Have you ever been in a situation where you were meeting someone, for the first time and only had a vague description of what they looked like? If you were lucky, maybe they let you know what they were wearing. As Christians, if we are going to follow Christ throughout our lives,, then it would be important to answer the questions, how do we recognize the risen Christ? Looking at the New Testament, that was an important question for the early church. In several passages we read about encounters and metaphors that help us identify how Christ is present in our lives.
Recognition of Christ is sometimes slow in coming. Consider the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. They travel for miles talking with Christ without recognizing their friend. Yet, it was only when they broke bread together that they recall, “Weren’t our hearts on fire when he spoke to us along the road and when he explained the scriptures for us?” (Luke 24:32). Consider Mary Magdalene, where she is the first to discover the empty tomb and the risen Lord, she does not recognize him, assuming that he is a gardener who has moved the body. It isn’t until he says her name that she truly sees who he is.
Have you ever been touched by the compassion of another? Perhaps the risen Christ was extending you compassion through that person. Have you ever had a profound conversation with someone about suffering, death, and meaning, a conversation that awakened intensity in your thoughts and a general feeling that put your whole life in a richer, deeper, wiser perspective? Perhaps the risen Christ was moving through that person toward you. Have you ever found a community that revealed an abundance of life (John 10:10), a way of living overflowing with grace and delight? Perhaps the risen Christ was moving through them toward you.
How do you recognize the risen Christ? We listen to what is awakened in our hearts through deep conversations. We attend to the voices of compassion we grow to trust. We participate in a community of abundant life. Then we know that Christ is risen indeed! Through this Lenten time, I will be preaching a series called: Encountering Jesus. We will look at several encounters that Jesus had and how they can lift our hearts, empower compassion, and reveal abundant community. Please join us as we Encounter Jesus together!
We've been studying the Prophet Isaiah here at First Baptist since September and will continue on through November. We have looked at key passages that instill a sense of hope in the face of the Israelite despair at being taken into exile. The Babylonians had destroyed their temple, captured their king, and destroyed their city. Today, we too face a metaphorical exile of sorts with severe feelings of dislocation from cultural identity and disconnection from one another is more real despite the hyper technological connections found within our phones and social media. Studies show that Americans are literally dying of loneliness. And yet, out of the darkest of nights, hope remains possible with God! Then suddenly, in the midst of a desolate refugee camp of despair, far from home in a foreign land, Isaiah speaks: a change is finally going to come! They are not forgotten; in fact the opposite is true – the dawn of a new day is breaking!
Isaiah helped the Hebrew people to imagine reality differently, the possibility of a different world, a world that God has waiting for us! Jesus embraced this dream of a new reality. I am inspired to image the Body of Christ that is compassionate to the world’s forgotten and left behind. Whether that’s a dozen refugees on a rubber boat in the Mediterranean, a scared and lonely child separated from her family at our southern border, hungry kids in our community, a family huddled in a Syrian basement praying to survive another night … “For unto them a child is born, unto them a son is given.” (Isaiah 9:6). That’s the Gospel. That’s the dream God has for our world.
That calls to my mind the hopeful song, A Million Dreams, from the musical, The Greatest Showman –
I close my eyes and I can see
The world that's waiting up for me
That I call my own
Through the dark, through the door
Through where no one's been before
But it feels like home
They can say, they can say it all sounds crazy
They can say, they can say I've lost my mind
I don't care, I don't care, so call me crazy
We can live in a world that we design
'Cause every night I lie in bed
The brightest colors fill my head
A million dreams are keeping me awake
I think of what the world could be
A vision of the one I see
A million dreams is all its gonna take
A million dreams for the world we're gonna make
There's a house we can build
Every room inside is filled
With things from far away
The special things I compile
Each one there to make you smile
On a rainy day
However big, however small
Let me be a part of it all
Share your dreams with me
You may be right, you may be wrong
But say that you’re bringing me along
To the world you see
To the world I close my eyes to see, I close my eyes to see!
(by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul)
Do you see the world that Isaiah and Jesus dreamed? Pray that you might be open to the realities of the undying dawn of God’s Kingdom to enter our world through Christ in you! God has a beautiful vision “for the world were gonna make!”
I recently came across this beautiful song by Sara Bareillas, from the musical "Waitress". It speaks to the critical importance of a nurturing environment for dreams to be cultivated and grown. Basically, the song shares that dreams need a "Soft Place to Land."
It is my goal, everyday, as Pastor of First Baptist, to foster this reality in our congregation! We can be that "soft place to land" for God's dreams to grow inside and take hold of you! We can be that sense of place where God's dreams can shape and mold you into who God sees you can become! A place where hurt and shattered dreams can be mended. A place that knows that with God, "Nothing's impossible child!" That's what dreams need. That's what we are fostering here at First Baptist!
