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Showing posts with label Easter. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Easter. Show all posts

Thursday, April 16, 2020

I AM the Way, the Truth, and the Life

Introduction
The glorious Good News of Easter is that Jesus rose from the grave.  The evil powers of the world threw everything they had at Jesus.  The arrested him, tried him in the middle of the night before a kangaroo court, tortured him, and crucified him.  Judas betrayed him.  His disciples deserted him. Peter denied him.  They threw him in a tomb and thought it was over.  The darkness came.  It lasted all through Saturday and into the early hours of Sunday morning.  But then, then the Light of the World rose up out of the grave!  The shadows were shot through with Light.  Darkness can never over come the Light!  Jesus said, I AM the resurrection and the Life. And he proved it.  Lots of people talk a big talk, but Jesus is the only one who said the big words, "I am the resurrection and the life..." and then also backed those words up with action.

Christians are an Easter people.   Just as Jesus overcame the grave, Christians find hope and resurrection in all circumstances (with God’s help). Though this is not the way we would choose to celebrate Easter, we celebrate it anyway.  And it is a celebration!  Jesus is alive!  Christians are an Easter people and we always find a way to have hope, and life, and joy and peace when none of these things should be possible.  And it drives the Devil crazy!

For nearly 2,000 years, people have speculated about Jesus.  Who was he?  How did he have such a tremendous impact on our world?  How can the people who call themselves by His name be so determined and so able to rise up above the disasters of this life?  How can following this man--a man who was not educated or powerful or wealthy or of a high standing--lead people to find light in the darkest times?  Who is this man and how is he still relevant today?

And so people in our world, non-believers--have try to rationalize it or explain Jesus and the Christian movement away.  They have speculated this or that about Jesus.  However, if we really want to know about Jesus, perhaps we should listen to what he said about himself.  He told us exactly who he is and why he came and why it matters.  Using seven statements in the Gospel of John, Jesus said:

I AM the bread of life.  In other words, I am the only one who truly satisfies our soul.
I AM the light of the world, the one who overcomes darkness.
I AM the gate, the only way into God’s sheltering presence.
I AM the good shepherd, the one who knows everything about us and takes care of us and even lays              down his life for us.
I AM the true vine, the One who makes our life fruitful and sweet.
I AM the resurrection and the life, the one who rises from the grave and gives us eternal life.

Today, I want to share the last “I Am” statement Jesus made.  And this is a very important message to which you need to listen and take to heart.

John 14:6
Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me."

Living in a Pluralistic Society
First, I want to look at the last part of Jesus’ statement, because we must come to grips with this first.  It is very important.  Jesus said, “No one can come to the Father except thought me.”  That is a hard statement for many to accept. 

America is very diverse and that can be a very good thing.  I love food, all kinds of food, and I am grateful in America I can enjoy Mexican food, Italian food, Chinese food, Japanese food, and many other varieties as well.  (You can tell I love to eat!)  And it's not just food.  We have benefited greatly in our country from a variety of ideas, points of view, backgrounds and histories, and philosophies.  And since there is so much variety, we have learned to be a tolerant people who are gracious and allow people the freedom to think and act and even worship in a variety of ways.  This is all good and we should cherish it.
However, along with diversity there comes a danger.  There is the danger that we begin to think, in our quest for tolerance, that all ways are equal and that truth is relative.  In our quest to to get along with everyone, we may begin to believe that everyone is right about everything (for to say someone is wrong would be to offend them or to say some ideas are wrong would be "intolerant").  Is the truth relative?  Does every individual get to decide for themselves what is truly true?  Can my Truth be different from your truth?

In his classic distopian book 1984, George Orwell’s tackled this question when the lead character, Winston Smith, is arrested for thought crimes by the thought police.  The interrogate, O'Brien, tells Wintson Big Brother controls what is true.  Winston argues that 2+2=4.  This is true.  It cannot change.  O'Brien says disagrees.  He argues that if Big Brother says 2+2=5 and society gets enough people to believe it then that becomes the truth.  What do you think?  Does can the truth be changed?  Can 2+2 eve equal 5?

With some things there are is more than one way to skin a cat.  However, not with your soul, not with God, not with the purpose of life, and not with eternity.  Jesus is either the only way, the only truth, and the only life or he is not.  You must decide.  Regardless of whether you accept it or not, Jesus is still the way, the truth, and the life.  Your assent or disagreement to this truth does not change the truth of it in any way.  You do not determine the truth about Jesus.  He is the Great I Am.  He is who He is regardless of what you believe.

Jesus is The Way
You cannot be a Christian by default.  What I mean is, you are not a Christian merely because you were born into to a Christian family or live in a Christian community.  Nor is being a Christian simply adhering to a certain set of beliefs.  Following Jesus is a lifestyle. 

