Drop Kick Me, Jesus

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Yesterday after the Iowa – Iowa State game, Chad Leistikow wrote that it was a game “neither team deserved to lose.” [1] You all know I’m a huge Iowa Hawkeye football fan… but I am also the sort of fan who loves to cheer on Iowa State or UNI or any other Iowa team, as long as they aren’t playing the Hawkeyes. But the game yesterday was the sort of game where you were really happy that neither team beat themselves. Sure they both made mistakes, but none they couldn’t overcome. It was a great game.

There was another rivalry game this weekend. Creston/Orient-Macksburg were on the road verses their conference opponent Harlan. This week, five Creston players were kicked off the team after posing in a KKK style image with hoods and a burning cross. The community, including their African-American quarterback, Kylan Smallwood was stunned… he thought of those kids as teammates and friends. One of the families issued a statement – “We sincerely apologize for the hurt and strive we have caused this community. We do not condone the behavior… Our family strongly believes that all individuals are created equally in God’s eyes.” [2]

The community is only beginning to respond in a way that allows for conversation and healing in the midst of the tension they expereince, although it is yet to be seen how that will play out. In some ways, Friday night’s football game was a chance to return to “normalcy” for a moment, but the real work is just beginning. It will take that whole community, standing up against racism, demonstrating repentance and forgiveness for healing to truly take place. But even a football game can show a glimpse of hope. In an act of solidarity, the Harlan marching band turned towards the Creston fans and played their opponents fight song. It was a reminder that whatever happened on the field Friday night was just a game and really, we are all supposed to be on the same team.

My friend, Laura, is a pastor in Ohio and she is a huge Buckeyes fan. After a frustrating loss last night, she posted on her facebook wall that her faith has given her a different set of lenses to view such heartache. Football is only football. “It is not oppressions, hunger, disease, poverty, devastation, or in this moment hurricane force winds. Keep perspective Buckeye nation.” [3]

Keep perspective, Immanuel.

Because Laura is right. Football is fun and exciting and we all enjoy giving one another a hard time, but we are here to play a different sort of game.

As we heard in our scripture reading this morning, we are called to follow Jesus and to run with perseverance the race that is set before us. As the Message Bible updates this passage in every day language:
“Start running – and never quit!… Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed – that exhilarating finish in and with God – he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever… When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long list of hostility he plowed through. THAT will shoot adrenaline into your souls!”

Here at Immanuel, we do believe that God has given us a race to run. For over five years now, that vision has been to “In Christ, live a life of love, service, and prayer.”
Like tackling, passing, and running in football are the basic skills that players must learn and practice, in many ways, love, service, and prayer are the basic moves we utilize in our faith. In everything we do, they help us to run the race of faith.

But one of the things that we have been talking about for more than a year now as the leadership here at Immanuel is that they don’t paint a picture of where we are going. They don’t tell us what the finish line looks like.
How will this church, how will this community, how will this world be different because we have been loving and serving and praying?
So last fall, our Administrative Council began praying and brainstorming with one another. We took the values and priorities that you as a church named in last year’s CAT Survey. We looked at our community demographics. We explored this history of Immanuel and the vast resources that the vision team had put together five years ago.
And today, we want to put some meat on the bones of this vision. If you look at the half sheet, you’ll notice that is still our vision, but we have fleshed it out a little bit.
We believe God is calling us to personally engage in and partner with our community as we live out this life of love, service, and prayer, so that broken people and places might be healed by God’s grace.
If love, service, and prayer are the basic skills that we each will employ, the goal… the endzone if you will, is that this community and this world will experience God’s healing and wholeness.

As my friend, Laura said, there is a lot in this world that is broken.
Broken relationships can be seen all around us: in the partisan division, in racial tension, and in family strife.
Lots of people in this world also experience the pain of broken bodies – we are surviving and thriving in the midst of chronic disease, broken bones, addictions, and poor health.
And there are places that experience brokenness, too. This morning, we look out on the devastation caused by hurricanes and wildfires, but closer to home, we can see the impact of poverty and how our economic choices impact the environment around us.

We believe God has called us to love and serve and pray in each of these places.
We can help people heal relationships, reconcile, and learn to talk to one another again – like we did with our Cookouts and Conversations this summer and will do with the “My Neighbor is Muslim” study this fall.
We can be present with one another in the midst of pain and loneliness and isolation – like we will when we train folks from Immanuel to go out and visit our homebound seniors next week and like we do when we go out with Joppa to the check on the homeless.
And we can pool our resources to make a difference all across this world – whether it is through disaster relief and health kits, through donations to the food pantry, or through the Season of Creation organized by our Green Team.
God is calling you and me to love, serve, and pray… to practice those basic skills… so that God’s goals might be reached.
But basic skills alone will not help us get to the end zone.
In football, you put those things together in strategic plays. Those are the ministries of our church. Whether it is choir or children’s church, Ratatouille or Under the Bridge Casseroles, Re:Ignite or Men’s group… every activity we do, is aiming for that end zone and helping us to live out God’s mission in this church.

The other thing that I have learned after many disappointing seasons watching my favorite team is that in order to be successful and reach that end zone, every single player has to play every single quarter. And the coach needs a game plan that will help those players be successful.
If you flip to the back side of this sheet, you will find our game plan for ministry here at Immanuel. We can each practice our basic skills… but part of being on this journey together is that we should all be moving the same direction.
And as your pastors and your staff and your leadership, we think there are four different areas, four quarters of this game that we all have to play in if we are going to be successful.

