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Archive for September 2nd, 2008

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more of the same

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what i love to do

I love taking pictures.  Especially pictures of things close up.  This is why I’m hoping for a new camera for my birthday tomorrow.  Our Kodak does alright but I’d love to play with some higher megs and various lenses.  I doubt I’ll be so lucky but I can wish just the same.

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Welcome!

We’ve been blessed with a new life in our family!  I have a new niece, Althea May!  Welcome Althea to this wonderful world–it’s totally crazy but it’s also full of beauty and love.  We love you!

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Sunday’s Sermon

Sunday was sort of amusing.  During the service at the country church I felt as if I was truly speaking God’s word.  The Spirit was with us and it felt amazing.  The second servce at the “big” church was not quite as amazing and it was being videoed because I have to send a DVD of one of my services into the district office.  That morning it took 30 minutes to get through the announcments!  Eeek!  And then during my sermon, I realized that my notes had gotten mixed up from the first sermon and there was no way I could use them!  It was almost laughable, it was laughable–just not to me at that moment.  So here it is, the written counterpart of last Sunday’s sermon.  Perhaps this week I can be more on the ball and post before Sunday’s sermon and get some helpful feedback from all of you!

Romans 12: 14-21 & Matthew 16:21-28

If you were to ask me what is the very essence of God, I would say love.  Every single thing God has done and continues to do is out of love.  God created the universe out of love, we were created in love.  I’m not talking about the sappy, mushy, kind of love that somehow makes everything easy.  In today’s scriptures, both Matthew and Romans, we are shown just how challenging love can be.  After reading today’s scriptures, I can’t help but wonder how love ever came to be considered sappy, mushy, or easy.  Love is anything but easy.

Today’s scriptures show just how difficult and challenging it is to be a Christian and to make one’s life centered on the love of God.  Today’s scriptures, especially Matthew, might be enough to make a person reconsider if they want to be a Christian at all.  This passage in Romans tells us how it is we are supposed to live in community, how we are supposed to exist day to day. 

The writer of Romans is pretty straight forward—we are supposed to bless those who mean us harm, we aren’t supposed to curse them or wish them harm.  Celebrate with people when they are celebrating something good, cry with those who are crying—we are to be compassionate, empathetic to those around us, paying attention to their emotions and respond to them not by changing their mood to fit ours but to fit theirs.  We are to live in harmony, to be united.  Paul goes on to tell us how we can live in harmony with one another—befriending the nobodies, not to be full of ourselves and think we’re better than everyone else, or even better than we really are.  Rather than repaying evil with evil, we are supposed to repay evil with good—leaving vengeance and revenge for God to sort out.  And just in case it’s not clear to us how we can do that, Paul goes on to say that if our enemies, those people we can’t stand or wish to do us harm, are hungry then we are to feed them!  If they are thirsty we are to give them something to drink.  It almost seems that Paul is giving us an easy “out” or explaining that this is really having the best revenge when he writes, “for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.”  But I don’t think that is the case at all—Paul wasn’t a person with easy outs.  Rather this means that as we do good to our enemies it begins to burn away the hate and anger between us, that is the goal of the burning coals.  And lastly, we are to overcome evil with good.  As Christians we are not to fight fire with fire, rather we are to conquer evil with love and goodness.  Often, this seems like the most difficult thing to do.  Often it doesn’t even make sense to us.  It certainly doesn’t make sense in our culture, our culture tells us that to conquer evil we must squash it out, murder it so to speak but that is not what Christians are called to do.  In the face of all the ugliness and brutality the world can dish out, we are to respond with goodness and love.  No matter what is going on, our response is goodness and love. 

Matthew’s scripture doesn’t make me feel any better about my Christian life and thinking that this is going to be easy.  If you came to church this morning expecting to be encouraged, I’m not sure that today is the day.  Matthew picks up where we left off last week, last week Peter had proclaimed Jesus as the messiah—he knew that Jesus was the one that God had sent to save Israel.  Jesus was delighted that Peter had actually understood for once!  Jesus was so glad about this that he declared that Peter would be the rock, the foundation of his church.  And yet, this week we find Jesus referring to Peter as Satan.

Peter has just heard Jesus say that he is going to Jerusalem to die.  Imagine for a minute that you are Peter.  Your leader, the man you know deep in your heart not only as friend but as savior for all of Israel, as the Son of the one and only Living God, has just said he is going to Jerusalem to die.

