Sunday, April 29, 2012

“Life Snatchers”

A sermon based upon John 10:1-18
Charles J. Tomlin, DMin
Flat Rock-Zion Baptist Partnership
Easter 5,  April 29, 2012

The closest I ever came to A MAJOR HOIST was when we were living in Western Germany.   As new residence in a strange land, we often traveled TO NEARBY HOLLAND SHOPPING for items we could not find in Germany; soda crackers, salmon, jelly beans, lite Bread, and movies in English.   Once, when returning from one of our day trips, we were stopped by the German police.  What made this more alarming is that this was the day I HAD FORGOTTEN MY GERMAN POCKETBOOK, which had my passport and other papers.   In that pocketbook was the Fuehershein; the registration card for the car.  In Europe, the RULES ARE A BIT STRICTER and clear cut than in the U.S. : whoever has the Fuehershein has the right to drive the car; whoever does not have the Fuehrshein is assumed to have STOLEN the car. 

When the policemen finished looking into our car, they asked us a few questions.  “You just came from Holland, yes?”       “Yes we did!”  I answered quickly and rather nervously.        
“This is your car, yes?”       “Yes it is.”  I said in repeating rapid-fire action, hoping he would not ask for my registration card.   By this time the officer caught my southern North American accent.  
       “You are Americans, yes?”   “Yes, we are working and living here in Germany, I answered.  
“O.K., everything is in order.  Sorry that we had to stop you,” he said, “but there are two thieves who have stolen several famous paintings from the Amsterdam Museum headed this way driving a silver, Volkswagen Passat, just like this one.”          

That’s about AS CLOSE I’VE EVER come ANYWHERE to being involved in a major robbery, except for the picture in today’s Bible text.  Normally, we overlook this part of the text and we focus on the tender picture of Jesus holding tender little lambs. A shepherd caring for his sheep, counting them one by one as they go through the gate— well, all that SOUNDS WARM, fuzzy and wonderful. 

It is wonderful EXCEPT FOR ONE THING: it’s not how this text begins.  It begins in an alarming, DISTURBING TONE: “I assure you,” Jesus says, “anyone who sneaks over the wall of a sheepfold, rather than going through the gate, must surely be a thief an robber!”  R-O-B-B-E-R, Exclamation point!    In the text Jesus spends an ENORMOUS AMOUNT OF TIME telling us robbers who steal sheep. Actually, this passage is Jesus’ own STUDY OF CONTRASTS.  He contrasts those sheep who hear and recognize the voice of their Shepherd and will not follow a stranger (10: 4,5), with the those SHEEP SUSCEPTIBLE to following the robbers who come with only one INTENT; to steal, TO KILL AND TO DESTROY.  Comparing himself and his own ministry with sheep steelers, JESUS SHARES HIS INTENT to be the Good Shepherd, “It is my purpose to give (my sheep) life in all its fulness.”  I am the good shepherd.  The good shepherd lays his life down for his sheep.”  (John 10:10,11).



CAN WE TRULY HEAR WHAT THIS PASSAGE MEANS for our world?    Two things make it somewhat difficult for us.  One is the LACK OF VISIBLE, CONSTANT THREAT OF THEFT around us here in our “relatively safe” pastoral surroundings.  I became aware of a more dangerous world out-there when Teresa and I went on a MISSION TRIP to Sao Paulo, Brazil in 1987.  Brazil is one of those countries where there is a great gulf between the few who have some money and the most without.   The few with money must PROTECT THEIR PROPERTY with walls and high fences.  In order to keep thieves from climbing over, they PROTRUDE SHARP GLASS pieces upward from the tops of the walls.   Will we someday see the need to protect our own property in similar fashion as the gap between rich and poor widens?  We’ve already COME A LONG WAYS from the old south, when we all could keep our doors unlocked with fear.

When I lived in Eastern Europe, I observed how GROWING WEALTH began to DRIVE A WEDGE between the east Germans and certain Polish folks across the river.  As wealth came quicker to one side of the river, THEFT BECAME A CONSTANT.  This new reality was overwhelming to people, who had not been accustomed to any theft during the communist GDR.  Besides, they HAD nothing to THING TO STEAL EITHER.   Think about owning something for the first time in your life and waking up the next morning to find it stolen.   On one night, 6 cars were stolen from our apartment parking lot.  Such a threat of theft was constant .  Once we heard of a thief who was so desperate for cash that he STOLE A LIVE KIDNEY from a shopper standing in line at a popular polish flea market.

Most of us are UNABLE TO UNDERSTAND the SENSE OF LOSS AND VULNERABILITY that theft or robbery can bring to a society.  We are NOT YET AGAIN IN THAT KIND OF WORLD where everything has to be double locked behind thick castle or glass laden walls, or where constant threats of robbery constantly threaten our livelihood.  But that’s HOW IT WAS FOR SHEPHERDS AND FARMERS in Jesus’ day.  Everything A FARMER OR SHEPHERD OWNED COULD BE STOLEN or SUDDENLY DESTROYED. The image of thieves and robbers would AROUSE AND PROVOKE UNSETTLING FEAR in the hearts of the original listeners. 

JUST AS POWERFUL to this passage is the contrasting PLEASANT AND PASTORAL IMAGERY of sheep being cared for by a shepherd.  This too is STRANGE to us.  DONE ANY SHEEP HERDING LATELY?  Are we able to understand this either?   Maybe another story will help.   One thing great about our six years of living in Europe was that often TWO WORLDS MET: the old and the new.  Once we traveled to visit one of the first shopping malls in our area.  After finishing our visit, we proceeded to get on the four lane highway that would take us to the autobahn homeward.  WHAT DID WE MEET at the intersection but over a 1,000 head of sheep coming down the road.  We had to remain stopped as these 4 Shepherds and their sheep dogs to lead this AMAZING MULTITUDE OF HUNGRY SHEEP through the traffic intersection.   Think about having to sit confined in your car as an unending sea of  white chomping creatures bounce you for some 10 to 15 minutes?  Unforgettable.        

A couple of years later, I GOT TO KNOW A REAL LIVE SHEPHERD and was able to visit his farm.  On one occasion I asked him how it would have been possible for different Shepherds to KEEP UP WITH THEIR OWN SHEEP in such a modern, urban setting.    The modern shepherd answered: “Of course, it’s NOT EASY TO CARE FOR SHEEP in a world where there are fewer and FEWER GREENER PASTURES.”  The preacher in me PERKED UP at that moment.   I knew that this was going to be vintage stuff.   He continued: “In the old world there were also constant threats, wolves and thieves. Today the threats to the lives of our sheep are DIFFERENT, BUT NO LESS DANGEROUS.  The shepherd went on, describing his work in ways I could not help but remember:


“The way we protect our sheep today, is not much different than it has been through all the centuries.  The sheep still have to know how to recognize their own shepherd’s voice.  Their very LIVES DEPEND UPON KNOWING WHOSE VOICE they should listen to and follow. They must learn not to trust or follow any other voice than the Shepherd’s.”  

