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

Category Archives: Uncategorized

Approximate Notes for Sunday’s Message; May 14, 2017, Mother’s Day

Scriptures for this Sunday: Matthew 15:21-28. You can read this Scripture here: {Click ME}

image

Happy Mother’s Day!

Mother’s Day is celebrated in approximately 40 countries around the world. The majority of these countries celebrate Mother’s Day on the second Sunday in May.

image

In the United States, Mother’s Day was established in 1908. A lady by the name of Anna Jarvis (May 1, 1864 – November 24, 1948) is widely attributed as the person who dreamt and worked to establish the holiday. In 1912 she trademarked the phrases “Second Sunday in May” and “Mother’s Day”, and created the Mother’s Day International Association. She specifically noted that “Mother’s” should “be a singular possessive, for each family to honor its own mother, not a plural possessive commemorating all mothers in the world.”

{Illustration}

image

Because of that, Mother’s Day is a bittersweet day for me. For me it is a celebration of the life of the woman who brought me into this world, and a reminder of the life that was taken from it.

image

I share all of this with you today because it shaped my understanding of what Mother’s Day is. It is NOT about Hallmark cards, sentimental drivel and feel good sentences. Mother’s Day is about our understanding of life and our ability to deal with life in a productive and responsible manner. Mother’s Day is about the role that our mothers play in our ability to deal with life.

We have to face the joys and the problems that invariably arise in our lives. What helps us to celebrate the joys, what helps us to deal with the problems, what helps us to live our “abundant lives” (John 10:10), is our understanding of ourselves and our place in God’s Universe.

That understanding of ourselves and our place in the Universe is rooted in our relationship with God, and is transmitted from generation to generation by our mothers.

image

God is active in our world! God is doing something! God’s presence and actions cause the world to be in a state of constant change. As our world changes, we need to constantly figure out solutions to new problems.

image

Ideally, God is using mothers to plant seeds in the minds of the young generations. These seeds will sprout as seedlings of love, care and innovation. God also uses mothers all over the world to nurture these seedlings, and these seedlings will mold and shape the future. Mothers all over the world have a tremendous impact on this world; I am talking about our past, our present and our future.

Look at the examples from the life of our Lord. I wonder how many of the parables used by Jesus he first heard from Mary? I wonder if Mary prepared chicken soup for the teenager Jesus when he had a cold? We know that Mary encouraged Jesus to kick-off his ministry at the wedding at Cana in Galilee.

Let us look at the example of Paul. Countless mother-figures helped Paul in his ministry and shaped his ministry along the way. There is Lydia, there is Priscilla, there is Phoebe. In 2 Timothy 1:5 Paul wrote:

image

NIV 2 Timothy 1:5 I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.

In Romans 16:13 Paul wrote:

image

NIV Romans 16:13 Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother, who has been a mother to me, too.

Lois and Eunice helped to shape Paul… Rufus’ mother was “like a mother” to Paul. All of these ladies “mom’d” Paul.

image

Just like Mary nurtured the earthly life of our Lord, just like Lois and Eunice nurtured Paul, countless moms, aunts, step-moms, grand-moms, Sunday School teachers and countless other nurturing women help children to shape their understanding of life and nurture the ability to deal with life in a productive and responsible manner. Just like Mary nurtured young Jesus, countless moms, aunts, step-moms, grand-moms, and other nurturing women plant seeds of greatness in the minds of children all over the world.

Children are not born with an instruction manual. Some ladies are blessed with nurturing in their DNA; some never received the memo. Some ladies have mothering down pat; some continue to learn by trial and error. None of us are perfect or have it all together.

image

Today is set aside to honor, to remember, and to give thanks for our moms and all the ladies who nurtured us, who helped us to become who and what we are today. We are grateful to God because they received the gift of life from God, and passed it on to us. We thank our moms for the sacrifices they made in carrying us and giving us birth. We thank our moms for the sacrifices they made rearing us. We thank our moms for the seeds of humanness that they nurtured in our souls.

We thank God for the women who raised us, who were our mothers in childhood. Whether it was birth moms, adopted moms, older sisters, aunts, grandmothers, stepmothers or someone else, these ladies held us and fed us, cared for us and kissed away our pain. Their love for us reflects the love of God for the creation.

