Preaching at St. John’s

 

It’s always a joy to lead worship and preach at Nathan’s church in Burns TN.  It’s a joy to do so anywhere these days.  The people there love their pastor and are happy that he is happy.  Though his straight faced dry sense of humor still challenges them.

He lists attendance in the bulletin and then adds, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Before the service, I called attention to that and then told the story of the seminarian who was assigned to write a paper on the Trinity.  He wrote, “Holy, holy, holy,” for ten double spaced pages.  The prof said he would have given him an A, except he put a period after the final “Holy.”  I also added that not only would the fullness of the Trinity be with us, but we should note that before we take “a foretaste of the feast to come” in Holy Communion, we  also invite “Mary Magdalene, Peter and John, and with all the witnesses of the resurrection” plus “angels and archangels and with the company of heaven” to join us.  Now, that many folks really fill the church and greatly challenges the ushers to get an accurate count of attendance.

 

Advertisements

The Day Peter and John got in Big Trouble

Easter 4 2018, St. John’s, Burns TN, Acts 4:5-12

This morning we find Jesus’ disciples Peter and John, in big trouble.  They stand before the Jerusalem governing council, under investigation and interrogation.  Standing with them is a man who the day before could not stand.  Gathered around them are Rulers, religious leaders, religion scholars, Annas the chief priest and his predecessor Caiaphas.  The words of Psalm 118 are fitting, “they surrounded me, surrounded me on every side like bees, like fire among thorns.”  Not many weeks before, Jesus, the good shepherd, who came to lay down his life for his flock stood before this same group to be grilled, found guilty and had walked up the hill of death to the cross.  How did it come to this for Peter and John?  Well it’s a case of the dangers of going to church. It’s a case of “No good deed going unpunished.”

Let’s flash back to about 3:00 the previous day. Peter and John were on their way to the temple for the 3 pm prayer service. At the same time members of a family were carrying a man who, as the Greek puts, was lame since he came out of his mother’s belly.  Everyday they laid him at the gate named Beautiful to beg for charity from those going to the temple.

This lame man lying at the Beautiful gate is not a beautiful scene.  But he  served two purposes.   His family members were his caregivers and that is not always easy for the caregiver and for the one receiving such care. However, earlier we read in John’s letter, “Let us not love in word or talk, but in deed and truth.”   Secondly, for those going to the temple this was the opportunity for showing love to a neighbor who lay right in front of them every day.

In Psalm 118 we read, “Oh give thanks to the Lord for he is good; His kindness is forever!”  And along comes the Lord’s goodness and kindness in the person of Peter and John.  You see, it’s through us that God works his goodness and kindness. He looks to us to carry it out toward one another.  John writes, “This is his commandment that we believe in the name of his son Jesus Christ AND love one another.”

So, when the lame man saw Peter and John, he looked at them expecting them to show him some love.  But, Peter says, “Look at me.  We’re broke. But I will give you what I do have.  In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and start walking.”  Following Jesus’ practice, Peter grabbed the man by his right hand, pulled him up. Now at Christmas, we have ten Lords leaping.  In the time of Easter, we have a poor lame man leaping.  Now, he served a third purpose.  He was a sign that the Messiah, the Christ had come.  The prophet Isaiah had written “(The Lord) will strengthen the weak hands and make firm the feeble knees.” and “Then shall the lame man leap like a deer.”  God, through the power of the name of Jesus spoken by Peter and John had saved a man from a life time of sitting and begging, “Alms, Alms;” saved him for a lifetime of leaping, running, dancing, and shouting, “Alleluia, alleluia.” Truly this was the Lord’s doing, a marvelous thing to see – a day that the Lord had made, resulting in rejoicing and gladness.  Beautiful!

Something else beautiful happens at the Beautiful gate.  The man who could only sit outside the gate now passed through the gate.  He entered Alleluing to God, disrupting the whole prayer service.  People were amazed that a cripple whom they had seen for as long as they could remember sitting outside the gate, now could do something which they could take for granted, and perhaps we take for granted, enter God’s house to worship.  He could now stand and receive the blessing of the priest at the end of the service.