HOW ARE SHEEP TRAINED TO LISTEN TO THE SHEPHERD’S VOICE?   At the end of the day, the modern shepherd, like ancient Shepherds for centuries, GATHER THE SHEEP, CALLING THEM together.  Then he will find and make a narrow passage, a corral, or you might call it a narrow door.  He calls each Sheep by name AS THEY NEAR THE DOOR and then he checks them from head to hoof for injury or disease.  If need be, he treats them on the spot and gives them a cure.  This daily ritual, hearing their Shepherd’s voice and passing through the door, SAVES A LOT OF SHEEP. 

Whether we are speaking of sheep in the farming world or speaking spiritually of our human lives as the sheep of God’s own pasture, OUR VERY LIVES DEPENDS ON WHICH VOICE WE LEARN LISTEN TO.  I wonder WHOSE VOICE those young trenched-coat boys in Colorado where listening too as they gunned down their class mates at Columbine School?   I wonder WHOSE VOICE THOSE TEASERS that made fun of them at a party where listening to when they made bad jokes about them not being very athletic?  I wonder whose voice the PARENTS WHERE LISTENING TO as they did not even know what was going on in the minds of their own children?  I wonder WHOSE VOICE OUR SOCIETY IS LISTENING to as we watch all these terrors happening to America’s children, stealing their own childhood away from them.  I don’t know WHOSE VOICE is heard, but I can tell you WHOSE VOICE IS NOT BEING LISTENED TO in our world.  Fewer and Fewer people are trying to listen to Voice of the great Shepherd.

Whether it is the ancient world or modern world, SHEEP STILL NEED TO HEAR AND RECOGNIZE their Shepherd’s voice.    There are CONSTANT THREATS TO OUR OWN LIVES and the lives of all God’s little lambs.  It’s getting harder to care for sheep in a world where there are FEWER AND FEWER GREENER PASTURES— fewer and fewer places where children, families, any of us,  can feel safe.   There are MANY THREATS THAT JEOPARDIZE our chances of having life to its fullest.   There are loud VOICES that are not his.  There are ROBBERS OF LIFE all around us.  Life has become TOO NOISY AND TO BUSY to listen to the shepherd who can lead us where the wrong voices cannot steal life AWAY FROM US?   

We “all, like sheep have gone astray, the prophet Isaiah has said.  We’ve ALL LISTENED to the wrong voices from time to time.  Other times WE’VE BEEN the wrong voice for others, even our own children.   Perhaps WE’VE RECOGNIZED the voice of the good shepherd calling us home so we can regain our lives, but WE REMAINED SO STUBBORN, so stupid, and so dumb, that even the ANIMALS LOOK GOOD COMPARED TO US; “The ox knows it’s master and the ass knows it’s master’s crib, but my people, Israel, don’t know or consider me”  (Isa. 1:3). 

WHAT IS THAT IS STEALING AWAY OUR LIVES right now?  You recall the movie “Body Snatchers”!   Well, how can I best paint for you the image that WE ALL HAVE “LIFE SNATCHERS” threatening our lives, if we follow the wrong voice.  Many are asking: What CAUSED ALL THOSE VIOLENT KIDS, those parents or our society to follow the wrong voices so that the precious lives of so many are snatched away?  Is it violent video games or movies that’s stealing the innocence of our children?  IS IT THE NOISE OF OUR WORLD that drowns out the voice of the Shepherd, or is it THE WILLFUL TURNING OF OUR OWN DEAF EARS that silences him within us?  WHEN PEOPLE FOLLOW THE WRONG VOICES, they think they are going after life, but WHAT they end up following the biggest robbers of all: Satan, hell, death and destruction.

JESUS KNEW ALL ABOUT THESE LIFE SNATCHERS who steal life away.   He knew about them, because they were HOT ON HIS TRAIL too.   At the very moment the words of our text were spoken, thieves and ROBBERS WERE LYING IN WAIT TO ENTRAP HIM and take his life.   But Jesus wouldn’t let them take him on their terms.  He says, they WILL NOT TAKE MY LIFE— they will not take my life BECAUSE I’M THE GOOD SHEPHERD who “lays down his own life for the sheep”“No one,” says Jesus, “can take my life from me.  I lay down my life voluntarily...” (10:15-18). 

Even WITH HIS TWO HANDS TIED behind his back and finally NAILED TO A CROSS, Jesus was able to keep the “life snatchers” from taking his life.   He gave his life, and WOULD NOT LET HELL HAVE IT.  And in this way, JESUS EARNED THE RIGHT TO BE THE VOICE OF LIFE IN OUR own EARS and in our own lives.  He knows how to live and to die, even to world where there are fewer and fewer green pastures.

Maybe you’ve got a “life snatcher” hot on your trail today?  Maybe you’ve been mislead by the wrong voice and find yourself living in a spiritual desert.   WHAT WE MUST KNOW is that in this world of ours, with “life snatchers” all around, WE DON’T HAVE TO ALLOW OURSELVES TO BE STOLEN away by the deceptive voices intent on stealing us away from God’s purposes and plans for us.   WE DON’T HAVE TO WATCH OUR SOCIETY nor ourselves SLOWLY DIE.  We don’t to be sheep daily led to the slaughter without hope.  WE CAN STOP THE STEALING OF OUR LIVES, the killing of our little lambs, even when we cannot stop all the threats to our lives.  Sheep survive, not because all the evils are taken away, but THEY SURVIVE BECAUSE THEY KNOW WHICH VOICE TO LISTEN TO and WHICH VOICES TO REJECT.  They gain life, when they listen and follow the voice of the one and only one who is the Good Shepherd. 

JESUS HAS THE ULTIMATE POWER OF LIFE in our noisy culture of death.  This is what he means when he says, “ I HAVE THE RIGHT TO LAY IT DOWN when I want to and also THE POWER TO TAKE IT AGAIN...” (John 10:17).  Afro-American slaves recognized this power over life which belongs to good Shepherd alone.  When it seemed that white European robbers and thieves had stolen their lives away-- THEY KNEW WHO REALLY HELD THE KEYS TO LIFE and death.  They resolved to listen the shepherd’s voice amidst all the other voices of death around them.  They sang a song our culture needs to sing again: “Steal away, steal away, steal away to Jesus. 
Steal away, steal away home. 
I ain’t got long to stay here. 
My Lord, he calls me, he calls me by the thunder....
Green trees are bending, the sinner stands a trembling.
...My Lord, he calls me, he calls me by the Lightning.  
The trumpet sounds within my soul;  I ain’t got long to stay here.”1



Of course people THOUGHT THOSE SLAVES WERE CRAZY to sing such nonsense.  “Steal away to Jesus”, What can that mean anyhow?   But PEOPLE THOUGHT JESUS WAS CRAZY TOO, especially when he said that no one took life from him.  PEOPLE STILL WONDER, don’t they?  “What can this gospel of Christ do for our high technological world?”   But in a world where there where people feel less and less at home in their own skin, in their own families and in their own communities; even “lost in the cosmos”, We’d BETTER RENEW OURSELVES TO THE TRUTH THAT only JESUS, the good shepherd, has the life-giving power we all need: ONLY HIS VOICE CAN SAVE US from our own destructiveness and lead us to life in abundance.  