May our lives reflect the love of God projected by our mothers.

Happy Mother’s Day!

image

Thinking Towards Sunday; Mothers’ Day 2017; May 14, 2017

Scriptures for this Sunday: Matthew 15:21-28. You can read this Scripture here: {Click ME}

For our music coordinator: We will sing special hymns written specifically for Mothers’ Day. I will make sure that you have a printout of the liturgy by tomorrow with hymn lyrics and melodies. Selah. Winking smile

Call to Worship

Loving and Gracious God!
You have created this world with love and care.
You set in motion processes that nourish our planet, give us resources for sustenance, survival, and fulfilling lives. You fill our souls with joy and gladness.

Nurturing God! We thank you for your love for us from the beginning of time.
You formed us and knew us when we were in our mother’s wombs, you knit us together lovingly, your devotion to us has not failed, your care is with us every day of our lives.

You gave us the gift of life that began with you and was nourished first by our biological mothers and other women who mothered us on our lives’ journeys.
As we honor their influence on our lives, we recognize the extent of their efforts, and we give you thanks for all that they are and what they mean to us.

 

Opening Prayer

Nurturing and Loving God! We saw our first glimpse of your love for us in the love of our mothers.

Today our country celebrates Mother’s Day. We thank you for the mothers who carried us in their wombs, nourishing, protecting, and bringing us into the world. We thank you for the women who did not give birth to us, yet loved and nurtured us just the same.

With gratitude we remember their words of encouragement when we have felt unsure or afraid; we thank you for their kindness, comfort and gentleness when the world has treated us harshly; we thank you for the protection they offered us at times of danger; we thank you for the times when they corrected us and helped us to regain our footing, rather than letting us continue down wrong paths.

May our actions reflect their involvement, nurture and presence in our lives.

In Jesus name we pray. Amen.

Approximate Notes for this Sunday; Acts 2:42-47

Scripture for May 7 is Acts 2:42-47

You can read this Scripture here {NIV2010 and ESV}

image

A few years ago, American neuroscientist Antonio Damasio made a groundbreaking discovery. He studied people with damage in the part of the brain where emotions are generated. All these men and women seemed normal, except for their ability to experience emotions. All of them had something odd in common: they could not make even simplest decisions. Each of his patients/subjects could describe what they should be doing in logical terms, they could list pros and cons for every decision. Even in the cases where decisions should have been easy to make from the logical perspective, these men and women found it very difficult, if not impossible, to make them. Can you imagine going through life without being able to decide what you will have for lunch or what shirt you will put on in the morning. With well-defined rational decision paths, these men and women faced tremendous difficulties making simplest decisions.

image

These experiments demonstrated that emotions, not logic, drive every one of our decisions. Even when we believe that we are making a logical decision, the process of choosing is based on emotions.

So what’s in it for us at Kingswood United Methodist Church?

I just said some words that could be easily verified by Uncle Google, that sound like jiber-jaber, and the emotional side of everyone in this congregation wants to take a nap.

image

The passage we read this morning describes the Christian community as it began, and I love that passage! They were doing theology, they were living together, they were eating together, they were praying together; this is the kind of community that every pastor I know would give their right arm for.

I wonder what reason the newcomers in today’s reading gave for why they decided to follow Jesus. What would they say if we were to ask them, “Why did Jesus have to die?” What would they say if we were to ask them what the Resurrection meant for them?

I also wonder what their first gut reaction was when they heard the Apostles preaching. I wonder what it felt like to experience the fellowship with Jesus’ followers. What did it feel like as they began learning about Jesus and growing in their new faith?

Based on what I know about that period of time, I am willing to guess they heard the Disciples’ preaching in the Temple Courts by chance because they were devout Jews and they happened to be there  in the right place at the right time. The reason they came back is because that encounter gave them a glimpse of the Living God. They experienced the presence of our living God in their own lives and they became convinced that, in the words of Paul, “…neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate [them] from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).

image

As products of the scientific age of discovery, when we encounter nominal Christians, or even unbelievers, we give them facts about the Messiah. Jesus walked this earth. By his incarnation, life, suffering, execution and resurrection Jesus gave birth to the Church, delivered us from slavery to sin and death and made with us a new covenant of faith. Those are the facts.