In the very beginning, Christians were not even called Christians.  The term “Christian” was not used until later.  At first, people who followed Jesus and believed he rose from the grave were called members of “The Way” because Jesus said, “I Am the Way…”

The Christian life is a life of action.  Jesus and His disciples lived the Kingdom of God.  Everywhere they went, the brought healing and hope and love.  This is what it means to be a Christian.  We live the way Jesus lived.  We love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and we love our neighbor as our selves.  We listen to guidance of God’s Holy Spirit and do and say as He leads.  Just as Jesus only did what the Father told him to do, so we seek only to follow God’s will for us as well.

And this is the way it is supposed to be.  It brings God’s perfect Kingdom to earth, more and more.  And as we live this way we find healing and hope and incredible fulfillment because it is the very purpose for which we were created.  There cannot be another way.  Jesus is the way.

Jesus is The Truth
Now it could be possible to do all the right things, but to do them for the wrong reasons.  There are many in our world today who have accepted that you are to be kind and loving and a good neighbor and a good citizen.  There are many who even volunteer or give generously to charity.  Some do all these things without believing in Jesus.  (Every person—whether Christian or not—should be eternally grateful that Jesus so fully ushered in the principle of “Love Thy Neighbor” that even those who are not Christian still accept this beautiful Christian principle as true.)

However, it is a dangerous thing to divorce the Way of Christian living from the Truth of Christian living.  For when you separate the Way from the Truth (the way you live from the reason why you live that way), your best virtues slowly erode away.  It is not long before you start asking, “Well, why should I care if COVID 19 kills some old person or someone with asthma or diabetes? I am young and healthy and the coronavirus won’t hurt me.  Why do I need to practice social distancing?”  Or you might think, “Why should I obey the law if I’m cunning enough to break the law and get away with it and not get caught, I will have an advantage over everyone else and I will get ahead.”  I mean, if there is no God and we are just animals and it’s just survival of the fittest, why should a person accept the foolish notions Jesus taught—things like “love your neighbor as yourself” and “the greatest love is shown when someone lays down their life for someone else”.  If you don’t accept that Jesus is the Truth, then why would you follow Jesus' way?  It might all start to look like just a bunch of foolish nonsense.

Jesus is the Truth!  His truths have been admired by people from all religions throughout all time.  These are not the words of a madman or liar.  They are the words of someone more divinely inspired than any  spiritual leader who ever lived.  Could it be, they are the words of the Son of God himself.  That is what Jesus claimed.  He said, "The Father and I are one." (John 10:30)

So if you accept that Jesus us the way, you must also search to know the Truth He taught and the Truth He still want to teach you today.  “And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32), for it is a tremendously powerful force when you live the right way and you know why you are living that way.

Jesus is The Life
For those who follow the way of Jesus because of the Truth of Jesus, Jesus is also the life.   He is eternal life, for when these bodies we inhabit eventually wear out, we will be given a new body and live in a new heaven and a new earth God will create.  Just as Jesus rose from the grave, we will rise too!  It is an amazing and liberating understanding that there is more to life than just the few years we live in this world.  There is life after death!  And the promise of God is that all the wrongs and decay and suffering and sickness and sorrow of life in this broken world will be wiped away.  What a wonderful, glorious hope we have!

However, we are not just waiting to die so we can go to heaven and start real life. No. When Jesus is the way and the truth to us, he is also the life right now.  We begin the new life as soon as we start tof follow the way and truth of Christ.  And to the extend we surrender to His Truth and live out HIs Way, we begin to experience the abundant life He has planned, right now.  There is nothing more fulfilling in this life than living out the ways and truths of Jesus, for that is the purpose for which our Creator designed us.

Invitation
I want to invite you to claim Jesus as the way, the truth, and the life for you right now.  Would you allow me to pray for you?

Dear Father in Heaven, please help the person reading this today to claim Jesus as their Way, their Truth, and their Life right now.  Help them to surrender all that they are and all that they have to You right now.  Forgive them of their sins.  Save their soul.  Renew a right heart with in them--one that truly desires to follow You completely and obediently.  Help them to know how much You love them so they will love You completely and seek to love their neighbor.  For I ask these things in Jesus name. Amen.

Closing
Cling to the hope of the resurrection.  Even in darkness, even in social isolation, even with fears and anxiety looming around, even in sickness, even in the face of death itself, the glorious hope of Easter is that Jesus rose from the grave and we will rise with Him!

