Monday, April 28, 2014

Closed Doors

The ‘Door’, what does a door have to do with the resurrection? Last Sunday the ‘door’ to the tomb was rolled back. The stone was rolled away and the angel told Mary Jesus was risen from the tomb and would meet them all in Galilee.
The disciples in today’s gospel lesson are behind a ‘door’ that’s locked for fear the Jews will find them and crucify them.
We can understand their fear. Their leader, the Rabbi, is risen but they haven’t encountered him yet. So, they feel that they’re safer behind the locked door surrounded by friends. Even with that, Jesus appears in their midst offering them peace and the Holy Spirit.
Are ‘closed’ doors always a bad thing? Not always, sometimes, ‘doors’ need to be closed. Sometimes, we need them closed so we can be regenerated, renewed, because the world has drained away all our energy. Sometimes, the door needs to be closed so we can heal. So maybe, we shouldn’t be too critical of the disciples for being behind locked doors. Maybe they too needed to be renewed…and healed.
One good thing about doors is that they made to be closed…and opened. Eventually they would have to open the door and go out for supplies or back home or to Galilee to find Jesus.
As today’s reading tells us not all the disciples were present the first time Jesus appeared in the upper room. Thomas was absent. We don’t know why for sure. We heard Thomas speak to us a couple weeks ago why he wasn’t there.
It could be he was hiding behind another door. Maybe he needed to be with a friend who was able to reassure him. Maybe he decided they needed their food stock replenished. Whatever it was he wasn’t there the first time Jesus came.
He was there the next time. Again, Jesus appeared in the room among the disciples even though the door was closed and locked.
Now that closed door must have been important for John to have pointed out a second time that the disciples were behind a door that was closed and locked.
Don’t you kind of wonder why they were still hiding behind this locked door after Jesus had appeared to them the week before and given them his peace? It may have been that even though they had seen Jesus they still weren’t quite sure they could believe what they’d seen. So, Jesus came back.
This time, though, he focused his attention on Thomas. This must have been the catalyst that the rest of the disciples needed since after this the disciples left the room and went to Galilee in search of Jesus.
So, if we’re honest with ourselves, we’re most likely not much different from the disciples. We fear death enough that we will do just about anything to maintain our good health and be safe. Sometimes, we may even close and lock the door so no one can come in.
But that doesn’t keep Jesus, our Savior, out. Even though our doors are closed and locked he can still come in. 
Sometimes, even when we’re trying to lay low and hide from God because we’ve sinned and we know it and we know God knows it, God finds his way into our hearts past the locked door. He gives us his peace and his Holy Spirit reminds us, again, that we’re forgiven.
No matter how often we go into hiding or how well we hide ourselves God, Emmanuel, is always with us. He never leaves us. He never gives up on us. God’s always there. He was there for the disciples and he’s there for us.
So, this week, every time you encounter a closed door think about why it’s closed, what might be on the other side, and be reminded that even if you lock it Jesus will find a way to come in and give you his peace.
Thanks be to God for his grace. Amen.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Jesus Is Alive!

They’d all seen Jesus arrested, beaten, and carrying his cross. They’d all seen Jesus nailed to the cross. They’d all seen Nicodemus and Joseph take him down from the cross and wrap him in the spices they had and the cloths they’d brought with them. They’d seen him put in the tomb. They’d seen the stone rolled over the entrance. They’d seen the guards posted to keep anyone from stealing Jesus’ body.
On that Sunday morning when Mary went to the tomb and saw the stone rolled away she was sure the Jewish religious leaders had taken Jesus’ body. It wasn’t until she went back to the garden where Jesus was buried that she encountered the risen Christ. Then she knew for the first time that He was alive! She could hardly believe her eyes!
Can you imagine the emotions she must have been experiencing? You know she wanted to touch him, to hold him, to hug him close. Jesus told her not yet.
Knowing that Jesus was human like you and me don’t you wonder what he was experiencing? He had died, literally. His heart had stopped beating. His lungs stopped breathing. He was buried in a cold, dark tomb cut out of stone.
And now, he’s alive! Don’t you think the human part of him was having trouble understanding what had happened? He’s alive and yet he’d been dead.
Even Peter and John didn’t believe it, even when they saw it with their own eyes. They went away from the tomb sure that someone had stolen the body.  They didn’t even believe Mary when she came back and told them she had actually spoken with Jesus.
Is it any wonder when we tell that story today that people have so much trouble believing it? Is it any wonder that we doubt sometimes? How is it possible for someone to die, to be buried, and then be alive again?
Yet, that is what we believe. The cross is empty and so is the tomb. Jesus is alive! For us and the world that is good news because what Jesus said would happen actually did happen. Death was defeated.

