Zis-N-Zat From Pastor Asher

God is my conscience, Jesus lives in my heart… this blog is about what I see, what I think, what I do and how I serve God

Approximate Notes for Sunday’s Message; Memorial Day Sunday; May 29, 2016

Scriptures for this Sunday are: Isaiah 54:10, 13-15

You can read these Scriptures here: (NIV2010 and ESV}

“A Jewish rabbi, a Christian pastor, a Muslim imam and a Buddhist monk went into…” That sounds like the opening of a bad joke.

I want to repeat that sentence again, and this time I want to finish it. “A Jewish rabbi, a Christian pastor, a Muslim imam and a Buddhist monk entered into the chapel of an Air Force base.”

The phrase “melting pot” has a special meaning in our culture; as a first generation immigrant and a naturalized citizen of the United States of America, I know that meaning first-hand. Every aspect of our society reflects the fact that we are a melting pot, and our armed forces are not an exception. We have men and women of all religious and cultural beliefs and convictions working together as one unit to protect and defend our country.

Unfortunately, that means that sometimes a representative of the Armed Forces has to visit a family somewhere in the United States of America, look them in the eye and tell them, “The Secretary of the Army regrets to inform you that your husband/son/daughter died of wounds sustained in the field of battle…”

And then a Jewish rabbi, or a Christian pastor, or a Muslim imam or a Buddhist monk in uniform has to visit this family, look them in the eye and share their pain and grief at the terrible realization that they will never again hear their loved one’s voice or have a chance to hug them this side of eternity.

Our country has set aside Memorial Day as a day to remember our fallen heroes and their sacrifices, and to reflect on the values and ideals that give us our identity as citizens of the United States of America.

As a naturalized citizen of the United States of America, I am frustrated by the way we celebrate Memorial Day. It seems to have lost its meaning. For the most part what we do and how we celebrate this day have lost their connection with the intent and purpose of the holiday.

For many of us, the Memorial Day weekend is the official kick‑off to summer. Whether it is extra-long hours at the beach, or a “freebie” night to fire up the BBQ to cook shish-kabobs and socialize with friends and relatives, it has become just that – an extra day off of work. Boscov’s and JC Penney want to make sure that I am properly attired in swim trunks imprinted with the stars and stripes for the summer. That stands in stark contrast with the intent of what Memorial Day is meant to be: a time of reflection on the people, ideals, customs and traditions that give us our national identity, and the memory of those who have fought and died to preserve them.

President John F. Kennedy once said, “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.” Memorial Day represents certain convictions that all of us profess to share. In the next year, I want to challenge all of us to not only express our highest appreciation for what fathers, mothers, sons, daughters and neighbors have done for all of us, but to live that appreciation. My hope is that we will leave today’s worship service challenged and inspired to reach out to those for whom Memorial Day has become just a day off work and the beginning of summer, and remind them of what Memorial Day truly is about.

Memorial Day is a day filled and infused with meaning and traditions. Cities and towns across our nation organize and host Memorial Day parades, often incorporating military personnel and members of veterans’ organizations. Many of our fellow citizens visit cemeteries and memorials to pay respect to their friends and relatives who died while serving in the armed forces.

I think of Memorial Day as a Holy Day to reflect on the source of our hope in the midst of difficult circumstances. While the prophet Isaiah recognized the transitory nature of all life, he also taught about the enduring presence of God and envisioned a time when swords and spears would be turned into plowshares and pruning hooks (Isaiah 2:4). Isaiah wrote, “All people are like grass, and all their faithfulness is like the flowers of the field. The grass withers and the flowers fall … The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever” (Isaiah 40:6-8, NIV2010).

The truth is that most of us do not know what it feels like to feed fleas and lice while we try to survive in the trenches. The truth is that most of us do not know what it feels like to be shot at or to be engaged in hand-to-hand combat. The truth is that most of us have never experienced the rush of adrenaline and the emotional highs and lows that come with facing the enemy. The truth is that most of us do not know the emotional lows over the loss of friends in combat because most of us have never been in combat. Those who have faced the enemy on the field of battle know and understand the sacrifice of those who perished.