  1. We need to worship together. If we don’t show up in this place to hear the story of God’s love and grace and to renew and strengthen each other, we will not reach the end zone.
  2. We need to connect with one another. We need to reach out in love and help one another out. We need to build relationship both inside and outside of this church.
  3. We all need to grow. Each one of us should be a part of a group that is helping us to grow in our faith and use our gifts and as we mature, we should be helping other people to grow in their faith as well.
  4. We need to go out into the world and serve. Through financial gifts, through hands-on mission, we can only help this world experience God’s grace if we get out of this building.

Friends, this is our game plan. With our eyes fixed on Jesus, we will live lives of love, service, and prayer and this world will experience God’s healing and wholeness.

And the best news is that we don’t have to do this alone.

There is this country gospel song called “Drop Kick Me, Jesus” by Bobby Bare and Paul Craft and it reminds me that God has our back in this work:

 

Make me, oh, make me, Lord, more than I am
Make me a piece in your master game plan
Free from the earthly temptations below
I’ve got the will, Lord, if you got the toe.

Drop-kick me, Jesus, through the goalposts of life
End over end, neither left nor the right
Straight through the heart of them righteous uprights
Drop-kick me, Jesus, through the goalposts of life

 

[1] http://www.hawkcentral.com/story/sports/college/iowa/football/2017/09/09/leistikows-first-word-hawkeyes-win-cy-hawk-classic-neither-team-deserved-lose/649140001/

[2] http://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/sports/high-school/2017/09/09/creston-game-frayed-nerves-calls-unity-after-photo-students-white-hoods-confederate-flag-rocks-town/647639001/

[3] https://www.facebook.com/laurakennedyjaissle/posts/10154632317611986

Cloud of Witnesses

Funeral Meditation based on Ecclesiastes 3:9-15 and Hebrews 12:1-3

What are we here for?  What is our purpose?  That is the question that the author of Ecclesiastes wrestles with and although he is filled with cynicism, he finally settles with the understanding that God has given us a job to do.  And this man writes that our purpose is to be happy and enjoy ourselves as long as we live.  And even more than that – that it is God’s good gift for us to eat and drink and take pleasure in all that we do.

I turn to that scripture often because it is a reminder of the blessing of life that God has given us.  It is a reminder that we are meant to find joy in this life and in the simple things that God has provided.  And after hearing her children and grandchildren, her sister and her husband talk about Colleen’s life – I think that she figured out that little secret.  She enjoyed herself and her family and her friends as long as she spent time on this earth.

As her family shared with me the many things that they will carry with them – memories of they have of Colleen – they mentioned how much she loved the things that came into her life.  She loved her family and while she did work for a while, she also loved to spend time at home as a mother and a homemaker.  Harold told me that while she didn’t know how to cook when they met, she soon learned and her family related to me the many delicious lemon meraigne, pumpkin and rhubarb pies that they enjoyed through the years. She loved music as well and took joy out of playing her organ.  And she loved to tell stories.  She and her sister Bonnie would feed off one another building tales of cowboys and Indians and about their cousin Joe – stories that grew and blossomed and were filled with joy so that the whole family would be overcome with laughter.

I think one of the most amazing things that I heard though was about who Colleen was deep inside.  She was an incredibly positive person.  She had a peace about her that allowed her to remain calm and not get angry and more than anything she strove to see the good in other people.

I shared with you today a passage from the book of Hebrews and this scripture talks about the great cloud of witnesses that surrounds us.  I believe that Colleen is not only among that great cloud of witnesses today, but that through her life, she has inspired her family and her friends to be more, and to be better, than they imagined.  You see, that cloud of witnesses is like the cheerleaders or fan section at a great track meet. We each have a race to run, a path that is set before us, we too, have been given a job to do on this earth.  And Colleen, your wife, your mother and grandmother, your friend, your sister, is urging you on.  She wants you to experience the joy and the love of a life lived in God’s presence.  She wants you to reap the benefits of Christ’s love.

That doesn’t mean that the race is easy.  There are hard and difficult times in all of our lives and this day is one of those.  On this day, we celebrate Colleen’s life, but we also mourn the loss of her presence.  We mourn the things that we no longer get to share with her.  Special days will come into our midst, like yesterday – which would have been her 80th birthday, or this coming Monday – which would have been the celebration of 57 years of marriage to her husband, Harold.  And those days bring sadness and tears.

And we do mourn.

But we will be comforted.

When Christ stood among his disciples and told them that his time on earth was coming to an end, one of the first things he told them was “do not let your hearts be troubled.”  He shared with him the comfort of his presence, and then also the promise that this time on earth is not the end of our relationships together.  He told them that in his Father’s house… in our Father’s house, there is room for us all.  A place is prepared for each of us in the family of God.  And Christ will take us there himself.  Christ will show us the way.

As Colleen’s family shared with me her various loves and things she enjoyed, one of those was a deep and abiding love for John Wayne. And her daughter said that they sometimes think of her up in heaving, riding on a horse heading off into the sunset.  And that brings us joy and laughter and smiles, because it was the kind of person that Colleen was.  That joy for imagination and creativity and seeing the best in all things.  And we know that her love of God and God’s word sustained her in this life and that it has brought her to that everlasting rest, that eternal joy and peace, that is found only in God. Amen.

Preaching in an Empire…

Today, our conference “Thursday Memo for Preachers” came across my inbox.  I’m usually challenged and inspired by Rev. Bill Cotton’s words – and today was no exception.