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

I AM the Resurrection and the Life


Introduction
I preached this message at the Easter Sunrise Service last Sunday.  It was early in the morning and the sun was just rising.  It is the first service of Easter.  It recalls the dawning realization for the first disciples that the crucified Jesus was no longer dead or in the grave. He is risen and alive.  Such news is so wonderful and extraordinary, it takes time to comprehend.

John 20:1-16
Early on Sunday morning, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance. She ran and found Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved. She said, “They have taken the Lord’s body out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”
Peter and the other disciple started out for the tomb. They were both running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He stooped and looked in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he didn’t go in. Then Simon Peter arrived and went inside. He also noticed the linen wrappings lying there, while the cloth that had covered Jesus’ head was folded up and lying apart from the other wrappings. Then the disciple who had reached the tomb first also went in, and he saw and believed— for until then they still hadn’t understood the Scriptures that said Jesus must rise from the dead. 10 Then they went home.
11 Mary was standing outside the tomb crying, and as she wept, she stooped and looked in. 12 She saw two white-robed angels, one sitting at the head and the other at the foot of the place where the body of Jesus had been lying. 13 “Dear woman, why are you crying?” the angels asked her.
“Because they have taken away my Lord,” she replied, “and I don’t know where they have put him.”
14 She turned to leave and saw someone standing there. It was Jesus, but she didn’t recognize him. 15 “Dear woman, why are you crying?” Jesus asked her. “Who are you looking for?”
She thought he was the gardener. “Sir,” she said, “if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and get him.”
16 “Mary!” Jesus said.
She turned to him and cried out, “Rabboni!” (which is Hebrew for “Teacher”).

A Sunrise Moment
Just as the sunrise dawns new light on the day, Mary finally saw the light the moment the resurrected Jesus spoke her name.  It took a few moments.  No wonder.  No one expects to visit a grave to remember and honor the dead and then find they are not dead, but alive.  Mary is overwhelmed with grief and depression.  All she can think of is how they murdered her beloved Lord.  She assumes the someone has taken the body.  She doesn't notice the "men" she speaks to inside the tomb are angels.  She assumes the man she sees outside the tomb is the gardener; she doesn't realize it is Jesus.  That is, not until he speaks her name.  But in speaking her name, Jesus, the Light of the world, sheds light on the darkness that engulfs Mary.  She immediately recognized her Lord, Jesus.

Do you remember the words Jesus spoke to Mary’s sister, Martha, when Jesus raised their brother, Lazarus, from the tomb?  Jesus did not come when Lazarus was sick and Lazarus died.  When Jesus finally arrived and Mary and Martha were grieving, they said, "If only you had come, Lazarus would not have died."  But Jesus consoled them, saying in John 11:25, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying."  Let's look at his word to themclosely.

I AM… 
These are the same words God said to Moses when Moses asked to know God's name.  God told Moses from a burning bush, "Tell the people 'I Am' has sent you.  This is the name you shall know me by for all generations."  The name is mysterious, but recalls the unchanging character of God.  He is who He is.  He is not defined by our beliefs or doubts.  He simply is and He is the one who defines reality.  And Jesus says, "I AM".  Jesus is God.

I AM the Resurrection… 
Because Jesus is God and rose from the grave, we have the hope of eternal life.  John 3:16, "For God so loved the world that he gave his only son so that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."  Just as Jesus rose from the grave, we too can rise to new life--even after this life is over.

I AM the Resurrection and the Life… 
However, we aren’t just waiting to die so that we can start our real life.  When we follow Jesus as Lord, we start real life now.  For we were created by God to worship and serve God.  And we live fully to the extent we do that in this life, even as we long for and hope for the Day we shall be set free from this broken world to live eternally with God when He creates a new heaven and a new earth.  You are never more fully alive than when you live your divine purpose. 

Anyone who believes… 
We must believe in Jesus and trust him.  Our resurrection and life does not happen automatically.  It happens as a result of God's grace and our faith.  Therefore, trust in Christ and start living today and hoping for resurrection.

Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying… 
 We all die, but there is eternal life for those believe in Christ. However, there is a second sense to what Jesus is says. Remember, Jesus also said, "If anyone wants to follow me, he must take up his cross every day and follow me." And he also said, "If you cling to your life, you will lose it. But if you lay down your life, you will truly live." So, we must deny ourselves and let our own selfish ambitions die so that we can come alive in Christ and begin to truly live. Christ's way is infinitely better than you own plans. You must trust him and follow him, even when it means dying.

Conclusion
So, let’s cling to the hope we have because of the resurrection because Jesus said, "I AM the resurrection and the life."




Thursday, April 5, 2018

The Veil is Torn in Two - The Truth As Far As I Can Tell...