As we honor and remember our fallen soldiers, may we continue to keep the dream alive of a day when it will no longer be necessary to build memorials to those killed in battle, and that day will come when there will be no more wars.

As we honor and remember our fallen soldiers, my hope is that God’s peace and justice will prevail, and that no Jewish rabbi, nor Christian pastor, nor Muslim imam nor Buddhist monk will have to face a grieving family whose loved one is no more.

God Bless the USA!

Thinking Towards Sunday; Memorial Day 2016; May 29, 2016

Scriptures for this Sunday are: Isaiah 54:10, 13-15

You can read these Scriptures here: (NIV2010 and ESV}

Thinking Towards Sunday

Next Sunday is a Special Sunday of the Church Calendar: Trinity Sunday

Scriptures for May 22, 2016 are: John 16:12-15; Romans 5:1-5

You can read these Scriptures here: {NIV2010 and ESV}

Approximate Notes for Sunday’s Message; Day of Pentecost; Acts 2:1-21

Scripture for this Sunday is Acts 2:1-21

You can read these Scriptures here: {NIV2010 & ESV}

Supplemental Scriptures can be found here: {CLICK ME}

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Today most followers of Christ across the world celebrate the Holy Day of Pentecost. Because today is the Holy Day of Pentecost our altar is specially decorated.

Although the Day of Pentecost is a defining moment in our shared Christian story, the Holy Day of Pentecost is not as popular as Christmas or Easter. We don’t buy special outfits for Pentecost, we don’t gather with our families for a special meal after church, and there are no Hallmark cards “Wishing you the best Pentecost ever”; I checked. Before going through the process of theological education I remember pastors working themselves into a tizzy on the day of Pentecost, while I sat in the pew wondering what all the excitement was about. We all know the story that is told in Acts 2:1-21; it is difficult for us to relate to or to grasp what it means to us as we live our daily lives. Normally the Holy Spirit does not fall on our heads like a fireball. When we speak English, people hear English, not their native language. To put it in other words, we have no frame of reference to relate to what happened on that day, and because of that the Holy Day of Pentecost is so misunderstood.

Every week, at the end of the service, you hear me say “Understood and Forgiven by God the Father, Redeemed by God the Son, Led and Transformed by the Holy Spirit, I bid you to go and I bid you {fill in the blank}.” Then we hold hands, we sing “Blest be the tie that binds” and the whole congregation says “AMEN” to close out the benediction.

1) Understood and forgiven by God the Father

On Christmas God made a choice to come and live among us so that our Holy God could make sense of what it is like to live in our mortal bodies. God came as a baby so that God could understand our frustrations of growing up, what it feels like to deal with the responsibilities of adulthood and how to negotiate interpersonal relationships as we live our daily lives in a Fallen World. In other words, God wanted to experience what it feels like to live in our skins and to walk in our shoes. Most importantly, God came to live among us because it is hard for us to relate to abstract concepts like omnipotent, omnipresent and invisible Holy God, among other things. When we hear these words, our eyes glaze over and we begin wondering when the service will be over and what we will have for lunch. Our finite minds cannot fully grasp our infinite God.

In other words, God came to be with us so that God can relate to us on OUR level and so that we have a chance to understand and relate to God that is infinitely larger than anything that we can comprehend. That is who Jesus is: God came to dwell among us so that we can have a relationship with the Holy. That is the meaning of Christmas.

“Understood and Forgiven by God the Father” refers to the Christmas portion of our Christian Story.

2) “Redeemed by God the Son”

Jesus lived among us. With every breath and every day of his life, Jesus gave us examples of how to interact with our Holy God.

When the time was right, Jesus willingly gave himself up to be crucified by misguided people so that our fallenness was redeemed. “Redeemed” is one of those church words that we use every Sunday. Unfortunately, it is difficult to explain what “redeemed” means in vernacular, in such a way that a five-year-old would understand.

Jesus’ death coincided with the Jewish High Holy Day of Passover when lambs were sacrificed on the Temple altar to make amends for people’s sins before God.

Before God became flesh, blood and bones in the person of Jesus, before God was one of us, God’s human children (our ancestors) knew about God (just look at the depth, significance and impact of the Holy Scriptures of the Hebrew Bible). Humans tried to interact with God but there was no method, no framework, no way to reconcile ourselves and to relate to the Grace of God. All we had was the annual animal sacrifice at Passover.