If you're "someone" longing to find your "song" this Holy Week, this might just be it. #JourneyToResurrection #DontLetTheLightOut
We celebrate the Risen Christ this Easter! Please join us as we not only hear the familiar story of Jesus’ resurrection, but also hear a lesser known passage written in Isaiah to the devastated exiles who had lost their land, their king, and their Temple. The disciples and followers of Jesus felt heartbreak and despair on that Sunday morning, like the Hebrew people in bondage in Babylon. As Jesus shows himself to be alive once more, the passage in the 49th chapter of Isaiah speaks of a God who has answered them, who has helped them, who has kept them, and has given them as a covenant. God calls on them to courageously say: “to the prisoners, ‘Come out,’ and to those in darkness, ‘Appear.’”
As we celebrate Jesus’ coming out of the tomb and appeared before the whole world demonstrating a power and love that the world had not yet imagined, Isaiah’s usage of two little Hebrew verbs also suggest the cosmic purposes of God for his people. The two mandates are first to “come forth” and free the prisoners- free people from their fear, anxiety, despair, hunger, poverty, shame and guilt. Second, we are to announce to the invisible, those in the shadows, at the margins of our society, “Appear!” The power of the resurrection and the life of Jesus is to authorize all persons, all exiles, all marginalized to be fully present and visible, to be fully reconciled to life in community.
So, as we celebrate the reality of Jesus’ coming forth out of the tomb and appearing to the world, we also understand our new role to utter and enact these two little verbs: come forth and appear, so that we might become the covenant that God is seeking in the dawning Kingdom of Heaven!
We now come to Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem this Palm Sunday! He has just come from Bethany, where his raising of Lazarus from the dead made made him a first century rock star! The crowds shouted “Hosanna!” as a word of welcome greeting. Today, we use this often as a word of praise, but it was originally a word of pleading. It welcomed the one who arrived and called for the fulfillment of promises. Realizing this, we can see why the crowd who was so excited on Sunday shouting “Hosanna!” did not oppose the crucifixion of Jesus by Friday. Perhaps many of these same people, seeing that Jesus had not upheld their expectations of a political-militaristic messiah would have become disappointed to the point of shouting “Crucify him!”.
We have a similar problem with “Hosanna!” today; as we make God in our image, contort God to our desires, connect God to our tribal expectations. Let’s not limit the work of God in our lives and relationships with shortsighted understandings. Let us shout “Hosanna!” in faith and trust that wherever God wants to lead us, we will go! Let us welcome that reality this Palm Sunday!
What does it mean to be anointed? Anointing was a common ancient cultural practice. Shepherds often poured oil on the heads of their sheep in order to protect them from insects that would burrow in their ears and kill them, contributing to anointing becoming symbolic of blessing, protection, and empowerment. The Jewish people anointed the altar when making sacrifices. Spiritually, anointing was related to the idea of strength or blessing. Priests were anointed with oil, later followed by Samuel anointing both Saul and later David (one of our texts this week) as kings of Israel. This anointing signified a person as a chosen one among the people.
In the New Testament, we are told God anointed Jesus with the Holy Spirit: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor" (Luke 4:18.) In Acts 10:38 it says, "God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power." This was a term used to emphasize Jesus as the chosen one of God.
In our texts for this week, we see the anointing of David and also Jesus with expensive perfume by his friend Mary, the sister of Lazarus. What do these passages say about the calling of the anointed? What is God calling you to become? What have you been anointed to do? Come and worship with us this Sunday as we explore these questions.
(This reflection is drawn from Jeremiah 2-:7-13)
When Jeremiah was called to speak to the devastated people of Israel, he had “something like a burning fire shut up in [his] bones.” He had a prophecy too explosive to tamp down and a God who prevailed alongside him against his fear. But when his warnings of judgement landed him in chains, Jeremiah’s faith was tested and he responded with lament. Jeremiah even speaks of God overpowering him, as if his opponent is the Lord! Once Jeremiah expresses his grief and anger over what has happened to his country, he is freed from its grip upon his soul and is able to remember that God is warrior at his side who will not allow the enemy to prevail!
I believe the Church in America has lost the ability to lament. Property gospel vendors quip, “count it all joy,” as if our troubles are mere illusions. Just “name it and claim it” and the blessings will roll in as if lament is an evidence of failure and sinful shame. Scripture contains many voices of people crying out to God in their despair and anger with God; and there is much to lament in our world. Theological factions wage “culture wars” against one another defying God’s call for unity. I join Jeremiah as he painfully writes, “I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.”
I, too, am weary of gun violence in our schools, our houses of worship, our night clubs, our concerts, in our streets and homes. I want to cry out, “Why, O God, is it deemed acceptable for people to own fully automatic assault rifles?” I am saddened by the “lock-down drills” my children have to practice over and over. I want to angrily denounce our political leaders who allow very little restrictions around gun ownership or universal background checks. I am weary of the country we are becoming: a land where violence toward our children is an acceptable cost of protecting a “right.” How did we get here? How can we enact common sense gun laws that the majority of Americans and gun owners already agree with?