The Truth As Far As I Can Tell…

Mark 15:37-39 – Then Jesus uttered another loud cry and breathed his last. And the  curtain in the sanctuary of the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.  When the Roman officer who stood facing him saw how he had died, he exclaimed, “This man truly was the Son of God

Can you imagine being a Jewish priest in the Temple on the day Jesus died on the cross?  I think it would make an interesting story told from their perspective.  One day, you’re tending the Holy Temple and the curtain separating the Holiest Place in the Temple—the place that was supposed to be the earthly dwelling place of God’s presence—is torn in two, from top to bottom.  The curtain (also called a veil) symbolized how people were separated from God by sin.  Only the High Priest was allowed to pass beyond the veil, and only once a year on the Day of Atonement to make a sacrifice for humanity’s sin.  Can you imagine being a priest in the Temple and seeing that sacred parament mysteriously torn completely in two before your eyes?

The significance is this.  Sin no longer has to separate us from God.  Jesus was the perfect Lamb of God and his sacrifice on the cross atoned completely for our sins.  Before Jesus, no one could go fully into the presence of God; only the high priest, once a year after very carefully spiritual preparation, could go in to make a sacrifice and beg God for mercy and forgiveness.  But then Jesus died on the cross and paid the price for our sins in full!  Now, there is absolutely no need for a curtain to separate us anymore! 

Everything has changed.  Gone are the days of spiritual elitism where only a select few are allowed access to God.  Everyone can come to Him now.  In fact, the Bible says everyone who trusts and follows Jesus is a holy priest.  We don’t have to tip toe around God, fearful that He may strike us dead for the least transgression.  Now, grace abounds and we can relate to God as Jesus did—as children with a gracious and loving father. 

There is power in the blood of Christ to forgive all our sins.  His Holy Spirit no longer resides in a temple behind a current.  Now His Spirit resides in us!  We are His Holy Temple and He empowers us to live holy lives where we love God and love our neighbor.  Isn’t that amazing?  I think it is and I think it changes everything!  Of course, I’m no expert and I certainly don’t claim to know everything, but that’s the Truth as far as I can tell…

Remember, God loves you and so do I!

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Good Friday & Holy Saturday - Between Two Theives

Everybody Has Trash
            I had the privileged of visiting many unique places--Guatemala, El Salvador, and even Israel. When you travel, you usually want to visit the most interesting, notable places in a region--the Grand Canyon, the Eiffel Tower, etc. Nobody I know makes a point to visit the cities landfill. And yet, every place in the world--and this is true for people from all places and times--have a place where people take their trash. Even archaeologists studying pre-historic people often find the villages trash pile (which can be quite a find, with significant historic value). It doesn't matter who you are or where you live, we all have trash we just want to get rid of.
            And it is in just such a place that the religious leaders of Jesus' day, with the help of the Romans, took Jesus, the Son of God, the savior of the world, the Lord of lords and king of kings, to be crucified--discarded as unwanted, useless junk. They just wanted to get rid of him. And this was the ultimate insult. It was as if they said, you are no more to us than useless waste, trash to be thrown away on the garbage heap. And he was crucified between 2 criminals.

Luke 23:32-43
32 Two others, both criminals, were led out to be executed with him. 33 When they came to a place called The Skull, they nailed him to the cross. And the criminals were also crucified—one on his right and one on his left.
34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” And the soldiers gambled for his clothes by throwing dice.

35 The crowd watched and the leaders scoffed. “He saved others,” they said, “let him save himself if he is really God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.” 36 The soldiers mocked him, too, by offering him a drink of sour wine. 37 They called out to him, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 38 A sign was fastened above him with these words: “This is the King of the Jews.”

39 One of the criminals hanging beside him scoffed, “So you’re the Messiah, are you? Prove it by saving yourself—and us, too, while you’re at it!”

40 But the other criminal protested, “Don’t you fear God even when you have been sentenced to die? 41 We deserve to die for our crimes, but this man hasn’t done anything wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.”

