Sunday, April 6, 2014

Road Trip

April 6, 2014
John 19:1-16a

I don't know about you, but I have felt tired lately. I am not afraid to say that I could sense that it was time for a vacation, albeit, a short one. I had looked forward to mine and Kiefer's trip to Kansas City and the stacking fun that would take up the majority of Saturday and Sunday. It was an opportunity for father and son to have a fun weekend together while we didn't have to worry too much about other things.

I was looking forward to being renewed and refreshed in this brief vacation. However, as I transitioned back into my responsibilities in Allegan, the renewal did not seem to be present. I figured it was probably because of two long days of travel on Friday to Kansas City and then our return trip home Sunday night when we didn't pull into the driveway until 5am Monday morning. The driving was not too bad, especially thanks to those few things that kept me awake on the way home. First, of course the energy drinks were needed and utilized to their fullest extent. Second, the Illinois State Trooper that was kind enough to pull me over at about 1:30am helped heighten my senses. Luckily, State Trooper MK let me off with just a warning for improper lane usage, whatever that means. For my first time being pulled over I think I can handle the warning.

The thing that surprised me was that I was not the only one stupid enough to be on the road in the wee hours of the morning. The deer that ran in front of me in Indiana was kind enough to make sure I was awake, as well as the rabbit or raccoon or whatever it was that ran in front of the car in Paw Paw to make sure I was awake for the last 30 minutes before we returned home safely. 

I figured that being up for nearly 24 hours straight was a good reason that I felt tired. Not too mention that I had not been able to get out and run much over the past weekend because of our travels. 

Once I caught up on my sleep though and got out for some runs that tiredness still persisted. Maybe it has been the weather and the fact that the calendar says it is spring and we are still awaiting the actual warmth that comes along with it, especially after a long, cold, hard winter.

It wasn't until I got into our gospel lesson this week though that I think I actually found where my true tiredness is coming from. Not only has it been a long, cold, and hard winter, but this Lenten season has seemed to really take us to the depths of human suffering. Our readings that we have encountered over the last five weeks usually would come to us in Holy Week and they would lead us to the cross and the resurrection on Easter morning. 

In the narrative lectionary that we have been utilizing this year, these Holy Week texts have been spread out for us and we have been able to walk with Jesus from the time he enters Jerusalem until today when he is condemned. In God's Word we have heard the story of Lazarus being raised from the dead, Jesus washing the feet of the disciples, Peter's denial of Jesus, a trial between Pilate and Jesus, and today the final condemnation and the point where Jesus picks up the cross. But, until we are to fully understand the cross and all of it's reality we do not fully come to know Jesus and the power he can have in our lives. 

I can not say for sure what Jesus was thinking as he was on his road trip, but I know mine has been tiring and I have been eagerly anticipating the joy that comes to us Easter morning.  I anticipate the disciples were feeling much the same way I am now. But to get to Easter morning we must come to the cross and dwell on it's meaning. One thing I can tell you for sure is that my tiredness pales in comparison to what Jesus has encountered on his road trip. 

This morning he gets mocked as a king and condemned by his own brothers in the Jewish faith. John's Gospel is unique though in the fact that Jesus is not stripped of the purple robe or the crown that has been placed upon his head. Jesus' walk to the cross resembles that of the walk of a king set out to complete a mission. Jesus is in control from the beginning to the very end.

Truly, I do not think the chief priests really knew what they were calling for when they shouted "Crucify Him!" However, Jesus knew exactly how this road trip was going to end. The statement of Jesus being King, may have been somewhat of a joke to them, but to us we know him as our Savior, or at least we say we do.

There are many times when we are not much different from the chief priests. As they respond to Pilate, "We have no king but the emperor," we can come to the heart aching realization that this is true for us at times. What is it in our own lives that we have put before Jesus? What is it that we do that we can at times appear to condemn ourselves?

