Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Preaching a Christ Crucified and Risen

Paul made an accurate observation when he claimed in his letter to the Corinthians that a crucified messiah made little sense to many non-believers.  Paul wrote: “Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (1 Corinthians1: 22-25) 

The Jews were expecting a messiah to free the Jews from captivity and establish a kingdom for them on earth.  Jesus was killed by the Romans – how could he be the messiah that they had been waiting for? Some Jews understood that Jesus was a different kind of messiah, a messiah that frees all of humanity from captivity to sin and death and establishes the Kingdom of God.   But most Jews did not understand.

The Gentiles worshiped many gods and goddesses.  The Romans did not understand Jewish monotheism, but they respected it because Judaism was ancient.  Christianity, on the other hand, was new and inconsistent to them.    Celcus, a Greek philosopher in the 2nd Century wrote this criticism of Christians:  “If these men worshiped no other God but one, perhaps they would have a valid argument against the others. But in fact they worship to an extravagant degree this man who appeared recently, and yet think it not inconsistent with monotheism if they also worship his servant.”   Jesus was a unique human incarnation of the one eternal God, who suffered a torturous death – this seemed foolishness to most Gentiles. 

Today Christians still preach a Christ crucified, and it is still a stumbling block and foolishness to many people in the world.  And yet our duty is to keep preaching the good news – that God loves us, has redeemed us through Jesus’ death, and one day we will share in Jesus’ resurrection.   As we celebrate the Easter season together, let us joyfully share our faith in the risen Lord with those who have not heard this good news.  And let us patiently share our faith with all those who have heard and yet do not understand.   

Sunday, April 24, 2011

'Tis The Spring of Souls Today - A Sermon for Easter

Easter 2011

Happy Easter! It’s great to finally be able to say that! Easter is so late this year that it’s even warm and thoroughly spring. Spring is my favorite time of year. I hate the cold and I think leafless trees are ugly, so I’m happy that the temperature is rising and that the trees are re-growing their leaves. Flowers are blooming, pollen fills the air and covers our cars – ah, Spring. Even in the coldest part of winter, I know that spring will follow.

I wonder how far back you would have to go in time until you find people who did not know that winter would end in spring. Perhaps among those earliest people who lived before civilizations were established, they might not have known. There had to be, at some point, a group of people living in a tropical or sub-tropical climate and then they or their descendents moved to a temperate zone and experienced their first winter. They wouldn’t know how long or how severe the winter would be, and they might not take for granted the fact that spring would come.

On that first Easter morning, Mary Magdalene went to Jesus’ tomb.  Mark and Luke’s gospel tell us that she went with other women, bringing spices that they had prepared in order to anoint Jesus’ body. John’s gospel only tells us about Mary and not why she went to the tomb. We can be sure that Mary expected one thing, and found something very new and unexpected instead.

People have many reasons why they visit the graves of relatives and loved ones. People visit the graves to pay their respects, to show support for the family of the deceased, to express their thoughts, to make someone’s death more concrete in their minds, to find out information about their ancestors, and to feel more connected to those who have come before us.

Many years ago, after my grandmother’s funeral, my dad took me around to see the tombstones of other family members. I remember having a shock when we came to my great-grandmother’s grave. You see, I had been named after her and so it was my name that I saw on her tombstone. And the name of my brother was on the tombstone right next to her. To me it was a reminder of the inevitability of death, and the reason why you might not want to name your children after their grandparents and great-grandparents.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Not Part of the Crowd - Sermon for Holy Tuesday

A Sermon for Tuesday in Holy Week

John 12:20-36

Sometimes it is very appealing to be just part of a crowd.  You can walk around on a crowded street, and no one expects anything from you.  If you just go with the flow then you don’t have to worry about standing out in any way.  There is a kind of freedom in that, a freedom from responsibilities and a freedom from expectations.   But Christians are not called to be just part of a crowd.

Consider the crowds that are found in the gospels.  Crowds regularly came to see Jesus, to hear him teach and to see him heal the sick.   

Last Sunday was Palm Sunday. On that day there was a crowd that welcomed Jesus to Jerusalem with palms and praise.  John’s gospel says:  “The next day the great crowd that had come for the Feast heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting,
   "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!"
   "Blessed is the King of Israel!" (John 12: 12-13)

Luke’s gospel tells us that “Now the crowd that was with him when he called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to spread the word. Many people, because they had heard that he had given this miraculous sign, went out to meet him.”

The crowd of people in Jerusalem had heard incredible things about Jesus, and they welcomed him with open arms.  They wanted to see what wondrous thing Jesus would do next.  This crowd was filled with hope and wonder.