43 And Jesus replied, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.”


Joseph, the Old Testament Connection
            There is another story from way back in Genesis that has some striking parallels to the crucifixion of Christ. The whole story is in Genesis 40.  Let me summarize it.  There was a Hebrew man named Jacob who had twelve sons.  His favorite was named Joseph and his favoritism made all his other sons extremely jealous.  When he gave his son a very nice, multi-colored coat, it was the last straw for Joseph's brothers.  When they got the chance, they beat him up, stole his coat, and sold Joseph into slavery in Egypt.  Joseph became a slave in a man named Potiphar's house.  And since Joseph was a bright young man and had the favor of God, Joseph did well in Potiphar's house and soon earned his trust and a high position in the household.  But Potiphar's wife was very attracted to Joseph.  She kept hitting on him, even though Joseph--because of his integrity--never gave into her advances.  One day, frustrated yet again by Joseph's refusing to sleep with her, Potiphar's wife accused Joseph of trying to rape her.  Potiphar was livid and had Joseph thrown in the dungeon.
            In prison, Joseph lived with two criminals.  One was Pharaoh's former cupbearer.  The other was Pharaoh's former chief baker.  The baker and the cupbearer was very disturbed one morning because they'd both had weird dreams.  Since Joseph had the gift of God to interpret dreams he listened and then explained what they meant.  To the cupbearer he said, "In three days, you will be brought before Pharaoh and he will forgive you and restore you to your former position."  To the baker he said, "You will also be brought before Pharaoh on the third day, but he will condemn and execute you."  And it happened just as Joseph predicted.
            Is there some connection here between the bread and the wine of holy communion (Jesus body and blood) and these two figures from the Joseph story in Genesis chapter 40?  A cup bearer carries a cup of wine and the chief Baker makes bread?
            There are many similarities between these two stories.  Joseph lived in prison with these two criminals. Jesus hung on a cross between two criminals.  Joseph was to become the savior of Egypt saving them from a devastating famine.  Jesus was the Savior of the world. saving us from sin and death for eternal life.  Joseph is famous for his fabulous coat of many colors.  Jesus also had a famous robe that had no seams, but was one continues piece of fabric.  It was so precious, the soldiers didn't want to cut it in pieces, so they gambled to see who would win the whole thing in one piece.  Perhaps most striking:  both the cup bearer and the chief baker found out their fates on the third day.  Jesus also rose from the grave on the third day.            One of the criminals on the cross beside Jesus mocks him.  We never sense any remorse for his crimes.  On the contrary, he wants to make a bargain to manipulate the Son of God (if that is indeed what Jesus is) to get him out of facing the consequences of his sins.  Presumably, this unrepentant criminal reaped the eternal punishment he deserved--similar to the fate of the chief baker in Joseph's story.  The other criminal on a cross beside Jesus was remorseful.  He didn't try to get out of his fate--as terrible and painful as it was.  Instead, he simply said to Jesus in verse 42, “...remember me when you come into your Kingdom.”  And Jesus replied (in verse 43), “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.” 

Will Jesus Really Remember?
            It is this last exchange that really caught my attention the most.  “Jesus, remember me…”  That’s exactly what Joseph said to the cup bearer when he was released from prison:  “Please remember me and mention me to Pharaoh…”  You will remember that the cupbearer in Joseph's story forgot all about Joseph.  For two years, he forgot about Joseph until Pharaoh had a strange dream and needed someone to interpret it.            Well, these are all fascinating connections, but I'm a pastor and I love studying God's Word. You can call me a Bible nerd or a church nerd.  Of course I love these neat little tidbits.  But do they make any difference at all to you, to your life? Is there any significance for practical life? Yes! I think there's quite a bit of significance.  You see, we are very much like the criminals on the cross!
            Some among us want to make a bargain with Jesus.   If he is who he really says he is, why doesn’t he do something? I mean there are things in this life that just plain suck. Please forgive my language.  There is suffering and death.  People get depressed and kill themselves (or they go crazy and shoot up some school full of kids).
            A good friend of mine, only 56, a United Methodist pastor, Gene Sheffield, got cancer four years ago.  He died last Sunday.  He leaves behind a wife, a daughter, a son, a mother, and many friends and people like me who loved him.  What's worse, I can't be at his funeral because it's at the exact same time as my church's Easter Egg hunt (of which I'm in charge).  And it's not that I don't want to be at the Easter Egg hunt; I do.  I love seeing all the kids have fun and learn about Jesus.  And I love that it's one of the big outreach events we do for our community.  But I'd also like to be at Gene's memorial service--to remember and honor him and be there for his family and my other friends who knew and loved Gene.  But I can't be in two places at once.  So I had to choose.  And I chose the Easter Egg hunt.  And I wish I didn't have to choose.  Really, I wish friends and fathers and husbands didn't have to die too early because of cancer.  But that's the messed up world we live in.
            In a figurative way, we're all hanging on a cross suffering.  And sometimes I want to look over at Jesus cry out, "So you're the Son of God right? You have the power to save us and yourself. Why don't you do something?"             Or maybe, with God's help, we realize it's not his fault.  All this mess is our fault.   Jesus is innocent.  It's not God's fault this mess we're in.  God created the world perfect and us in it.  And in the Garden of Eden, Genesis tells us we walked and talked with God in perfect harmony.  And God gave us only one rule to prove our love was true--don't eat the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  And Adam and Eve ate it.  And we are all guilty.  For if we're honest, we've all done things we should not do or we have not done things we should.  That is sin.  And that is what makes our world broken.  We’re the ones who sinned and Jesus is innocent.  And maybe, with God's help, were able to say, “Your innocent and we're guilty and just getting what we deserve…”  And maybe, with God's help, we fall on her knees before God and say, “Lord forgive me! Jesus please remember me when you come into your Kingdom!”            This is what the remorseful criminal did as he cried out to Jesus from his cross. “Jesus remember me when you come into your Kingdom.”  It wasn't long after that that Jesus died.   It doesn't tell us how much longer the thieves lived, but we know they lived on after Jesus died because the story says the soldiers cam to break the condemned legs so they would die faster.  They found Jesus was already dead.  They drove a spear in his side to make sure.  They found he was dead and they didn't need to break his legs.  But then they broke the other criminal's legs because they were still alive.  Breaking their legs prevented them from being able to push up on their nail pierced feet so as to pull more air into their lungs.  And so they would suffocate from the weight of their bodies hanging on the cross faster.  Death (mercifully, I suppose) would come faster.
            This is the situation we find ourselves in, most of us, if we believe in Jesus Christ. He promised he would remember us before his father, but we're still here hanging on a cross waiting… (OK, maybe that's a little dramatic, but do you see the figurative connection?)
            And we sometimes wonder, is Jesus like the cupbearer from Joseph's story?  Will he forget us when he comes into his Kingdom
 