“Be appalled, O heavens, at this, be shocked, be utterly desolate, says the Lord…”Jer. 2:12


Abraham Heschel in his classic work on the Prophets describes them as persons who become excited and agitated about matter that most of us take for granted. For example, ignoring the needs of the poor. Those old boys like Jeremiah seemed to have one less layer of skin than the rest of us, and that made then sensitive to all forms of injustice.


Have you wondered what Jeremiah would be saying to the richest nation on earth’s inability or unwillingness to see that children of the poor have access to a doctor. Each Tuesday the Grace Health Clinic discovers people without insurance- victims of this cruel system we live under. And should the church speak the words of Jeremiah regarding this injustice, some would call his words socialism and dismiss his raving. Jeremiah speaks in the text for Sunday of how the people have turned away from God, the fountain of living water, and dug cracked cisterns that can hold no water.


Our first parsonage in Fairly, Texas had a cistern. Along about August it would go dry and crack open and we would buy a load of water for $5.00, and it would be gone in a day or two unless we patched the cracks, only that didn’t work so well either. Cisterns that leak are not much good. Churches that ignore the prophets’ word are like broken cisterns.


Maybe Jeremiah is too much for the church and nation this week. If so we might try Dr. Luke’s description of Jesus telling us that when we give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame.. and you will be blessed because they cannot repay you..Luke 14:13


With all of the injustice that we face in these times, perhaps both Jeremiah and Luke are too troublesome. There simply is no place to run no place to hide from these texts this week if we are faithful to the text.


One last try. Hebrews 13:1-8,15-16 This text invites us to show hospitality to strangers and we do have an open door policy. Well the door is somewhat open. But, within that text are the words “Jesus Christ the Same, yesterday, today and forever”. Those words just feel good in the mouth. The only problem, if we practice the faith of Jesus who is always the same we must include the faith of Jeremiah. Still no place to run, no place to hide. The preaching life is tough with you live in an empire. Go preach anyway!

I was especially moved by the line – “should the church speak the words of Jeremiah regarding this injustice, some would call his words socialism and dismiss his raving.”

Our church is celebrating this Sunday the missional outreach of our congregation.  I am not standing up in the pulpit to preach – but I pray that these words of Jeremiah and Hebrews and Luke will not be ignored.  We will gather to celebrate the ways that we have fed the hungry, and helped those in prison, and brought healing to the sick, and reached out to the poor in this past year.  And I am so proud of my church for the amazing ways that they have given for those in need.
The Christmas Giving Tree for Tanzania
But something that has profoundly stood out to me is how few of us spend time with the poor, the sick, the imprisoned.  We are quick with our pocketbooks or with a food and clothing drive, but there are relatively few who are willing or able to head on over to the meal site and sit down with folks.  That is probably just as much the fault of our busy schedules and prioritizing of family as it is a discomfort with being around those we think might be different.
Dan Dick wrote about our “comfort-zones” this week on his blog.  And it was a reminder to me that discipleship involves growing and stretching and in some cases being disoriented so that we can be realigned with God’s priorities.  We all have different gifts and places of spiritual comfort, but the fullness of the experience of God is only reached if we are able to move outside of those areas and encounter God in the unfamiliar, too.

My prayer is that the testimony of those who have served with their hands and feet might be a witness this week.  My prayer is that their stories might help to nudge their fellow brothers and sisters into a more active and present love of their neighbor.  These are challening times in the rhetorical world.  Our nation is split on ideological lines, and my prayer is that their experience would provide a far better exposition of the challenging words for this Sunday than my preaching ever could.

Hebrews Part 6: Discipline

My nephew has recently picked up a bad habit. Lying. Whether it’s just a phase he is going through or if developmentally he has just realized that he can make up stories and try to get away with things… it hasn’t been working. His parents see right through his lies. They catch him all the time. But they couldn’t figure out how to get him to stop doing it.

But they recently got some advice and figured out a new way to discipline him. Each time they catch him in a lie he has to pay them a dollar. Now, for a 7 year old, a dollar is a lot of money. And he has to go all the way up to his bedroom and get his piggy bank and pull out a dollar and come all the way back downstairs and pay up.

And since they have instituted this new form of punishment do you want to know how many times he has lied? Once – the first time – and it was so painful for him and it made such an impression on him that he hasn’t done it since.

As we come to the last chapters of the letter to the Hebrews this morning – we find that we have come full circle. We have gone from being accepted by Christ and called his brothers and sisters in chapter two – to being addressed as children of the Lord in chapter twelve. And like all children – like my nephew – we are going to learn a little bit about discipline.

All of that stuff that happens in between – all of those big words like Christology and atonement – they help us understand how we become children of God, but what really matters is that it happens. Because of what Jesus has done in his life, death, and resurrection life – we are restored and redeemed and we are now children of God.

We have been adopted into God’s household – but there are some changes that we are going to have to make in our lives – some new “house rules” if you will. Because what Christ did is set us on a new path – we have a new direction in this life and our job now is to run this race to the end.

We talked a little bit about that race last week – but today we are going to talk about what running this race is really like.

So first a question – How many of you here are runners? Not very many, I would imagine.

Running is very hard work. On and off for about 4 years I have tried to take up the habit of running. And I’ve learned that you have to start off slowly, step by step, little by little. If you tried to start off running 5 miles a day – you would cramp up and your heart would scream at you. But slowly, gradually, you can build yourself up to that point.

The reason why my attempts at running have been unsuccessful is very simple – I lacked the discipline it takes to become a runner.

