GCI Equipper

Three Questions We Must Answer

As we focus on the Love Avenue and our theme, Compelled by Love, there are three questions each one of us needs to address.

There is a lot of enthusiasm in GCI as we focus on the Love Avenue and reaching out to our neighbors and friends, but there are also a lot of questions. How do we do this? Why are we doing this? Is this really our calling? What can my little group do? What does this mean for me and my personal life? I submit these questions are mostly addressed when we answer the three main questions for every Christian. Who is Jesus? Who am I in relation to Jesus? Who are others in relation to Jesus? The answer to these questions gives us the Why of the Love Avenue and our participation with Jesus.

 

Who is Jesus?

It seems such a simple question with an obvious answer. He is the Son of God and the Son of Man. He is the one to whom has been given all power and authority on heaven and on earth. He is the one who promises to be with us always, even to the ends of the age. But what does this mean? What does knowing who Jesus is have to do with the Love Avenue? And where do you start? Depending on how you count them, you can come up with more than 135 names and titles of Jesus – each one of them important. Your priority list may differ from mine but let me share the titles that help me focus on the Love Avenue and my part in it.

  • The Savior: Jesus is the savior of the world. I used to believe that Jesus came to just save a few. But that’s not what Scripture tells us. The Bible tells us Jesus is the savior of the world (John 4:42; John 3:16-17; 1 John 4:14; Luke 19:10; Luke 2:11; 1 Timothy 4:10) who came for all. For years I struggled with the concept that God came for all until I was asked by a good friend and mentor, “Who specifically did he NOT come to save?” That question stopped me in my tracks. Is there someone, or a group of people I believe Jesus did not come to save? Perhaps it’s people who believe differently than me, or who look differently than me, or who have a different lifestyle than me, or who are deceived differently than me. Jesus is the one and only Savior for all who needed to be saved—and that includes everyone.
  • The One who forgives: Jesus is the one atonement for all sin. When Jesus was on the cross and said, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do,” who was he referring to? Who was the “they” he prayed for? The Roman soldiers? Caesar? Pilate? The Sadducees and Pharisees? The crowd calling out against him? The disciples? His family? The rest of the crowd? Yes! Yes to all. Again, a long time ago I was asked the question, “When Jesus said Father forgive them, who did he exclude?” Jesus never said, “Father forgive all but….” Paul reminds us that ALL have sinned, and the same ALL have been forgiven. Some believe and live in that forgiveness; some don’t believe and still live in the misery of their guilt and shame.

The Bible tells us Jesus became our sin. He became the propitiation—the appeasement or satisfaction—of our sins by his blood (Romans 3:24-25). This is the heart of the gospel message; our sins have been removed because we have been forgiven. We are no longer dead in our sin because we’ve been made alive in Christ (Ephesians 2). Jesus is our redeemer – the one who pays the ransom for us (John 1:29; Galatians 4:5; Ephesians 1:7; 1 Peter 1:18-19; 1 John 2:2). He paid the penalty for our sins, and because of that we walk forgiven – in the freedom of his mercy and grace.

  • The Reconciler: Sin made humanity feel guilty and it was easy to fall for the lie that God was mad at us, turned his back on us and would not – indeed could not – be in the presence of evil. I heard this lie preached for years. One variation might be, since we have all sinned and fallen short God cannot love us. Another states that because of sin and the fall of humanity, God had to turn away and we were all subject to his wrath. Books have been written about God’s wrath and God’s anger, and how sinners would be dealt with in the hands of an angry God. False teachings about ever-burning infernos in different levels of hell and eternal torment have scared millions into believing God is enraged and looking for ways to dispense his wrath. The idea that a holy God cannot be in the presence of sin and evil have made many give up, believing God has already rejected them or that their sin is too much for God to forgive.

Jesus came to reconcile us to God by revealing his true nature. God has often dwelled in the presence of evil. The Bible tells that Lucifer and a host of angels rebelled among the heavenly hosts. Since God is not in a given place, and there is no place he is not, this rebellion was in his presence. He dwelt in the midst of the camp of Israel – among sinners. Jesus, who is God in the flesh, came to live among sinners. The Holy Spirit lives in you as he turns your heart to repentance to see God as Father, Jesus as Lord, and the Holy Spirit as teacher and comforter.

God hates evil because of what it does to us, but he does not hate those who have been deceived by evil. He is not afraid of it, doesn’t have to run from it, and certainly does not lash out at his beloved because of their sin. He is our Father, our Abba (loosely translated as Papa). He loves us enough to send his Son to us so we can be redeemed, so we can see our value, so we can be forgiven and experience his love. Jesus came so we could be reconciled to God – so we could see we are adopted, cared for, loved and included in the communion shared by Father, Son and Spirit.

Who am I in relation to Jesus?

The answer is simple and profound. I am saved. I am forgiven. I am reconciled. I am a unique expression of God’s love. I am known by God. I am rescued. I am born again. I am adopted. I am a reflection of Jesus. I am called a masterpiece. I am bought with a price. I am free. I am blessed with every spiritual blessing in heavenly realms. I am a co-heir with Christ. I am a beloved child of the Father. I am the brother of Jesus. I am accepted. I am the friend of Jesus. I am the image of God. I am holy and blameless in him. I am chosen. I am redeemed. I’ve been justified. I’ve been sanctified. I am a citizen of heaven. I am a child of the promise. I am a new creation. I am loved.

As a result, I live and walk in a freedom not known by too many. I walk in confidence, knowing my future is sure. I have been invited to participate with him in seeking and saving the lost. I’ve been invited to join him in fulfilling the Great Commission – realizing I am working alongside the one who has been given all power and authority on heaven and earth, and that he will be with me always. Because I know his work is good and will be fulfilled, and because I know I am a citizen of his kingdom, I have permission to not get as caught up in the evils in this world because I know there is only one solution, and he is already in charge. I can’t fix the political mess; I can’t fix social injustice; I can’t fix or stop hate; but I know the one who can. I will follow him as he leads me. I will love because he loves.

Who are others in relation to Jesus?

Again the answer is simple and profound. They are saved, they are forgiven, they are reconciled. The sad truth is many don’t know this yet. They live in darkness because they haven’t been brought into the light. Jesus invites us to bring them into the light. He invites us to reveal the truth of who they are and help them leave shame and guilt behind. He invites us to help them understand they are loved, they are worthy, they are valued. He invites us to stand beside those who are hurting and give them comfort. He invites us to stand up for those who are mistreated because they need to know they are valued. He invites us to see others as he sees them, to see his love and compassion for them and then act accordingly. Because we know Jesus, we want others to know him as well. We want them to live in the truth of who they were created to be. We are compelled by love to love others. This is the foundation of the Love Avenue.

Jesus, help me share your love,

Rick Shallenberger

Spiritual Practices for Easter Preparation

The 40 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday give us a beautiful opportunity to implement some spiritual practices as we prepare our hearts for renewal.

By Jillian Morrison, Associate Pastor, Glendora, California

I’ll admit that even as a Christian and someone who grew up going to church, I’ve often underestimated the profound significance of the cross and resurrection of Christ, and how it defines me and my life forever.

If not for his willing death and surrender to the Father’s will, I would still be dead in my sins. If not for his resurrection, I would have no hope of eternal life with God and no hope of experiencing Christ’s resurrection life here and now.

This amazing truth is worth meditating on, even for as long as 40 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday. What a beautiful opportunity we have each year to set apart a period of time dedicated to coming honestly before the Lord and preparing our hearts for renewal.

As you observe the Easter Preparation season, consider a fresh approach to fasting and other spiritual practices to help you grow deeper in your love for and identification with Christ.

Fasting (and prayer)

According to Adele Ahlberg Calhoun in her book, Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices That Transform Us, fasting during this season “reminds the church of how Jesus gave up everything – even his life – for us.”[1] She explains:

Fasting is not a magical way to manipulate God into doing our will; it’s not a way to get God to be an accomplice to our plans. Neither is fasting a spiritual way to lose weight or control others. Fasting clears us out and opens us up to intentionally seek God’s will and grace in a way that goes beyond normal habits of worship and prayer. While fasting, we are one on one with God, offering Him the time and attentiveness we might otherwise be giving to eating, shopping or watching television.[2]

Many people fast during the days leading up to Easter. Instead of just fasting, fast and pray. Better yet, invite others to join you. Invite your pastoral team, church members, family members, and friends to join you in your Easter Preparation journey. Share with one another what you’re fasting from and what prayer requests you have during the 40 days, and touch base with each other once a week.

Observing Easter Preparation with other believers will not only make the journey more enjoyable, but will also give each of you the accountability to persevere by lifting one another up in prayer and affirmation.

It’s important to keep in mind that fasting doesn’t necessarily mean fasting from food or entire meals. Be sure to listen for a nudge from God if you are to fast specifically from food and refer to health guidelines before starting a fast. We may ask God to help us fast and be free from unhealthy habits like busyness, comparison, worry, greed, self-pity, self-sufficiency, resentment, complaining, bitterness, envy, pride, and the list goes on.

The spiritual desire behind fasting is “to let go of an appetite in order to seek God on matters of deep concern for others, myself and the world.”[3]

We don’t fast in order to seek after our own will, but to seek the will of God and his heart to heal our world.

Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter?” (Isaiah 58:6-7a NIV)

We fast to identify with the complete surrender of Christ to the will of the Father. From the 40 days in the wilderness to the agony of Gethsemane, we have Christ as our model and our strength to say, “Father, not my will, but Yours be done.” (Luke 22:42)

The spiritual practice of fasting can include:

  • Seeking strength to persevere, obey and serve
  • Repenting and waiting on God
  • Overcoming addictions, compulsions and cravings
  • Addressing excessive attachments or appetites and the entitlements behind them, and partnering with God for changed habits
  • Abstaining from food, drink, shopping, desserts, chocolate, etc. to intentionally be with God
  • Abstaining from media like TV, radio, music, e-mail, cell phones, and computer games to allow space for listening to the voice of Jesus
  • Abstaining from habits or comforts in order to give God undivided attention[4]

The God-given fruit of fasting can include:

  • Keeping company with Jesus in complete surrender
  • Praying for needs in the body of Christ
  • Identifying with and fellowshipping with Jesus by choosing to follow his sacrificial example
  • Freeing up more time for prayer
  • Repenting of self-indulgent, addictive, or compulsive behaviors
  • Letting these small deprivations remind you of Jesus’ great sacrifice on your behalf
  • Seeking strength from God for obedient love and service[5]

Here are other spiritual practices to consider during Easter Prep:

  • Slow down – Limit addiction to busyness, workaholism, and hurry; learn to savor the moment and stay present with Jesus.
  • Practice gratitude – At the beginning or end of each day, share with God three things you’re grateful to him for. Share them with your spouse, children or friends. You may wish to keep a gratitude journal if you prefer to write it down and keep a record to come back to.
  • Celebrate – Listen to, sing, dance, or make music about the cross. Sing and dance with your children or grandchildren. From traditional hymns to recent Christian hits, meditate on the lyrics and the powerful truth they proclaim about Christ and the cross.
  • Read through the accounts of Jesus’ life on earth in the Gospels.

May God bless you with renewed passion and transformation as you identify with Christ this Easter Preparation season!

[1] Adele Ahlberg Calhoun, Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices That Transform Us (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005), 219.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid., 218.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid.

You Are the Church!

When we believe we are the church, rather than church being a place where we go, our perspective and our reality changes.

By Sam Butler, Pastor, Grand Rapids, Michigan

What is the church? If we asked this question the typical historical answer would be something like, “the place where one goes on a particular day of the week to worship God, to fellowship, and to be involved in church programs.” The identification would be with a specific place, a building. If we conducted a street survey asking the question, “Where is the church?”, people would most likely point you in the direction of the local Catholic, Methodist, or Baptist church. The association would still be with a particular location or building. But if we want to understand the nature of the church, we cannot ask what and where questions. We need to ask the who question. Who is the church? And the answer simply stated is you and me. We are the church, the body of Christ, of which Christ himself is head (Colossians 1:8, Ephesians 1:21-23).

As individual members of the body of Christ, we are the church. It is so important that we see ourselves in this light. When we think of the church in what and where terms, it becomes easier for us to distance ourselves from the true reality of Jesus’ calling on our lives. When we believe we are the church, rather than church being a place where we go, our perspective and our reality changes. Church becomes a lifestyle, something we live into. We see Matthew 28:18-20 as a personal invitation to participate with what Jesus is doing. As we are going, we are to make disciples. As we live our lives on a daily basis, we participate with Jesus in his saving work.

Often, we can feel inadequate – feeling like we may not have what it takes. But when we think this way, we underestimate who Jesus is and that he is for us and with us. Understanding the role of the Holy Spirit is important here. Prior to his arrest, Jesus told his disciples that he would not leave them as orphans:

I will ask the father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—the Spirit of truth…. You know him for he lives with you and will be in you” (John 14:16-17).

Jesus’ presence in our lives today is through the indwelling of the Spirit, and where the Spirit is, there is the church. As individuals, we are uniquely qualified by the Spirit, who is in us and always with us. Our personalities, life experiences, and passions form us and are ultimately the gifting of the Spirit. They make us who we are in Christ. There is no one like you. You have been gifted for the church. Each of us is equipped for the work that Christ has for us, and through the Spirit we will continue to learn and grow. It is a lifestyle. We are the church!

As we explore this understanding there are several additional aspects that we must consider. As individuals, Jesus has not called us into a place of isolation; we need others. The church as the body of Christ is made up of many parts – that is, many people. Jesus has called us to be in relationship with others. What does this look like?

In describing a healthy church where people are working together for the sake of the gospel, GCI identifies three elements that are necessary: worship (the Hope Avenue), discipleship (the Faith Avenue), and mission or community (the Love Avenue).

We are the church when we gather for worship together (Acts 2.42-47). It is important to fellowship, share in communion, and share in the work of the gospel.

We are the church when we partner together with other churches and agencies in our communities. We as GCI congregations do not work in isolation. The body of Christ is greater than just GCI. When we engage with other likeminded Christians who believe as we do, agreeing that Jesus is Lord and that he calls us to love one another, then we work together for the sake of the kingdom. We engender a spirit of cooperation, not competition. It is healthy to have good relationships across the body of Christ.

Lastly, we are the church when we reach out in love and serve (Galatians 5.13). We are called by God to build relationships with the people who make up our communities. Jesus wants us to build lasting relationships, to make new friends. We get to know people new to us, and they get to know us; it is a reciprocal relationship. When we are compelled by God’s love everyone benefits.

When we are faithfully present in these areas the Spirit will work in all of us producing the fruit of the kingdom. This is God’s purpose for us. Jesus’ prayer recorded in John 17 reminds us of the incarnational love that God has for all of us. Jesus begins the prayer very personally:

Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do…. My prayer is not for them alone. I pray for those who will believe in me through their message…. Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them” (John 17:3-4; 20; 25-26).

As the church, the incarnational love of God is present in us through the Spirit. What a privilege it is for us to participate with Jesus in his continuing work of redeeming his creation.

You are the church!

The Gift of Liturgy

By Tim Sitterley, US Regional Director, West

Early in our marriage Linda and I were visiting the old Franciscan Mission in Santa Barbara California. We were in the mission’s visitor’s center, and I noticed a large and very old bible open to the Gospel of John. The Bible was in Latin, and since I had taken four years of Latin in high school, I was naturally compelled to try and impress my wife with my translation skills. About three verses into my translation the reflected image of an individual standing behind us appeared in the glass of the display case. The individual turned out to be a Franciscan friar, but since the hood of his cowl was up, all we could see was blackness where his face should be. I nudged Linda and said, “Look! It’s the angel of death.”

Booming resonant laughter filled the visitor center, and as I turned around my hand was firmly grasped by the beaming friar who looked like anything but death. Happy to see that he appreciated my somewhat irreverent sense of humor, we entered into a conversation about where I learned Latin, and the differences between my classical Latin and the Vulgate Latin spoken in the Catholic Church today.

Then, out of the blue he invited Linda and I to attend the Mass that was about to start in the main sanctuary. He said the service was totally in Latin, and that I would enjoy it. I made it clear we were not Catholic, but he assured me we were welcome to sit in the back, and as long as we didn’t come forward for communion, we could participate in everything else.

So there we were, sitting in the next to last row in a service neither of us had ever experienced. As the liturgy progressed, I at least had a hint to what was being said. The priest would recite “Agnus Dei” (Lamb of God) and the congregation would reply “qui tollis peccata mundi” (who takes away the sins of the world). They would stand up, so we would stand, but as we stood, they were sitting back down. They would kneel on the rail attached to the pew in front of them, so we would awkwardly kneel. But of course, they were standing back up as we were kneeling. This comedy routine lasted until deacons came down the center aisle with an offering basket on the end of a long pole, at which point Linda and I quietly made our exit. We totally missed the benediction.

I share this story because it demonstrates two things. First, it speaks to the response we’ve received from many when we encourage following the liturgical calendar, the Revised Common Lectionary, and the inclusion of various elements into the weekly worship service. And second, it also points to the fact that first-time visitors to our weekly service may be just as confused as Linda and I were, if we don’t adequately communicate what we are doing…and why.

First, let’s look at the concept of liturgy itself.