But as we move through Holy Week, soon we will discover a very different image of a crowd in the gospels:  Matthew writes: “While he was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, arrived. With him was a large crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests and the elders of the people.” (Matthew 26:47)   This crowd was sent with a purpose – they were armed and accompanying Judas to arrest Jesus. 

Palms or Passion? - A Sermon for Palm Sunday

Some Sundays are easy to preach – this is not one of those days. The difficulty in preaching today is because of the tension in the two-fold nature of today – between Palm Sunday and Passion Sunday.

We usually call this day, the first day of Holy Week, Palm Sunday. This is the day that we remember and celebrate Jesus' entry into Jerusalem, where he was greeted by a crowd with palm branches shouting "Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!" (Matthew 21:1-11 ) Decades ago the Episcopal Church realized that many people were not coming to the Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services in Holy Week and so were going from one Sunday service of celebration (Palm Sunday) straight into another Sunday service of celebration (Easter) without any kind of experience of Jesus' death in-between! The joys of Easter cannot be fully felt unless you first work through the sorrow and terror of the crucifixion. Today, in the Episcopal Church, we have reached a compromise, calling this day the “Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday.” In the same service that we celebrate with palms we also read aloud the passion narrative (the account of Jesus' betrayal, trial, and death. There is a real tension between the two.

We feel far more comfortable with the palm portion of our service. The palms might bring back fond memories of our childhood, or frustrating memories of trying to fold palms into crosses and never quite getting it right. Seeing the children swing the palms around in our procession makes us smile, and it’s fun and happy to sing “All Glory Laud and Honor.” This is a celebration that we can appreciate – we want to be a part of that crowd that welcomed Jesus to Jerusalem.

The Passion narrative contrasts starkly – we might identify with the crowd that welcomed Jesus to Jerusalem, but we do not want to identify with the crowd that sent Jesus off to his death. I’ve been in congregations where the passion narrative is read as a play, and the whole congregation has to say “Crucify him!” I always had such a hard time saying that. I don’t want to say “crucify him!” and be a part of that crowd that betrayed and condemned Jesus.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Holy Week (Year A)

Today is Palm Sunday and the beginning of what is known as "Holy Week." Holy Week is the full week leading up to Easter. Special days include: Palm Sunday (or Passion Sunday), Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday.

Palm Sunday/Passion Sunday
This is the day in which we remember and celebrate Jesus' entry into Jerusalem, where he was greeted by a crowd with palm branches shouting "Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!" (Matthew 21:1-11). Years ago the Episcopal Church realized that many people were not coming to the services later in Holy Week and so were going from one Sunday service of celebration (Palm Sunday) straight into another Sunday service of celebration (Easter) without Jesus' death in-between! The joys of Easter cannot be fully felt unless you first work through the sorrow and terror of the crucifixion. Today, in the Episcopal Church, we also call this day the Sunday of the Passion and in the same service that we celebrate with palms we also read aloud the passion narrative (the account of Jesus' betrayal, trial, and death - Matthew 26:14- 27:66). Other recommended readings: Isaiah 50:4-9a , Psalm 31:9-16 , and Philippians 2:5-11 

Holy Monday, Holy Tuesday, Holy Wednesday
These days are not usually remembered with a special service.
Recommended readings are as follows: 
Holy Monday - Isaiah 42:1-9, Psalm 36:5-11, Hebrews 9:11-15, and John 12:1-11
Holy Tuesday - Isaiah 49:1-7, Psalm 71:1-14, 1 Corinthians 1:18-31, and John 12:20-36
Holy Wednesday - Isaiah 50:4-9a, Psalm 70, Hebrews 12:1-3, and John 13:21-32

Maundy Thursday
"Maundy" comes from the Latin mandatum which means "commandment." This comes from the story in John's gospel where Jesus washes the feet of his disciples and says "I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. (John 13:34). On Maundy Thursday we remember that story and the story of Jesus' last supper with his disciples.
Recommended Readings:
Exodus 12:1-4, (5-10), 11-14 
Psalm 116:1, 10-17
1 Corinthians 11:23-26
John 13:1-17, 31b-35

Good Friday
This day we remember Jesus' crucifixion and death. We can call this day "good" even though it is sad because it was a holy and gracious day that showed us the depth of God's love for us when Jesus sacrificed himself for us on the cross.
Recommended Readings:
Isaiah 52:13-53:12
Psalm 22
Hebrews 10:16-25 or Hebrews 4:14-16; 5:7-9
John 18:1-19:42

Holy Saturday
On this day we remember Jesus' burial in the tomb. This was a day of sorrow and fear for the disciples, who did not realize that Jesus would rise from the dead the next day.
Recommended Readings:
Job 14:1-14 or Lamentations 3:1-9, 19-24
Psalm 31:1-4, 15-16
1 Peter 4:1-8 
Matthew 27:57-66 or John 19:38-42

Of course, this is the day that we celebrate Jesus' resurrection! Easter is the central feast day of the whole church year.
Recommended Readings: 
Acts 10:34-43 or Jeremiah 31:1-6
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
Colossians 3:1-4 or Acts 10:34-43 
John 20:1-18 or Matthew 28:1-10

Check to see if your church or another local church offers services this week. If you travel, I recommend finding a church of your choice that has Holy Week services. If you cannot attend services during the week, then I recommend that you read scripture and pray to help yourself (and your family) work through this week. I wish you a blessed Holy Week!

