Embracing Resurrection – Be The Change

Sunday’s Scripture Readings ~ Luke 24:1-12 and John 20:1-31

It’s Tuesday of Holy Week.  I am “in the weeds” of worship planning and studying and sermonizing for Easter Sunday.  Usually in The Sunday Stiletto I offer marinatings from the sermon to be shared on Sunday…

But this week…

I’m not doing that.

Why you may ask?  Because I don’t want us to race towards Easter.  In the liturgical calendar of the church we celebrate Palm Sunday and then the next week we celebrate Easter.  That makes sense because Jesus entered Jerusalem and then a week later he was resurrected.

But when these are the only two moments in the Passion narrative that we visit…well then we miss a whole lot.  Some of us celebrate Maundy Thursday and Good Friday and that’s great.  I would encourage you, though, to back up a little more and marinate on the teachings Jesus offers us on Holy Monday, Holy Tuesday, and Holy Wednesday.

There is some good, strong, firm, heavy, important, life-giving, life-saving stuff in there.  And the only way we know that it is in there…is if we take the time to read it for ourselves.

Remember Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey; therefore, he couldn’t hurry down mainstreet Jerusalem because the word hurry isn’t in a donkey’s vocabulary.  Donkeys don’t gallop or dash like horses.  Each step of a donkey is calculated and measured and intentional.  Their steps and movement are their own decision not the decision of the rider.  I believe Jesus’ four-legged companion and transportation device moved at a sacred pace, which is the pace that Jesus used throughout his ministry, making calculated, measured, and intentional steps.

Jesus continues this sacred pace in his final days.  For the remainder of this Holy Week I encourage you to take a page from the donkey’s book and join Jesus in their sacred pace towards Calvary, the tomb, and then finally a stone rolled away.

And do a little reading while you’re at it.

Prayer: Gracious God, as we enter this Holy Week, strengthen us to move beyond the festive parade of palms and to follow Jesus into the way of the cross, that united with him and all the faithful, we may one day enter through the gates of righteousness into the eternal city, the New Jerusalem, where we may praise you with Christ and the Holy Spirit forever.  Amen.*

* Prayer from Feasting on the Word: Liturgies for Year C, Volume 1, 131.

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Unrest: Mounting Responsibilities

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Matthew 25:14-30

This Sunday is Palm Sunday!  Huzzah!  Jesus has arrived in Jerusalem!!!

But I won’t be preaching on that text…where would the fun in that be?  Although…I do have a really great sermon on the donkey Jesus rode into Jerusalem…everyone needs to hear at least one sermon on a donkey in their life…if you’re interested in that one check back with me on Sunday, April 13, 2014.

*super early sermon planning – awesome*

The text for this week is the Parable of the Talents – easily one of my favorite parables; although, it is a rough one.  The first time I heard it I was absolutely captured by the thought that Jesus could turn to me and say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”  I remember one of my youth pastors (now we are colleagues – woah!) growing up teaching on this parable.  Alex spoke with such conviction about this parable – to use what we are (what I am!) given by God to the fullest – each and every day – so that we are (I am!) counted among the faithful at the time of judgment.

This message wasn’t to scare us into service – like you better do this or Jesus will getcha!  No.  That wasn’t the message…there were other organizations in town that played that tune.  One even had an event each year called “Hellbound”…imagine a haunted house scenario that groups would proceed through but each “room” was a different spectacle of someone that had unfortunately met his or her demise and didn’t know Christ; therefore, they were Hellbound.  Everything from drive-by shootings to car accidents to substance abuse to suicide to the steps of an abortion clinic.

Rough.Stuff.

Not my cup of…coffee.  (I don’t drink tea.)

We have talents so we can use them to the furtherance of God’s Kingdom on earth.  Not a use ’em or lose ’em mentality.  Not a use ’em or else mentality.  But a use them because God gave them and I am so overwhelmed and excited to receive them that I can’t do anything else!  That kind of mentality.

Each talent we receive from God is an opportunity – an opportunity to act, an opportunity to respond.  And I think the last thing that God wants is for these talents, these opportunities, to be missed.  If we miss them, then they are gone…and that negligence and carelessness is what will keep us from among the faithful.