At a national level our society condemns itself when it puts the idea of national security, western independence, power, and consumerism before the well-being of others and Jesus.

On a personal level we can condemn ourselves by placing money, personal satisfaction, comfort, status, self-sufficiency, being right, being in control, food, appearance, success, fame, and influence as our kings. 

On an institutional level, even within the church, we can put many of these items in the place of Jesus. More so, by placing the idea of theological certainty, denominations, and average worship attendance as our kings, we can begin to forget that it is Jesus that calls us to come together as brother and sister to share the good news.

As Lutherans we should be able to come together with an understanding that we condemn ourselves if we refuse to accept the grace given to us freely by God.

As we are on our road trip to the cross, we are reminded that we are called to die in order to live, which comes to us through the baptismal waters. Martin Luther called this reality The Theology of the Cross.

The opposite, which can be witnessed in many churches, is a Theology of Glory, which is anyway to live a religious life without "dying." It is also anyway to worship Jesus Christ without radical obedience. Luther regarded it as "the Word without the cross." Soren Kierkegaard viewed it as "admiring Christ instead of following Christ." Dietrich Bonhoeffer saw it as "cheap grace rather than costly grace."

As Lutherans we have a story to share and at many times we are reluctant or silent. We believe in the grace of God which comes to us freely without our need to do anything. This grace is a free gift from God and is nothing that anyone can take away from us.

The Theology of the Cross is meeting God where God chooses to find us -- in our sorrow, our pain, our weakness. It is hearing God's gracious Word manifest in the death of Jesus on the cross. It is following Jesus in his death and resurrection. (1) It is Jesus that strips away our tiredness and ensures us of the grace given to us by God.

May we be bold to go share this radical message of grace that is found through Jesus Christ and his undying love for us given freely in grace.

(1) Theology of the Cross vs. Theology of Glory summaries taken from Baptized We Live by Daniel Erlander

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Praying for a Resurrection

I recall back in seminary having discussions with colleagues regarding what our favorite time of the church season was. As Christians you wouldn't think that the overwhelming response would be Easter. We are Easter people I have heard many fellow pastors say. I am not saying that I disagree with them. Easter does have a significance to it but it is also shrouded by violence that speaks so differently than the love that Jesus has taught us and that which we are to reach out to our brothers and sisters around the world. The violence that surrounds the cross is quite evident whenever we hear of the Easter story or watch it play out on the big screen or on television. It is hard to get away from that vision and we question if it was necessary for God to show love for humanity in that manner. I like to questions and at times, I will be honest, doubts cross my mind. However, this is how I deepen my faith and feel closest to God and ultimately Christ in his humanity.
Perhaps this is why my favorite seasons of the church year are Advent and Lent. It is during these times on the calendar that I am able to intentionally shift my focus from doing to simply being. How often do we truly get to just sit and be in God's word and invite Jesus into our lives and to journey with us and guide us. 
The season of Advent is a time of anticipation as we look forward to Christmas and the celebration of the Christ child coming into the world to join us in humanity as we are. With our sins, flaws, and temptations, God has chosen to send Jesus to walk with us and to be one with us. In this we rejoice in the unending love that Jesus brings to his followers.
The season of Lent is a little more subdued and even more reflective than its counterpart, Advent. We tend to slow down a bit more and at times make a commitment to God at the time to either give something up or do something more frequently. As we walk with Jesus towards the cross we may have many questions that pop up in our mind and ones that we should feel comfortable taking to Jesus in prayer and contemplation.
We enter Holy Week with Jesus' triumphant entrance into Jerusalem, mocking the Roman Empire. Our focus is on the cross and Good Friday and the requirement of everything Jesus must go through just to earn our salvation. It is a violence riddled narrative that we have grown accustom to. It is in the Resurrection though that we should be focusing our attention and celebrating in Jesus' triumph over death and evil that could have quickly ended the teaching he started just a short three years before.
Our lives and those of our institutions play out in much the same way. I equate Jesus' death and resurrection to that of the phoenix rising from the ashes. New birth comes out of the old and the opportunities laying on the other side are nearly endless.
As a congregation I am encouraging us to look towards our future in the same manner. We need to fully realize the death of the things that were and the way that things were accomplished in the past. (The phrase that makes pastors cringe is "That is not the way we used to do it.") As we rejoice and celebrate in Jesus' resurrection, we too need to pray for the resurrection of Immanuel as we enter into a new day and welcome the splendor of opportunities before us.
Pastor Alex

