Corporate Prayer for the Desperate

Holy and Forsaken God,
We come into your presence knowing that you felt utter desperation and loneliness.
You felt isolated and forgotten.
You felt unimaginable pain.
So you are not unfamiliar with our struggles.
And that brings us comfort.
That brings us hope.

For those in our congregation who have been wrestling in the long dark night and are contemplating suicide, we pray.

For those in this place who are survivors: who have lost a friend or family member who suicided, we pray.

For those here today who have made it through the dark night and are a witness of hope for others, we pray.

For those who are watching a friend struggle and want to reach out and listen and provide support, we pray.

For those who cannot understand why another would take their life, who are filled with questions and anger, we pray.

Holy, Forsaken God, we lift these up to you. Connect us. Help us to listen. Give us courage to speak our truths. And fill us with a hope that will sustain us in the midst of utter desperation. Amen.

Save Us!

Some of you sometimes ask what I like to do in my spare time and one of my favorite things to do is binge watching television.  I like all sorts of things, from Grey’s Anatomy to Breaking Bad, but I also have a healthy obsession with British television and sci-fi.  Both of which are perfectly satisfied by Doctor Who. About five years ago, I discovered Doctor Who and I think I’ve watched every episode of the newer material about three or four times.

So, what, you might be wondering, does Doctor Who have to do with Palm Sunday?

Well, this is a show about a time-traveling alien with twelve lives, but of all the places the Doctor could go in the world, Earth seems to be his favorite. One the one hand, he sees its vulnerability and innocence.  On the other, he praises humanity for their survivability and curiosity, their fortitude and spirit of exploration.  He wants to see them thrive.

In the series two premiere, Christmas has come, but chaos is reigning on our planet with a large alien war ship hovering over London.  The Sycorax have seized control of 1/3 of the population and Prime Minister Harriet Jones issues an urgent plea – “Doctor, if you are out there, save us!”

That’s what we all hope for, isn’t it?  Someone to save us?  Someone to make everything better and the monsters and demons and agonies of our lives to go away?

 

When Jesus appeared on the scene in Galilee, people flocked to the countryside, to the houses, to the shores just to catch a glimpse of this man who would save them.  He healed their illness, he cast out their demons, he even forgave sins… He made their worldly pains go away.  He saved them from their current predicaments.  He was amazing.

And then, like any good Savior, he rides in on a donkey, the ancient world’s version of a white horse or a blue box to save the day and make everything better.

You see, that’s what the people thought Jesus was there to do.  He fufills the prophecy, as told in Zechariah 9: the symbolic triumphant entry of a King into Jerusalem on a young donkey:

“Rejoice, greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

Unlike conquering forces who rode in on war horses, this was the sign of a true king – the one who brings peace and hope to the people.

And so when he rides into Jerusalem on the back of a colt, when he comes bringing peace and hope, the people spontaneously shout out: HOSANNA!  Which means Save us!

Their lives are full of problems and stresses and this Jesus has shown that he can solve them.

He can heal them.

He can save them.

He is on their side.

HOSANNA!

 

Only, Jesus doesn’t save us in the way we expect.

 

They, and we, expect our hero to be a Clint Eastwood or Sylvester Stallone type hero: riding in to save the day, confident, untouchable, there is no question that they will triumph.

But Jesus appears more like Frodo Baggins: he seems to be facing an uphill battle, he is humble, at times during this holy week questioning his purpose, and yet always willing to sacrifice his own life for the purpose to which he was called.

In our Philippians reading this morning, that picture of a humble servant is painted for us. It has come to be known as the Christ Hymn – a song of praise for the one who gave everything up, the one who emptied himself of power and life rather than grasping at it for himself and for others.

Repeatedly, Jesus demonstrates humility.  He gave up his seat at the right hand of God to be born among us, an infant whose life was in danger from the very start.  He reached out to the hurting and sick and those imprisoned by sin.  He invited them to his table and was rejected for doing so. He touched the unclean and welcomed children onto his lap.

Jesus went to the underdogs of this world.  Those who don’t have power, money, or the system on their side, and he loved them.

 

If that was how he lived his life, I’m not sure why we expect the road to salvation will be different.