One of the first pushbacks I hear regarding the adding of liturgical elements is that liturgy is Catholic…and somehow therefore evil. First, our Catholic brothers and sisters are part of the same Body of Christ we are. And second, to make it very clear, liturgy is totally catholic. But if you are paying attention, I spelled catholic with the lower case “c”.

The word catholic means universal. Our liturgy has elements dating back to the Apostolic age. It has been used by Christians on every continent and in every age. The liturgy is filled with Scripture. Over the course of history, the church has dropped elements and added other elements. It isn’t my liturgy or your liturgy, or a Catholic/Lutheran/Episcopal/etc. liturgy. It is a catholic liturgy — a gift to us from the saints who went before us (even before there were any denominations to name). Isn’t it far more narrow minded to craft a service to meet the preferences and particularities of your individual congregation? Isn’t it far more presumptuous for a pastor to imagine he knows better than his sainted elders or than the church universal (dare I say catholic)?

Someone once said the liturgy is like a fine banquet, prepared over hours under the direction of a master chef. Services that are cooked up on the pastor’s computer each week are like fast food meals – not nearly as nutritious or memorable. Because the liturgy is catholic – spanning ages and places – it serves to feed us a nutritious and enduring meal – the meal of Christ in Word and Sacrament.

Another argument I frequently hear is that the liturgical calendar and weekly liturgical elements are too repetitive…as if that’s somehow a bad thing. I’m amused by this response, simply because I grew up in a denomination where I knew EXACTLY what the service would look like each week, no matter which congregation I was visiting in the world. The fact is, we like repetition. Consider our secular celebrations:

In January, we stay up till midnight and sing an ancient Scottish song no one actually knows the words to. February, its flowers and heart-shaped boxes of candy. March, we dress in green and drink green beer. April, bunnies and eggs. May, margaritas and tacos. July, we blow stuff up. November, we eat way too much, and are thankful we can go shopping the next day. This is just the United States. Around the world the list of annual events is endless. Repetition keeps us grounded in our culture and lets us know where we are.

Liturgy…not only at the calendar level…but more importantly at the weekly congregational level, keeps us grounded in our faith, and continually reminds us of what is most important in our worship. I can give a poor sermon (I’ve been told) but I can still take comfort in knowing that through the liturgy of our weekly worship experience, the Gospel has been presented through the singing and prayers. Through the various scripture readings, the words of the prophets and apostles have been spoken. And through the elements of the Lord’s Supper, the congregation’s gaze has been turned to Jesus. None of this is an excuse to not put the time into the message. But it does remind me that the message is just a part of the greater tapestry of worship, and even if it is weak, the liturgy still delivers the good news of Jesus each week.

George Stoddard is a retired Lutheran pastor, and a good friend of mine. I recently sat down with George and asked him to talk about the Lutheran liturgy, and more importantly, what that liturgy meant to him. He listed off liturgical elements that I was either totally unfamiliar with, or wouldn’t be a good fit in most of our services. But he also spoke of elements that would add just one more layer of understanding to our weekly gatherings.

The thing that resonated the most, however, was George’s description of liturgy as the outline for our weekly corporate conversation with God. Whether it’s the singing together of songs of worship and adoration, or the corporate call and response, or the corporate prayers of confession, we all enter into a familiar and orchestrated conversation with the God who tells us that wherever two or three are gathered in his name there he is in the midst of them. Yes, there is time during the week for personal worship and prayer and confession. But when we stand together as one congregation, we are reminded that we are not the audience watching the performance on stage, we are participating together in an offering of worship and faith to the true audience…the Triune God. The liturgy simply gives us a script for that conversation, and the liturgical calendar takes us through the greater narrative of the gospel story.

Around the year 1000 AD, Prince Vladimir of Russia, a pagan, sent envoys to explore different religions and return to him with a report. The envoys who visited the Hagia Sophia Church in Constantinople returned with this report, “We knew not whether we were in heaven or earth… We only know that God dwells there among men, and their service is fairer than the ceremonies of other nations.” Within a year Prince Vladimir was baptized into the Orthodox faith, and Orthodoxy became the official religion of Russia.

Yes, we need to be aware of the needs of first-time visitors. Our actions should always be explained, and it be made known to visitors that they are included. Even among our long-time members, we should never assume that everyone knows why we have introduced new elements to the worship liturgy they already know well. But when they do know the why behind the action, then the familiarity becomes a source of comfort that opens the door to that place where “God dwells there among men.”

I saw this driven home so poignantly by a video of a congregation in Kentucky gathered in the parking lot next to what little was left of their church building. The tornado had removed the roof. The organ was gone. The pews were gone. The big sign on the front of the building was gone. Every physical thing that defined them as a church was blown away. And yet they gathered because the calendar told them it was time. And they stood there in that parking lot in conversation with God, following the familiar liturgical roadmap that had led them…in some cases…for generations.

The liturgy brings Christ to earth and us to heaven. Jesus locates himself in his Word and in the Sacraments. And the liturgy of the church, in all its variations, has provided comfort and instruction and grounding through persecution, war, natural disasters and the constant influence of cultural change for two millennia. May God guide our liturgy to the point that members and guests experience God’s dwelling among men.

Why Love your Neighbor?

We love others because we love Jesus.

By Daniel Zachariah, National Director, India

When asked why she would pick up dying, homeless persons off the streets of Kolkatha, Mother Teresa was famously quoted as saying, “I see Jesus in every human being. I say to myself; this is hungry Jesus; I must feed him. This is sick Jesus. This one has leprosy or gangrene; I must wash him and tend to him. I serve because I love Jesus.” Perhaps she was motivated by what Jesus said:

 “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40)

Jesus is very clear in his teachings with regards to the need to love neighbor. His apostles, especially John, builds on this and gives us further clarification. Challenged by a Pharisee as to which was the greatest commandment in the law, Jesus’ reply is well known.

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matt 22:38-40)

There are two important points in Jesus’ reply that one cannot afford to miss. The first point is that Jesus quotes from both Deuteronomy and Leviticus, but most notably, he combines the two passages in his reply. By saying, “the second is like it,” he is making an important connection between them. In other words, neither of them can stand alone. It takes both to satisfy the criteria of “great.” The second point is that Jesus declares that loving God and neighbor sums up the entire Law and Prophets. Love is the very essence that defines our obligation to and with God. Love is the DNA of the law! Paul reminds us in Romans 13 that love is the fulfilment of the law.

Echoing Jesus’ thoughts on love, notice how John not only weaves the theme of combining love for God with love for neighbor, but shows us both are necessary to be in relationship with God.

“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.… Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister” (1 John 4:7-8, 20-21).

For John, one cannot claim to love God if there is no attempt to manifest our love toward a brother or sister. Erwin McManus states, “When we live in an intimate relationship with God, we are able to love ourselves and become passionate about loving others. When we are disconnected from God, we find ourselves increasingly empty of love. Jesus, it seems, is certain that the more you love God, the more you will love people.”[1] Indeed, a life devoid of love toward others cannot represent a genuine relationship with God who, himself, is love and fashioned all of humanity in his own image.

When we claim to love God, we cannot close our hearts to others and be indifferent to them. We were created to thrive in a relational reality with God and with others, girded by love. We cannot have one without the other. As Christopher Witmer eloquently says, “If you break from love, your relationships will splinter and in the process, you’ll quit dancing with God. If ‘love thy neighbor, is the rhythm to God’s dance, anyone who doesn’t love their neighbor isn’t dancing with God.”[2]

So, why love our neighbor? That is the way we can truly say we love God whom we cannot physically see. Love for God and for neighbor has to be inclusive, as was Jesus’ reply to the Pharisee. Loving our neighbor completes the circle of God loving us and our returning that love. Loving our neighbor is allowing the love of God to flow into us and then out of us – it cannot remain blocked and still in us. When we allow ourselves to be a channel of God’s love, we experience the love of God more fully and holistically, which then enables us to know God more intimately. If we do not love our neighbor, then we will not be able to experience forgiveness, compassion, forbearance, kindness, faithfulness, and gentleness, which will ultimately rob us of the joy and peace of the Holy Spirit. No wonder, Mother Teresa said that she is compelled to serving others because she loves Jesus! And this, indeed, is the entire “Law and the Prophets.”

[1] McManus, Erwin Raphael, Soul Cravings: An Exploration of the Human Spirit, Nashville, 2006 Thomas Nelson, 14
[2] Why “Loving Your Neighbor as Yourself” Is So Important to Christianity, https://www.therebelution.com/blog/2018/04/why-loving-your-neighbor-as-yourself-is-so-important-to-christianity/

Church Hack: Gospel Fluency

As we take a deeper dive into the Love Avenue, we can’t forget the whole reason for joining with our neighbors in community. We are compelled by love, Christ’s love, which fills and transforms us, compelling us to share that love with those around us.

In his book, Gospel Fluency, Jeff Vanderstelt suggests that many Christians struggle with sharing the good news of Jesus because we do not see our lives through the lens of the good news. As we practice examining our lives through the gospel, we naturally begin to share our stories with the truth that God is with us and moving in all the circumstances of our lives.

To learn more about Gospel Fluency, view and download this month’s Church Hack here:

https://resources.gci.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/02/2022-CH2-Gospel_Fluency.pdf

New Curriculum: On Being with Jesus

On Being is a four-part interactive connect group curriculum, designed for biblically-based, dynamic discussions around being a disciple. We are excited to release, part III of the series On Being with Jesus. 

Never Alone

When I was younger, I was an athlete and pretty cocky. In my sophomore year in high school, I played on the junior varsity basketball team (JV) and was a substitute on the varsity team. I was not humble and had little respect for my JV coach. In my mind, I was already on the varsity team and my JV coach did not have much to teach me. As a point guard, part of my job was to pass the ball to create opportunities for my teammates, but I was far more oriented towards making plays on my own. During one practice, my JV coach, trying to get me to pass more, said, “Dishon, there’s no ‘I’ in ‘team!’” I waited until he turned his head, and said just loud enough for him to hear, “But, there is a ‘me’!” I ran a lot of laps that day. Did I mention that I was cocky? I wish I could tell you that I outgrew that independent streak, but I still struggle with it from time to time.

In ministry, I find that my natural tendency is to do things myself instead of building teams. When GCI put forward “team-based, pastor led” as an element of the vision of healthy church, I was not enthusiastic about it at first. I believed in the power of teams, but sometimes they take time to get going. And, what if they slow down decision-making? Then, I started to learn a bit more about Jesus and how he approached ministry. If anyone could have acted independently, it was him. Yet, he gathered a team and rarely did any ministry alone.  Jesus also taught that we too should do things together. In his longest recorded prayer, notice what Jesus says:

I have given [believers] the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one — I in them and you in me — so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. (John 17:22-23)

Jesus never commanded us to get a lot of things done as quickly as possible, however we are commanded to love each other. If we internalize this passage, we will see that part of the work of the church is to participate in Christ’s work to make humanity united. Therefore, building teams is not just a strategy for Christians to work efficiently. Ministry teams are, in part, how we testify to the reality of Jesus. Teams are meant to build and reproduce unity.

As you think about the discipleship of children and youth, I encourage you to take a team-based approach. Teams are not only more impactful in the long run, but they can serve as models of the unity for which Jesus prayed.  Whenever possible, we should also be teaching our children and youth the importance of teams as part of how we disciple them. There are plenty of articles in the Equipper to help you develop a team-based approach.

I am happy to say that I have grown some from my sophomore year in high school, and I have a great appreciation for teams. I have adopted a personal “never alone” policy in my ministry work. Whatever I am doing (i.e. going to a conference, meeting with community leaders, praying for discernment, etc.), I want to be either building a team (sometimes just a team of two) or creating opportunities for emerging leaders to learn, if possible. In my work as the GenMin Coordinator, one of the first things I did was assemble an advisory council to discern God’s will with me, and I included this photo so you could see the people who are helping me experience Christ as we serve the children and youth of GCI. I want to say “thank you” to the GenMin Advisory Council for helping me experience the blessing of unity in Christ:

Top row: Ruth Phillips, Dishon Mills, Carrie Osborne. Middle row: Tamar Gray, Hazel Tabin, Desiree McKinnon. Bottom row: Reuel Enerio, Ceeja Malmkar. Not pictured: Eula Doele.

In thinking about your congregation’s engagement and discipleship of children and youth, what if you assembled an advisory council of not only members of your congregation but community experts as well? What if you modeled unity in Christ for your young people? What if you made the commitment to never do anything alone?

Dishon Mills, Generations Ministry Coordinator US

 

Gospel Reverb – Extravagant Worship w/ Dan Rogers

Extravagant Worship w/ Dan Rogers

Video unavailable (video not checked).

Listen in as host, Anthony Mullins and Dan Rogers, the current pastor of Grace Communion Las Vegas after retiring from his role as the Superintendent of U.S. ministers in Grace GCI, unpack these lectionary passages:

April 3 – 5th Sunday of Lent
John 12:1-8 “Extravagant Worship”
4:59

April 10 – Palm Sunday
Luke 19:28-40 “Blessed Is the King”
13:11

April 17 – Easter Sunday
John 20:1-18 “The Resurrection”
23:09

April 24 – 2nd Sunday of Easter
John 20:19-31 “My Lord and My God”
36:01

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Program Transcript


Extravagant Worship w/ Dan Rogers

Welcome to the Gospel Reverb podcast. Gospel Reverb is an audio gathering for preachers, teachers, and Bible thrill seekers. Each month, our host, Anthony Mullins, will interview a new guest to gain insights and preaching nuggets mined from select passages of scripture, and that month’s Revised Common Lectionary.

The podcast’s passion is to proclaim and boast in Jesus Christ, the one who reveals the heart of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And now onto the episode.


Anthony: Hello friends, and welcome to the latest episode of Gospel Reverb. Gospel Reverb is a podcast devoted to bringing you insights from scripture, found in the Revised Common Lectionary and sharing commentary from a Christ-centered and Trinitarian view.

I’m your host Anthony Mullins. And it is my joy to welcome this month’s guest, Dr. Dan Rogers. Dan is the current pastor of Grace Communion Las Vegas, after spending 20 years as the Superintendent of U.S. and Mexico ministers in Grace Communion International.  In retirement, Dan not only serves as a pastor, but also continues to teach a course on The Acts of the Apostles and [to teach] Homiletics at Grace Communion Seminary. And I’ve been blessed through the years to know Dan, as a boss, as my Professor of Homiletics, and as a personal friend.

Dan, thank you for joining us today and welcome to the podcast. For those of our listeners who may not know you, please share a little bit about yourself and what you find yourself doing these days.

Dan: Alright. Thank you, Anthony. I appreciate your invitation to be on the podcast.

Tell you a little bit about myself? I grew up in the St. Louis area and went to Ambassador College in Pasadena, California in 1966. I graduated in 1970, had graduation ceremony on a Friday, got married on a Saturday, and entered into full-time ministry on Sunday.

Anthony: That’s efficiency!

Dan: That was over 51 years ago now. So, we’re 51 years in ministry with what is now Grace Communion International. I had the opportunity to be the associate pastor of the Boston church for a couple of years, started a church in Springfield, Massachusetts, became the lead pastor in the Concord, New Hampshire [and] Montpelier, Vermont churches, and was there for 10 years.

And during those 10 years, I started three churches in Maine: in Bangor, Augusta, and Portland. And then I was transferred to the Greensboro/Winston Salem, North Carolina churches for 7. And then I was in the Atlanta area for 7 years before being summoned into our headquarters, at that time in Pasadena, California, to become the superintendent of ministers, which I was, as you’ve stated, for about 20 years or so.

During that time, I had the opportunity to attend the Boston University School of Theology in the MDiv program there. I’ve also done postgraduate work at Azusa Pacific University. I have a master’s in theological studies from Emory University in Atlanta and a PhD in Religious Studies from Union Institute and University of Cincinnati.

So, what I’m doing today, I thought I was retired. But the local congregation here in Las Vegas, where my wife and I live, needed a pastor. They were without one. And they asked if I would come out of retirement and pastor the church, and I agreed to do and that’s been about two or three years now.

And so that keeps me very busy with the challenges of COVID, and pandemics, and such; it has been a challenging time.

Anthony: Yeah. We’re so glad that you have continued faithfully in ministry. We’re not surprised by that. And may you and your wife, Barbara, be blessed as you go through this time of retirement that sounds like it’s keeping you very busy.

Let’s get onto the 4 pericopes that we’re going to unpack together today. It’s going to be John 12:1-8 “Extravagant Worship,” that’s for the 5th Sunday of Lent April the 3rd. Luke 19:28-40 “Blessed Is the King,” that’s on Palm Sunday, April the 10th. We’ll move to John 20:1-18 “The Resurrection,” that is on Easter Sunday, April the 17th, And finally, John 20:19-31, “My Lord and My God,” that’s for the 2nd Sunday of Eastertide, April the 24th.

I’m going to read our first pericope, John 12:1-8. It is the Revised Common Lectionary passage for April the 3rd, which is the 5th Sunday of Lent.

Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.” He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.

“Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”

Dan, what do you consider to be the main thrust of this passage and how it ties into the Lenten season?

