John 20:29-31 – Sermon – Scars

Image from Art and the Bible

John 20:19-31
Scars
04-15-12
I have some cool scar stories and some lame ones.  Under my chin I have a scar from falling off my bike and having my chin be the first to thing to hit the road.  I had one some on my knees from similar stories and incidents.  There is a faint scar on my thumb when I sliced it open with a pocket knife the night before we left for England.  I had a choice to either go to the emergency room and get a stitch or two or suck it up and hope it heals as we flew overseas.  Then there are the lame stories.  I have this coolest looking scar on my hand but I got it in youth group playing football and the guy trying to intercept the ball had long fingernails and sliced me.  Then there is the one on my forehead.  Alycia gave that one to me…well some stories shouldn’t be told from the pulpit.  Just kidding but it is a lame story for another time.
You cannot go through life without some sort of scaring.  There are the scars we get on the outside but there are also those that no one can see that tear up our insides, our emotions, our spiritual lives.  It is how we deal with those scars that tells us a lot about who we are and whose we are.
I want to introduce you to someone.  Her name is Claire Wimbush.  I’ll let her tell you more about herself. 
I love the theology Claire uses here.  Or to say it another way, I love the imagery Claire uses to talk about God.  “God became a particular body in history, in Jesus Christ.”  We forget that God, when he chose to be born into human flesh was limited to a human body.  Yes there were times when the divine power took over and he could do things that we mere humans cannot but he was still in that human form.  At the resurrection and after he still had the scars of his crucifixion on him.  To quote Claire again, “And God, who can make oceans, and elephants with ears the size of table cloths, and blue butterflies and all the wonderful things we see around us could surely find the power to close those wounds and to resurrect the Son of God in a perfectly whole body.  So the fact that God did not choose to do that tells me something mysterious about how God wishes to be in the world.  God never chooses to be with us except to be with us in our brokenness.”
That is powerful coming from a person with spastic cerebral palsy, a person who has known no life except one fill with imperfections when it comes to her body.  But we all have that don’t we.  In our society we have this grand idea of perfection.  We look at magazine covers, movie actors, sports stars and we attempt to hold ourselves up to that ideal and that image.  Yet is that what God is calling us too?
Usually in the story of Doubting Thomas we concentrate on Thomas.  We look very hard at the one who doubted because of all those who have doubted in the past or continue to doubt the resurrection of Jesus.  It is a great soap box for us preachers to stand up on the Sunday after Easter.  But what I found interesting is looking it from Jesus’ perspective.  In this story what does Jesus use to prove his resurrection?  He uses his scars.  He uses the holes in his hands and the slice in his side to prove to Thomas that it is really him.
The painting shown on the screen is called Doubting Thomas or as it is known Thomas Putting His Finger on Christ’s Wound.  The painting is done by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio [car-a-vahj-o].  This painting was done around 1602-1603 and what makes Caravaggio unique is his use of light and darkness.  It almost makes the image look 3D.  I love this painting for many reasons.  One reason is how real it looks.  His ability has a painter is amazing and the position of all the characters in the painting almost invites you to bend in for a closer look.  I love how you can see the little flap of skin resting on Thomas’ finger and I have always wondered when Thomas did this in real life if it tickled.  The other reason is a little more recent discovery.  When I was looking at this painting again something struck my eyes for the first time.  We see one of Jesus’ hands holding back his robe, exposing his wound.  What is his other hand doing though?  It is on the wrist of Thomas guiding it into his wound. 
When I saw that I was amazed because of what it tells us about the character of God.  He is okay with our doubt.  He is okay with us questioning him.  He will caringly and gracefully carry us through the process of making sense of it all and coming to a place of belief.  In this painting Jesus is in control and like a father allowing their little child to poke around and explore his face while sitting on his lap, Jesus is allow the disciples to soak up as much hands-on experience as they need to belief in the resurrection.
Let’s hear a little bit more from Claire.
Wow.  What a person of God.  What a child of God Claire is.  Many of us would be holding a grudge against God for the hand that we were dealt if we were in Claire’s shoes.  Some of us are mad at God for the life we have or the situations we have gone through.  But is it worse than Claire’s?  I look around and I see able body people.  I see people who are dealing with life, some more than others, but you all can wash your hair.  You can get dressed by yourself.  Life, when compared to someone who has spastic cerebral palsy, is quiet good. 
I am not diminishing your wounds or your scars.  But I think Claire gives us a great perspective this morning.  Here is one quote from her, “As a culture we have fallen into the trap of allowing imperfections to be deeply stigmatizing.  We believe imperfections only diminish us, if we have [a life altering disease, cancer, if we are over weight, if we don’t move like we use to or if we aren’t the ideal we always hoped to be than] we are somehow less than we should be.”  When we do this though do you understand what we are doing to God?  We are telling God that he got it wrong.  When our DNA cocktail was mixed up and he implanted talents, gifts, and feelings into our soul, that somehow God didn’t know what he was doing.  What it comes down to is we are unhappy with who we are.
I wonder if Jesus is unhappy with the marks on his body?  When we meet him and we see the scars in his hands and feet, the flap of skin on his side, they flogging scars on his back, will he hide himself from us, ashamed of his past?  I don’t think so.  I think he will give us permission for us to take it in so we can find belief in what he had done.  I think he wears those scars as badges of honor and ways to show how God’s glory, God’s grace, and God’s love for us was carried out in this world.  I think he will look at us and say, “Put your finger here.  Look at my hands.  Put your hand into my side.  No more disbelief.  Believe!”
The good news is we can do that to.  Claire’s message and her theology about her life will always be stuck in my head.  She has shown us her wounds, her scars, her imperfections and by doing so has shown us the glory of God.  She said that we strive to this image of perfection that is glossy, shiny, and pretty but that is false.  There is truly only one perfect person in this world.  He died a little over a week ago and last Sunday came back to life.  He was resurrected from the dead and boldly shows us his scars in order for us to believe. 
Our job as followers of this perfect person is to hold ourselves up to his standards, not the worlds.  He looked at each one of us as we were being formed in our mother’s womb and he knew us.  He knows what you are going through and the little and big imperfections we have to deal with.  Instead of being ashamed and stigmatized by them, maybe we should use them as a way to point to the glory of God instead.
Claire said that her job is to reminder her congregation where they are going and when they get lost to remind them to “learn to become so aware of yourself and so aware of what God is doing in your life and in the life of the community around you, that everything you do shows forth the glory of God, even the imperfections.”  So may you look at your imperfections, your wounds and your scars with new eyes.  See them not how the world sees them but see them through the eyes of the Risen Christ, as proof of what he has done for us and does through us in order for others to believe.  That will bring glory to the Risen God we worship everyday!
And all God’s people said…Amen.
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Mark 16:1-8 – Easter – Sermon – The Beginning

