Thursday, February 14, 2013

Preparing for the Journey

          Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Lenten season, walking with Jesus toward Jerusalem, to a cross on a hill, to a borrowed tomb, how can someone prepare for a journey like that? What could anyone possibly do to get ready to die…for a whole world of sinners?
          In the last few years most of us have heard people talk about their bucket list. In fact I think there was a movie made about two guys who had bucket lists. You know what a bucket list is, don’t you? It’s those things you want to do before you die, kick the bucket, go to be with the Lord, you know.
          Jesus knew; he knew his ultimate destination. He knew and he tried to prepare his friends, the disciples for what he knew was inevitable. How did Jesus, the human part of Jesus, get himself ready for this? How would we get ready?
          Ash Wednesday is the first day of a rather lengthy time of preparation for the journey of Lent.  Think about how you prepare for an extended trip, say around the United States. What do you do to get ready? Or how do you prepare for the new arrival of a child in your family. Or what’s involved in getting ready for a wedding?  What’s the first step?
          This season is similar to these events…except…we aren’t preparing for a joyous celebration. We’re preparing ourselves for a time of repentance. We’re being asked to think about the ways we’ve turned away from God. We’re being asked to repent, turn completely around, make a U-turn and go in the opposite direction from what we’ve been going. Repentance is about turning back to God.
          How do we do that? How can we reconcile ourselves with God…with our friends…with our family…with the stranger in our midst?
          Fasting is an important theme during Lent.  Fasting reminds us that we aren’t passive, helpless human beings at the mercy of the world surrounding us. We’re able, with God’s help, to take control of our lives, to reject those things that hurt and harm us…and our neighbors. Fasting is a tool to help us prepare for reconciliation.
          But, I’ve got ahead of myself. What steps do we take to get ready for a journey, to go on a trip? Some of us make lists. Some of us make lists of our lists. Some of us find the lists we used the last time we took a trip.
          So, what kind of list would we make for this Lenten journey? What do we need to take with us? Do you have any ideas?
          Our lists may contain a variety of things. I would think I’d have my Kindle with 2 or 3 different versions of the Bible. I might commit to spending time each day reading and reflecting on a Lenten devotional. I might decide to give up something, something from the world that keeps me from talking with God, something to remind me to sit and talk with Him or Her. And I would most certainly make time throughout each day to sit and talk, pray and listen, with God. I might see if I could locate a like-minded group of folks who might like to get together and read and dissect God’s word, and pray with and for me and I for them. I think that would help me on my Lenten journey.
          What would you have on your lists? What might be helpful to us is to see what Jesus did as he journeyed to Jerusalem and the cross.
          When we read the gospels we find that Jesus went away, to be alone, to talk with his Father. He did that many times. Sometimes his friends had no idea where he’d gone. He went to the Temple or the synagogue to worship and hear God’s word read and proclaimed. And…he was with the people…healing, teaching, touching, laughing, and eating. 
          We don’t read that Jesus fasted (I'm mistaken here. Jesus fasted for 40 days & nights in the wilderness. How could I miss that?) but if we think about it he did give up things. He had no possessions other than the clothes he wore. He depended on God to take care of him through his friends. What he really gave up was his life…for us…so that we might live. That seems like a major sacrifice to us. And it was when we consider the pain and torture he endured. That makes giving up chocolate for Lent not such a big thing…or Facebook.
          So, good friends, this evening is the beginning of the journey. Are you ready or do you need to make your list…or find your list?  The journey begins tonight. Let’s go with together, praying, listening, touching, and holding each other up when we need a little help.
          Thanks be to God for his grace. Amen.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Encounters with God