We want fireworks and trumpets and victory, but instead the path before us this week is marked by the cross.

Jesus will spend the coming week in Jerusalem, but he doesn’t leave victorious… he leaves carried away to be buried in a tomb.  The people couldn’t understand how his way of humility and love and grace and sacrifice could bring about the reign of God and TRULY save them and us… save us not from our current oppressive problems but save us to the core of our very being.

And so they stubbornly turn their backs on him.  Like children, they stomp their feet and pout: If he refuses to help me the way I want to be helped, I don’t want any part of it.

 

christmas_invasion-1I find “The Christmas Invasion” episode of Doctor Who to be such an interesting parallel, because the Doctor too is rejected in the end.  He stands up for earth and is willing to be their champion in an epic duel for the planet.  And although he defeats the Sycorax, he does so without killing the leader.  He sends them packing with a warning – “When you go back to the stars and tell others of this planet, when you tell them of its riches, its people, its potential, when you talk of the Earth, then make sure that you tell them this… IT IS DEFENDED!”

And the Sycorax leave.  They head back for the stars.

But Harriet Jones… the one who cried, “Save Us!” in the first place is not satisfied.

He didn’t save them in the way she hoped he would.

He didn’t save them in a way that would continue to isolate them from the stars.

He didn’t save them in the way that she was completely willing to do.  And so with a word, Harriet Jones signals for a weapon to be fired and the Sycorax are blown out of the sky.

 

We are not happy when things don’t go our way.  And when our “savior” comes along and isn’t what we expected, it is surprising how quickly we turn to violence.  How quickly we become the very thing we are fighting against.  How quickly we lose our humanity in a desperate attempt to cling to the salvation we think we deserved.

 

Just five days after they shouted in the streets for Jesus to save them, the people reject Jesus, and shout for him to be crucified instead.

 

And as Paul writes in Philippians, Christ was obedient to God’s will, Jesus remained the humble servant, even when it meant death on the cross.

When we praise Jesus, it is not the triumphant entry, but the cross that truly shows us God’s glory. In giving up his power, in emptying himself, in this act of love, Jesus reveals what divine power is all about: non-abusive, patient, never grasping, “power… made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9)

Today, we live on the other side of the cross.  We know the power of the resurrection.  We know that death was not defeat at all, and that Christ has not only risen from the dead but has been exalted on high.

The question is:  how do we live in light of that knowledge?

 

From a jail cell, Paul penned the “Christ Hymn” and encouraged the Philippians to embrace the power of Jesus… to “adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus.” (2:5)

We are to let go of our power and live in obedience to God’s will.

Here at this church, we claim a particular vision:  In Christ, live a life of love, service and prayer.

Our salvation demands that we live as Jesus lived.

And as we adopt the mind of Christ, our eyes are opened to those all around us who are in need of love, and service, and prayer.

We are called to love: we are called to go and stand with the widow and the orphan.  We are called to the dark and lonely corners of this community – to the people who have no one and to carry the love of Christ with us… even if it means putting our own lives on the line.

We are called to serve:  We are called to be in relationship with people and offer ourselves.  We are called to sacrifice time and energy and money to help our brothers and sisters.  And that service extends to more than just a handout… we are called to bow down in service and treat those with whom we minister as honored guests.

Finally, we are called to pray:  Sarah Coakley believes that to be in Christ, we need to practice prayer.  We need to “cease to set the agenda… [and] make space for God to be God.”  In doing so… in praying for our community and our world, we set aside what we think we are entitled to and instead ask for God’s will to be done.  We ask for God to give us the courage and strength to act on behalf of those who can’t.

 

Today, Jesus rides triumphantly into Jerusalem.

He rides not on a war horse, but a humble donkey.

He rides not to conquer and destroy, but  to die for our sins and to set us free.

As one of my colleagues wrote this week:

We thought that we wanted a King.

We thought of all that he would bring.

Power and might and wealth and singing.

We thought we wanted a King.

Instead, we got everything. (Jessica Harren)

Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!

Blessed is the one who sets the prisoner free!

Blessed is the one who comes to save us!

