopelessness.
Jeremiah expresses all this with an unmatched sense of sorrow and despair. But, as he does so, he does two other things as well with this sorrow that stand out quite strikingly. First, and most noticeable, he insists that God is in this too. You have done this, he says. You have brought us to this point. You have allowed this to come upon us. Now you might think that this was a pretty dark view of God, and in a sense it is. But the point is that only by clinging on to the sovereignty of God is there still hope. If you say that God has no idea what’s going on either, and is just as helpless as we feel, then things are bleak indeed.
But of course to say that God is in all this somewhere, when everything seems hopeless, is to say quite simply that we don’t know what God is up to. It is to commit ourselves to waiting; waiting without any sense of being able to see how it’s all going to work out, or even if it will work out at all. It is to learn, at a deep level, the lesson our generation is particularly bad at learning, the lesson of patience. And out of this relentless insistence on God’s presence in the middle of the darkness Jeremiah does indeed get to hope in the end; but it’s a hard-won hope, a new-born hope, a different kind of hope from what he would have had before.
The second thing Jeremiah does, less noticeable for us but still very powerful, is the way he writes the book. You know how as children we learn things by the alphabet – A is for Apple, B is for Bear, C is for Cat, and so on? Well, like some other Hebrew poets Jeremiah wrote out his lamentations , his weeping and wailing for the chaos that had come over Jerusalem, with each verse of the poem beginning with the next letter of the alphabet. He goes through the alphabet four times in the first four chapters of the book, and then Chapter 5 is a prayer that brings closure to the whole thing. Do you see the point? Do you see what he’s doing?
He isn’t just playing word games, showing how clever he is. The alphabet is the ancient way of saying that the various sounds we make when we speak are not random and chaotic. There is a pattern, a form, underneath it all. So at the very moment when Jeremiah is saying in his poem, “This doesn’t make sense! There’s no meaning to all this! Why should this be happening?” He is expressing that outburst of desperate grief in a form that says, “And yet I believe it isn’t random; I believe there is meaning and purpose, even though I can’t see it at all right now.” He can see nothing but chaos and ruin all around, but he has expressed that in a pattern that says, “And yet I trust that somewhere, somehow, there is order.” The challenge of the Old Testament, again and again, is to go on believing in God’s order even when everything seems utterly meaningless, with hope gone and chaos in its place.
Lamentations is of course a segment of what, this week, I’ve been calling the bass part, the bottom line of music, for understanding the tune of Jesus’ path to the cross and now the awful sense of desolation after Jesus has died and been buried. The book of Job merely confirms that sense of desolation: “cut down a tree, and it may sprout up again, but once a man dies, that’s it” (Job 14:7-12). And though some other Old Testament writers inch towards a belief in resurrection, Job is right – in terms of the present creation and the way it works. If there is anything else to come, any real hope, it will need a whole new creation.
And with Good Friday there is still no sign of such a thing. And all we can do on Holy Saturday is therefore to say, with Lamentations, “Yes, this is awful; this is beyond belief; it is chaos; but we will sit quietly and wait. All we can believe is that, though we can see nothing, no signs of hope, God is still the God of order and not chaos, and he will do what he will do.” This day, the quiet, sad day between Good Friday and Easter, finds us in the position of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, who said, “We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel” – with the sense of, “But he can’t have been, because they killed him.” That sense of puzzlement – a puzzlement that we all know only too well in many aspects of our personal lives, and of our community, with all its echoes of Jeremiah’s Lamentations – is the classic Holy Saturday place to be. We have expressed our sorrow and anger, and we have brought it to the cross and will leave it there. Now we must wait quietly to see what God will do.
Jesus’ disciples knew what they had been hoping for, and it was all gone. They had hoped for a thoroughly earthly kingdom, with Jesus as king and themselves in the top jobs. Forget it: wait without hope, for hope would be hope for the wrong thing. All their ambitions for their people, their land, their towns, their homes: forget it. Wait without love, for love would be love of the wrong thing. Some of them, on that first Holy Saturday, must have been thinking frantically: How can we make sense of it all? What on earth has gone so badly wrong? Why should this have happened? Forget it: Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought. Holy Saturday is the moment when everything stops and waits.
And waits for a different kind of answer. If we want God’s hope instead of ours; if we want God’s love instead of ours; if we want God’s thoughts instead of ours – then we will need to go through a time of silence, of resting and ignorance. And if we want to find God’s way forward for our community, for ourselves, for our church, then we must learn to wait, to be quiet, to affirm God’s order in our chaos but not yet to understand it. Only when, in days and years and decades to come, people look back and see the new things that God will have done, things we can’t at the moment imagine or plan for, we will say, “Yes: we needed to let go of that anger and grief, to leave it on the cross of Jesus, to see it buried in his tomb; because God’s new creation is God’s new creation, always a surprise, always a shock.”
Holy Saturday is therefore the Sabbath rest after the completion of the work of redemption. Remember how, at the end of the creation account in Genesis, we are told that when God finished all his work on the sixth day he rested on the seventh day. Now John has brought Jesus’ redeeming work to its completion, with that great word “It is finished” as Jesus dies. Hold in your mind all that it means for the Jesus of John’s gospel to die: the Word of God, falling silent; the living water, no longer flowing; the bread of heaven, scattered in the long grass; the light of the world, snuffed out; the good shepherd, snatched away from the flock; the grain of wheat, falling into the earth and dying; the Messiah coming to his own people and his own rejecting him. Put them all together, and see them folded in this deep and dark Sabbath rest, this seventh day, waiting as we must wait for whatever God will do and bring.
On the seventh day God rested in the darkness of the tomb,
Having finished on the sixth day all his work of joy and doom;
Now the Word had fallen silent, and the water had run dry,
The bread had all been broken, and the light had left the sky;
The flock had lost its shepherd, and the seed was sadly sown,
The courtiers had betrayed their king, and nailed him to his throne.
O Sabbath rest by Calvary, O calm of tomb below,
Where the grave-clothes and the spices cradle him we did not know!
Rest you well, beloved Jesus: Caesar’s Lord and Israel’s King,
In the brooding of the Spirit, in the darkness of the spring.
Good Friday Meditation
Good Friday Meditation “It is Finished”
Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12 John 19:16b-37
I don’t know if any of you have ever been white-water canoeing. I know I haven’t, but this is what I have read about it. When you’re in the canoe you are very low down on the water, and when you approach the rapids on a river you can’t actually see over the edge of the waterfall. All you can see is flat water, and then nothing – though you can often hear the roar from the rushing water beyond. And somewhere on that edge where the water disappears you see a kind of inverted V-shape, with the water coming together at a particular point; and you know that that’s the center of the main stream, the point you have to aim for. If you hit the rapids anywhere else you’ll be going down them sideways, which is not a very good idea. So you head for the place where the water is all rushing together, and the next thing you know you’re in the middle of the frantic, turbulent white water.