I might start off good for a week – or maybe even two weeks. I would gradually increase my time running and my lungs would expand their capacity to take in air and my heart would become gradually stronger and my legs would slowly start to adapt to the work I was asking them to do…

…. but then I would get busy, or get tired, or get frustrated because I wasn’t seeing the instant results I wanted. And so I would skip a few days… and then those days would become two weeks, and then I had to start all over again. I couldn’t pick up where I had left off – because my body had already reverted to its pre-running stage.

What I really need is a running coach – someone to yank me out of bed in the morning. Someone to remind me of the basics and to teach me new skills. Someone to keep me on track. The kind of discipline that a running coach would encourage for their student… healthy eating, drinking plenty of fluids, warming up your body, and the part I dread: wind sprints, endurance running, and pushing yourself a little farther each day… is all designed to help create the best possible conditions for a running lifestyle. Each and every single thing is important to turn your body into a running body.

I don’t think its mere coincidence that our reading on discipline in Hebrews this morning comes right after the introduction of this race metaphor. Bill Long wrote that “discipline can not only ‘chisel’ or ‘sculpt’ the body…, but it can shape the soul.” And just like a runner, we are being asked to transform ourselves – mind, body, and soul – into something different. We are being asked to become different people – and that takes discipline.

What is true for my habit of running is often true for our spiritual race as well – the discipline we need often has to come from without.

The good news is that this race comes with its own coach. Hebrews 12:2 reminds us that we can look to Jesus, the pioneer and perfector of our faith who has tread this path before. When we look to him – who endured more than we could possibly imagine – we find the strength to keep going.

And then what we are asked to remember is that this race isn’t going to be easy. We are going to run through some rough terrain. We are going to bump elbows with people who are running different races and we might get pushed around in the process. There will be potholes and roadblocks and dead ends and hills and valleys along this race.

But in each of those struggles, in each of those trials, God is disciplining us – we are being shaped into children of God.

As verse 11 reminds us – discipline always seems painful rather than pleasant at the time, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Just like wind sprints strengthen and transform our hearts… although they make you feel like you are going to die in the process… so too does the discipline of God transform our lives.

Something that is rattling around in the back of my mind… and I want you to bear with me for just a minute, because I haven’t fully figured this bit out… is that discipline is not punishment.

Now – I know that in the version of the scriptures that you have printed there it actually uses the word punishment – but it is the only version that does so and I believe it’s a bad translation of the passage.. Almost every other version I have looked at uses the word “rebuke” instead of punishment…. God is expressing disapproval, God is correcting us. In the greek, the word is elegchomenos… literally, we are being exposed when we are on the wrong path or doing the wrong thing.

But the type of discipline that then is carried out is not some arbitrary punishment, God does not take pleasure in causing pain in our lives or seeing us struggle… but God’s discipline helps us to correct the mistakes in our lives… it is a training or teaching that will equip us for righteousness.

If I am running incorrectly and someone doesn’t point it out and correct my form, I could cause serious damage to my body. The initial correction might be tough, it might be painful and it might hurt my pride, but it will strengthen me for the long haul. So too, the discipline of the Lord puts us back on the right path and strengthens us for the tougher parts of the journey ahead. It will forge us into the type of people that God knows we can be.

What that also means is that God doesn’t send trials into our lives just for the sake of trials. God only disciplines us because we are loved and only disciplines us to correct missteps and to prepare us for the future.

I firmly believe that God doesn’t give us cancer to teach us something, or send hurricanes to shore to send us a message. Love is not the foundation of that kind of discipline.

But when tragedies befall us – when we face roadblocks – when we are rocked to the core by a death or a disaster… we can know that we have strength to endure because of what we have already been through and we can be assured that God will bring us through to the other side a stronger person than we were before.

The final thing that I want to say is that discipline not only happens between us and God, it also happens in a community.

John Wesley was really big on discipline. The very reason we are called Methodists today is because he and his friends had such a meticulous method to keep their minds and souls conditioned – to keep them running on the right path. Wesley often referred to an early church saying that “the soul and the body make a man; the spirit and discipline make a Christian.”

In the last chapters of Hebrews our joint responsibility for one another’s discipline is clear. “see to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God.” “make sure not root of bitterness springs up and causes trouble.” “ remember those who are in prison, as if you are in prison with them” “let mutual love continue” “remember your leaders… your earthly coaches… who are charged with watching over your souls…”

But we also remember that the same charge is given to us whenever we stand together and make our member ship vows. Each time we do so, I say to you:

“Members of the household of God,
I commend these persons to your love and care.
Do all in your power to increase their faith,
confirm their hope, and perfect them in love.”

Our job as Christians is more than to simply believe… we also must be in relationship with the living God… we must live our lives differently. And discipline is how we hold those two together. Discipline is how we make sure that our lives match our beliefs. It forms us into the kind of people God wants us to be. It is our training ground for the life to come. And the good news is – we are all in this together.

Hebrews Part 5: The Cloud of Witnesses

We have spent the last few weeks wading through some pretty heavy stuff in the Letter to the Hebrews. Like the author makes clear – this isn’t easy material… we dove into the meat, the heart of the substance.

For those of you who have missed our explorations, in the last four weeks we have discovered that even though we at times feel unworthy – God chooses to make us worthy. And that happens through Jesus…

How it happens is another story. We looked at three ways that people understand what Jesus did on the cross: he set us free from sin and death; he paid the debt for our sins; he showed us a better way.