Outside – In

Over the past eight months, I have learned a lot about the people of Immanuel UMC.  I had heard you were friendly and welcoming, hospitable and that this was a caring church, but those are really just words until you see them lived out in people’s lives.  And having a fresh set of eyes – an outsiders eyes – I want to share just a few things I’ve learned. I’ve learned that you are quick to show up at the bedside of a friend and have often have visited before either of us pastors hear someone is in the hospital or is sick. I’ve discovered the joy filled welcome that so many greeters offer to those who walk in the doors on Sunday mornings. I see the care that is taken to make this a hospitable and welcoming place – from the pots of coffee that are prepared to the flexibility to adapt and use this space differently, like you did with the nursery and library moves. On the sign outside our building, it says “All Welcome!”  and you really want everyone to feel welcome here.   But I must share that I also come as an outsider that looks and talks a whole lot like many of you do here in the church…. And on the surface, whether we intend for it to or not, that is itself a barrier for people who may not look or speak like the majority of those in this room. Being a part of this church, I can now see and name the multitude of ways we are diverse.  We have a wide range of ages – from four week old babies to 104 year olds!  We are people who are wealthy and who are struggling financially.  We are healthy and we are in need of healing.  Some of us have been educated by the streets and some of us have taught in universities.  We vote republican and we vote democrat.  And perhaps the most striking dichotomy of all:  Some of us are Hawkeyes and some of us are Cyclones and some of us are Panthers and some of us don’t fit into any of those categories, but we still somehow are able to worship together ;) We have made room in this place for all of this difference. God is good!   Yet, there are still people missing from our midst. There are still people in this neighborhood and in this larger community who do not know that they would be welcome here. Even inside this caring, loving community, there are still people who feel like they simply don’t quite belong. Our sign outside might say, “All Welcome…” but do we truly live that out with every fiber of our being?     In our gospel reading for this morning, the question of who belongs is lifted up. One afternoon, Jesus is hanging out with some of his disciples… who were all Jewish, both ethnically and religiously.  In other words, they would have looked and talked the same. Philip and Andrew were out and about in the community when they encountered some Greeks who were in town for the festival.  And these Greeks approached the pair and asked if they might see Jesus. What is interesting is that these are the same words that were used when Philip and Andrew first met Jesus… He asked them to “come and see.”  So, these Greeks want to do more than just meet Jesus – they want to become followers OF Jesus. I can imagine Philip and Andrew turned to each other and started whispering. “They want to see Jesus?” “But they are Greek!” “Um…. Let’s go ask first…”   What was the big deal? First of all, in the gospel of John, the disciples understood themselves to be part of a Jewish movement. They were traveling the countryside, preaching good news to the poor, but most of those people looked remarkably like them.  Yes, there had been that one encounter with a Samaritan woman, but for the most part, this was a Jewish movement for Jewish people. This is only the second time in John’s gospel that Jesus encounters gentiles, people outside the Jewish community. Second, I have always found the disciples to be a bit thick.  It takes them a little longer to catch on than we would like.  They tried to keep the children from Jesus, but he welcomed them.  They watched as he embraced sinners and prostitutes and outcasts. Yes, the ethnicity of these Greeks set them apart from Jesus’ disciples.  At a minimum, their accents would have distinguished them.  But maybe they dressed different and had a lighter hair and fairer skin.  But Jesus had shown again and again that all sorts of people were welcome.   Can you picture it? They walk up to Jesus, with the Greeks standing not too far behind them and they ask: “Hey Jesus,  do you want to see those people, or should we send them away?” We want Jesus to answer with something like –“ Sure!  Have them come over!”   or “You guys just don’t get it… of COURSE I want to see them.” But he doesn’t. Jesus instead, for all to hear, starts talking about how you have to die to bear fruit. That he is going to give up his life and anyone who wants to follow him must give up theirs as well.   When we think of it in the context of this diversity, Jesus’ words make a bit more sense.  Standing before him are Andrew and Philip, the first Jewish disciples… and behind them are those who might become the first Greek disciples. Will they be able to get along? Will they be able to set aside their differences to follow him? Or will their pasts get in the way of the future God has planned for our salvation?   This parable of sorts that Jesus offers is all about their identity.  They can cling to their heritage and their labels, but if they do so they will always remain strangers.  They will remain in their differences and never be lifted up with Christ. But if they let go of their worldly identity… their distinctions as Jews and Greeks… then they will come to know true life in the community of Jesus Christ. Jesus is asking them, and us, to declare our allegiance.  Jesus invites us to let go of our labels – Jew or Greek, male or female, young or old and to take on a new identity as the servant of Christ… to identify ourselves not by any characteristic of this world, but to claim our identity in Jesus’ death and resurrection.   I am white.  I am a female.  I am American.  I am United Methodist. But first and foremost and more important than any of those other labels, I am a disciple of Jesus Christ. And the question raised by this parable is what kind of sacrifices do we need to make… what do we need to risk… in order for the world to know that is the core of our identity?   Whether we want it to or not, all of those other identifying characteristics can get in the way of the world knowing the love of God in Jesus Christ. The color of our skin can be a barrier. The way we talk can be a barrier. Our nationality can be a barrier. And if we want others to see Jesus in us… If we want others to know and follow him who died to save us all… then it is up to us to cross whatever barriers might exist and be present with people where they are.   Recently, Samsung put together an ad that describes the kind of hospitality and love that helps someone who feels like they are on the outside experience what it might like to be in. Muhareem is deaf and his primary language is sign language.  Yet as he encounters neighbors and strangers in the world, they don’t speak his language. But what if they did? What if a whole neighborhood decided to cross a barrier and meet Muhareem where he is?   What sacrifices can we make? What risks can we take? What barriers can we cross to help others see Jesus? God loves all sorts of people who live outside of these four walls.  Single dads.  Drug addicts.  The homebound elderly.  Children who are competing for first place in a contest. Folks who partied too much last night. So the question I leave us with today is what might Jesus be asking us to do to cross a barrier and share the love of Christ with them today? What might we, as a church, let go of, so that the world might know Jesus?