Dan: The main thrust of this passage is explicitly given in the passage itself. It’s the anointing of Jesus in preparation for his burial. John evidently wants his readers to see Mary of Bethany, seemingly unknowingly performing a prophetic action that foreshadows Jesus’ death.

It was common at that time to anoint a person’s head as the sign of honor and hospitality, and to wash (not anoint) a guest’s feet with water. However, one did not anoint the feet of a living person. It was customary to anoint the body of a corpse with spices prior to burial.

Now, one can only imagine what the dinner guests (other than Judas) may have thought of Mary’s actions, but John states clearly for his readers, the meaning of the anointing. And thus, invites his readers (including us today) to reflect back on its significance, especially at this time of the year, as we remember Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Anthony: It seems that Mary’s way of honoring Jesus was very extravagant. What do we have to learn, Dan, from her action?

Dan: The value of the perfume Mary used to anoint Jesus’ feet has been estimated to be a year’s salary. That’s a lot of money, and we’re not told how Mary came to have this expensive perfume. John simply wants us readers to understand Mary’s actions, and probably hopes his readers can make application in their own Christian lives.

Her actions remind me of a hymn. Maybe you’ve heard it. Give of Your Best to the Master written by Howard B. Grose, and hymn stanza 3 says:

Give of your best to the Master;
Naught else is worthy His love;
He gave Himself for your ransom,
Gave up His glory above.
Laid down His life without murmur,
You from sin’s ruin to save;
Give Him your heart’s adoration;
Give Him the best that you have.

And Mary, in front of a room full of dinner guests, humbly and adoringly, knelt at Jesus feet, poured very expensive perfume on his feet, and unabashedly let down her hair in front of everyone, which was just not the custom for women to do at that time, and used her hair to wipe the feet of Jesus. What can we learn from that? May we as Christians, humbly and adoringly kneel daily at Jesus’ feet. And whatever we may have, our lives and our treasure, let’s make sure we give of our best to the Master.

Anthony: In verse 8, I’m just curious, is Jesus being dismissive of the poor and their needs? How can we rightly understand what he’s communicating?

Dan: I think we need to understand that, as Jesus said, the greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart. And the second is to love your neighbor.

The priority in our lives is to love God. And indeed, it’s only in loving God that we are empowered to love our neighbor who is created in God’s image. When we love and honor God, it will result in our loving our neighbors. The scripture says the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit.

Now Mary had a unique opportunity to honor God. And so, she did. She did so with all our heart and all she had at her disposal. And as so doing, she set an example for all Christians who would follow and read her story.

Now look, if her perfume had been sold and the money given to the poor, it would not have solved the human problem of poverty. It would have remained as indeed it does to this very day. Now should Christians help the poor? Of course, as much as we can! But we’ve got to realize our human efforts are not going to make poverty go away. Only God – the return of Christ in glory – can accomplish that. So, we as Christians do what we can for the poor but recognize that only when (like Mary) all worship and adore God, can human poverty be ultimately eliminated.

Yes. We must help the poor, but the answer to poverty lies in all people coming to Christ and worshiping as Mary did. And only when that day comes, will there be no more poor.

Anthony: [I have] a follow up question, as I look at this text. Obviously, the theological question on any pericope is: who is God? Who is the God revealed in Jesus Christ? Any comments you’d like to share about the God that we see revealed in Jesus in this passage?

Dan: We’re coming up to the time of the Triumphal Entry, and we’re going to be talking about. We see Jesus as the king, as the ruler and our Lord and our God. And we’re going to cover all of that, I think, today in the pericopes that we have laid out.

But one thing I would like us to think about is Jesus is our best friend. Mary loved Jesus. Jesus loved Lazarus. Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. He loved Martha. He loved his disciples. And he was one of the nicest guys! Let me put it this way. He was the nicest guy who’s ever lived, and what a joy it was to be around him and be with him.

And yes, we know he’s King; he’s Lord; he’s God Almighty, but he’s also our best friend. And the fellowship that we can have with him in the Spirit is priceless.

Anthony: Yeah, and it always strikes me how in that culture, how the people of that day, who would be considered outsider, felt like insiders with Jesus. Talking about this God, who you were drawn to, that you wanted to be with, that there was an experience of the embodiment of joy when you’re with him. It’s a powerful thing to look into the eyes of Jesus and draw more and more in love with the one who ultimately loves our soul.

Let’s move on to the next pericope, which is going to be Luke 19:28 – 40. It is the Revised Common Lectionary passage for April the 10th, which is Palm Sunday. Dan, would you read that for us please?

Dan:

28 After Jesus had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. 29 As he approached Bethphage and Bethany at the hill called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, 30 “Go to the village ahead of you, and as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it.’”

32 Those who were sent ahead went and found it just as he had told them. 33 As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?”

34 They replied, “The Lord needs it.”

35 They brought it to Jesus, threw their cloaks on the colt and put Jesus on it. 36 As he went along, people spread their cloaks on the road.

37 When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen:

38 “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”

“Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”

39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!”

40 “I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”

Anthony: Dan, what’s the big deal about Palm Sunday? And what is significant about Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem as we’re thinking ahead about Holy Week?

Dan: In all four Gospels, the significance of Jesus entry into Jerusalem is his triumphal royal entry into the city, leading to his enthronement as King. Now for the Gospel writers, the lifting up of Jesus on the cross was the Ascension of the King to his throne. And in one sense, the first step in Jesus’ Ascension to the Father.

Anthony: If you preach this passage, Dan, (which you most likely will, and we’ll be listening) what’s going to be your main teaching emphasis?

Dan: In my over 51 years of ministry, I’ve preached on the triumphal entry many times and will continue to do it many times, but my teaching emphasis varies a bit, depending on which Gospel account I’m preaching from.

The triumphal entry is found in all four Gospels. And that indicates its importance to the story of Jesus. Now, if I’m preaching from John’s account, I note a lot of John’s use of biblical imagery to show Jesus as the Messiah, the prophesied King of Israel, the King of the Jews who was to come and bring in a new age of peace and freedom.

And the concepts of peace and freedom were very important to John’s readers who are probably enduring a great deal of persecution at the time they read his Gospel. John especially, though, draws on imagery from the Jewish feast of Sukkot or Feast of Tabernacles, as it’s sometimes called. And though this festival came in the fall of the year, John moves many of its symbols to the springtime story of Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem.

Now the Feast had become separated from its original agricultural roots and had come to be seen in the days of the Old Testament prophets as a celebration of the enthronement of the Messiah, the King, and the beginning of the Messianic Age. And thus, John uses the festival’s imagery to illustrate this is what’s happening with Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem.

But now if I’m preaching from Luke’s account (which is the Lection for this year), I know how that Luke omits most of the Jewish imagery John uses. Perhaps lest his Gentile readers get the mistaken impression that the focus of Jesus is on a nationalistic Jewish kingship. For Luke, Jesus’ enthronement on the cross begins the rule, (basileia, sometimes translated kingdom) the rule of God for all followers of Jesus, both Jew and Gentile, all people.

And I teach it this way as a story of contrast. For his final visit, Jesus enters Jerusalem as the people’s Messiah king and savior, but not in the way most would have expected here. Hear the contrast in this story. We have the Messianic King coming to save his people, riding on a white charger, a battle horse? No, on a donkey. He brings peace, not war against the Roman. He conquers hearts and minds, not nations. He’s not welcome with royal robes, but those of the common people.

His crown is one of thorns. His throne is a cross. His coronation is an execution. His victory is in death, but through his death and resurrection, King Jesus succeeds and in saving his people. And through his death, King Jesus triumphed over all the powers of sin, death, and evil. And through his death King Jesus wins the war. The battles and skirmishes obviously continue, but through his death, victory is assured.

The triumph and victory are ours through our King, our Lord Jesus Christ. And this event of the Triumphal Entry assures us that we can have great comfort and peace because no matter how “wrong side up” things may look in the world around us or in our own lives, we can know triumph has already come.

Eternal peace, eternal joy, and eternal life have been won and secured for us because of the triumph of our King Lord Jesus. So as the crowd said, “Bless it be the name of the Lord.”

Anthony: Yeah, it reminds me how Jesus is our Deliverer, and he is faithful to deliver us ultimately. But often that deliverance doesn’t look the way I anticipate it looking or the way that I think would be best for it to happen – as the people of the day thought as well.

It seems that the Pharisees are trying to shush the multitude of disciples celebrating Jesus. I’m just curious, in what ways do we today need to be on guard that we aren’t hushing those seeking to worship Jesus?

Dan: Let me first speak to the meaning of the passage, and then I’ll comment on your question.

In the Lucan text, the Pharisees ask Jesus to rebuke his disciples for declaring him as king. And as the kingship parable Luke places just prior to the Triumphal Entry states, the Pharisees were determined not to let Jesus rule over them and were determined to have him killed. They are also undoubtedly concerned that the public proclamation of Jesus as king, a Jew as a king, would draw the attention and ire of the Roman authorities.

But your question does give me an opportunity to talk about one of my pet peeves about Christian worship in some settings. As Paul tells us in Corinthians, our community worship should be in decency and order. That is why we must not be disruptive and cause offense and confusion in community worship. Also, we should respect the worship traditions of different Christian tribes.

Now some Christian worship traditions are highly liturgical with lots of pomp and circumstance and some focus more on preaching and teaching. And some, such as the Quakers, emphasize the spiritual discipline of silence. We should respect the varying Christian traditions and not judge, or (to use your word, Anthony) “hush” them because they may be different from our own.

Also, pet peeve! Worship leader, please don’t tell people how to worship! Again, with decency and order, people should be free to worship as is appropriate for them. For example, please don’t tell people to bow their heads in prayer. Some may want to lift their eyes to heaven. Invite people to join with you in prayer.

Don’t tell people to stand; invite people who are able and so desire to stand. Don’t tell people to remain standing; invite them as they are able, and so desire to remain standing. Some of us have physical challenges, especially those of us who are older. And we can’t stand as walk as we used to. So please don’t embarrass us because we need to sit down when you say remain standing.

So, the key is don’t command! Invite people to participate with the worship leader and the worship team in community worship. So, thank you for allowing me to share one of my pet peeves.

Anthony: You are welcome.

Let’s move on to our next pericope. This is going to be for Easter Sunday. The text is John 20:1 – 18. It is the Revised Common Lectionary lection reading for April the 17th.

1Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples returned to their homes.

11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12 and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

Wow! So, Paul writes that if Christ hasn’t been raised, our preaching, Dan, is in vain. I just want to give you an opportunity to rift on the stunning reality of the resurrection of our Lord, which makes what we do not in vain.

Dan: Absolutely. You mentioned reality. And that’s a very important term in considering the resurrection of Jesus. As there are those who have suggested that while Jesus may have existed, his resurrection from the dead was imagined or just plain made up by his disciples. So, the question is, who is Jesus?

If Jesus is dead, then he was a young Jewish male who taught some good things but, so what? There’ve been a lot of good teachers down through history. But so what? We’re still born, live, and die and return to dust, that’s it.

But if Jesus is alive, if he were resurrected in a glorified body, then he is the Son of God. That’s who he is, fully human and fully God. And in him, all humanity has the opportunity to be resurrected in a glorified body as well. And physical death, decay and corruption is not the end of our existence.

Indeed, as John’s Gospel tells us, the one who became Jesus is the Creator, Maker of all things. In Jesus’ bodily resurrection, we have God’s pledge that along with the Creator in his human nature, the entire creation can and will be renewed. A new spiritual heaven and new spiritual earth populated by God, his angels, and glorified, spiritual, bodied humans. That is the hope of the resurrection.

Anthony: As I was rereading through this passage, I was struck by the phrase, “It was still dark,” in verse 1. And what came to my mind, it seems that new life often starts right there in the dark. Surprisingly enough, it’s a seed in the ground, a baby in the womb, or Jesus in the tomb.

And if that’s the case, what might we learn about the darkness we sometimes experience in our own lives?

Dan: Since we’re discussing a text in the Gospel of John, we should look at how John uses the imagery of dark and light. Oh! John is a master at the use of imagery and with layers and depth of meaning and understanding.  John begins his Gospel with, “In the beginning,” harkening back to the opening words of the book of Genesis and the creation story. In the Genesis creation story, darkness is prevalent, and then God introduces light!

Now in John’s Gospel, John introduces Jesus as the light that came into the world, which darkness could not overcome. And throughout his Gospel, John uses the imagery of light, day, and sight versus darkness, night, and blindness. Seeing and knowing Jesus is to see and know the light, to live in the day, to see clearly.

Not knowing Jesus is to be in darkness, in the night, and to be spiritually blind. Thus, when the physically bind came to know Jesus, they were healed, and they could see. Now we notice that Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night, a Pharisee who wanted to ask Jesus some questions. So, he comes at night, and he doesn’t understand Jesus’ teaching.

When Judas betrayed Jesus, he goes out at night. He does not understand who Jesus truly is. So, when John tells us that Mary Magdalene went out to Jesus tomb while it was still dark (and we noticed that all the other Gospels speak of an early morning arrival), John is telling his readers that Mary does not yet truly know who Jesus is.

She is still operating in the dark. But the darkness cannot overcome Jesus, the light. So indeed, Jesus comes forth from the darkness of death. And Mary eventually comes to know and understand who Jesus is.

And when Jesus comes in glory, John tells us this, the eyes of the blind will be open. And also, that every eye will see him. Blessed are the eyes of those who now have come out of darkness.

I think that’s a great lesson. Blessed are our eyes. We don’t realize how blessed we are that our eyes have been opened, that we’re not in the dark, that we’ve come out of darkness, and we can see and know who Jesus is. And we pray for the day when all will see and have that vision and not be in the dark. As the well-known hymn says, “Open my eyes that I may see.”

Anthony: Mary didn’t recognize the risen Lord Jesus, right in her presence. Is there anything we should make of that, in terms of a lesson for us?

Dan: I think we should note from the text and just to give Barry some benefit of the doubt, Mary had been crying and tears filled her eyes.

It also says that she turned around (whatever that means exactly.) But here’s the key. It was when she heard Jesus’ voice, she turned toward him and cried out, “Teacher!” Now on a practical level, Mary was not expecting to see a living Jesus. She was looking for a dead body, a naked, dead body that had been tortured, hung from a cross, pierced in the side by a spear and was all bloody.

What she glimpsed was a man who looked like a gardener. And indeed, he was the gardener, having made the garden of Eden, but he looked like a gardener. So, he looked pretty fit, and he was wearing clothes, not like someone who had been crucified and had laid in a tomb for three days. But I think John wants his readers to understand something a bit more theological.

Mary recognized Jesus when he spoke to her. It is truly in the spoken words of Jesus that one has the means to recognize his presence. Christians today do not see the risen Lord as Mary did, but we recognize his presence with us just as she did. We have his spoken word in the scriptures and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ in our lives.

And we have his presence in the elements of communion. We recognize him in the breaking of bread. We must understand from reading this and thinking about it, that Jesus is always with us, even when we don’t see him.

There’s the old saying that you don’t see what you’re not looking for. We need to look for Jesus and we need to see him in our lives. And we must realize that he is always with us. Look for him and expect to see him because he’s there.

Anthony: Yeah. What is Jesus ultimately communicating to Mary when he tells her not to hold on to him (I’m sure she wanted to), but not to hold onto him because he had not yet ascended to the Father?

Dan: When Mary first saw the risen Jesus, she called out to him, “Dear Rabbi,” or special teacher. She did not yet see or understand him as Lord or God. And perhaps it appeared to her that she thought she could now continue following and being with Jesus just the way she had all during his ministry. So, everything’s back to the way it was. Everything’s the same. This is good.

But Jesus lets Mary know, things have changed. The next step in God’s plan of salvation is Jesus going to the Father in heaven. Wow! And when he returns to his disciples, he’s going to establish them in a new relationship with him and with the Father, by giving them the Holy Spirit to be with them and in them. It’s a new way to carry on his ministry. And obviously, it’s very Trinitarian.

We can note that after Jesus explains what he’s about to do, Mary then goes back to the disciples and tells them she has seen the Lord. At that point, she has a new understanding of who Jesus is.

Anthony: I wonder in the fullness of the kingdom if Peter’s going to try to set things right by having a sprint race with John. What do you think?

John seems to make the point that he arrived first and he’s the swifter of the two, but I say we should have a match race in heaven.

Dan: John mentions it twice. Now he doesn’t even use his name. He says that disciple or whoever. So, he tries to remain humbly anonymous, but it is interesting that two times he wants every one of his readers to know.

And you can imagine let’s say, John as an older man, at the time he’s writing this Gospel, wants his readers to remember that you know that was pretty fast!

Anthony: The glory days.

Dan: Yeah, back in the glory days. And I could beat Peter, I’m telling you. So yeah, a little bit of interesting humor there from the apostles.

Anthony: Then let’s move on to our final pericope of the month. It’s for the second Sunday of the Easter season. It’s John 20:19 – 31. It is the revised common lyric common lectionary passage for April the 24th.

Please read it for us

Dan:

19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

24 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”

But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

30 Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

Anthony: “As the Father has sent me, I send you.” What is Jesus revealing about the Father and also about us as disciples of our Lord Jesus?