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Be Radical

March 23, 2014
John 18:12-17

Fred Craddock, a professor emeritus at the Candler School of Theology at Emory University, tells a hauntingly recognizable story about denial. During the height of the Civil Rights Movement, Craddock was a seminary student pulling all-nighters in a greasy-spoon diner in Nashville. A black man was waiting at the end of the counter to be served as Craddock received not only his grilled cheese, but a refill of his coffee. When the man behind the counter finally acknowledged the man, it was with a terse and angry, “what do you want?” Craddock recalled:

Whatever the man said, the fellow went to the grill, scooped up a little dark patty and put it on a piece of bread without condiment, without napkin. The cook handed it to the man, who gave him some money and went out the side door by the garbage can out on the street… I didn’t say anything. I did not reprimand, protest, or witness to the cook. I did not go out and sit beside the man on the curb, on the edge. I was just thinking about the questions coming up on the New Testament. And I left the little place, went up the hill back to my room to resume my studies, and off in the distance, I heard a cock crow.[1]

The situation that Peter has gotten himself in, in today's gospel lesson, is all too familiar. We tend to tolerate as much as we can until the heat is turned up so high that we begin to deny ourselves and those that we believe in. This is not unanticipated by Jesus. He knew the time would come that he would be by himself with the others just looking on from a distance. As humans, there are times when we play the game of measuring costs versus benefits. And it was at this time for Peter that the costs of admitting he was a follower of Jesus were much greater than the benefits.

Let us back up a little in John's gospel. Jesus is well aware of what is going to happen in the life of Peter and the progression he will take. In chapter 13, Simon Peter said to [Jesus], "Lord, where are you going?" Jesus answered, "Where I am going, you cannot follow me now; but you will follow afterward." Peter said to him, "Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you." Jesus answered, "Will you lay down your life for me? Very truly, I tell you, before the cock crows, you will have denied me three times.

Peter is the one apostle that comes closest to fully following Jesus. He has journeyed with him from the very beginning. Jesus called him as one of the first disciples. As we have traveled through the Gospel of John since Christmas we have learned that Peter can be a very impulsive person. He often speaks before he thinks but is also quick to be by the side of Jesus and follow him where he goes. 

Leading up to our lesson for today is the arrest of Jesus in the beginning of chapter 18. When the authorities go to arrest Jesus, Peter is quick with his sword and steps in to protect his leader. Jesus asks him to step back and assures him this is what is suppose to happen. Just a short time later though, the costs begin to outweigh the benefits for Peter and he denies Jesus three times. This is fulfillment of the prophetic message that Jesus gave to him in chapter 13. 

This is the connection that Fred Craddock makes with this text. We know what is right and what is wrong. Jesus has set the example for us to follow. Yet, when push comes to shove, we are too often restrained by our discomfort and afraid of what others may say to us. In a way, Peter represents all of humanity in this text. We become part of a crowd and we become one with them. We tend to go with what the crowd says and does so not to disrupt the equilibrium within the crowd. The lesson this morning is inviting us to add to our Lenten confessions the times that our commitment to Christ’s cause of justice grew faint at the sight of its cost.

As a church, we want to step out boldly and say that all are welcome and that we have a place for everyone. However, do we truly mean that? Are we willing to accept the person in their disability or mentally illness? Do we welcome people in that are of a different race than the overwhelming majority of the Lutheran population in the United States? Do we allow our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters in without criticism and sneers? 