Friday, April 8, 2011

TheoLOLogy - Selfishness

Picture by: A.M
LoL by: booksncats

Selfish - concerned excessively or exclusively with oneself : seeking or concentrating on one's own advantage, pleasure, or well-being without regard for others (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)

Have you heard the saying "what's yours is mine and what's mine is mine"? I've used it in conversation as a joke when I want to use something that belongs to a friend. It's so easy to be self-centered and self-concerned. And it is okay to be concerned about one's self. But selfishness is excessive or exclusive concern about one's self and this is harmful to our relationships with other people and with God.

Paul wrote repeatedly in his letters about the concern that Christians should show other people. One example -
Romans 15 1-3a
We who are strong ought to put up with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Each of us must please our neighbor for the good purpose of building up the neighbor. For Christ did not please himself

Paul uses Jesus as an example for what our behavior should look like. Jesus wasn't selfish and did not pursue his own desires but instead was obedient to God and served other people unto his death on a cross.

In his own teachings, Jesus focused on caring for one another, particularly those who are most vulnerable in a society (widows and orphans). The first great commandment that Jesus taught was focused on God, but the second focused on loving your neighbor as yourself:

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

TheoLOLogy: Happiness

Picture by: mikesgirl
Lol by: furrgetmenot

Our culture tells us that happiness is the goal for which we must strive and that pleasure is the means to being happy. But pleasure is fleeting and short-lived - so if pleasure is how we measure happiness then we must continue to seek out new sources of pleasure to stay happy.

I think that happiness is more than just pleasure - it is a state of well-being and contentment.

Paul has this to say in his letter to the Philippians: (4:11b-13)
"for I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me."

Paul writes that he "can do all things through him who strengthens me." Wherever we find ourselves - we know that we can endure all things through the one who strengthens us - God. And while I don't agree with the "prosperity gospel" that claims that God wants us all to be rich, I do think that God wants us all to be happy.

I believe God wants us to be happy because of Scripture passages like Ecclesiastes 3:12-13:

"I know that there is nothing better for them than to be happy and enjoy themselves as long as they live; moreover, it is God’s gift that all should eat and drink and take pleasure in all their toil." 

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Who Were the Samaritans?

We hear about the Samaritans in several passages in the New Testament. Who were they? 
Samaritans marking Passover on Mount Gerizim, West Bank

In the Old Testament, Samaria was the name of both the capital city of the northern kingdom of Israel as well as the name of that region. 

There are different theories about the origin of the people who are known as "Samaritans" in the New Testament. 

The Jewish View:
The Jews believed that the Samaritans were the descendants of peoples who were forced to resettle the northern kingdom of Israel after the Jews were taken into exile by the Assyrians in 722 B.C. In 2 Kings 17 we read the story of this resettlement, including the adoption of some Israelite worship practices by the new settlers. Basically, the new settlers were being killed by lions and the Assyrian King sent a priest to teach them how to worship God properly - but the settlers continued in their old practices as well. This is why the Jews in Jesus' day looked down on the Samaritans - the Jews thought that the Samaritans were half-breeds who corrupted the worship of God with other traditions.

The Samaritan View:
The Samaritans themselves believed that they were the descendants of northern Israelites tribes who escaped the destruction of the northern kingdom by the Assyrians in 722 B.C. They believed that the split between themselves and other Jews occurred much earlier around 1100 B.C., when the priest Eli left Moses' tabernacle on Mount Gerazim and built his own on the hills of Shiloh (1 Samuel 1:1-3; 2:12-17).

Friday, April 1, 2011

Friday Five: Quick Pick Edition

As posted by kathrynzj at RevGalBlogPals:

We're in the midst of 'it' and I'm hoping that it is not just me who is starting to get a bit overwhelmed. So for today I am asking for five quick picks of things that are good in your life. 

And as a bonus, 1 pick for a thing you could do without.

Five things that are good in my life (in no particular order):
~all things with sugar and/or chocolate
~books to get lost in
~walks in the sunshine with my husband
~conversations and time spent with family and friends
~my purring cat

One thing I could do without:
~too many night meetings in a row