Dan: Jesus said, as the Father sent me, I’m sending you and then he breathed on them. And here we find that Jesus is sending out his disciples. He’s telling them that they’re going out with the same authority and the same mission that he’s had from his Father. We understand that the mission of Jesus, the mission of the church is from the Father through Jesus and in the Holy Spirit.

It is a Trinitarian mission to save humanity and indeed to save all of creation. So, Jesus’ followers are to continue in his ministry on the earth, even after he left. After he went back to heaven, he sent the Holy Spirit and in the Holy Spirit, all of his followers from that day forward will be able to work with him in his ministry.

And the followers of Jesus will have the power of the Spirit to continue the Father’s mission through Jesus and in the Holy Spirit. So, his followers participate in the heart, the goal, the mission, the purpose of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit.

Anthony: Yeah. That’s encouraging to know that the mission is God’s mission.

It’s the Fathers in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. It’s not my mission. It’s not the church’s mission. It’s God’s mission. And so, whenever we engage our neighbor, love our neighbor, work in our community, we know that God is at work already in front of us, at work.

Help us to theologically understand verse 23 about if you forgive, it is forgiven, if you retain, it’s retained. Is Jesus really saying sins will be retained if the disciples don’t forgive them?

Dan: This particular verse over the years has been subject to many different interpretations. And indeed, it is a challenging verse to look into. The Roman Catholic church has used this as a proof of needing to go to a priest and receiving forgiveness for your sins, from the priest and the act of confession.

Protestants have looked at it in several different ways, including the communal view, where it is the community of faith, the church, which either lets people into the church, allows them to be baptized, or denies them admission to the church, or something along that view. But let me give you an analogy that at least works for me, and I hope it may work for others who are listening.

Let’s say a man robs a convenience store and steals all the money, makes a getaway. But from that day forward, he lives with a feeling of guilt. He knows he’s done wrong. And so, for the next 20 years, every time he sees a police car, every time he hears a knock at the door, he wonders, is this it? Have they finally caught up with me? Will I be going to prison now?

He can’t sleep at night, lives in guilt for 20 years. And then suddenly one day there’s a knock on his door and of all things, it’s the sheriff. So, he puts out his hands and says, “All right. Put the handcuffs on me. I know you’ve been looking for me. I knew my day would come. Take me away to prison.”

The sheriff looks at him and says, “No, you’re not guilty. Let me tell you what happened. Even to the very moment that you robbed that convenience store, the governor simultaneously, and even previously, pardoned you and declared you not guilty. We’ve been looking for you for 20 years to tell you that you’re a free man.”

Now, the person who robbed the store would probably say, “What took you so long to find me and tell me that? I’ve lived 20 years of my life under guilt, and in fear. I’ve been cursed, and you tell me I’m not even guilty of the crime.”

You know to be free, to be declared not guilty and to [not] know it, is to continue subjectively to live with a feeling of guilt, not knowing that you’re really free. How many people do not know that God, Jesus Christ has indeed forgiven them of their sins?

And because of their not knowing they are living a life of condemnation, a life of guilt, a life where they fear what the final judgment may be. Wouldn’t it be nice if someone would find those people, and tell them that they’ve been declared not guilty, and that in Jesus Christ, they are free of their sins?

As the followers of Jesus today, as his disciples, we need to let people know that in Jesus, their sins have been forgiven. Now, if you let someone know that their sins are forgiven, they can experience that forgiveness. If you don’t let someone know that their sins are forgiven, they do not experience that forgiveness. And they feel as though their sins have been retained, even though they have not. So, the responsibility, I think, is on the followers of Jesus to let people know Jesus has forgiven you of your sins. You are free.

Anthony: Jesus repeatedly said, “Peace be with.” What a beautiful greeting, not only for his friends that heard it, but also for us! And if that’s the case, how so?

Dan: In Aramaic, which was the primary dialect of Jesus and his disciples, the word for peace is shlomo alach. In the Hebrew Old Testament, the word is shalom.

And it has a broad range of meanings. It’s its meanings included primarily health, good life, and prosperity. But it also included notions of security, completeness, blessing, and salvation, and all Shalom was viewed as coming from God.

Now I’m a big Star Trek fan, and I hope you or maybe some of the listeners are, and you can appreciate what came to be known as the Vulcan salute. Leonard Nimoy portrayed Mr. Spock in the series. And Leonard Nimoy was Jewish; he grew up in the synagogue. And they were looking for a way that Vulcans might greet one another. And Mr. Nimoy reflected back on his time as a boy in synagogue, and he remembered the priestly blessings.

The priests would bless the people, the rabbis would bless the people by forming the [Hebrew] letter shin, which was the beginning letter of one of the names of God. And so, what he did was he separated the two hands into one hand: the thumb extended, the ring finger and the middle finger together and the little finger and the other finger together in what came to be known as the Vulcan salute. But it came right out of the synagogue as a blessing from God.

And the words that Spock would recite would be “Live long and prosper.” And the response was “Peace and long life.” And those are exactly the meanings of Shalom. I have to admit that when I pictured Jesus in this scene saying, “Peace to you,” I keep seeing him give them the Vulcan salute. At least that works for me.

Now in the Greek New Testament, the Hebrew meanings carried over, but some Christian nuances came to be understood. And the word peace is used in three basic ways in the New Testament. One is the opposite of war or strife. And two, it’s used to describe restored, happy, personal relationships. And three, it’s use for peace of mind, especially in a contrast to a troubled and fearful heart or outlook on life.

Now in our passage, Jesus appears to use the term mostly as number three, but not excluding the other two. The peace Jesus passed onto his disciples and to us today is the peace of God. The peace of mind that comes from knowing and trusting Jesus, the peace that is a fruit of the Holy Spirit, the peace that erases a troubled and fearful heart.

The peace that comes from realizing Jesus has entered the building. (A little play there on “Elvis has left the building.”) But literally in the story of Jesus, [he] did enter the building. In our lives, Jesus has entered the building. He is always in our lives.

So, the New Testament tells us 365 times, (and mostly from the mouth of Jesus) fear not. Peace. Have peace in Jesus. He is here. He is with us. He’s in our lives. Trust him. You have hope in him. You can have confidence in him. Fear, not. Shalom, live long and prosper!

Anthony: While you were talking, our podcast producer, Reuel, typed in the chat area that he’s a fan of Star Trek. But I got to tell you, you lost me. I don’t know that I’ve seen a single episode, but I’m with you in that, what a beautiful greeting of shalom from our Lord!

Finally, “My Lord and my God.” [verse 28] What a stunning declaration from Thomas! Tell us more, Dan.

Dan: In the verses that we read, Jesus said to Thomas, put your finger here and see my hands, reach out your hand, and put it into my side, stop doubting and believe. And so, Thomas has been known, down to this day, as Doubting Thomas. And anytime someone doesn’t have a hope or belief or they’re being negative, people say you’re a Doubting Thomas.

So, Jesus said to Thomas, stop doubting and believe. Now here, Jesus allows Thomas to make a scientific experiment. You know, stop doubting, believe, except God’s reality. It’s a far greater reality than the one you know as a human. I’m the same Jesus you knew, fully human, but also fully God, come back from the dead. And I still bear the scars in my body.

And some ask were the scars not healed? Why did Jesus still manifest these scars? One reason is so that Thomas and the others would know he was Jesus. He was the same human that they had known for so many years. He’s not some different being, he’s not some ghost, some spirit thing, something of their imagination.

He is really, and truly Jesus, fully human and fully God standing right there before them standing right before Thomas.

So, we note what Thomas says in his reply in verse 27.

 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

Now, I don’t think Thomas should be known as Doubting Thomas. In fact, in this verse, he’s probably made one of the most important and powerful statements in the New Testament about the divinity of Jesus Christ. He’s called him my Lord and the Greek word for the Lord, Kyrios, is the same word that’s used in the Greek translation of the Old Testament for the Hebrew word Yahweh. So what Thomas is saying here, in a sense, is Yahweh, my Lord, my God.

Now I feel for so-called Doubting Thomas. And on behalf of all realists everywhere, I’d like to suggest we now call him Believing Thomas, because Thomas accepted God’s reality as the most real reality of all.

And Thomas becomes a faith-filled believer.

29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Thomas was blessed. He saw, he believed, and he gave a profound announcement of faith.

But it makes me think, what about us today? What about you and me? We’ve not seen Jesus, literally, physically with our own eyes. We’ve not been able to perform a scientific experiment of touching scars. And yet we believe. Jesus said blessed are those who believe without seeing. We do know that Jesus is alive. We experience them in the spirit.

And as he becomes to us – over time, communing with him – our best friend. He was a friend of Thomas and the other disciples. He was close to Thomas, but he’s close to us too. He is our best friend, as he was Thomas and the other disciples. And he’s also our Lord and our God. But as I said earlier, we worship him as our Lord and our God, as Thomas did [with] a startling claim in the New Testament to Jesus’ divinity as fully human and fully God. But let’s not lose sight of the fact that he’s not only our Lord and our God, he is also our friend. Again, as one of the famous hymns says, “What a friend we have in Jesus.”

Anthony: Dan, thanks for being my friend and be my guest here today. I so appreciate the commentary you provided as I’m sure our pastors and teachers will as well. It’s our ongoing rhythm at the podcast to have our guests pray a blessing over the pastors, preachers, teachers, Bible students.

So, would you say we’re to prayer for our listeners?

Dan: Our Lord and our God, we come before you Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, in the name of Jesus to ask your blessing on your disciples today, especially those who minister in the word. May we speak your word rightly, truthfully, powerfully, and boldly.

May we be empowered and abled, strengthened by the Holy Spirit. And may those who hear the words we speak also be empowered by the Spirit to understand, and to apply these words in their lives. We thank you, God.

Father, we know it is your mission through Jesus and in the Spirit. And because it is your mission, it cannot fail. Sometimes we wonder if we’re adequate preachers or, if we’re doing a good job, or if we’re having any effect at all, or if our lives make any difference. And yet if we’re participating in the ongoing mission of Jesus from the Father in the Spirit, we cannot fail.

We can only succeed. And as Jesus said, numerous times in the passage we just read, let his peace be unto us. And let us know and have that confidence, that trust and that faith, that though we are human, we cannot fail for we are on mission with the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. Thank you for allowing us to participate.

Thank you for the success that you give. Thank you for allowing us to be a part of it. Bless us, please. For we love you, Lord. And we want to serve you and minister to your people. We ask your blessing as well as give thanks, in Jesus’ name. Amen


Thank you for being a guest of Gospel Reverb. If you like what you heard, give us a high rating and review us on iTunes, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcast content. Share this episode with a friend. It really does help us get the word out as we are just getting started. Join us next month for a new show and insights from the RCL.  Until then, peace be with you!

Love Avenue: Relational Evangelism w/ Brenda Asare Akoto

Love Avenue: Relational Evangelism w/ Brenda Asare Akoto

In this episode, Cara Garrity interviews Brenda Asare Akoto. Brenda along with her husband, Leslie, serves as a camp director and national youth pastor in Ghana. Together they discuss relational evangelism.

“First Corinthians says that we should do everything in love; everything, everything, in love. That we should always act in love. So, when we are going out like this, we should permeate the love of Christ. Everything about us should be about the love of Christ. And that love is the agape kind of love, that keeps no record of wrong, that is patient, that is kind, that does not boast, that is not arrogant, that is not rude. You know, it doesn’t insist it is my way or the highway. It is the love that bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things. When we begin to walk in love like that, you will find that the community will be warmed up to us and see us as a people of love. And because we represent love, who is not attracted to love?”
–Brenda Asare Akoto, National Youth Pastor, GCI-Ghana

 

Main Points:

  • Can you share with us what relational evangelism means to you? What makes relationship so important in sharing the good news of Jesus? (3:08)
  • Making friends is one of the key practices of the Love Avenue. What are some things you believe characterize deep Christ-centered friendships? (17:02)
  • How can we continue to develop the church to think about evangelism relationally? (36:30)
  • What challenges and joys have you experienced as you have built relationships in the community? (44:05)
  • What advice do you have to share with our listeners as we journey in living out evangelism as relationship? (51:40)

 

Resources:

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Program Transcript


Love Avenue: Relational Evangelism w/ Brenda Asare Akoto

Welcome to the GC Podcast, a podcast to help you develop into the healthiest ministry leader you can be by sharing practical ministry experience. Here are your hosts, Cara Garrity and Sarah Rossi.

Cara:  Hello friends, and welcome to another episode of GC Podcast. Sarah, how are you doing today?

Sarah: I’m doing really well. How are you doing Cara?

Cara: Oh, I am doing great. This month is a great month. It’s my birthday month. So how could you be any better?

Sarah: Oh, I almost forgot about that. Whoops.

Cara: Ah, wow. What a good friend.

Sarah: I’m the best friend.

Cara: Oh wow. We all fumble sometimes in friendship, but now you know, and so now you can celebrate me.

Sarah: Yeah!

Cara: Speaking of friendship, today’s episode focuses on redefining evangelism through relationship. Sarah in your perspective, why might that be important?

Sarah: Well, I really think that relationships are the only way to do evangelism. And there is a quote that actually has been incorrectly, attribute it to Francis of Assisi, but I still think it’s great and still really like it.

And it says, “Preach the gospel at all times; use words only when necessary.” And so, this suggests that it doesn’t matter what we say, if we don’t “walk the walk,” no one will care about our “talk.” And they will probably also not want to keep walking with us. But I also think it’s important to redefine what we mean by relationship.

Relationship can be hosting game nights or going out to coffee to get to know each other, but it can also be so much more than that. If someone you’re friends with lets you know that their family is financially struggling, relationship means that you help them, no strings attached. And if someone has a different life experience than you, relationship means knowing how to genuinely listen to them, even if it makes you uncomfortable.

And relationship means you asking the other person, how can I support you, instead of assuming that what they need. There is a lot of unlearning that needs to be done regarding relationships, and we really need this unlearning and relearning to be able to form genuine relationships.

Cara: That’s a good word about redefining, unlearning, and relearning what relationships can look like. Thank you, Sarah.

Our podcast guest today, Brenda Asare Akoto, has some wonderful insights to share with us as well. Let’s listen to her interview.


Hello, friends and welcome to the latest episode of GC Podcast. This podcast is devoted to exploring best ministry practices in the context of Grace Communion International churches. I’m your host, Cara Garrity.

Today I am blessed to interview Brenda Asare Akoto. Brenda, along with her husband, Leslie, is a camp director and national youth pastor of Ghana. They also run a travel and tour company in Ghana and have three wonderful children.

Brenda, thank you for spending your time with us today. We’ll be exploring what it looks like to approach evangelism through a relational perspective.

Before we get started, would you share with us something that inspires you to worship?

Brenda: Thank you so much, Cara, for having me on. This is exciting to be talking to you all the way from Ghana. So, hello everyone, for everyone that’s listening. What was the question again? Sorry.

Cara: Yes. Share with our listeners something that inspires you to worship.

Brenda: I think, well not, I think. The only thing that inspires me to worship God is my life. I mean, I know definitely that my life is not mine; it’s in his hands. His love for me is so great that he died for me and gave me this beautiful life that I’m now living in him. So, obviously the inspiration comes from him, the life that he’s given me, the newness of the new life that he’s making me to live so I can walk in him. I can show the world who he is, I can talk about him. I can live him when I make mistakes. I know I have a father who I can run to. It’s just so soothing. So that is my inspiration. That’s what keeps me going every day, knowing fully well that no matter what I go through, my life is in his hands.

He’s in control of who I am and what I am. And as long as I stay with him, I can never go wrong because his faith is always faithful. Even if I am unfaithful, he will always be faithful. His love is eternal. Even if, sometimes I fall out of love due to my own earthly challenges, his love is always there because he is love.

He can be nothing else, but love. So my life, he in me, inspires me to go on every day to just worship him and talk about him to as many people as I can.

Cara: Amen. Well, thank you for sharing that with us. It’s a great way to get us started. And so, I’d love to jump on in; I think we’ll have a rich conversation discussing evangelism from a relational perspective.

So, can you just share with us what relational evangelism means to you and what makes relationships so important to sharing the good news because of Jesus?

Brenda: If you take it off from your last question about what inspires me, right from the beginning of creation, you could see that God really wants to have a relationship with man.

And he did that by creating us. And even though we fell away, he still found a way to redeem us back to him by sending our Lord Jesus Christ to come die for us. So, our relationship with God is so important! It is really important. It’s something that he cherished so much that he sent his son to die for us.

And so, for me, sharing, talking to people about him or trying to let the world know about him, starts from having a relationship with them. Because the same way, if we take the example from Jesus Christ, he didn’t just come and say, know God.

He came and he wanted to have a relationship with the kids. He wanted to have a relationship with those who are lost. He wanted to have a relationship with his disciples. He would come to you, talk to you at your level, what you know, where you’re from, and then he will build you up from there.

That’s how important relationship is to our Lord Jesus Christ and that was the example he gave to us. And so, for me as well, when you’re doing evangelism, that is in fact, I think that’s the foundation. Because if you don’t have a relationship with a person you’re evangelizing to, what happens is the person either doesn’t take you serious or doesn’t trust you, or there are just issues, so it’s extremely important to try and build an intentional relationship with whoever it is you want to go and evangelize to. And that would usually form a good platform to start off. And that’s why it’s so important, that’s why relationships are so important.