WILL WE LISTEN TO HIS VOICE AND STEAL AWAY to him, instead of letting any more lives be stolen by the forces that threaten to rob life from us all?  “My Lord, he calls me, he calls me in the thunder....
green trees are bending...
sinners stand trembling....
the trumpets resound without our soul.... 
We ain’t got long to stay here.”  
Let us hear his voice and find our lives, now, before we’ve been lead astray!  Let’s “steal away” to Jesus and find rest for our souls, now and forever.  AMEN.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Faith with Flesh and Bones

A sermon based upon Luke 24: 36-48
Charles J. Tomlin, DMin.
Flat Rock-Zion Baptist Partnership
Easter 2,  April 15th, 2012

A devout Jew who had just died, named Eleazer Bokar, suddently appeared at the gates of Heaven and knocked for admittance. The great doors slowly swung open and Father Abraham stepped out, blowing his golden trumpet.  When he had finished the welcoming concerto, he turned to Eleazer and said, "Greetings, blood of my blood and flesh of my flesh. God awaits you."
Recovering from the awesome splendor of this type of welcome, Eleazer quickly replied, "Father Abraham, I am ready to meet our God," and stepped forward to enter the celestial portals.
"Wait, my brother," said Abraham, halting Eleazer with an imperiously, upraised palm. "Before entering God's Kingdom, you must first prove that you are worthy of the honor."
"But how can I prove my worthiness," queried Eleazer.
"You must show that, at least once in your mortal life, you displayed outstanding courage. Can you recall one unquestionably brave deed?"
Eleazer's face brightened as he said, "Yes I can! I remember going to the Roman Consul's palace where I met him face to face.  He was surrounded by dozens of legionnaires, all of whom were armed.   Ignoring this fact, I told him that he was a camel's behind, that he was a vulture who fed upon the bones of Jerusalem's oppressed, and that he was a persecutor of humble Jews. I then spat in his face."
"Well," exclaimed Abraham, "I am impressed. I must agree that that was an extremely brave feat to perform - considering the armed guards and the Roman Consul's hatred of Jews.  Yes, my brother, you have certainly earned admittance into Paradise, but please tell me, when did all this happen?"
"Oh," replied Eleazer casually, "right before you welcomed me." (http://www.jokebuddha.com/Flesh#ixzz1rjflIdBd).

In this humorous story, Eleazer practiced his faith one last time with “flesh and bones”, but is raised to a spiritual, heavenly life with Father Abraham.   But in our text today, Jesus, who was also killed for his faithfulness to the truth, now reappears from death with flesh and bones.    Here, we need to see something incredibly important to the Christian faith.   When Jesus was resurrected, he was not resurrected as a ghostly spirit, but as a risen Lord, “with” real flesh and bones; including his scars from his life and his death. 

THE RISEN JESUS STILL HAS SCARS
In this text, as Jesus shows his “hands and feet” to assure his disciples they are not seeing a ghost, we are told that “in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering” (Luke 24:41).  The King James translation is even more intriguing when it says, “they still did not believe ‘for joy’.  Don’t miss this unexpected reason for their disbelief.    Because they were so happy, even too happy, they could not believe he was with them “in flesh and bones.”

This connection between “joy” and “disbelief” is the opposite of what we expect.  Normally, we connect “unbelief” with sorrow, sadness, and gloom; not with joy, elation and happiness.  All this commotion over Jesus’ victory begs this question for us today, this first Sunday after Easter: Can our lack of faith and belief still be entangled with too much joy and too much happiness?   Can we, like the disciples, be so “overjoyed” that we lose the ability to trust and believe God in the ‘real’ world to which we must now live our lives?    

Right now, my mind goes back to an unforgettable image I saw this week on national TV news.  You can find on the internet YOUTUBE video of young people flocking to the island of St. Martens, just to get the thrill of standing at the fence and being blown away by the powerful propulsion of jet thrust.   Near the St. Martens airport, there is a CafĂ© where on the menu is the airline schedule, so people know exactly when to walk to the nearby airstrip and stand at the only place in the world where the thrust winds from jets are clocked over 100 miles per hour.  Of course, there are warning signs posted about the danger of both high winds and deafening noise, but people come from all over the world just to stand so they can be “blown away”.  If this is “fun”, could people also think faith is about being “blown away” by God---the God who gives a great thrill when you follow close to him?

Another interesting thing happened this past week on Easter Sunday, in a small Texas town.   There was a large, open air worship service where over 15,000 young people flocked to see and hear a very popular, openly Christian, NFL Quarterback, Tim Tebow preach the gospel.  Some say that he is becoming a better preacher, than he is a passer.   Even Tebow himself, witnessed of his faith to the crowd, saying it doesn’t matter whether or not he gets to play football as he wishes, as long as he gets to serve Jesus.  

I can't help but like Tim Tebow’s “open-air” faith, but I’m more than a little worried about Christians who need big-time, famous celebrities, be they sports figures or TV or radio Bible teachers, who will “blow them away” so they can have more faith.   When the disciples encounter Jesus as “ghostly” spectacle, who “blows them away”, they do not have more faith, but were left  wondering.  It took a Jesus of “flesh and bones” and also with scars to bring them back to real life.  

LIFE IN JESUS BEARS SCARS TOO
To tether faith to the matters of faith and real life, Jesus asks: “Do you have anything to eat?”   (24:41). After they gave him “a piece of broiled fish” and he “ate it in their presence”, if this is not enough to get them to focus on what is “real” about faith, we are told he then, “opened their minds to the Scriptures” (vs. 45), where, "It is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day,  and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.  You are witnesses of these things. (Luk 24:46-48 NRS).

We must not miss how the disciples heard that last sentence: “You are witnesses of these things” (v.48).  The word “witness” in the Greek is equivalent to the word martyr.   To be a witness “of these things” is to become suffer and sacrifice for the truth of faith.  In this resurrection moment, the disciples are no longer “learners” or “students” of Jesus, but now they have graduated into being “witnesses” to Jesus through their own suffering and death.  Jesus has shown them his scars, eaten a meal, and reminded them from Scripture, he was the first one to suffer, be killed and then raised for the truth----but now, they are next in line.  Jesus’ sobering point after Easter:  True faith means that we life and die as witnesses to God’s truth, in our own “flesh and bones” which will include both suffering and “scars.”