Alleluia! Jesus is alive! 

Monday, April 14, 2014

My King Rides a Donkey

My King rides a donkey. Saying these words sounds a little silly. Who would follow a king riding a donkey? There’s nothing kingly about riding a donkey.
It’d be easier and probably there’d be more followers if the King came riding in on a white stallion like Hopalong Cassidy’s. Jesus wasn’t that kind of king.
Jesus had a different agenda. His was a triumphal entry, just not triumphant over another nation. The people didn’t know it yet, Jesus was going against Evil and he was going to win. He was going to defeat sin and death for everyone in the world. It was God’s free gift. That’s why he came riding in on a donkey.
It may have been in response to Zechariah’s prophecy in chapter 9 beginning with verse 9…
Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!
    Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
    righteous and victorious,
lowly and riding on a donkey,
    on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
10 I will take away the chariots from Ephraim
    and the warhorses from Jerusalem,
    and the battle bow will be broken.
He will proclaim peace to the nations.
    His rule will extend from sea to sea
    and from the River to the ends of the earth.”
You see, Zechariah knew many years ago that the Messiah was going to bring peace not war to the world. That’s why Jesus, our King, came riding into Jerusalem on a donkey. Jesus came to bring peace into the world, our world.
So, what’s gone wrong? If there are so many professing Christians in the world and they believe that Jesus came so that we might have eternal life and he was all about love and peace, why is there still war? Doesn’t it make you wonder?
A friend, Steve Plank, posted a cartoon on Facebook this week titled, “What Would Jesus Not Do?” Some of the things listed were harass single moms, beat homosexuals, picket their funerals, join a militia, own a weapon, burn a cross, hate his enemies, attack the poor, or put his name on merchandise.
Quite a few years ago I read a book called “In His Steps” written by Charles Sheldon. That book has sold over 30 million copies. It was about a pastor challenging his congregation to not do anything for one year without asking the question, “What would Jesus do?” 
When we read the gospel stories we soon see that Jesus wasn’t a warrior king. No, he was a king on a donkey, a peace-loving king. He came to Jerusalem with an agenda but it wasn’t to overthrow the powers that were in control of the city as some hoped the Messiah would do.
Jesus came with love for everyone in the world. He came riding on a donkey and because of that he presents some challenges for us not unlike the challenges of the pastor in Charles Sheldon’s book.
Jesus, since he loved the world he’d created so much, through his life challenges us to see humor in even the darkest times of our lives. We receive a diagnosis of cancer, our sister dies, a little girl dies in Omaha. It’s not easy to find the joy or humor in any of these instances.
Yet, Jesus came riding on a donkey with a smile on his face even though he knew he was going to die a gruesome death on a cross in a little more than days’ time. How could he do that? How does God expect us to do that?
I don’t have a really good answer for that other than to tell you because of what Jesus did for you and me Death no longer has any power over your life or my life. Because Jesus died carrying our sins on his shoulders to the cross Death is only a doorway to eternal life.
Knowing that doesn’t make it any easier for us to believe because the Evil One is always putting doubts in our minds. What if it’s not true? What if God’s not real? What if he doesn’t really love us unconditionally? What if?
That’s the challenge we have when we decide to follow our King on a donkey. Even when we don’t know how it’s all going to be in the end, through the power of God’s Holy Spirit we go on in faith because of the promise Jesus made to the disciples that one day he is going to return to take all of us home.
This week as we walk with Jesus through his last hours let’s remember his promise and know in our hearts that God’s love is enough. It will always be enough.

Thanks be to God for his love and grace. Amen.