It’s good to make that conscious effort to have an intentional relationship with whoever you’re talking to, because that builds trust, that builds them being able to want to open up to talk to you. And if you don’t know what the issues are, how can you be guided by the Holy Spirit, of course, to be able to lead them in the right way to Christ.

So, I think it’s extremely important to build on a relationship when you’re talking about evangelism.

Cara: Amen. And I love what you say about it being foundational and that God so values his relationship to us. Right? And that’s part of the good news is that he wants to be in relationship to us. And so of course, would that not be part of the context in which we bring that good news? Oh, amen, amen.

Brenda: It’s beautiful when we get to a place where – there’s no other place where you can find someone who is there for you 24/7, who doesn’t care about your past, doesn’t care about who you are, where you’ve been, what you’ve done, just come as I am, come as you are. And he’s ready. His arms are always open.

If you look at the story of the prodigal son and him going away and the father is there waiting. Because it means he was waiting for that relationship with his son. He yearned for that relationship. So, all those times when the son was gone, when he was coming back, his father was waiting and ran to him, even before he got to the door.

That’s to show the extent of the love and the relational relationship that God wants to have with us. It is really an intentional relationship. Like I said before, for him to send his son to come and die for us, when we understand that (especially when we know that he’s the king of Kings, I mean, all he needs to do is speak and things come into being), it’s a beautiful thing to have a father like that.

Cara: Yes. Amen. And to build those kinds of intentional relationships with one another is a reflection of him. As you said, Jesus could have just shouted to us the good news, but instead he dwelt among us. He came to be with his people, and so, that’s a way that we get to reflect and participate in his life. So, I thank you. I love thinking about our relationships with one another being grounded in his desire for a relationship with us.

I do think that one of the ways that the evangelism that I’ve experienced can kind of go awry sometimes is by creating this kind of “us versus them” mentality. How can relational evangelism kind of break down the walls of “us versus them?” Those of us who are Christians and those of us who aren’t, or maybe those who get it and those who [don’t]. How can relational evangelism kind of break down those dividing walls?

Brenda: The Bible says in Romans 3:23, that we all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. He didn’t say, for some have sinned. He said, all, every single one of us. And our life, it’s not ours anymore. The day we decide to let go of the world and now go into a relationship with Christ by dying and getting baptized, he says, we lay down our lives even as we die during baptism.

So, if we don’t learn to die, not just – yes, we do it during baptism as a symbol, as a symbol of us dying to the flesh and waking up into the spirit – but if we don’t learn to die, even in our attitudes. When I talk to some of my youth, I say, our flesh, we’re too alive. We are too alive. We need to die. Because the truth is, if we don’t die, what we will see is we’ll think we are more superior; we will think we’re better. We’ll think, oh, we have so much. We’re so blessed, and the others are not. And if you take that attitude, like you said, to evangelism, the people can feel it. They can feel it. Sometimes you don’t even have to say it. It doesn’t have to be words. It could just be in your actions.

It could be the way you look. It could be the way you express yourself. And so if we, as Christians, don’t learn to actually die to the flesh, die to the things of pride, thinking oh, it’s our intellect, it’s what we are, it’s where we are, those are the things that make us who we are and not understand the true meaning of grace.

Understanding that even the fact that we can all breathe air is by grace. The fact that we can even wake up in the morning and see, is by grace. People had plans for today, the 11th of November. They had plans for today, but they woke up today and either they’re gone or they’re sick or they’re in hospital, or they’re knocked down or something happened.

So, the fact that we are alive today is not because of our intellect or education or things we know. It is just his grace, his mercy is upon our lives. And so, if we have that attitude, the attitude of knowing that our life is through him, by him, and for him, then we will not have that mentality of “you versus us.”

And so that wouldn’t come across in my evangelism, but I think one of the ways that we can sort of break down that wall, like I said, it’s understanding that we are not of our own, the things we achieve is not due to our own capacity.

Let me give you an example.

We do evangelism in my local church and most of the times we go (where we go for evangelism) about two or three months regularly. We do it sometimes on Saturdays. About two months ago, we went for evangelism and just as we were leaving (we went with some friends of ours) and just as we’re leaving the church grounds (we have like five or six churches just on our street corner alone) and so one of the friends who came with us, through one fellowship, came and said, “Oh, you have so many churches here. You shouldn’t have any issues here.” And I just said, “Oh, I wish that was the case.” And we just turned a corner on the church and just behind us was a group of young boys and children who were living in slums and dilapidated places.

And there were in my group of four, there were five. I just thought, let’s split ourselves. So we split and I handled one young man named Kelly, and I was asking him what he’s doing, where he is. At a point, I said, can we sit down? We sat somewhere and we just talked and I wasn’t talking to him about, “Oh, you’re a sinner. The job you’re doing is wrong. You have dreads, having dreads is wrong. You have tattoos.”

I wasn’t talking to him about those things. It was just, tell me about yourself. Tell me about your family. Tell me about your life. Tell me about who you are. Tell me why you’re here. You’re 21. You’re living in Islam. Your parents are not even in this country. Why are you here?

So, it was more of, let me know you, and I was also opening up. I was also telling him who I am. Apparently, we’re from the same country as well. And we got to talking. So, we first clicked on that level. The level of, okay, she wants to know me; I want to know her.

And then we moved on to the good news and which is all we should really share where we go for evangelism. It’s not “you’re a sinner message” we’re sharing when you go for evangelism. It is the good news about Christ, who he is, what he came to do, how he saved us, what he did, how much he loves us.

A lot of times you find people who are lost, who are in such situations, are really just yearning for love. They’re just yearning for someone to care about them. They just yearning for someone to be intentional about how they treat them, how they walk with them. So anyway, long story short, we talked for a while. We prayed at the end of the evangelism, and then he promised that he was going to come to church the next day. And I took his number. Now, this is where it gets interesting. I just told him the name of the church. I didn’t say Grace Communion. I think I said Grace Communion, GCI. That’s what I said. And then the next day, when we went to church, the phone number where he wrote the phone number, I gave it to one of the other girls and she hadn’t come to church. And I was like, oh shoot. I was supposed to call this boy so he could come to church.

Midway through the service, I was doing announcement and this young man walks into church. This is someone who hasn’t been to church for – what he said, he hadn’t been to church for years and he’s just 21. And I said, “How did you find, I didn’t even…?”

He said, well, after we spoke, he couldn’t sleep. And he said, okay, he remembers, I said GCI. And then he just kept on asking, where’s the new church that just came in, where is the new church just came in. And that was how he came to church. And now he comes to church with us.

So, it’s when we make them feel loved. We make them feel at home. We recognize that we are all saved by grace. We don’t accuse them. Instead, we preach the good news. What happens is they feel like, yes, this person really cares. And that’s what we feel with Christ. We feel that Christ genuinely loves us. Love is not – yes, it’s a feeling but it’s more than action. The Bible says that for God so loved the world that he gave. Gave, given is an action word.

He did something because he loved us. And so that’s how it should be with us as well. So we should be intentional about giving love to these people and not trying to condemn, or create, like you said, the “we versus them” mentality. Okay, I think I’m going to stop now.

Cara: No, that’s wonderful. Thank you for sharing that story and example, because I think that it brings to life for us that it is about relationship. It’s about sharing life with people the way that Jesus shared life with people. It’s not just about going in trying to convince people of something but coming alongside and experiencing the love of Christ with people.  And that’s a beautiful thing. It’s a beautiful thing. Thank you.

And, as you shared that, I think about in the Love Avenue (the ministries of the Love Avenue, making friends, building those relationships), it is one of the key practices of the Love Avenue. So, to you, Brenda, what are some of the things that you believe characterize deep Christ-centered friendship?

Brenda: For me, one of the things that really bring Christ to life, especially what we’re talking about in the area of having Christ-centered friendship, the first thing is accepting everyone as they are. Accepting people’s flaws and then helping them, not commanding them, not dictating to them, letting them know, first of all, that we care. Like I said before, Christ cares and we know it. We feel it, we see it, we experience his care. We experience his love. So, for us to have that Christ-centered friendships, we need to accept people. Christ accepted everyone, everyone to the point, even to tax collectors, to prostitutes, he accepted them.

And he said, I have come for the lost. Not for those who think of them highly of themselves. So, I think for us to have that Christ-centered friendship is for us to actually look at how Christ first loved us, how he first showed us how to love. So, accepting everyone, let’s build trusting friendships because that’s really important.

We trust God, no matter what we’re going through. We know God loves us. So, we trust him. And that’s one thing we can pass on to whoever we’re dealing with, be it in our schools, in our communities, in our offices. Let people trust our friendship, let them trust our words. Let them trust our integrity. Let them trust our humility.

Let them trust our servant-leadership attitude. Once trust is established in a relationship, what happens is people say, “Oh, you know what, Cara? Oh, I know she wouldn’t do that.”   That way you’re building Christ-centered relationships.

And I think another thing that happens is obviously we’re all human, so we’re bound to make mistakes. Just like we make mistakes before God. If you look at the Lord’s Prayer, he says, forgive us, our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. So, everyone, we all make mistakes. Even though we’re living with a righteousness, conscious attitude, not a sinner conscious attitude, we still know we make mistakes.

Well, thank God for the righteousness of Christ. And so, when other people make mistakes like that, we need to correct them in love. We shouldn’t correct them with, like we said before a “we versus them” mentality, we should encourage them, not, “Oh, you’re so bad. You’ve gone wrong. This is way too much.”

Sometimes we think sin has degrees. We have the black sins and the white sins, or the white lies, the black lies. Before God, sin is sin. And so just as we sometimes fall short, same way other people will fall short. So, we need to correct everyone in love. We shouldn’t be judgmental, not be the ones to cast the first finger. Just like Christ said, he who has no sin should be the one to cast the first stone. So, we’ve all sinned.

And then of course we should listen. Listening, I’ve found (especially in our ministry, the youth ministry) is one way that I found that’s been able to help us to be able to work with the youth. Sometimes the kind of stories our youths tell us, sometimes they haven’t even told their closest family and their closest friends. But because they know they have a listening ear and an ear they can trust, you find sometimes they literally tell you their life stories, and we’re able to work with them.

So, for me, I think just exhibiting the fruits of the spirit, exhibiting those things (the love, the patience, the long suffering, all those things), those are the things that will really make Christ come alive, in any relationship or any friendship that you have that needs to be Christ-centered.

So, so I think for me, those will be the things, off the top of my head, what would make people have Christ-centered, meaningful friendships, friendships that lasts beyond emotions and situations and circumstances, friendship that lasts.

Yes, this person is indeed my sister. I mean, I should be able to say if I’m with you, Cara, in my Christian walk, I should be able to say, “You know what? Cara is my sister.” And it’s not about whether I am happy or sad, but I know she’s my sister because she’s proven it. We’ve experienced a relationship that goes beyond what the world calls friendship. So, I think those are the things that would for me, would relate to having deep Christ-centered friendships.

Cara: Yeah, that’s good. These kinds of friendships that are built around Christlikeness and ways that that honor who he is. And even in the way that you described that, Brenda, it sounds like to me that these are the kinds of friendships that can be built with those who don’t follow Christ already. Which I think is important to note (especially as we talk about relational evangelism) that Christ-centered friendships can be built, as you’ve mentioned, with those in your community, in your neighborhood. It’s not restricted to those maybe who are already part of the gathering church community.

We can honor Christ with our relationships wherever we build relationships. And I think that that is a beautiful thing, in the way that you described, that I think can free us to think about: how do we honor Christ in all of our friendships, not just with those who are already Christ followers as well?

Brenda: Yeah, actually, there’s a saying (I don’t know, I’m not sure where this was said), where they say, “You might be the only Bible that someone’s read.” And that is because you are not walking of your own. You’re walking as a child of God, as an ambassador of Christ.

And so sometimes you get to a place where no one knows you, but your attitude to be able to tell people that, that is a child of God. And so, you “being the Bible that somebody reads” means that the person has, maybe someone has said it, or maybe he’s jumped on a Bible somewhere. He’s heard it somewhere. And he sees that living in you, even with the way you talk, your walk, your attitude.

So, it’s not just for those of us in the church, it’s also for those who are actually out. Actually, I think it’s even more important for those who are outside the church. Because if we remember in the book of Acts, the first time the disciples were ever called Christians was because they were acting like Christ and that’s how it should be with us as well.

It should be with us that when we go out, our Christ-ness (I don’t know if there’s a word like that) but that we’re Christ-centered should be so evident. The Bible says our lives should so shine that the world will know. So that’s how it should be for us. So, it’s not just, like you’re talking about, inclusive evangelism for people who are not in the church, our attitude should be the only Bible, the first Bible that someone has read. And that’s what they should see while we go out for Christ.

Cara: Yes, I like that. That’s good.

Well, speaking of that (this is in a similar spirit), when we see the person of Jesus, in Jesus, God does come to live among humans as one of us, right? So, there is something incredible that we learn from Jesus about living among the people and not going into the community just only on, quick, maybe one-off excursions just to get people to come to church. What can it look like for the church to truly live among the people as Jesus did, to build these meaningful relationships, to have a steady presence in the congregation’s neighborhood?

What does that look like?

Brenda: What does it look like? I think it will look glorious!

But you know what? Until the church – until we learn to start (I’m trying to think of the best way to put it) until the church learns that we are part of the people. So, the Bible tells us that we are in the world, but not of the world. We are in the world. We are here at this moment. It’s God’s will that we are alive 11th, November 2021.

It is his will that we are here, and there is a purpose. There’s a mission. There’s a reason why we are alive today. And if we look at the story of Jesus, his whole purpose was the kingdom of God is here. The kingdom of God is coming. And the kingdom of God is like this. The kingdom of God is like that. The kingdom…everything he was doing was just focusing on bringing the kingdom of heaven to earth. And that is exactly what ours should be as well.

So, until the church begins to learn that we are part of this world, we are not of this world, because – I usually give an analogy. Say for example, (I’m in Ghana) the President says, “Okay Brenda, go be an ambassador of Ghana in Australia,” for example.

When I get to Australia, I am no longer Brenda. I am walking in the capacity of the President of Ghana. And so, what that means is whatever I do should represent Ghana. Even if I am in Australia, whatever I do, I should represent Ghana. I should breathe Ghana. I should eat Ghana. I should talk about Ghana. I should, everything I do should be about Ghana.

And that’s exactly the same thing with us. So we are in the world, but we are not of this world. And so, it’s extremely important for churches to begin to go out and try to find activities, try to initiate activities that will be an inclusive activity that involves the community they’re around.

I remember when pastor Kalengule Kaoma – there’s one saying, he said that I heard, and I’ve never forgotten it. And he said, “If your church, if they were to take your church out of that community, would the community miss you?”

And that statement has stuck with me since I heard it. Will the community miss us if they take us out of that community? Will my office miss me if I am taken out of my office? Will my business, the people I work with, would they miss me? Would I have represented something? Would I have done something? Would I have shown something if I was to be taken out of that community?

And so that’s how it should be. Until we begin to initiate activities that will bring the community around us to be able to experience the love of Christ, it still will not have that glorious look that we’re looking for. We will not have that look that we’re saying, “No, you know what? God is here,” because if we have to be able to, like I said, initiate those activities so that they can now be part of us so they can understand who Christ is.

If we don’t go to them, who is going to preach the gospel? If we keep secluding ourselves or taking away ourselves from the community, who is going to let them know about the word of God? I mean, if the apostles, if they didn’t move from where they were, the Gentiles, nobody would know about [the gospel.] If they didn’t, if they were not ready to go out and talk about Christ, we wouldn’t have the gospel today.

And so, our generation needs to learn to look for ways to get involved. I mean, there are so many activities that the neighborhoods come up with. Let’s get involved! Let’s get involved and be the difference. Let’s show them what the difference looks like, and not stay in our corner and expect the community to change, while we are in our corner and they’re in their corner. No, it doesn’t work that way.

So, we need to initiate. We need to initiate activities. I know one of our local churches here in our Ashongman branch, what they do is, the children (this is actually done by the children, as in the Y.E.S. ministry) what they do is they go out and invite other children around the community and they are constant with it. So, they do this constantly. And as they do that, because they now have – you know how children are! They talk to other people, other children, and then the children come to church. They play with them. They have games, they talk with them, they teach them about Christ. The children go home.

By the next week, these children leave their parents and they come to church. And so, if you come to the Ashongman congregation now, we have a children’s ministry that’s flourishing, flourishing with children whose parents are not even in the church, because the children of Ashongman branch actually went out. And it wasn’t a one-off thing; it was a constant thing they kept on doing.

And now we have a vibrant children’s ministry. And we pray that even as those children are being taught the good news of our Christ, when they go home, they would make a difference in their home, that their parents will want to find out: why is my child so much better? What is it about my child that is making him, now a lot better than how he was or how she was? Why? Because she’s experienced the love of Christ.

So, for me, the church, we need to learn to go out more, we need to go out more and create situations where we can just invite people of the community. I mean, Christmas is coming! There’s so much we can do. We can do singalongs at our community. We can do whatever, just something constant that we’re constantly in their face with love. And we can therefore show the love of Christ to the community.