Good Friday is a little like that. We have been following Jesus along the way, through the comparatively smooth water, but now we hear the roar up ahead and we know: This Is It. The only thing we can do is to watch for the way all the themes converge at this point, and go to the V-shape where they meet, not knowing what will happen to us as the cataclysmic events of Good Friday overtake us.
Although there are ways of making sense of Jesus’ crucifixion, and we’ll get to them in a moment, the first thing we should recognize is that for Jesus’ followers and family at the time it made no sense at all. It was the denial of everything they had longed for, the stupid and pointless snuffing out of the brightest light and best hope Israel had ever had. Jesus’ crucifixion must have made his followers wonder if Satan had been tricking them all along, if God had not after all been at work in Jesus, if Israel’s God was maybe not the world’s creator and judge at all… Watching Jesus get dragged off to a mockery of a trial, a brutal and degrading beating and then the worst torture and death imaginable would force all those questions on them. If we don’t recognize that, then we have domesticated the cross, turned it into a safe symbol of private faith, and forgotten what it was really all about. And then we wonder why we are left with nowhere to turn when things in our own lives, our own families, our own communities, our own civilization, seem to go not just pear-shaped – at least a pear still has shape! – but utterly chaotic, totally random. Good Friday was chaos come again: darkness, earthquake, violence and death of the one who had given life to so many.
If you have been following with us this week then you know where this is going. Part of our task this week has been to walk all the way to the cross with Jesus in a kind of representative fashion on behalf of our community, our city, a community and city that has seen chaos replace order and fear replace hope. That is where many people live all the time.
At times when we look at our community it seems pointless and futile. At times hope is lost and fear sets in. Many wonder if they are going to be the next one to be shot in a mall or randomly picked for assault. When are the homeless people going to have homes? When are the addicted going to be set free? And we can go on and on and on and on as we think not only of our community but of our own lives. And what I’ve been asking you to do all through the week is to look at this story of chaos and futility, and hold it in your imagination and prayers within the story of Jesus as he goes to the cross. And now, on Good Friday itself, we will take the basketful of sorrows and we will place them at the foot of the cross, as a sign of our wanting simply to put our chaos somehow alongside and inside God’s chaos.
As soon as we call it God’s chaos we are making a statement of faith, a statement which has echoes of the Psalms and the prophets who looked at the ruin of Israel, at famine, disaster, and devastation, and clung on with their fingernails to the belief that God was still God even if it really didn’t look like that. Today we heard perhaps the best-known Old Testament passage of all: the fourth Servant Song, the end of Isaiah 52 and all of Isaiah 53.
It might be a good idea to read that song through slowly again, asking God to help you listen to the notes that it’s playing and to think through the harmonies you need to fill in. It is a song about horrible violence, leaving the victim unrecognizable and scarcely human. It’s a song about suffering so acute that people are ashamed and embarrassed and look away. It’s a song about massive injustice, oppression doing its worst and getting away with it. Is it any wonder the first Christians saw it as a song about Jesus? But it’s also a song about astonishing vindication, about suffering bearing fruit, about the sufferer seeing fruit from all the travail of his soul, and about a new work of God that springs up just when all seemed lost in darkness and futility.
It is all this because it is a song about the substitute. It’s about the king who stands in for his people and does for them what they can’t do for themselves. It’s about the prophet seeing and speaking God’s purpose and word for the people that couldn’t see or speak it themselves. It’s about the priest who enters the holy place on behalf of the people. Is it any wonder the first Christians saw it as a song about Jesus? And at its heart there is the terrifying theme which we approach with caution, because like white-water rapids it can turn us upside down and crash us against the rocks, and yet which we can’t avoid because it stands at the heart of Jesus’ own understanding of his vocation. “He was wounded for our transgression; he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment which made us whole, and by his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:5-6).
That is why before we even get to the tune, to John’s gospel itself once more, we have to pause and whisper the alto part which is our own little part of the harmony. Faced with that bass line, the only thing we can say is, Thank you; thank you; nothing in my hand I bring, simply to thy cross I cling; when I survey the wondrous cross, where the young prince of glory died, my richest gain I count but loss, and pour contempt on all my pride. Thankfully we have poets who have said it better than we can. We share their words, and hope to grow more into them. But the only proper response to the death of Jesus, wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities, is gratitude, faith and love.
As we look up in that gratitude, we allow ourselves to see Jesus hanging there on the first Good Friday. We see him once more with John’s eyes.
First, John says, He is the king. Pilate put up the sign saying so, and refused to alter it. But the king is the one who stands in for his people, like David fighting Goliath on behalf of Israel. Jesus is off to meet the giant, the forces of chaos and death, on our behalf.
Jesus is, second, the one in whom the suffering Psalms find their fulfillment. People gamble for his clothing, and mock his thirst with sour wine.
And He is the true Passover Lamb. His bones are not to be broken.
John is telling us all this. It would, again, be a good thing to read the whole of John 19 slowly once more. In the middle of it, at verse 30, there stands one word that says it all. “Finished.” “Accomplished.” “Completed.” Jesus’ last word, that sums it all up. Part of its meaning is that everything that had gone before – all the lines of water that came rushing towards that great V-shape – has now come together. This is where it was all going; this is what it was all about.
Part of it’s meaning is that in Jesus’ world that word “finished” was what you wrote on a bill when it had been settled: “Paid in full!” But underneath these is the meaning John potentially intends most deeply. When God the creator made his wonderful world, at the end of the sixth day he finished it. He completed his work. Now, on the Friday, the sixth day of the week, Jesus has completed the work of redeeming the world. With his shameful, chaotic, horrible death he has gone to the very bottom, to the darkest and deepest place of ruin, and has planted there the sign that says “Rescued”. It is the sign of love, the love of the creator for his ruined creation, the love of the savior for his ruined people. Yes, it all has to be worked out. The victory has to be implemented. But it’s done; it’s completed; it’s finished.
Where do we come in? Perhaps we can see ourselves in the figures of Mary and John, standing at the foot of the cross. Mary’s life was never going to be the same again: the son she adored, the one on whom she had rested all her hope and delight, was killed. John’s life was never going to be the same again: the Master he adored, who had made him his special companion, was gone. But through the cross Jesus provided a new identity, a new community in miniature, for both of them, in one another. Now, here in this community and in this church (Waypoint), there are plenty of Marys and Johns, plenty of people for whom life isn’t going to be the same again. Our job is to stand and wait at the foot of the cross, and to see what fresh word may come to us concerning the way forward, the way of becoming a community again.
I don’t know what that will mean in practice. But I do know that if we can’t find the answer in the cross, we won’t find it anywhere else. Good Friday is the point at which God comes into our chaos, to be there with us in the middle of it and to bring us his new creation. Let us pause and give thanks, and listen for his words of love and healing.