The people rushed to Peter and John to whom the now walking man was clinging.  Peter took the opportunity to talk to the people about this Jesus of Nazareth.  He let them have it.  He said, though Pontius Pilate had declared Jesus innocent, you had denied him and asked for a murderer to be freed instead.  You killed the author of life.  You killed Jesus the Messiah you had been awaiting for ages, but God raised him up from the dead.  It was faith in Jesus’ name that healed and saved this man.  Now repent that your sins may be blotted out.  The result was that many who heard the word believed.  But not everyone, some were annoyed.

Instead of shouting, as the psalm says, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” and making the house of the Lord a place from which blessing flowed; instead of declaring a festival because God’s saving and healing light had shined on them right here in the house of Lord; instead, some who didn’t believe in the resurrection were annoyed, indignant over Peter’s message of Jesus’ resurrection. They had Peter and John and apparently the man who had just begun to walk, arrested and thrown in jail.  You see the resurrection says that the author of life, control’s the end of our life not we, ourselves.  Death does not have the last word.  God is ultimately in control of the end of our story.  God is greater than uncertainty, and death.  God is greater than crushed lives or limbs. God is greater than a fatal diagnosis or prognosis. God is with us with his goodness and mercy which follows me wherever I go all the days of my life and in the end, it will be as it is today here, that we will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

We are saved now and forever, because of a story which is irritating and annoying to those who don’t want God to write the story of their life which in Christ has no ending. That’s why Peter, John, and the man were standing surrounded by the most powerful men in Jerusalem. They asked, “By what power or by what name did you do this?”

Remember that Jesus said, if you ever get into a tough spot because you believe in me, the Holy Spirit will give you the words you need? Well, here is a case of the Holy Spirit coming through as promised.  Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit and before this hostile crowd of powerful men again proclaimed the resurrection of Jesus. Filled with the Holy Spirit, Peter shares the message of the resurrection with those who thought they held the power of life and death over John and himself.  Peter says that Jesus was like a building stone which was rejected by the construction crew and the boss dug it out of the rubble and made it the cornerstone by which all other stones would be measured.

I have a small stone here that I found a long time ago while I was looking for rocks to skip on the waters of Green Bay in Wisconsin.  This stone, was shaped just right for skipping maybe six or seven times and then I noticed the cross on its surface.  Somehow, this stone had been eroded and shaped until it contained a message of the resurrection.  A plain skipping stone became a stone with a life giving message.  It’s a stone which reminds us of Peter’s concluding words in his sermon before the powerful men of Jerusalem, “There is salvation in no other name under heaven given among men by which we might be saved and made whole.” The world doesn’t like that message, but you can live with it.

 

 

It Happened at the Beautiful Gate

 

In the first reading for this weekend (Acts 4:1-12), after spending a night in jail, Peter and John are being interrogated by the ruling council in Jerusalem. Standing with them was a man who up to 3 o’clock the previous day had never stood.

The episode points out the dangers of going to church and that no good deed goes unpunished.

On the previous afternoon some men carried a man who according to the Greek, “had been lame since he came out of his mother’s belly.”  They laid him at the Beautiful Gate to beg from those going to the temple for the 3’oclock prayer service.  At the same time Peter and John were going up to the temple.  The lame man saw them looked at them expecting some alms in his basket.  Peter said they were broke, but he would give him what he had.  “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk.”  Following Jesus example, he took the man by the hand and pulled him up.  The man began walking, leaping and praising God.  For the first time in his life entered the temple.  Beautiful.

Through name of Jesus, the man was freed from a life of sitting and begging for alms and freed for a life of leaping and shouting Alleluias.  He was a sign of the Messiah. The Messiah would, “make firm feeble knees” and “the lame man shall leap like a deer.” (Is. 35:3 & 6).

But Peter preached about the resurrection of Jesus.   This ticked off the Sadducees and got them thrown in Jail.  Which of course, only served to provide an opportunity for Peter, now filled with the Holy Spirit, to proclaim before the powers that be, the resurrection of Jesus.  Peter and the Holy Spirit, a formidable force indeed.