Would your response be any different than Peter’s?  I can’t imagine that mine would be any different.  Peter loved Jesus, the last thing he wanted was to have his friend and leader put to death.  Plus, it didn’t make any sense!  Jesus just told him that he was right, that Jesus was the messiah—Jesus was the ONE that was going to put Israel back at the top, he was going to save Israel from the Romans.  It would make absolutely no sense that Jesus was going to die—what good would a dead messiah be?  How on earth could Jesus make things right if he was dead?  Peter responded with the only thing he could think of, filled with passion and love, taking Jesus aside, saying, “Jesus, no!  This can’t happen!  God, you can’t let him do this!”

Imagine your hurt as Jesus refers to you, to Peter, as Satan—the tempter, the enemy of God!  The first time I read this I got the feeling that Jesus was really mad, but as I reread the scripture again and again, I began to hear Jesus’ voice filled with disappointment.  The kind of disappointment every child hates to hear from their parent when the child knows they have crossed the line so deeply that mom or dad aren’t just angry but saddened by what they’ve done.

Peter has turned from a rock that is the very foundation of Jesus’ church, to a rock that trips Jesus up.  I imagine Jesus saying, “Peter—you’re not helping, you’re making this even more difficult.  Peter, do not tempt me!  Follow me instead!  Stop thinking about this world!  Consider what God wants, consider the bigger picture.  Consider what will really matter—what will really make a difference!”

Jesus knows what he’s saying.  He knows what awaits him in Jerusalem—he doesn’t want to die any more than Peter wants him to die.  But he knows there is more—he knows/he trusts that God has not led him astray.  It seems that Jesus understands, Jesus knows that the way to save not only Israel, but the entire world is with his death at the cross.  He sees the bigger picture, he knows there is more to come than his death, but Peter doesn’t understand this.  Peter can’t possibly understand the resurrection.  It’s nearly 2000 years after the resurrection and many of us still have difficulty understanding it.  How could Peter have possibly understood what Jesus meant when he said he’d be raised after the third day—all Peter heard or understood was that Jesus was going to die. 

Jesus doesn’t end with his own death, but says that all of his disciples, his followers must take up their own crosses and follow him.  Not the best sales pitch that I’ve ever heard.

“Come on folks, line up and sign up right now—get your cross right here! Grab your cross—deny yourself in exchange for a real life, for real living.”  Nope, that doesn’t sound easy, nor very enticing.  I guess no one ever said it was going to be easy.

What does it mean that we must each take up our own cross and follow Jesus?  Sometimes we hear people mumble about some problem in their life, “oh, it must be my cross to bear” and typically they are talking about some relative or friend that drives them bonkers.  But I don’t think that’s it.  Jesus’ cross led him to Golgotha, the place of the skull, Jesus’ cross led him to death and yet his death brought forth life for the rest of us.   Through Jesus’ resurrection the cross was transformed from a symbol of brutality and evil into a sign of hope and love.  What is it  in our lives that may take us down a dangerous path and yet bring life, encourage life for someone else.  Realistically, it’s unlikely that any of our deaths are going to make life for anyone else.  We’re not saviors, but we are followers of the messiah.  Jesus gave his life so that we may have a life.

What is it that we do with our lives that gives life to others?  Are we living a life that sets our minds on the things of this world?  Or do we follow Jesus to the cross, willing to stand out, to put our lives on the line for someone else?  This is what is means to love—to put ourselves, our whole life, in the open prepared for ridicule, prepared to take a stand.

As I read the scriptures this week, two things came to my mind.  The first was Martin Luther King Jr, he withstood a great deal of persecution, he and his family were under constant threats because he stood with and for African Americans and poor people everywhere in an attempt to bring about justice, bring about an end to racism and injustice.  He and his family lived with the threat and very real possibility of death looming over them and yet he continued to lead the way toward bringing life, a real full livelihood for all people.  He once said, “Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars… Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”  Violence begets violence—the only response to hate is love.  The only response Christians can have to hate is love.

Jesus’ journey to the cross was all about love.  At the cross Jesus prayed to God, that his enemies be forgiven because they did not know, they didn’t really understand what they were doing.  They didn’t fully know their actions.  He associated with the lowly—the tax collectors, women, lepers, and to the thief on the cross who asked to be remembered he said “I will see you in paradise.” 

We too are to journey to the cross.  I’m not sure what my cross to bear is, I don’t know that we’re supposed to know early on what our cross to bear will be.  I do know that to follow Jesus, to live as a disciple of Christ means that we live a life of love in the pursuit of justice—of life lived fully by everyone.  We are to love and bless even our enemies.

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