Thursday Meditation The meal that says it all
Again I want to remind you all to be writing down our community’s grief and sorrows and your personal grief and sorrows and bring them with you on Good Friday to lay them at the foot of the cross.
Exodus 12:1-14 I Corinthians 11:23-29 John 13:1-17, 31b-35
We have been thinking for the last four days of the way in which the story of Jesus functions like a great tune. We listen to it, and then we have to try to put in our bits of the harmony.
Part of the way we know what the harmony ought to be is that we have the bass part, which we call the Old Testament. That keeps our feet on the ground, musically and theologically speaking. It stops us from interpreting the story of Jesus any way we like. Our job is to look out for the two middle parts: the tenor part, which is the story of our whole community, and the alto part, which is our own personal story somehow held in the middle of it all. We’ve seen, in the previous days, the way in which the story of Jesus, and its bass part in the book of Isaiah, invites us to bring the pains and anger of our community, and our own hearts, and allow them to be folded within the larger story, to be sung in tune with the passion of Jesus, so that we can learn to grieve, to go through the bereavement process for all that has been and all that has gone, and so to be ready for whatever new things God is going to do.
But it’s time to point out that the idea of this four-part song is a little more complicated than that. To make it as simple as possible, it is not just a song we sing anymore. This song that we are learning to sing together has actions to it, like the kids songs we all learned. And as it turns out these actions are the part that really matter. In fact the song turns out to be the accompaniment for the actions instead of the actions being the accompaniment for the song.
That’s how it ought to be. When God came to us in Jesus, He didn’t come to fill our heads with nice ideas, or even fill our hearts with a new warmth and gratitude. He came to heal the world. He came to change the bad things that were happening and to make good things happen instead. He came to do that for individuals and for communities. And when people are being sorted out, and when families and communities are getting themselves back in shape, one of the most central and important things they do is have a meal together. And that’s exactly what Jesus did.
Listen, when Jesus wanted to explain to His followers what His death was going to be all about – and they hadn’t even really understood the fact that He was going to die yet, so He had to take it slowly - He didn’t give them a theory, an explanation to hold simply in their heads. There was plenty for their heads to be working on, but that would take time. What He gave them instead was something to do: a meal to share, with a special part that would tell His story more powerfully than any other way.
And of course that meal, that Last Supper, on the first Maundy Thursday, was, like everything with Jesus, a tune with an Old Testament bass part. We heard the bass part in our first reading today: the story of the Passover, when God rescued the Israelites from slavery in Egypt and, as a sign, “passed over” their houses on the night of judgment, because of the blood of the lamb on the doorposts. Jesus deliberately chose Passover as the moment to go up to Jerusalem and confront the authorities with the claims of God’s kingdom, knowing what would happen.
He deliberately chose this Passover meal as the framework to give his followers, from that day to this, a way not simply of understanding his death, but of being healed, forgiven, renewed and transformed by it. Passover spoke powerfully of God rescuing His people, making them His own in a new way, and sending them off on the risky journey to their promised land. Jesus’ new Passover speaks even more powerfully of God now rescuing His people in a full and final way, making them His own in a new and complete way, and sending them out into the world with the risky task of making His kingdom happen.
And this is the point at which the melody and the bass part – the story of Jesus and the Old Testament Passover tradition – insist on particular actions, not just ideas, for us to do. For a start we go on day by day and week by week breaking bread and pouring out wine in remembrance of Him. We must remember what is happening when we do that. Paul declares that “every time you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until He comes” (I Corinthians 11:26).
He doesn’t just mean that “communion” is a good moment for a sermon on the cross, though that often may be the case. He means that when you do this – even if it is just two or three of you in your homes, or among the poor, or at celebration services, wherever – you are actually announcing to the world around, to the principalities and powers that keep people enslaved and fearful and angry, that Jesus is Lord, and that His death has broken the power of sin, fear, sorrow and shame. This meal is therefore simultaneously part of our journey through bereavement, acting out the dying of Jesus within which our own sorrows can be held and dealt with, and also part of our mission, because it is the powerful declaration that on the cross of Jesus Christ the living God has dealt with all that distorts and defaces human life. Therefore, this meal propels us out, to go into the community in the confidence that God is at work, that Jesus is Lord, that the Spirit can and does heal and renew.
That is why Maundy Thursday is such an important moment, both on the journey to the cross and already as the beginning of the life and mission of the church. The word “Maundy” comes from a Latin word which means “commandment”, because at the Last Supper Jesus gave them a new commandment, to love one another as he had loved them.
Once more, He didn’t just “tell” them to. He did it Himself, and showed them how to do it. In some churches, on Maundy Thursday, they wash one another’s feet to recapture something of that sense of love-in-action. Maybe we would do well to do the same. But that is the point: it’s all about the actions, and the tune supports them rather than the other way around. Jesus went out from the Last Supper to give himself up, literally and physically, for His friends and for the whole world. He wants us to find out what we can and should be doing, actually doing, to make His kingdom known in the world.
We will come back to this on Easter morning, because that’s where the church’s mission really gets going. But let’s take this action-song just one step further. Here we are, with the last Supper and Jesus’ astonishing action of washing the disciples’ feet, and saying “Now you’ve seen it, go and do it.” And here is our ground bass part, the Passover story which is all about God setting people free from slavery. Question: Where is there slavery of some sort or other within a few miles of where we are right now, and what is God doing about it?
Listen everybody: there are people in Omaha that have lost hope and are very angry and bitter. There are those who are in virtual slavery to alcohol, drugs, sex, and money. There are people who struggle with employment because of their race. There are people who are scared to go outside their home. And we can go on an on – go ahead, take some time to think about this question. Then we need to ask, in relation to all of them: What would it look like for them to be set free from that slavery? And how can our celebration of Jesus’ strange new Passover equip us to be part of that answer?
And again, what about our part? We’ve been reading about bringing things to the foot of the cross – memories, sorrows, hopes, and fears, anger, illness, things we don’t understand. We will do that in one particular way on Good Friday. But the Breaking of Bread, Communion, is itself the classic, regular way of doing just that.
Many of us, if not all of us, have our own stories of sorrow and anger. We have our stories of having messed up lives. I believe if we will come to the Lord’s Table and bring our problems there, offer them up with open hands and then receive Jesus’ own life in return, there is strong hope of freedom, of change, of healing, of transformation. I pray that it may be so with us.
Remember: again and again, when God is up to something new, it doesn’t always start with a bang. If God is going to hear our prayers in this Holy Week and do new things in Omaha, and in our lives, by our working through our sense of loss and bereavement in the light of the story of Jesus, it probably doesn’t mean that suddenly hundreds of people are going to flood into church, crime and drugs will stop immediately and all the problems out there and among us will all be solved over night. No. Jesus often told parables about sowing seeds, about things growing secretly, little by little. There are signs of hope already. Look, Waypoint Church now exists when once it didn’t, there have been reports of healing, and if you will look you will discover other new things happening. Our job is to bring the whole thing, the “out there” stuff and the “in here” stuff, all of it, to the meal which speaks of the cross. And as we sow the seeds of prayer, faith and the word, as we wait in the darkness of Maundy Thursday, as we stand at the foot of the cross – we wait with hope, because the one whose journey we are sharing is the one who, as John says, loved His own who were in the world, and loved them to the end.