We also tell them how we live out our faith and devotion to Jesus in our daily lives, and how much work Kingswood UMC does in the community. We tell them about Hope Dining Room and the Food Closet. Great accomplishments.

image

Unfortunately, when a visitor comes to our doors, they are not looking for the facts. Our visitors may even be putting on a façade to hide their woundedness, while the real reason they walked through our doors is because they are looking for salve to apply to their wounds.

The Church is supposed to be the answer to our woundedness; church is a spiritual clinic where we gather to heal our emotions and our souls. I will venture to say that most of us are here today because at some time in our lives we saw Jesus while we were emotionally wounded, and that encounter happened among other Christians. The reason people make a decision to come back for a second time is because something stirred in their soul when they were with us; they saw our living God among us.

image

That is why churches were packed in the 1950s. As a nation, and as a part of this world, World War II brought us to the edge of the abyss and extinction. Those were emotional times. Most everyone knew a family that had lost a child, most everyone knew a young woman or a young man who lost a husband or a significant other in the war. There were GIs who came home, who had been forced to take the lives of others in the war. Everyone was emotionally wounded in some way. People got together and helped each other to heal these wounds. That is why churches were packed; God was a part of this healing process.

image

Today’s Scripture is set at a time shortly after the people of Jerusalem demanded the death of their Messiah, and then they saw the redemption of Creation in the Resurrection of Jesus. Those were emotional times. People were emotionally wounded by these events and by their role in these events. As a result, it was easy for them to see God in the aftermath of Crucifixion and Resurrection.

image

As I stand before you, we are divided as a nation. As I stand before you, our United Methodist Church is arguing about who belongs and who doesn’t. As I stand before you, we are all wounded and it is easy to see the presence of the Holy Spirit moving among us. We are also isolated from our neighbors. We look different from the community around us, we talk differently from the community around us. Our challenge is to find a common language, our challenge is to offer a place for all to heal their emotional wounds, our challenge is to be the best of what God created us to be.

Do you know what the healing touch of Jesus feels like? Does Jesus live in your heart?

{Transition to the Sacrament of the Holy Communion}

E-Note from Pastor Asher to the Community of Kingswood United Methodist Church

AFP/Getty 548732535Many among us may not be aware that the first Thursday in May is a Holy Day set aside as a Worldwide Day of Prayer for Christians around the globe. Communal prayer has always been central to Christian identity. In our Tuesday Bible Study we practice a form of it when we hold hands and every person in the room takes a turn to pray.

The World Day of Prayer and the National Day of Prayer are both rooted in the Scripture found in 1 Timothy 2:1-4, that reads:

I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth (NIV2010).

Our prayers are one of the ways to be in conversation with God. Our prayers are one of the ways for us to listen to God, and allow God to mold and shape us (Isaiah 64:8). Our prayers help us to open our hearts and minds, and to accept what God wishes to give us in answer to our prayers. Our prayers are a constant reminder to honor, glorify and praise God even at times when we may not feel like it and would rather be focused on something else.

On this World Day of Prayer, when Christians in our Nation are called to bow their heads in conversation with God, I would like to leave you with a simple question: “What is it that you are looking for from the Lord in your prayers?”

My prayer is for all of us, may God bless us, keep us and encourage us to be the best version of what we are created to be.

I pray for our country, may God bless the United States of America, and may it be like a city on a hill that is a blessing to the world around us (Matt 5:14).

Happy Star Wars Day!

May the 4th be with you!

Approximate Notes for Sunday’s Message; Acts 2:14,36-41; Sunday, April 30, 2017

Scripture for April 30 is Acts 2:14a, 36-41

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

image

All of us know the fairy tale of the Frog Prince. It was popularized for the first time by Brothers Grimm and is traditionally the first story in their collection. What most of us do not realize is that the story has roots in the Vikings’ tradition; if I had to guess, the original story is probably 12 to 15 centuries old.