By giving himself up for death on the Cross, God demonstrated that God cares about us, and since we had no frame of reference to understand the Holy, God himself had to die on the Cross to make amends for our fallenness.

In order for something new to come into our lives, something has to die to make room for that newness. Old ways will not open new doors. To open new doors, we need new ways. To make room for new ways something can die physically, something can die spiritually, but in order for something new to come, something has to die. By dying on the Cross, God prepared the way for a different relationship with God’s human children. New life means change, and it is change, as much as we don’t like it, that brings vitality and renewal to our lives and churches.

“Redeemed by God the Son” means that there is a way for us to interact with the Holy on a personal level. “Redeemed by God the Son” refers to the Easter portion of our Christian Story.

3) “Led and Transformed by the Holy Spirit”

The Holy Spirit was not a new concept at Pentecost ([1]).

  • We see the presence of the Holy Spirit in the story of David (see 1 Samuel 16:13-14 – David was anointed and the Holy Spirit was upon him and 2 Samuel 23:2 – The Holy Spirit spoke through David).

  • In Judges 6:34 we learn about the Holy Spirit coming upon Gideon.

  • In Deuteronomy 34:9 we learn about Joshua being anointed by the Holy Spirit to lead the Children of Israel

  • In Nehemiah 9:20, we hear that God gave his Holy Spirit to guide the Children of Israel.

What was new at Pentecost is that each one of us now has a direct connection to and relationship with God, and that connection is the Holy Spirit of Our God living in our souls. It is up to us to allow that Spirit of Our God to mold, shape and direct our thoughts, our actions and our lives.

Our Christian story started with Creation, continued with Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Rachel, Leah, Joshua, Tamar, Rahab, David, Bathsheba, Jeremiah, Isaiah, and with Jesus God started a totally new chapter in that story.

Jesus called the twelve Disciples, and in previous sermons in this series we saw how nuanced and complicated their stories were. There are 14 lights on the altar today: one for each of the original disciples, one for Matthias (the disciple who was chosen to replace Judas) and one for Paul.

Prior to being anointed with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the Disciples wanted to go “back there,” to the life that they knew, to their place of comfort. After being anointed with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, we see the Disciples going everywhere.

All these men and women who came before us, who struggled with what God meant in their lives, they are the “cloud of witnesses” that surrounds us and comprise what we call the Christian Tradition.

“Led and Transformed by the Holy Spirit” is about the Pentecost in our lives.

There are generations of Christian men and women who make the “Cloud of Witnesses.” These fourteen lights also remind us about what they mean to us: these are our parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, until eventually we get to Noah.

All of us have experienced Pentecost times in our lives. We experience Pentecost in our lives when we recognize that our Living God is the God of renewal. If we want to discover new horizons or to accomplish something that we have never done before, if we want to open new doors and explore new paths, we need to try different things. Our personal Pentecost is that moment of realization that there are new doors and opportunities waiting for us, and by God’s Grace we have the ability to reinvent ourselves and when we are with God all things are possible.

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[1] For more references of the Holy Spirit in the Hebrew Scriptures check https://bible.org/seriespage/2-putting-pentecost-perspective-part-1-holy-spirit-old-testament-acts-21-13

Thinking Towards Sunday; May 15, 2016; The Day of Pentecost

Scripture for this Sunday is Acts 2:1-21

You can read these Scriptures here: {NIV2010 & ESV}

Supplemental Scriptures can be found here: {CLICK ME}

Approximate Notes for Mother’s Day Message; May 8, 2016

Scripture for this Sunday John 19: 25-27; 1 Kings 3: 16-28

You can read this Scriptures here: {NIV2010 and ESV}

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Last week sons, daughters and husbands across our country were busy selecting presents for their moms ahead of this year’s Mothers’ Day celebration.

The celebration of the Mothers’ Day holiday is most widely spread in the USAmerica because it has roots in our country. But Mothers’ Day, unlike those all-American dates of Thanksgiving and July 4, is also celebrated in some other countries. In many countries, religious or cultural holidays revolving around women and families have evolved into their own celebrations of motherhood, while in others this holiday has been imported with USAmericans who settled there.