Wednesday Meditation - Betrayal and Trial
Isaiah 50:4-9; John 13:21-30
In many of our creeds and confessions of faith, we say that Jesus “died for our sins.” When we repeat these words we are actually making a statement that works on different levels at once. In this context, I suspect most people think of “our sins” as a rather large and shapeless cloud, full of nasty thoughts, actions and words, somehow landing on Jesus as he dies on the cross. We’re not quite sure how it all “works”, but we know that somehow he died so that we can be free from it all. And that’s fine for the most part. But as we shall see on Good Friday, there is more to be said than that.
The story of Jesus that we follow in Holy Week makes it clear that something more specific is going on as well. If you composed a list of the deepest and darkest sins the human race can commit, you might find that a good many of them feature in the story of Jesus’ final days, and that they tend to have something to do with putting Jesus on the cross.
Think about it. Lying, including false witness in a court of law. Yes, that’s there. Injustice to the weak by the strong, and oppression of the poor by the rich. Yes, that’s there. Racial prejudice: that’s certainly there, with Pilate sneering at the Jews in general and Jesus in particular as “king of the Jews.” Idolatry: well, that’s behind quite a lot of it, since the Romans idolize their own military might and their much-touted justice system. Love of power: absolutely, because that’s what kept Caiaphas and his friends going. We go on and on. And now we come to one of the nastiest of all: betrayal.
Our culture in America tends to idolize celebrities. It seems the public can’t get enough of “celebrity gossip.” You can’t check out at a grocery store without seeing half a dozen tabloids splashed with some Hollywood scandal. Many times as I’m glancing over the racks, I see the word “betrayal” in the headlines, usually referring to famous relationships. I know we could all testify to this. Well, those of us who have been in the church a long time and are used to hearing the story of Judas Iscariot may be a little hardened to it, and we need to remind ourselves of what was actually happening.
Judas was one of Jesus’ closest friends and trusted companions. Trusted? Yes: he kept the purse. He was the treasurer. Now of course when you make anyone treasurer of anything, you give them a great temptation to misuse their trust, but Jesus presumably had trusted Judas, at least in the beginning. We of course look back on the story and we know from early on that Judas was the traitor, but nobody else knew that at the time. In the story we’ve just read, when Jesus says, “One of you is going to betray me,” they don’t all turn around and point the finger at Judas and say, “Oh yes, we all know who that’s going to be.” They are all worried: it isn’t going to be me, is it? Only Jesus knows. Judas is one of them. He has been part of it all, has seen Jesus heal lepers, preach the gospel, raise the dead. He’s done it himself, casting out demons in Jesus’ name, watching God’s power do new things. And now…
We don’t know why Judas did it. We do know that being betrayed by a very, very close friend is extremely nasty. Trust is one of the most precious things in human life; breaking trust is one of the most horrible. And the point I’m making is this: when we speak of Jesus dying “for the sins of the world”, we don’t just mean that there was some kind of abstract theological transaction going on. We mean that the sins of the world, specific instances of some of the nastiest things human beings can do to one another, happened to him directly. He wasn’t immune to the normal human emotions. He didn’t just ride it out without caring. He was the very embodiment of vulnerable love. He took the worst that can be done, took it from every angle, and gave back only more love. When we are betrayed, or treated unjustly or violently, we react angrily and often seek immediate vengeance. It is part of the core meaning of Jesus’ death that he didn’t do that. He took the worst that evil could do. He allowed it to do its worst to him, emotionally as well as physically. And he went on loving.
Now I don’t know how many of you have been betrayed, or have felt betrayed. I certainly don’t know if any of you have ever betrayed someone else, someone you love or who loved and trusted you. But I do know, on a general level, that the community of Omaha has felt and had its share of betrayal. The lynching, the race riots, Enron, and I am sure you can name more and some of your own. There are all kinds of bits and pieces of anger and resentment still around in many or our communities, and betrayal may be one of the accusations one hears by people who have lost their livelihood, their way of life, their pension perhaps, certainly the prospects they once thought they had, their best friends, etc. What are we going to do about that when it happens to us? What will we do with a musical part that’s in a minor key?
Well, you can always cling on to it and live your life enjoying your status as a victim. Having someone else to blame means you can keep the high moral ground as long as you like. It’s their fault; it’s his fault; it’s her fault; it’s everyone’s fault except (of course) mine. And this is a song we all sing now and then, some more than others, not just about the state of our communities but about a thousand and one things big or small in our lives.
And part of the meaning of the cross is that Jesus died to take all that away. Underneath the story or tune in John, once again, is the bass line of the poem in Isaiah. This time it’s the third Servant Song. It has that very vivid description of the Servant giving his back to the people who were beating him, and his cheeks to those who were torturing him by pulling out his beard. He is totally vulnerable. But in the next lines he is totally vindicated: God has been with him, and all those who were out to get him will find they are put in the wrong. Somehow he has taken the worst that evil people can do to him and has come through and out the other side. It’s breathtaking but it’s real. Somehow the Servant absorbs into himself all the evil that has taken place, trusting God that this is how it has to be, and God vindicates him.
What that means for us – and this is close to the heart of the meaning of the cross – is that the bad things that have happened in our lives, to us personally, or in our community, can be brought to the foot of the cross and left there. He has taken them: lies, injustices, betrayals, insults, and physical violence, all of it. He meant to take them, because in his great love for us, he did not intend that our lives should be crippled by them. Even when we have been partly responsible for them; in fact, particularly when we have been responsible for them. That’s what forgiveness is all about: not saying “It didn’t really happen,” or “It didn’t really matter,” but instead, “It did happen, and it did matter, but Jesus has dealt with it all and we can be free of it.” Jesus didn’t want us to be bowed down under that weight, turning us into grumblers and blamers and perpetual victims. He wanted us to take all that evil and set us free from its weight.
And now we see that part of the challenge of walking through Holy Week with John in one hand and Isaiah in the other is that we are called to forgive. We are called to forgive the people who’ve let us down, the systems that have let us down, the people and organizations and structures that have hurt us and people we love, that have done bad and callous and betraying things to us and our friends that have walked away laughing. Now, we add all of that together, all the wrong done here and all the frustration and sadness of recent decades, and we place it before the foot of the cross. Now, we name and shame the things that have defaced our community, and we weave them into the story alongside Judas, alongside Caiaphas, alongside Pilate. And we pray that over the coming days we will have grace and strength to leave them there, to believe that Jesus has dealt with them on the cross. And we wait, as the disciples waited without knowing what they were waiting for, to see what God will do next once the cross has done its work.