There is Hope on Good Friday

            When you feel like you're in prison, alone and forgotten, remember:  Jesus hasn't forgotten!  When your sin makes you feel like you’re hanging on a cross and everyone’s mocking you, remember:  Jesus hasn't forgotten!  He is before the throne of God, pleading your case!  When you feel like all that’s left for you is a grave, remember: Jesus hasen't forgotten you.  Jesus rose on the Third Day, the first fruit of the resurrection.  He's the first fruit.  That means there's a second and a third and a fourth...  And we are the fruits yet to spring forth!
            Jesus is the King of kings and Lord of lords, the Son of God, and he died on the cross for youHe’s not like the cup bearer who forgot Joseph in the Old Testament.  Jesus would never forget you.  He’s in his Kingdom right now, thinking of you, telling His father how much He loves you and forgives you.  

            Good Friday is for all of us who are still hanging on the cross dying and wondering if Jesus will indeed remember us. It's a test of our faith as we wait for Easter Sunday.  What situation, what problem, what agony are you suffering right now?  You've begged Jesus to remember you and you're trusting that he will, but in the meantime you still have to hang out here and wait. Will Easter Sunday indeed come? Will the tomb really open? Will you come up out of it into glory as Christ promised?
What do you think?

Yes. You. Will!
Yes!  It’s dark right now.  Yes! The light is fading.Yes!  We blow out the Christ candle at the end of our Good Friday service.
But that’s where faith kicks in! 
That’s where we begin to walk by faith and not by sight!
That’s where we find God’s strength is sufficient in our weakness!
That’s why we call this Friday “Good”!  Because Death cannot conquer our Savior!
“Where, O Death, is your victory?  Where, O Death, is your sting?”
Jesus is going into the grave this Friday, but He’s coming out on Sunday.

 
You’ll go into “graves” in this life too,
      you might hang on some crosses,
             you might even get locked in some prisons                    BUT LET ME TELL YOU SOMETHING:
                        This very day, Jesus remembers you in His Kingdom!

And when the Day of the Lord comes,
        Just like Jesus,
                Your’re gonna get up out of that grave!
                       You’re gonna come down off of your cross!
                               You’re gonna walk right out of that prison!
                                        And you’re gonna be with the Lord in Paradise!
 
Amen?  Amen!


 

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Jesus Cooks Breakfast

Caution Fish Stories Ahead             One Sunday, a man woke up and told his wife, "I'm not going to church today." 
            His wife replied, "But you have to go.  You always go to church on Sunday." 
            "Well I'm not going today!  I'm going fishing!" 
            "You can't go fishing.  You have to go to church!  It's the Lord's Day!"  She said, very irritated.
            "I don't care.  I don't like those church people.  They're a bunch of hypocrites.  They're mean.  They're judgmental and rude.  I don't like them and I'm not going to church!  I'm going fishing!"
            "But you have to go to church!  You're the preacher!"

            So a preacher was fishing one morning when a drunk came stumbling by carrying a fishing pole.  He looked up and nodded to the preacher as he stumbled by.  The preacher just shook his head in disgust.  The preacher fished all day long and didn't catch a thing.  The drunk came back by that evening lugging a full stringer of fish. He looked up at the preacher and ask, "Preacher, you catch anything?" 
            "Nope," said the preacher.
            The drunk just shook his head in disgust and said, "You ain't livin' right."

