Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Ain't No Free Lunch

When I took Econ 101 as an undergrad my professor made a statement that I still carry with me. It wasn’t the first time I had heard it, nor was it original to him. He was talking about the growth of Atlanta and how it was becoming unmanageable and he said some day we would pay a price for our urban sprawl because, “There is no such thing as a free lunch.” One of the big fights, he predicted, would be over water from Lake Lanier. He said Alabama and Florida both would get tired of our free ride on the water of Lanier when it would negatively affect those two states further downstream. How prophetic he was. We are now in court with Alabama to figure out who really has rights to the water.

There may be no free lunch, but there is free grace. Jesus rides into Jerusalem this Sunday giving everyone the opportunity to receive his grace. But they don’t. They want things to be on their own terms, not his. Like Peter’s confession they have the title right, but the wrong understanding the title. They want Jesus to be a political Messiah and overthrow those pagan Romans and re-establish the throne of David. They shout Hosanna! But to them it means God save us from these dirty rotten Romans!

We hear this same rhetoric during election years. Somehow we think we can legislate Jesus into our hearts and homes. Somehow we think that Jesus doesn’t love those that think differently than we do. I have yet to see the Ten Commandments in a courthouse produce one believer, have you? It is time that we started working on the right end of the problem by loving as Jesus loved not becoming embroiled in politically fueled moralism.

Political messiahs die and stay dead.

Jesus taught us to love those Roman pagans. He loved them and  died for them too.

When you wave that palm branch this Sunday what kind of Messiah are you waving it for? Are you waving it for the Messiah of free grace, the son of God who rose from the dead or are you waving it for the dead political messiah that says, “ain’t no free lunch.”?

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Can You Hear Me Now?

Huh? What?
Mark 9:2-8  2 Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them,  3 and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them.  4 And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus.  5 Then Peter said to Jesus, "Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah."  6 He did not know what to say, for they were terrified.  7 Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, "This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!"  8Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them anymore, but only Jesus.

Someone once said that the sincerest form of flattery is listening. I know from my days in the sales training and consulting business that introverted salespeople actually make the best salespeople. Why? Because they are the better listeners. Poor salespeople talk too much but, good salespeople listen. Women normally make better salespeople as well because women are better listeners then men.

Six days after Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Christ, Peter, John, and James find themselves on a high mountain top with Jesus. Something terrifying happens. Suddenly Jesus clothes become glowing white, shining, and shimmering. Moses and Elijah appear with Jesus. Then as sudden as it began it ends with them being engulfed in the cloud of God’s glory as God says, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” Then its over. Only Jesus, Peter, John and James are left on the mountain top.
This supernatural event wasn’t for Jesus. It wasn’t for Moses and Elijah either. It was for Peter, James, John and us, the disciples.  This takes place 6 days after Peter’s confession; the confession where Peter got the title right but the meaning wrong.  Six days after Peter argued with Jesus about the meaning of His messiahship, God vindicates Jesus message and messiahship.

The Greek word translated as listen in verse 7 means both listen and hear. You know we can hear without listening. Hearing is simply the act of perceiving sound by the ear. If you are not hearing-impaired, hearing simply happens. Listening, however, is something you consciously choose to do. Listening requires concentration so that your brain processes meaning from words and sentences. Listening leads to learning.In The Gospel of Mark it seems that the disciples hear but they do not listen.  

Are we listening?

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Who do people say that I am?
Mark 8:27-38   27 Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, "Who do people say that I am?"  28 And they answered him, "John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets."  29 He asked them, "But who do you say that I am?" Peter answered him, "You are the Messiah."  30 And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.  31 Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.  32 He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.  33 But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, "Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things."  34 He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.  35 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.  36 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?  37 Indeed, what can they give in return for their life?  38 Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels."