The way the contemporary version of the story goes, a spoiled princess is persuaded to befriend the Frog Prince whom she met after dropping a gold ball into the swamp that the Frog Prince called home. In the conniving exchange, the slimy frog returns the golden ball to the princess but not until after she kissed him. That kiss magically transformed the frog into a handsome prince and, just like in any other fairy tale, there was a lavish wedding with delicious carrot cake, a beautiful dress with a long train, and they lived happily ever after.

The reason this folk tale has survived for 1500 years is because it resonates with our human experience. All of us have had to “kiss a frog” in the past, to face our fears and doubts, only to be pleasantly surprised by the results.

The “frog” that I am talking about represents the fallacy of our own prejudices and preconceived notions. As a result of facing our preconceived notions and prejudices we grow and we change.

image

Let’s unpack that. Today we heard the scripture where Peter addressed the worshipers, either on the day of Pentecost – the day when the Holy Spirit descended upon all of God’s Creation like a mighty wind, or shortly after.

image

We know that Jesus appeared to the Disciples behind closed doors a few times in that period of fifty days between Easter and Pentecost, we heard that reading last week.

image

Also, at some point during these fifty days, Peter made a decision that he had enough with uncertainty and instability. He decided to go back to his old life as a fisherman. That story is found in John 21.

In verses 1 – 7 we hear,

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!’”

{Illustration}

image

I think this is what happened to Peter. He decided to get practical and he gave up.

We know that Peter denied Jesus three times on the night between Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. Peter denied knowing Jesus because he was unsure of and devastated by what was happening, scared for his life, his spirit was crushed and he was terrified.

image

That is why Resurrected Jesus came to the shores of the Sea of Galilee to talk to Peter that morning. What followed was an exchange between Jesus and Peter, where Jesus asked Peter three times, “Peter, do you love me?” Jesus did not lay guilt trips nor accusations. Jesus asked Peter a simple question, “Peter, do you love me?”

And Peter had to “kiss the frog.” I am talking about “the frog” that lived in his heart and mind; Peter had to own up to his own emotions of guilt and shame about his denial, and come face to face with his weakness, his impetuousness, and his brokenness as a fallen human being. Peter had to own up to giving up his dreams and his calling.

image

When tragedy and loss happen in our lives, we face a choice. Our first option is that we can give into the void and emptiness that fill our hearts and souls, constrict our ability to think and act, suck the air out of our lungs, and drain us of our desire to live. Our second option is to try to find meaning. Notice I did not say that the second option is to try to explain why the tragedy and loss occurred. I said that the second option is to seek the meaning of what happened.

image

Hope, vision, spiritual and emotional growth follows meaning, not explanations.

image

On that shore of the Sea of Galilee, Jesus helped Peter come to terms with and find meaning in what happened. It was a way for Jesus to reassure Peter that life goes on and Peter had a part in it.

image

Today we saw Peter recognize what the wind and fire at Pentecost was all about, and he addressed the crowd without fear or hesitation. Today we saw Peter acknowledge Jesus without any hesitation.

image

Listen to what Peter told the people, “you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” – that is Hope.

image

“The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call” – that is vision of a new church and a new life.

image

We find meaning in our lives only when we are prepared to face God face to face and are prepared to face our own fallenness. That is what the period between Easter and Pentecost was for the Disciples. By finding the meaning, they found the way to reinvent themselves and carry Jesus into every corner of the Earth.

When was the last time that you realized you had let your dreams and hopes slip away? When was the last time that you had “to kiss the frog” inside you and ask yourself “what was I afraid of?”

image

In Memory of Cpl. Stephen J. Ballard; a letter to the community of Kingswood United Methodist Church

On Wednesday, April 26, 2017, police officer Stephen J. Ballard, 32, was fatally shot in Bear, DE after approaching a vehicle in the parking lot of a local convenience store. We do not know what caught his attention or raised his suspicions. All we know is that his life was cut short in its prime, that one suspect has been caught, and as I write this, there is a standoff between police and a second suspect.

Because of my office as a pastor, I am privileged to spend time with people, to hear their stories, and to share in their celebrations as well as in their grief.