Monday, April 7, 2014

New Life from Dry Bones

The life seems to have gone out of the Body of Christ. The Body of Christ looks as if it’s dying. It’s as if it’s gasping for breath and no one’s coming with a resuscitator.
Could these prophetic words God gave to Ezekiel be for us today? Instead of prophesying to the people of Israel who were in exile in Babylon could these words be for the people of Walnut, Iowa? Could they be words of hope instead of words of death?
God’s Spirit carried Ezekiel to the middle of a valley filled with dry bones. He asked him is he thought these bones could be living people again. Ezekiel knew that only God could answer that question.
So, to get back to my first question, “If the Body of Christ, the Church, is dying or maybe dead in some cases, is it possible to bring it back to life?” Like Ezekiel I say, “Only God knows.”
These are hard questions to answer. It takes faith to believe that these bones can live again. And, I believe, it takes something more than faith.
Faith is first and then the church needs to pray. It needs to go again to God’s word, read it and study it and discuss it. And then let the roots go deep into Christ; build lives on him and then…faith will grow strong in the truth of the Lord and overflow with thankfulness.
That’s what Paul wrote to the church in Colossae. He knew they were struggling. They were surrounded by the things of the world, the temptations of riches, other voices suggesting living differently than the Church taught. Thinking only of themselves, turning their backs on their neighbors who were struggling.
Paul said, “Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth.” They, and we, were to put to death all the sinful, earthly things lurking inside them…and us. Death to our old nature and in their place put on tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for our neighbor’s faults and forgive anyone who offends us.
So, why is the Body of Christ dying? There are some who would say it’s because the young families are coming to worship. Maybe it’s more likely that the Body of Christ isn’t thinking about the things of heaven but the things of earth. Maybe the old nature has been resurrected and mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience have been forgotten. Maybe the Church has forgotten how important it is to teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom God has given them.
God through Ezekiel, and Paul, gave the people a message of hope that they would live again. He could, and would put new life in their old bones. The bones would rise again from the earth and they would be filled with the Spirit of the Lord.
Is there hope for us in this message? I believe there is if we have ears to hear the message of hope and love coming to us from God. First and foremost we need to come and get on our knees and ask for forgiveness because we’ve sinned and given up. And then we need to take on the yoke of Jesus, again, and learn from him.
Then, life will again enter these old, dry bones. Then, the Spirit will breathe the breath of life into the Body of Christ. Then, through faith the Body of Christ will rise again.
As Paul said, “Devote yourself to prayer with an alert mind and a thankful heart…Live wisely among those who aren’t believers and make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be gracious and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone.” “After you’ve read this letter, pass it on.”
The Body of Christ isn’t dying. There is breathe in it yet. Some of the parts of the Body may not be working as well as they used to but through prayer, study, and faith it will continue to do God’s work in the world.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Thinking About the Psalms

Have you ever stopped to think about the author of the psalms, especially this psalm you heard read today, the 23rd Psalm?  The 23rd was one of the first psalms I memorized. I bet it was the first for quite a few folks.
It’s so familiar that if someone starts reciting it we pick up right along with them because it’s embedded in our brain. The words are so familiar because they’ve been recited for so many generations. Mostly at someone’s funeral service these days.
Even though there aren’t many sheep or shepherds around anymore we, who live in these rural communities, can still relate to a shepherd boy and a poet king.
This world we live in seems awful hectic at times and we long for still waters and green pastures. Or maybe it’s because of the long winter that we long for the still waters and green pastures.
And sometimes, because of cancer or heart problems or just our age we lift these words up again because we know that in our darkest times God is there and hears our prayers and petitions.
The farm where I grew up had, what I called, a crick running through it. I spent a lot of time alongside that crick because it was quiet there and I could sit and be alone with nature and talk with God. There weren’t any noisy sisters or brothers to bother me. There was just me and God and the crick. Maybe that’s why I find the 23rd Psalm so comforting; it takes me back to a more peaceful, quiet time.
When we read the psalm we understand that he may have been through some dark times, just like us. He may have had enemies, just like us. And he may have found hope in God by sharing a meal with the Lord, just like us.
Reading this psalm gives us a chance to walk with the psalmist as he talks about his trust and faith in God. We can connect with him as he searches for peace, comfort, and God’s grace.
Now there may be some folks who enjoy the hustle and bustle of work and the turmoil that surrounds us when problems develop and they don’t like or appreciate stillness.
But you know, we need the quiet times so we can be regenerated, renewed and strengthened. That’s why I go to Pilgrimage. There’s where I can be filled with God’s Spirit as I pray alone and worship with friends and celebrate the Lord’s Supper every morning as the day begins. My quiet stream was the Platte River and the food in the camp cafeteria was one of the tables the Lord prepared for me and my friends.
So, this week, think about where your quiet waters are, where the Lord prepares your table, where it’s at that you find new strength and the energy to go on. And thank God for the psalmist who these verses for us.

My good friends, God loves you and so do I. Thanks be to God for his grace. Amen.