Exploring the Word | Spreaker

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

He is Risen!

Acts 10:34-43
34Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality,35but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.36You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ — he is Lord of all. 37That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: 38how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.

39We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; 40but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, 41not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. 43All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

Matthew 28:1-10
1After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. 2And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. 4For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men.

5But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. 6He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay.7Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.”

8So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. 10Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

            Once there was a man named Jesus. God sent him to bring light and healing into a world full of trouble and pain. Jesus taught people about God’s kingdom and love. He healed the sick and welcomed people who were caught at the edges of society and rejected by religious people.

            Jesus gathered huge crowds who were longing for God’s love. Many of them had been told all their life that they didn’t belong, that they weren’t righteous enough to please God, but Jesus welcomed them. It was obvious watching Jesus that God was doing something special. The power in his words, the warmth of his welcome and the strength of his healing set him apart.

            At the same time, he didn’t fit the mold of a holy man. He colored outside the lines of social boundaries and religious tradition. He criticized the religious leaders and challenged the comfortable. Some people, especially powerful people, thought Jesus might be dangerous, that he was leading people away from God. They also worried that his radical teachings could upset the delicate balance with the Roman Empire that allowed Jewish people freedom of worship.

            Finally, the religious leaders got fed up with Jesus and the challenge he represented to their authority. They found one of his closest followers to lead them to his hideout away from the adoring eyes of the crowd. They arrested him, condemned him of blasphemy for saying he was God’s son and they handed him over to the imperial governor of Jerusalem, Pontius Pilate.

            After some convincing and a staged demonstration calling for Jesus to be crucified, Pilate agreed. Jesus was whipped and beaten and mocked. Then he was led up a hill outside the city and nailed to a cross. That afternoon he died a horrible death, was buried in a tomb carved into a rock and the tomb was sealed with a huge rock guarded by soldiers.

            Even before his death Jesus’ followers had run away and hidden. In Matthew’s account none of his followers are there when he dies except for three women and a man named Joseph we never hear anything else about. The women went right up to the tomb on that Friday afternoon to see where he was buried so they could bring spices and ointments on Sunday morning to do one last kindness for Jesus.

            Everything seemed finished. Hope had died; fear had won; and nobody knew who else might be arrested.

            But God wasn’t finished yet.

Friday, April 22, 2011

wounded for our transgressions (4.21.11; Holy Thursday)

Matthew 26:14-29
26:14Then one of the twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests 15and said, “What will you give me if I betray him to you?” They paid him thirty pieces of silver. 16And from that moment he began to look for an opportunity to betray him.

17On the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Where do you want us to make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?” 18He said, “Go into the city to a certain man, and say to him, ‘The Teacher says, ‘My time is near; I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples.’” 19So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the Passover meal.
20When it was evening, he took his place with the twelve; 21and while they were eating, he said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me.” 22And they became greatly distressed and began to say to him one after another, “Surely not I, Lord?” 23He answered, “The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me. 24The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born.” 25Judas, who betrayed him, said, “Surely not I, Rabbi?” He replied, “You have said so.”

26While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” 27Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; 28for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29I tell you, I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”

Isaiah 52:13-53:12
52:13 See, my servant shall prosper; he shall be exalted and lifted up, and shall be very high.
14 Just as there were many who were astonished at him — so marred was his appearance, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of mortals —
15 so he shall startle many nations; kings shall shut their mouths because of him;
for that which had not been told them they shall see, and that which they had not heard they shall contemplate.
53:1 Who has believed what we have heard?
And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?
2 For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
3 He was despised and rejected by others;
a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity;
and as one from whom others hide their faces he was despised,
and we held him of no account.
4 Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases;
yet we accounted him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted.
5 But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed.
6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way,
and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.
8 By a perversion of justice he was taken away. Who could have imagined his future?
For he was cut off from the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people.
9 They made his grave with the wicked and his tomb with the rich,
although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth.
10 Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him with pain.
When you make his life an offering for sin,
he shall see his offspring, and shall prolong his days;
through him the will of the LORD shall prosper.
11 Out of his anguish he shall see light; he shall find satisfaction through his knowledge.
The righteous one, my servant, shall make many righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will allot him a portion with the great,
and he shall divide the spoil with the strong;
because he poured out himself to death, and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.
Jesus and his disciples gathered in that upper room to celebrate the Passover. They gathered in the ancient tradition of Israel, remembering that God took a big family of slaves and made them into a nation of free people. Israel was freed by God’s love and shaped by a covenant with God. That covenant called them to remember that their freedom was a gift and to live freely with compassion for others.

The ritual of remembering freedom and covenant at the Passover table was one of the first traditions given to Israel. Israel was to be marked by freedom, covenant and the redeeming love of God.

At that supper table long ago Jesus and his disciples remembered God’s freeing, loving covenant. At that supper table Jesus broke bread and told them about a new covenant. That new covenant was also about love and freedom. It was a covenant made real in the breaking of Christ’s body and the spilling of his blood.

Christ’s new covenant with us frees us from sin, but it also frees us from rules and ritual. We have traditions, and those traditions remind us of who we are in Christ. But we are not meant to make those traditions into new rules. We are not meant to be tied down by structure or commandments. We’re not meant to be tied down by guilt or obligation.

Instead Jesus sets us free. He sets us free through his cross. At the cross we see how incredible God’s love for us is. We see that there’s no length God won’t go to to bring us home. Isaiah’s words ring true: “He was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed.”

At that table long ago Jesus made a new covenant with his disciples, really a new covenant with the world. In that covenant of broken body and spilled blood we see a vision of love without limit, without selfishness, without power.

That table, that covenant of love, still shapes our life today. Like Israel, we are a free covenant people. Jesus doesn’t give us new rules, but he gives us practices to remember who we are, who he frees us to be. He washed the disciples’ feet to show them a new kind of power and care. Tonight we washed each others’ feet to remember that love isn’t abstract, it’s touch and care and comfort. Love is close, boundary breaking, a little uncomfortable.

Monday, April 18, 2011

The stone the builders rejected (4.17.11; Palm Sunday)

Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29
1   O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his steadfast love endures for ever!
2     Let Israel say,  “His steadfast love endures for ever.”
19  Open to me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through them and give thanks to the LORD.
20  This is the gate of the LORD; the righteous shall enter through it.
21  I thank you that you have answered me  and have become my salvation.
22  The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.
23  This is the LORD’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.
24  This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.
25  Save us, we beseech you, O LORD! O LORD, we beseech you, give us success!
26  Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the LORD.  We bless you from the house of the LORD.
27  The LORD is God, and he has given us light.
     Bind the festal procession with branches, up to the horns of the altar.
28  You are my God, and I will give thanks to you; you are my God, I will extol you.
29  O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.

Matthew 21:1-11
1When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 2saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. 3If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately.” 4This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying,
5   “Tell the daughter of Zion,
     Look, your king is coming to you,
          humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”
6The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; 7they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. 8A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting,
     “Hosanna to the Son of David!
          Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
     Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
10When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” 11The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”

            Who can tell us what this Palm Sunday parade is all about?

            Tell us a little more about that.

Part of me really hates Palm Sunday. We sing praises and celebrate Christ’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem. We play the role of the crowd and joyfully welcome him with palm branches held high. But even as we shout with joy we know the crowd’s love for Jesus is fickle. We know that not even a week later the crowd will be calling out for his blood.

            On Palm Sunday I feel like we’re celebrating hypocrisy: “Hosanna to the son of David,” then “Crucify! Crucify!” Maybe if we can’t quite give all our enthusiasm to the singing and palm-waving this morning it’s because we don’t really want to be this crowd. We know their love for Jesus is unsteady, untrustworthy. We know that even the inner circle of disciples won’t be able to hold their ground when the time comes, despite their passionate words and their best intentions.

            What would the crowd say in their defense? How would they respond to the charge of hypocrisy and betrayal? I think they would point the finger at the religious leaders who led them astray. They are right to do that, too, that’s where all the Gospels put the blame for Jesus’ condemnation.

            After all, the crowds were accustomed to trusting their leaders; they were trained to think the religious leaders knew best. The Pharisees and chief priests were all the crowd had left of the once glorious kingdom of David. It made sense that they longed for a king to fill that void. But maybe it also made sense that when the initial excitement wore off they second-guessed themselves. Sure Jesus looked like a king at first, but as the excitement faded, the leaders’ arguments started to make sense.

            Why didn’t this king take action against the pagan Romans? Why didn’t this king start recruiting an army? Why didn’t this king team up with the priests and other leaders? Maybe the religious leaders were right. Maybe the leaders knew better. If Jesus really was the Messiah the teachers would believe in him, right?

            We know now that Christ’s kingdom is different from the kingdoms we’re used to. The Psalm Al read a little earlier gets at some important truths about that kingdom. For one thing, the Psalm begins with praise to God for God’s steadfast love. God’s love shows up in many different ways, including providing kings for Israel in the past and now sending Jesus to show the new kingdom of God. No matter how we wander away from God, God’s love for us is constant and persistent.

            The Psalm also says “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” The builders, the leaders entrusted with power, the leaders who were counted on to guide Israel with wisdom rejected the cornerstone. Psalm 118 doesn’t tell us why the builders rejected that stone, only that God sometimes makes the rejected stone the most important.

            God builds differently than we do; especially, God builds differently than people in power do. People in power usually build society to increase their power, but God’s kingdom is about sharing and justice for everyone. Even the kings of Israel, who were chosen to be God’s leaders for God’s people, built walls to protect their power. So it’s with a long sense of history and human sin that the psalmist knows that God often chooses the rejected to be the cornerstone.

healing our blindness (4.3.11)

1 Samuel 16:1-13
1The LORD said to Samuel, “How long will you grieve over Saul? I have rejected him from being king over Israel. Fill your horn with oil and set out; I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.” 2Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears of it, he will kill me.” And the LORD said, “Take a heifer with you, and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the LORD.’ 3Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do; and you shall anoint for me the one whom I name to you.” 4Samuel did what the LORD commanded, and came to Bethlehem. The elders of the city came to meet him trembling, and said, “Do you come peaceably?” 5He said, “Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to the LORD; sanctify yourselves and come with me to the sacrifice.” And he sanctified Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.

6When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is now before the LORD.” 7But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the LORD does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” 8Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. He said, “Neither has the LORD chosen this one.” 9Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, “Neither has the LORD chosen this one.” 10Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, and Samuel said to Jesse, “The LORD has not chosen any of these.” 11Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all your sons here?” And he said, “There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep.” And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and bring him; for we will not sit down until he comes here.” 12He sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. The LORD said, “Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.” 13Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the LORD came mightily upon David from that day forward. Samuel then set out and went to Ramah.
Intro: Pharisees role as defenders of faith/tradition in a hostile environment
            Risk of assimilation
John 9:1-41
1As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. 4We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. 5As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” 6When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, 7saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see.

8The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” 9Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” 10But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” 11He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.” 12They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”

13They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. 14Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. 15Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.” 16Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And they were divided. 17So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” He said, “He is a prophet.”

18The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight 19and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” 20His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; 21but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” 22His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. 23Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”

24So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.” 25He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” 26They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” 27He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?”

28Then they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. 29We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” 30The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. 31We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. 32Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. 33If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” 34They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out.

35Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” 36He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” 37Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” 38He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him. 39Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” 40Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” 41Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.”

The Pharisees are confronted with a dilemma here. On the one hand they have witnessed a miraculous healing that they can’t deny. On the other hand the healing violates their understanding of how God is supposed to work in the world. In responding to this challenge unfortunately the Pharisees fall back on their power instead of on openness to God doing a new thing in the world.

The church is tempted sometimes to follow the Pharisees path. We’ve often rejected the findings of science and archeology when we’ve felt threatened by their discoveries. Too often people in the church, especially kids, have heard things like: “Don’t ask questions; just have faith.”

That kind of power has no place in the church, instead we are called to follow the main character’s example of openness and conviction as we seek to follow Jesus together. The man received his sight and trusted that experience even though he didn’t understand it. He didn’t pretend to know more than he did, but he also didn’t let threats from others silence his witness to Christ’s healing. His courage and openness make him a great model for us.

Ultimately, the church is a community not an institution. That means we seek to support each other as we follow Jesus together. We are open to each other’s experience and we make decisions through discussion and love, not power.

The gift of grace (3.27.11)

Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7
2:15The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.16And the LORD God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden;17but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.”

3:1Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” 2The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; 3but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.’” 4But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; 5for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

6So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. 7Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.

Romans 5:12-19
12Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned — 13sin was indeed in the world before the law, but sin is not reckoned when there is no law.14Yet death exercised dominion from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam, who is a type of the one who was to come.
15But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died through the one man’s trespass, much more surely have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many.

16And the free gift is not like the effect of the one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brings justification.17If, because of the one man’s trespass, death exercised dominion through that one, much more surely will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.

18Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all. 19For just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.

Our story with God begins with creation. God created the world good and beautiful. He put a man and a woman there to take care of it and help the plants grow. In a world full of safety and abundance God gave the man one limitation. God told Adam not to eat the fruit from the one tree in the middle of the garden, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

The story doesn’t tell us anything about why God doesn’t want the people to eat from that tree. Over the years there have been plenty of ideas: maybe God’s testing them to see if they will obey; maybe God doesn’t want them to decide right and wrong for themselves, but simply to rely on him; maybe God knows they won’t be able to handle the knowledge of good and evil. Lots of ideas, but we don’t know for sure.

Actually, there’s a lot we don’t know about the story. We don’t know how long Adam and Eve were in the garden before the serpent made his move. We don’t know how often God and the people talked or what they talked about. We don’t know what Adam and Eve did with their time in that garden.

What we do have is an image of peace, innocence and intimacy. We know God sometimes walked with Adam and Eve in the cool of the evening. We know Adam and Eve were peacefully at ease with each other and their surroundings so it didn’t bother them to be naked.

What would it be like to live in that garden with God? Maybe it would be like the simple joy of children running and playing. Maybe like the pure pleasure of gardening without the difficulty that comes with weeds and hard soil and pressing time commitments. Maybe living in the garden was like a perfect vacation without ever having to go back to work.