In our country, those whose moms are still alive spend Mothers’ Day bestowing flowers, gifts and heartfelt sentiments upon their moms. Those who have lost their moms reflect on what they miss and on the effect that their moms had on the direction of their lives.

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The first attempts to establish a “Mothers’ Day” holiday in the USAmerica came from women’s peace groups shortly after the American Civil War. Their common goal and desire was to support each other as they grieved their sons who perished in the American Civil War.

{From Jeremiah 31:15: “A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.”}

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Each of us has a unique and complicated relationship with our mothers. Each of our relationships with our moms is probably the most significant in our lives; after all she was the first person we met just seconds after birth! Because our mothers are human, not all of them are perfect; because all of us are human, we make motherhood challenging. In other words: IT’S COMPLICATED. That is why Mothers’ Day is a perfect opportunity to reflect on our personal relationships with our moms, the role they play in our lives, and to recognize and honor their contribution to what we have become so far and hope to become in the future.

In a perfect world, our moms make sure to be around and available to their children. There are countless recitals, and soccer games, parties, music classes, field trips as well as unplanned, spontaneous moments. All those planned and unplanned moments strung together throughout our childhood built our confidence and understanding of self-worth, as well as defined our path and trajectory for the future; they shape and define who and what we become. Some moments are joyful, some moments are filled with frustration, and in their entirety these moments with our moms build the foundation of our lives.

That relationship is not all that different than the relationship that God has with us. While Jesus was with his disciples following the resurrection, he also called his family to a higher cause.

In the pain of death and in the suffering on the Cross, Jesus demonstrated a love that knows no boundaries. God’s love extends across the boundaries that separate families, tribes and nations from each other. In this image of love that knows no bounds Jesus gave us a new powerful way of understanding God’s compassionate love for all.

The love of God transcends everything that divides us and brings us into conflict. We live in a world which makes us feel inadequate and incomplete. We live in a world where we are forced to compete with each other.

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That leaves us with feelings of dissatisfaction and failure, simply because we can never live up to the ideal of perfection projected throughout our culture. Despite all of our efforts, we will never be thin enough, or rich enough, or young enough, or smart enough, or loving enough, or caring enough. That in turn builds a lack of self-esteem and feelings of inadequacy.

That is the tug of war that is ongoing in our lives and souls: we live in a Fallen World and we strive to serve the Holy God. The only way to break this stalemate is the conviction that we are loved, not despite our shortcomings, or because of our achievements, but simply because we are of immeasurable value to God. The only other time we come close to that break of stalemate is when we experience the love of our mother.

In the end, there is nothing more radical than to teach people that they are loved by God, and that this is a matter of sheer unmerited grace; for this is a source of a deep self-confidence that will never fail.

In its origin, inspiration and intent, the Holy Day of Mothers’ Day touches upon the deepest truths of our faith tradition. Mothers’ Day reminds us that the most powerful gift that any mother can give her child is the sense that we are loved unconditionally. This is what each of us needs. Unfortunately, many of us did not fully experience it with our mothers. For example, just this week I was called to a pastoral emergency where a mother and father had abandoned their children to their grandmother, and the parents do not even know that their son is dying.

But what we have seen in part in a Mothers’ love, we see fully in the love of God. And it is that love which supports and inspires us as we struggle to make God’s love and God’s justice real, not only for ourselves and for our families, but for all the peoples of the world.

Thinking Towards Sunday; May 8, 2016; Mother’s Day in the United States of America

Scripture for this Sunday John 19: 25-27; 1 Kings 3: 16-28

You can read this Scriptures here: {NIV2010 and ESV}

Happy Easter to my Orthodox Gumbahs!

Happy Easter to my Orthodox Friends and Gumbahs!

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Xristos Voskres!