There is much more to the meaning of the cross than just this. We will spend a lifetime exploring that further meaning. But for now, for the moment, let’s gather up all the betrayal that has stained our lives and see Jesus taking it on himself, in and through the action of Judas, so that we don’t need to hold on to it anymore. Let’s pray for grace to forgive, to find new beginnings, to know that we have been vindicated by Jesus’ vindication – and, beyond even that, that we are loved forever within Jesus’ great and powerful suffering love.
Tuesday Meditation - The Grain of Wheat
Tuesday Meditation The Grain of Wheat
Isaiah 49:1-7 John 12:20-36
In John 12:24 Jesus says, “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” I want you to think about the griefs and losses that you have begun to write down and put in your Bible for Friday. Many of you have lived through some terrible things, and you have felt the pain and the sense of loss. Others of us have watched people go through some terrible things and we have stood by and looked on in respect and sorrow.
In this week we call Holy Week, what we can do is to bring all of our sorrows, large and small, corporate and personal (whatever they might be, they all matter), on the journey with Jesus that He takes to Jerusalem and ultimately to Calvary. We can bring them here and leave them at the foot of the cross. Part of my prayer for us this week is that as we take this journey together, as we think about all that is being said, as we pray, as we listen to Jesus and His word and as we bring these hurts, these pains before our loving God and fold them into His story and His passion, that we would discover new life.
It has been almost 90 years since the Omaha lynching of Will Brown and it has been only several months since the shootings of Westroads Mall. There are many of you who have experienced pain and sorrow long ago and many of you who have experienced yesterday. Part of our job this Holy Week is to get our grief out in the open: to say to God, as you do with any bereavement, “Why did it have to happen like this? Why him, why them, why us, why now, why didn’t you do something?” Those are the right questions, the natural questions, the questions we always face when we face the sudden shock of bereavement. Some have stooped asking those questions because they have dealt with the grief in a healthy way. Others have stopped asking those questions because they have wanted to forget about or ignore the memories without dealing with them, without laying the sorrow before God and seeing it enfolded in the story of Jesus. Maybe it is because we have forgotten that Jesus is the one who wept at the grave of his friend and He is the one who shares our grief and carries our sorrows.
The reading from John offers a standing invitation to bring our stories and sorrows and see them folded into the story and sorrow of Jesus. “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” I can hear many of you right now. You are saying that is all good when you are planning a seed and you know what kind of plant is going to grow. But let me remind you of something: Jesus was talking about going to His own death.
If you read the reading you have seen that this was Jesus’ reply to the request that some Greeks could come and see Him. Kind of a strange reply. Think about this: non-Jews wanting to see Jesus? That’s a sign of something new! But Jesus’ response takes us off guard. He should have said, “OK, let them come and see me,” but He didn’t. Instead He says something like this, “Yes; what I’ve come to do will indeed reach the ends of the earth, in God’s great project of justice and mercy. But it’s not going to happen in a nice, smooth, easy fashion. The world as a whole, and the human race as a whole, is enslaved to a dark power, the power of corruption and selfishness. And the way in which I shall bring God’s saving justice and healing mercy to the whole world is not just by teaching a few more people. It will be through my death. The grain of wheat must die, so that it can bear more fruit, new fruit, fruit you wouldn’t believe if someone tried to tell you about.”
This tune in John’s story is filled out and backed up by what we read in Isaiah. The servant knows it’s his job to work for God’s purpose, but finds himself saying, “I’ve been wasting my time! What was it all for? I have worked in vain; I’ve spent my energy and strength for nothing.” But then he goes on: “My cause is with the Lord, and my reward with my God.” The whole point of the Servant Songs is that the work of the Servant is the means by which god will accomplish the rescue not only of Israel but also of the whole world, humanity and creation alike. And strangely, it seems to be part of God’s purpose that there will come a time when it looks as though the whole thing has gone “down the tube.” “I’ve been wasting my time.” “This has been for nothing.” Is that not how many of us feel with our own sorrows and pains?
Now everybody listen: this amazing biblical story, the story of God’s purposes to make right the whole world, includes this strange dark theme which says that the Servant who is to carry out this mission of God will look like He failed. All He can do is to trust God and commit His cause to God, and wait in faith. For Jesus, that meant going to His death, in obedience to the Servant-vocation. As He read the scriptures and listened to the voice of the one He called Abba, Father, He knew that this job was meant for Him and Him alone. He had to go ahead of all of us, to do the opposite of what people expected him to do, to suffer apparent failure, degradation and shame. Isaiah said that He was one deeply despised, abhorred by nations, the slave of rulers. But listen to what He declares as He goes: “Now is the judgment of this world! Now the ruler of this world will be driven out! And when I’m lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself” (John 12:31)! It will look like the powers of the world are passing judgment on Him, but what will happen is that God will be judging them.
So, Waypoint Church, here we are, a community of prayer and hope in the middle of a community that has experienced much pain and sorrow through the years. What are we to do? We are called to claim in prayer that victory over powers which Jesus won on the cross: to hold the grief and pain of the community, and of our own hearts, within the love that went to Calvary for us; to pray that as the grains of wheat fall into the earth and die they will bear much fruit; and to work for that fruit, that new hope, that regeneration at every level, which God will give in His own time and in His own way.
We don’t know how God is going to do the new things here, in our lives and in our communities. That is why we must hold on for our life to the story of Jesus, and to learn as best we can to see the story of our community, and the story of our personal lives, like two musical lines held in between the story of Jesus and the deep notes of the Old Testament which explain it and give it depth. That is why we will stand at the foot of the cross on Good Friday and bring our grief and sorrow to the one who has gone down into the darkness on our behalf. As we learn to do that for ourselves, our neighbors, for our community, we learn the lesson which we as Christians need to learn again and again: that unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies it remains a single grain, but that if it dies, it will bear much fruit.
Originally written Holy Week 2008
As I mentioned on Sunday, the messages I preach and these devotionals throughout the week are taken from N.T. Wrights book Christians at the Cross. Much will be word for word from that book and some will be my words. If you haven’t listened to Sunday’s message I encourage you to take time to listen to the podcast before you continue. I also encourage you to take time to read the scripture that goes along with each meditation/devotional. I pray that this week will bring us into a deeper intimacy with Jesus and will help all of us begin to understand how our stories make the greatest sense when seen within the Greater Story of Jesus Himself. I love you all – may this be a blessing to you.
The Servant who announces new things
Isaiah 42:1-9 John 12:1-11
On Palm Sunday (yesterday), I spoke of the way that the story of Jesus works upon us like a tune. We hear the story, we feel it unfold like a melody – a beautiful melody at that – and we find ourselves asking what it means. Part of the answer comes in the bass part of the composition, which is what we find in the Old Testament. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John didn’t want their readers just to listen to the tune they were playing; they wanted us to hear it as the new top line for an older darker music.
