Tag Archives: resurrection

To Follow Jesus

(Click here to listen.)

Before I get started, I want to make an important disclaimer. There is no way the fullness of Jesus work that we celebrate today can be contained in one sermon or one book. The writer of today’s text ended his gospel with the words “25 Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.” John 21:25 So my words today are about one small yet significant piece of what we celebrate.

Today we declare with joy the resurrection from the dead of our savior. Jesus is risen! Those three words are packed with the hope of our lives, the promise of transformation, and freedom from the power of sin and death. I want to share with you an understanding of what we have been saved from and what we have been saved for. We often tend to focus our energies on one or the other, but I would like us to consider that we serve a God who operates by a different priority structure than the systems of control and domination that characterize human interaction. We are saved from sin in two ways: we are saved from the personal darkness within that drives us away from God and neighbor and we are saved from the systemic sins based on personal sin that govern the priorities of the world around us. What we celebrate today is our freedom from the power of death, freedom from the systems of death, and the resurrection which brings that freedom to us. When preparing his disciples for this freedom, and how things were to work under the authority structure of God, Jesus did something absolutely shocking.

3 Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; 4 so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 5 After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. 6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” 7 Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” 8 “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” 9 “Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!” 10 Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” 11 For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean. 12 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them. John 13:3-17

Jesus is amazing at showing us ways to be extraordinary in the mundane. Foot washing was a normal part of life in a dusty land with little to no sanitation where everyone wore sandals. When you went to someone’s house the first thing that would normally happen on entry is washing feet. In a poorer household, the host would have water available and you would wash your own feet. In a household with slaves the owner would ask a slave to wash the feet of his guests. And yes, “ask” is the right word. This task was so lowly that it was very bad etiquette to order a slave to wash your guests’ feet. John’s introduction of this act juxtaposes Jesus’ power and authority with his actions in a way that calls into question everything we think we know about the way God’s authority works. Before Jesus gave us his example it would be easy to interpret God as the stern, dictatorial, judge handing down laws based on his own whims and impossible to entirely please or appease. In Jesus we find a different perspective on what it means to be God and how God chooses to exercise authority, justice and mercy.

John tells us that Jesus’ actions on the night before he was killed were undertaken with the full understanding of having received power over everything. What would I do if I knew God had given me power over everything? Set myself up as absolute ruler of the world, gather the riches of the world to myself, appropriately “deal with” those people that tick me off, and change everything I don’t like about the way the world works. This is just off the top of my head, I am sure you could add to the list as well. Jesus, however, was operating from a different understanding of how Godly power functions. Godly power finds its expression in humble service, not grandiose self-promotion. Knowing this, Jesus, the Christ, the prophesied Messiah, the Son of God and Son of Man, the King of Kings, Emanuel, the Prince of Peace, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God noticed that no one had washed their feet or volunteered to wash the feet of others. Seeing this sad state of affairs he stripped off his outer garments, got a basin of water, wrapped a drying cloth around his waist, got down on his knees and began to wash the increasingly horrified disciples’ feet.

When Jesus finally got to Peter and began to wipe his feet Peter went into a full freak out. I am sure that he wasn’t the only one, but Peter wasn’t known for keeping things bottled up and in some ways I am sure Jesus knew what was coming, and was probably counting on it in order to drive the lesson home. Peter had struggled with this teaching of Jesus on the use of authority in the past, and I think that in this interchange we are witnessing just how hard this teaching is to accept. We have been trained that power exists to be served from a very young age. It is the way the world works, and we are told that of course powerful people should be served. It is what power is for. Anything else is crazy and would fall apart almost immediately, at least for the powerful. Peter still thought that he was on the Messiah gravy train and soon enough he would get to be served as one of the disciples of the Messiah. He was going to be rich and powerful and “what the…ahem…on earth are you doing? You can’t wash my feet! Are you crazy?!”

Jesus reply was basically, “No, Peter. I am not crazy, and if you want to have a part of the only sanity left in this world you will submit to my service.” Of course we know that Jesus was the one sent to restore sanity, to overturn the crazy rules of domination that held people bound to their sin. Of course Peter swung the pendulum too far in the other direction in his reply to Jesus, saying well wash all of me then that I might be even more a part of your work. In Jesus’ reply to Peter’s overcorrection we learn that Jesus serves in the way we need, not necessarily in the way we desire. The disciples were already on the right path, they just needed the dirt of what they had walked through to get to the path removed. Sometimes when we see the spots of dirt on us we overreact and try to get God to give us the full cleansing again since we must be horrible people if we got a bit of dirt on us again, after we have travelled all this way. That’s the way I have tended to react and it crippled me from allowing God to clean up my little messes. Let me tell you that no one judged me as hard as I judged myself over my weight. All I saw was an addiction to food and patterns of eating that were destroying me, and like some kind of idiot I couldn’t even stop myself. I knew in my heart of hearts that I was an unrepentant glutton and wondered how I could ever believe that I could be any kind of pastor with that kind of sin in my life. The world taught me that I had to be self-sufficient and deal with my messes without help, that I should be the one to wash my own feet. Jesus replies “If I don’t wash your feet you have no part of me, besides the rest of you is clean let me take care of your feet.” Jesus not only knows that in coming to him we were made clean, but he also knows that some of the voices we have been listening to are betrayals of the hope we have in him. We have walked through the muck and need our feet washed.