In the life of faith, we are given permission to lament, crying out at injustice, to scream “Why God!” God is big enough for our questions and our laments. God knows of our pressing need to get it out and yet many of us are afraid. We fear that we have somehow failed in being faithful. But we have not. We are being honest. And God wants an open and honest relationship with you more than anything! It is in this act of honest surrendering to God that we discover new hopes, God’s enduring presence, heartfelt praise and meaningful prayer. Did you know that there are over 40 Psalms crying out to God and all but one turn to hope (Psalm 88). God turns our sorrow into redemptive possibilities!
In the midst of so much struggle and sadness in the world, the Church has an opportunity to speak biblically and faithfully without ignoring reality, and we must start within. I must start within. If we fail (if I fail) to do this, the world will not see the hope that the gospel can bring to such a time as this. Indeed, this “time” is dark. Yet, despite the darkness of gun violence in our nation, we can and we must raise our prophetic voices and our actions to bring about reforms to our gun laws now. Is it possible? Indeed, it is: “‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him.’” (Lamentations 3:24)
Jesus called the religious authorities "slaves to sin." In John 8:35, Jesus explains this by saying, "The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever." God is offering us "home" - a place where we can be secure, safe, dream big dreams, and be who we are made to be: God's children! What is interesting to me is in discovering what comes before sin. It is insecurity. The common experience of the "slave" is insecurity, not having a sense of belonging, or a place in the world. Feeling left out, being discarded, not good enough lay the ground work for a life of desperation and "missing the mark" of God's intention for your life.
Why else did Adam and Eve sin in the garden as told in the second creation account in Genesis? Everything was good and they had everything they needed. But, the serpent told them that God was holding them back, preventing them from being equal with God. Suddenly, their sense of safety and security evaporated. This account speaks of not only how sin happened but how it happens everyday. Jesus is offering freedom from this slavery of insecurity and hopelessness. A home.
I recently took my kids to see the movie, "The Greatest Showman." It is such a beautiful musical about the life of legendary P.T. Barnum (played powerfully by Hugh Jackman). It speaks movingly of this dreamer who came from nothing and created a community of the outcast, deformed, and odd people who were living in the shadows of society in his new circus of "curiosities." He wasn't perfect, chasing "respectability" and ever increasing applause from the crowds, he failed his "community" for a time. What made me teary as I watched was the profound reminder of what the church is supposed to be was right in front of me. Creating a beloved community, a secure space for people to be the children of God, running counter to the grain of culture's shallow and oppressive norms. We may not be the "Greatest Show on Earth", but we, are called to a life of showing the love of God to the world!
Check out this video - this is church y'all! "And we will come back home, and we will come back home, home again!"
The sermon this week is where Jesus performs his 3rd “sign” in the gospel of John and first major controversy with Mosaic law by healing a man who had been paralyzed for 38 years. The man is healed and told to “stand up, take your mat, and walk.” Then the man is questioned by the religious authorities about his “work” on the Sabbath of carrying his mat. Everyone knew that this man had been paralyzed, but their work is one of enforcement of Sabbath law and he is condemned by them. The man seeks to avoid blame by essentially saying that he was just doing what he was told. Earlier he laid the responsibility of not being healed on others. Now he lays blame on his healer for breaking the Sabbath. The healed man failed to thank his benefactor or even catch his name! When Jesus encounters the man again, he warns him not to sin again. The man has not actively shown malice toward Jesus, but it appears that his passive attitude of exporting blame is seen by Jesus as irresponsible.
After this encounter, the man takes his own initiative to identify Jesus as the one “responsible” of his violation of Sabbath law. At best this is a thoughtless act of compliance with the powers that be. At worst, it is collusion with Jesus’ enemies. Regardless, it is a disrespectful reaction to Jesus’ gracious gift.
All of this must have been disheartening for Jesus. But perhaps most difficult to take was their insistence on a false understanding of the purpose of the Sabbath. The Sabbath is a gift to humanity, not a further obligation of hardship. Then Jesus really sets them off by saying: “My Father is still working, and I also am working.” (John 5:17) Jesus is saying that he and God are one and like the gracious gift given to the paralyzed man who poorly mannered in the face of the gift he has been given, the religious authorities are also missing the greater point of Sabbath rest by focusing on details of observance.
It brings to my mind Matthew 12:30, where Jesus says, “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” Jesus is doing the work of gathering his people together, but the authorities are using this gracious gift of the Sabbath as a means of scattering the people into further division and shame. God is still working on the Sabbath to gather us into his arms of love and fellowship every day because God does not need a break, but knows that we need a break from the values of Pharaoh as seen today in the nonstop production and consumerism. Let us accept this gracious gift with our whole hearts and thank God that God is still working!
I'm a follower of Christ, husband, father, friend, pastor, story teller, asker of questions, inspired by biblical narratives, social justice advocate, sports enthusiast, drinker of over priced coffee and general seeker of God's redemptive possibilities. Yeah, that about covers it. (If you discover something else, let me know!)