Trust, not Unquestioning Belief

In 2012, I took my youth group on a mission trip to Minneapolis.  We worked in a number of different sites and one of them was the Emergency Foodshelf Network.  This organization helps distribute food items to 70 area food shelves by channeling donations for organizations and large corporations.

Most of these are bulk items.  Like 50# bags of rice that needed to be bundled into smaller portions.  Or bushels upon bushels of fresh produce that we sorted so each box had a little bit of everything.

unlabeled-canOne day, our job was to affix generic labels onto 18,000 cans of corn that were donated without labels. Yes. 18,000.

As we walked in that morning, there they sat, all shiny and shrink-wrapped on pallets, just waiting for our little paper labels that read “Corn.”  Our job was to cut the labels to size, add two pieces of tape, and bundle them onto trays of 30 for distribution.

But there was this nagging question in the back of our minds all day long as we cut and taped and stacked and moved these aluminum cans.

How did we know it was really corn?

 

The only way to tell was to open the can.  But that of course ruined the product.

You could shake the cans… and we did… and it sounded like corn… but it could have sounded like peas or beets for all we knew.

 

We had to trust that it was really corn in those cans.  We had to go about our work, tape those labels on and trust.

And to be honest, because we knew that people would be receiving these cans, we felt responsible for their contents.  Others would trust then when they got a can that said corn, a can that we had labeled, they would actually be opening a can of corn.

 

Trust.

 

Our two scripture readings for today seem to give us a portrait in contrasts… between Abraham, the one who trusted and Peter, the one who didn’t.

 

Abraham, was well past retirement age, yet chose to follow and trust the God would use him to birth a nation.  He is lifted up as the example.  The one who did it right.  The one who was trustworthy and true.

And Peter. Oh Peter.  In this season of Lent we see how so many times he gets it wrong. He questions Jesus.  He denies him. He is even called Satan in our reading for today.  Perhaps what we might imagine is the opposite of one who trusts.

 

Last week, we talked about three different types of atonement theories. Three different ways God is working in the world to bring us back into relationship, to restore us to shalom.

We had the forensic theory – the idea of a trial or a courtroom.

We had the moral example theory – where Jesus shows us how to live.

And we had the Christus Victor theory – where Christ is victorious and rescues us from sin and death.