This passage foreshadows the cleansing service of the cross, in which Jesus took on the deadly, sin based, systems of domination and showed the victory that comes from humble service in the resurrection we celebrate today. On this day we can declare that the work of making us clean has been accomplished and, yes we need to wash our feet regularly because the roads we walk down take us through the muck and mire as we journey towards our Lord.  Do you know, really know, what Jesus has done for us? Can you accept the lowerarchy of Jesus way? The way of the suffering servant prophesied in Isaiah? Jesus reminds us that if he is our teacher and we name him as our Lord we must be prepared to serve, to lay aside our agendas and desires, instead serving others and accepting the helps we need to grow more Christlike. We must know that Jesus freely chose to die for us rather than operate according to the world’s priority systems; that his blood was shed according to his will so that we could be freed from the need to be self-serving and from that self-centered state set up systems of domination and judgment over others and ourselves. When Jesus stepped out of that tomb the lie of self-serving power was defeated. Now that he has done this work of ultimate self-sacrifice of pride and position it is on us to follow his example.

It is in coming together to serve each other that we can step away from the self-serving patterns of domination and be transformed into the blessed community of resurrection. It is here that we rebuild our connection to God and neighbor through humble service. In order for me to have gotten to this point in my faith I have needed my brothers and sisters to serve me, and be served by me. I must say that after 36 years of trying, failing, getting my feet washed and trying again I couldn’t be more blessed, and it is all because the community of faith has been around me to give and receive the grace Jesus has given us. In our time of open worship I invite you to listen for the voice of the Holy Spirit, to welcome the Spirit in and allow God to speak to and direct you on his path of humble service, into his way of being and doing what is right. After I share a song there will be a time of silence for five minutes then one of our youth will stand with the microphone. If God speaks to you with a message for the rest of the gathering weigh those words and then stand and wait for the microphone to be brought to you.

Will you let me be your servant
Let me be as Christ to you
Pray that I might have the grace to
Let you be my servant too

We are pilgrims on a journey
We are travelers on the road
We are here to help each other
Walk the mile and bear the load

I will hold the Christ-light for you
In the night time of your fear
I will hold my hand out to you
Speak the peace you long to hear

I will weep when you are weeping
When you laugh I’ll laugh with you
I will share your joy and sorrow
Till we’ve seen this journey through

When we sing to God in heaven
We shall find such harmony
Born of all we’ve known together
Of Christ’s love and agony

Brother sister let me serve you
Let me be as Christ to you
Pray that I may have the grace to
Let you be my servant too[i]

<Open Worship>

As we prepare to leave this place of celebration to rejoice with our families let us sing in joyful reminder of Jesus’ self-sacrifice in service to us.

[i] CCLI Song # 72673
The Servant Song
Richard Gillard
© Words: 1977 Scripture In Song (Admin. by Maranatha! Music (Capitol CMG))
Music: 1977 Scripture In Song (Admin. by Maranatha! Music (Capitol CMG))
For use solely with the SongSelect Terms of Use. All rights reserved. http://www.ccli.com
CCLI License # 378755

He Is Risen! Now What?

(Note: This week we had a little difficulty with our sound system and I had to re-record the first paragraph of the sermon. Click here to listen.)

