Luke tells us that when Peter denied Jesus he went out “weeping bitterly.” But when he was flogged by the council he went out rejoicing, and even though he had been ordered not to speak in the name of Jesus, he found that he couldn’t stop talking about him. This is what I’m telling you: the power that raised Jesus from the dead is the same power that turned Peter into a fearless witness. It is both life-giving and life-changing. It is loose in the world, and available to us, and that’s good news.
Here’s the reason you want to let go of the good, the bad, and the ugly from your past. Imagine your soul as a tank with a certain capacity for the Spirit of God. Imagine that tank being so full of past successes and failures and traumas that little room remains for the Spirit of the resurrected Christ. Do you see the problem? There is so much of God you will never know, so much of Christ’s power you will never experience until you stop clinging to the past.
“Who is it you want?” [Jesus] asked, reminiscent of the first question he asked the first disciples who followed him. “Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “I am he,” Jesus said, again revealing himself to be the incarnate Logos of God. Upon hearing this, the soldiers fell to the ground, the conventional response when in the presence of a deity. It seems the authorities were prepared to handle anything that night, except the honesty, courage and boldness of Jesus.
“Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.’” Pilate is coming to Jerusalem from the west, and Jesus plans to enter it from the east. Both are coming by means of parade, and eventually they will collide, if not on Sunday certainly by Friday. Pilate enters the city in an obvious sign of power, Jesus does so in the kind of humility that is marked by a young colt. The contrast is obvious and immediate, and everyone knows who will win.
The Greek word for “rubbish” is skubala and in common usage referred to street-sweepings or table scraps or even excrement. It is, as you might guess, a term of contempt. At what point do our life’s essentials become rubbish, for the birds, excrement? Maybe when we finally realize what it means to follow the One who gave up everything that we might have the “surpassing value of knowing” him. Perhaps it is time for us to think upon such things.
Most of us live so much of our existence in the valley of ordinary life we don’t know much about what it means to occasionally venture up on the mountaintop. After all, we’re ordinary people living ordinary lives. So how do “ordinary folks” approach this extraordinary story of Jesus who stands on the top of a windy mountain and is a part of a very small audience to a special effects show that not even Hollywood could duplicate?
For the moment at least I want you to set aside what you have heard about him from your pastors and Sunday school teachers through the years; set aside what you have heard from radio preachers and television evangelists; set aside what you have learned from scholars and seminary professors. For the next few minutes we are going to let Jesus speak for himself, and all I want you to do—all God wants you to do—is listen.
In the midst of the darkness, Advent declares that God has come. Christ is born. The Holy Spirit is moving. So never, never give in.
The message of God’s word long before we get to Jesus’ death is that our lives really are all about grace, all about mercy. That we exist at all is a gift of grace. That we have air to breathe, and lungs to breathe with is a work of God’s mercy. Every moment of every day is grounded God’s love and grace.
We don’t conjure up our own peace. It is a by-product of a vital relationship with this babe from Bethlehem who is uniquely qualified to give us security when life is falling apart at the seams.
Most of us have tried to love others on our own strength and learned the hard way it doesn’t work. What does work is meditating on God’s love for us and deepening our relationship with God to the point that God’s love simply flows through us as we interact with other people.
The magi moved by faith and not by sight, confident that they were being guided by a mysterious Wisdom they could trust but not explain. People on journey with Jesus may not be guided by a star in the sky. But they are attentive to what God says through the scripture, and through faith communities, and through the witness of the Holy Spirit. And they are willing to move into unknown territory by faith rather than sight.
Jesus could have used another animal analogy as he called Peter to lead. He could have said, “Rule the roost,” but he didn’t. “Tend the sheep,” he says. Tend them willingly and lovingly, not out of obligation or a sense of haughtiness. Tend their wounds, listen to their stories, hold their hands and hug them in times of need. Pray for them. Pray for your church. Lead by example before you ask anyone else to do anything. Put aside your pride, and lead out of humility.
We need to open our eyes and see that we are surrounded by a sea of Perfect Love. We Baptists have spent lots of time and energy haggling over the meaning of water baptism. We treasure water baptism, and well we should. But along the way we may have missed the even larger point that from the moment we were conceived we were baptized in God’s love.
There ought to be an artesian well of joy and celebration bubbling up inside of every Christ-follower, an aroma of extravagance and abundance around every Christian church. And the fact is, the lives of many Christians and Christian churches appear to be more like stale grape juice than top-of-the-line wine. Jesus is the fountain of life that can give you life, life to the brim.
Indeed … that seems to be exactly how God does it when God calls us to something no matter who we are, no matter how old or how young we might be … no matter. It’s all up to the one calling us.
What do you think Jesus wanted his disciples to know that evening before they left that room and went to Gethsemane? I think Jesus wanted the disciples to know that life as they knew it was about to change quickly and radically. Beyond this, he wanted them to know his crucifixion would not be the end of him and their desertion would not be the end of their relationship. By God’s grace, death would not have the final word in his life, and their worst mistake would not severe their ties. There would be more for all of them.
We have to look at our ministry in new and different ways, and it may require that we consider doing it in ways that we’ve not thought of before. But there will always be one constant. If we do not measure everything we do – everything – with the plumb line of love, nothing else will square.
The greatest gifts of all come from God – the giver of all good things. And the two good gifts today are joy, which no one can take away from you, and peace despite tribulation, because He has overcome the world.