Cara: Yes. And I love what you said about Jesus’ ministry. His earthly ministry was “the kingdom is at hand, and the kingdom is like this, and here’s the kingdom.” And that the church’s ministry is to be like that too.

And then for the church to understand that we are a part of the people and not to be living separately, but to be creating these spaces to say, “The kingdom is at hand and the kingdom is like this.” And to create those spaces to experience that, I think that that’s incredible. Like you said, that’s not going to happen if we are to just sit in our separate corner. Or to just do one-off things, because going back to what you were saying even about relationship as foundational to evangelism, there won’t be trust.

And that’s not even the proper context, right? That wasn’t Jesus’ context to share the good news to just one time a year go into the community and say, well, “Hey, come to this church. We’ve got some good news.” Who are you? Why should I come to listen to this?

Brenda: Exactly. I’ll come to you only on the holy days. And then after that, I’ll let you go.

I listened to (I don’t know if you’ve heard of him) Myles Monroe before died and there was this message. He was talking about how we, Christians, we need to learn to stop running away from positions of leadership and the media and things like that. Because if we don’t do that, what happens is those positions are being filled by people who may not necessarily be Christians. And so, what would happen is you see networks showing things that are not Christian for our Christian children.

But if we sort of try to get in those places, what happens is then we, ourselves, we’re able to influence, even in our own little corner, what is being done or what has been said, or what has been shown to people. So, I think it’s really important for Christians to rise up and begin to get involved.

Cara: Yes. And to be ambassadors, as you said, be those ambassadors. Yeah. Creating those tastes of the kingdom, wherever we go. That’s good.

And so how can we continue? Because there are a number of different ways that we can, and the church historically has thought about evangelism. So how can we continue to develop the church and our churches locally and our members to think about evangelism relationally?

Brenda: Well, speak on it. Keep talking, keep talking. That’s the first and basic thing I think we have to do; we have to keep talking about it. We need to sensitize people’s consciousness. The more you hear something, the more (that’s why we need to be careful what we put in us, even as Christians) because the more you hear something, the more you listen to something that thing becomes what is innate in you. It becomes part of you, becomes your subconscious.

That’s why Joshua tells us, “Day and night, I will read the Bible. And I will study his word day and night,” because the more we study the word of God, the better we are, as children of God.

So, I think the first thing is for us to constantly speak about it, constantly talk about. Create intentional activities, sensitizing our congregation. Put deadlines. Say, every three months, let’s look for something that we can do. Every six weeks, let’s look for something that we can do, and make it an intentional activity for the church. Make it an intentional activity for our local congregation.

And so, people’s minds begin to to accept, begin to understand the importance of this relational evangelism. Like I said, if you talk more about it, people hear it. And then they begin to work at it.

Set goals. Let’s set goals. Let’s set goals for these activities. Let’s create S.M.A.R.T. goals for our congregation to say, “Oh guys, this year we want to do at least XYZ number of relational – have relational evangelism and be able to have an inclusive evangelism that includes our community.”

And you find out the truth is, you find that when we begin to do these things, the local congregation, it will not just be around the church. They will start thinking, even in their offices, they’ll be thinking, “Oh, how do I do this? Even here? How do I get people around me here to know about Christ?”

So, it’s something we need to continue to speak about. We need to speak about. And even in the process, there are times where we’ll do activities that might make mistakes, but even in our mistakes, we learn.

So, we learn from our mistakes, and we celebrate our successes, even in doing this and now we know what to do and what not to do. But the basic thing is just talk about it, sensitize people about it. We’ve seen movements being created all because of talk. Use social media, if it needs to be, if it’s relevant to your congregation.

Use the youth, they are very vibrant. They’re ready to go to Timbuktu for you, for what they believe in. So, let’s put it on our Whatsapp platforms and our local congressional platforms and our Zoom platforms. Let’s talk about it where we do Bible study, make it something that we talk about, we share. Let people talk about their experiences.

The more we do this – and let’s not make it a one congregation thing. So, if say Ghana is going to do it, for example, let it be something that the whole of Ghana is aware of, not just one congregation. So that in all the congregations, all of the communities where we have GCI Ghana congregations, we’re all talking about the same thing, we’re all doing the same thing. And around the community, they all know, they can all see, now these people really are different. They really love God. And they really want to share about Christ. They really want to talk about Christ. And before you know it, things happen.

I mean, during COVID, there were so many things that the church had to learn to start doing, relational evangelism stuff, that the church had to start doing, because now you’re stuck in your homes, you have your community around you. What do you do?

So, during COVID we all had to get out. We all had to reevaluate our local community and say, “Okay, how can we reach out?” It’s not just where we are in terms of the placement or the location of our local church. It’s also where we live, it’s also our offices, it’s also our schools.

Christ’s message needs to go out. It needs to go out and we have to be ready to share it. Share it to the world, let the world know who it is and how proud we are to have him as a father, a savior, and a Lord and master. So, we just need to keep talking and make S.M.A.R.T. goals so that the church is sensitized and they’re aware that that’s where we’re headed.

Cara: Yes. I think that, as you say, as we talk about it, then we’re thoughtful, we’re intentional. And in community, together as the church, we’re participating in what God is doing in our midst. And we’re discerning, how is he inviting us to participate in his ministry, in sharing his good news.

I love what you say about making those goals, because I think that that’s those two things together: talking about it and learning, discussing intentionally how we want to participate and think about ministry and then also doing. Connecting our thinking with our participation is important! Because we can sit around a table and talk all day, but then something about the actually participating physically in how we are discerning God inviting us to participate in his ministry is important. And as you said, we will make mistakes, but together we’ll learn and we’ll grow, and God will continue to teach us in that. I think that as we do that, we continue to be transformed. We continue to grow and learn and become more excited about this way of sharing his good news.

I think that that’s a great way to think. And then, like you said, corporately as well as personally, there may be things that we do collectively as a church, but then it also transforms the way that we exist in the world, even in our personal spaces, like work or school or things like that.

Yeah. That’s good. It’s a transformation.

Brenda: That’s very true.

Cara: Are there challenges or joys that you’ve experienced as you have built these relationships in your community that you’d like to share with our listeners?

Brenda: Ay, ay, ay! Okay. So, we used to do what is called the youth retreat in Ghana. And we actually got this idea from Anthony Mullins and his wife when we came for the GCI convention. I think it was in 2017.

We came back and we got an idea to just go around the whole of Ghana with the youth to have youth retreats. We would take youth from the south side of Ghana, and we would take them up to the Volta Region, or the different regions of Ghana, to just talk to them, about their local church, the challenges they were having, and also evangelize around the community.

And one of the first challenge we realized is we need to know our community. We need to know what our community likes, what is acceptable, what is unacceptable in that community. For us, there are some communities you can’t just walk in there and say, you want to do evangelism. There’re some communities where you need to go speak to some people who are the elders of the community and say, “Look, we want to just come and talk to you about, talk to your people about the love of Christ.” And they have to give us the say, the “yes” say. Some communities, you will go, you don’t have to do that.

But you have to also understand things like, what language they speak in those communities. Sometimes if we don’t have the right people who would actually share the word of Christ to them, what would happen is we’ll get to the marketplace and we’re speaking English and the people in that community, they don’t understand English. Or they would rather you speak to them in the local dialect, and we don’t have someone.

So, the first thing that I would say is know your community. Know what they are. Know their dislikes, know their likes, know what is acceptable. Know what they are prone to. Know what makes them who they are. We can then walk from that to knowing how to approach them with the word of Christ.

And I think we see that in Paul. Paul does that very well. If you looked all through his (I think 13 or 19) books that he wrote in the New Testament, you would see that that’s what he does. First, he’ll start talking to them from a point they are familiar with. So, he wants to talk to them about the love of Christ, well he will start telling them about the law of Moses and the law of what they already know. So, they start from a place that they are familiar with, and then he builds it on to say, look, now this is the fulfillment of the law.

And that’s what we should do too. Know our community. Know the people we’re going to talk to and then build up from there.

And then when we build up from there, we’ll also be able to know the right timing to go to those places. Because those are some of the challenges we were having as well. Sometimes the timings we will set to do any kind of community evangelism might not be right. So we would have to change some of the timings, things like that.

And then, like I said, get the right resources. Get the right resources that would help, that would be able to pass your message across. Get the right people. Get the right equipment and things like that.

And then you’ll find that a lot of the times, when those things are put in place, it still doesn’t mean the community is going to accept you. Because that’s one of the challenges in some of the places we went to, it didn’t mean the community was accepting us. Sometimes you would go, like I was talking about, the story of the young man we spoke to, in that same community, there were people we spoke to who told us, “Look, I’m not interested. I don’t want to hear about it.”

So, you would have rejections. And when you have things like that, don’t take it personal. Don’t take it personal at all. Take it like, okay, this is not the time for this person. Pray with him, if he lets you, if she lets you and then move on to someone else.

Because the truth is in his time, he makes all things beautiful, in his time. It’s not about my timing; it’s his time. Our job is to go and evangelize. It is the Holy Spirit that convicts. So, it’s his time. That is important. It’s not our time.

Those are some of the challenges that we’ve faced in ministry, in youth ministry, in terms of being able to walk with people in the community with our youth retreat ministry. And during as well, we’ve got some really great success stories, by the grace of God.

We found that even as we move out to evangelize to people, we’re actually building our youths as well, because what we do is, it’s not always us that’s speaking. Most of the time we allow the youth themselves speaks and you find out when they do this, they are then forced to study the word themselves. And then they’re forced to look into the Bible so that they know they’re saying the right thing. We go back and forth on their messages and things like that.

So, we find out that one of the joys we see, is our youth being built up in the word. And they are being fully grounded in the word, even as they go out and evangelize the word. And that’s how it is. The teacher, you need to also be fed.

And sometimes when you do these things and you listen to them, there’s a joy in your heart when you see these youth who some 1, 2, 3, 4 years ago, didn’t even want to know anything about Christ, but now they are very vocal about the love of Christ and they’re ready to speak. Sometimes when they speak, you begin to see the giftings of the word that comes out of them. And yeah, you’re identifying different talents that the Lord has placed in them that you can use during this thing.

You’re building the outside of the church and you’re also building the inside of the church as well. And that’s why I like the fact that the church is concentrating on us being a healthy church, not a church that is focused so much on numbers; we’re more focused on the quality of the church members as against quantity.

So, for me, those are the things, the challenges and some of the joys that we’ve experienced in building relationships within the communities that we go to during our youth retreats.

Cara: Thank you for sharing that. Thank you. As you’re learning through these joys and challenges, what advice do you have to share with our listeners as we all journey in living out evangelism as relationship?

Brenda: I think the first thing for me will be that we should be open-minded. Because what you find out is everyone has been through something.

Everyone has a journey that they’ve been through. If we want to actually live out an evangelistic lifestyle in our community, we need to be open-minded. We need to be open, to listen to people’s struggles, be willing to listen to people’s ideas.

We don’t think that we have autonomy to wisdom, we have autonomy to knowledge. In our ministry, we’ve learned that even some of the young Y.E.S. kids teach us things and literally, they would make a statement and it would just trigger something in us. So be open-minded to learn, be humble to know that, no, we don’t have all the knowledge. We can learn from each other. I learn from you; you learn from me. It’s not about if I’m in the church or out of the church.

There are times when you are talking to people who, and like I said before, all they just want to hear is, the love of Christ. They just want to hear that this person actually cares and loves me.

And so that’s the advice I would give.  Be open-minded.

The next thing I would say is I remember 1 Corinthians 16:14, when he says that we should do everything, everything in love, that we should always act in love. So, when we’re going out like this, we should permeate the love of Christ.

Everything about us should be about the love of Christ. And that love is the agape, like we all know, the agape kind of love that keeps record of no wrong, that is patient, that is kind, that doesn’t envy. Doesn’t boast. It’s not arrogant. It’s not rude. It doesn’t insist, it’s my way or the highway.

It is the love that bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things. And when we begin to walk in love like that, you find that the community will be warmed up to us. They will see us as a people of love. And because we represent love, who is not attracted to love?

I mean, everybody wants to be loved. When we walk as children of love, the community is also open to us, to want to understand the kind of love that we have and be able to want to walk also in that love. For me, those would be the two things that has really helped: being open-minded and being open to show the love of Christ and walk in the love of Christ.

And that’s it. That that would be it for me in terms of what we need to do.

Cara: Well, that is really good advice, Brenda. So, thank you for sharing that. And as we start to wrap up our conversation today, is there anything else that we haven’t discussed or that I haven’t asked you, that you’d like to share?

Brenda: No, I don’t think so. I’m just really, like I said before, I’m really glad and happy that we’re looking at the direction that Dr. Greg has taken us, in terms of being open, being open to having a healthy church. So, we’re focusing, not just inside, but outside as well.

Because one of the challenges we found as well, is sometimes when we go out and we do this evangelism and people come into the church, they don’t actually see that atmosphere when we don’t have an organized or structure that makes them want to stay. Sometimes they come, a few times, and then they leave again. And then we have to go back again to try and get them back again. And it’s like, go back, go back, you’re going back and forth. So, I’m really glad with the direction where we’re not just focusing on the outside, which is a Love Avenue. But we also doing the Hope Avenue, and we’re moving even further to do the Faith Avenue, where we are interested in our people. We’re making sure that people that come stay, and we’re all growing together in the word.

For me, that is something that is so beautiful. And it’s very crucial, especially in the ministry that we’re in, because you find out even now, a lot of the youth, they want to go out. They don’t want to stay in the church. Why? Because the atmosphere that they need, the kind worship they would want to experience, they sort of think, okay, I’m not getting it here.

But thank God for this. A lot of the youth are staying in the church. A lot of the youth are beginning to open up. A lot of the youth are beginning to talk about being part of the church, the church’s growth. So, I’m really happy with that, the focus and the way we’re going. And I pray that the Lord will continue to give him more wisdom so he can come up with brilliant ideas like this again.

Cara: Amen. And that’s a good word, even on the interconnectedness of the three ministry Avenues.

So, I thank you, Brenda, for this really rich discussion. And I think that our listeners will have a lot to continue to pray about and to discuss with members and leaders locally.

As we prepare to end our episode for today, we love to have a little bit of fun on GC Podcasts. So, I have a few fun questions for you, and you can just answer with the first thing that comes to mind. So, no pressure, no pressure, but here we go.

Brenda, would you rather be forced to sing along or dance along to every single song you hear?

Brenda: Sing along. I love to sing.

Cara: Oh, okay. Do you prefer mountains or beaches?

Brenda: Beaches.

Cara: What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given

Brenda: Be yourself.

Cara: Oh, that’s a good one.

What’s your favorite game to play as a child?

Brenda: Oh, I don’t think you’d know that one.

Cara: That’s all right. You can share for our listeners anyhow.

Brenda: It’s a game we used to call Ten Ten. It’s played within two people. Sometimes you can line up a group of as many people as possible on one side and then on the other side. And you clap your hands, and you jump up. It’s called Ten Ten where I come from.

Cara: Okay, nice. Well, for our listeners who don’t know that game, they can Google it or ask a friend.

What is the place that you’ve always wanted to travel?

Brenda: I think now maybe Singapore now.

Cara: Oh, nice. Yeah. What is your favorite time of day?

Brenda: Ay, ay, ay. Favorite time of day? Hmm. I guess, early morning. Dawn.

Cara: Thank you. And the last question, what would the title of your autobiography?

Brenda: Oh my goodness. Ay, ay, ay! Oh, that’s a good one. Title of my autobiography? “I was here!”

I don’t know.

Cara: That’s a fun one. That was a tough question.

Well, Brenda, thank you so much for taking your time to join us today. It is our practice with GC Podcast to end our show with prayer. So, would you be willing to pray for our churches, pastors, and ministry leaders and members in GCI today?

Brenda: Yes, that’s fine. Let us pray.

Our Father in heaven, we thank you. We thank you so much for being the God that you are, being the God who never fails, the God who is always with us, the God who teaches us, who walks with us, who is intentional with your love for us. Father, we’re so grateful for today, we are thankful because we know that we’re not here by our power. We’re not here by our might. We’re here because of your grace and your mercy towards us.

And so, we’re thankful for this day, Father. We pray for our leaders of GCI. We pray for our pastors, our ministry leaders. We pray for the pastor’s wives. We pray for all those who are in a position to be servant leaders for our congregation, Father. We pray, oh God, for wisdom. We pray for knowledge. We pray for understanding in your word, oh God, so that they will be fully grounded in you, Father.

We pray for the wisdom to lead in the right way. Father, we pray that you will teach, you will guide, you will help, oh God. So that they will be able to have that wisdom to be able to walk with people that they work with, because we know Lord that it is not by power. It’s not by might.

We know that there are times as human beings, things will happen, oh God, that might make us want to derail from breaking the relationships that we have. But Father, we pray, Lord God, that they will walk in love. That your wisdom will lead every single one of them to walk in love. So, then they would walk in love with their congregation, and they will be able to get through everything together, as one people, bounded by your love. Father, we pray, oh God, not just for wisdom and knowledge and understanding. We also pray, oh God, even for the congregation, oh God, that you would help them also be able to know that it isn’t easy to be a leader. And so, they would also pray for them and be able to walk with them with understanding. Father, we pray to our King of glory, that you will guide and protect our homes.