Jesus does not tell us that we can choose and pick whom we call our brothers and sisters in faith. What he does tell us is that we are to love another as he has loved us. That love comes without ceasing. While we may forget it at times ourselves, showing our humanity, we must share this message with those around us to share the grace that is abundant in Jesus.

Our passage this morning shares the story of two different individuals and their journey. We have a contrast of Jesus and Peter that goes back and forth as Jesus moves forward boldly and Peter steps cautiously. 

The passage contrasts Peter's fearful falsehoods with Jesus' brave, truthful, and prophetic voice. While Peter continues to lie and evade those that are questioning him, Jesus speaks plainly. And while hear of Jesus suffering physically for his truth-telling; We can infer that Peter suffers the emotional, psychic blow of Jesus' prediction coming true.

I will admit that it is hard to find the good news sometimes in passages like this when all we have to go on is Peter's denial and Jesus being slapped across the face and being questioned for teaching rightly.

However, the good news is right in front of us when we see that Jesus is well aware of the actions that are going to unfold. He has assured us that [God's] name is made known, so that the love with which God has loved Jesus may be in us, and in turn we are filled with the Good News.

This Good News, this grace that God shares with us abundantly, is not always easily heard from those around us. We can sit around and complain about how the church is shrinking and not as many people are open to hearing the Word, or we can go out and profess our faith through sharing the love that Jesus shares with us. 

While as Christians we may not have as strong of voice as we used to, but we can find opportunities in that as well: the opportunity for our witness to enjoy the power of surprise, the potency of novelty. The voice of the gospel is not resounding in our political conversations today, and it is because most of us who might take it up are spending too much time warming ourselves by fires in the courtyard, denying our affiliations with radical ideas. Christ is calling. The cock is crowing. It is time to bear witness to the truth.[2]

Jesus' faithfulness can be witnessed in his radical love that he share with everyone he encountered. The grace of God breaks through all barriers and the light dissipates all darkness. Through our denial of others, Christ may be with us, but are we truly following his example if we are not radical ourselves and break down barriers that divide?

[1] Fred B. Craddock, Craddock Stories (St. Louis: Chalice Press, 2001), 49.

[2] John Allen,

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Christ as Example

March 16, 2014
John 13:1-17

Last summer was the first time that we truly got to go camping as a family. None of that RV camping that some people may prefer, but real camping. In a tent with little between us and the ground except for a little air mattress. You know, those kind that you can buy in the dollar store and is made to be used as a pool float?

I honestly slept pretty good, but I think that air mattress may get an upgrade as we prepare to go camping this summer. After a while the children were even starting to have fun.

The thing about camping though is that you can get dirty. Especially when you camp near the beach like we did this past summer. First we camped in Boyne City by Lake Charlevoix and then we traveled further north and camped near Mackinaw City, right on Lake Michigan. After spending time on the beach in just sandals or barefoot your feet can get pretty dirty. It was imperative that we cleaned our feet off good before getting into the tent because we did not want to track all of that sand into our living quarters. 

We walked quite a ways along the beaches and definitely tired our feet out. I am sure though that it was nothing like Jesus and the disciples encountered in their journeys from town to town, sometimes walking more than 10 miles a day. No wonder they were always feasting. They were always working up an appetite from all of that exercise.

You also have to remember that they were doing all of this walking in their sandals and their feet were probably caked with a thick layer of dust and even mud at times. By the time you got to your destination it would be necessary to wash your feet so that you tried to keep the dust and dirt you brought in to your hosts home to as a minimum. It was an expectation that there would be a wash basin for you to wash your feet in. If your host was quite wealthy, they may even have a slave that would wash your feet for you.

This morning we begin the second half of John's gospel.

Jesus is not yet done teaching. However, at this time it appears that he is done teaching the masses and those that gather to listen as he travels from town to town. He also appears to be done healing for a while. 