Here is another way to think about that. Because I grew up around musicians I have heard my fair share of accompaniment tracks – tapes that have the accompaniment parts on it but not the melody part (that is left out so someone can be that part). If you were to pick up that tape not knowing what it was and decided to listen to it, you would probably find yourself a little frustrated because although the background music might be wonderful, it would be a bit confusing because the melody line wasn’t there. But if someone who knew the song and could sing well walked in while you were listening and began to sing with the accompaniment track you would probably say, “wow, that is a great song, and now it makes sense.” The backing and the melody are quite different but they are made for each other.
Out of all the Old Testament, Jesus made the central part of Isaiah especially his own, not least the four poems which people today sometimes call the “Servant Songs.” Putting this together with a bit of John’s gospel invites us to see Isaiah 42 as the accompaniment track, and John 12 as the tune or melody.
Here we find an intimate, gentle and yet sharply striking snapshot of Jesus. He is at dinner with Mary, Martha and Lazarus, whom he had just raised from the dead. Mary wastes a year’s wages by pouring an expensive ointment over Jesus’ feet and wiping them with her hair. It is a moving emotional moment, with both of them deeply vulnerable; we would like to linger there a little longer and go deeper…
But we can’t, because like someone taking your ipod and angrily throwing it to the ground, Judas cuts across the music and tells them both off. “What are you doing?! Don’t you care about the poor? You are wasting good stuff!” Talk about crashing a party…. Watch Jesus. He doesn’t shout back, but instead, he points to a deeper reality which Judas, and probably Mary, didn’t see coming. “She was getting my body ready for burial. It was a kind of advance anointing. Yes, the poor really do matter. But this needed to be done.” And with that statement we are brought back to the music again, but at a different point in the tune. The intimacy, the vulnerability of Jesus – and of Mary! – suddenly become pointers forward to Jesus no longer barefoot at dinner but naked on the cross.
As we listen to this tune, we hear the accompaniment that Isaiah provides. “Look!” he says, “Here is my servant.” So lets look. What do we see? Something strange and important. One of the most important truths in the whole Bible is that God who made the world has promised to set it right again one day. He is going to make right the wrong. He will fill the world with His justice and mercy. I don’t know about you, but I long and pray for that day because our world is full of violence, injustice, idolatry and immorality. God’s creation is defaced. People who bear God’s image are treated shamefully. Good news: God has promised to set all that right at last.
The point that Isaiah is making in this poem is that God will send his servant to begin that project. “Here is my servant; I will put my Spirit upon him, and he will bring justice to the nations… he will not falter, or be discouraged, till he establishes justice on the earth; and in his law the islands will put their hope.” Let’s put that in other words: before that final day when God makes everything right, the Servant is going to get everything started. And because this work will involve bringing peace to the world, the Servant will do his work in a peaceful and gentle way. He won’t raise his voice or yell. He won’t go shouting around the streets. He won’t be mean or arrogant with those who are feeling their way towards the light. Isaiah explains that He is doing a new thing in a new way. Listen everybody: if we long to see God at work doing new things in our communities and in our lives we should pay attention to this.
Can you begin to see how this song stands behind John 12? Let’s put these two together now side by side – as we do we begin to get a glimpse of who the Servant is.
From Isaiah’s point of view, the Servant is a bit like a king of Israel who will do justice and mercy at last. But the Servant is more than just an individual. The Servant takes on the role that God mapped out for Israel as a whole. The Servant Songs in Isaiah are like an advertisement: “Wanted! A Servant for the Lord!” But the prophet wrote a job description for which there could, eventually, be only one appropriate applicant. And here He is in John 12: Jesus, not raising his voice, not joining Judas in telling Mary off, but with his gaze fixed on setting the world right, and doing so with his own death.
So, if the story of Jesus is the tune, and the poem of Isaiah is the bass part, where are we in the middle?
Our world today, especially where there has been a lot of sadness and loss, is full of signs that things need to be made right. We can go to parts of our city where houses are boarded up, where men and women live on the street because they have no home, where drugs have taken there course and violence and fear reign. We don’t need to go anywhere to begin to see the effects of hopelessness, loneliness, poverty, etc… But when we do go other places we potentially see it even in a greater way. We all know that we live in a world that needs to be made right.
Because there is always money at the heart of the questions, people will grumble like Judas at what the church does: why are you bothering singing songs and all that nonsense, making a fuss about Jesus when there are people in need out there? But the response of the church is that if Jesus is the true Servant of the Lord, we, His people, are called here, in this community and every community, to carry on his work of making things right – not in big, loud campaigns, or pretending that we know the answers to all the questions, but in a quiet, steady work of coming alongside people in need or sorrow or pain, of praying for and with people in trouble or difficulty, or quietly bringing light into dark places and hope into sad lives. There is definitely more to being the church than that, but not less. He everybody, this is our God, the Servant King; He calls us now to follow Him.
What about the personal tune? Let me ask you a question. Who do you identify with in the story of Jesus, Mary, Martha, Lazarus and Judas?
Martha? Here we are getting on with work and there is my sister, making a fuss, putting on a display, attention-seeking as usual. Try to live within the story – pause and watch as Jesus says what he says – and see what he might have to say to you. Mary? Here we are ready to go and show just how much we love Jesus. Fine, but don’t be surprised if some people grumble. Judas? Here we are worried about counting pennies – and maybe even embarrassed about other people’s emotions – that we get cross when anyone takes Jesus deeply seriously and personally. Maybe there is a little of these, and more, in most of us.
Now listen: we do belong in this picture. And listen again: Jesus is calling us to go forward with him into the rest of the week. He is calling us to see him as the Servant who has put things right by his death; and to see him, therefore, as the one who can set us right individually, and through the work he gives us to do can help to set things right in the world, in the wider community, in the lives of others who need him so much. This is our God, the Servant King; he calls us now to follow Him.
Making the journey, singing the song
This was a message I preached in 2008. I will post each day a small devotional to go along with Holy Week. I hope you enjoy.
Good morning everybody!!
Hey, I am excited about this week. It is Holy Week. Right? It is the week leading up to Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday!
Listen everybody, if it weren’t for Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday, none of us would be here today.
We are going to try to do something a little different for this week. I am going to hopefully take us on a journey this week together. However, the key will be all of our participation.
I will begin our journey today and then each day I will post a little devotional on the web for all of us to read (it will include scripture to read and a little devotional – it should take 15 – 20 minutes each day). Monday, Tuesday….
Friday we will meet in different houses together for fellowship, the devotional for that day and one other thing that I will explain to you later today.
Saturday there will be one more post on the web and then on Resurrection Sunday we will conclude this little journey or should I say begin our big journey.
Can we do this together this week?
I want to tell you a little about a little town in England called Easington Colliery.