I find it most interesting in this story of resurrection, that the resurrected Jesus keeps his scars.  His scars are the “trophies” that he does not “lay down”.   The risen Jesus keeps his scars.   Later the apostle Paul declares that he “bears in his body the marks of the Lord Jesus” (Gal 6.17).  Paul’s witness to Jesus is in the scars and “marks” he bears.   In our culture today, many people feel the need to have “marks”, “scars”, called tattoos or body piercing as a type of excessive need to identify who they in our self-centered, pleasure seeking world.  It is indisputable that today, so many people feel a very strange need to carry around “marks” on their body.  Could it be that this behavior, strange to most of us in the church, is closely tied into to the great spiritual truth of what life, faith, pain and hope should be about?  I even wonder if we can, in fact, be people of value and spirit, unless we have some kinds of scars and marks to prove that are alive; even alive in Jesus.  Seeing Jesus as a ghostly phantom is never enough.  Being blown away by Jesus is not enough.  Faith has to get down to the “blood, sweat, and tears” of “flesh and bones” and bearing the scars of being a witness, being spiritual is not real, unless the spiritual gets physical.  

What makes faith “physical” gets complicated and gets hard.   Hard is a part of faith and life.  Think about it.  What makes a body work is not easy either.  It takes a lot of energy and a lot of getting things “just right” every single day, just to get you out of bed and moving.  The older your body gets, the harder it gets to get everything just right every day.  Having a life of flesh and bones is complicated and it’s hard.  Having a faith that becomes real with flesh and bones is also complicated, difficult and demanding.   It will include both “suffering” and “scars”.

I know something about scars.  Most of you do too.   I’ve got scars on my body for all kinds of reasons, and none of them were fun.  My most recent scars come from having 5 surgeries on my leg and foot to correct an injury I had at age seventeen, which came with plenty enough scars of its own.  If you live long enough, and if you live full enough, your flesh will include scars.   Our human body is programed to heal, but it only heals with scars.  Perhaps God could have programed us to have complete healing without scars, but we aren’t made this way.   For a reason known to God and those who suffer much, God has decided his creatures need pain and  need scars for healing.  

God also designs our faith, even the faith of the resurrection, so that we must learn to sacrifice and to suffer for the truth, if our faith is to become real in “flesh and bones”.   With “marks” on his own body and also a bearing a “thorn in the flesh”, Paul came to this reason for the cost of suffering and having scars in flesh and bones: “considering the exceptional character of the revelations. Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. (2Co 12:7 NRS).  

“To keep me from being too elated” sounds a lot like to keeping us from being too “overjoyed”; keeping us from being “blown away” or to keeping  us grounded in a faith that is real and makes a difference in our living and dying, doesn’t it?   Jesus shows the disciples his “hands and feet” as a way of revealing what kind of “faith” makes resurrection “real” in their own lives.   As my college professors, Van Murrell and John Drayer kept on reminding me in my days of my own youthful jubilation; “Faith must not get so heavenly minded, that it is of no earthly good.”  What earthly good is your faith?  Where are the marks of Jesus in your body?  Where are the scars of faith that has caused you to pay the price of pain as you have suffered for truth?


SCARS ARE SIGNS OF LIFE AND LOVE
Nancy Eiesland wrote about her own pain and scars as a handicapped child born with birth defects, who became a Poster Child for the March of Dimes in the 1960’s (See: Encountering The Disabled God, at   http://www.uccdm.org/2007/05/21/encountering-the-disabled-god/ .   By the time she was only thirteen, she had undergone eleven operations for a congenital bone defect in her hips.  In order to be mobile, Nancy needed crutches or a wheel chair.  That has been the case for her whole life.  She later had to undergo surgeries for scoliosis, curvature of the spine.  

When she was a child, her parents took her to all kinds of faith healers.  Before she got past single digits in age, she had already heard many, many times, all the explanations people make in an attempt to explain why God allowed the disability or didn’t take it away.  Nancy heard it all: people speculated she had hidden sins, or they said God gave her this disability to develop her character.  “But,” Nancy writes, “at age six or seven, I was convinced I already had enough character to last a lifetime.”   The truth was, no matter how many operations she underwent or how many prayers were prayed, she would never be “normal”.   For Nancy, the pain and struggle didn’t last for a few hours, but the struggle and the scars was for life.   Nancy had to go on living with all the ups and downs of what she calls an “un-everyday body.”

Here in Nancy story, and also in ours, if we will come down to see and understand it, is the truth of our resurrection faith that resides in “flesh and bones”.   For human people who live by faith, there are some things that hurt us in life which we never get over, problems we never completely overcome, and situations which will never be the same.   If your child gets killed, abducted or abused, if you are a parent, you will not get over it.   You may be able to forgive, like the Amish did at West Nickel Minds, but you will never forget.   No matter how much healing you might experience, as time goes on, some wounds will never just disappear.  They will never be erased.

No!  God did not erase the wounds of the resurrected Christ.  God does not erase the wounds that go deep into the human flesh or the human heart.   What would it have meant if all the scars of Jesus had been erased, as if nothing had happened?   What if Jesus appeared to the disciples saying, “Whew!  I’m sure glad that’s all behind me!  I’m glad we are all home free!”

We do not worship the real Jesus, when we make up our own Jesus without the pain, blood, sweat and tears, and also the scars.  The risen Jesus forgives, but he does not forget.  He still “bears” scars in this body and he still carries our hurts, wounds and pains in his resurrected body.   Can you imagine what this means for us, and the Christian call to witness through our own scars; even as we bear hurt, shame, and the pain of living the truth of Jesus in our world? 

Walter Wangerin once wrote a story to remind us.   “Ragman” is a story about the narrator, who on an early Friday morning, saw and started to follow a ragman, who symbolized Christ.  The ragman pulled a wagon loaded with beautiful new clothes, and he called out, “New rags for old!”  The narrator watched as the ragman stopped to tend to a brokenhearted woman who was crying her eyes out into a handkerchief.  The ragman took her handkerchief, gave her a brand new one, and touched her handkerchief to his own face.  Then the ragman started to cry.  Further along the ragman came upon an injured child whose head was wrapped in a bandage that was oozing blood.  He took the child’s bandage and put it on his own head, and gave her a new bonnet.  The narrator says, “And I gasped at what I saw, for with the bandage went the wound!”  Then the ragman himself began to bleed.

The ragman went on to give his own arm to a man who was missing an arm, and still later, he found a drunken man asleep under a blanket.  He took the blanket, wrapped it around himself and left new clothes for the man.  Now the ragman was carrying all these wounds.  He climbed on a hill that Friday, lay down, and died.  What a joy when Sunday---and Easter ---arrived for the ragman, too.  He bore in his own body the wounds of the whole world.  (These last two illustrations come and the core idea for this come from a sermon “Emmanuel Forever” by Mary Harris Todd, in Lectionary Homiletics, Vol. XXIII, Number 3, p.  23-24, 2012), 

Now, if we have true faith, we also “bear the wounds” of the hurts of the world.  There is no real, genuine, unaffected faith.  The faithful followers of the resurrected Jesus still bear the scars and the true church also bears and carries scars.   Jesus wants us to see and touch his wounds, and he wants us to know he is with us in the wounds we also bear for God in this world of sin, hurt, heartache, and pain.   When we “touch” the wounds of Jesus we look deep into God’s heart that remains wounded as we love and live for him.  Wounds are a true sign of love still being made perfect.   Wounds are a sign that life and faith go on.  Amen.