Now, he is called to prepare the disciples for the journey they are about to partake, though they know not fully what lays ahead for themselves, let alone Jesus. He is preparing them for the challenges they have yet to face. 

This morning we start upon our passion narrative. This text is usually read on Maundy Thursday as we prepare for Good Friday and Easter. In our narrative lectionary this year it comes earlier so that we may walk with Jesus after he enters Jerusalem for the final time. We will walk alongside Jesus for this next 5 weeks and imagine what it would be like to be one of those disciples. Would we be like Peter, that just doesn't seem to quite get it? Maybe, at times we may even feel a bit like Judas. Or, we may just be one of those disciples that we hear little from and are just watching, listening, and truly learning from Jesus and what it is going to mean to follow in his footsteps.

It is here, with the foot washing in John's Gospel that we truly begin to learn what it means to be a disciple. We should have been paying attention to everything Jesus was doing along the way, but we are human and at times we can be kind of dense. 

It is here that we truly begin to learn what it means to be a servant to all. For Jesus sets an example for us, so that we may do as he has done. 

It is here that we truly begin to understand what it means to love unconditionally. It is in the foot washing that we learn of the intimacy that is truly possible with God. Jesus has commanded us to love one another and reach out to others around us. 

Elizabeth Johnson, in her commentary, says, "Jesus’ commandment to love one another is not a commandment to feel affection, but a commandment to act in a loving way, even when we would rather do otherwise. Of course we always fall short of God’s perfect love, but that cannot be an excuse to nurse grudges and wallow in unloving behavior. As we are washed by Jesus in God’s deep and generous love, our hearts are stretched to love more completely, fully, unwaveringly."

This unwavering love is no more apparent than in the action of Jesus washing the feet of the disciples, including Judas. We are told at the beginning of the passage that the devil has put something into the heart of Judas. The Greek verb used here can literally be translated "to throw." The devil has thrown something into Judas' heart, namely greed, fear and hatred. The same Greek verb is used again as Jesus pours or "throws" water into the basin to begin the foot washing.

Jesus counters the action of evil with his own action of cleansing with water. It is through water that we can be healed and washed of our sins. It is through the water that our lives are made whole. 

Through his actions, Jesus is creating a deeper relationship with his disciples than I am sure they could ever had imagined. The intimacy and closeness that Jesus shares with his disciples is that same intimacy that he craves to share with us. It does not matter what we have done or are going to do, God loves us no matter what. 

Jesus knows the plans of Judas, and does call him out on it, yet he still bows down to wash his feet to show that he loves and forgives him regardless of how the future is going to play out.    

Jesus is preparing the disciples for a future without his physical presence. It is through the intimacy that he shares with them that he sets the example. It is by Jesus giving himself away, losing himself, that the truly genuine love he shares for humanity is exposed.

As a community we are called to be one with each other in loving and in forgiveness. Regardless if there are somethings we may or may not like. As a community we walk together in our struggles as well as our joys. We are called to live together and breath together as the body of Christ.

As Jesus gives himself away on the cross, may we too, learn to fully and truly love our brothers and sisters as he has shown his love for us.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Not Yet

March 9, 2014
John 11:28-44

Last week while we were all deep in thought pondering how a man born blind was chosen by Jesus to receive his sight again and examining the mystery of God, a man from Mississippi was figuring out a mystery of his own.

Walter Williams of Holmes County, Mississippi, 78 years old, was in his bed at home, receiving nursing care. The next thing he knew, he was waking up in a body bag.

The nurses in his nursing home found Walter in his bed, not responding. they called emergency services, and his family, and the coroner pronounced him dead. His family made arrangements with the local funeral home. The funeral director said he had put Walter's body on the table, was getting the embalming fluid ready, when he saw movement in the bag. Walter was moving his legs.