Oh God, we know that if we’re away doing ministry, there are times when you are tired. You’re frustrated. You’re just, you’re spent, Father. So, we pray for strength, oh God. We pray for strength for our ministry leaders, that you will continue to give them the strength to carry on, to fight that good fight, even until the end, knowing fully well, that their reward is with you, Lord.

Father, we pray also for their families that you will bless them. You will guide them. You will protect them. You will help them to be able to be a pillar of support to the ministry leaders, oh God, so that they will be able to hold them up and they’ll be able to do the work, the ministry where you have placed them to the best of their ability, Father.

Most of all, we pray that the Holy Spirit will continue to guide them, oh God. Father, we do not want to speak of our own, oh God. We want the Holy Spirit to continue to lead us, to teach us how to walk, how to behave, how to lead, how to be the best leader that we could possibly be, oh God.

So Father, we pray that we will always have the Holy Spirit to help us, to guide us through it all. And Father, most of all, we pray also that we will lead as humble leaders, oh God, as servant leaders, taking example, oh King of glory, from our Lord Jesus Christ, who even washed the feet of his disciples.

Even though he was God, he did not count himself to be like that, but he came into the form of a human being just so that he could show the love that you have for us, so we could have a relationship with you. And so, Father, we pray, tender King of glory, that all our leaders have that attitude of being a servant leader. Help them, oh God, to be able to have that humble spirit, to be able to lead and walk in you. To be a good shepherd, be a good shepherd, oh God.

Father, we thank you, oh God, for we know these things we can’t do by ourselves. It’s only by you. And so, we pray oh God that you continue to walk with us. Help us and guide us even until the end. So that like Paul said, we have fought the good fight and we fought all the way till the end, oh God.

Father, we bless your holy name. And we thank you so much for listening to us. We do not take the fact that you hear us for granted because we know you paid a great price for us to be able to attain your throne of grace like this, oh God. So, Father, we thank you, oh Lord, for your love for us. We thank you for the blood that was shed for us on Calvary, oh God.

And we thank you for, oh Lord, the Holy spirit, who is here with us to guide us. Thank you so much, Lord, for everything that you do for us. You’re a great God, a great King, you’re our Father, our Redeemer. You’re the one who sits in the heavens and all the earth is your footstool.  Father, we are grateful to call you our own.

We bless your holy name. And we thank you so much for all that you do for us, for in the mighty name of Jesus Christ have we prayed. In his name do we pray. Amen.


Cara: One thing that spoke to me is when Brenda spoke about the church, realizing that it is part of the people. What made an impression on you, Sarah?

Sarah: I appreciated how Brenda highlighted the importance of creating a level of trust. She said, let everyone trust our words and our integrity.

And I think a key component of establishing trust is being transparent with your motives from the beginning of a relationship. If you go into a relationship with a plan to tell people about Jesus directly, I think you really need to tell that to people early on, or at least hint at that, by saying I’m a Christian.

Otherwise, people can feel like you developed this relationship with them just for the purposes of your own agenda. And if your approach is more about developing genuine relationship with people and having them take the initiative and asking you about your beliefs, then I think it is vital that you are honest with your answers to their questions in order to establish that trust in your integrity.

If they ask you a question that you do not know how to answer, say you’ll get back to them. Or if you don’t think that they will like the answer to a question about what you or your church believes, you still need to answer them, honestly, transparently, and directly, even if they don’t agree with you, they will be able to trust you in your integrity.

And if they make it clear, they don’t want to hear about Jesus, but are still interested in being your friend, I say, you still be friends with them, but only if you’re able to respect their boundaries. If you can be honest with them, with their questions and respect their boundaries, then true relationship is possible.

Cara: Thanks, Sarah. That is insightful advice on the practicalities of what it can look like to demonstrate that trust and integrity in relationship.

Now in GCI, we do have a lot of great resources available as we learn and grow in ministry participation together. One of those resources is Grace Communion Seminary.

Sarah:  Grace Communion Seminary now offers a seven-course diploma of Christian ministry with a focus on discipleship, worship, or witness designed for GCI Avenue champions.  Visit www.gcs.edu for more information.

Cara: Friends, we really appreciate you listening to the GC Podcast. If you like what you heard, go on ahead and give us a rating wherever you listened to the podcast. It really does helps us get the word out and help others join in the conversation. Until next time, keep living and sharing the gospel.

We want to thank you for listening to this episode of the GC Podcast.  We hope you have found value in it to become a healthier leader. We would love to hear from you. If you have a suggestion on a topic, or if there is someone who you think we should interview, email us at info@gci.org. Remember, healthy churches start with healthy leaders; invest in yourself and your leaders.

Sermon for April 3 – 5th Sunday in Easter Preparation

Speaking Of Life 4019 | A Path Through the Jackals

Have you ever felt like you were alone in a wasteland? Maybe during a break-up, financial crisis, or losing someone dear to you. Even in the wastelands, when all is hopeless, Jesus continues to meet us wherever to restore us and make us whole again.

Program Transcript


Speaking Of Life 4019 | A Path Through the Jackals
Cara Garrity

Have you ever been to a place you’d call a wasteland? Perhaps the depths of a junkyard or the parched ground of a dry riverbed? Isaiah 43 brings some similar imagery to mind talking about Israel in exile, describing the landscape as populated by wild beasts, owls, and jackals. This is a place where there is nothing left—nothing grows and the wind never blows.

Perhaps this describes how you feel at times – especially in this season of Easter preparation. The celebration of Jesus’ birth is long behind us, the celebration of his resurrection is ahead of us, but we are nearing the liturgy of the passion when we focus on his suffering and death and we can find ourselves feeling overwhelmed and in a kind of spiritual wasteland.

This is the kind of environment Israel seems to be in—exiled, away from home, under the thumb of Babylon. But this passage in Isaiah 43 is right here at the turn of hope. God’s deliverance was soon to appear for Israel.

[Look Down]

This is what the Lord says—
he who made a way through the sea,
a path through the mighty waters,
who drew out the chariots and horses,
the army and reinforcements together,
and they lay there, never to rise again,
extinguished, snuffed out like a wick:

Isaiah 43:16-17

[Look Up]

The first thing Isaiah does here is remind them who they are dealing with—the God who brought them out of Egypt, who brought them through the desert. He draws their attention to the past—God the way maker.

Isaiah then used the familiar desert imagery to show God turning the tables—bringing their deliverance:

See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland. 
The wild animals honor me,
the jackals and the owls,
because I provide water in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland,
to give drink to my people, my chosen,
Isaiah 43:19-20

Even in this wasteland—a place only populated by scavengers and bone-pickers—God makes the way. In this place of uselessness and complete loss, he shows up.

Has this happened to you? Has God met you in the wasteland—economic ruin, a disintegrated marriage, the depths of depression? Has he made a path through the jackals for you? Or maybe something in or around you seems like a wasteland right now. There is good news for us. No wasteland is too barren for our God to meet us there.

In the incarnation, God meets us, once and for all, in the wastelands of the human experience and reveals to us that Jesus Christ himself is the way in the wilderness, the river in the desert, a well of living water for the thirsty.

During this season of Easter preparation, we recognize the wastelands in and around us and embrace our deep need for Jesus. We do this in confidence that the victory of resurrection is upon us, that our God is making all things new.

Until that time when the Kingdom comes in fullness, watch for signs of life in the wasteland—for the flowers coming up through concrete and that trickle of water on the desert floor. Jesus is HERE; he is HERE for you.  

I am Cara Garrity, Speaking of Life.  

Psalm 126:1-6 • Isaiah 43:16-21 • Philippians 3:4-14 • John 12:1-8

Our theme this week is the abundance of God. The call to worship Psalm talks about mourning being turned into rejoicing by God’s abundant provision. Isaiah 43 describes God’s deliverance for Israel, creating abundance in the wasteland. Philippians 3 shares Paul’s “riches” in his past life that he gave up to know the overflowing riches of Christ. Our sermon comes from John 12 – a portrait of the abundant worship of Mary at Jesus’ feet.

The Lingering Fragrance of Grace

John 12:1-11 ESV

Have you ever smelled good perfume? Most of us have, and unless we are allergic to perfume, we enjoy the fragrance. If you put a dash of perfume or cologne on the neck or wrist it gives a whiff of a nice fragrance. But perfume isn’t just used for that pleasant fragrance when someone walks by. It can also be used to hide other fragrances – or odors. Some early burial ceremonies included perfume being poured over the body to cover the smell of decay or disease. It was typically used after a person died, but in today’s story, Jesus was anointed with perfume prior to his death.

 

Note: there are three anointings in the Scriptures regarding Jesus. The first occurred in Bethany at the house of Simon the Pharisee – when a woman (apparently one known to be a sinner) approached Jesus, broke open a bottle of perfume and began crying. She anointed Jesus’ feet and wiped them with her hair. This seemed to occur when John the Baptist was still alive – early in Jesus’ ministry. The third anointing is found in both Matthew and Mark, and it occurred in the house of Simon the Leper in Bethany. Two days before the Passover, an unnamed woman broke an alabaster jar of fragrant oil and poured it on Jesus’ head.

This sermon covers the 2nd anointing, which we find in John 12.

Read or have someone read John 12:1-11 ESV.

This story in John is taking place after a darker turn in the narrative. Jesus is approaching his death, and has been for the last few chapters, especially since the raising of Lazarus. All the gospels slow down immensely when it comes to the last week of Jesus’ life—about a third of each one is dedicated to the events of just a few days. Think about that—they skip through a lot of Jesus’ life. We see him as a baby, then as a twelve-year-old, then as a full-grown man. Then they skip around through his ministry career—a whole year might pass within a few verses. And yet when it comes to his last few weeks, the narrative slows down significantly. Jesus’ dialogue and prayers are reported in detail, and conversations are jammed right up against each other.

Today’s story is like that.

Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. So they gave a dinner for him there. (John 12:1-2 ESV)

The name Bethany is translated by some to mean “house of figs,” as there are many fig trees in the area; others translate it as “house of misery,” speculating that Bethany was a designated place for the sick and those with contagious diseases. It’s a small town about two miles outside of Jerusalem, and it is speculated that it was more of a subdivision than an entire town. It reached to the Mount of Olives, and it is the place from which Jesus ascended. Today it is still a small town with a population of about 1,000 and the traditional tomb of Lazarus is still marked.

So Jesus comes to dinner with his friends and Mary does something extraordinary.

Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard. (John 12:3 ESV)

Mary we’ve met before. She is the sister of Martha and Lazarus. Martha had earlier complained to Jesus that her sister wasn’t helping with Martha’s “many tasks.” He reminded her that Mary had chosen the better part—to sit at Jesus’ feet and listen. From early on, Mary seemed to “get it.”

Jesus and Mary seem to have a special relationship, a special understanding. For example, Jesus kept it together for the most part when he heard that his friend Lazarus had died. He told everyone to wait and see, and he talked theology with Martha. He only loses it when he sees Mary. Then the shortest, and one of the most poignant verses in the Bible, John 11:35, “Jesus wept.” He keeps it together until he sees her.

That’s what I love about this moment here. Mary, who gets it. Mary, whose sister thinks she’s not doing what is most important, she’s the one who “gets it.”

That’s one of the telling studies as you look at the gospels. The people that Jesus reveals himself to, or who first note who he is, are often those considered less than by others. We have a demon-possessed man who lives among the tombs and cuts himself. Or we have the Samaritan woman who has been through several marriages and is living with someone else, who comes to the well in the middle of the day to avoid everyone else. Then we have Mary, the one who doesn’t help her sister, who comes in with an expensive bottle of perfume and…

..and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. (John 12:3 ESV)

It’s almost like everything stopped and silence took over the room. As I’ve said, the narrative is running along at a clip—Jesus has been healing, teaching, dodging the bad guys. Miracles and near-misses left and right—the cultured elite and the politically powerful closing in on him; Jesus showing his own emotional side, weeping at the tomb, and then….STOP.

The story will go slowly from here on out. Detail after detail, teaching after teaching, we will walk closely with Jesus in his last days.

John wants us to know that Mary poured perfume worth a year’s wages on Jesus’ feet. One of the more expensive perfumes in the world is Henri Dunay’s Sabi, which is about $30,000 a bottle. That’s what we’re talking about here.

You can imagine the fragrance from the perfume not only going through the room, but outside the house, drawing others in to see what’s going on.

The disciples’ reaction is painfully predictable:

But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” (John 12:4-5 ESV)

Other translations say this was a year’s wages. There were similar reactions to the other two anointings in the Scriptures. Why this extravagance? Why this waste?

Why this waste? How many times have we said that? We live in an interesting time now when people don’t seem to have time for anything. Books take too much time and energy, so we put them on audio so we can listen to them while we are doing something else. Shopping takes too long, too much effort, so we do it from home online—with one click—so that it’s taken care of and we can get back to doing other stuff.

Yet even in this crazy time, we faithful believers still choose to stop everything and go to church. That seems a little nuts to the rest of the world—there’s no product produced that they can see; there’s no entertainment value, you actually give money rather than make it. And church is imperfect—if you want to hear music, turn on your iTunes, if you want to hear a sermon, look one up. Why this waste? Why waste your time—the most precious commodity you have—on this humble gathering?

Yet that’s the deal. That’s the point. We have a deeper thirst, and only this “humble gathering” will do. Just as Mary had a deeper thirst and a deeper understanding—that this particular moment was worth her special bottle of perfume. She somehow knew it was time to stop and anoint Jesus.

With all the stuff we have going, all the other “deadly important” things we’re up to, we also need to STOP. Stop and let the fragrance of worship fill our house.

Judas’s question is so classic: Why wasn’t this perfume sold to feed the poor? Here we go. He was recommending a “good” thing. Do you know what the enemy of the best always is? The good. The good is the enemy of the best. Judas is offering the sensible alternative, and in the other anointing accounts in the other gospels, the other disciples recommend the same. The sensible thing to do would be to give this money to those in need.

Yet here is where we see Jesus, once again, telling them he is more than just another prophet, more than just someone who’s calling them to moral action or stricter obedience.

Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial. For the poor you will always have with you, but you do not always have me. (John 12:7 ESV)

He is accepting this act of worship; he is commending this act of worship. Every prophet worth his salt would have torn his clothes at this point—worship is only meant for God.

And Jesus says….YEP.

“You will not always have me.” May those words echo to us. They already echo in our desire to share God’s love and life with others. We love others not because of who they are or what they do, and especially not because of who we are, but because of who HE is.

Steven Hawking, the great British physicist, died not long ago. As an avowed atheist he is known for saying there is no heaven. He believed heaven is just a fairy tale that people tell each other to make themselves feel better in the face of a short life and a long death. I would offer a slight modification on that: “there is no human goodness, it’s a fairy tale.” Human goodness, the goodness of the human spirit, is a myth that people tell themselves to make themselves feel better. As James tells us, “Every good and perfect gift is from above” (James 1:17)—all the goodness, graciousness, love that we see in the world and in ourselves is a gift from God. And the best good, the best graciousness, the best love happens when we love Jesus first – when we pour that bottle of perfume over his head or anoint his feet – when we give our hearts to him!

When we give our perfume to him first, that’s the only way there’s enough for everybody. That’s the only way there’s enough left. When we give our time and attention to him first, that’s when we have time and attention left over for the people we love, even the things we love.

Finally, a parallel here. Judas’s reaction, and the real reason behind it…

He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it. (John 12:6 ESV)

Here he is, being secretive, taking care of himself. Judas at least has some understanding that he’s part of something real and new here with Jesus, and yet he is still focused on what doesn’t matter. He is selling his soul here for a handful of quarters. His priorities are obvious, and in the end, he doesn’t care, he doesn’t trust, he doesn’t believe.

He speaks with secretive, hidden, double meanings. Many addicts in recovery will have on their wall, if not tattooed on their arm the proverb: “Keep it simple.” Simplicity, let your yes be yes and your no be no. When meanings start to get doubled, when secrets start to get whispered, watch out—this is fertile territory for sin. Secrecy is the petri dish that sin grows in.

Parallel that with Mary’s act.

Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. (John 12:3 ESV)

This is an extremely intimate act. She is transgressing several cultural boundaries here—doing some big no-nos. An unmarried woman was not to even touch a man, and never a Rabbi teacher like Jesus! This alone was presumptuous – and then letting her hair down, that was huge. Letting her hair down in the presence of men was strictly forbidden.

Yet that is the parallel here with Judas. As he takes things in secret and puts them away in secret, so Mary is out in the open, spilling the perfume, letting her hair go everywhere, kissing feet. This intimate moment is an act of utter openness, complete abandon in worship. The perfume is gone in a moment, and yet the fragrance of it remained.

An entire bottle of perfume poured on Jesus. Jesus smelled like perfume – he smelled like adoration and worship. Between this anointing and the one that took place shortly before his death, it’s possible that he smelled sweet even as he died. In the stink and heat and smell of blood at the cross, Jesus had the fragrance of worship, the fragrance of grace still lingering on him.