Usually, the church focuses just on the second one – that Jesus pays for our sins on the cross – but the book of the Hebrews talks about them all… Jesus paid our debt because he is the new high priest. But Jesus also shows us another way because he is a prophet of the most high, and Jesus can declare victory over sin and death because he is King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

Now, what we briefly mentioned at the end of last week is that unlike the way we understand grace, the writer of the Hebrews seems to believe that you can only accept Jesus into your life once. After that – if you sin you lose the benefits of what Christ has done. Really – this goes back to the thought that sin is like an addiction and a prison and what we are being asked to do here is to quit cold turkey and be set free. No turning back. No nicotine patches.

And in reality – why should we turn back? We’ve got a clean slate, the grace of God and the power of the holy spirit on our side! Hear how the Message translation puts chapter 10… Let’s do it – let’s keep a firm grip on the promises that keep us going. Let’s see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out, not avoiding worshipping together as some do but spurring each other on… but you need to stick it out, staying with God’s plan so you’ll be there for the promised completion.

The only way we can do it – the only way that we can quit our former lives cold turkey and urge one another on is by trusting in the promises of God and together reminding each other of those promises. That’s what faith is all about.

Marilyn read for us today from chapters 11 and 12. And it sounds different than all of those chapters before about priests and prophets and blood and sacrifices. Here, Hebrews reminds us that countless people before us have been on this road before. Countless people before us have struggled to trust in God. Countless people before us have been called to have faith.

What you are missing in your inserts today are the names of those people – the pioneers of our faith listed in Chapter 11. People like Noah and Abraham who trusted in God’s promises so much that they took risks. People like Sarah who came to believe in the impossible. People like Isaac and Jacob and Jospeh, Moses and Rahab the prostitute, and David and Samuel… all of these people and countless others lived by faith in the promises of God – and with their own eyes never saw their hopes realized.

As the final verses of chapter 11 share with us – they haven’t received what was promised… yet… because God has a plan that makes sure they won’t be made perfect without us.

Basically – all of us – from the beginning of time to the end of time are all running the same race. We are all going on to the same goal and we are all called to trust that at the finish line glorious things await us. But unlike a race in this world where there are winners and losers, people who cross first and people who cross much later – this glory that awaits us is something we will all get to experience together.

When I traveled to Chicago a few months ago to learn at the feet of a theological giant – Jurgen Moltmann, I was struck by something that he said about death. He said, “I trust that those who died are not dead, they are with us, they are watching over us and we live in their presence. They also… are growing until they reach the destiny for which they were created.”

They are not dead – they are with us… like the cloud of witnesses in Hebrews, they are running with us and are urging us to set aside every weight and sin and to just run free this race together.

Today is a special day in the life of the church when we take a moment to acknowledge that there are others who continue to run this race with us. We acknowledge that the dead are still with us – still waiting just like we are to experience the glory of God.

I am only 27 years old and I have very little knowledge about the mystery of death. No amount of book learning can prepare us for what awaits. What I can say with certainty are some promises that we have in the scriptures.

One of those promises comes to us from the Wisdom of Solomon – the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God and no torment will every touch them… they seem to have died, but they are at peace… their hope is full of immortality.

One of those promises comes to the thief crucified beside our Lord – he is promised that today he will be with Jesus in paradise.

In the book of Revelation we have the promise of the day of resurrection – when we will all be raised and clothed in our recreated bodies and there will be weeping and crying and pain no more.

And then we have our gospel reading from John. After their brother has died, the sisters Mary and Martha are besides themselves with grief… each one pleads with Jesus – if you had been here, my brother would not have died!”

Martha knows in her heart – she trusts in the promise that on the last day her brother will be raised again. She knows that he and she and all of us are pressing onward toward that goal and that Christ is the Messiah – the Son of God who will bring us to the other side.

And surely her sister Mary understands this also. But that doesn’t take away their pain and grief at the loss of their brother in this life. No longer can they reach out and touch him or hear his laughter or look into his eyes. While they trust in the promises, it doesn’t take away their sorrow.

It doesn’t take away the grief that Jesus himself feels as he weeps before the tomb of his friend Lazarus.

What Jesus then does for us is that he gives us a glimpse of the resurrection. As Lazarus – who had been dead for four days – is called out of the tomb, we are reminded of what awaits us all.
We are reminded of the glory of God to come.
We are reminded to have faith and to trust in the promises.

This year, we have said goodbye to five people who were a part of this church family. In a few minutes we will light a candle in honor of each one of them as we remember that they are now a part of that cloud of witnesses who wait with us for the day of resurrection.

They join the countless other faithful who surround us with love and encouragement. They join the company of saints that we praise God with and that we feast with at every communion table. They join with those who have throughout history woven the fabric of our story – of our relationship with God.

I want each one of us to take those ribbons that we were handed this morning. These ribbons represent those saints in our lives who have and who continue to encourage us on in the faith. They are names that should be added to that list in Hebrews 11 – the names of people who took risks and showed us what trust was, people who taught us the faith, people who lived through tough times and survived, people who refused to give in, people who were kind to us when no one else was, people who believed in miracles.

Their stories are our stories. As we remember them, as we remember the promises that they trusted in, we find the strength to carry on.

Our table this morning is empty. The bread and the cup are here and are ready to be placed – but something else is missing. The stories of those who are also with us. The communion of the saints.

I want to invite you to come forward and to place your ribbon on the table. We are going to weave these names together into an altar cloth that will remind us every time we gather around the table that we do not gather alone.

Hebrews Part 4: Jesus the Priest?