Mark 16:1-8
The Beginning
04-08-12
We like good endings.  We enjoy it when a movie or the book ends and everything is wrapped up in a nice little bow.  The boy gets the girl, or the girl gets revenge, or the family is reunited, or the lost are found, or the kids make it through okay.   We leave the theater or turn off the TV or close the book and we think, that was nice.  It was a full story with a beginning, a middle and an end.  There are some stories out there that don’t really end well.  If you remember the TV series ALF, about a lovable alien that lives with the Tanner family.  In last frame of the series finale ALF is finally captured by the Alien Task Force.  Kids cried for days after watching the lovable puppet being caught by the evil authorities, which have been wanting to catch him and torture him for years.  Then you had the weird ending for Little House on the Prairie when they decide to blow up the whole town after a railroad tycoon buys the land out from under everyone.  It didn’t seem to fit the feel of the nice, wholesome show, as the audience watched each family take turns blowing their houses up to only splinters.  It is hard to wrap things up nicely.
But we should know by now that the Bible isn’t interested in wrapping things up nicely.  The classic story of Jonah ends with God’s open ended question about the Ninevites and Jonah mad as a wet hornet sitting under a withered bush.  In Jesus’ parables we don’t know what happened to the Good Samaritan or the Prodigal Son.  There is no Disney ending in those stories.  Even in other events we never really learn what happens like in Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus.  All we know is he came in the dark of night and they had a conversation.  How this encounter ends is Jesus talking and then that is it. 
The author of Mark’s gospel had the same problem.  Depending on your Bible there is usually some type of headings in between the 8th and 9th verses of Mark’s 16th chapter.   The headings usually say something like, “The Shorter Ending of Mark” and “The Longer Ending of Mark.”  It looks like in the original manuscript the Gospel simply ends with the verse, “Overcome with terror and dread, they fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.”  People speculate that readers didn’t like that ending so they later added a shorter one and a longer one which ties everything up in a nice neater bow.
But to stop with the Marys leaving the empty tomb scared, that doesn’t make much sense.  Do we really want to end the story of Jesus life on earth with words like terror, dread, and afraid?  There isn’t a marketing firm out there that would think that is a good idea.  It would be like a shoe company changing its slogan to “$100 shoes made for $.12 an hour.”  The fact that sweatshops have been used to create what we wear on our feet is not what we want to think of when we purchase something.  We want a rosier picture, something warm and fuzzy to hold on to.  We don’t want a picture of two women leaving the empty tomb in terror and dread who then go away and say nothing.  We like John’s story better when Jesus appears to Mary in the garden and gives her comfort and peace.  That is a better ending to the story.
There is this gut wrenching feeling that all people get when it comes to death.  After a long struggle with watching a loved one die; after the days of waiting by their side wondering if that breath will be there last; after the countless nights of no sleep and the inability to eat; death finally comes.  There are the feelings of loss and mourning but there is also this nagging feeling of relief.  We don’t like to think about it but it is always there.  There is relief in death.  Yes they are not in pain anymore and their struggle is over but for those who stay behind there is relief that our care is done.  That chapter in our lives is over and now we can start the long journey of moving on.
Mary and Mary went to Jesus’ tomb to move on.  They were providing the last bit of devotion to the man they followed and loved.  As a last act of locality they were finding closure by doing what women did back then and taking care of the dead.  But instead of finding the body of Jesus they found a man in a white robe who says that the person they knew and believed was God’s son has been resurrected.  That feeling of relief and wanting to seek closure was gone.  Instead they are now filled with fear and dread.
In 2003 one of the hottest books was one called The Da Vinci Codeby Dan Brown.  There was a huge uproar because it states that Jesus was actually married to Mary Magdalene.  A secret order of the Catholic Church was in charge of keeping it a secret because Christianity would be turned on its head if the real truth came out.  All around the US churches had sermon series on the book, held Bible studies and book clubs to discuss if what Dan Brown wrote had any shred of truth in it.  I was in charge of a study on this book and as we gathered in a living room we discussed the relevance of this book with actual history and faith.  We discussed the other non-canonized gospels that were out there and how the Bible was actual created.  We then discussed other times in history when similar debates arose.  Then someone asked why people, like Dan Brown, find excitement in trying to prove the Bible and the Christian faith wrong.  The only answer I could muster up was exactly what the two Marys were feeling when they saw that stone rolled away, fear and dread.