The first thing I did as a Pastor was a wedding. Not a funeral, not lead a worship service but officiate a wedding. This wedding was for a young lady who had been a Sunday School student of mine while she was in high school.  I performed the wedding at my home church where I had just been appointed an associate pastor. I was a member of this church for 20 years before I was appointed there. At the reception a group of men, me included, were standing in a circle discussing politics. One of the men let the “S” word fly. He realized I was standing there and apologized profusely for his verbal indiscretion.

I have always found this mildly amusing. Why? Because the week before, when I was still a lay person, he would not have apologized. In fact he might have added to his colorful language. Now that I was Rev. Bruce instead of just Rob, he saw me in a different light.  For this reason, many of my clergy friends often do not want strangers to know what they do for a living. People have a certain idea of what a preacher is supposed to be like and if we don’t measure up, well that can just become more fodder for Christian/Preacher bashing.
In the above text Peter confesses Jesus as Messiah, yet Jesus doesn’t want the disciples to tell anyone. Do you find that odd? If Jesus is the Messiah, God’s anointed one; wouldn’t God want everyone to know that? The answer to these questions is found in verses 31-32 “31 Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.  32 He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.”

Peter (and likely all the disciples) has the right title but the wrong understanding. That is why Jesus doesn’t want the disciples to tell the world who he is—yet. The time will come when they really get it.  The time will come when they understand that Messiah is not a human title for power and triumph but a name associated with suffering, rejection, and public execution.

Of course this will make sense to the disciples after the resurrection. The problem is many of us still expect Jesus to be something that he isn’t. How do you understand that title: Messiah?

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Things are not Always what they seem.

Mark 6:45-52 NRSV   45 Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd.  46 After saying farewell to them, he went up on the mountain to pray.  47 When evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and he was alone on the land.  48 When he saw that they were straining at the oars against an adverse wind, he came towards them early in the morning, walking on the sea. He intended to pass them by.  49 But when they saw him walking on the sea, they thought it was a ghost and cried out;  50 for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, "Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid."  51 Then he got into the boat with them and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded,  52 for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.

Mark writes in verse 48b that Jesus intended to pass them by. On the surface this phrase seems to indicate that Jesus, although aware of their predicament, has no intention of helping. But, things are not always what they seem. If we read this only as a miracle story of Jesus rescuing the disciples then we miss the richness of the phrase “he intended to pass them by.  Often we argue about whether the miracle really happened or not, missing the point of what the story teaches us about Jesus and our relationship with Jesus.
Let’s take a closer look of Jesus’ intent to pass them by. If you recall in 1 Kings 11, Elijah stood at the cave entrance waiting for the Lord to “pass by.” The Lord did pass by, but not in the wind that was so strong it was splitting the mountains, not in the earthquake, and not in the fire. God passed by in the sheer silence that followed these things. He reveals his presence with Elijah in the sheer silence.
Moses is on Mount Sinai in the presence of the lord. He asks the Lord, “how can I know I have found favor in your sight?” It seems for Moses that the only thing that will do is if the Lord will show Moses His glory. God says, “Exodus 33:19  "I will make all my goodness pass before you . . ” God passes by Moses to reveal his presence with Moses and the Israelites.
Passing by, then, is not what it seems. In passing by God is making a revelation. God reveled himself to Elijah in the cave, God reveled himself to Moses on the mount, Jesus is revealing himself as God’s Son by “passing by” the disciples. The unfortunate thing is, they don’t get it. As Eugene Peterson puts it in The Message, “None of this had yet penetrated their hearts” (52b).
Things are not always what they seem. Passing by does not literally mean passing by someone or something without a thought. It is a revelatory experience. For Elijah God reveled himself in the ”sheer silence.” For Moses, God was revealed from God’s  back as God passed by Moses. And Jesus revealed God’s presence in him and with the disciples as he “passed by”.  
Has Jesus “passed by”? Did you miss it? Did it not penetrate your heart? Look today for all the ways Jesus passes by. It might come in the most unexpected way. Things aren’t always what they seem.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Mark 1:35-39 NRSV  35 In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.  36 And Simon and his companions hunted for him.  37 When they found him, they said to him, "Everyone is searching for you."  38 He answered, "Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do."  39 And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.