© 2012 All rights reserved Charles J. Tomlin, B.A., M.Div. D.Min.    

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Living Easter

A sermon based upon 1 Cor. 15: 1-11
Dr. Charles J. Tomlin
Flat Rock-Zion Baptist Partnership
Easter Sunday, April 8th, 2012

It was Easter Sunday 1998.  In preparation for the Easter Sunrise service, my wife and I had purchased Butterfly cocoons, which hatched just in time for Easter.  We had them placed safely in a container and at the proper time, and at the conclusion of the service, we would release them to let them fly as a representation of our shared hope in the resurrection.  It was a bit cool that morning, so Teresa kept them close to her until I gave her the signal to release and launch 30 plus Butterflies into the air.  She opened the container and nothing happened.  She pulled a few out and they fell to the grown.  It was a disaster.  Finally, one little butterfly managed to wing it into a bush.  Instead of a moving, inspirational moment, all those present gave us a sympathetic laugh. 

At first, we couldn’t figure what happened.   I thought it was because of the cool temperatures that morning.  Upon further investigation, I came upon this truth about butterflies.  Butterflies cannot fly until the sunlight hits their wings.  It is the sun that puts the energy into their wings for them to fly.  That would have been a good illustration, if I had known it. 

I can’t help but also think that the first Easter had some trouble “taking off” in the hearts and minds of those first followers of Jesus.   As Marilynne Robinson has suggested, “The gospel accounts of the Resurrection famously differ…, (but)…. an element they all share is the skepticism of the earliest witnesses.” (The Christian Century, April 4, 2012, p. 22).   Amazingly, each account of resurrection is filled with as much confusion, discussion and doubt about Easter as there are assertions and proclamation of Easter’s truth that “He is Risen!”. A case in point is John’s account of Mary Magdalene when she finds the tomb empty.   She simply assumes someone has carried the body away, thinking that she sees the gardener rather than the resurrected Lord.   Other followers of Jesus are just as confused, not recognizing him either, even when he is among them.   As Robinson affirms, “In every case the angle of vision is a skepticism based on the expectation that with Jesus’ death things will have taken their ordinary course.”   He should be where all us mortals will one day be; dead and gone. 

Ironically, that Easter begins with many failures of comprehension is a good thing.  Jesus does not rebuke Mary for her failure to recognize him.  Jesus seems to enjoy her surprise, and neither does he reject his disciples for their own doubts and fears.  All this surprise, confusion and lack of comprehension is how things should be when something “other” dimensional and “other worldly” suddenly breaks into our world.    

Easter is first and foremost an invitation to step into the light of God’s new reality.  Much of what Paul writes in today’s Bible text is in response to people still trying to grasp this “new” reality.   Right as our text ends, Paul finally pops the question he most wants to ask: “How can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead?”  The burden of our text is to answer a counter question: “How can Paul tell us there is a resurrection of the dead?”  Are we able to move through the confusion of our own world and affirm this Easter message today?  If the most obvious truth of life is that we are all going to die, how do we “live” Easter, especially when we know already that we are as good as dead?

EASTER FAITH IS A RECEIVED FAITH
In our text, Paul tells the Corinthians that Easter begins with a reminder of the core of the gospel story.   Here, Paul calls himself a “reminder” of “the good news”.  This is a good description of the job of a preacher, isn’t it---to remind you of what you should believe.   “Now I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you….”  (I Cor. 15:1ff).   Taking our cue from Paul, how did you come to believe in Easter?  Paul says Christians don’t make up the gospel, nor do we figure out the gospel on our own, but he says that we “receive” the gospel.  So let me ask you today: how did you “receive” the gospel?   

Most of us did not attend a school where we were introduced to the gospel in some theology or philosophy class, but most of us have “received” the gospel story from others who have believed it.  The gospel is more like “hand-me-down” gift to us than it is something we have discovered or figured out for ourselves.   This is, of course, both good and bad news.   Think about it this way: Do you like “hand-me-downs”?  Some do, some don’t.   It’s a good thing that we have been given the gospel as a “gift” from our parents, our church, and our childhood.   Who does not cherish all those wonderful memories of caring parents, nurturing churches and Bible schools, where we first heard the good news? 

But as good as this is, this can also become “bad” for us if we have only received the gospel as a “tradition” or a good story, and even as a true story which we haven’t learned to accommodate or live so that, as Paul says, “we stand on it” are “being saved through it”, and are still “holding on” to it, and sometimes “holding on for dear life.  What I’m saying is that it’s one thing to receive “Easter” but it’s quite another thing to learn how to “live” Easter.  Do you know how to live Easter?

I find it most interesting that in this passage, Paul reminds early Christians of the gospel they have received in two very specific ways.  First, he reminds them about “what they received” as the “core” of the gospel.  He tells them that the gospel is that “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures” and that he also was “buried and was raised on the third day, in accordance with the Scriptures”.   His point is that what God was doing on Easter by resurrecting Jesus from the grave was not an afterthought, but it was God’s plan all along.   All that happened to Jesus is God’s plan to save us from our sins and to give us eternal life.   Isn’t this still the core truth of the gospel we need to remind ourselves today?   Easter is not primarily about Easter Bunnies, Butterflies, Egg Hunts nor about Family dinners or having a Spring holiday away from work and school.  Easter is about God’s gift of eternal life through the resurrected Christ offered to each of us.   I know that this might sound like a childish reminder, but we do need to be reminded.   I read recently how a certain town in the Midwest had to cancel a local Easter Egg hunt because too many people showed up and children were selfishly grabbing eggs, not leaving any for the others so that all kinds of complaints were coming.   The complaints about the Easter Egg hunt grew so large it had to be shut down.   Even for us, it can be hard to stay with the meaning of the story as it was intended.  We need are reminder that at the core of Easter is the resurrected Christ, or there is no Easter at all.

TO BELIEVE IN EASTER, WE MUST ALSO “LIVE” EASTER
But most of what Paul writes about in our text is not about the truth of “what” is received at Easter, but it is the truth about “how” the story of Easter was first received.   Do you see that Paul goes on to describe “how” Easter came and also implies how Easter still gets to us?  Paul says, beginning in verse 5, that “he” (the resurrected Christ), “first appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.  Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died….”   Paul does not stop there, but he continues to speak of how the resurrected Christ “also appeared to James, then to all the apostles.  Last of all, as to one untimely born, he also appeared to me……”    

Reading this, we should be reminded that the whole gospel story would not have been received by any of us, if it had not come through someone who had first experienced the risen Christ in their own lives.  In fact, it is even more amazing to contemplate that the very gospel we have be given, even our opportunity for eternal salvation would not have come to us at all if it had not been for the faith of only 500 witnesses.  Everything we know came through them. 