As our community comes to terms with the shooting of Cpl. Ballard, I am mindful of the impact the death of a law enforcement officer has on both their family and the community. His life – full of potential, promise, hope and courage – was taken suddenly, leaving an empty space filled with disbelief, anger, and pain.

Most law enforcement officers who die in the line of duty leave behind families and children. Long after all of us have moved on, the family, the spouse of the slain officer and their children continue to live and deal with the memories of loss and brokenness resulting from the shooting. Please pray for the extended family, wife, and children of the slain officer.

I hope that all of us in the community of Kingswood United Methodist Church will take time to reflect on and to acknowledge the dedication of those who protect us (our policemen, our firemen, and our EMTs,) and to honor them with our prayers and actions. Let us acknowledge their very special calling with appreciation and respect.

May the memory of our fallen policemen live on in our hearts.

May God bless and protect those who are called to work in public safety (our policemen, our firemen, and our EMTs).

Philos

Asher

Thinking Towards Sunday; April 30 and May 7

Scripture for April 30 is Acts 2:14a, 36-41

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

Scripture for May 7 is Acts 2:42-47

You can read this Scripture here {NIV2010 and ESV}

Approximate Notes for Sunday’s Message; John 20:19-31

Scripture for this Sunday: John 20:19-31

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

image

2000 years after the Resurrection, we CELEBRATE Easter. We sing songs, we imagine the Angels’ reaction when they finally figured out what was happening.

image

By contrast, on the First Easter, the Disciples and followers of Jesus were grief stricken, desperate and scared, their hearts heavy with disappointment, fear and gut-wrenching anxiety, not knowing what would happen next and whether they themselves would be able to survive the ordeal.

Before that Friday, they had real Hope, a Hope of a different and better tomorrow, a Hope of making a REAL difference in the world, a Hope that with Jesus’ leadership and guidance they could change the whole world and ease the suffering of their people. Others also saw something in Jesus they had not seen before.

image

But on that Friday, things took a seemingly wrong turn and everything fell apart. It happened so quickly, so dramatically, and with such finality; all their hopes were nailed to the Cross and left to die. When Sunday came, and Jesus’ body was missing, they did not know what to think or how to be.

image

When tragedy and loss happen in our lives, we face a choice. Our first option is that we can give into the void and emptiness that fill our hearts and souls, constrict our ability to think and act, suck the air out of our lungs, and drain us of our desire to live. Our second option is to try to find meaning. Notice I did NOT say that the second option is to try to explain why the tragedy and loss occurred. I said that the second option is to seek the meaning of what happened.

image

Hope, vision, spiritual and emotional growth follows meaning, not explanations.

image

In times of loss, uncertainty and doubt creep into our souls. Times of loss and frustration present us with opportunities to face our doubts and fears, and as we deal with them, the Holy Spirit of our God helps us to grow in our faith.

image image image

  • “See, I have refined you, though not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction” (Isaiah 48:10).

  • “For you, God, tested us; you refined us like silver” (Psalm 66:10).

  • “I will refine them like silver and test them like gold. They will call on my name and I will answer them; I will say, ‘They are my people,’ and they will say, ‘The LORD is our God'” (Zechariah 13:9).

image

Today is the first Sunday of the period of time between Easter and Pentecost. For the Disciples and followers of Jesus, this was a time of searching for meaning in the tragedy of Good Friday and the unexpected events of the first Easter morning.

In the life of the early church it was the beginning of a journey through which Christian communities tried to discover and articulate who they were. The Disciples had to grow into a new reality that they did not yet fully understand.

image

By facing their fears and anxieties, they discovered the meaning in Jesus’ death and discerned what God was doing in the world and in their lives.They understood that their lives could not be the same anymore because of their relationship with Jesus, both before and after the Resurrection. They understood that their reality and their lives would be different, because of their relationship with Jesus.

All of us have been in a similar place in our own lives. I am talking about times when everything that we know and love is changing or even taken from us. I am talking about times when we must reinvent ourselves.