          Moses went into the Tent of Meeting to speak with God face-to-face, just like we talk with our neighbors over coffee. He spent enough time with God but had never seen him. He wanted to see God’s Glory and God agreed to let him see his Goodness but he couldn’t look at his face otherwise he’d die. So, he placed him in the cleft of the rock and as he passed by Moses was able to see God’s back.
          So, a second time God told Moses to cut two tablets of stone just like the first ones. He was to bring them up to the top of Mount Sinai. Only Moses was to be on the mountain. No one, not even the livestock were to be grazing in front of the mountain.
          Moses climbed the mountain. God descended in a cloud and took his place beside Moses. It was on the top of the mountain that he received the Covenant which Moses inscribed on the tablets of stone. He was on the mountain with God for 40 days and 40 nights. 
          Moses had talked with God before but had never spent this much time alone with Him. He came down the mountain without a clue that he had been changed by being in the presence of God.
          Jesus climbed the mountain to pray. He took Peter, James, and John with him. It must have been quite a hike because the disciples were worn out by the climb. They fell asleep. Something woke them and it was then that they witnessed the transfiguration of Jesus. They saw him talking with Moses and Elijah. Luke writes that Jesus’ face changed and his clothes became blinding white.
          As the group was getting ready to climb back down the mountain a cloud covered them and God spoke! He confirmed that Jesus was his Son, the Chosen One and they were to listen to him.
          Luke tells us they were speechless and continued that way until after Jesus ascended into heaven.
          Moses, Peter, James, and John were changed by their encounter with God. These men were chosen, called by Jesus and God for special work. Can you imagine having a close encounter with God? Who wouldn’t be different after such an experience?
          God said that the disciples should listen to Jesus. My question for us is, “How do we listen to Jesus today?”  Have we heard God calling to us? In our own lives do you think we’ve been chosen for a particular purpose?  Have you ever had a strong sense of God speaking to you, choosing you, claiming you for a certain assignment?
          People we’ve read about in the Bible were changed by their encounters with the Divine. People today are also different after spending time with God.
          How have you responded to these calls or sense of call from God? How have you been changed by the call?
Spending time on the mountain top is exhilarating, enthusing, energizing, and amazing. It sets us up, equips and inspires us; but we can’t live on the mountaintop, insulated from the stresses and strains of life, for we are called to be involved in the mess that awaits us, in the real stuff of life at the foot of the mountain, to use those mountain top moments to equip us for the stuff of everyday. We can be thankful for the transfiguring moments that bring change to the workaday routine.

Monday, February 4, 2013

What Do You Say About Jesus?

          You’ve just heard Luke’s story about Jesus coming back to his hometown…not healing anyone, not doing any of the things he did in Capernaum, and not making his old neighbors very happy.
          Let’s do a ‘what if.’ What if Jesus had grown up in Walnut? What if Joseph, his Dad, married Mary, his Mom, when she was 6 months pregnant? What if his Dad was “just” a carpenter? What if he’d grown up in this church? What if he’d been in your Sunday school class? What if he’d been invited today to be the guest preacher?
          What would we be saying about him? How would he be received? And what if he told us what he told the folks in Nazareth? What if he said, “I’m not able to do here what I did in Capernaum because your hearts aren’t right?” What if?
          What words would we use to describe Jesus? What do you say about Jesus?
Voice B: Joseph’s son
Voice A: One of our own
Voice B: Hometown boy
Voice A: Nice to see him back
Voice B: Preacher man
Voice A: Confident
Voice B: Eloquent
Voice A: Confrontational
Voice B: Controversial
Voice A: Learned
Voice B: Dramatic
Voice A: Daring
Voice B: It can’t be?
Voice A: What did he say?
Voice B: Surely not?
Voice A: Where did he get that idea?
Voice B: Amazing
Voice A: Arrogant
Voice B: Full of himself
Voice A: Joseph’s Son?
Voice B: In our hearing?
Voice A: Fulfilled?
Voice B: Isaiah’s words?
Voice A: In Jesus?
Voice B: Mary’s boy?
Voice A: I remember him when he was 12
Voice B: I remember him when he was 2
Voice A: He had less to say then
Voice B: Heal yourself?
Voice A: Heal your own self!
Voice B: Spiritual physician
Voice A: Theological doctor
Voice B: Sailing close to the wind
Voice A: Walking close to the wire
Voice B: These words?
Voice A: About him?
Voice B: Shocking
Voice A: Terrible
Voice B: Outrage
Voice A: Disturbing
Voice B: Antagonizing
Voice A: Alarming
Voice B: Astounding
Voice A: Unnerving
Voice B: And what do you say of Jesus?
Spill the Beans Issue 6

          What do we say about Jesus today? What do we expect from Jesus today? How do we know what Jesus expects from us?
          What do we say about our church leadership team? What do we say about our pastor? What do we expect from them? What does the community expect from this worshiping community?        
          What have we heard read from God’s word for us today? What are we going to do with it?
          God has known each of us since before we were born and he’s known all along what he’d like us to be doing. The rest is up to us to use the gifts of His Spirit, faith, hope, and…love.
          Thanks be to God for his patient, loving grace. Amen.