You can imagine, Walter's family was overjoyed to hear he was alive and well. His nephew, Eddie, recalls how he heard the news. Walter's son called him and said only two words. "Not yet." Eddie asked what he meant. "Daddy's still here," he replied.

Not yet.

Jesus says "Not yet" all through the gospels. Jesus is on a mission, a mission to the cross, and although there were many moments when authorities wanted to lay hands on him, or his beloved followers wanted to shout from the mountaintops, "We have seen the Messiah", Jesus said, "Not yet."

And for everyone who was present on the day that Lazarus was raised, his sisters, the women who came to mourn with them, for Lazarus, even, the message must have been loud and clear. Not yet.

Even Jesus, in the Garden of Gethsemane, asking his friends to stay awake, just one more hour. Not yet.*

As children, we always hated hearing those words because it meant that we had to wait. Children sometimes have little patience and look for ways of immediate gratification. Actually, what am I talking about? Some adults are like that, especially in a society where if there is a need or want we can have it fulfilled by Amazon and have it delivered to our door the next day, or eventually by drone within a few hours of us placing the order. 

However, there are things that stand in our way of getting what it is we want. For many, there are even obstacles that stand in the way of getting the things that they may need to live a healthy and productive life. 

Lazarus' death was not something that Mary and Martha wanted, but it was not something that they needed either. What they did want though was Jesus, and his presence to be there with them and to not let their brother die. He had been healing people, and they were well aware of the miracles he had been performing throughout the countryside. They knew that Jesus had the power to stop whatever illness was threatening to take the life of their brother.

Now though, Jesus shows up a little too late. Lazarus has already been placed in the tomb and has been there for at least four days. He is bound in his burial clothes. One of the first comments that both Martha and Mary make to Jesus is, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died."

Lazarus is now bound, not only  to the tomb but also literally as he is wrapped in grave clothes. Surely there is nothing that Jesus can do because he is too late. I am sure that Martha and Mary believe he took his time getting there and all he can do is sit there and mourn with them. There may even be a bit of resentment because they knew how long it would have taken Jesus to get from where he was by the Jordan to Bethany and they would have figured out he should have been there a couple of days earlier. They feel as though they are bound to a time frame that just did not equate to Jesus being able to heal Lazarus.

There are many times in our own lives that we are bound to what others do or the time frames of other individuals. It is not pleasant as you wait for someone else to guide your future and just keep praying that everything will work itself out. It is wonderful when it does, but in the meantime you go through many emotions, such as panic, anger, anxiety, anticipation, and certainly nervousness.

Many of us at times are bound to our jobs and those links that can attach us to our jobs, such as smart phones. At times they can feel like a leash that pulls us in certain directions and we feel that we can not turn away.

We can be bound by fear. There is a fear of rejections by others that we encounter maybe when we are with a group of people and we are hesitant to say what we are thinking. We fear that we may be looked upon with scorn and people will turn away from us. We fear how people may respond to us and how we may react in return.

In our own congregation I believe that fear can bind us from moving forward and experiencing God to the fullest extent possible and letting God guide us. That fear creeps up in scarcity, not having enough people in our congregation or enough money in the offering plate. We fear that we have lost importance to a community that we believe so much needs to hear the grace of God. We fear making mistakes and again wondering how that will affect our ministries and how people will look at us. We ultimately fear the unknown. I can't tell you what next week will bring, or next month, or next year, and that is scary when we want answers right away. We can be active in guiding ourselves in that direction, but to truly rely on God at times of unknowing is simply a fear in and of itself, because we do not have the control.

Not only was Lazarus bound in the tomb, but Martha and Mary were also bound in their fears of what they missed out on because Jesus was not present at the time of their brother's death to save him. 

When Jesus enters the picture though, things begin to change. He is not quick to correct Martha and Mary when they say, "if only you were here." He listens to them and then begins to weep himself. It is in Jesus' tears that God's love shows through for all humanity. It is in his tears that God weeps with us and reminds us of the love that God has for us. 