Was it a time when you lost a loved one? Was it a time of national tragedy that threatened everything you believed to be right, true and beautiful? Was it a time when you lost a job and did not know what you would do next? I saw the same “lost-ness” in college freshmen who found themselves in an environment where their High School “ways” did not produce the results that they expected. Pastors go through this process every time we change appointments. Churches go through this process every time they receive new pastors. Newlyweds go through this process after they are married. Young people go through this process when they move out. Older people go through this process when they retire.

image

Today’s Scripture gives us an illustration of Jesus appearing to his Disciples and helping Thomas grow in his faith. Resurrected Jesus usually visited small groups of people in remote areas or in a closed room. These visits deepened the faith of those who already followed him; the Bible does not give us reports of Jesus appearing to unbelievers because Jesus entrusted that task to us.

Jesus did not marry; he has no descendants. Jesus did not write books and pamphlets. Jesus did not leave possessions that can be displayed in a museum. The only traces of Jesus that we have are in our hearts and souls and experiences. If it was not for the generations of Christians who made their relationship with Jesus known, today we would know nothing about him. That was his design.

image

Jesus’ appearances have a certain feel of being ordinary. Easter changed everything; but life went on. The Resurrection gave us a glimpse of God’s restoration plans for a fallen world, but for the time being the Disciples felt abandoned, lost, and confused, their leader more absent than present.

That is true in our lives as well. We get settled into a routine, then Jesus taps us on a shoulder and things change. We then get used to this new and different routine, and Jesus shows up again. Our lives are a sequence of days. Some days are happy, some days are sad. Sometimes we experience sadness and loss, sometimes we experience joy and fulfillment. But no matter what kind of day we are having, our lives are interlaced with experiences of God and these experiences make all the difference. The totality of these experiences enables us to say, “My Lord and my God!” as we confess Jesus to be our Lord and Savior.

Like the disciples, and countless generations of Christians before us, we never know where or when Jesus might show up, how he might speak to me or to you, or what he might ask of us.

image

The last verse in today’s reading makes a claim, “… these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31).

Thinking Towards Sunday

Scripture for this Sunday: John 20:19-31

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

Approximate notes for Maundy Thursday Message; April 13, 2017

The triumphal entry into Jerusalem…

The cleansing of the temple…

The teaching and the miracles…

All of these displayed God’s Power! All of these were displays of the sheer volume of energy, gracious strength and good will of Jesus flowing towards us. I suspect that the faith of the disciples soared between the Triumphant Entry on Sunday and Thursday of that fateful week.

The Passover meal was, and still is, a high holy feast on the Jewish calendar. Jesus and his inner circle, the twelve original disciples, gathered together for a meal. Over and over, as they followed the liturgy of the sacred meal, Jesus reiterated His love for them. Not satisfied with just words, Jesus even knelt before each of them to wash their travel-weary feet.

Earlier I said that I suspect that the faith of the disciples soared between the Triumphant Entry and the time of the Seder meal.

That is why, when Jesus cautioned about tests, trials, and persecutions that lay ahead for the Disciples and His followers, they were confident that they could face anything.

Peter even said, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.” (Luke 22:33)

All of us have been there. All of us have times in our lives when our faith feels unshakable and unassailable. Surrounded by so many proofs of God’s love, encouraged by a personal relationship with Jesus, and emboldened by the nudging of the Holy Spirit how could we ever doubt?

Times like that are the most perilous times on our Christian journeys. It is in those times of unshakable and unassailable faith that we so often fail and come short of what it means to be a follower of Jesus. We are in good company. Before daybreak the next day, Peter swore three times that he had never heard of Jesus.

Maundy Thursday represents our moral and spiritual failures; failures that follow shortly after our moments of high commitment. Maundy Thursday represents the times when, having made great promises, we fail to deliver. Maundy Thursday represents the times when we let God and ourselves down and are faced with the certainty of our own weakness and inadequacy.

Every story and every situation has two sides to it. Maundy Thursday is also the beginning of the most hopeful stage of our Christian journey. There is no Resurrection without Good Friday, and there is no Good Friday without Maundy Thursday.

Maundy Thursday asserts that when we place our trust in ourselves, we will eventually fail. Maundy Thursday asserts that when we fail to acknowledge our reliance on God’s grace and guidance, we will eventually fail.