Approximate Notes for Sunday’s Message; Sunday, May 1, 2016; Romans 12:3-8; Hebrews 10:19-25

Scriptures for this Sunday: Romans 12:3-8; Hebrews 10:19-25

You can read these Scriptures here: {NIV2010 and ESV}

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We started this series of sermons by reading the Scripture from Mark 1 where Jesus was staying in Peter’s house, healed Peter’s mother, and then took some Jesus-time. We saw that people were looking for Jesus, and the Disciples even asked him to go back to the village. Imagine how easy it was for Jesus to say, “of course… let’s go back, we can have awesome ministry here…” But it is not what Jesus said… Jesus started his ministry by saying, “NIV2010 Mark 1:38 Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.”

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Then we looked at the role that Judas Iscariot played in Jesus’ arrest. We saw that although his role in our Christian story is far from admirable, it is also nuanced and complicated. I think that he was trying to create a situation where Jesus would be forced to defend himself, and in the process vindicate Israel by bringing political and military defeat to the Romans. Judas longed to return to the Golden Era of Israel’s independence and sovereignty. Judas wanted a miracle; a miraculous change in circumstances that would right everything that he understood and perceived to be wrong with the world. Judas tried to fit our infinite God into his own finite mind and it did not work.

In reality we know that if we want miracles, we need to allow God to work in our lives and that means opening ourselves to the possibility that God is doing something different than what we want to happen.

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Then last week we looked at the readings from the Gospel of John and we saw Peter, Thomas, Nathaniel, James, John and “two others” (John 21:2) tried to go back to the place where it all started, where Jesus made the decision to go “out there” instead of “staying here.”

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And who among us has not wished to return to a time of lost innocence? Who among us has not thought that it would be nice to return to a place of safety and to a time when life made sense? We saw that it is impossible to go back there. No matter how great is the trauma, no matter how strong is our desire to go back in time, there is no place like “home” because that place only exists in our memories. The physical building may still be standing, but because we are changed, that emotional place of innocence and safety will no longer satisfy our needs. Our needs have changed because we have changed. We cannot go back because there is nobody left in the past; the time and the place that we call “the past” has been moving forward. That is why the Disciples could not catch any fish on their own; they were no longer fishermen; they had become fishers of men (Matthew 4:19).

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That brings us to today’s Scriptures. In Hebrews 10:24-25 we hear, “…let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another…”

Jesus even demonstrated the process of how we can do it. As embarrassed as Peter, Thomas, Nathaniel, James, John and the “two others” were (John 21:12), Jesus just reminded them of their journey with him by breaking bread and fish and giving it to them. Jesus did not harp on them; he did not have to. The Disciples knew what they had to do.

That is why Paul wrote in Romans 12:3-5,Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. 4 For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.”

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The United Methodist Church does a lot of things right and the United Methodist Church does a lot of things well. We are not scared of bringing items into the open, we discuss and debate, we step out in mission, we are connectional and strive to help Methodists throughout the world. Solutions only become available after recognizing that there is a problem, defining and understanding the nature of the problem and then figuring out how to resolve it. The United Methodist Church is very good at that. That being understood, we have also become very good at holding on to pieces of broken dreams and bickering about which pieces of those dreams should NOT be discarded. We don’t make room for new dreams, room to see where God may be leading, because we long to go back. Holding on to our broken dreams prevents us from moving forward. If we want miracles we need to make room for God in our lives. If we want new horizons, we need to allow God to reveal these horizons to us and then allow God to take us there.

That is why God gave us encouragement for the journey. That encouragement is called Sacraments, and today we will celebrate the Sacrament of the Holy Communion. The Sacrament of the Holy Communion brings us into the presence of the Holy, and just by being in that presence, it helps us to see beyond our current circumstances, and dream about ways to reinvent ourselves. The United Methodist Church and Kingswood United Methodist Church have reinvented themselves many times in our history.

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{Transition to the Celebration of the Sacrament of the Holy Communion}

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Thinking Towards Sunday; Sunday, May 1, 2016; Romans 12:3-8; Hebrews 10:19-25

Scriptures for this Sunday: Romans 12:3-8; Hebrews 10:19-25

You can read these Scriptures here: {NIV2010 and ESV}

Approximate Notes for Sunday’s Message; April 24, 2016; John 20:19-23; John 21:1-14

John 20:19-23 NIV2010 Jesus Appears to His Disciples

NIV2010 John 20: 19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

John 21:1-14 NIV2010 Jesus and the Miraculous Catch of Fish

NIV2010 John 21: 1 Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Galilee. It happened this way: 2 Simon Peter, Thomas (also known as Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. 3 “I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

4 Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.