Jesus is asked to be shown the tomb and Jesus in his own way says, "Not yet." Death is not going to conquer his friend at this present time.  Not yet! It is not yet time to mourn and grieve. 

And to those that wonder where we are being called as a congregation and at times it may look gloomy, Jesus says, "Not yet. You are my body and you have been created to do many great things. You have been called to carry out and proclaim my Word." 

May we look beyond our own bindings and say not yet. May Christ's being bound to the cross release us from any bondage we may have. In this season of Lent may we encounter Christ and be filled with his love so that we may radiate it ourselves.

*Introduction from a Facebook post from Dawn Leger (Narrative Lectionary Group)

Ash Wednesday

March 5, 2014 
Ash Wednesday
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

This Gospel text on Ash Wednesday always catches me be by surprise. During this portion of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus discusses the humbleness of stewardship, prayer and overall piety. We are not to go out and make a spectacle of what we do just so others can witness it. 

However, this is exactly what we do when we come forward for communion and receive the imposition of ashes on our foreheads. Many of us, after being sent into the world after this service, will go to the grocery store or maybe stop through the drive through to get something to eat. And there you have it, a visible sign of your piety on your forehead that receives stares from unassuming people wondering why you were just playing around in the fireplace. How we react to these stares and the questions that we may encounter reflect upon our own humbleness and our ability to share grace which is first given to us by God.

Of course there are other ways that we can practice our own piety as well. One particular practice is fasting. Fasting is quite common in religious faith and can be found as an integral part of many world religions. In fasting we are in a way sacrificing and remembering our ancestors sacrifices they had to make in the wilderness as they wandered and the 40 day fasts of Moses, Elijah, and Jesus. 

My colleague, Pastor Paul Nuechterlein, thinks "we can deepen our understanding of fasting, then, by once again seeing the bigger picture of God's salvation in the Bible. God is not just about saving individuals -- helping us be more humble, for example, and less prideful. God is also about saving our sin-infected human institutions -- our religion, chief among them. In other words, when it comes to a religious practice like fasting, God isn't saving the way in which individuals fast; God in Jesus is saving this whole religion business so that the practices that are part of religion, like fasting, are also saved."

We do not fast because it is going to get us to the Kingdom of God. We fast because that is what Jesus did and still does. We fast to be one with those that are hurting and in need. There is a program for youth called the 30-hour famine which allows them to experience what it is like to go 30 hours without food, much like our sisters and brothers around the world. While we cannot go to the deepest depths of what these children of God experience on a daily basis and throughout their lives, we can walk with them, though it may be a brief period of time, and do as Christ does. We can be one with the marginalized and accused when we fast.  

The Lenten season is a time of contemplation and commitments. Many will say that they are giving up some specific item for lent, much like a fast. In some respect it is not much different from the annual declarations that we make at the beginning of the year in hopes of losing weight, exercising more, or quitting smoking. However, in Lent we come together in the light of Christ and our actions are guided by his.

We are called to be intentional in what we say and do. Whether we choose to give up or take on something for lent, we must be intentional and committed. I believe the real question should be, why do we do this just for lent?

We are all children of God and have Jesus as our guide. Should we not be intentional and committed in all of our actions, regardless of the time of year? May the start of this lenten season lead us to more intentional and committed lives in the name of Christ.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

A Man Born Blind

March 2, 2014
John 9:1-12, 35-41

I am not sure what it was that drew me to the Lions Club in my late teenage years. It could have been the fact that Tina's parents were very involved and I honestly enjoyed being in an organization that did good in the community. It did not matter that most of the members in the club could have been my parents or grandparents. We had fun and had successful fundraising events. I know that one of the things that really motivated me to join was their mission to serve the sight impaired which began with encouragement from Helen Keller in 1925 to become "knights for the blind."