Jesus warned Peter, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you three times deny that you know me.” (Luke 22:34)

That was not said with condemnation. That was not said as a way to lay a guilt trip. That was not said with rejection. Jesus knows that for something new to come forth, there has to be a loss. Jesus knows that for new life to spring forth, something has to die.

Complacency, arrogance, conceit, pride, smugness and self-satisfaction are good candidates for that.

God knew that on the other side of Easter, Peter would find the power that never fails.

God knows that on the other side of Easter, we will find what we need.

As we approach the most solemn day of our Christian calendar, the joy of the Lord is your strength. God is by your side… even when we fail God and disappoint each other.

Approximate Notes for Sunday’s Message; Palm Sunday; Matthew 21:1-11

Scriptures for this Sunday: Matthew 21:1-11

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

image

2001 and 2002 were frustrating years for me. God’s call on my life was becoming more and more pronounced, but I was scared to step out on faith and cut the umbilical cord that connected me to the world of software engineering and process design. You can even say that I was hedging my bets. I felt God’s presence with me, and I was scared. I wanted to serve God, and I wanted to do it on my terms because I was too scared to make the necessary changes in my life. Although I did not recognize that at the time, DCOM saw it. That is why they did not recommend me for an appointment; I was not ready yet.

image

Today is Palm Sunday. We just heard the story of Jesus entering Jerusalem. We love this story. When we were kids we learned the larger narrative of events that took place during Holy Week, and that story brings memories of Easters gone by. Those memories infuse our lives with meaning.

Because we live almost 2000 years after the events of the first Easter, we know the rest of the story. That knowledge has an effect on what the Triumphant Entry mean to us.

On Palm Sunday we remember Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem in the past, and we also celebrate His entry into our future, the hope of our Salvation and the joy of our Redemption. If we could tell the people in Jerusalem 2000 years ago what the Triumphant Entry means to us today, they would not believe us.

image

Passover was the festival to celebrate the freedom from oppression in Egypt. It also had undertones of winning freedom back from the Romans. And what the people of Judea understood about the coming Messiah was very much influenced by what we call the Apocalyptic writings of the Hebrew Scriptures. The people of Judea were expecting that the Messiah would come and smite the unrighteous, destroy Roman oppressors, restore Israel to the golden days of King David, and that Israel would rule the rest of the world. Emphasis was on “the Messiah will do lots of things” and “we will enjoy the results.”

When crowds shouted “Hosanna,” that was their understanding of the role that Jesus would play in the celebrations of Passover and in the earthly story of descendants of Abraham.

Those who shouted “Hosannas” that day looked on Jesus as God’s anointed from the house of David, of whom the prophets had spoken. People had definite messianic expectations about who Jesus is. However misguided their particular expectations may have been, their actions were based on the belief that Jesus is the promised son of David, through whom the redemption announced by God’s prophets would come. They understood who Jesus is; their conclusion was that God would do what they would have done.

In modern English, “Hosanna” roughly translates as “Hurrah!” or “Praise the Lord!” In first century Aramaic, the word “Hosanna” meant “Lord, save us!” with the added connotation of “by obliterating our enemies” / “by leading us to victory.”

There is a concept called “research bias.” Simply stated, it says that we believe what we want to believe, not what the evidence or data tells us. We make our findings fit our wants, hopes, and preconceived notions. Because of the “research bias” many people in Jerusalem and Judea totally overlooked that Jesus’ ministry was not that of a general who will lead the country in a coup against the Romans. Because of the “research bias” everyone on the streets overlooked the fact that Jesus entered Jerusalem riding a donkey, not a war horse. People’s expectations were set and they wanted to fit God into their expectations.

So what’s in all this for us? What can we learn from the story of Easter, and more importantly from the events of that day when Jesus entered Jerusalem?

image

It is a scary feeling when we do not understand something. When we do not understand what is happening we feel out of control, we feel helpless and powerless. People of first century Judea did not like that feeling any more than we do today.