The point Paul is making is this: unless someone before us has experienced Easter themselves, there is no Easter for us to experience either.  Easter can’t be known by us nor received by us, unless someone has lived Easter before us.   This means that just to say “Jesus lives” means nothing, unless we can show “how” Jesus is alive in us.  Listen again to what Paul is saying, as he reports “how” Jesus came alive in his own life: “He appeared also to me….I am lest of the apostles…because I once persecuted the church of God.  But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain.  On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them---though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.  Whether then it was I or they, so we proclaim and so you have come to believe.” (8-11).

Do you grasp the full impact of Paul’s concluding words, “so we proclaim and so you have come to believe….”?   The implication is that Paul proclaims the gospel with the “resurrected life” he now lives for the gospel truth.   He has included himself as one among those first 500 or so witnesses to the risen Christ, of which he makes himself a living example of the Christ who is alive and well in human experience.  Again, the central point for us is this: Unless someone “lives Easter” no one really “receives” or experiences Easter.  

In her book, “Christianity After Religion” Church historian Diana Butler Bass paints a grim picture of the future of the traditional, established Church in the United States.   But she does not believe that Faith in Jesus is done for.  On the contrary, she believes that the Christian Faith is currently undergoing a kind of radical, spiritual, surgery which will change how we all understand and do everything as Christians and as Churches.  At the center of this coming transformation are three major areas of “how” we live the faith.   While there is no real threat to “what” we believe, how we “believe, behave, and belong” in faith will determine the future of faith that will be “received” by the coming generations. 

WE ARE CALLED TO BE EASTER PEOPLE
So, the most pressing question for us today is not “what” is Easter, but “how” are we living Easter?    It’s not at all automatic, is it?  We can celebrate Easter without ever learning how Easter should impact our lives?  To fail to live Easter is to miss it, and if we “miss” Easter in our own time, we will fail to pass it on to the next generation, and they will miss it too.  So my question to us is simply this: How will you “live” Easter, so that, as Paul suggests, “his grace to you will not be in vain”?   How will you live Easter in a way that “the grace of God is visible in you”?   Can you visualize it?  Can you see Easter being “realized” and fully “received” in your own life?

In April of 2006, Diane Cameron, sent an editorial into USA Today.   She opened that piece describing how, “One of the lowest points in my life occurred years ago when I was living in Washington, D.C., at Easter time. My older sister had recently died and both of my brothers were seriously ill; my best friend was leaving town, and on top of that I was questioning my work.   In my journal that April I wrote, "Am I depressed?" When I read those pages now I laugh and shake my head. "Depressed?" That I even had to ask. In that long year I thought I'd never laugh again, just as I thought I'd never again feel love, the joy of easy friendship, or the satisfaction of good work.”

She continues: “I went to church that Easter out of both habit and desperation. I had grown up in a church-going family. It was what we did. And so to honor the family that I was losing I went. Easter after all, is the centerpiece for Christians, honoring and recalling Christ's triumph over death.   I chose a big downtown church for Easter services — one with hundreds in the congregation — not daring to visit a smaller church where I might have to speak to people or be embarrassed by my own tears. I wanted the paradoxical safety and anonymity of being in a crowd.

The minister that Easter Sunday said many things that I don't remember, but one sentence has stayed with me all these years. He said, "We live in a Good Friday world."   That I understood. A Good Friday world is a world full of suffering, questioning, unfairness, trouble, mistakes, hurts, losses and grief.   Good Friday in the Christian faith is the day Christians commemorate Christ's suffering and death on the cross.  So that certainly made sense to me at that difficult time in my life.

"But," he continued, "We are Easter people." Those words stopped me cold. I was stunned to be reminded that painful morning that there was something other than what I was feeling.   My life was not instantly transformed; his words did not change the course of my brothers' illnesses nor give me answers to my questions. But the idea of being "Easter people" gave me a pause in my grief and the teeniest hope that there really did exist something other than pain.

By “living” toward the hope that is still ahead of us, we become people who are living toward God’s new possibilities.  Even though we all still live in a “Good Friday World” where “Bad Things Can Happen to Good People”.   And even though we live where people get hurt, die, and where churches struggle and faith can fail in our lives, God constantly puts new possibilities ever before our troubled, hurting, seemingly hopeless lives.   This is “how”  God keeps calling us to be and live as Easter people.  We are not to be content to live only by what has happened, but we are called to live toward what will happen and by what can happen in God’s time and in God’s future.  Living toward God’s promised future is the only way we can ever learn to live toward the new possibilities for life God puts before us.  As those “drooping butterflies”, we are to let the “energy” of God’s promises and purposes shine into our souls, weakened by the cold, dark, realities in life.   As we receive Easter’s promise again and again, we can hopefully pass it forward to those who will live Easter after us.   Amen.   


© 2012 All rights reserved Charles J. Tomlin, B.A., M.Div. D.Min.    

Friday, April 6, 2012

MY GOD, MY GOD, WHY….?

A Good Friday Meditation based upon Matthew 27: 45-46
First Baptist Church, Yadkinville, N.C.
12 Noon,  April 6th, 2012

“If you only have one word from the cross, this is the one to have,” says Flemming Rutledge. 

It’s the only word remaining in Jesus’ mother tongue: “Eli, Eli, lama sabathani”;  
“My God, My God why have your forsaken me?”

Martin Luther, the great reformer, is said to have sat motionless for hours, fasting and contemplating this word until he finally stood up to say: “God forsaking God!  Who can understand this?  

What we can understand is that greatest pain of the cross was not the physical torture so often dramatized. The great drama was in Jesus’ soul, as he felt abandoned with no answer to his cry!    

When I was a child, I thought there was an answer for everything.  I was 16 when I first experienced, what some call “the absence of God”.  It happened when my neighbor’s child, a first grader, was tragically killed at the school bus stop next to his home.   My Father and I went to the home that evening.   I don’t remember anything that was said, until a pastor came in.   He took the young distraught couple by the hand and with a straight face said, “I know this is hard,  “BUT YOU MUST ACCEPT THE WILL OF GOD.” 

Unfortunately, for that family, that pastor could not bear the unanswerable question. But Jesus did. On the cross Jesus hung where we all hang; living and dying by faith, without answers.

The answer did not come until later. In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul expounds, “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself…” (2 Cor. 5: 19), to which he continues to explain that “For our sake God made him to be sin, who knew no sin, that we might become the righteousness of God” (vs.21)

In contemplating this word from the cross, many imagine a holy God turning away to abandon Jesus as he bears our sin.   But Paul begs to differ.  Paul says when God made Jesus “to be sin” “GOD was in CHRIST.”  Here, we need our best theology and highest Christology to remind us that on the cross, Jesus is God forsaking God on our behalf. 