 

Today, our scriptures lead us to those forensic theories.  They take us to the courtroom.

 

courtroom-drama-1It is the courtroom Paul has in mind as he writes to the Romans in this section of this letter.

It is courtroom language that Paul is using as he describes Abraham’s relationship with God.

 

Imagine that Abraham is sitting in the witness stand of a great courtroom.  And the question put to him is this:

Why do you deserve the promises of God?

It’s a different version of the question we often think of at the end of our days: why should you get into heaven?

Why do you deserve shalom?

And throughout chapter 4, Paul lays out an argument.  Like a lawyer, Paul claims it was not Abraham’s works that made him worthy of the promises.  It wasn’t that he followed the laws of God, the Torah.  It wasn’t that he did all the right religious things like be circumcised.

No, what puts Abraham in the right… what proves that he deserves the promises of God is that he “trusts him who justifies the ungodly (4.4).” He trusted the one “who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist (4:17).“ He believed, even though the odds were stacked against them.

And he was right.  He trusted that God would give him and Sarah a child and his claim was upheld. So using the courtroom language of the time, he was in the right. He was righteous. He deserves the promise because he trusted in the promise.

 

That seems too simple, doesn’t it?

 

Abraham’s faith was nothing more than a trust in the specific promises God made.

 

So what about Peter?  What if we put him in the same courtroom?  Where does he stack up?

 

If we focused strictly on this passage from Mark, he doesn’t get it.  He doesn’t trust.  He doesn’t understand.

Or maybe a better way of putting it is that he was operating on unquestioning belief.  Faith without any understanding. Peter was making assumptions about God.  Assumptions like: the journey was going to be easy.  An assumption that Jesus was going to march into Jerusalem and magically everything would be better.

And when faced with new evidence, new teaching, Peter chose to shut his mind.  He clung to that unquestioning belief.  He, in fact, challenged Jesus!  The word used here actually is the same word used for silencing demons – Peter thought Jesus was out of his mind!

Jesus has to correct Peter.  He has to tell him once again what God really promises.

 

That snapshot of Peter’s faith, however, doesn’t give us the full story.

 

In fact, if Peter and Abraham were really on trial, if their whole lives were spread before a court that was trying to determine if they deserved the promises of shalom, their stories wouldn’t be all that different.

 

If we go back to Genesis and really read Abraham’s story, his is one of fits and starts, too.

He and Sarah laugh out loud at God’s plan for their lives.

They try to do it their own way.  They always have a plan B in the works. (maybe talk about how Abraham tells the king Sarah is his sister not his wife… if his wife, Abraham will be killed… as his sister, the king will bargain with him…)

Yes, they go. They stick with it. They make it to the end of the long and complicated journey of faith.  But it isn’t an easy road.  When we pick their lives a part with a fine toothed comb, we find there are all sorts of things that are far from trustworthy and true. There are plenty of moments when they set their eyes on human and not divine things.

Peter, likewise, makes lots of mistakes.  He radically misunderstands what it means for Jesus to be the messiah.  Just like Abraham and Sarah, he has his moments of weakness where he looks out for his own interests above God’s plans.  He lies to protect himself.

But at the end of the day, Peter came to believe and trust in the specific promises God made. Peter came to believe in the giver of life. He came to trust that if God could raise Jesus from the dead, then God could raise him too.  And Peter shared that faith with others. He led others to trust in those promises, too.

 

What makes us worthy of shalom? What makes us children of Abraham?

We come to deserve the promise when we trust in the promise.

 

And that promise is that life can and will come from death. It is a promise that sin has nothing to do with our salvation, because Jesus has already wiped it away.

In the courtroom at the end of our lives, our mistakes are no longer on the table. They no longer count as evidence against us.

What matters is if we trust with our whole being that the God who created this world out of nothing and brings life from what was dead can justify the sinner, too.

If we trust in that promise, its ours!

 

And it isn’t unquestioning belief.  It isn’t faith without evidence or justification.  We trust in that promise because we have carry the story with us of how God works. And maybe we have even witnessed it with our own eyes.