What people fear and dread is the truth.  If the stone is rolled away and the man in the white robe is correct that Jesus as been raised….now what!  This means all those predictions Jesus talked about are true.  This means that Jesus IS God’s son.  This means he did raise up a new temple in three days after it was destroyed.  This means the resurrection is TRUE and that is a scary, terrify, and the dreadful reality some people don’t want to believe.  Sometimes it is better to think of any other option out there then to realize the truth in the resurrection.
While Mary and Mary stood at the entrance to the tomb and listened to the man in white explain what had happened what they thought was the end turned into the beginning.  That three year journey they took with the carpenter’s son from Nazareth was only the prelude to the story that was unfolding.  The stone that was rolled away was now placed on the shoulders of those who followed him as the responsibility to profess what had happened.  The weight of that responsibility was setting in to the women’s hearts as they left the tomb and the fear of that reality disabled their ability to profess the glory of the resurrection.
I think Alycia and I will never forget the day when we left the hospital with Dean and went home for the first time as a family of three.  It is a surreal feeling to go through the birth of your first child.  All that waiting is now over.  All the planning and prepping is behind you as you buckle up your little one in the car seat for the first time.  The hospital where Dean was born had a policy that when a new baby was leaving the hospital a person had to check the car seat to make sure they were strapped in correctly.  In a moment of fatherly pride, finally able to do SOMETHING, I strapped Dean in for the first time and showed the lady my work. She glanced down, checked to see it was tight enough but not too tight, and then looked at us and said congratulations and went back into the hospital.  That was it. 
We put Dean in the car and took a slow drive back home.  I had to do more to get my driver’s license then I did to take my first born home from the hospital.  There was no proof needed that I lived where I lived and could manage the raising of another human being.  There was no background check or guidelines to follow or proof of insurance needed.  After nine months of waiting, all those doctor visits, birthing classes, books, and nursery building, it all ended with a quick check of a seat belt and the kid was all ours.  The weight of that responsibility fell heavy on our shoulders.  The ride home was slow not only because of the precious cargo but because the weight was falling heavy on our shoulders and fear and dread filled our souls.
The truth is when the stone was rolled away it was our turn to pick up the mantel and the responsibility of doing God’s work was passed on.  The new covenant was made and pressure was on.  That is a lot to take in when it is not what you are expecting.  The fact is after forty days of waiting, after forty days of self-denial and preparation we come to worship today not to say that it is over but to profess it has begun, once again.
The youth watched Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ a couple of weeks ago and that is a very sobering movie to put into perspective what Christ went through Friday.  After Christ’s death in the final scene we see him get up, with the nail prints in his hands, and the movie fades to black. It is a nice ending to a bloody movie and that is where most people would like to stop.  Yet the truth, the reality of the resurrection is that is the only the beginning of our responsibility and duty as followers of the Risen Christ.
If we truly believe that Christ is Risen (He has Risen Indeed); If we feel that truth in our hearts and are willing to be transformed by the reality that Christ is Risen (He has Risen Indeed); If we are willing to turn our lives over in dedication, in our commitment to follow his will for our lives then brothers and sisters in Christ it is only beginning.
May you come this Easter morning to an empty tomb and leave feelings of fear and dread.  Because to do so means that you have accepted the truth that Christ is Risen (He has Risen Indeed).  Feel the weight of that responsibility on your soul this morning because that means you understand and you believe.  There is no shame in fear.  There is no betrayal in letting reality soak in before you act.  The Marys left the tomb and did just that.  If they never told anyone then we wouldn’t be here.  Their inability to speak changed and the disciples learned of the resurrection soon enough.  They met him in Galilee and we meet him here in this place today. 
So how to I wrap up an Easter sermon?  How do I make it nice and neat with a pretty bow around everything?  How do we go from this place today?  Changed?  Affected?  Bored? Transformed?  Fearful?  Ready?  Here is the truth…Christ is Risen (He has Risen Indeed); Christ is Risen (He has Risen Indeed); CHRIST IS RISEN! (He has Risen Indeed)….

