Loving Through Serving

1 Peter 2:16-25

Christians are servants. When we are baptized into Christ, we are meant to take Christ Jesus as our shepherd and guide in all circumstances.  But we are also meant to take Jesus as our example, to follow him and become like him. Because he lived as a servant to all, so we must become servants. Because he was obedient in all things to his Abba, so we must also be obedient in all things to him. Because he did not repay abuse with abuse, so we are called to repay threat and abuse with love and service.

It is one thing to practice servanthood and kindness with fellow Christians, and to forgive those who forgive us in the name of Jesus. Sooner or later, however, we will come in contact with people who are not Christians. People who will take advantage, who will threaten, who will sin against us.  How are we to treat such people? The author of 1 Peter says we are to respond as servants.  It is the great paradox of our faith that our freedom in Christ is best expressed by serving Christ…and we are called to serve him in all circumstances. In the end, it is when we serve Christ by loving others that the church has the greatest opportunity to evangelize. When encountering those outside the faith—even the most troublesome souls—our deeds will usually speak far more loudly than our words.

Growing in Love

1 Peter 2:2-10

A mother cradles her newborn, taking in its scent, and lovingly closes her eyes. She is searching her heart, straining inward to find the vision of everything this child will become when it grows up. A man sits proudly behind a desk at his new job, enjoying the moment. Right now, this moment, there are no responsibilities, no deadlines, no urgencies; just for today everything is potential. A farmer stands, sweaty and dusty, bathed in the golden light of a setting sun.  He face is lined with age, yet is a picture of contentment. The crops are in the soil, the days work is complete, and in time God will bring the increase to his fields.

In today’s lesson from 1 Peter, everything points forward.  For we are baptized in Christ, but our baptism is only the beginning. The house must still be built, the babe who needs milk must learn to taste the deeper truths of God. The congregation of redeemed sinners must grow into a royalty…a priesthood of believers. The church of God is a living thing, whose foundation is love and whose cornerstone is its faith in Jesus Christ. Like all living things, the healthy church is one that is growing and maturing. We are called to grow together in love.

Love Deeply, From the Heart

1 Peter 1:17-23

Love is the foundation stone of all that is good and right in the world. It is the mine from which all of the wealth of God's great treasure-house is brought forth, the standard against which all that would call itself pure and holy is measured. It is love that redeems, love that sustains, love that endures, love that transforms, love that forgives. It is the very love of God that became flesh and walked among us in human form. Love alone remains—in spirit and song and sacred memory—after all else has faded and turned to ash and dust. Only love.

In Jesus we have already experienced God's love...a love like no other! But in coming to Christ we are only making a beginning. The author of 1 Peter reminds us that, as we are purified by God's holy love through obedience to the truth, we are now to complete God's love in us by sharing it in "mutual affection" toward one another. The love we share with one another must take on a more and more holy nature, until it perfectly embodies God's love toward us. The foundation-stone of God's church is the love, shared deeply, consistently, and from the heart.

A Living Hope

1 Peter 1:3-9

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…I took the youth group from FUMCO on a Spring Break whitewater rapids river rafting trip. It was a much anticipated, adrenalin-pumping Level III, IV and V thrilling experience—that is, until we got the briefing from the guide: “This is one of the first trips of the season with the new snow melt; it will be very cold. When I say paddle, you paddle until I say stop—otherwise the boat can overturn. If you fall out, float on your back with your feet forward, or your head will crash into a rock. When we can, we’ll try to fish you out so try to get to the shore.”

Once we were on the water, there was no turning back. You can’t ignore the rapids. Isn’t that a lot like our lives today, especially as Followers of Jesus? Wouldn’t it be ideal if we could avoid all the “rapids of life?” Of course, we can’t because we live in a very complex and compelling, unbelieving time of struggles, challenges, and temptations. Someone once put it this way: we are a G-Rated community living in a R-Rated world! But, thanks be to God that as we continue to live into the Celebration of Easter, we are surrounded with a living hope in Jesus Christ who rose from the deadness of this world!

The Apostle Peter (not Paul!) wrote these words of encouragement to those going through tough times like ours: In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed” (1 Peter 1:6-7).