5 He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?”

“No,” they answered.

6 He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.

7 Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. 8 The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards. 9 When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread.

10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.” 11 So Simon Peter climbed back into the boat and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn. 12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14 This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.

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Two weeks ago we read the Scripture from Mark 1 where Jesus was staying in Peter’s house, healed Peter’s mother, and then took some Jesus-time. We saw that people were looking for Jesus, and the Disciples even asked him to go back to the village. Imagine how easy it was for Jesus to say, “of course… let’s go back, we can have awesome ministry here…” But it is not what Jesus said… Jesus started his ministry by saying, “NIV2010 Mark 1:38 Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.”

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Then last week we looked at the role that Judas Iscariot played in Jesus’ arrest. I realize that after hearing last week’s message, it is totally possible to say, “Gee, it sounds like Judas Iscariot got a raw deal,” but the main point is that although his role in our Christian story is far from admirable, it is also nuanced and complicated. I think that he was trying to create a situation where Jesus would be forced to defend himself, and in the process vindicate Israel by bringing political and military defeat to the Romans. Judas wanted a miracle; a miraculous change in circumstances that would right everything that he understood and perceived to be wrong with the world. Judas tried to fit our infinite God into his own finite mind and it did not work.

In reality we know that if we want miracles, we need to allow God to work in our lives and that means opening ourselves to the possibility that God is doing something different than what we want to happen.

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That brings us to today’s readings. It’s been a few days since Jesus was crucified. We know that Jesus’ crucifixion was traumatic and scary for the Disciples. Then Jesus’ body “disappeared” from the tomb. Mary Magdalene said something about seeing the risen Jesus in the garden, then there were two men from Emmaus claiming that Jesus walked with them for a mile or two. These stories are so contradictory to what we call “common sense” and “life experiences”; that is why it was difficult for the Disciples to process that information. The Disciples did not know how to be, what to think, or what to do next. In the first portion of today’s reading we find them huddling in the Upper Room behind locked doors because they were scared, and because they just could not think of anything else to do.

That is when Jesus showed up. Jesus always shows up, not when we have our best foot forward, but when we are stressed and at the end of our rope. Jesus spent some time with them, teaching and instructing them, bestowing the Holy Spirit on the Disciples, and he did it not once but twice. The second time Jesus came back to make sure that Thomas had a chance to witness the resurrection (John 20:24-29).

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Reading the second part of the Gospel lesson we learned that Peter, Thomas, Nathaniel, James, John and “two others” (John 21:2) went back to the place where it all started, where Jesus made that decision to go “out there” instead of “staying here.”

How many of us ever wished to return to a time of lost innocence? The truth is that we can never go back. No matter how great is the trauma, no matter how strong is our desire to go back in time, there is no place like home because that place no longer exists. The physical building may be still standing, but because we are changed, that emotional place of innocence and safety is no longer available to us. Our needs have changed because we have changed. We cannot go back because there is nobody left in the past.

The Gospel reading from John 21:1-14, describes an attempt by seven apostles — Peter, Thomas, Nathaniel, James, John and “two others” (John 21:2) — to return to the time and place where they had felt safe and secure in the past. That reading also illustrates why it is not possible or even feasible for them to return to the perceived safety and security of their past.

With Jesus’ crucifixion, their dreams of ministry were seemingly destroyed. The seven fishermen in today’s story completely resigned themselves to having to return to the life that they left when Jesus called them away, just three short years ago. They returned to that life because in the depth of their despair, they could not even imagine what their life could look like in the future. They did not yet know how to reinvent themselves without Jesus. That is why they went “backwards.”

What they discovered, however, is that their attempts at rebuilding their old lives were fruitless; they could not catch any fish. This story could be described with the same words as Judas’ story: “It’s complicated” and “It’s nuanced.” There are levels of meaning in the story itself as well as in the corresponding human experiences that this story originated from.

So what’s in it for us? What does this reading mean to us?