Easter = Low Sunday

It is a very strange circumstances at my church.  It has taken me at least 3 years to get use to it.  But the reality is that Easter Sunday has always been, historically, a low Sunday.  The main reason is that many of the families own beach houses and spend the long weekend with their family at the beach. But I still remember my first Easter here and the feeling of joy that shot out of me like a circus cannon when I looked out into the congregation and saw 2/3 of my usual congregation.

We do not have many visitors on Easter Sunday.  Since our small town of 25,000 people have around 90 churches to choose from I guess we are simply low on the list.  Or the sign out front isn’t enough to draw in visitors.  Or everyone is at the beach.

Last year seemed a little fuller but the congregation has changed.  There are more new families over the last three years that have joined and they don’t have access to beach houses.  As we have broken free from relying on the “from heres” and more of the “come heres” have filled the pews, those pews have stayed filled during the high holy days.

Regardless I have warned our new music director that the service will seem very ‘normal’ on Easter.

So here is an invite to all the world.  If you would like to come and worship on Easter morning…come on out to Trinity UMC in Thomasville, NC at 11:00am.  Heck come at 8:30am for an Easter Communion Service and stay for breakfast at 9:00am.  There will be plenty of room!

John 20:1-18 – Easter Sermon – Believe

Here is my rough draft for Easter Sunday, enjoy…

John 20:1-18
Believe
04-24-11

Christ has Risen (He has risen indeed). Christ has Risen (He has risen indeed). Christ has Risen (He has risen indeed). There is one day that separates us from all other religions and makes us unique among the world’s belief systems. There is only one day that we point at and say, if you want to know who we are start there. There is only one day that we as Christians look at as the definition of who we are…that day is today. Christ has Risen (He has risen indeed). Christ has Risen (He has risen indeed).

Today is the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Spring Equinox. It is the day that the tomb was found to be empty. It is the third day after Jesus’ death on the cross. Today is the day the promise is fulfilled and the world changed forever. Today is Easter the day we as followers of the Risen Lord proclaim with our whole being, Christ has Risen (He has risen indeed). Christ has Risen (He has risen indeed). Christ has Risen (He has risen indeed).

But what does it mean to believe in the resurrection? What does it mean to take what we celebrate today and turn it into something we live out daily? What does it mean to believe in the resurrection? I cannot tell you want to believe but here is what I believe.

I believe in the resurrection. (Why?) I believe because it means sacrifice. (Amen) As I am reading through the Bible in a year I notice how detailed the rules for sacrifice were for the Israelites in the dessert. They had to do certain things for sin offerings, praise offerings, freewill offerings, guilt offerings and so forth. The had to sprinkle the blood of some offerings on the altar and others by the side. Certain festivals required certain sacrifices. It goes on and on in the Torah explaining the meaning and the procedure. As I have been reading this I am amazed at the dedication it took to follow through. But it had to because this was the only way to atone for their sins. This was the only way to make right what went wrong in the garden of Eden.

But if you know the story of the nation of Israel you know that they would go back and forth in their dedication and loyalty to God. They would be dedicated and then they would fall away. God would send a judge, a prophet, a plague, an exile or a leader who would bring them back into right relationship once again. Things would be good but then they would fall away once more.

Finally God was tired of this and decided to make things different. In order for the world to be justified in his eyes, in order for his children to come home, a sacrifice had to be given; a perfect and complete sacrifice. His son spoke up and ‘send me.’ I will put on flesh and dwell among them. I will give up my body and my life as the perfect sacrifice. I will die an innocent man’s death in order to make it right again. I am willing to do that, to be that. I believe the resurrection is a sign that the sacrifice was completed and our sins are now atoned. Christ has risen, (He has risen indeed).

I believe in the resurrection. (Why?) I believe because it means covenant. (Amen) Covenant is a promise and God is known to keep his promise. He told Noah that he would never flood the world again and the rainbow was a sign of this promise. He made a covenant with the people of Israel that they will always be his people. God promised David that he would have a child that would succeed him and establish his kingdom and that kingdom will last forever.

In the 31st chapter of Jeremiah, the prophet speaks and says,
31 “The days are coming,” declares the LORD,
“when I will make a new covenant
with the people of Israel
and with the people of Judah.
32 It will not be like the covenant
I made with their ancestors
when I took them by the hand
to lead them out of Egypt,
because they broke my covenant,
though I was a husband to[d] them,[e]”
declares the LORD.
33 “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel
after that time,” declares the LORD.
“I will put my law in their minds
and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people.
34 No longer will they teach their neighbor,
or say to one another, ‘Know the LORD,’
because they will all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest,”
declares the LORD.
“For I will forgive their wickedness
and will remember their sins no more.”

Jesus at the last Supper took the cup, he gave thanks to God for it and then he said to the disciples, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” On the cross on Friday that blood was shed. I believe in the resurrection because that new covenant of salvation that Jeremiah promised would come, has come and has been fulfilled in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Christ has risen, (He has risen indeed).

I believe in the resurrection. (Why?) I believe because it means power; it means strength (Amen). There is power in the empty tomb. There is great strength in knowing the tomb is empty. It is powerful because it means the powers of this world do not have anything on God. Jesus was paraded in front of the religious leaders. They accused him of blaspheme and other false crimes. Then they took him to the rulers of the day, Herod and Pilate. Both looked at Jesus and tossed him aside. Finally Pilate offered up the opportunity to set a prisoner free, Barabbas or Jesus. The crowd that was waving palms and laying down their coats on the ground instead of praising the Son of God in front of them, cried out crucify him.

The power of the resurrection tells us that God’s authority is greater than anything of this world. Guards on duty watching the rock didn’t stop it from being rolled away. There is strength in Jesus as he went through the capital punishment he had to endure; the flogging, the spiting, the hitting, the mocking, the pain, the suffering, the stabbing into his side and the feeling of breathing your last breath. All of that couldn’t hold him back. Death, that thing that come for all of us, Jesus was able to look at and laugh. Death where is your sting!