I. Introduction
A. Talking about who Jesus is – Christology and Atonement
B. [SLIDE] Already the book of Hebrews has told us some things about who Jesus is. He was with God before the foundations of the earth. He is the Son of God. And for a time, he was made a little lower than the angels – took human form and lived among us. He took on our life and because of what he has done for us, we are now children of God.
C. [SLIDE] We recalled how easily we forget what God has done for us. Like the Hebrew people in the desert, we wander and grumble and always want something else than the rest, the grace, that has been prepared for us. But Christ cuts through all of our excuses and denials and speaks to our heart, shows us the right path, if only we are willing to listen.
D. The answer begins with chapter 4 verse 14. Jesus is the great, high priest and we are invited to approach the throne of grace with boldness to find mercy and grace in time of need.
E. [SLIDE] Last week we did some background work and looked at different ways that we understand what Jesus did on the cross – go over them quickly
F. [SLIDE] This week, we are going to go even deeper. We are going to move on to some of the harder stuff – the meat, instead of the milk.

II. [SLIDE] What does Hebrews in particular have to say?

The author is writing to a bunch of Jewish Christians – they are people who have grown up their entire lives sitting in the synagogue listening to teachers read out of the Torah. They have made countless visits to Jerusalem to the temple to worship and sacrifice. But now, these people are also Christian. And they are having a hard time putting together the two parts of their lives – their old temple worship and their new faith in Jesus. And so he uses the ways God has spoken to us in the past to show how Jesus is the way that God is speaking in our future.

A key way that he does this is represented by this image right here. Does anyone know what this is? The ark of the covenant! This would have been located in the midst of the temple as the Jews came to Jerusalem to worship and to offer sacrifices. So when we hear in 4:14 – approach the throne of grace with boldness to find mercy… this is literally the mercy seat, where the grace of God is received.

Other important point – copies and shadows of the heavenly things.

III. Three main roles of Jesus as Prophet, Priest & King [SLIDE] –

A. [SLIDE] Jesus as Prophet (vs 1:1-4)
1). You think you had prophets in Israel… well Jesus is a true prophet.
2). Restores our knowledge of God’s will for our lives
3). Messenger of God’s true will – Announcement, message of deliverance
4). AND – Jesus is THE WORD
5). SLIDE] Gives authentic picture of God’s work of creation and redemption

B. [SLIDE] Jesus as Priest
1). What is the role of the priest in Israel? Think back to the three atonements… satisfaction, return of the righteous order
2). Mediation between God and humans
3). Why is Jesus a better priest? Priests die – Jesus doesn’t = all time; High Priest only one allowed into the holiest of holies sinned & had to cleanse himself – Jesus doesn’t. High Priest offered blood of goats and bulls and ashes – but Jesus offers his own blood – without blemish to purify our hearts.
4). Importance of Melchizadek
5). Jesus once for all.

C. Jesus as King
1). David as King, but also Melchizadek as King (of righteousness and peace)
2). Reign of God – restoration of our humanity and place in the community
3). New covenant…

IV. Conclusion

In light of all of these things, the writer of Hebrews reminds us: 19 Therefore, my friends,* since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, 20by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh), 21and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. 24And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, 25not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

This idea of encouragement is especially important, because there is also an idea in Hebrews that once we have been cleansed from our sin – once that sacrifice is made, that’s it. We get one chance. If we continue in our sin – then we are subject to the judgment. Next week we will talk about how that challenge – to live without sin, to live in the faith is carried out.

Hebrews Part 3: Milk First, Meat Later

Milk First, Meat Later

[SLIDE] As we continue in the book of Hebrews today, we come crashing into the heart of the letter’s Christology.

Christology? That’s a pretty big word, you might be thinking. If we break it apart, we find first Christ, and then ology – Christology is what we understand about Jesus Christ.

[SLIDE] Already the book of Hebrews has told us some things about who Jesus is. He was with God before the foundations of the earth. He is the Son of God. And for a time, he was made a little lower than the angels – took human form and lived among us. He took on our life and because of what he has done for us, we are now children of God.

Last week, we recalled how easily we forget what God has done for us. Like the Hebrew people in the desert, we wander and grumble and always want something else than the rest, the grace, that has been prepared for us. But Christ cuts through all of our excuses and denials and speaks to our heart, shows us the right path, if only we are willing to listen.

So what are we listening for? What is it that Jesus wants us to accept? What has Christ done for us?

The answer begins with chapter 4 verse 14. Jesus is the great, high priest and we are invited to approach the throne of grace with boldness to find mercy and grace in time of need.

We need to turn our lives around, approach God in Christ and accept the grace we find there.

Seems simple enough doesn’t it?

[SLIDE] Hebrews doesn’t think so. Because immediately after these phrases, we have a whole series of explanations about what it means for Jesus to BE the person waiting there for us – what it means for him to be the high priest… what exactly Jesus is doing there on the throne of grace?

For just a moment, lets skip through a few more verses and go to verse 11, this time in the Message translation – “I have a lot more to say about this, but it is hard to get it across to you since you’ve picked up this bad habit of not listening. By this time you ought to be teachers yourselves, yet here I find you need someone to sit down with you and go over the basics on God again, starting from square one—baby’s milk, when you should have been on solid food long ago!”

We’re going to stick with the milk today – and next week we’ll tackle the more difficult stuff about what it means for Jesus to be the priest.

So beginning with the basics. We need to repent from our past lives and turn with faith towards God… Or as we put it all through the month of August – God keeps telling us, I love you, I forgive you, and I have a job for you.

[SLIDE] For most Protestants – Lutherans, Presbyterians, Baptists, Methodists – our focus is on the “I forgive you” part. We know who God is, we know who Christ is, through what Christ has done/accomplished for us.