 

So here’s a question…. What if I was pulled in front of a courtroom one day to testify about why I labeled those cans “corn”?

Our supervisor promised that those cans held corn and I believed her.  I trusted her.  Why?

To be honest… if we had showed up one day at a random building with an unknown organization and we were asked to label cans of corn, I’m not sure I would have trusted.  If we had done so, simply on unquestioning belief, without any relationship or evidence or understanding of who they were or what they were about, that trust would have been pretty unjustified.

 

But that isn’t what happened.

We learned about the organization and its history.  We spent some time working with them. We saw their attention to detail and how much they cared for their clients.  So on that final day, when we labeled those cans of corn… we believed in what they told us.  We trusted them.

 

Here in this church, we aren’t asking you for unquestioning belief, either.

We hope to build a relationship with you.

We want to learn together and wrestle with the promises of God that have been handed down for generations.

And just like Abraham and Peter and Paul passed down what they knew to be true… what they witnessed God doing in their lives… we are going to share our stories too.

Stories of how God has transformed us.

Stories of how God has brought life out of death.

Stories of how we have experienced grace and forgiveness and love.

And no matter how many fits and starts and mistakes any of us make along the way, my prayer is that someday, each of us will trust in the promises of shalom.  That we will trust in God and in this community of Christ in such a way that whenever difficulty and struggle come our way, we can hold fast and support each other, knowing, trusting, believing that in Christ, all will be well.

Rescued

For the first 20 or so years of my life, I understood salvation as one concrete idea: that Jesus died for my sin on the cross.

Substitutionary Atonement is what we call it.  Jesus took our place.  He was our substitute and paid the price for our sins.

But before too long, I discovered that I was terribly mistaken.

Not about Jesus dying for our sins.

But about thinking that was all salvation meant.

 

In its fullest sense, “Salvation is ‘God’s deliverance of those in a situation of need… resulting in their restoration to wholeness.’ It is restoration because salvation does not offer something new; it is God’s original intent for creation.” (Introduction, The Lord is Our Salvation)

The best word I can find to describe that original intent, the life that God intends for each of us is the word shalom.

It means completeness, wholeness, well-being.

And God’s work of salvation in Jesus Christ rescues us from whatever hell we might experience in our lives that has destroyed shalom, so we might experience life and life abundant once again.

 

Christ dying and paying the price for our sins is one piece of that work of salvation.  But it isn’t the only one.

In fact, in the Western world, there are three major understandings of what the cross means, all different ways of talking about how Jesus saves us.

These are called atonement theories.  They describe how we become at-one again with God… how we are brought back into shalom… how we experience wholeness once again.

The first is the one most of us grew up being familiar with – a Forensic understanding of salvation.   These theories say we are like a defendant on trial and have been found guilty of breaking our covenant with God. So, a penalty must be paid.  Jesus knows we are guilty and out of love, pays the price for us.  He satisfies the debt we owe.

The second is called Moral Example.  This grouping of theories claims that the cross is the natural outcome of the life of Jesus, who spoke truth to power and dared to love those who society rejected.  And in his life and death, Christ shows us how we should live, too.

The third of the major groupings is called “Christus Victor” – Christ as the Victor!  This theory claims that in the eternal battle for good and evil, we are imprisoned by sin and held captive by Satan.  Jesus defeats death and evil on the cross and we are set free.

 

Throughout this season of Lent, we are going to see how this isn’t a debate or competition about which of these sets of theories is right, but that each and every one of them is a part of the whole.  Taken all together, they describe how God continually and relentlessly works to bring us salvation, to restore us to shalom.

I want to share with you one more scripture this morning as we hear the word.

In 1 Peter, chapter 3 we hear:

17 It is better to suffer for doing good (if this could possibly be God’s will) than for doing evil.

18 Christ himself suffered on account of sins, once for all, the righteous one on behalf of the unrighteous… 

19 And it was by the Spirit that he went to preach to the spirits in prison. 

 

Right there, in three verses, all three of these major theories are at play.  Be like Jesus and suffer for doing good… He died because of our sins… and he went down to hell and preached to the spirits in prison.