This shows me that no matter what happens in my life I can tap into that power and strength. The powers of this world hold nothing on me because of the power God has which is shown in the resurrection. The strength I can have to face any difficulty, any sickness, any trial, any sadness is because I can look at the tomb and know that on the third day it was empty. When we realize we can tap into this power and strength the difficulties of this world fad away because we do not have to rely on our own power, we have God’s. We don’t have to do it ourselves because we have the strength that comes from the one God sent to take our place. I believe in the resurrection because it gives me the power and strength I need to face anything in life. Christ has risen, (He has risen indeed).

I believe in the resurrection. (Why?) I believe because it means beginning of renewal and hope. (Amen). I bet God was saddened when he had to remove Adam and Eve from the garden of Eden. His whole plan for humanity was shattered when they used their free will to disobey. God had to separate himself from them because sin now divided them. They were broken and God had to fix them. When Jesus was raised from dead it was fixed. The process of renewal was started and we can look at the life to come as one of wholeness and completeness.

The world that we know is not the way things are supposed to be. Tornados are not supposed to rip through our land and destroy lives. The earth is not supposed to shake and cause waves to wash away towns, cities, and people. Children are not supposed to be hungry and sick people are not supposed to be sick. People are not supposed to be use to war, slavery, crime, poverty, and oppression. Cancer, AIDS, and all other diseases should not exist. Our kids should not see suicide as the only way out and our parents should not look nursing homes as simply a crowed tomb.

The world is not what it is supposed to be. But there is renewal that comes from an empty tomb. The resurrection promises us that we will be made whole again. When our bodies fail us, when sickness ravage us, when circumstances get the best of us, or when life seems too hard to go on, we are made whole again in the presence of God. We are renewed and we have hope because of the resurrection. Christ has risen, (He has risen indeed).

I believe in the resurrection. (Why?) I believe because it means purpose. (Amen). The resurrection doesn’t stop after Mary comes to the tomb. The resurrection isn’t over because the disciples learn about it or after Jesus appears to them in the upper room and shows Thomas his hands. The resurrection isn’t over when the Church is started and spread. The resurrection isn’t over because today we can come here, on this Easter and celebrate it and enjoy the presence of the resurrected God in our midst.

Our jobs as Christians is not to sit back and be passive. To celebrate Easter and sing to the joys that heaven will bring one day. We are participants in an active faith and one that calls us to serve our neighbors. When the confirmands join today they will be asked the membership questions. One of those questions is, “will you be loyal to the Church and uphold it by the giving of your prayers, your presence, your gifts, your service and your witness.” There is nothing passive about that membership vow. We don’t ask people to promise that they will show up when they can make it and sit in their pews. No we ask them to be active participants in the ministry and life of the church, which is how the resurrection of Jesus Christ is shared with the world. It is through the followers of Christ that God shares his love with the world.

Our purpose is defined by the one whom death could not hold. Our lives are to mirror the one who gave himself up for us and who transformed the world through an empty tomb. I believe in the resurrection because it is what defines who I am and give my life purpose. Christ has risen, (He has risen indeed).

I believe in the resurrection. (Why?) I believe because it means grace and love. (Amen). We do not deserve to be here today. We are not worthy of the being followers Christ. As Charles Wesley said in a hymn, we have “sin soaked souls.” We are unworthy people who think we are gods. We think we can fulfill our own destinies and do it all our own. We are a pig-headed, stubborn people. Yet, God still loves us and that is because he is full of grace.

It is an amazing feeling when you are loved. It is a high like no other. It is something that is transformative. You will change who you are because of love. You will move mountains, part oceans, and journey through the wilderness for love. I am willing to do what it takes to live out the example of Christ because I am loved by God and I know this because of the grace I have felt in my life. Once I noticed the God’s grace I saw it all around me, from birth and still now. I could feel that grace inside me as I realized what the love of God did for me and it is that love and grace that continues to drive me as I attempt to live a life worthy of the one who died and rose again.

I believe in the resurrection because that grace and love is felt deep within me and it wouldn’t be there if death had the last laugh. I believe in the resurrection because I look at this moment in time and I can see the covenant, hope, strength, power, sacrifice, purpose, salvation, love and the grace that was found in the empty tomb. I can see that because the resurrected Christ has whispered my name and I have turned around and proclaimed, Christ has risen, (He has risen indeed). This is what I believe…what does the resurrection mean to you?

And all God’s people said…Amen.

John 21:1-19 – sermon – Third Times A Charm

John 21:1-19
Third Times A Charm
04-18-10

Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. If you were going to be writing a Gospel doesn’t that seem like a perfect ending. It tells the reader that something else happens after your last line in the story but you can’t go into it. What you did write though was to help you believe in Jesus Christ. That is a great ending. Some think it was the original ending to the Gospel of John, until someone came around and inserted the epilogue. Chapter 21, what I just read, many scholars think was added later. Now what the reason of why they added these verses later is unknown and a bunch of people in horned rimmed glasses and sports coats with those elbow patches can argue about why and why not. The 19 verses I read do provide a great look into discipleship and who Christ is and we can glean a lot from it.