And we have the same good news and the same Holy Spirit, so…

Carrying the Congregation into God’s Presence

 

I was reading Exodus 28 which describes the garments Aaron and his sons would wear as priests coming before God in the Tabernacle.  A couple of things stood out for me.  One was that their garments be made by people whom God filled with the spirit of skill.  These garments were intended for leading worship be made of gold, blue, purple and scarlet yarns and fine linen.  They were to be for “glory and beauty.”  Not for the priest but for God.

The garments were a sign that the priest was consecrated and set aside “for my priesthood.”   This honor was not about the priest, but about God, who had brought them out of Egypt and was leading them to a promised land.

Among the decorations on these holy garments were to be two onyx stones attached to the shoulders.  These stones were to be engraved with the names of the twelve tribes, “for remembrance.”  The priest came before God carrying God’s people on his shoulders.  The inscribed onyx stones also reminded the people they were being brought before God who rescued them.  The stones also reminded God that these were his people with whom he had made an everlasting covenant to be their God.

These same emphases are part of our worship today, when the pastor/ priest stands before God as the congregation’s representative.  It’s not about the person standing in the chancel, but about God and His people.  Therefore, whatever the pastor/priest does should be well done in bearing the people on his/her shoulder before God and also given the responsibility of speaking for God to the people.

Living the Resurrection

 

One of my favorite verses of scripture is from the epistle for yesterday. I John 3:1, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God: and so we are.”

Next Sunday we will hear what we children of God are to do with the love we have received. I John 3:18, “Little children, let us love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.”

In an era when we hear reports of self – serving, hateful, divisive and denigrating talk about one another, and from what I read on social media, the people are not immune from this either, we need to “hear, mark, learn and inwardly digest” our Lord’s word.

British poet and hymn writer Brian Wren wrote a poem which begins, “Lord God, your love has called us here as we, by love, for love were made.”  The final verse urges us;

Lord God, in Christ you set us free

Your life to live, your joy to share.

Give us your Spirit’s liberty

To turn from guilt and dull despair

And offer all that faith can do

While love is making all things new.

Wren’s poem is an echo of Martin Luther:

A Christian is a perfectly free Lord of all, subject to none.

A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all.

Jesus Versus Leviathan

 

I’ve got Leviathan on my mind.

Genesis 1:21, “So God created the great sea creatures…”  Psalm 104: 25 26, “Here is the sea…and Leviathan, which you formed to play in it.”

In Genesis 3 the serpent tempts the man and woman to not trust God. God declares that one of the woman’s offspring with crush the serpents head.  The themes of the serpent and the sea creature, Leviathan, eventually merge so that Isaiah tells us “On that day will the Lord punish…Leviathan the fleeing serpent, Leviathan the coiled serpent; and the Lord will slay the dragon that is in the sea.

During the intertestamental period, Satan added to the image of the serpent/Leviathan.  Wisdom of Solomon 2: 23-24, “God made us in the image of his eternity, but through the devil’s envy death entered the world.”  So, we come to Revelation 12:9 where, “the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent who led the entire world astray, whose name is the Devil or Satan.”

These themes may be echoed in Jesus after resurrection appearances when his disciples give Jesus a baked fish.  On another occasion, His disciples have a night of fruitless fishing.  Jesus said to throw the net on the other side of the boat and its filled to the breaking point; on shore he has a breakfast of fish and bread awaiting.  Eating fish echoes the promise that God will devour death, terror and chaos.  It may be no accident that an early sign for Christ was a fish, ICHTHUS, leading a third century church father to pray, “Feed us, then Lord, Savior, feed us, I pray with the Ichthus.”

 

 

Winter Wheat

 

Spring this year has been more Wintery than Springy; however, the winter wheat, having sprouted last fall and rested all winter, should be into it s growth spurt heading for an end of June harvest.  I suppose I should scoot over across the river into Illinois to check this out, but it was when we lived outside Collinsville and were surrounded by fields of wheat, corn and soybeans.