This is so much more than just a pep talk or some political spin on an issue for us to just “hang in there.” Rather, Peter is reminding us of what is true in the promises of Scripture—that there is a wonderful joy ahead, even though we may have to endure many trials for a season. But just like Good Friday, a lot did happen in three days that brought us a new life that comes with a new perspective! This amazing and persistent confidence we now have in Jesus and in being among the people of God will let us face “the rapids”—so keep paddling in praise and glory of Jesus!

The Tumult Surrounding Jesus

Matthew 21:1-11

Jesus’ “triumphal” entry into Jerusalem initiates a week of events that would change our world forever. The large crowds, the laying down of garments, the boisterous singing of hymns and waving of lulabs (cut branches from palms and other trees) all tell an important story…one which the people of Jesus’ time would have instantly recognized. This scene served to proclaim Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah, who is the Son of David and rightful King in Jerusalem; the liberator of God’s people. The Romans would be sent home! God’s people would finally be free! 

Even though the crowds knew all the the words and symbolism surrounding Jesus’ dramatic entry into Jerusalem, in the end they would reject him. For rather than an army, Jesus brought disciples with him who practiced the way of love and forgiveness.  Rather than riding a powerful white war-horse, Jesus road on a young donkey, little more than a colt.  Rather than coming to confront and conquer, he came to suffer and give his life. He who once said “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart,” (Matthew 11:29) will now come to make those words real in his life and actions. 

Those of us who would expect God to fit neatly into our plans often miss the power and the subtlety of Jesus’ mighty act of salvation.  But those who listen for God’s living word with an open heart, and let God set the agenda, will instantly recognize in Jesus the fulfillment of all the “law and the prophets.”

A Walk to the Cemetery

John 11:1-45

Jesus and the disciples receive some troubling news: “Lazarus—whom you love—has fallen ill.” Jesus responds by doing…nothing. For several days! Jesus’ disciples believe that he is motivated by concern for his own safety in Lazarus’ home town, and they are relieved, until suddenly Jesus gets up and tells them he is going to Bethany, to Lazarus’ home, to “awaken” his good friend. Fearing the crowds who recently tried to stone Jesus, the disciples tell him, “We should just let Lazarus sleep, he needs the rest.” But Jesus isn’t going to a hospital or sick room. He is taking a walk to the cemetery.

Along the way, there are the questions—why didn't you come sooner, when it might have made a difference? When you have the power to open blind eyes, why didn’t you heal Lazarus? How are we supposed to maintain our faith in the face of death’s permanence? How can the promise of rising on the ‘last day’ ever compensate for my tears?

It’s a powerful, moving, emotional journey, whenever we make a walk to the cemetery with Jesus. But in the midst of this powerful time, an overwhelming truth emerges: even in the midst of death, through Christ we are in life. Lazarus, and indeed all who receive the living Word in Jesus, are able to come out the tomb because Jesus entered the tomb.

Due to technical difficulties, we were unable to capture an audio recording of this sermon.

When Jesus is Heard But Not Seen

John 9:1-41

Whenever someone is afflicted by suffering, lack, or dire circumstance, people will try to make sense of "why"? We prefer to have life's problems well-defined, lifted, turned this way and that, thoroughly examined for a way to make theological, ethical, and moral sense of it.  We want to develop dependable rules about life; to discover what to do (or avoid doing) in order to more predictably "deserve blessing and avoid punishment." Jesus offers no such rules, but rather, a relationship.

In today's gospel lesson, Jesus encounters a man who was born blind. Jesus' closest followers quickly call for the theological explanation: "whose sin caused this man to born blind?" Jesus rejects their question in order to reveal a greater lesson: the grace of God is unfettered and does not operate according to fixed rules. Jesus healed the man, but being touched by Jesus was no walk in the park. The man endured the scorn and skepticism of his friends, was abandoned by his family, and ultimately rejected and cast out by the religious leadership. All of this happened, though the man never actually asked to be healed in the first place! 

Through the eyes of faith in Christ we see that God's grace is free to touch and heal whomever, whenever, God chooses...and still some "love the darkness rather than the light." (John 3:19)