The first scene of this epilogue we find Peter, the Disciple whom Jesus loved, who will just call John today, and other disciples all back on a familiar shore. It was on a shore when Jesus called to them and said “follow me.” Now three years later, on the other side of the resurrection, the disciples now find themselves back there again. And when you go back home you try and do what you have always done and so Peter makes the statement, “I’m going fishing.” The other disciples agree and they all hop into a boat and fish all night, not catching a single thing.

When you went off to college do you remember what it was like to come home? When you came home for that first time something had changed, not only in you but also in your house and in your room, or at least that way my case. I remember coming home from Montreat College to find that my youngest sister had started to take over my room. She shared it with my other sister and she wanted for the first time a room to herself. I don’t blame her, she never had a room to herself and now was her chance. She attempted to keep it just like my room although some of her stuff started to flow in. When you go home for the first time you realize that thing people told you was true, you can never really go home. You can’t because you have changed while you were gone and so has your home.

The disciples look at each other after the resurrection is all over and before the day of Pentecost and they wonder, “Now what?” They do what came natural and what almost every guy wants to do when it is a quiet evening with nothing to do, they go fishing. What is funny though is they had lost a lot of skills in three years, either that or they did not understand that when Jesus looked at them and said, “I’ll make you fishers of men,” that it meant they could no longer be fishers of fish. They head out on the boat and fish all night and catch nothing. How can professional fisherman not catch anything? They can’t because they had been changed and home wasn’t home anymore. They had just witnessed the amazing, spent three years walking around with God, and catching fish just doesn’t seem to come as natural anymore.

As morning hits they get a call from shore. A stranger yells out to them to toss their nets over to the right side of the boat. After a night of empty fishing they listen and toss their nets off the right side of the boat and pull in so many fish that the nets almost burst. This scene is astounding because it seems that these fishermen couldn’t do what they were use to, trained to do, until Christ shows up again. This is the third time that Christ has appeared to them. We get the other two in chapter 20 when Jesus appears to them twice in the upper room and the doubting Thomas believes. This third time Jesus is on the shore, although no one has recognized him yet, and tells them that if they will simply follow his direction, even what comes natural to them will yield better results.

As they are pulling in all this fish the disciple Jesus loved, John, yells out, “It’s the Lord.” As they stood their witnessing another miracle it finally dawns on one of them who the stranger was on the shore fixing his breakfast. That was Jesus once again. He had come back to check up on them.

Then there is this humorous image that makes us laugh a little. “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.” In the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible it says, “he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea.” No matter what translation you read it states that Simon Peter, the rock on which the church was going to be built, was fishing naked. Some scholars will say that he was probably just down to his loincloth, or underwear, and not completely naked. Regardless, he then puts on his clothes and jumps into the sea.

They weren’t too far from shore because Jesus could yell to them and Peter makes the swim pretty easy. But we have to ask the question what was Peter thinking. Peter has been known to do some things without thinking because he was the one Jesus looks at and says, “Get behind me Satan.” He is also the one who wants to build some tents up on the Mount of Transfiguration so they could live there. Peter seems to have one of those personalities that make him extremely impulsive and that God created him without that filter between your brain and mouth.

In the Reynolds Program in Church Leadership that I went to last year there was a session that we started to learn about our styles when it comes to change and conflict. There were three points on a linear line that we took a test and found out where we were. On one side there were Originators, in the middle, Pragmatists and on the other side Conserver. An Originator is someone who may appear unorganized, undisciplined, unconventional and spontaneous. These are the dreamers who enjoy risk and uncertainty and who will likely challenge accepted assumptions, policies and procedures. Peter is probably an Originator. In this spontaneous moment he puts his clothes on and jumps into the water. Maybe he was trying to walk on water again, to demonstrate to Jesus that he had a deep faith for him. Or maybe he was just as excited as a puppy when its owner comes home after work.

What is funny is that Peter is the only one who jumps off the boat. The other disciples, once again, stay on the boat. On the other side of the spectrum from Originator is the Conserver. A Conserver is a person who is deliberate, disciplined and organized. If change is going to happen this person who prefer it maintains the current structure. This person enjoys predictability and appears cautious and inflexible and focuses on details and the routine. Twenty bucks you can’t guess where I am on this scale. But I think John is the Conserver on the boat that morning. He is the one who first recognizes that it is Jesus on the shore but then he stays on the boat. If John and I share the same mind this may be what he was thinking, “That is our Lord. Wow he came back to visit again, this is awesome. Now what are we going to do with all this fish. To let it go back would to the sea would defeat the purpose of why we were out here all night. Let’s start to make our way to shore, Jesus will be there. This way we can keep the fish and visit with our Risen Lord. Plus we have plenty of hands to help…ahhh Peter, come on, well now we have JUST ENOUGH hands to help. I’ll stay here to help while you run off and forget your obligations to those on the boat.”

What is great is that Jesus called all these people to be disciples. He calls Originators and Conservers. He also calls Pragmatists. Those who are practical, agreeable and flexible. Those who are open to both sides of the argument and who hold down the middle. He calls all these types of people to be his disciples. This is great because if we are to be fishers of people we need all of them to pull in as much fish as possible. We need people to jump off the boat and others to stay on to guide the boat to shore. What is nice is that Jesus invites them all to breakfast.