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How many sincere, devout Christians come to church today and do the same things that they did in 1940, 1950, 1960 and 1970 because they cannot even imagine doing something different? The world that we live in is a state of constant change; do the songs that we sing, our worship, and our church buildings reflect what’s happening in the world today?

The truth is that not many Christians are willing to take the risk and leave “their boat” (a.k.a. routines and habits of worship or physical church building) the way Peter did in order to follow Jesus. Peter and six of his colleagues discovered that spending three years with Jesus changed them to the point that fishing would not make them happy anymore, because Jesus had other plans for them. That is why they were so embarrassed by this encounter; in John 21:12 we read, “None of the disciples dared ask him, ‘Who are you?’ They knew it was the Lord.”

Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to guide us and to encourage us to try new things. Some will work, some will fail.

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Link to Funeral Resources

Thinking Towards Sunday; April 24, 2016

Scriptures for this Sunday: John 20:19-23; John 21:1-14

You can read these Scriptures here: {NIV/ESV}

Approximate Notes for Sunday’s Message; April 17, 2016; Acts 1:12-26

Acts 1:12-26 NIV2010 Matthias Chosen to Replace Judas

12 Then the apostles returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day’s walk from the city. 13 When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. 14 They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.

15 In those days Peter stood up among the believers (a group numbering about a hundred and twenty) 16 and said, “Brothers and sisters, the Scripture had to be fulfilled in which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through David concerning Judas, who served as guide for those who arrested Jesus. 17 He was one of our number and shared in our ministry.”

18 (With the payment he received for his wickedness, Judas bought a field; there he fell headlong, his body burst open and all his intestines spilled out. 19 Everyone in Jerusalem heard about this, so they called that field in their language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.)

20 “For,” said Peter, “it is written in the Book of Psalms: “‘May his place be deserted; let there be no one to dwell in it,’ and, “‘May another take his place of leadership.’

21 Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus was living among us, 22 beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.”

23 So they nominated two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias. 24 Then they prayed, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen 25 to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs.” 26 Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles.

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Have you ever asked yourself, “How did we get here?” We tend to think that this question is asked when we are trying to figure out how something terrible happened in our lives, but it is a great question to ask when something good happens as well. I have very little doubt in my mind that the Disciples and the Followers of Jesus were asking this and similar questions between the First Easter and the First Pentecost.

As much as all of us like to dislike Judas Iscariot, we cannot answer this question {“What happened?” or “How did we get here?”} without talking about Judas Iscariot. He is the disciple who betrayed Jesus and helped the Jerusalem authorities to arrest him.

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Matthew and Mark portray Judas as being motivated by greed (Mark 14, Matthew 27). Luke and John assert that Judas was led astray by Satan (John 13:27). As much as we want to dislike him, his story can be described with three words and these words are, “it is complicated.”

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Nobody would disagree with me if I were to say that Jesus was a good judge of character. The Gospels are clear that Jesus personally called Judas Iscariot to be his disciple (Matt 10:4; Mark 3:19; Luke 6:16). We know that Judas was the treasurer for the disciples (John 13:29). As a disciple and the treasurer for the group, Jesus and Judas had to spend extra time together. As a treasurer, Judas had special trust bestowed upon him by Jesus and by his colleagues. Knowing Jesus, it seems implausible that a thief would have been invited to join the Disciples, or that Jesus would have made a thief their treasurer. Nevertheless, the Scriptures assert that Judas stole from the group (John 12:4-6) and I suspect that these details surfaced as the Disciples struggled to answer “what happened?” and “how did we get here?” during the time between the First Easter and the First Pentecost.

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Judas is best remembered for his betrayal of Jesus to those who sought to harm Him (Matthew 26:14-47; Mark 14:10-46; Luke 22:3-48; John 18:2-5). In Matthew 26:15 we learn that Judas was paid “thirty pieces of silver” for his betrayal. We also learn that after the betrayal, Judas felt remorse and tried unsuccessfully to return the money that he had been paid to betray Jesus (Matthew 27:3-4). We also learn that he was unable to live with himself and the gravity of his actions; Judas took his own life (Matthew 27:5; Acts 1:18).

I struggle with Judas Iscariot. For example, why did Jesus allow Judas to betray him (John 13:21-30)? In John 13:27, Jesus actually told Judas to go and “do it quickly.” Could it be that Jesus was unable to prevent the betrayal?