 

This morning, we are going to focus on the idea of being rescued.  1 Peter tells us, and the Apostles Creed affirms that Jesus descended to the dead.  He went down into hell after the crucifixion to preach to the spirits held in the prison of death.

The verses go on to say:

In the past, these spirits were disobedient—when God patiently waited during the time of Noah. Noah built an ark in which a few (that is, eight) lives were rescued through water.

As we remember in our first reading this morning, the whole world was drowning in sin… and eight lives were rescued through the water.

With the children, we remembered the promise God made right then and there, a promise to seek forgiveness and not punishment.  God put the rainbow in the sky as a reminder that never again would life be destroyed, that God wants to restore us to life.

 

But I sometimes wonder about those souls who weren’t rescued.  Whatever happened to them?

1 Peter tells us,  God’s rainbow promise extends even to those who died in the flood.  They were trapped by their own sin, imprisoned by Satan and death,  but through the cross, Jesus wins the victory over death itself and even the unfaithful disobedient spirits of the ancient world were given the opportunity to hear the message of God’s love and offered shalom.

That’s how powerful God is.  That is how mighty Christ’s victory is.

And if Jesus can rescue disobedient spirits from hell itself, than Jesus can rescue you.

 

Maybe you are struggling with an addiction that just seems to have you in its grip.  Jesus can help set you free.

Maybe bad habits and a poor attitude have been dragging you down.  Jesus can lift you up.

Maybe you are swimming in worries and fears and feel lost in that sea.  Jesus will keep you from drowning.

 

On Ash Wednesday, we were reminded of our sin, our mortality, our finite natures.  We are all sinners.  We are all made out the dust of the earth.  And we can’t save ourselves from drowning in all of the dirt and muck of this world.

But Jesus can.

And just as God took the dust of the earth and formed us as his people, God can take the dust of our lives and make something beautiful out of it.  God can rescue us from even the dust of death and raise us up.

 

We’ve talked about some big words and some big concepts this morning. Atonement.  Christus Victor. Salvation and Shalom.

And sometimes the only antidote to being overwhelmed by new information is to look at pictures of puppies.

24CF17A500000578-0-image-a-46_1421588515015

These puppies are rescue dogs and these amazing photos capture them on the day they were rescued… on the day they were brought home from the shelter.

24CF17BC00000578-0-image-a-44_1421588494595

They transform from these sad and pitiful creatures, to vibrant and life filled friends.

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They come to find themselves at home, loved, taken care of.

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And this is what God wants for us.  God wants to rescue us from the hell we experience in our lives.  God wants to save us from our guilt and addiction, from our sin and temptation, from our fears and our failures.

God wants to bring us home.  To restore us to shalom.  To wholeness. To life and life abundant.

 

Jesus is strong enough to save even the spirits in hell and Jesus can save you.  Jesus can transform you.  Jesus can set free this entire world.

 

It is interesting that Mark’s account of the wilderness  is not a long series of temptations and failures, but a few words about faithfulness:  Jesus was tempted by Satan.  He was with the animals.  The angels took care of him.  No drama. No mistakes.  No surrender.  And in the midst of it all, Satan just disappears.  Jesus transforms even the wilderness, the time of testing and struggle, into shalom – a place where all are cared for.  Pheme Perkins writes that even before his ministry began, Jesus had already broken Satan’s power on this world.

And Jesus can enter the wilderness of our lives, the prisons we construct for ourselves, and can transform it too.

Now is the time.  Today is the moment.  Let Christ set you free.

Ashes and Lattes

In the middle of a public place, a busy coffee shop, surrounded by strangers… people got real.

We hosted our first ashes to go in the community and while we didn’t have a large turnout, the conversations were deep and holy. I got to know my parishioners better. I heard what brings they joy and where they are struggling. I witnessed the joy and excitement of a family rushing through on their way to school.

People you only have time for quick conversation with in the greeting line after church hung around for a while and visited. It was fascinating to have so much more intimate encounters in a public setting.

In fact, I think the average length of stay at our table was probably 20-30 minutes.

Although, that’s what people do at coffee shops. They talk. They go deep. They open up and become friends.

I’m declaring our first time a qualitative success :)  I wonder about the conversations that will come as a result of our few hours of ashes and prayers.