That is Christology. By looking at what Christ did, we have a better understanding of how we are forgiven, how we are justified, how we are saved.

Think about this in another way. If a new person comes to town, we get to know them by asking questions about what they have done in the past. We ask where they lived. We ask where they studied. We ask what their job was. And we continue to get to know if they are a good person or not, if they are trustworthy, not by what they say, but what they do – how they treat us once they become a part of our community.

The same goes with Jesus. Once we understand what Jesus has done for us, we understand how we can put our lives in his hands.

There is a bit of a problem however. There isn’t just one answer to that question.

[SLIDE] In fact, in the Western world there are actually three different understandings of how Jesus saves us.

This word at the top, atonement, is basically a fancy way of saying just that. How we become at-one again with God – how we make amends, how we are reconciled to our creator.

Looking at why Jesus went to the cross, three major theories have been laid out.

1. Christus Victor – in the battle for good and evil, we are held prisoner to sin, held captive by Satan. In Jesus’ victory over death, evil is defeated and we are set free
2. Satisfaction – problem is that we have broken the covenant and a penalty must be paid. Jesus knows we are guilty, but his action on the cross bears the punishment for us.
3. Moral Example – the cross is the natural outcome of the life of Jesus – who spoke truth to power and dared to love those who society turned away. In his life and death, he shows us how we should also live.

How many of you knew there was more than one way to understand why Jesus went to the cross?

We’re going to look at each one a little bit more in depth.

• Christus Victor – We are captured, not free; imprisoned to Satan and sin; evil has control over us
 Addiction is a sort of prison – we can be imprisoned and homeless and not even know it
 How can we be set free? Christ the resurrected one rescues us, defeats sin and death.

• Forensic – we are in the defendent’s seat – we have broken the covenant and must face the consequences
 Satisfaction (Anselm) God’s honor has been destroyed by our sin & we have infinite debt to God. Only the God/Man can make our satisfaction
 Penalty Satisfaction (Aquinas)Our offense against God disrupts order, God as a just God must keep the righteous order and justice must be recieved. Christ pays the penalty to restore the balance.
 Substitutionary Justification (Luther/Calvin) God’s work in Christ is enacted in us – we are acquitted, pardoned and our record is cleared.

• Moral Example (Abelard) – we have lost the understanding of and ability to love and Christ’s life, death, and resurrection shows us what true faithfulness looks like

All three of these are at play in Wesley and should be in ours as well
• if we respond to this pardoning love and allow God deeper access to our lives, we will be liberated from our captivity to sin and the transformation into the fullness of our lives… penalty/satisfaction emphasis with a moral element and a ransom effect.

We too heavily emphasize just the judicial understanding of sin – that claims we must be tried, found guilty, and punished for what we have done wrong.

In my understanding of God, it is through judgment that we are free to recognize we need the grace of God, repent of our sins and live lives worthy of the calling of God. Punishment is not required. Because Christ already restored us. The moment Christ became human, we were reconciled to God. The moment Christ rose again, the powers of this world that plague us were defeated. But then Jesus gave us the Holy Spirit so that we could also participate in that resurrection, so that we could be made new.

Hebrews Part 2: Cut to the Heart

This morning, I want share with you a little video clip that will become for us a parable about what it means to trust in God’s word.

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If we each took some time, we might each find ourselves relating to one of these characters just a little bit more than others. We could ask who we each as individuals are, or we could ask who we as this congregation is most like.

The character that I relate to the most in this clip is probably the father.

You see, we have good intentions but are so wrapped up in the things around us that we are just going through the motions. We’re doing something just because we think it’s the right thing to do. And then, in our attempts to be faithful we stumble and we fall back into old patterns.

The father in our holiday dinner is trying his hardest to bring his family to the table and to offer thanks for what they have received. And after his wife makes a meager attempt to give thanks – I think Nordstroms and Neiman Marcus were on her list – our dad himself flounders around with his thankfulness. He hasn’t really thought it through all the way. We are disappointed by his focus on things and in the end we have a feeling that he has set a bad example for his kids to follow.

More often than not – no matter how good we are or how hard we try, we are like that dad. We are like the rich young man in our gospel reading from Mark. We can cross all the t’s and dot all the I’s, but then Jesus shows up and cuts straight to our hearts. Deep inside, are we really ready to leave it all behind and trust in the God of the universe?

We are going to journey a little bit farther into the book of Hebrews this morning. Last week we skimmed over the beginning of this letter. So I want to touch on it again. In chapter 1 we are reminded that God has been reaching out to us throughout all of history… first through the prophets… and then through his Son.

The Son of God – Jesus Christ – has finally brought God’s message of love and salvation to us. He is greater than even the angels – who helped us to hear this message in the past.

In chapter 2, we find the same question raised that we did when we studied Isaiah – presented with God’s glory and majesty and power… we start to compare ourselves to that glory and find ourselves utterly unworthy and feel as tiny as ants. If you remember in Isaiah – this leads to confession and it is why we confess our sins together in worship after we praise God in our call to worship and opening hymn.

But in Hebrews – there comes a slightly different answer to this question. The author of Hebrews goes back to Psalm 8 and while we might question why God cares so much – we are reminded that God made us just a little less than the angels – that all we see is a gift and it has been placed in our hands. While we don’t always see the power in this statement – we do have control over this world. We have control over how we treat one another. We have control over our children and the animals that surround us. We have harnessed natural resources for power. And In this day and age as we see the impact that humanity has made on the climate of our world – we even recognize our power over the wind and the rain and the sun.