On the other hand, could it be that Jesus actively tried to cause the betrayal to happen? If that is the case, could it be that Judas had no free will, and therefore was acting as God’s puppet? If that is true, why is he so disliked? If that is true, Judas is punished for being an instrument of our salvation, and the God that I know would not do something like that.

To make things more complicated, when Judas left Jesus and the Disciples, they were in the Upper Room eating the Passover Meal. Judas brought the detachment of soldiers to the Garden of Gethsemane. Although I personally was never in Jerusalem, my understanding is that Garden of Gethsemane is approximately one mile from the traditional location of the Upper Room (John 18:1, across the Kidron Valley). How did Judas know to go to the Garden of Gethsemane?

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What happened in the Garden of Gethsemane also raises multiple questions. According to Matthew and Mark, Judas identified Jesus to the Romans with a kiss (Matthew 26:47–50; Mark 14:43–45). According to John, Judas did not really need to identify Jesus out because Jesus came forward himself. We know that Jesus was not trying to hide. I suspect that Jesus’ humanness dreaded the upcoming suffering, but his divine nature was prepared for the necessary work of Redemption.

We know the rest of the story. Judas tried to return the money, and was not able to live with the severity of his betrayal and took his own life.

So far today’s message is a snoozer. All I have done is reiterate things that you already know. So what’s in it for us? What is the “so what” in all of this?

I think that Judas Iscariot was a Zealot. From the writings of secular historians (Josephus in particular) we know that the Zealots were a political party in First Century Judea which sought to incite the people of Judea to rebel against the Roman Empire. Zealots were convinced that God of Israel would not allow infidels and pagans (Romans) to get the upper hand in the armed conflict for political freedom. The reason I think this is because we read in Matthew 10:1-4:

Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness. These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon (who is called Peter) and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

As you can see, Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot are grouped together.

Was Judas trying to create a situation that would force God to act on behalf of the oppressed nation? Was Judas trying to incite the revolt by trying to force the hand of Jesus to defend himself against the Romans?

I think that the most important lesson that all of us can take from Judas is that we cannot force God to act on our behalf. When we incite a social or political change, there will always be unexpected consequences because God is not in the favoritism business. In First Century Judea, God was not only with the Hebrew Children, but also with Romans and Greeks and Egyptians, and with Native Americans who lived in the lands that were not re-“discovered” by the Europeans yet. I think that when Jesus went on the Cross instead of putting up a fight, Judas was deeply disappointed. There was no room in Judas’ heart for God’s love and grace, and because there was no room in his heart for God he could not recognize or even accept the miracle that was Jesus’ Resurrection and the promise of our redemption.

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If we want miracles, we need to make space for God in our lives and that means opening ourselves to the possibility that God is doing something different than what we want to happen.

Schedule of Holy Week Services and Events at Kingswood United Methodist Church

Schedule of Holy Week Services

  • Sunday, March 20, 2016 @ 11 am. Palm/Passion Sunday, “Shadows of the Cross” cantata.

  • Thursday, March 24, 2016. Maundy Thursday service. At 6 pm our community will gather for soup dinner in the fellowship hall. After the soup dinner we will gather in the sanctuary for communion service at 7 pm.

  • Friday, March 25, 2016. Good Friday service. At 7 pm there will be an Ecumenical worship service at Kingswood UMC. Pastor Bill Lane will be preaching, Pastor John and Pastor Asher will be co-leading the service.

  • Sunday, March 27, 2016. Easter Sunday Services. At 6:45 am there will be an Ecumenical Sunrise service on the lawn followed by breakfast at Kingswood UMC; Pastor Asher Preaching. At 11 am our community will gather for Easter Worship with the Celebration of the Holy Communion.

Special Events that will take place during the Holy Week.

  • Saturday, March 26 @ 10 am there will be an Easter Egg Hunt. If any of our church family have young ones (whether they are children, grandchildren, or great-grandchildren), or if you know any families with children, that would like to join in on the Easter egg hunt please call Karen G. so that we can plan and properly prepare for the event. The only requirement is that they are 12 years or younger to be registered.

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