It is all about grace. God loves us because he chooses to. God extends his mercy and forgiveness to us, not because we deserve it, but because that is the way his heart is. God loves us still because of his grace.
The church in Corinth was running a three ring circus in worship. And Paul tells them to stop it. It was a circus that was infiltrated with the gift of speaking in tongues, speaking a Holy Ghost language.
You see, when the Spirit breaks free of our boundaries and our superficial isms that only separate and divide God’s children, the Spirit can move freely like the wind and blow where it wishes bestowing enough power to put flesh on a pile of dry bones. Do you believe that?
We mark sacred time whenever we look up from our troubles and sense the sure and steady hand of God who stays with us in our seasons of trouble. We mark sacred time as we travel the journey between our coming from God and our going to God.
Jesus cares for you and, just as he knew what the worshipers in his time needed, he knows what you need. I may not know nor does the person next to you, but Jesus does. Your welfare is of great concern to him.
He knows what makes your heart ache and how painful it is. He knows what you are worried about and how much sleep you have lost. He knows what temptation is nipping at your heels and how difficult it is for you to resist. He knows who it is in your family that you are most concerned about and how troubling it is for you. He knows what questions and doubts are attacking your faith and how crippling they are. He knows about the heavy loads you are carrying and how tired you have become. He knows how devastating guilt is and how you yearn to be forgiven. He knows how hard it is to make ends meet in a severe recession, especially if you have lost your job.
As we begin our journey of Lent in 2009, I would ask you to adopt the following spiritual practice—every time you notice a rainbow in the sky after a spring shower, don’t just remember Noah and the ark. Remember Jesus and his cross. Remember the rainbow that always shines through the rain, the grace that always shines through the cross, and the love that will never, ever let you go.
We’re not transformed by Christ so much by soft experiences on sunny days. Christ transforms us more on those dark difficult days of suffering when we carry our crosses and learn first hand that the only power that can save us is the power of God. I don’t know what inner crosses of suffering, and abuse, and rejection you bear. But God does. And if you will invite God into those hard places and trust him with your very life, your soul will be transformed, and one day the darkness of crucifixion will make way for the dawn of resurrection in your soul.
So if the silence of God is the question, what’s the answer? How does the psalmist come around to speak into the darkness with an answer in faith? Again, he calls on sacred memory to answer the question. “All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord,” he says. “And all the families of the nations shall worship before him” (Psalm 22:27, NRSV). We speak to the fears of the darkness by calling forth sacred memory and letting the power of the resurrection shine the light of God’s great faithfulness into the darkness of our fears. How is it we practice the spiritual art of re-membering? We do it in faithful re-enactments that take us back to those places where God was with us, active in history bringing about our redemption.
That’s how many of us have come to faith. We were lost and heard the word of God and God’s law came to us as a guide leading us to God. The poet-psalmist is aware of the power of God’s law and has a deep reverence for it. Upon reflection, the psalmist takes it all in and feels as if the law of God is such a deep symbol of God’s love and mercy, it’s as if it’s sweeter than honey. It’s more desired than gold to be loved by God so richly.
Let us receive the blessing of the good days and let us not fail to receive the blessing of the broken ones. My parents did not always bless in the way I wanted or needed, but they blessed as they were able and if I pay attention, I can see it and receive it.
At General Board meetings for American Baptist Churches last week, General Secretary Roy Medley said, “There may be a global recession in the economy, but there is no global recession of human need.” Economic distress gives us an opportunity to recognize the true blessings of our lives, the abundance of them, and to become the blessings for others that bring good and God into their lives, into this world.
We must not travel alone on our spiritual journey. We need to accept invitations from our Lord and others to travel with them and we need to invite others along our way to join us. This sense of community is empowering.
Perhaps the first step you need to make this morning is to accept Jesus’ invitation to follow him. Will you do that? By faith, will you open your heart and life to him?
How do you measure a church’s success? What really counts when it comes to being a church?
The answer to eternal life, according to Jesus in this instance, is going and doing. And this is not an isolated instance in the New Testament. We are to have faith in Christ. It is our faith, and our faith alone in Christ that saves us. And yet, while it is our faith that saves us, it is only the kind of faith, James reminds us, that goes and does that can grant us eternal life. We must have the kind of faith that has weary feet from well-doing. Faith like that of the Samaritan in this passage is “doing faith.”
There is no time more tempting than today to withhold your tithe, withhold your charity, withhold your gifts. But in reality, Jesus says that even in the midst of financial worry, be willing to give as God gives to you.
Everyone in this room still has much about which we should be thankful. It does remind us of the Philippian passage where he says we need to stop being anxious. We need to stop worrying . We need to go to God in prayer. And how does he say to go? With thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
But if we’re to be the compassionate community molded by the way of our Leader, we must look over the wall of the community to see who’s outside the gates, banished there by the people of God, unable to get in other than to get on their knees to beg. There’s a risk in loving the outsiders to be sure. But if we’re the people of faith we claim to be, that’s the kind of love we must share.
You may be wondering what this has to do with you. You’re healthy, or at least reasonably so. Thank God for modern medicine, you say. And whether Jesus was moved with pity or was angry, this has little or nothing to do with you. Well, as you might guess, I would encourage you to think again. Why? Because of what Jesus does next. He commands that this man tell no one of what has happened. Of course, that is not what the man does. He goes around telling anybody who will listen.
Sermon delivered by David Hughes, pastor of First Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, N.C., on Jan. 11, 2009.