Saturday, April 07, 2007

His Final Week on Earth – Saturday

Good Friday wasn’t so good.

It was a fabulous day in Western Washington—almost 80 degrees at my house. The yard work and dahlias are making great progress. By almost all accounts, a great day.


Dodger, our Chesapeake Bay retriever of 13+ years, had to be “put down.” He had lived a good life and his health was failing. Yesterday morning while I was up at the office (on my day off, please don’t tell my Elders) he started having difficulty breathing. By the time I got him to the vets office he could barely walk. We had our “good byes” and the vet gave him something to stop his suffering.

Typically on the Saturday of Easter weekend, I rationally think about Christ’s death and what the disciples must have been going through--the death of their friend, rabbi and Lord. The disciples thought that the tomb was final, even though Jesus had spoken of his rising from the dead. They must have had a horrible day. Today, all rationality gets stripped away. Death is very real.

Christian churches today move to quickly from Good Friday to Easter Sunday. We don’t like to think about Jesus’ death and what it meant to Peter, James, John, Mary, Mary the mother of Jesus and the rest of the group. We must take time focus of Christ’s death or there is the risk of grace becoming cheap.

Each weekend Evergreen has Saturday night worship and Sunday morning worship. The services have the same message—the music and ambience of the services are very different. Tonight, we will not be having the “normal” music—we will be singing At the Foot of the Cross (by Kathryn Scott), Your Blood Says Everything (by Billy Somerville) and How Deep the Father’s Love for Us (by Stuart Townsend). Tonight, we will not be having an Easter message. We will look at what was happening in the lives of the disciples and what was happening in Jerusalem. We will also use the Apostle’s Creed and look at the phrase, “He descended into hell…”

The service tonight will be quiet and contemplative. We will keep Christ in the tomb, thinking of his sacrifice.

Today I think of death—the death of my dog, Dodger—the death of my Lord, Jesus.

Friday, April 06, 2007

His Final Week on Earth – Good Friday

Today it is going to be 75+ degrees in Western Washington. Unbelievable! My wife has today off (so do I, supposedly) so we are going to get some yard work done.

I am one of those crazy people that raise dahlias. This year I will have over 40 different types of dahlias. I raise dahlias from tubers. At the conclusion of each growing season I dig up the tubers at the base of each plant, wash any dirt off of them, mark them for future identification and store them for the winter in shaved cedar chips. Around Easter I take the tubers out of storage and carefully divide them. I keep only 3 tubers from each type of dahlia and give the rest away.

The dahlia plant MUST die and the tubers be broken apart in order for me to spread the beautiful dahlias to my family, friends and even strangers. To put it in biblical terms, one must die so that many might live.

Today I will be planting my dahlia tubers. I will “bury” them (not in a tomb, but in raised garden beds). Christ rose from the grave in three days—it will take my dahlias about three weeks to break forth from the ground. On the day of Pentecost (fifty days past Easter) the Holy Spirit was poured out on Christ followers—impacting the people in Jerusalem for the festival (and every Christian since then). In about fifty days my dahlias will begin to bloom. Their magnificent beauty will impact all who see them.

The Christian faith (and my dahlias) is only possible because one was sacrificed, broken and buried. Today we think of Christ’s sacrifice. The only thing “good” thing about Good Friday is the forgiveness we receive from the sacrifice of Jesus, our sacrificed Passover lamb.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

His Final Week on Earth – Passover Seder

Holy Week is here. We need to focus on the final week of Jesus’ life as we prepare for Easter.

Here at Evergreen we have been celebrating the Passover Seder meal for about six years. More and more Christian churches celebrate the Seder meal. The meal and ritual help connect us with our Lord and Savior, Jesus. Jesus would have celebrated the Seder every Passover of his life. As a child he would have participated in the game of looking for leaven bread that had been hidden around the house. It was fitting that his last meal on earth was the Seder.

We need to remember the first Passover. It has a horrible night in Egypt for everyone except the Israelites. Death. Weeping. Anguish. God spared the Israelites who had killed the lambs at twilight and placed its blood on the top and sides of the doors of their homes. Deliverance from Egypt resulted from that night. God demonstrated his power—for death and deliverance.

Cheap grace is what too many Americans experience. We do not like to focus on the horrible price of our deliverance. Our Passover lamb was slain on a cross along a Jerusalem road. Theologically speaking, every one of us had a hand in killing our Passover lamb. My sins (and your sins) were the cause of the nails/spikes that held Jesus to the cross. Our new life and freedom were VERY costly! Tonight our congregation will be reminded of the cost of our new life in Christ.

I am very fortunate that one of my good friends is the pastor of a Messianic congregation. Brent has been to our church to lead the Seder a couple of times. The Haggadah Shel Pesach we use is the one used by Brent’s church. I am fairly confident that he would be willing to provide one to all of my readers who would want one. Just post a address on the comment section of the blog indicating that you would like a copy.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

His Final Week on Earth – Questioning Jesus’ Authority

Holy Week is here. We need to focus on the final week of Jesus’ life as we prepare for Easter.