Luther’s great question is the answer.  On the cross, God forsakes God's self.  “For God so loved the world that he gave” means the Father pays the price of love with the currency of is his child—his own flesh and blood.  "For our sake..." and for the sake of his holy love, God holds nothing back.    Amen.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

A Different Kind of King


A sermon based upon Luke 19: 28-48
Dr. Charles J. Tomlin
Flat Rock-Zion Baptist Partnership
Palm Sunday, April 1, 2012

Since the American Revolution, America no longer has a royal family, but many Americans are still fascinated by royalty and many are “royal watchers.”   The Associated Press reported that the most recent royal wedding in England had thousands of “bleary-eyed Americans waking before dawn on a Friday morning to watch Britain's Prince William marry his longtime sweetheart, Kate Middleton.  On the East Coast, two hours before the wedding ceremony started in London’s Westminster Abbey, the parties began as early as 4 a.m. on the East Coast.   

When I was living in Germany in the early 1990’s there was an interesting newspaper article reporting about a survey that had been recently taken among the German people.   Germany no longer has an active monarchy, so the question was asked among the Germans, how many would like to bring back the royal family out of retirement and again have a King in Germany.  Over 60% of Germans would love to again have a King ruling over them.  

Even though Americans love to watch British royalty, I don’t think as many Americans as Germans would like to submit themselves again to a King or Queen.  But if politics gets any dirtier, who knows? 

AN ODD SORT OF KING
On this Palm Sunday, our Bible text resembles the coronation parade of a King.    We are told that as Jesus enters Jerusalem that people “kept spreading their cloaks on the road” (19:36) and the crowd began to “praise God” quoting Scripture (Psalm 118.26), saying, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!”  In the retelling of this story only Luke and John name Jesus as a King, but the event of Jesus entering Jerusalem like a King is recorded in each gospel and hearing the crowd cry out: “Hossana”, meaning “save us now!”, is exactly how a people would approach the one they would name their King.   Without a doubt, the triumphant entry we call “Palm Sunday” is an unofficial coronation of Jesus as their King.

But what we should also find striking in this passage is very odd sort of way Jesus allows them to make him King.   This whole story begins with a very “strange” story of Jesus sending his disciples ahead of him to find a donkey colt that had never been ridden.  When the disciples start to untie the colt, its owners ask: “Why are you untying the colt?”, the disciples answer just as Jesus has told them say, “The Lord needs it”.  Here, Jesus definitely commands a kind of authority, that’s for sure.  But it’s a different kind of authority.  It is not force, it is not domination, it’s not the kind of luxury or power worldly kings demand, but it’s humility, meekness and a sharing of the fulfillment of God’s promises, purposes and God’s power that is being revealed.   Most shocking of all, as the crowd praises God with shouts of joy, we find Jesus not smiling but weeping; weeping over the city and its tragic future and later entering the temple full of anger at what it had become.   Jesus does enter Jerusalem like a King, but he is a very different, even an ‘odd’ sort kind of King. 

In the 70’s musical Jesus Christ Superstar, there is a line that reminds us how odd a person Jesus still is in our world.  One song from the musical has Mary Magdalene singing, “I don’t know how to love you.”  There are many followers of Jesus that could sing those lines.   But in the most famous song, the whole chorus raises the most central question: “Jesus Christ, Superstar, Who are you?  Are you who they say you are?   We should not be surprised that questions about Jesus are still popular, still being asked, and some are still unanswered.  And this are not just good questions, but they point to the main question that is still very much alive, and should be asked by every culture and every person in the world: Who is this Jesus?  If he claims to be King, what sort of King is he? 

The question of Jesus’ kingship is a question the church needs to keep asking too.   As the people shouted “Hossana” they all wanted Jesus to “save them now” (Hossana), but one wonders whether or not they ready to make Jesus the King of their own lives.  Most people would like to have a religious leader or spiritual guru to give them guidance at times, but it’s quite another issue make Jesus the King to whom you give charge of your own life.   As theologian NT Wright once rightly suggested, most of us would love to have a religious leader who would save our souls, but having a king who would take charge of our world---that’s a whole different question.  Do we really want to have Jesus as the King he claims to be?

Again, most all of us know we need leaders, even religious and political leaders, but do we want a ruler?  Do we want to place our lives under the sovereignty and authority of God as the king of our lives?  Just look at how dangerous “theocracies” like the one in Iran can be in our world.   Who would want that?   If God would actually rule, what would it look like?  How would it work in practice?   Would it not be quite problematic?  But this really the odd sort of question the life of Jesus is asking us.   For you see Jesus did not come to ride into Jerusalem to claim a Kingdom for himself, but Jesus came preaching that God’s kingdom has come to the world.  And by preaching God’s kingdom you cannot ever say that Jesus was only preaching a “religious” gospel just about my or your “personal” religious viewpoint.  No, Jesus came preaching God’s kingdom as a political reality in this world asking you us to make God our king so that everything changes.    So, in every way, making God your King in your life right now is as much a political bombshell today as it would have been then.   Jesus does not come to make you religious, nor to get you to believe in God, but Jesus comes to rule your life in everything you do and it that way making a way so that God can rule in the world in all the world does.   Make no mistake about what this means.  If God is your King, everything will change.

THE PERFECT STORM
But I’m getting a little ahead of myself.  It is important, as we examine this “odd” sort of King that Jesus comes to be, that we understand a little more about what is happening in Jerusalem in this moment.    Everything that is about to happen to Jesus in this week and in this moment can best be called “A perfect Storm”.  You remember that 1991 movie made about a true story concerning a small fishing boat that was out to sea when the low pressure and the high pressure met in just the right place to bring about a Nor’easter called “The Perfect Storm”?   This is the kind of pressure that is brewing in this week as Jesus enters, but it didn’t start there. 

The perfect storm that blew into Jerusalem during the Passover week when Jesus came to town had been brewing long before Jesus was born.   It’s a storm that started all the way back in Old Testament times.  It started when the newly form people called Israel came to the prophet Samuel saying, “We want to be like other nations and have a King over us?”  The prophet Samuel did not like this idea, saying that Israel was rejecting God as their true King.  But God granted their wish anyway.  

But the rest of the story is that it did not turn out so well.  King Saul was a disaster.  King David was ‘a man and ruler after God’s heart’, but he also had his own failures and flaws.  David’s son Solomon was wise, but his two sons, Jeroboam and Rehaboam split the Kingdom over taxation issues, so that thereafter, Israel and Judah became divided Kingdoms that could never be put back together again.  They also came to be nations filled with so much corruption, so much idolatry, and so much moral social failure that they were unredeemable.  Even the great words of the prophets could not put the nation back together again and they both kingdoms eventually fell, Israel in 722 BC, and Judah in 587 BC, and great was their fall.   The fall of Israel was so great a hurt in their heart that it gave rise to a great hunger for a Messiah, a deliverer, who could bring Israel back to God on God’s terms so that God would be their only true king.   Through their political aspirations and failures, they had learned once and for all that no “human” ruler could grant them the dream, the glory and the hope, which they once had in God.  Many in Israel had come to be convinced that they needed the Messiah, God’s anointed deliverer to enable them to make God their only true King.     