  My wife’s family used to say that stubbornness was in their DNA and I have no doubt that’s true. I witnessed this stubbornness at family reunions when money needed to be exchanged. One person would try to pay another back for something. The “payee” would not take the money under any circumstance. This resulted in cat and mouse game of the “payer” hiding the money in the “payee’s” purse, car, etc.  The “payee” would find it and then hide it in the “payer’s” purse, car, etc. Both were stubborn to get their way.

  In this week’s text we meet a stubborn Simon (Peter).  Jesus has gone off to pray. Simon is determined that Jesus is going to return to his house and heal the people that continue to come for healing since the night before. Jesus had healed Peter’s mother in law and the news traveled quickly and all night they came. Jesus had to get away. I can’t imagine how tired he must have been.

  In the NRSV it says that Simon “hunted” him down. This Greek verb “is very strong, usually used with a hostile intent” (Mary Ann Tolbert). Simon hunts him down as if Jesus had forgotten what he was supposed to do. He was going to get Jesus back on task on make him do what he was supposed to do. Jesus says (my words) “You don’t get it. I came to proclaim the Good News not be a wonder worker. We must go and proclaim my message everywhere.”

  This won’t be the first time that Peter tries to make Jesus into his idea of a Messiah instead of letting Jesus be the Messiah he was sent to be.

  Are you stubborn?  Are you trying to make Jesus into what you want him to be not the Messiah he is meant to be?

Monday, February 20, 2012

What is Lent?

This Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent.  We will celebrate it here  at McEver Road by the imposition of ashes. Imposition means I will mark each person’s forehead with ashes in the sign of the cross. As I do this I will repeat the words, “You are dust and to the dust you shall return. Repent and believe the gospel.”

Lent is an important time in the church year. It is the time of year we reflect on our own mortality as we travel to the cross. Just as we cannot have Easter morning without Good Friday, we cannot be prepared for Easter without our time in the wilderness.

Where does the concept of Lent come from?
At Jesus’ baptism the sky split open, the Spirit of God, which looked like a dove, descended and landed on Jesus, and a voice from Heaven said, “This is my Son, My Beloved, with whom I am pleased.” Afterward, as told in Matthew 4:1-11, Jesus hiked into the wilderness. Maybe he needed some time with God to sort through the major changes happening in his life. Maybe he was searching for direction and answers. Maybe he needed to get away from family, friends and the familiar routine in order to see God, and himself, more clearly. For whatever reason, Jesus retreated into the wilderness for forty days to fast and pray.  Lent is 40 days for us to fast, pray, and reflect as we make our way to the cross and resurrection.

What does Lent have to do with me?
It’s pretty easy to get caught up in the drama of work, school, relationships and family. Our lives are filled with distractions that take us away from living a life with Christ. We try to fill the emptiness inside us with mindless TV, meaningless chatter, stimulants, alcohol or other things. We run from silence because we’re afraid of being alone with God. So, like Jesus, we need to take some serious time to pray and figure out where God is in our lives, and where God is calling us to serve. We need to re-focus our lives to be more in line with God.

How do Christians celebrate Lent?
Normally we give up something. However, this year instead of giving up something (which often becomes self-serving), I ask you to add something. I am asking you to devote some time each day to a quiet time with God. Do not be afraid of being alone with God. It is in the time spent alone with God that we become closer to God and understand more about ourselves. This is a time that can truly life changing. Pick up a copy of the Upper Room or other devotional guide that your church may offer and use it for a time of daily reflection.

Make sure to join us in the main sanctuary at 7:00PM this Wednesday the 22nd for our Ash Wednesday Service. We are located at 3606 McEver Road in Oakwood. 770.532.3160. The service is come as you are.