When they all get to shore, Jesus breaks bread with them and shares the fish. They enjoy a wonderful breakfast and fellowship once again. Then he turns his eyes to Peter and asks Peter three questions, “do you truly love me.” Three times Peter answers “Yes.” Only a short time ago Peter is asked three times if he knows Christ and he denies it, three times. Here Jesus seems to make up for that denial by asking three times if Peter loves him. After saying yes, Jesus responds, “Feed my lambs, take care of my sheep, feed my sheep.” And in the end he looks at him and says, once again, “Follow Me.”

On a shoreline three years earlier the disciples’ lives were changed because they left everything to follow a man they thought could be the Messiah. They witnessed miracles on previous boats. They saw Jesus calm the rough seas, walk on water, and watch Peter walk on water out to Jesus. They saw Jesus heal people, eat with sinners, produce enough food for 5000 people, turn water into wine, raise people from the dead, tell story after story, all the teaching moments throughout their three year journey, and they all cowered in fear as their rabbi, their Messiah, their Lord, died a humiliating death on the cross. Yet even though his followers forgot him in his hour of need, he still came back, broke bread, forgave them, and called them once again to “follow me.”

An epilogue is included in piece of work to bring closure to a situation. It ties up the book in a nice neat bow around it or it is the cherry on top of the sundae. This intimate picture of the third time Jesus reveals himself to the disciples gives us a glimpse at what we should expect out of our Lord and what our Lord expects out of us.

Once we are transformed by God, once we become followers of Christ, once we decided that our lives are nothing without being covered in the dust from our master’s sandals, than we cannot go back to the way it use to be. We cannot go back to work and think we can do it the same way. We can go back into relationships with friends or loved ones and think it will all be like it was. If we are going to fulfill the mission of Christ we will have to be guided by Christ. We will have to learn to listen and toss our nets off the other side of the boat. If we are going to fulfill the mission of Christ we will have to be fed by Christ. We will have to sit down for breakfast with him and have him ask hard questions to us. We will have to look him in the eyes and say over and over again, “Yes I love you.” When we do this God will look back at us and simply smile and say, “Follow me.”

And all God’s people said…Amen.

John 20:1-18 – Easter Sermon – Living the Resurrection

John 20:1-18

Living the Resurrection

04-04-10

On Saturday, March 20th at 1:32 PM Eastern Standard Time it became official, Spring was here. That was the official time for the Vernal Equinox or Spring Equinox. On this day the Sun rises and sets on the equator and all over the world, for those 24 hours, the day and night are the same amount of time. Skip ahead ten days to March 30th and it is the first full moon after the Spring Equinox. Now we are here on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Spring Equinox, that must mean one thing. It’s Easter! That must mean, HE HAS RISEN!

Here we are. Easter morning. Our bellies are full of the wonderful breakfast. The end of the long 40 days is here. You can eat whatever you gave up now or you can stop what ever you added. Our journey into our souls can now rest for another year and we can bask in the reality that death could not keep our Lord. Sin has now been defeated and we can find assurance that we are going be with God one day because of all this. Because he sent his Son. Because his Son died our death on Good Friday and then rose again today. HE HAS RISEN!

Tomorrow we will stand on the other side of Easter. We will celebrate this for 50 days. The Great 50 days start today. The season of Easter is longer than the season of preparation for it. That is because as we dived into the depth of our souls, confessed our sins and then witnessed what God did for us, we then celebrate because we are Easter people. We get the chance to live on the other side of the resurrection. We have to figure out how to do that though.

Did you hear the one about the preacher, the lawyer and the stand-up comedian? Her name is Rev. Susan Sparks from Madison Avenue Baptist Church in New York City. You heard me a woman Baptist minister who went to school for a lawyer and became a stand-up comedian who then went on to become a minister. Her life is a joke. I was introduced to her through the podcast I listen to from Day 1. As I listened to her sermon for today I was touched by the way she framed her Easter message.

Before we get there though let’s back up. Each Sunday is called a little Easter and each Sunday we should come here to celebrate, proclaim, and worship the one who was resurrected from the dead today. Every Sunday we should shout with joy, HE IS RISEN. But we don’t always. I don’t always preach about the resurrection and I have to confess that the only other time I talk about life after death is a peppering of sermons throughout the year and at funerals. That is where we think most often the message of the resurrection to be true. As we stare death in the eye we thank God that our Lord does not let that be the end for us.

Yet the resurrection is not something that we should wait until our funeral to proclaim. As Rev. Sparks said, “Death can come long before the end of life.” She went on in her sermon to talk about Resurrection Biscuits. Her grandmother lives in South Carolina and apparently is a great cook, like most southern grandparents. Yet there is one thing her grandmother can’t cook and that is biscuits. This is where any good southern person would then chime in, “Bless her heart,” which makes it okay to talk about someone’s grandmother like that. Apparently what would happen with Rev. Spark’s grandmother is that she refused to use baking soda or baking powder in anything. When her biscuits came out of the oven they made hockey pucks look soft and fluffy. Her family said that if you dropped one on the ground that it could wake the dead, thus their nickname for them, “Resurrection Biscuits.”[1]

All her grandmother needed was one more ingredient and her biscuits would come to life instead waking the dead. Rev. Sparks in her sermon goes on to explain how we all need that one ingredient in our lives to make us whole and that ingredient is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Without it, “death can come long before the end of life.”