Jesus was very bold. He said things that were not popular. He openly challenged the religious leadership of his day. His first year of public ministry can be referred to as his year of popularity. Thousands would follow him to hear what he had to say. It was a heady time for his disciples. By the third year of his ministry the large crowds were gone. Many had left because of the things that he said and taught.

Things have not changed much in the years since then. Many of the things that he taught do not sit well with people today. He taught that not everyone who called him “Lord” would be allowed into the kingdom of God. He clearly taught that there was one way to God – and he was that way. He had no use for people who would not put him first. He demands that we are to be “holy.” He calls us to love ourselves and to love others as we love ourselves. Some people today love to follow part of Jesus’ teachings and openly choose to ignore his other teachings. There are those who want to change social injustice but refuse to acknowledge that Jesus is the ONLY way to God. There are those who seek to be holy but don’t seem to care about their neighbor or the oppressed. They (we) choose to believe those teachings that resonate with our souls and to ignore those teachings we don’t like.

We question Jesus’ authority today—just like they did back then! How dare Jesus say that he is the ONLY way to God! How dare he say that we should care for the weak and lowly! The religious leaders asked Jesus who gave him the authority to teach what he was teaching. He refused to answer their question. Today we demand to know who gave him the authority to teach what he was teaching. Again, he refuses to answer that question.

Today it is chic to say that many, if not most, of the teachings of Jesus were added in by his followers—that way we have an excuse for not obeying them. Or, we say that his teachings were specific to “that” culture and do not apply to today’s culture. You see, we struggle with Jesus’ authority.

This Holy Week we need to seriously consider who gave Jesus the authority to say and teach the things that he did. His authority is based in his position of being a part of the Triune God or it is base on some other authority. If he is God then we are faced with some critical choices. We either accept his teachings (even if we don’t like all of them) and conform our will to his will or we stop calling our selves a “Christian” and leave the his church.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

His Final Week on Earth

Holy Week is here. This is not a time for writing about “denominational politics.” We need to focus on the final week of Jesus’ life as we prepare for Easter.

The gospels tell us that Jesus spent time each day preaching in the temple courts. Jesus had guts!! His teaching in the temple was an “in your face” to the Jewish religious leaders. Most of Jesus’ ministry took place near the Sea of Galilee. But now, he was taking his message to the temple in Jerusalem. He was on their turf. How dare he come there and preach the gospel!

What gospel was Jesus was preaching? One needs only look at his past messages to find the answer to that question. Jesus was passionate about the “kingdom of God.” Mark’s gospel uses the phrase “kingdom of God” fourteen times! All but one of those uses of the “kingdom of God” were by Jesus. His message concerning the kingdom of God included the following points:

  • The kingdom of God is near (Mark 1);
  • We have been given the secrets of the kingdom of God (Mark 4);
  • Jesus used parables to help describe the kingdom of God (Mark 4);
  • Some people with Jesus would not die before the coming of the kingdom of God (Mark 9);
  • Some will be thrown into hell and not enter the kingdom of God (Mark 9);
  • The kingdom of God belongs to little children (Mark 10);
  • We must have the faith of a little child to enter into the kingdom of God (Mark 10);
  • It is difficult for the rich to enter the kingdom of God (Mark 10);
  • Some people are not far from the kingdom of God; yet, they are not in the kingdom (Mark 12);
  • After the last supper, Jesus said he would not drink wine again until he drinks it anew in the kingdom of God (Mark 14).

My guess is that Jesus preached these same messages in the temple courts! Jesus wanted people to be in the kingdom of God! He told people when they were outside the kingdom. He wanted them to know that you didn’t have to be a scholar to be invited into the kingdom. The “kingdom of God” was his message.

Jesus didn’t preach about “religion”—religious ritual. The Israelites were great at religious ritual. Ritual wasn’t good enough—only the kingdom of God was good enough!

Courageous preaching about the kingdom of can get a person in trouble. Presbyterian pastors are passionate about lots of topics—and even preach passionately on those topics. Yet, how often do we hear passionate preaching about someone going to hell and not entering the kingdom of God? How often do we hear passionate preaching about how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God?

A few years ago a couple stopped attending our church. The reason… in a sermon I had mentioned that not everyone was going to make it to heaven and that those who didn’t make it to heaven would go to hell. The truth about the kingdom of God is not easy to hear. I want Aunt Betty to be in heaven—unless there is a major change in her life she won’t be there. I want my brother to be in heaven—unless there is a major change in his life he won’t be there. I want Jimmy my sailing instructor to be in heaven—unless there is a major change in his life he won’t be there. The truth about the kingdom of God is not easy to hear.

What would happen in the PCUSA if every pastor took the next three years and only preached on the truths about the kingdom of God? Some people would leave our churches, to be sure. But I am confident that thousands upon thousands would experience new life in Christ and enter into the kingdom of God.

It’s just a thought.