This is where the “perfect storm” comes in.   They all know, as a small, vulnerable nation, that they need a great leader to get them free from the oppressive Roman rule and to free them from other potential oppressors in the world, but many in Jerusalem have very different views of exactly “how” this will happen and “who” can make this happen.  Many of the people in Israel who are holding out hope for a God-anointed leader, a Messiah, but how people interpreted expectation had great variance.   Some believe it would take a very dramatic outward and visible intervention—a miraculous work of God to deliver Israel.   Others believed it would take some kind of specific, organized militant or military action; either without or with the help of god.  Still others, especially those in from the upper crust, knew about the messianic expectations (as Herod did), but didn’t need or desire God’s deliverance because they are busying saving themselves by lining up with the powers that be.  

Interestingly, when Jesus comes to town, he doesn’t agree with any of these camps.  Jesus comes as a “camp” of his own.  He comes with his own agenda.  He does not look for signs.  He does not desire his disciples to take up the sword, and in no way is he satisfied with the status quo.  In an affront to all expectation current in his day, Jesus comes preaching God’s kingdom as already present, already upsetting things, and already working in the hearts and lives of people.  This is exactly what excited many, but also made many nervous.  Jesus did not side with any group nor did he settle any conflict of viewpoint.  This is exactly what added fuel to the firestorm that was already smoldering.  When Jesus humbled himself, setting his own agenda as his “own kind of King,” or as God’s true King, who did not have to display any power over the system, because he revealed that God’s power was already with him in a very different way,  it was like putting a match to a woodpile that had been drenched in gasoline.   Jesus’ marching into Jerusalem in complete humility, but also with tears of pain and with outward expressions of anger at the corrupted house of prayer, set the whole place religious structure ablaze.  Jesus was coming to be his “own” kind of King, with a very different agenda, and with the kind of religious and political vision that the world did not want and still does not want.  

JESUS BRINGS GODS RULE IN A DIFFERENT KIND OF WAY
What makes Jesus so disturbing among all the differing political groups of this world is that Jesus does not side with anybody; at the same time he for everybody who lives for compassion and love; he is against all those who live in oppression and hate.  This is exactly what still makes people turn against Jesus.  Jesus will not accept any kind of rule or ruler than the rule of God.  And that is exactly what happen in Jerusalem and brought Jesus death on the cross.  He came to set the agenda, to rule and claim God as King in the way Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah, the mediator of God’s Kingdom, does everything in a different kind of way.

So, now with this understanding of just what brought the perfect storm to Jerusalem, we must stop to ask ourselves today, how is Jesus still a “different” kind of King, who brings God rule into our world in a very different kind of way?  This is still very much a question worth asking, because on the surface, we can admit that now, just like then, the way the world is doesn’t look much like God rules anything, does it?   How can we say that Jesus makes God King by surrendering to his enemies and dying a horrible death on the cross?  How does the way of Jesus make God King in this world?  It’s a good question, isn’t it?  I believe it is the most important question: Who really rules the world?  If God rules, then that rule must be very different.

The first thing the life and death of Jesus teaches us is that God rules through forgiveness and healing. Jesus does not force God’s rule, but calls for that rule through repentance and faith.   God’s rule has power, not because we are made to submit, but we submit because we realize once and for all that we are fallible, fractured, fragile creatures who are broken, bruised and battered in this world.   It’s only a matter of time until we recognize that only God can rule; and God rules as we realize who we are and who we are not.  That’s why the way into God’s kingdom is the humble way Jesus takes, not the high and mighty way some seek.  The only way into God’s kingdom is the way of the cross that forgives and heals us from who we have become without God.

Secondly, Jesus shows us how God rules through transformed hearts.    God’s kingdom is within you, Jesus said.  You don’t look and say here it is or there it is.  You don’t look for the kingdom to be born out in the ways of the world because the kingdom begins in your heart; in your deepest emotion and feeling.  The kingdom only comes when you want it to come.  And when really you want God’s rule; you find it’s already there, as it starts to change you from the inside out.   As you change from the inside out you can’t help but see how the world around you also changes.  The greatest ruler of the greatest kingdom does not make you his subjects, he welcomes those who desire to be his servants.  They desire God because God is who changes them instead of a king who controls them.  God rules through the way of love---an irresistible life changing, love.

Thirdly, Jesus also shows how God rules from the future, not merely the present.  Interestingly, God’s rule does not take place all at once.   In fact, God’s rule may not be visibility present at the moment, just as Jesus was not the visible the kind of King the world could see in his moment.  It is important to realize that the King who has not yet fully seized the throne, can’t be overthrown.  His kingdom is always coming.  This is how God rules in our world, not by what has been, but by what is yet to be.  God rules our world and our hearts because we are a people who live our lives faced forward, toward the future that belongs only to God.  There is unbreakable power in a kingdom that is still coming as God rules through our expectations, our hopes and our faith in what is yet to be.  Is there a greater way to rule than from the future?  In this way, God’s rule is a rule that is “forever young” and forever new, as only God makes all things new.

Finally, Jesus enables us to see the rule of God through worship of the true God.  How do we come to know this future, transforming, healing rule of God in this world where humans continue to “fall short of the glory” and “purposes” of God?  How do we live in this kingdom that touches and changes us, but is still not fully revealed or realized in this world?   

We can only live in the kingdom as we give our lives to the King and as we become citizens of the Kingdom that is coming.  We do this through worship of the true God.  Worship---that is giving full worth and unhindered praise to God is how we participate in God’s kingdom fully now, before it is fully realized in this world.   But don’t think of worship as simply going to church, singing hymns, saying prayers, hearing a sermon and saying Amen.  The apostle Paul reminds us that worshiping God is what Jesus was doing when he humbled himself as he entered Jerusalem to do follow God’s will, no matter what happened.  Paul wrote that “our true worship” is, as Romans 12: 1 says:  “....to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.  Whereas God asks of Jesus to be a dying sacrifice, we worship God by being a “living sacrifice”as our spiritual worship.   If you read the rest of this passage, you will clearly see what it means to worship God with your life.   He speaks of not living by the “rules” of this world, but living to seek, find, know the “perfect” will of God.  We show we know God’s will by living in humble submission to God’s purposes as we express love to each other do good works in the world.  He reminds us that our greatest act of worship is to “live decently” as people of the “daytime”, refusing to be people of darkness, and as we “put on the Lord Jesus”, by living in a desire for God’s Spirit of love, not living according to our own selfish “fleshly” desires.  Thus, worship is to love God and to love God’s will more than your own. 

Jesus comes to Jerusalem as a different kind of King because he reveals the true God who rules our world and our hearts in a different kind of way.  It is a way that is different because it is the only way that forgives, heals, transforms, and promises a future for our world and for us.  Jesus lays down his life as a dying sacrifice; we are called to give our lives as “living” sacrifices to the true way that leads to hope and eternal life.  Amen.     


© 2012 All rights reserved Charles J. Tomlin, B.A., M.Div. D.Min.