The town is situated at the bottom of a hill and looks out across the North Sea.
They say that it is a classic County Durham scene: great beauty all around, gritty industry in the foreground.
The image most people have of this little town is from the film Billy Elliot.
This town is or I should say was a mining town. Easington pit was one of the last to close. Its range was enormous, with seams going out for miles under the North Sea.
In 1984 there was a miners strike and in the wake of that strike this pit’s output increased by leaps and bounds.
But in 1992 the Government announced that it was going to close the pit and on April 30 1993 the last coal was drawn. The pit was then raised to the ground in 1994, and the entire area was grassed over.
The whole area, where once there was a busy and highly productive pit employing thousands, sits there quietly at the east end of Easington Colliery, beside the railway line and looking out to sea. It carries an eerie sense of bereavement, of the heart having been ripped out of the community.
This sense of loss is highlighted by the social effects of removing not only the main employer but also the main source of income from the whole community.
The bustling, lively main street now has several shops boarded up. The old school, substantial and solidly built, is now a large, ugly shell, a target for vandals and a daily reminder to the whole town of what once was and is now no more.
The signs of great disaster all around this town. In the old streets, some houses are derelict, others used as bases for drug dealers, others still inhabited by long-time residents who don’t want to leave their homes of many decades but are in some cases afraid to walk down their own streets.
In most of the calculations of “social deprivation” – drug and alcohol abuse, teenage pregnancy, obesity and sheer poverty itself – Easington comes at or near the bottom of the pile.
The theme of bereavement is not new to this town.
On May 29, 1951 at 4:45 am, just as the night shift was leaving and the early morning shift arriving, there as a large underground explosion. 81 miners and 2 rescue workers lost their lives.
Easington Colliery didn’t have its own church until 1913 and in 1929 the Church of the Ascension was built to replace that church. It stands in a prominent position overlooking the main street.
The church has a rich tradition of standing at the heart of the old mining community, which is symbolized by its own unique cross made out of miner’s pickaxes.
This raises an uncomfortable and tricky question: what is a town like this all about, once the mines have gone? How can the Church play an appropriate part in helping a town at a time like this?
Now, lets get in a plane and fly over the Atlantic and land in Omaha, NE.
We have had our fair share of bereavement also, haven’t we?
The lynchings of 1891 and 1919
Race Riots of 1960’s
Racial Tension and oppression
And each of us can add more and our own losses.
We all know perfectly well the problems and we all know the struggle to find solutions.
And so that brings me to the reason for our journey this week.
I believe that part of the problem may be in the difficulty of moving forwards when all the symbols and local culture and feelings are pointing back.
Part of the point of the process of grief in our loss, painful and horrible though it is, is to enable the person eventually to look about them, draw a deep breath, and make some new starts.
This isn’t just a matter of moving on. It is a matter of looking the past in the face, owning up to the grief which we often hide, and so laying a more solid foundation for what may be to come.
So I have decided that it is worth spending time in facing the multiple bereavements of Omaha and our lives and weaving them together with the story of all stories, the story of Jesus on his way to the cross.
I don’t really know what may happen in our lives as a result or even the next step but our God does.
I am convinced that when we bring our griefs and sorrows within the story of God’s own grief and sorrow, and allow them to be held there, God is able to bring healing to us and new possibilities to our lives. That is, of course, what Good Friday and Easter are all about!
Isaiah 50:4-9a; Philippians 2:5-11; Luke 23:1-49
How many of you like music?
How many of you know much about music?
I grew up in a musical home.
My dad is an accomplished musician. My mom sings.
All of my siblings are musical (play instruments or sing or both).
And I have done a little of both, however have always said I am the least of my family.
It is my parents habit that when they can get us all together (rare occasion) we always so some kind of music thing – quartet, quintet…
I always got stuck with the boring baritone part.
My brother Jon or my dad always got to do the exciting melody line (lead singer) or tenor or they would switch back and forth.
And my other brother would normally sing bass.
My mom and sister on occasion would jump in with the soprano and alto parts.
Kind of fun.
If you know anything about music then you probably know that we as individuals can’t sing more than one note at a time.
The organist can play several notes all together, but left to ourselves we can only manage one; so we need each other to make up the harmony.
Sometimes we sing in two-part harmony and often many things we sing have four part harmony (treble, alto, tenor, bass).
However there can be a lot more – Thomas Tallis, a great composer of the Elizabethan age, once wrote a piece that had no fewer than 40 parts, all different, all harmonizing together.
What we are going to do this week, Starting with today’s message and using each devotional during the week and ending with next weeks message, is learn to sing a song together.
We are going on a journey: it starts today on Palm Sunday, with Jesus riding into Jerusalem on the donkey and the crowds singing “Hosanna”; and we’re going to be following the story of Jesus as he goes on his way to the cross, today in Luke and then for the next 5 days in John.
I would like for us to see this astonishing and moving story as a great tune, a theme which rises and falls and grows and swells and comes to a its climax on Good Friday.
My prayer is that we listen to this tune and find our hearts once again stirred by it.
I want to suggest that the story of Jesus from Palm Sunday to Good Friday is the tune, the melody. And if that is so, then we must ask what is the harmony and how can we learn to sing it together?
So let me help you with the other parts:
The Bass Part – the musical which grounds the whole thing and keeps it solid and firm.
If the story of Jesus from Palm Sunday to Good Friday is the tune (melody), then the bass part is the Old Testament.
We have to remind ourselves that one of the main points the early Church never tired of repeating and exploring was the Old Testament.
When the first Christians produced a summary of the gospel, it began like this: Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures.
What they meant was that Jesus Christ, Israel’s Messiah, and his death was in accordance with the scriptures.
In other words, if you want to know what his death meant, you have to hear the music, to listen not just to the tune which says “Christ died,” but to the harmony which says “and this is what it means.”
So, this week we will listen to the bass part in particular to bass parts found in the book of Isaiah. We will listen to 4 short poems, which stand near to the heart of the Old Testament and draw together a great deal of what it’s saying (Monday, Tues, Wed, Friday).
The main reason we go back to these poems is that all the signs are that Jesus himself had those poems in mind as he went up to Jerusalem for that last journey.
He had plenty of others in his heart and head as well, like the Psalms which spoke of pilgrims going up to Jerusalem singing “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.”
When we take all these scriptures and learn to listen to them while we listen to the main tune, the story of Jesus, we discover that this story wasn’t just the tale of a young man cruelly victimized, unjustly tried and executed, suffering at the hands of callous and brutal authorities and soldiers.
It is definitely all that, but underneath, down in the bass part where the harmony is held secure, it is the story of the love of God the creator for his suffering world. That’s the story the Old Testament tells, the deep, dark tune that forms the bass part for which Jesus himself will then sing.
It is in the Old Testament that we find the story which speaks about a God who made the world, and who loved the world so much that when his human creatures rebelled he called a special people to help him set the world right again.