All of the men who followed Jesus had tried their best to crawl into the deepest holes they could find in Jerusalem and see if they could pull the hole in after them. They had seen and heard of the brutal death that Jesus suffered, and they knew that one wrong move could put them in a similar situation. They were afraid and who could blame them? Would any of us do any different if we were in that situation? Try to put yourself in these disciples’ shoes for a minute. A week ago, Jesus entered the city to the “Hosannas” of the multitude, and over the course of the week those shouts changed to those of “Crucify Him!” The mob had been stirred up and the Romans were on alert. The entire city was just coming off the rest day of Passover and everybody was waiting to see if new violence would erupt, most likely directed at those who had openly followed Jesus. I wonder how many of us might have decided that discretion was the better part of valor and stayed hidden, I probably would have. But there were these women who followed Jesus, probably just as scared as the men, but they knew there was a job that had to be done. The body had to be prepared. On Saturday after the sun went down they went out and bought the spices they would need for the next morning. One thing to note is that the Jewish day begins and ends at sunset, so they had an hour or so to get what they needed. They woke up early the next morning and crept out to the tomb afraid of what they would find when they got there. When they got to the tomb it was open. Think about what might have been going through their heads when they saw the huge stone rolled out from in front of the tomb. Those poor women, already in a great deal of fear encountered the unexpected. Jesus wasn’t in the tomb anymore. The scriptures don’t tell us how long it took them to build up the courage to look inside. When they did look inside, all they saw was a young man in a white robe sitting up at the end of the stone Jesus body had been laid on. There was probably blood still on the stone, and the women, in their fear assumed the worst, that the body must have been stolen. On our end of history, we know what happened here, but those women had just suffered through two horrendous days, the loss of hope that came with seeing Jesus brutally killed, and now this. The “young man” in the tomb probably didn’t need a lot of insight or people skills to see the panic that was setting in and tried, unsuccessfully, to reassure the women. Having already confessed that I probably wouldn’t have been there, if I was, I think this would have been the last straw for me as well. Those women fled in terror and amazement, not daring to believe what was said to them, maybe not even having those words register in their minds until after the panic had faded.

The oldest manuscripts we have end the gospel of Mark at the end of verse 8, the rest was added in after other accounts had been written, and I think take something away from the purpose of the Gospel. As you read through Mark, there is a breathless excitement that runs through the whole book. Mark is filled with action, urgency and immediacy and keeps on going in this breathless style that tells of what Jesus did, and what he was thinking, and what his reactions were, and how he just kept plowing forward to this climactic conclusion of the death and resurrection, leaving the listeners wanting to find out what happened next. Listen again to the ending of the gospel.

When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. 2And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. 3They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” 4When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. 5As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. 6But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. 7But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” 8So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. Mark 16:1-8

 

There is a question here, underlying this text that we need to consider: what are we going to do with this message now that we have received it? This ending gives us an invitation and some instruction on how to proceed. The first words out of the young man’s mouth are “Do not be afraid/ alarmed.” In this narrative, it is pretty obvious that it must have taken a while for that to sink in. I think that we also can learn from this advice. We have a lot of fear broadcast into our lives. The news is on 24/7 with all kinds of stories on what is killing, or is going to eventually kill, you, the world is falling apart and you need to protect yourselves and your families. (This report brought to you by Bob’s Bunkers, providers of quality hidey holes. Survive climate change, asteroids, the Russian…ahem Muslim invasion, the breakdown of law and order, or the apocalypse of your choice in comfort and security.) Fear sells, and boy do advertisers, politicians, and news anchors know it. We are bombarded by messages that tell us to be afraid, be very afraid, and coincidently to buy a product, vote for a politician, or listen to the next piece of news in order to get a fleeting illusion of security or protection. When we believe those lies, the way we interact with the world comes to resemble that of the women and disciples, hiding behind the walls of our churches and homes and having less and less direct interaction with others. Believing these lies is a symptom of an incomplete faith, and the Young man in the tomb tells us what the cause is: We are looking for a dead, crucified Jesus in the tomb and not finding him. When we make decisions and live from a place of fear, we are forgetting about the resurrection. In terror and amazement we run away from the empty tomb.

The good news is that Jesus was completely aware of this and is right here with a message that He is going ahead of us and we will see him. The living Christ is here and the living Christ is with us, we only need to silence ourselves, turn off the TV, the computer, the phone, and the tablets, put down the newspapers and the magazines, pick up a bible, start praying and listen. When we focus instead on the good news of hope, on His kingdom and His way of being and doing what is right, we live in the victory of the resurrection. We then live in a world in which peace becomes not only possible, but the only possible choice. Through the presence of the resurrected Christ, another world is breaking into this one, and though there is still fear and everything is not as God intended it, we are given the ability to live into the values of that other world. We become witnesses to the existence and desirability of God’s way through word and deed, because we walk in the presence of Christ. This gospel ends with an invitation, and I want to extend that same invitation to you. Christ is right here with us, waiting for each of us to accept the peace that comes from following Him. Each of us has some way in which we fail, in which we allow the fears of life to sneak in and dictate some piece of our values, to treat some other group or person as someone less than a beloved bearer of the image of God, even to see ourselves as people less than beloved children of God. Now is the time for us to turn away from that which holds us back and prevents us from fully taking hold of the promised life of wholeness and well-being. Through the resurrection we have a Christ who is present to teach us himself if we would only listen.

As we enter into our time of open worship let me encourage you to listen with an attitude of humble obedience. In that attitude we enter into communion with God and each other, and I pray that each person in this room would be filled with the presence of God, that each of you would hear God’s voice speaking in the silence of your soul, and that you would obey that voice. He is risen! He is here! Let us listen together and place our lives in God’s hands as Jesus did before us.