That is why they tried to fit Jesus into their worldview and understanding. When Jesus did not start a military coup, they were disappointed and angry with Jesus, crushed in spirit, scared, frustrated and demoralized. They did not understand what was going on. I wonder if at least some of them expected that threat of death on the cross would force Jesus to act in a manner that they wanted?

image

To me personally, Palm Sunday is a reminder that God is more complex that I can imagine. To me personally, Palm Sunday is a reminder that God is not just with me, but also with people I do not like. To me personally, Palm Sunday is a reminder that God is always with me but that I am not always with God. God was with me in 2001 and 2002 challenging and encouraging me to go into ministry and I was waving my hands, singing “Hosanna!” and “Praise the Lord!,” not willing to take responsibility for what I was called to do, refusing to take the responsibility of the call that God put on my life.

Am I the only one who has experienced such a conundrum? Have you ever wanted to force God into doing something? Have you ever hoped that if you pray hard enough or say just the right words, you will be blessed or whatever it is you wish for will come true? Have you ever said “God is in control,” when what you really meant to say was that you wanted to absolve yourself of any responsibility for what was happening?

Invite

{Invitation to place palms at the foot of the cross.}

Thinking Towards Sunday: Palm Sunday 2017

Scriptures for this Sunday: Matthew 21:1-11

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

Approximate Notes for Sunday’s Message; April 2, 2017; John 11:1-7, 17, 20-27, 33-44

Scriptures for this Sunday is John 11:1-7, 17, 20-27, 33-44

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

image

 

In the last two weeks we looked at the story of the Samaritan Woman and the story of the Man Born Blind. One of the ways to interpret these stories is that both stories are resurrection stories. In both stories, the Samaritan Woman and the Man Born Blind were given a new outlook on life. As a result, both of them were able to invite new possibilities into their lives and to reinvent themselves. These are resurrection stories in a sense that they are reinvention stories.

image

Every time that we experience the real presence of Jesus in our lives is a day of “resurrection.” Every time that our personal relationship with the risen Lord enables us to find hope where at first glance we only see strife and chaos is a day of “resurrection.”

image

Resurrection is not just a belief. Resurrection is not something that we confess. Nor do I think that resurrection is something that we can comprehended with our limited minds because Resurrection is not logical.

I believe that Resurrection can ONLY be experienced.

When we experience resurrection, we feel renewed and recharged, we feel that we have a new lease on life. We say things like, “God is not done with me yet.” Unless you yourself have experienced resurrection, the story of the Raising of Lazarus is just a cool story that we hear in church, usually during Lent, that has nothing to do with our lives. Without personally experiencing resurrection, the story of the Raising of Lazarus is hard to comprehend and to understand, and even harder to apply to our own lives.

In my early days as a follower of Jesus, I used to struggle with the Resurrection. Today I know that Resurrection is not just a confession. Today I know that Resurrection is not just a theological concept. Today I know that Resurrection is not theoretical. Resurrection is real and tangible. Resurrection is our relationship with God – yours and mine.

Resurrection is the experience of an ongoing conversation and relationship with Jesus.

Conversation with Jesus transformed the Samaritan Woman from a pariah to a witness of God’s love. Conversation with Jesus opened the eyes of the Man Born Blind and changed how he interacted with his neighbors.

Resurrection is the experience of hearing your name being called to come out from the darkness of your “tomb” and to feel Jesus’ heart beating next to yours.

In John 11:43-44 we heard:

43 … Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.

Jesus said to them, Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”

image

In every resurrection (notice the small “r”) there is a moment of resurrection followed by a process of resurrection. “Lazarus, come out,” is a moment of resurrection.

After Lazarus came out, the last sentence of the reading is, “Jesus said to them, Take off the grave clothes and let him go.’”

There is a huge difference between hearing the call and invitation, and responding to it. After being dead, Lazarus was alive. Being alive and living are two different things. Lazarus had to relearn how to be alive and how to live. The memory of dying and the experience of death had to leave a mark on his soul. That is why Jesus told everyone to let Lazarus go, so that Lazarus had a chance to understand what had happened and to think about what he had learned from that experience.

{Transition to the Sacrament of the Holy Communion}

image

Thinking towards Sunday

Scriptures for this Sunday is John 11:1-7, 17, 20-27, 33-44

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

%d bloggers like this: