Good Feeling

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Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you–that everything written about me in the Law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.”

Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus 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. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God.
Luke 24:44-53

 

Ten years ago I my life was about to take a dramatic shift. I was graduating with a degree in Religious Studies and a few credits shy of another degree in Ceramic Arts. Earlier that year I had traveled to Louisville to interview for a spot to become a missionary. I had not traveled outside of California; say for the time I lived as a toddler in Washington State and the few occasions I went to Tijuana. I was now traveling Southern California to raise support for my impending trip to Kenya.

I lived a sheltered life, one of fervent pursuit of identity and purpose. I had traveled the extremes of faith and religion. I was a militant Evolutionist. I fought faith with reason. I exposed the lies of pulpit sheep and sought to tame the false power of a risen Christ I saw as a charlatan.

I was a charismatic extremist. I ditched reason for absolute faith. I climbed the faithful ladder towards the prize of eternal life, hoping to take as many damned souls as I could along the way. I submitted to the Lordship of Jesus Christ and desperately preached his salvation on weekends at Venice Beach.

I abused and consumed Scripture as a drug addict consumes drugs. I was faithful and offensive. I was earnest and misguided. I was cocksure and uncertain. I was confused and confessed. I was a hot mess.

There I was traveling to raise financial support for this mission to discover my purpose. In all honesty I was seeking to escape the life I was bound in. I had no direction, little hope, and fear was my currency. I spent Lent, Passiontide, Eastertide, and on towards Pentecost rallying support. I would go to churches, in rented cars because my truck had been stolen, and share with folks what I was doing and pass around a plate. In most circumstances I barley covered the costs of the rental car and gas. I often felt out of place giving my spiel and passing that plate. I was surrounded with guilt and losing affection for this impending journey. As I was driving home after some spiel and plate action I wasted away in traffic and wondered, “Why am I doing this? “This is all I know,” was my reply. This is what the National Mission Office of the Presbyterian Church told us to do. We were to grind, meet, and connect. Build up our network to share our story and acquire the necessary financial support to go and do Christ’s work.

Then why was I not feeling part of community? Where was the financial support that I needed to answer the call? My network was shrinking as I sought to follow the traditional path. I was terribly unhappy. So, I stopped the spiel and plate act and sold my art.

I remained connected with my church friends and the friends that would never darken the door of a church that saw their love as sin. I held art shows in bars and my home church offered space for my art to be sold at the annual talent show. I loved this process. I saw my communities merge and support me. I rediscovered why I was doing this. And within 2 months I had raised $18,000. I only needed to raise $8,000.

I arrived in Kenya on a Holy Spirit contact high. I was as extreme as ever. I was ready and willing to get in to this missionary thing. I was part of a group of young adults from the Evangelical Lutheran Church and the PCUSA. We all checked in to a local convent to begin our language and cultural training. We were there for a month.

Life here was far slower than at home. I was forced to slow down and found lots of time to contemplate the road that got me to Kenya. I was never good at being still. I talk too much. I never meet a stranger. I am about as extroverted as they come. But there in that Kenyan convent, surrounded by a language and culture that I was obviously a stranger too, I waited. I waited. I waited.

I’d love to share with you all of the exciting things we did there in that first month. We stayed in that convent for a month. We never left the grounds. 24/7 those broken glass covered walls surrounded us. We waited. God forced us in to ourselves and we could not escape that life altering power of the Holy Spirit. Where we could not go, she could.

I realized that the same Spirit of peace, comfort, affliction, and love that covered my in the US was the same Spirit that was poking and prodding my heart there in Kenya. I realized that God was indeed the God that fashioned the world. The Word of God opened up to me. I was flooded with emotions and experiences of the road that brought me there. Behind those walls God made me wait so that I could find myself. No matter what I felt God was in control. The space around me was chock-full of God.

It was then that I realized that the best kind of faithfulness is when you dwell in that space that God has fashioned for you. It is in that space where heaven, hell, and everything in between lay, that you are nearest to God. That Divine geography that awakens your heart and mind to the call upon your life. It is there that your mind is opened and The Word of God may be understood. That suffering and overcoming that suffering is part of the process. We exist as witnesses to the glory of God, praising all of God’s grand Creation. Is this not the Chief End of Humankind?

That witness is not homogenous. That witness is as dynamic and individual as it is complex and communal. We are constantly stirring. We are the ebb and flow of God’s “Good Deeds.” In being faithful are we required to travel the same path? Does faithfulness require stagnation in tradition and rites that cement us in a path of “this is how it has always been”?

Are we not called to a living dynamic faith that builds up community and it connects us to the divine presence in each other? We are indeed called to stay in Jerusalem until we have been clothed with power from on high. The problem with this is that we often confuse adversity and suffering as signs that we have not been clothed with divine power.

Is it not the very fact that we endure suffering in the Name of Christ and that we experience adversity living into the call of the Gospel that signifies that we are no longer naked but have donned the power of that Holy, Holy Spirit?

It’s important to understand that God never demands or doles out suffering, nor is suffering ever a path to righteousness. One of the sins of the church is using suffering to justify slavery, violence, and crimes against humanity. But the reality is that our faith is tested every day. Sometimes, waiting in Jerusalem is all we got. And waiting there in the city for that divine power is the Holiest act of all.

Thanks Be To God, Amen.

Bohemian Rhapsody

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On this morning two people were walking towards a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about what had happened over the last few days. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and began walking alongside them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And Jesus asked them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?”

They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place here in these days?” He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our…HOW THE…chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and to be crucified. But we had believed that he was the one to redeem Israel, the Messiah.

Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. Earlier this morning, some women of our group puzzled us. They were at the tomb very early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of us went to the tomb and found it just like the women had said; but we did not see him.

Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went with them to stay. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to everyone there. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight.

They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

Luke 24:13-35

 

Last year I convinced my wife and a couple of friends to attempt the OKC Memorial Marathon. We set up a training schedule and stuck to it for about 3 weeks. Then life happened. My friends and I got busy with classwork. My wife’s work at the church dominated her life. We all got overwhelmed and lost track of the training regime.

 

Time passed by and the race drew near. With 2 weeks left before the race we all discussed dropping out. I honestly did not mind that idea. In fact I was trying to seed the soil with this idea. We decided that at the very least we could walk the 13.1 miles to complete the half marathon.

 

On race day we meet across the street from the memorial. It was humid and warm. I was tired, my wife was angry that I had talked her in to this. We gathered in the race corals not paying attention to where we were. The race began and we realized that we were in the elite area. This meant that we were surrounded with people that ran this race at a very fast pace. This was a pace that we were not prepared to maintain. We did our best to keep up and exhausted ourselves by the time we began to exit Bricktown.

 

We walked most of the race. Around mile 10 my wife and friends wanted to pick up the pace. I could not. My knees had nothing left and the blisters on my feet begged my to stop altogether. I pressed on but at a snails pace. I encouraged them to go ahead and I would meet up with them later.

 

That last 3 miles were the most painful steps of my life. I begged for relief and fought the urge to stop. I would walk for 10 minutes and rest for 9. I looked for a way out as I trotted along. Then I popped out of the neighborhoods and on to Broadway, facing the finish line. I gathered all my energy and tried to run. The crowd was going wild. Everyone was willing me forward. I was a galloping steed breaking the air towards the end. In reality, I was an ill-prepared man barely walking. I finally crossed the finish line with the most dejected look on my face.

 

I bought the photo to put on my wall to remind me to never run a race that I am not prepared to run. My experience at last years race reminds me of today’s text. We have a journey of 7 miles whose difficulty lies not in its distance but what what transpired prior to it. Jesus had just died and along with his death the hopes, dreams, and will of many went along with him.

 

These travelers’ hearts were burdened. These burdens prevented them from seeing the hope in their midst. “Jesus himself came near and began walking alongside them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him.” Mired in their grief, wanting to see what they wanted to see, they were not ready to see the resurrected might of their leader, their teacher, their friend.

 

One of the hardest parts of faith is believing in the midst of unbelief. There is this internal debate going on inside us that seeks to weigh the options and seek the straightest path. If we are hurting we seek to hurry through that hurt and want to arrive at that island of peace. When we see folks in pain we offer platitudes of comfort, perhaps their pain, their hurt is too close a reminder of our own inevitable bout with hurt. There is nothing like revealing the mettle of our community than pain and suffering.

 

Staying the course against increasing difficult odds is another marker of faith. When do you cut bait and row to shore, exiting the waters never to fish again? There is much sense to speak of when one talks about the rationality of what we do. Doing the same things over and over and expecting different results is not a good recipe for change. Sometimes is seems like faith is literally a maze of blind leading the blind with a power that is acquired in some sort of charismatic talent show. What is the difference between divinely inspired and inherently decided? The answer to this can put you on varying sides of a debate that dismantles communities and does little to solve the woes of those that are homeless, dying, hungry, or seeking to exist as the world around them devolves in to a warzone.

 

What is faith without a little trial? Tell this to those that suffer the hands of violence or those that live in a world of inequality and injustice. Faith in the midst of trials may seem sadistic or cruel. Offering a perspective of trails of faith in this instance may not allow for the kind of intimacy that draws us to relationship, at least the kind of relationship that is needed to reveal the twisted, marred resurrected body of Jesus the Christ.

 

Walking along that road towards Emmaus that day these people are filled with that kind of communal fashioning and shaking stuff. The community’s intimacy is shaken. Everyone is going in a different direction. Then arrives the broken, pierced, marred resurrected body of Jesus the Christ. “Jesus himself came near and began walking alongside them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him.”That’s what the broken, pierced, marred resurrected body of Jesus does; he comes along side us and rebuilds our community. To prepare for this we got to let go of everything. Nothing can be left to interfere with the new life being offered. This is what we are called to do as we move away from Easter and towards the resurrection of Christ’s ministry in the world on the day of Pentecost.

 

We mustn’t be kept from recognizing Jesus. We must look beyond what is broken, pierced, or marred within us, within our community. Just as we placed all our woes at the foot of the cross, trusting in the power of a swaddled child that rode in to Jerusalem on the back of a donkey. We mustn’t pick them up now. Let us draw nearer to God so that our eyes may be opened and our hearts be prepared. Our community be renewed.

A Change Is Gonna Come

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Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath.  And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight.

When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.”

When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God.

But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the Sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the Sabbath day.”

But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water?

And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the Sabbath day?”

When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.

Luke 13:10-17

Today there is much to do about what took place this coming Wednesday some 50 years ago.  50 years ago 300,000 people gathered and marched to fill the National Mall.  There is an iconic photograph that bears witness of a sea of people from the Lincoln Memorial to the White House.  The reflecting pool the only negative space saved from frustration in our demand for jobs and freedom for all.

This action was a culminating act of the collective efforts of millions.  The legend of Martin Luther King Jr., James Farmer, John Lewis, A. Philip Randolph, Roy Watkins, Whitney Young, and Bayard Rustin took effect.  These towers of the civil rights movement represented the blood, sweat, and tears of the millions of people that came before and that would follow after.

That day, 50 yeas ago, brought us the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.  This action was a light to the millions of people that experienced then unjust systems of oppression that leveed them to second-class citizenry.  That day delivered the nation to a new way of thought and equality flowed in to the streets and paved the way towards a White House celebration of this nations first Black President.

Or did it?

Our text today offers us an exploration of what it means to be community and the struggle for power that fashions the communities we belong to.  Here Jesus heals a long oppressed and marginalized woman.  A woman that due to her suffering no longer has a place in her society.  She exists as an outsider.  She is a reminder of what would happen to us if we to occupied space deemed unfit or inhuman by the pleasantry of our times.  Jesus’ very act of healing on the Sabbath is a seditious act of treason.  He challenges the status quo and demands attention from the leaders of his day.  This woman lies outside the circle of comfort.  She exists beyond privilege.  She is bear of rights.  She does not exist.

Yet, Jesus acknowledges her.  Jesus touches her.  In touching her Jesus makes himself unclean and draws himself in to relationship.  Jesus fashions a community with her and doing so bears her pain, her woe, and her condition.  Jesus’ speaks to power in community with this marginalized woman.  He heals her and restores her to relationship with others.  Jesus goes in to the margins and brings her back with him.

This is the Gospel of Jesus the Christ at work.  Jesus demands from us that we live in to the wholeness of humanity and embrace the dignity of all.  It is what wholeness is today. Our human dignity and our wholeness is gauged by the least among us.  There is no poverty in this nation.  There is no oppressed in this nation.  There is no privilege in this nation.  Poverty.  Oppression.  Privilege.  These exist by our hands.  These are fashioned and maintained by human hands.

The lazy dog does not oppress.  The sunning cat does not engage poverty.  The hard working mule lives not in privilege.  These are mortal traits of a finite mortal coil to which we are subject and must be liberated from.

Sedition is our call, sedition in all things.  Last week we heard a stirring sermon from the Rev. Sally Wright.  She offered to us that all things she does in the church is seditious because she is a lesbian who is called and ordained to serve the Lord.  There is no diminished act that does not challenge the status quo of the church in her life.

This is the way we are all being called to live, to serve God.  That in Jesus the Christ we are to live in seditious ways that challenge the norms of life and bring about healing.

What are your acts of seditious healing?

I used my expensive seminary skills and exegeted this passage a little and then came up with a translation of my own.  I’d like to read it to you.

Now he was teaching in Congress on the Sabbath.  And just then there appeared a person of color with a spirit that had crippled them for over 200 years. They were bent over and were quite unable to stand against the systemic injustice around them.

When Jesus saw them, he called them over and said, “Child, you are set free from your ailment.”

When he laid his hands on them, immediately injustice fled, they acquired equality and white privilege fled the light, and all began praising God.

But the leaders of Congress, became indignant because Jesus had cured on the Sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the Sabbath day.”

But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath posture for a political future, make backroom deals, wage war on the common good, and make a comfortable way for yourself?  And ought not these people’s, a Children of Abraham whom Satan bound for 200 long years, be set free from this bondage on the Sabbath day?”

When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.

The woman is you.  The woman is us.

When we heal others we are healing the wholeness of all.  In Jesus’ seditious act of healing, the woman Jesus heals is restored and we are restored in community.  The once fracture bonds and relationships are renewed, restored, and reclaimed.  We become the healing bridge of the Good News of Jesus the Christ.  That is the real seditious act here.  Community.  Community is dangerous.  Community is dangerous because there is no weak link.  Look at migrating herds of animals.  They remain together.  Protecting the smaller, the weaker, the hurt.  The strong do not wield power over the others.  They use the gifts of strength and healthy to protect the herd.  To carry the blessings they enjoy to the next generation.  Lessons learned from the birds in the field and the herd on the plains, we need to be a church that calls for the wholeness of all.

Living wages. The end of poverty & homelessness.  Equality of civil rights.  The freedom from oppressive dehumanization.  This is a struggle for power.  This is a fight for your mind.  Today as we remember the March on Washington let us remember the rally in our hearts.  That God delivers us from what binds us, not that we may be free for ourselves but that we might be free so that we can free others.  And dreaming we will no longer be.

Awakened, we are free striving to free others, we allow freedom’s sweet ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black and white, brown and red, Jew and Gentile, Protestant and Catholic, Muslim, Buddhist, and Hindu, Gay, Straight, Lesbian, and Transgender, all will be able to join hands and sing these words:  Free at last! Free at last!  Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!

Magic Number

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“Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief
comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks.

Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn,
and finds them so, blessed are those slaves. “But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the
thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”
Luke 12:32-40

Treasure. We are told that what we treasurer in life reflects where our hearts are. A link exists between what
is important to us and what we seek to secure. To be a treasure it has to be secured, protected, and guarded from others. This is what makes a treasure treasured.
From the buried treasure of pirates to the forgotten liberated war loot, treasure has wet the appetite of seekers
and hunters looking for buried, hidden, or guarded treasure for thousands of years. No one seeks treasure that is not buried, hidden, or guarded. Is it really treasure if it is on the nightstand at home?
Where do you keep your treasures? What do you
treasure?

When I was a 10 or 11 my life was influenced by two films, The Goonies and Stand By Me. The Goonies is a film
about a group of down on their luck kids and their families. They are set to be kicked out of their homes because the
local country club is expanding. The kids find themselves on a quest to find One-Eyes Willie’s lost and hidden
treasure. They contend with the Fratelli’s. A family of hoodlums and scoundrels, with a hidden family secret of their own.
The film focuses on the relationships of the kids. Their bonds are strengthened and their personal identities remade in this quest. In the end they discover the lost treasure and are able to fend of the expansionist country club and keep their homes.

 
I desperately wanted to be a Goonie. I identified with them deeply. I imagined myself on a quest to save the family finances, discovering myself along the way. My first crush, Cindy, used to brag at recess that she was cast in The Goonies sequel. My love for her and her staring role remain unsatisfied.

 
Stand By Me is a film about another kind of treasure hunt. I did not really get this treasure hunt until later in life. At
the time I was captivated by all things 1950’s. I fantasized about growing up in the time of my father. Stand By Me is a story about four friends on a quest to find Ray Brower, a local teen that has gone missing.

 
The four friends Gordie, Chris, Teddy, and Vern represent the best and worst of the awkward early-teen years. With
ground beef, beans, and Pez they set off to find Ray. They are unsure of themselves and of what they will do
when they find Ray. Walking on train tracks singing songs of Lollipops and Paladin, the young friends test their limits
and discover a deep bond. A bond that moves past nostalgia and in to the deepest parts of ones soul. These four young men discovered a treasure beyond measure. The treasure beyond description. They found compassion, heartache, and peace as they discovered the treasures of God in each other and in the quest they were on.

 
Treasure comes from the Greek word, θησαυρός (thesaurus), which literally means treasure store. Treasure is a concentration of lost or forgotten riches ready to be discovered. To be treasure something must be lost or forgotten and waiting to be discovered.

 
In today’s text we are being called to examine our lives and explore what treasures we are guarding. With our
hearts as the metric for what we hold dear. We hear of contrasting spaces. One is a treasure that may be
discovered and stolen by others. A treasure that has limitations. A treasure that binds us to is keeping. A
treasure that is really a prison.

 
This is contrasted with another type of treasure. A treasure of infinite possibility. A treasure that cannot fade,
tarnish, or depart. A treasure that cannot be stolen. A treasure that liberates us from this mortal coil and places
us at the doorsteps of an eternal Kingdom. These are the contrasting treasures of humanity and of God.

 
No matter which treasure we seek we are bound to it. We are bound to its protection. We are bound to its upkeep.
The treasure of humanity binds us to finitude, preventing us from receiving the reconciled, revealed glory of the
Kingdom of God. The treasure of God beacons us beyond our own frailty and welcomes us in to the eternal rafters of God’s Eternal Kingdom.

Starman

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On this morning two people were walking towards a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about what had happened over the last few days. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and began walking alongside them, but their eyes could not recognizing him. And Jesus asked them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?”

 

They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place here in these days?” He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our…HOW THE…chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and to be crucified. But we had believed that he was the one to redeem Israel, the Messiah.

 

Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. Earlier this morning, some women of our group puzzled us. They were at the tomb very early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of us went to the tomb and found it just like the women had said; but we did not see him.

 

Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

 

As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went with them to stay. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to everyone there. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight.

 

They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

 

Luke 24:13-35

Easter is finally here. With baited breath we have waited for this day. The tomb is empty. The Christ, Jesus, has risen. Death has lost its sting. For death cannot hold Jesus in the grave. Resurrection has conquered death and given us eternal hope. Jesus the Christ has gone to hell and back. Glory Hallelujah.

 

Now what?

 

I imagine that all of us here are well versed in the story surrounding Easter. It is a seminal event in the life of Christendom. We invest a good part of the Christian calendar preparing for or recovering from Easter. It’s a pretty big deal.

 

Why do we spend so much time in the story of Easter? Is it Jesus dying on the cross to appease the debt of sin for the world? Perhaps it is a selfless act of devotion in love to blanket the world with peace via the blood of Christ? For me it is about that walk towards Emmaus.

 

There they were…baffled, bewildered, and vexed. Walking together, finding comfort in each other. Trying to make sense of those three days. If this were a movie it’d be complete with flashbacks, cut scenes, and dramatic music. The horror revisited of their beloved friend turned over to the authorities and killed.

 

Perhaps, guilt, shame, and woe tainted the walk as well. There was surely something heavy bearing down upon the backs of those weary travelers on that road towards Emmaus that morning. Was it the empty tomb? If Jesus was not in the tomb, then where was he?

 

A stranger joins their walk. Listens to them. Offers them a different perspective and motions to depart from them. Not wanting the peace found in the company of this stranger they plead with him to stay with them.

 

The stranger obliges them and comes with them. Hands washed, tired feet resting, the meal is served. The stranger is still a guest. Then the meal begins. Something, perhaps that something they were burdened with back on that road to Emmaus was being lifted.

 

The stranger took a loaf; he blessed it, and gave it to them. Their eyes were opened and they saw it was Jesus.

 

The disfigured, battered, and resurrected body of Jesus walked with them on that road. Having departed from the tomb, Jesus wandered the earth. According to the Gospels, Jesus wandered the earth searching for his friends in need of comfort and peace.

 

When I was about to start seminary a well-meaning deacon of my home church offered me this advice “don’t let them take your faith from you.” I get what he was saying. He was cautioning me to that liberal theological path, the one that takes you away from orthodoxy, tradition, and Jesus. The path that most assuredly delivers you to apostasy and is the direct opposite of the path that he and I were on at this particular church. All of this was secret code around the language of inclusivity and the loving acceptance of lesbian and gay Christians.

 

The funny thing was that in order to find your faith, you must lose it. On that road to Emmaus their faith was most defiantly lost. All of that orthodoxy, tradition, and Jesus was gone. What was left? A tiny ray of hope that the tomb was empty.

 

Then this stranger at the table breaks bread. Passing the fractured loaf around to everyone in the room. The wounds of the cross are visible to those that receive the bread. The stranger’s limp is noticeable in that room. With difficulty he moves from person to person. His breath is staggered and inconsistent. Memories return. Intimately the loaf is passed around, relationships renewed, stories shared, and the Christ revealed.

 

The glory of Easter revealed.

 

This is why we await today with baited breath. Our lives are forever changed. The tomb is empty. The Christ, Jesus, has risen. Death has lost its sting. Death cannot hold Jesus in the grave. Resurrection has conquered death and given us eternal hope. Jesus the Christ has gone to hell and back. Glory Hallelujah.

Moonage Daydream

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After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, saying, “Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.'”

So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” They said, “The Lord needs it.”

Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!”

Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”

Luke 19:28-40

Here we are on the home stretch of a journey we began five and a half weeks ago. Christians in all corners of the globe set out to draw nearer to Jesus as we all make our way to Jerusalem. The worlds almost two billion Christians acting out the Passion and the Palms corporately and in personally individual ways, marking this journey with the great hope of a glimpse of the GLORY to come.

A diversity of ways to be Christian and draw near the Christ is most certainly to be found in Christendom, our two billion strong nuclear family. “Red, yellow, black, and white; each is precious in his sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world.” Now that is something to parade about.

Love.

Diversity.

Jesus.

No matter if your savior arrives upon the back of a donkey or riding the soles of a brand new pair of Easter shoes, the message of love in diversity is the same. This is the beauty of Jesus, the beauty of the Christ as we prepare to enter in to the dark days just before the “TADA” of Easter.

Jesus and the Disciples twelve are romping around the countryside, having departed from Jericho on the way to Jerusalem so that Jesus can die. Jesus heals the sick and returns sight to the blind on the way. The Disciples fight for understanding of what Jesus is telling them. They know something is going to happen. Something big. But they are not sure what it will be. They ask for things beyond their understanding and then bicker among themselves.

In the Gospel of Luke we read Jesus dropping knowledge like two-ton hammers all over the Disciples and on who ever could listen. He is warning them of his impending death and that this is indeed the call to break free from the systemic oppressions and be liberated and returned to the Kingdom of God.

The beauty of the Kingdom of God is behind the curtain just waiting to be revealed. The anticipation. The excitement. The joy, knowing that come Easter Jesus will return from the grave having conquered death. All will be well and death looses its sting. End Scene.

But that is not what was going on at all. As scores of people collect, each one gathered to see the arriving hope. The accompanying Disciples and other hanger-oners all carry their own hopes and expectations with them. All of them parading upon palms and delivering hope, fear, trepidation, and a host of other emotions.

One of the reasons I remain a Christian is here in this story of the Triumphant Entry, there are all kinds of ways to be a Christian. There is not one way to have faith, engage faith, be faithful, or doubt faith. It takes all kinds to be the church.

I am going to read the Gospel lesson again. This time I want you all to close your eyes and imagine what is going on. I want you to smell the air. I want you to hear the sounds around you. I want you to look around at the people that surround you. I want you to take in the procession as it moves along. I want you to find yourself in the story.

“After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, saying, “Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.’”

So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” They said, “The Lord needs it.”

“Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!”

What did you see? What did you experience? Who did you connect with?

I bet that if everyone answered these questions out loud we would get a different answer from each one of us. There is beauty and truth to everyone’s experience with the Gospel. We all bring our stories to the Table. This is the beauty of the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is like a pearl, it is like a wedding banquet, it is like a field of treasure, it is like a mustard seed. The Kingdom of God is…

The last five and a half weeks we have been preparing ourselves for a journey. We have done all that we can do as we lead up to next week. We are here. We are being asked to find ourselves in the story. Where do you belong in the story of Christ? This is not a matter of eligibility or worth. This is a matter of connections, relationships, and empathy. Who we say Jesus is in our life is as important as who we share our lives with.

Our stories matter, our story is the path to shared experience. Our stories draw us together around dinner tables and campfires. Our story draws us in to each other. When we share our faith stories we are experiencing the fullness of God. For each of us carries a part of the Divine Creator with us in our story.

Let me share a story with you.

There once lived six blind men in a village. One day a villager told them, “There is an elephant in the village today.” They had no idea what an elephant was.

They were curious and decided that even though they would not be able to see it, they would go and feel it anyway.” All of them went to where the elephant was. Every one of them touched the elephant.

“Hey, the elephant is a pillar,” said the first man who touched his leg. “Oh, no! It is like a rope,” said the second man who touched the tail. “Oh, no! It is like a thick branch of a tree,” said the third man who touched the trunk of the elephant.

“It is like a big hand fan,” said the fourth man who touched the ear of the elephant. “It is like a huge wall,” said the fifth man who touched the belly of the elephant. “It is like a solid pipe,” Said the sixth man who touched the tusk of the elephant.

They began to argue about the elephant and every one of them insisted that were right. It looked like they were getting agitated. A wise man was passing by and heard the commotion.

He stopped and asked them, “What is the matter?” They said, “We cannot agree to what the elephant is like.” Each one of them told what he thought the elephant was like. The wise man calmly explained to them, “All of you are right.

The reason every one of you is telling it differently because each one of you touched the different part of the elephant. So, actually the elephant has all those features what you all said.” “Oh!” everyone said. There was no more fight. They felt happy that they were all right.

If we only embraced that which we experienced in life we would be left like a blind man and their limited understanding of an elephant. As when the blind men gathered together and wisdom offer to connect the dots, so to is Gods fullness offered to us in the shared experience of a community.

Today almost two billion saints worship the Christ. We come here today, to this Table that we might be fed that heavenly fruit that sustains us and transforms us. We arrived here today expecting the Holy Spirit of God to move in and through us that we might forgive our debtors as we ask to be forgiven of our debts. We arrived here today to find ourselves in the story of Creator and creation that we may not be lead in to temptation but that when we may be delivered from evil.

Finding yourself in the story is important. Once you find yourself in the story you can invest in gleaming the wisdom God has to offer in the “Good Book.” Finding yourself in the story is the mantra for the last five and a half weeks and it has prepared you to go with Christ in to an unknown, trusting it’ll be ok no matter the outcome.

We are part of the diversity of ways to be Christian. We are part of the earthly, two billion strong nuclear family of Jesus. “Red, yellow, black, and white; each is precious in his sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world.” Now that is something to share with others.

Velvet Goldmine

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Jesus was hanging out at the pub with all kinds of riff raff, roughians, and scallywags. In the late morning when the pub closed and its contents spilled out in to the streets Jesus and his merry band of drunken revelers were meet by a group of upright citizen headed to the early church service. As the two groups met the churchgoers scoffed at Jesus and the group he was hanging with.

The drunken band of men and women were ridiculed by the church folk. With their noses righteously extended in to the sky they pointed out he derelict nature of the intoxicated mass. Proudly they pointed to the positive and divine nature of their actions in comparison to those of this now smoking and heaving mass of pub champions.

Jesus stood at the hot dog cart buying hot dogs for the stirring crowd. Who was getting agitated as the evening’s buzz wore off and the gawking churchy folk extending fingers at people and wondering out loud, ““He takes in sinners and eats meals with them, treating them like old friends.”

Jesus crumples the foil from the chili cheese dog he just finished and said, “There was once a man who had two sons. The younger said to his father, ‘Father, I want right now what’s coming to me.’

“So the father divided the property between them. It wasn’t long before the younger son packed his bags and left for a distant country. There, undisciplined and dissipated, he wasted everything he had. After he had gone through all his money, there was a bad famine all through that country and he began to hurt. He signed on with a citizen there who assigned him to his fields to slop the pigs. He was so hungry he would have eaten the corncobs in the pig slop, but no one would give him any.

“That brought him to his senses. He said, ‘All those farmhands working for my father sit down to three meals a day, and here I am starving to death. I’m going back to my father. I’ll say to him, Father, I’ve sinned against God, I’ve sinned before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son. Take me on as a hired hand.’ He got right up and went home to his father.

“When he was still a long way off, his father saw him. His heart pounding, he ran out, embraced him, and kissed him. The son started his speech: ‘Father, I’ve sinned against God, I’ve sinned before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son ever again.’

“But the father wasn’t listening. He was calling to the servants, ‘Quick. Bring a clean set of clothes and dress him. Put the family ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Then get a grain-fed heifer and roast it. We’re going to feast! We’re going to have a wonderful time! My son is here—given up for dead and now alive! Given up for lost and now found!’ And they began to have a wonderful time.

“All this time his older son was out in the field. When the day’s work was done he came in. As he approached the house, he heard the music and dancing. Calling over one of the houseboys, he asked what was going on. He told him, ‘Your brother came home. Your father has ordered a feast—barbecued beef!—because he has him home safe and sound.’

“The older brother stalked off in an angry sulk and refused to join in. His father came out and tried to talk to him, but he wouldn’t listen. The son said, ‘Look how many years I’ve stayed here serving you, never giving you one moment of grief, but have you ever thrown a party for me and my friends? Then this son of yours who has thrown away your money on whores shows up and you go all out with a feast!’

“His father said, ‘Son, you don’t understand. You’re with me all the time, and everything that is mine is yours—but this is a wonderful time, and we had to celebrate. This brother of yours was dead, and he’s alive! He was lost, and he’s found!’ (Luke 15:3, 11b-32)”

It’s scary to leave.

[the other sibling(s)               the parent (s)                         the Prodigal Child]

It’s scary go come home.

[the parent (s)                        the Prodigal Child                  the other sibling(s)]

It’s scary to stay.

[the Prodigal Child                 the other sibling(s)                the parent(s)

No matter if you leave, come home, or stay it is a scary prospect. It is scary cause relationships put you in the game. Relationships allow for you to experience risk. Relationships connect us to others and in that connection we risk losing the identity that we forge together.

In relationship we learn that there is little difference between the drunken parade marching home and the righteousness filled march towards the Holy sanctuary of God Most High. In relationship we discover that there is no “Us and Them.” That in relationship the division and labels of human understanding dissolve barriers of fear, discomfort, challenge, and pride to reveal the Holy Jesus filled centers in our human Tootsie pops.

Henri Nouwen offers us this from his book of the Prodigal Son, “The more we become sensitive to our own journey the more we realize that we are leaving and coming back every day, every hour. Our minds wander away but eventually return; our hearts leave in search of affection and return sometimes broken; our bodies get carried away in their desires then sooner or later return. It’s never one dramatic life moment but a constant series of departures and returns.”

Life is about the relationships we are blessed with and maintain as we move along through this series of departures and returns. Trusting that we are tethered to the One that neither departs or returns because the one who fashioned and created us has and never will leave our side.

Hang On To Yourself

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About that time some people came up and told him about the Galileans Pilate had killed while they were at worship, mixing their blood with the blood of the sacrifices on the altar. Jesus responded, “Do you think those murdered Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans? Not at all. Unless you turn to God, you, too, will die. And those eighteen in Jerusalem the other day, the ones crushed and killed when the Tower of Siloam collapsed and fell on them, do you think they were worse citizens than all other Jerusalemites? Not at all. Unless you turn to God, you, too, will die.”

Then he told them a story: “A man had a fig tree planted in his front yard. He came to it expecting to find fruit, but there was none. He said to his gardener, ‘What’s going on here? For three years now I’ve come to this tree expecting figs and not one fig have I found. Chop it down! Why waste good ground with it any longer?’

“The gardener said, ‘Let’s give it another year. I’ll dig around it and fertilize, and maybe it will produce next year; if it doesn’t, then chop it down.’”

Luke 13:1-9

When I was 5 years old my family lived in Washington State under the shadow of Mount St. Helens. Our house was framed by apple orchards, a lazy river, and neatly kept houses with porches and well-manicured lawns. I was in to Star Wars, Happy Days, Evil Knievel, baseball, and The Muppets.

We went to church on Sundays. Had weekend picnics with the family. Dad played softball. Mom stayed at home and made bread, cookies, and the best meatloaf. At night when we went to sleep we could hear the angry conversations…hushed and muffled anger, trying to not awaken the sleeping angels in the other room. Underneath the surface of our perfect family was another volcano waiting to erupt.

On Sunday May 18, 1980 that ancient stratovolcano blew its top and left a wake of destruction over 50 miles wide and spewing ash across 11 States. In less than a year my personal family volcano would erupt leaving a wake of destruction over 3 little boys and spewing ashes across several decades.

If you visit the National Moment that stands there now you will see a barren crater, part of the time blanketed with snow and signs of life emerging as you go down from the mountain top. As you make your way down the mountainside you see trees clustered together as the forest below regrows. Over time the chaos of the eruption actually provided nutrients to rebuild. The radically changed landscape still holds life.

Nature is resilient. Nature can stand category 5 winds. Nature can burn to the ground and regrow within months. Nature takes time. Nature looks at time in a different light than we do.

To a mountain a 10,000 years is but a moment in time. Seasons are the second hands on the clock of nature, measured in moments, events, and cycles. Predictable cycles if you wait around long enough.

Have we forgot that we too are part of nature? We are a part of God’s fearfully and wonderfully made creation. God made the heavens and the earth, separated the sky, land, and sea, filled the sea with creatures with fins, gills, and blowholes, placed upon the land creatures with hooves, horns, hearts, scales, and fur, and in the air God place creatures with wings, beaks, and talons. Then there is us. We might have been last but a part of nature none the least.

Resilience is part of our story. Reliance is at the core of the story of the people of God. God’s love does not fade and our resolve to abide in that love never fades.

I want you to listen to this as part of God’s divine creation. “Then he told them a story: “A man had a fig tree planted in his front yard. He came to it expecting to find fruit, but there was none. He said to his gardener, ‘What’s going on here? For three years now I’ve come to this tree expecting figs and not one fig have I found. Chop it down! Why waste good ground with it any longer?’”

Waste, that’s a dirty word these days. With arguments of governmental waste in public entitlements, trimming the fay in hard economic times filling the politico news channels it is hard to escape the talk of waste. How many of you have ever planted a fig tree?

The funny thing about fig trees, besides making delicious cookies when combined with a little mega brand magic, fig trees don’t always bear fruit the first few years you plant them. It takes time for these resilient little trees to take root, flourish and find there way to sweet fruit.

None of us do. It takes time for any of us to flower and produce fruit even in the best of soil. Jesus is calling us to remember to be to be patient both with ourselves and with others in the process of bearing fruit. Not all that we do will bear fruit tomorrow or even in out lifetime. The fruit our lives bear might not be evident for 100’s of years. This is the time in which we must hold on to the reliance of faith, trusting that God holds us together as part of the bigger picture of creation. We are fashioned fearfully and wonderfully to be part of the long arc of history as we careen towards thy Coming Kingdom.

This is not a promise that no harm, horror, hurt, or pain shall be fall you. Resilience is earned. “The gardener said, ‘Let’s give it another year. I’ll dig around it and fertilize, and maybe it will produce next year; if it doesn’t, then I’ll chop it down.’”

You hear, after you encounter fruitless years. After the toil had taken its toll and the soil is scorched earth. God asks for one more year. God will dig around us, fertilize us, and care for us in hopes that next year we shall produce fruit. A promise of presence, not a promise of absence. This is God pointing us towards resilience and hopeful fruit.

Sometimes you have to go through a whole lotta manure to get that fruit. Resilience is our companion towards wholeness. Wholeness in Christ. Wholeness in each other. For wholeness is our birthright, but it’s not granted magically. It takes time. It takes Practice. It takes Patience. It takes Experience. It takes the Deep roots of community. It takes us all.

Sing Your Life

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At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.”

He said to them, “Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’ Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.'”

Luke 13:31-35

Have you ever heard a positive description of a Pharisee?

Pharisees are the villains in a bad Kung-Fu movie. Pharisees are the Mothra to Jesus’ Godzilla. Pharisees wear the black hats in western movies. The Pharisees are the Rodney Dangerfield’s of our Biblical understanding. We do not respect them.

The Pharisees are heels, bad guys setting the plot to the victorious Jesus. Jesus is the conquering king riding a donkey in the face of Imperial power. Jesus reads the thoughts and minds of Pharisees and uses them as a motley collection of folky wisdom stories that are supposed to teach us how to live in a different fashion than the world.

There is nothing positive to say about them. Well, they do make for great vehicles in a story. Can you have Jesus without the Pharisees? It’s like having Batman without The Riddler or The Dude without Walter. The story is just not the same.

In our text, Jesus foils another attempt at the Pharisees to get one over on him……only the Pharisees told Jesus to flee. They were trying to save him. They warned him about Herod. Herod put a hit on Jesus. He wasn’t joking.

Jesus rebukes the Pharisees warning with a reminder that prophets, and he indeed is a prophet, are only killed in Jerusalem. Jerusalem is the center of Phariseedic power. Herod is in fact “The King of the Jews.” Jesus’ presence challenges his already fragile authority. Herod considers himself to be Jewish. The Pharisees do not. Herod is an outsider to them and can never practice the faith as the Pharisees do. This is a complex and tense situation.

This scene of Pharisees warning Jesus about Herod is also a challenge to authority. Jesus, the challenger, marches towards Jerusalem. On his way to become King of the Jews, a title Herod wears. The Pharisees have motive to want Jesus to live and become King. Jesus has motive to want to carry onward to Jerusalem. With the benefit of 2000 years of study, reflection, and tradition we know the dividing line between Pharisees, Herod, and Jesus. As Christians me most certainly come down on the side of Jesus. It’s in our name.

Let’s go back a little bit…back to that tense moment between Jesus and the warning Pharisees. Jesus is warned to flee. Then Jesus pulls out his best comedic defense and like a stand-up comedian taming a heckling audience he beats the Pharisees down with public shame and satirical humor about hens and houses.

The gathered crowd is left to ponder what just happened there. What was up with Jesus? The Pharisees were trying to help save Jesus. The Pharisees would have gotten away with it, if not for that meddling Jesus.

End scene. Jesus puts his hands on his hips and laughs. The disciples gather around him, all laughing at the ineptitude of those bumbling Pharisees. The shot pans to the Pharisees sulking, apprehended by the authorities and being lead away to jail with that we’ll get you next time Jesus look on their faces. The show fades to black, credits role as the cheesy pop songy theme plays us out.

The show ends, real life goes on. That 30-minute window of divine perfection, Godly wisdom quickly becoming the past with a whole lot of present to deal with. What are we thinking?

A question I’m left with is, “What mask is Jesus pulling off of us?”

Have you ever heard a positive description of a Pharisee?

How would you feel if you tried to help someone and they embarrassed you in public?

I wonder what it feels like to try to help others and no one understands what you are doing?

What would have happened if Jesus did not die on the cross?

What would have happened if Jesus had listened to the Pharisees warning?

The Bible is not a static story for us to bend our lives around. This is a love story between Creator God and us those fearfully and wonderfully made creatures. Lent is a time for us to search our souls and discover ourselves in the living, holy story of God and God’s creation. Liberated from masks. Taking our place in this complex, dynamic mix of hopes, dreams, and sin. Awakening to the new life that awaits when we peel back the layers of tradition, reflection, and study and delight in the mere presence of God.

Everyday Is Like Sunday

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Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished.

The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.”

Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.'”

Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.”

Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.'”

Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.'”

Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'”

When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.

Luke 4:1-13

This is the first Sunday in Lent. Let’s keep this somber, remorseful, and no one have any joy at all. We are going to talk about temptations. Temptations are dangerous. When you fall for a temptation you get somber, remorseful, and joy flees.

I want to do this Sunday right and set us up for a fabulous Lent. If we don’t get in to the Spirit of being somber properly than how can we celebrate Easter with the glee and fancy it deserves. Lent is a time of getting ready. Lent is a period to fight against temptations.

What temptations have you given up? Chocolate? Adult beverages? Worrying? Soda? Gossip? Not giving anything up? I bet you are committing yourself to prayer…studying the word…holy listening…the gym?

Is Lent all about temptations and resisting them?

When I was a kid my mom had this little red Fiat that just barely worked. We had to keep the windows down all the time because the engine exhaust leaked into the cabin. And when it rained we had to be careful as to not speed through puddles so the car would not stall. If it did my twin brother and I would get out and help mom push the car out of the puddles.

But inside that little barley working Fiat I watched my world zip by. I remember the cat faces in the wash on the way to visit my grandma, the rocket and airplane fuselages that littered the playgrounds we past on the way to the city pool, and the tree lined street on the way to the horse track. All of these memories fueled by three 8-track tapes.

There was Earth, Wind, and Fire, The Commodores, and The Temptations. Our little adventures were backed by Oh No, Lady (You Bring Me Up), Let Me Talk, Sparkle, and Just My Imagination. My brothers and I would fight over who played DJ. I can’t imagine how sick of those three albums my mom was after the summer of 82.

I can’t listen to any of those bands with out thinking of that summer. I still love The Temptations. They are the comfort food of my youthful soul.

Temptations. I love to imagine Jesus here being tempted by the sweet, soulful sounds of David, Melvin, Paul, Otis, and Eddie. It makes me laugh. Imagine Jesus out there in the wilderness with headphones on, wandering around. He’s so in to the music that he forgets to eat. The devil appears and chats him up, offering temptations along the way.

Temptation comes in many flavors. Righteousness. Food. Power. There is also the temptation to horde in fear that there is not going to be enough in Gods divine abundance. Temptation seeks to cloud the who and what you are in the light of Christ. Temptation seeks to whisper lies in your ear to get you to doubt in the abundance of God’s love.

Temptations. Y’all are still somber, remorseful, and have no joy…cause if you don’t have any of those three I am going to pause and ask you to invite it in to your heart…wait.

Wait, a second. Is Lent about somber, remorse, and joylessness?

Not this year. We are going to use Lent as a time of wandering, wondering, and rest. I challenge you to not seek God in resisting temptations but to seek God in the healthy relationship with that which tempts you. Resist the urge to engage Lent like a Jesusy crash diet or divine leverage on bad habits that needs taming.

The Temptations are to soul what Jesus is to the cross. The Temptations redefined soul and transcended it. Jesus redefined the cross and transcended it. Let us be like The Temptations with our temptations. Temptations are our friends for the next 40 days. I urge you to reorient your lives towards God in prayer, study, and rest. Pray with God. Study on God. Rest in God.

We have no space to be somber as we are wandering with God. We have no room for remorse as we wonder with God. We cannot deny the joy in our hearts as we rest with God.

Let Lent be a time of preparation. Let temptations deliver us closer to God and to each other. Something big is coming. We know there’s enough for everyone at the Lord’s Table. We trust the light of Christ that shines before us. We rest in the whispered lullabies of God telling us that we are indeed loved.