And when this special people, too, rebelled, he didn’t abandon the plan, but stuck with it, and with them, and promised that he would be with them, with them in person, to see the thing through, to take the weight of that rebellion and its consequences on to himself so that he could se his people right, and so that he could set the world right.
That is the great story of the Old Testament and it tells it most clearly through the poems of Isaiah which will form the bass part of our reflection.
If we are going to understand the tune we sing – the story of Jesus himself – we need to listen to the bass part.
But of course this isn’t just a two part harmony.
The tenor part – this part often tells you whether the chord is major or minor, happy or sad.
The tenor part is the story of our own world and our own community.
Part of the challenge of this week (Holy Week) is that when we hear the tune of Jesus going up to Jerusalem and on to his death, and when we listen to the Old Testament which helps us make sense of it, we don’t use this as a way of escaping from the realities of our world, but rather as the framework within which we can look at our world in a new way.
Listen everybody: our world has become a confused and dangerous and worrying place.
We the church stands in a world that has seen quite dramatic shifts of power, of values, of ways of life.
For the most part much of the people of our world lack a sense of true identity. And we see the affects of this don’t we –
Poverty, crime, drugs, obesity, the breakdown of social fabric, …
Part of the challenge for us during this week is to hear that story – the story of the pain of the world, our world – going on within the music of Jesus’ story and the Old Testament story, like the tenor part between the treble and the bass.
There are several ways that we can do this in a practical way, but I want to ask that each of us do something together this week.
I want you to gather up the pain and grief of our city – the lynchings, the riots, the sexual immorality, the shootings, etc…
I want you to write them down throughout the week and put them in your Bible. Then when you go to the Good Friday gathering I want you to take all that you have written down and we are going to have a place for you to put those in each house (a bucket or something) representing the foot of the cross.
It doesn’t have to be elaborate or written in a great way. We are not going to read them out loud. We are going to bring them to the foot of the cross and leave them there.
Listen: this is the only way we can really and truly deal with them.
We come, like the crowds on Palm Sunday, with all kinds of hopes and frustrations, with sorrows and fears, and we have that glimmer of hope that maybe Jesus will be able to do something about it all. But the only way it’ll happen is by singing that story within the music that’s framed by Jesus’ story and by the Old Testament.
When you bring things to the foot of the cross, the music Jesus’ death transforms them in ways we can’t predict or explain.
There is one more part:
Alto – sometimes a bit shy, sometimes doesn’t seem very exciting, but the harmony isn’t complete without it, and sometimes it has spectacular things to do.
This is where it gets a little more personal because this is your part.
As we listen to the main tune, Jesus on his journey to Jerusalem and Calvary; as we listen to the bass part, the Old Testament which grounds the whole thing; as we reflect on the tenor part, the story of our whole community; so we have to bring our own story and learn to sing it within this total music.
Listen: the world is giving us other music and telling us we have to keep in harmony with that.
We are going to make this journey with Jesus this week because we want to learn again how to keep in with his song, with his story.
This is often difficult and painful. We may be happy one minute like the crowds on Palm Sunday in the bible, and then angry the next minute like the Good Friday crowds. We may be sad or puzzled or confused or fearful or whatever.
But this is the week, above all, when we sing our own private song and we try and get it in harmony again with Jesus’ song, with God’s song.
That is the journey that we will make together this week – me and you.
As we learn to sing his song, to listen for the full harmony, and to supply the part in the middle which only we can know and sing, my prayer is that we will find ourselves surrounded, enfolded, welcomed, challenged, healed and transformed by a love we can find nowhere else: the love of Jesus himself, embodying the love of the one try God.
Letter from Jimmy Seibert
Dear family and friends,
God reigns sovereign in all the earth! What an incredible time in world history to be alive! God is stirring the nations that His glory might be seen in and through the men & women of God who give themselves wholly to Him.
I am as encouraged as I’ve been in years at God’s great work in our city, our nation, and the nations of the world. In the midst of the shaking and of the challenges of life, God is putting fresh joy, power, faith, and resolve into the hearts of His people to believe that He is our stronghold, our tower of refuge, our strength, our builder & re-builder, our truth, our love, and our life, and His plans will not be thwarted! As we’ve said for years, our passion is for Jesus and His purposes in the earth and as we give ourselves to these basic truths, we can’t help but be right in the middle of God’s will on a moment-by-moment, season-by-season basis.
To break it down again:
Passion for Jesus – God is revealing joy, love, worship, strength, the Father’s heart, and His love for us in a thousand different ways. God is at work and His spirit is being poured out abundantly. Jump in the river of His love and let Him overwhelm you today! Enter into the joy, strength, and grace of the Lord and in your pain, cry out for grace because grace is abounding, overflowing, and abundant for those who call on His name. Our lives will never be perfect this side of “the fall” but they can be connected to the perfect One who loves us passionately. His purposes in the earth – Jesus’ mission on earth was to seek and save lost people. He didn’t come to condemn the world but to save it. 1 John 2:2 says, “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” His purpose and plan is to pour out His great love on the earth, and this is our mission as well. When that mission is clear and at the forefront of the way we live our lives (out of His great love), then everything else takes care of itself. When the mission is clear, things in life take their proper place. When the mission is clear, the way we do business reflects His glory. When the mission is clear, our family life comes into line. When the mission is clear, the way we love one another becomes right. When the mission is clear, the church comes alive because we know that we’re not simply here just trying to survive but that we’re being healed, restored, strengthened, and empowered to be a testimony of His glory in the earth. God’s mission couldn’t be clearer for us! For those of us at ACC Waco we have been charged to reach out with the body of Christ to the 150,000 unchurched in our area, to give them the opportunity to experience His great love & grace. Whatever city you are in today, God has called you to do the same thing there. We are called nationally to plant churches and to continue establishing beachheads of the grace of God in every state, to empower churches in every city to be the hands & feet of Jesus in order to distribute the grace of God. Internationally we are called to be a part of reaching the 1.5 billion who still have never heard the name of Jesus. It is not just one dimensional, but it’s from our “Jerusalem” to the uttermost parts of the earth (Acts 1:8).
So, my encouragement today is that your life matters! As you go to school or work, as you work through the challenges & the issues of this life, know that you have a God that loves you passionately and wants you to abandon your heart to Him. Your mission & purpose is to be His hands and feet; not out of your perfection but rather out of your weakness so that you may proclaim how you have found God in that journey. Whatever your part is to play in this picture, know that it matters! Every person who knows Jesus is part of this journey in one way or another and I’m overjoyed to be part of a body of people that is committed to our great destiny: That all may hear and all may know in this generation.
The coming of the Lord is possible in our lifetime! The earth is shaking and God is shouting for us to rise up and love Him with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to give our lives away for our neighbors just as we would want the love of God poured out on us.
Laboring with you until the glory of God is seen in all the earth,