Do you know anyone who is walking around dead in this world? They exist only because they are here and there is no other purpose for their lives. Life has smacked them hard across the face and now they are stunned and lost. They couldn’t believe that they had to bury their own child. They don’t know what to do since they haven’t worked in 2 years. They just can’t fight this disease any longer. They can’t see past the day of the accident. They are stuck, without purpose, without vigor, without life. They are the dead walking in this world.

Mary was like that. After the Sabbath was over she collected the things she needed to prepare Jesus’ body and she made her way down to the tomb. The Gospels name her as one of the women there who actually watched Jesus die on the cross. She heard the hammers hit the nails that pierced his hands and feet. She heard his cries of pain and watched him attempt to push himself up in order that he could breath. She was there when the solider stuck the spear into Jesus’ side and water and blood ran out. She had watched Jesus die, her Lord, the one she followed, the one she loved. Pain brought her to the tomb. Anguish and depression guided her to the place of her Lord’s burial. It was there she was prepared to meet the worst thing that had happened.

We have moments that we cannot stand to relive. We have places of pain and of suffering. In the book “The Shack,” that we read last summer, the main character Mack is called by God back to place of his greatest pain. He was called back to the cabin where they found his daughter’s dress and blood. It is there that the reality of her kidnapping and murder came crashing down upon him. We have those shacks as well. Places we cannot go, issues we don’t want to face, people we don’t ever want to meet again because death takes over in our souls when that happens. Then we transform into the walking dead as we are consumed.

As Mary headed to that tomb early in the morning she carried the weight of solitude, for no one else was with her. She carried the weight of the oils and perfumes to seal death around Jesus. She carried the pain of what she witnessed on Friday. All that weight bore down on her soul and she wept. Then she arrived at the tomb and saw the stone rolled away. She ran to tell the disciples who came running as well. After Peter and John headed back home, she sat there and wept outside the tomb, once again alone. There she feels dead.

Life is hard. There is nothing about life that is easy. Kids just don’t sleep well and they get sick, which means that you don’t sleep and soon you will be sick. The people in our Sunday School classes get smaller and smaller as we bid them farewell and celebrate their lives. Family issues seem to never go away and consume all of our thoughts and time. Loneliness keeps creeping in and devours our passions and hopes for the future. It is there we feel dead.

Then a man asks Mary, “Why are you crying.” “They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. “Woman,” he said, “why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!”

It is in our despair, in our grief, in our pain, in our suffering that the Risen Lord and Savior meets us and calls out our name. It is in life that our Lord transforms us to be an Easter People. Yes, one of the perks of following Christ is eternity in the presence of God after death but before we get there Christ, through his resurrection, saves our life.

Today as came into worship death was still all around us. The cross was still dead and the altar still barren. Now it is full of life. Where death used to be there is now life. Death could not keep our Lord and the small and big deaths in our life do not keep Christ from meeting us there and calling our name. That is the promise of Easter; that is the promise of resurrection.

Resurrection is promised at the end of our life but what is wonderful is that we can proclaim its power now as we live. We can live in the resurrection knowing that no matter what happens to us and no matter where life takes us, the Risen Lord, will be there. As Mack spent the weekend with God in that cabin of his worst nightmare he was transformed. As we see God in our midst when we visit our pain and our issues we too will be transformed, from death to life. Because today, TODAY, we proclaim boldly that he has risen, He Has Risen, HE HAS RISEN!

And all God’s people said…Amen.

No Open Minds, No Open Doors

I passed a church another UM Church on my commute in to my last appointment. It was a small congregation that had a half to quarter time appointment. They were located on a busy road that during rush hour hundreds of cars always slowed down right in front of their place. They had an old marque brick sign out front and for most of the three years I drove past it, it read, Open Hearts, Open Doors.

Now I thought that was the most honest church sign I had ever seen but I wondered what non-UMC people thought and if they appreciated their honesty. We all know that our igniting ministries slogan is Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors, we are the people of the United Methodist Church. This church at least was happy to let you know that there hearts and doors were open, but not their minds. Refreshing honesty on a marquee.

Many of us say that we have all three, Open Hearts, Minds and Doors. But let’s face it our doors are hard to get to from the parking lot, the ones some visitors try are locked, and don’t ever try to get in on any other day besides Sunday. Churches lock themselves in constantly and make it hard for people to get in. So how can we truly have Open Doors?

We are like the disciples crowded in the upper room, fearful of the ramifications of Jesus’ missing body. The doors are locked. They don’t want to suffer the same fate as Jesus. They don’t want to be blamed for his missing body. They are all up there scared and not knowing what the next move will be.

It is here that Jesus comes in and says, Peace be with you. The resurrected Jesus comes to the disciples, just like he promised. He comes and reminds them that everything he promised is true. He comes to take these 10 and later after Thomas believes 11 disciples and make them into apostles. Instead of just being followers, Jesus turns them into proclaimers of the gospel.

For the churches who’s doors are constantly locked and makes it difficult for people to come in, need a resurrected Jesus to come into their midst again. We all need this Upper Room experience in order to remind us all that we are not a community of followers who lock ourselves in a room out of fear. Our faith is not private and hidden. We are called to move from being followers to being apostles. We have to remove the locks from our doors and truly open them up. Not only to let others in but so that we can go out.