I really did not know anyone at the time that had been born blind, but my grandmother's sight had become increasingly worst to a point where she was ruled legally blind. This is in addition to her impaired hearing that she was born with. I remember having to speak as loud as possible for her to hear me and stand right in front of her in hopes that she would recognize me.  Even though her sight was going, she would always reach out and pat me on the stomach and say "you're gaining weight aren't you?" even if i had in fact lost weight. It was just one of those things that I came to expect when visiting with my grandmother. 

It was my hope that through the Lions Club I would be able to make a difference and help those in need by working with others. Many other organizations exist as well that play a vital role in the well-being of communities. While both non-profit organizations and the church can provide hope, it is only in the church that we can offer the Light of the World.

The entirety of chapter 9 in John's gospel revolved around the man born blind which actually spills over into chapter 10 as well. It is in this morning's gospel reading that we are confronted with the light of the world in the manner of one of the signs that Jesus performs in John. 

The man that is born blind undergoes a transformation within the story and it is not an easy one. First, we have to be aware that this man did not come to Jesus looking to be healed or anything. If anything, he was just an innocent bystander that is along the side of the street that Jesus and his disciples are walking down. He, unassumingly enters the story by the disciples questioning the cause of his blindness.

It is the disciples assumption that the man was born blind because of sin, whether it be the man's sin or his parents sin. What they did not stop to think about though was that the Son of God, the Light of the World, is now walking with them. Jesus is quick to correct their misunderstanding and teaches them that the blindness is not the result of sin. We can take Jesus' teaching further and say that any other disabilities that someone may be born with or develop within their lives is not the result of sin.

However, through the man's blindness it provides the opportunity for Jesus to reveal God's power through the ability to heal. It is through this action that we start to get dirty by playing in the mud and encountering nay-sayers.   

A transformation begins to take place in the life of the man that was born blind. Unlike many of the healing stories that we encounter where the person approaching Jesus knows who he is, the man born blind really does not know. It is a transformation that will not be easy and one that begins with him washing the mud off from his face. Jesus spreads a mixture of mud and spittle on the man's face and instructs him to go wash it off at the pool of Siloam. We are told in our text that Siloam means sent, and therefore the man is sent to the pool by the one whom God has sent into this world.

This is when Jesus disappears for a while. It is actually the longest absence of Jesus in any of the gospels.

Once the caked on mud begins to wash away, the man begins to see light and the darkness is no more. This is just the beginning of his transformation. While Jesus is away from the next several scenes we witness the man being questioned by neighbors, his parents, and the authorities on how he gained sight when he never had it in the first place. 

Imagine what he must have been feeling as the light began to shine through the cracks in the mud and the light overpowered his senses. I am sure there were many tears shed, of joy, as well as of fear of now seeing things for the first time and wondering what exactly is going to happen.

The light has broken through the darkness and through these rounds of questioning the man becomes more and more confident in his responses and begins to realize that this man named Jesus that first caked mud on his eyes is more than just a man. It is through others doubting and questioning the authenticity of the event that his own faith begins to grow.

While being a gift from God, the gift of sight the man born blind received could be considered a mixed blessing. This was not something he asked for, yet Jesus revealed God through the actions of healing. He brought him division among those in not only his family, look at his parents refusal to stick up for him, but also got him kicked out of the life of the synagogue. 

It was not popular to align yourself with Jesus 2000 years ago, and many times we are facing that same stigma today. While we consider ourselves Christian, we face a different type of blindness.

That blindness is a spiritual blindness in which we may even have at times. It is when we are blind to those things that happen around us and we do not respond. It is when Jesus comes to the door asking for food and we say that we do not have any to spare. It is when we refuse to change and be transformed ourselves that the darkness sets in. 

This morning we celebrate together at the Lord's table as we begin to prepare ourselves for Lent. May we take this next month and a half to allow Jesus more truly and more deeply into our lives. 

Regardless of where we are at in our faith, Jesus still comes to those in need to grant sight, faith, and life to all those who ask.