            Some people have said Easter is just a fish story.  You know how fishermen tell exaggerated tales about the "biggest fish I ever saw."  Well, I'm here to tell you, the Easter story is true!  Jesus really did rise from the grave.  He is not dead.  He is alive and we can still see him if we have faith to see.
            Jesus appeared many times to people in many places the days immediately following his
resurrection.  He appeared first to Mary Magdalene, and then to the other Mary, Salome, Joanna, and other women.  He also appeared to Simeon Peter, Cleopas and his friend, to the Twleve Disciples (minus Thomas) and then again to the Twelve when Thomas was there.  (By the way, the term Twelve became a term used to describe any collection of the original twelve disciples, even if it was only a partial group.)  Jesus also appeared to the disciples and a large crowd of followers on a mountain, to his half-brother James (who started out as a skeptic, but became a believer after seeing the risen Christ), and to the Disciples when he ascended back to Heaven.  Jesus also appeared to Stephen (who was the first Christian martyr) and Paul who had a hand in Stephen's murder.  And Jesus has shown himself in many ways over the centuries since.  We can still see the risen Christ today if we have faith to see.
            The Easter story says that Jesus rose.  He is alive, not dead.  Easter is not a fish story.  But Easter does have a fishing story.

John 21:1-14 1 Later, Jesus appeared again to the disciples beside the Sea of Galilee. This is how it happened. Several of the disciples were there—Simon Peter, Thomas (nicknamed the Twin), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples.

Simon Peter said, “I’m going fishing.”
“We’ll come, too,” they all said. So they went out in the boat, but they caught nothing all night.

At dawn Jesus was standing on the beach, but the disciples couldn’t see who he was. He called out, “Fellows, have you caught any fish?”
“No,” they replied.

Then he said, “Throw out your net on the right-hand side of the boat, and you’ll get some!” So they did, and they couldn’t haul in the net because there were so many fish in it.

Then the disciple Jesus loved said to Peter, “It’s the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his tunic (for he had stripped for work), jumped into the water, and headed to shore.
The others stayed with the boat and pulled the loaded net to the shore, for they were only about a hundred yards from shore. When they got there, they found breakfast waiting for them—fish cooking over a charcoal fire, and some bread.

10 “Bring some of the fish you’ve just caught,” Jesus said. 11 So Simon Peter went aboard and dragged the net to the shore. There were 153 large fish, and yet the net hadn’t torn.

12 “Now come and have some breakfast!” Jesus said. None of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. 13 Then Jesus served them the bread and the fish. 14 This was the third time Jesus had appeared to his disciples since he had been raised from the dead.

Jesus Cooks Breakfast
            This was the third time Jesus appeared to his Disciples; not the third time he appeared, but the third time to the Twelve (remember, the Twelve was a title that indicated a group of the original twelve Disciples even if some were missing).
            In this story, five of the disciples are named and two are unnamed.  I kind of feel bad for those two who were not named and wonder why John didn't name them.  I guess it wasn't important.  However, God knows who they were.  Do you ever feel like you are forgotten or unrecognized?  Don't feel bad.  It happened in the Bible too.  But God knows who you are and He will recognize you in the end.  Count it a blessing, like these two unnamed disciples who got to see the risen Christ.
            Now the disciples couldn't see Jesus.  Perhaps it was still to dark or there was some morning fog or they were too far from shore.  They didn't know it was Jesus at first.  But then John realized it was Christ when they caught so many fish.  It reminded him of another time they had caught so many fish because of Jesus.  Once John's faith kicked in, he knew it was Jesus directing them from the shore.  Faith helps us see the risen Christ.  Peter had faith too.  When John told him, "That's Jesus!"  Peter was convinced enough to leap in the water and swim to Jesus to say hello.
            There on the shore, they found Jesus cooking breakfast and they all gathered around to share the meal.  Some have speculated Jesus was just a ghost or spirit.  But ghosts and spirits don't cook or eat.  Clearly, Jesus wanted everyone to know he was real flesh and blood and very much alive and healthy and walking around in a real body. 
            Food is always held up as a central element of God's Kingdom.  Jesus taught stories using food.  He described the Kingdom of God as a grand banquet.  Jesus gave us the sacrament of Holy Communion to remember him with bread and wine.  And here in this story, we find Jesus cooking and eating with his disciples.
 