I think what frightens folks – I know at times it frightens me – is that we receive a talent and that introduces us to an opportunity, but we are hesitant to get started – to jump in with both feet – because we can’t see the end result…where in the world will this take us??  I am sure if God wanted us to know that immediately, God would tell us upon our receipt of the talent.  That we don’t know is evidence that God wants us to trust – to trust God to do what God does – that God gives generously and rewards greatly and invites us to come along in faith.  We don’t know where our feet are going or on what they will land, but God does, and that assurance should be our motivation to get out there, to carpe diem it up, to get dirt under our fingernails, and to serve so as to hear “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Reflection: What talents has God given me?  Am I athletic, an effective communicator, a good listener, an artist, a musician, a dancer, a financer, a hair dresser, a gentle hand, a kind heart, a candlestick maker?  If I struggle to identify my talents, who can I talk to in order to discern them?  How can I use my talents for God’s purposes?  How is God calling me to use my talents?  If I am resisting the opportunities that my talents present me, how can I start to engage them?  Who can hold me accountable to employing my talents?

Prayer: Take my life, and let it be consecrated, Lord, to thee.  Take my moments and my days; let them flow in ceaseless praise.  Take my hands, and let them move at the impulse of thy love.  Take my feet, and let them be swift and beautiful for thee.  Amen.*

*”Take My Life, and Let It Be” from The United Methodist Hymnal Book of Worship, 399.

Unrest: Hearing Shame

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Lamentations 1:11c-22

This Sunday marks our downhill descent towards Easter.  It’s week five of Lent.  We are drawing that much closer to Calvary.  As Jesus drew closer to Calvary his circumstances became more and more perilous with opposition mounting against him – it seemed – at every turn.

In the midst of Unrest I feel that opposition has been mounting against us as well.  We have explored injustices against God and injustices against our neighbor.  We are all guilty of both.  Romans 3:23 confirms that all have fallen short of God’s glory because of our sin.  Romans 6:23 states that the wages of sin is death.

For all the wrong we have done…for all the wrong we will ever do…the weight of that shame is crushing.

Daughter Zion explores that shame in the lament selected this week for the Scripture passage.  She is laid waste as consequence for her sin.  She is alone.  She is mourning.  She is longing for justice…even though justice may not bring her the comfort she desires.  Nevertheless, she spells it out.  She lays it all on the table.  She is vulnerable.  She expectantly awaits healing.

I believe Daughter Zion has an important lesson to offer us in her lament: to take care to spell out all the wrong in our lives – against both God and neighbor.  It’s important to name these wrongs – these sins – because we live in a culture that has perennial amnesia and blind eye towards sin.

Personal sin.  Communal sin.

It’s like we are immune to it…it happens and we shrug it off…no big deal.  Or it happens…but everyone else is doing it…no big deal.

Wrong.  It is a big deal.

The sin and the shame that accompanies it should be so much that we are crushed under its weight…that we find ourselves in a state of great loss…grasping at straws, grasping to stand before our God and ask forgiveness. But how do we know what to ask or seek forgiveness for if we refrain from consciously and intentionally exploring how we have wronged God and neighbor?

Now I realize this would, could, can be an exhaustive process.  I realize there are sins in my own life that happened and at this point I cannot recall them so as to list them all out: A….B….C….

But, I am conscious of my sin.  I am conscious of societal and systemic sin.

And even more so, I am conscious of God’s grace that is greater than all sin.

If I or any person were to enter into the vulnerable place of exploring our sin and shame before God, then I believe we also need to enter into the vulnerable place of receiving God’s grace.  God’s grace is the justice God extends to fallen humanity – fallen you and fallen me.

God’s grace, at times, is hard to receive, especially if we feel we are undeserving of such a magnanimous gift because of our sin.  Yet, God continues to give “grace, grace, God’s grace, grace that will pardon and cleanse within; grace, grace, God’s grace, grace that is greater than all our sin!”*  God gives grace and God’s grace readies us to receive grace – wholly and perfectly.

Earlier we read Romans 3:23 and 6:23…but we cannot stop reading there…just like we cannot stop and wallow in our sin and shame.

  • “All have sinned and fall short of God’s glory –> but all are treated as righteous freely by his grace because of a ransom that was paid by Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:23-24).
  • “The wages that sin pays are death –> but God’s gift is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23-24).

Our promise, our guarantee,  our salvation is that God is eternally moving us towards eternity – free of sin and shame – through the power of God’s amazing grace.