We have lots of power… however sometimes that power spins out of control and we do hurt one another, and we are hurt by one another and by the planet. What gets us through those times is knowing that Jesus humbled himself and took human form and became himself a little less than the angels for a time. Christ entered fully into our human experience so that the one who saves and us who are being saved might all become one. Christ took our lives upon himself – so that he might redeem us, restore us, heal us, from all of the mistakes we have made with our gift of control, power and free-will.

God in Christ came to save us and calls us to follow… but first, there is a warning.

You see, God has tried to save us before. In chapters 3 and 4 of Hebrews, we are reminded of the failure of the Hebrew people to respond.

Our writer in Hebrews is very familiar with our Old Testament and he quotes from Psalm 95… Hear these words again from the Message Translation:

“Today, please listen; don’t turn a deaf ear as in the “bitter uprising,” that time of wilderness testing! Even though they watched me at work for forty years, your ancestors refused to let me do it my way; over and over they tried my patience. I said, ‘They’ll never keep their minds on God; they refuse to walk down my road.’ Exasperated, I vowed, ‘They’ll never get where they’re going, never be able to sit down and rest.’”

Because of their stubbornness, because of their unwillingness to trust in the God who was leading them, because of their foolish attachment to the “golden years” of slavery in Egypt – the Hebrew people refused to accept the gift that was right in front of them! All they had to do was trust in the power of God enough to cross over a border into the land of the Canaanites. And they would have found themselves in the land of milk and honey.

But they couldn’t let go of the security of the past. They couldn’t let go of the things that they knew. They wouldn’t open themselves up to the possibility of what was lying ahead.

The same could be said of our father in the clip we showed at the beginning. He wanted to show some kind of faithfulness so he was trying to express his thankfulness. But he was so tied to the things of this world like cars and HDTV that he found himself grasping for straws…. Did any of you think that he really meant what he was saying?

As the older son chimes in – his thankfulness extends to things like piracy and music groups and the internet. He is focused on himself and what he can get and how quickly he can get it.

The younger son follows up with being thankful for the food that is right in front of them. He rattles off the items on the table because he knows that if he says something he will finally get to eat them. He might actually be thankful for the food – but he has no spirit of thankfulness for those who have prepared it or made it possible for him to sit down and eat.

In our gospel reading – our rich young man falls in the same boat. He has said all the right words and done all the right things and he has gone through the motions of faithfulness – but is his heart really in it? Does he really believe?

You see, belief is the difference. In the message translation, it might be called “ a deaf ear” and in the text as printed in your bulletins it might be called “ a hardened heart” – but in either case, it is an unwillingness to accept the truth.

There are a couple of ways that the truth escapes us.

First, we might not look beyond ourselves. Like the older son, we see and feel only our own truth and our own reality. If you noticed in the clip, he actually interrupted someone else who was speaking to quickly rattle off his list of items. This perhaps was also the greatest sin of the Hebrew people in the desert, because they were so focused on what was in it for themselves that they forgot the blessings they had received from God and looked only at what they lacked – what they were missing.

Second, we might be unwilling to go past the surface level of things. Like the boy at the table, we see only what is right in front of us and don’t look any farther. We put our blinders on to the reality that is just beyond our fingertips. All he sees are mashed potatoes and red stuff – and he misses the time and energy his parents put into making the meal, the people at the store who worked so they could buy the ingredients, the farmers who raised the crop, the sun and the rain and the earth that nurtured his food, and the God who is behind it all.

Third, we might be fooling ourselves by going through the motions. Here, the father at our dinner and the rich young man have a lot in common. They are doing all the right things – they might even be saying all the right things, but are their hearts really in it? Do the dad really understand what thankfulness is about? Does the young man really understand what the law is about?

In Hebrews we are warned about the deceitfulness of sin – it blinds us, it tricks us into thinking that we can do it on our own.

But what we really need – all we really need – is faith. We just have to believe and trust in God’s promises. We just have to believe and trust and God’s goodness. Today – Please listen – the psalmist implores us – don’t turn a deaf ear!

God means what God says. The promises are sure. The invitation is real. And when Jesus calls out to the rich young man asking him to leave all of his wealth behind – he means it. Because he is cutting to the heart of what is holding him back. The Word of God, both as we see it on the page and as Christ speaks it, knows who we are and it cuts through all of our defenses. As put by the Message translation – the word lays us open to listen and obey – nothing and no one is impervious to God’s Word – to the truth. We can’t get away from it – no matter what.

Jesus has compassion on that rich young man… even more than that he loves him. And so he has to tell him the truth. And Jesus’ words cut straight to the heart of the matter. You are just going through the motions, my friend. You have built for yourself a wall of deception through your wealth and you trust in your things more than you do in me. So trust me. Leave it all behind. I will take care of you.

The rich young man hears the truth. He sees the promises. But just like the Hebrews in the wilderness who could almost taste the honey that awaited them across the border, he turned a deaf ear. He walked away. He thought it was impossible – because he wasn’t ready to believe that with God all things are possible.

Which brings us back to the person at the dinner table we haven’t talked about yet. The daughter among the group – who was hesitant to even speak opens her mouth and out pours truth. Her words cut to the heart of the matter, and you can see that each person around that table has to stop for a second. The truth gets through – even if just for a second – the truth gets through that God loves us… even if we don’t deserve it… even if we turn a deaf ear and harden our hearts and ignore him. The truth gets through.

Today – Please listen – don’t turn a deaf ear. Take the mercy, accept the help, trust in God.