Fish for Breakfast
            Where I live, we are not accustomed to eating fish for breakfast.  I was in Jerusalem a few years ago and they had a breakfast buffet for guests of the hotel.  I expected to find the usual fare--pancakes, fruit, cereal, etc.  I did find those, but also there was plenty of fish to choose from.  Fish is a big part of the Mediterranean diet--even for breakfast.  And it was so for the Disciples as well.
            Fish are an important element in the story of Christian faith.  Half the disciples were fishermen.  Jesus performed several miracles using fish and also used elements from the fishing industry to make his points.  And Jesus said the disciples would become fishers of men. 
            Early Christians adopted the fish as a secret symbol of their faith.  Even today, Christians often attach a fish symbol to the back of their car.  Why is that?  The Greek word for fish is ΙΧΘΥΣ and is the acronym for "Iēsous Christos, Theou Yios, Sōtēr", which translates to "Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior."  Sometimes, when a Christian met a stranger and wanted to find out if they were a Christian too, the Christian would draw one half of the fish symbol on the ground.  If the other person drew the other half of the symbol, it confirmed that they were also Christian and they could talk openly about their faith without fear of persecution.
 
Luke 5 vs. John 21             Our fish story from John 21 resembles another fish story from Luke 5.  Comparing the two stories is enlightening.  They both took place on the Sea of Galilee, but the one from Luke was at the beginning of Jesus' ministry where the one from John is near the end.
            In both cases, the Disciples fished all night long without success.  And in both cases, Jesus brought a miraculous catch.  From this we can see that Jesus is the source of the Christian's success.  If we are struggling and toiling and don't seem to be getting anywhere, perhaps we should pause and look for the risen Christ.  Perhaps we should listen more closely for his instruction and try something different and then we will find a great catch.  And just like the Disciples, our faith can be renewed.
            Peter responds very differently in the two stories.  In Luke, Peter is convicted of his sin and says to Jesus, “Please leave me--I’m such a sinful man.”  But look how far Peter has grown since the beginning.  In this story (after three years with Jesus), Peter leaps into the water and swims to be the first to greet Jesus. Peter knows he is still a sinful man, but he also knows that is why he must swim toward Jesus and not away from him and that Jesus will accept him unconditionally.  Do you realize Jesus accepts you unconditionally?  Are you swimming toward the risen Lord with hope or running away in fear?
            In Luke's story, the net starts to break because it has so many fish.  In the resurrection story from John, there are just as many fish but the nets don't break.  I think this is a symbol of what Christ's resurrection has done.  On the cross, Christ accomplished everything that needed to be done.  Now his “fishers of men” can fish with strong, unbreakable nets.  We can drag in the catch with perfect confidence.  Because of Christ's resurrection, we can live and serve unhindered and with full strength and purpose.
            John’s story is very specific.  153 large fish were caught.  That's so specific, it stands out like the smell of fresh fish cooking in a kitchen.  John did that on purpose because he had a secret, symbolic meaning to share.  Unfortunately, we have lost that meaning over the centuries.  Many have speculated what it could be.  Some came up with interesting ideas, but the we don't know of sure.
            One thing we can say is that a fishing net is indiscriminate.  You don't pick which fish you catch.  The net just drags everything up all the same.  But John says all 153 fish were large fish.  They were all "keepers" in modern fishing lingo.  And so it is in the Kingdom of God.  We are not called to discriminate about who comes into the Kingdom.  We are called to cast the net.  And whoever believes and swims into our Gospel net, we are to drag ashore.  Some will be slimy and smelly (all of us really are), but we are called to love them just the same.  Besides, it is Jesus' job to receive them, clean them, and prepare them for breakfast.  And he will make each one who is willing perfect in God's sight.
 
Breakfast is Served
            I want to leave you with three practical ideas to take home from this story.  First of all, have you been dragging up empty nets?  Look for Jesus.  Listen for his voice.  Maybe he’s telling you to try something different. 
            Second, have you had a miraculous catch?  Then, look for the risen Christ.  A miraculous success is often a sign he is near.  In those times, be thankful, and seek to swim even closer to him.
            And last, this story reminds you that you count.  The only way the Disciples could know the exact number of fish in the net is if they counted them.  Each one was numbered.  And so it is with each of us.  Jesus picks each one of us up, looks us over, and records us in the Book of Life.  He knows us by name.  He knows everything about us.  And he loves us.  We are all keepers in his sight.
            You are one of the 153 fish the Disciples caught.  You may be a little smelly and slimy.  But Jesus loves you.    And he loves that guy over there too--the one who has piercings and tattoos, the one who is gay, the one who uses vulgar language, and everyone else too.  It is not our job to decide who makes it in.  Our job is just to cast the Gospel net and let God decide who gets caught up in the Kingdom.