PrayerO God, just as we look into a mirror to see any soiled spots on our face, so let us look to you in order to understand the things we have done amiss.  We are like a reed shaken in the wind; we are inexpressibly weak.  Leave us not to ourselves, but dwell in our hearts and guide our thoughts and actions.  Amen.**

*”Grace Greater than Our Sin” United Methodist Hymnal, 365.

** “For Guidance” United Methodist Hymnal, 366.

Unrest: Injustices

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Zephaniah 3:1-13

This week the attention in our Unrest sermon series focuses on injustices:

  • Injustices towards God
  • Injustices towards neighbor

As I marinate on injustices and how to resist inflicting them on God and neighbor, I give great thanks that I am Wesleyan and have a wonderful Wesleyan way to guide me (and us!) towards love and care of God and neighbor.

Shall we take a walk down memory lane?  It was 1739 and folks approached John Wesley in London seeking guidance, reflection, and direction in their spiritual lives.  John agreed to meet with them, to direct them, and as other people heard of this opportunity, they wanted to join as well!  The group swelled to a size that John couldn’t continue with one large group and provide the level of guidance they desired.  And *boom* small groups in the Methodist tradition were born!  John called these smaller groups Methodist Societies.

A Methodist Society is “a company of [people – Wesley wrote men – forgive me JDubb but I’m moving towards inclusivity] having the form and seeking the power of godliness, united in order to pray together, to receive the word of exhortation, and to watch over one another in love, that they may help each other to work out their salvation” (The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church 2008, Paragraph 103).  Within each Methodist Society – which were organized geographically – were again smaller groups of folk known as classes that met regularly to answer the deep, vulnerable, probing question “how is it with your soul?”

These historical Methodist societies have evolved into what we know today as local United Methodist churches (and other churches in the pan-Methodist tradition).  Persons who desired admission into these historical societies needed only “a desire to flee from the wrath to come, and to be saved of their sins” (BOD 2008, Paragraph 103).

That sounds like one of the reasons that persons still seek out community in our local churches today!

But wait…there’s more!

Admission to the society was based on “a desire to flee from the wrath to come, and to be saved of their sins.”  But then there were (and are) guidelines for how persons in the society would act towards one another – towards their neighbor – and ultimately towards their God.

*drum roll*

The General Rules were given as guidelines for the early Methodist societies – how they would live and be and thrive together in community.  Simply stated The General Rules:

  1. Do no harm, by avoiding evil of every kind
  2. Do good
  3. Attend upon all the ordinances of God – participating in public worship, engaging the ministry of read and spoken Word of God, Holy Communion, private and public prayer, study and meditation of Scripture, fasting.

(They are completely outlined in the BOD, paragraph 103.  Fun times.  Seriously.)

Our neighbors experience injustice at our hands when we do harm, neglect good, and disregard the means of grace through which we encounter God and learn how God wants us to care for others.

One author has recast the third General Rule as “stay in love with God.”  But saying “stay in love with God” sounds so cloistered to me.  We are meant to be in community, not tucked away in our own little spiritual domains.  True, we need that quiet time, to work out our salvation personally, but we equally need the time that we work out our salvation in community – with our neighbors – those known and those we have yet to meet.

We would probably excel at doing no harm if left all by ourselves, but can we really do good if the only good we are doing is for ourselves?  I don’t think that is goodness…I think that’s self-centeredness and when we are navel-gazers then we aren’t attending to the greatest commandment – to love God with all that we are and with all that we have and to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Do no harm – do good – attend upon the ordinances of God.  The General Rules center us in holy living.  Wesley believes holy living leads us towards true happiness – and the unity of holiness and happiness is the mark of the Christian life.  I believe we are called to manifest the unity of holiness and happiness in community, and doing so will keep us from inflicting injustices upon God and neighbor.

Reflection: How is it with your soul?  How are you living into and living out The General Rules? In what areas do you excel?  What areas are growing edges?  How can you come alongside others in accountability as together you live and thrive together in community?  How can others come alongside you?

Prayer: I am no longer my own, but thine.  Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.  Put me to doing, put me to suffering.  Let me be employed by thee or laid aside for thee, exalted for thee or brought low for thee.  Let me be full, let me be empty.  Let me have all things, let me have nothing.  I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.  And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, thou art mine, and I am thine.  So be it.  And the covenant which I have made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven.  Amen.*

*A Covenant Prayer in the Wesleyan Tradition (The United Methodist Hymnal: Book of United Methodist Worship, 1989, page 607)