A least some of the wheat will be ground and baked into bread.  Thus at least in an indirect way, we who live surrounded by concrete and asphalt, can find a connection to the soil from which we were created, humus humans.  But our daily bread also connects us to Christ, who said, “I am the bread of life, whoever comes to me shall not hunger.”  Christ also said, “(Humus humanity) shall not live by bread alone.  The Subway sandwich I eat for lunch not only can remind me of Christ, but make me hunger for the bread of life which I and many others will eat this coming Sunday morning.  Echoing the words of Jesus, the pastor/priest will direct and remind us, “Take eat this is the body of Christ given for you for the forgiveness of sins.” With that bread I can, go in peace and serve the Lord having ingested the fullness of Christ.

Fear and Locked Doors

 

When I read that on the evening of the first Easter the disciples were huddling behind locked doors out of fear, I think of my I fears. I believe that pre-event receptions where everyone stands around and makes small talk was invented by a sadistic extrovert.  As an introvert I’m no good at small talk and therefore avoid such occasions.  I feared having a third heart by-pass surgery in 1998, I suspect because my body still remembered the one from five years before and the insertion of four stents in between.  But when I was unable to even walk to the mail box, I called and said, “Let’s do it.”

It would be nice to think that our fears are easily overcome, but that’s not the case.  That first Easter evening the disciples were behind locked doors out of fear that they tool would be arrested and dragged off to the cross.  Suddenly Jesus stood among them saying, “Peace be with you.  “When we have the peace of God which passes all understanding keeping our hearts and minds in Christ,” as we often hear at the end of a sermon, shouldn’t that allay all our fears?

However, a week later when Jesus made another appearance to his disciples, they were still behind locked doors.  Jesus had to come through the door with his second announcement of peace.  Our fears are not easily overcome.  The wonder is that Christ is able and does come through our locked doors.  He stays with us despite who we are and how our fears might hinder us.  Through the Holy Spirit Christ uses us to be his witnesses and to continue as his workmanship to be his servant for good.

Singing with Gusto and Exclamation Marks!

 

We opened our service this Easter 2 morning singing,” Now all the vault of heav’n resounds.”  I know the vault of heaven is the abode of the angels from which they sang at Jesus’ birth and in celebration of Jesus taking his place at God’s right hand.  But I like to think that the vault forms a chamber, like the nave of the church and that our singing, “Christ has triumphed!  He is living!” bounces off the vault and fills our ears and the universe with resounding sound.  How can we do anything but sing with gusto?  That alone is enough reason to go to church.

We were sent on our way at the end of service with the announcement, “Alleluia!  Christ is risen! And our response, “He is risen indeed! Alleluia!”  Notice the exclamation marks.  And then we sang, Herbert Brokering’s hymn, Alleluia! Jesus is Risen!  More exclamation marks. The resurrection of Jesus gives us the following hope –

  1. 5, City of God, Easter forever,

Golden Jerusalem, Jesus, the Lamb.

River of life. Saints and archangels.

Sing with creation to God the I AM!

Jesus is risen and we shall arise:

Give God the glory! Alleluia!

 

Sing with gusto and punctuate with exclamation marks!

 

Psalm 148 and Jesus’ Resurrection

 

Hallelu Yah!  Halleluiah Yahweh!  So begins Psalm 148 in the Hebrew.  What a fitting psalm with which to continue to celebrate Jesus’ Resurrection.  As John writes, “All things were made through him and without him was not anything made that was made.”

Thus, from the heaven of the heavens and the messengers of God to the shining stars and the sun and moon, rulers of day and night, all are called to halleluiah the Lord.  Let halleluiah emanate from the earth; sea monsters and the deeps over which the Spirit hovered in the beginning.  Fire, hail, snow, smoke and windstorms are commanded to Halleluiah.  Mountains, hills, fruit trees and cedars, wild beasts and domesticated cattle, crawling things and winged birds join the Halleluiah chorus.  Finally, the powerful of the earth, kings, princes, leaders and all nations are commanded to join their voices of praise along with young men and young women, senior citizens, let them all halleluiah to the Lord exalting His name.  Hallelu Yah!

Jesus did not only die for you and me, but for the whole creation, which, according to Paul in Romans 8:22, is groaning like a woman in the travails of childbirth waiting for the children of God to be revealed and the new creation come to the fullness of its redemption.

For our salvation and the redemption of creation we add our Halleluiah, Praise the Lord.