May we worship with the same kind of abandonment that Mary expressed. May we see Jesus as he is and worship him. May the fragrance of grace linger on you today. May you have that fragrance of worship, love, and freedom that we know as the children of God. May people smell you coming and be lifted up and lightened by your presence. Breathe deep. Amen.

Extravagant Worship w/ Dan Rogers W1

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Extravagant Worship w/ Dan Rogers
April 3 – 5th Sunday of Lent
John 12:1-8 “Extravagant Worship”

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Program Transcript


Extravagant Worship w/ Dan Rogers W1

Anthony: I’m going to read our first pericope, John 12:1-8. It is the Revised Common Lectionary passage for April the 3rd, which is the 5th Sunday of Lent.

Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.” He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.

“Leave her alone,” Jesus Leave her alone,” Jesus replied.  “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.” [NRSV]

Dan, what do you consider to be the main thrust of this passage and how it ties into the Lenten season?

Dan: The main thrust of this passage is explicitly given in the passage itself. It’s the anointing of Jesus in preparation for his burial. John evidently wants his readers to see Mary of Bethany, seemingly unknowingly performing a prophetic action that foreshadows Jesus’ death.

It was common at that time to anoint a person’s head as the sign of honor and hospitality, and to wash (not anoint) a guest’s feet with water. However, one did not anoint the feet of a living person. It was customary to anoint the body of a corpse with spices prior to burial.

Now, one can only imagine what the dinner guests (other than Judas) may have thought of Mary’s actions, but John states clearly for his readers, the meaning of the anointing. And thus, invites his readers (including us today) to reflect back on its significance, especially at this time of the year, as we remember Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Anthony: It seems that Mary’s way of honoring Jesus was very extravagant. What do we have to learn, Dan, from her action?

Dan: The value of the perfume Mary used to anoint Jesus’ feet has been estimated to be a year’s salary. That’s a lot of money, and we’re not told how Mary came to have this expensive perfume. John simply wants us readers to understand Mary’s actions, and probably hopes his readers can make application in their own Christian lives.

Her actions remind me of a hymn. Maybe you’ve heard it. Give of Your Best to the Master written by Howard B. Grose, and hymn stanza 3 says:

Give of your best to the Master;
Naught else is worthy His love;
He gave Himself for your ransom,
Gave up His glory above.
Laid down His life without murmur,
You from sin’s ruin to save;
Give Him your heart’s adoration;
Give Him the best that you have.

And Mary, in front of a room full of dinner guests, humbly and adoringly, knelt at Jesus feet, poured very expensive perfume on his feet, and unabashedly let down her hair in front of everyone, which was just not the custom for women to do at that time, and used her hair to wipe the feet of Jesus. What can we learn from that? May we as Christians, humbly and adoringly kneel daily at Jesus’ feet. And whatever we may have, our lives and our treasure, let’s make sure we give of our best to the Master.

Anthony: In verse 8, I’m just curious, is Jesus being dismissive of the poor and their needs? How can we rightly understand what he’s communicating?

Dan: I think we need to understand that, as Jesus said, the greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart. And the second is to love your neighbor.

The priority in our lives is to love God. And indeed, it’s only in loving God that we are empowered to love our neighbor who is created in God’s image. When we love and honor God, it will result in our loving our neighbors. The scripture says the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit.

Now Mary had a unique opportunity to honor God. And so, she did. She did so with all our heart and all she had at her disposal. And as so doing, she set an example for all Christians who would follow and read her story.

Now look, if her perfume had been sold and the money given to the poor, it would not have solved the human problem of poverty. It would have remained as indeed it does to this very day. Now should Christians help the poor? Of course, as much as we can! But we’ve got to realize our human efforts are not going to make poverty go away. Only God – the return of Christ in glory – can accomplish that. So, we as Christians do what we can for the poor but recognize that only when (like Mary) all worship and adore God, can human poverty be ultimately eliminated.

Yes. We must help the poor, but the answer to poverty lies in all people coming to Christ and worshiping as Mary did. And only when that day comes, will there be no more poor.

Anthony: [I have] a follow up question, as I look at this text. Obviously, the theological question on any pericope is: who is God? Who is the God revealed in Jesus Christ? Any comments you’d like to share about the God that we see revealed in Jesus in this passage?

Dan: We’re coming up to the time of the Triumphal Entry, and we’re going to be talking about. We see Jesus as the king, as the ruler and our Lord and our God. And we’re going to cover all of that, I think, today in the pericopes that we have laid out.

But one thing I would like us to think about is Jesus is our best friend. Mary loved Jesus. Jesus loved Lazarus. Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. He loved Martha. He loved his disciples. And he was one of the nicest guys! Let me put it this way. He was the nicest guy who’s ever lived, and what a joy it was to be around him and be with him.

And yes, we know he’s King; he’s Lord; he’s God Almighty, but he’s also our best friend. And the fellowship that we can have with him in the Spirit is priceless.

Anthony: Yeah, and it always strikes me how in that culture, how the people of that day, who would be considered outsider, felt like insiders with Jesus. Talking about this God, who you were drawn to, that you wanted to be with, that there was an experience of the embodiment of joy when you’re with him. It’s a powerful thing to look into the eyes of Jesus and draw more and more in love with the one who ultimately loves our soul.


Small Group Discussion Questions

Questions for sermon:
  • Have you ever had an exorbitantly expensive drink, or an expensive bottle of wine? What was the experience like? Can you imagine spilling it or otherwise using it up?
  • What do you make of Jesus’ statement “For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me” (John 12:8)? Jesus tells us to serve the poor and yet he takes this act of worship for himself—what does that tell us about who he is and what our response should be?
  • We talked about the contrast between Judas—secretive and duplicitous, and Mary—simple generosity. Do you believe that God often blesses us with much more than we need? Share a story of God’s generosity in your life.
Questions for Speaking of Life:
  • Have you ever been to a wasteland setting like Isaiah describes? Have you been to a spiritual and emotional wasteland?
  • Isaiah reminds them of their past with God by invoking the story of the Exodus: “Thus says the Lord, who makes a way in the sea, a path in the mighty waters” (Isaiah 43:16). How can it be helpful to remember past blessings when we face current trials?
  • In this passage, after reminding Israel of their past, Isaiah turns their attention to future hope. How do we keep authentic hope without being foolhardy? Is hope more than simple luck or optimism?
Quote to ponder: The very least you can do in your life is figure out what you hope for. And the most you can do is live inside that hope. Not admire it from a distance but live right in it, under its roof. – Barbara Kingsolver

Sermon for April 10, 2022 – Liturgy of the Palms (Palm Sunday)

Speaking Of Life 4020 | Going-away Party

When Jesus entered the city of Jerusalem, people were celebrating because they thought he came to end the rule of the Romans. Hardly did they know that they were giving him a going-away party. A celebration that is worth praising til today! Jesus didn’t come to conquer an oppressive government. Jesus came to overcome death with light and love!

Program Transcript


Speaking Of Life 4020 | Going-away Party
Greg Williams

I have a friend who worked for a manager known for making the whole department miserable. The manager was such an oppressive boss that when she announced she would be leaving the company, the staff struggled to hide their joy as she served her two-week notice. But they were able to secretly plan a going-away party for the manager’s last day on the job. Only, they did not invite the manager. Once she went away, they threw a party.

Well, that’s not usually what we are trying to do when we throw a “Going Away Party.” Typically, we mean to celebrate the person who is going away, not the relief of their going.

But consider this! When we celebrate Palm Sunday and Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, we are in a way doing a little of both. If you remember the story, Jesus is entering Jerusalem when the city erupts into celebration as they think Jesus is coming to overthrow the Romans. So, they are celebrating the person of Jesus. But Jesus did not come to Jerusalem to conquer the Romans. He came to die on a Roman cross. Little did the inhabits know, they were throwing Jesus a “going-away party.”

And, it’s a going-away party worth throwing. When Jesus died on the cross, he gave the oppressive rule of evil, sin, and death its “two-week notice.” This present evil age is on its way out. Halleluiah! Like those who celebrated the departure of an oppressive boss, we can celebrate the departure of the oppressive rule of evil and sin that has long tormented our souls. When Jesus entered Jerusalem, he entered to triumph over the devil’s rule of darkness and fear, bringing us into his Light and Love. Listen to these words of celebration often read on Palm Sunday:

the LORD has done this,
and it is marvelous in our eyes.
The LORD has done it this very day;
let us rejoice today and be glad.

LORD, save us!
LORD, grant us success!

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD.
From the house of the LORD we bless you.
The LORD is God, and he has made his light shine on us.
With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession
up to the horns of the altar.

You are my God, and I will praise you;
you are my God, and I will exalt you.

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
his love endures forever.

Psalm 118:23-29

As we celebrate Palm Sunday, may our praise and joyous worship be a response of overflowing gratitude for who Jesus is and what he has done. Not overthrowing cities and rulers but conquering sin and death and reigning in our lives. Hosanna, hosanna!

I’m Greg Williams, Speaking of Life.

Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29 • Luke 19:28-40

This week’s theme is the gates of praise. With a chosen focus on Palm Sunday for the Sixth Sunday of Easter Preparation, there are only two passages in the RCL. The call to worship Psalm presents a liturgy of entrance to the temple courts that is paved with praise and rejoicing. The Gospel reading in Luke echoes this theme with Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, where his disciples shout out with praise and rejoicing.

The Entry of Departure

Luke 19:28-40 (NRSV)

Today marks the end of our journey through the Season of Easter Preparation (commonly referred to as Lent) and it launches us into the beginning of Holy Week. In Holy Week, we are invited to praise and worship Jesus as the one who is faithful to his word to us, even at incredible cost to himself. The liturgical calendar gives us this special day known as Palm/Passion Sunday which begins what is commonly called Holy Week. Some churches will focus on the Passion of Christ while others will focus on Jesus’ triumphal entry by celebrating Palm Sunday. Both focus on Jesus and the culmination of his ministry that takes place in Jerusalem. Either path gives us the opportunity to hold to what Jesus revealed to us during the season of Easter Preparation while entering Holy Week with a response of praise and worship for who he is as our Lord and Savior. Last year we focused on Passion Sunday, this year, we will be focusing on Palm Sunday and Jesus’ triumphal entry as it is told in Luke’s Gospel.

The story begins in Luke 19:

After he had said this, he went on ahead, going to Jerusalem. (Luke 19:28 NRSV)

We should ask, “after he had said what?” As Luke tells the story of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, he does so by linking it to the parable of the pounds that Jesus just told in the previous section of Luke 19. According to Luke, Jesus told this parable “because he was near Jerusalem, and because they supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately” (Luke 19:11 NRSV). If we were to revisit that parable, we would see that Jesus is trying to correct some faulty assumptions of his followers. They were ready for Jesus to overthrow the Roman Empire and rule as their new king immediately. But the parable sets up a time between a ruler becoming king and that king returning in “royal power.” The time between will be a time where the subjects of the king will either faithfully serve him or rebel against him. We will see both in our story today. But first, let’s explore what light the parable of the pounds shines on the story of Jesus’ triumphal entry.

First, we are to understand that Jesus is not coming to Jerusalem to become king just as the nobleman in the parable did not go to a distant country to become a nobleman. Jesus is already King. Other ancient triumphal entries were understood in this manner. It was the victorious kings who would enter a city in a procession of celebration as a way of claiming that city as their own. You can see the paradox set up in the way Jesus enters Jerusalem. He does not enter in the same manner as other kings of his time would. For example, victorious Roman generals would enter a city wearing a crown of laurel and riding a chariot pulled by mighty war horses as symbols of military victory. Jesus enters on a humble colt and ends up wearing a crown of thorns. The symbols of his victory point to a royal power from a decidedly different source.

Second, Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem is not Jesus’ entry into his royal power. That takes place at Jesus’ ascension. With Jesus’ parable as our guide, his entry into the city equates to the departure of the nobleman. Jesus is not entering the city as a place of arrival but as a place of departure. This also fits with how Luke has been telling the story. Luke began a section in his Gospel back in chapter 9 verse 51 where Jesus “resolutely set out for Jerusalem” that is known as the “travel narrative” or as the “journey to Jerusalem.” Luke spends ten chapters on this journey narrative, and it ends just before the triumphal entry. The whole journey is a journey towards Jesus’ exodus—his death and crucifixion that will take place in Jerusalem.

Third, we should note that this story does not actually end with Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. In fact, the next verse after our story has Jesus still coming near Jerusalem. In this way, here on Palm Sunday, we stand at the entrance of Jesus’ crucifixion and death which will be visited throughout Holy Week. Let’s look at the story as disciples who are called to enter these gates with him.

When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, saying, “Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.’” So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” They said, “The Lord needs it.” Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. (Luke 19:29-35 NRSV)

The location of the story takes place near Bethphage and Bethany, two neighboring towns that are on the Mount of Olives, which according to Zechariah 14:4 is where the Messiah was expected to arrive. It is here, before descending the mountain into Jerusalem that Jesus directs his disciples. In this case, two disciples to be exact. This is an interesting way Luke begins the story. Typically, Luke is full of explicit details throughout his Gospel, but in this case, he seems to go out of his way to keep the identity of these “two disciples” hidden. We don’t even know if they are two of the twelve disciples or just two disciples in general. It’s possible Luke does this to invite us into the story. For today, the two disciples are you and me. Notice Jesus gives us a part to play in his ministry. Even at this climatic end of his long journey, he still invites his disciples to be involved, to participate in what he is doing. And these two disciples are called to participate as disciples who are “sent.” Sent to do what, we may ask?

First, they are sent “into the village ahead of [them].” Often, ministry with Jesus is right in front of us. We do not need to set our eyes to some distant destination on the horizon, rather we are sent to the next town or person we encounter. This doesn’t mean we will not be sent to distant lands, but the emphasis is on carrying out Jesus’ ministry one step at a time. We should not overlook the many opportunities Jesus gives us to participate in his “sending” ministry all around us. The “village ahead of you” may be lying next to you when you awake in the morning. Or it may be in the breakroom of your workplace as you make your lunch. Maybe Jesus sends you to a “village ahead of you” located in the grocery store or gas station on your way home. Whatever village you encounter “ahead of you” may be a place Jesus is calling you to serve him.

Second, the two disciples are serving Jesus in a specific way. They seem to be aware of how they are serving, as they return with excitement “throwing their cloaks on the colt” and setting Jesus on it. Let me explain! These disciples obviously knew their scriptures. They knew how untying a colt, a new colt that had never been ridden at that, would serve as a sign laden with messianic expectations. The passage in Zechariah 9:9, for example, would be easy to see as taking place in the very event these disciples were caught up in.

“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.” (Zechariah 9:9 NRSV)

There are other Old Testament passages, along with this one, that would let these disciples know they are playing a key role in Jesus’ ministry as the Messiah. The disciples know that they are sent ahead as a witness of who Jesus is. In the words Jesus gives them to say, along with the actions they are told to take, they become participants in the signs the scriptures have set out to point to Jesus. In their particular situation, Jesus tells them to untie a colt.

Luke mentions this detail of tying and untying five times, so it must be an important detail he doesn’t want us to miss. We can note two things that this act may symbolize in addition to the messianic themes associated with the colt from Zechariah. First, the colt is tied. And Jesus didn’t say to the disciples that they might find a colt tied in the village or that they need to look for a colt tied in the village, he says “you will find tied there a colt.” Remember, Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem to go to the cross. What he is about to do is untie all creation from the bonds of sin. Jesus is the one who will set the captives free, and the disciples in this act will serve as a witness to who he is and what he will do at the cross.

We too, will find “colts” still tied in the villages ahead of us that need to know who Jesus is as the one who sets them free. Any “untying” we do will only be as a sign of the ultimate freedom offered in Jesus. Also, the colt is untied for the purpose of being brought to Jesus. Likewise, our acts serve a greater end. For example, if Jesus directs you to help someone break free from an addiction or abusive relationship, you can do that as a witness of the greater freedom Jesus brings to them in the Gospel. The act only has minimum benefit if it doesn’t serve in bringing that person a little closer to Jesus. So, anything we do to bring others into some experience of freedom in this life, can be used to bring people to Jesus where their ultimate freedom is found.

Jesus also gives them words to say as they untie the colt. If someone wants to know why the colt is being untied, they are to say, “The Lord needs it.” Notice, the words and the act go together. The colt is untied for the Lord. Setting the colt free just to roam the hills on its own would be a bondage of another sort. The colt is made to have a master to whom she belongs. In a similar fashion, people are set free, not just from something, but for something. Namely, they are set free for the Lord.

Jesus doesn’t explain all the details or the symbolism. So while we throw out a disclaimer that these are just pictures or analogies to help us unpack some of the realities Jesus brings with his “departure,” we know he is always intentional. With this in mind, let’s look at another detail concerning the colt. The colt had “never been ridden.” This means it is a new colt that its master has not yet broken in. This could be another reference to messianic themes, and it can serve as another witness to who Jesus is and what he is doing. Jesus’ death on the cross will not end his ministry. There will be a resurrection which ushers in a new creation. Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a symbol of the newness he brings to all creation. Jesus is the true Lord and Master of his creation and creatures. Did you notice that the owners did not resist the disciples untying the colt when they were told the Lord needed it? Jesus as Lord means that all ownership must be denounced, and we are to be stewards instead. When the Lord comes calling, as stewards, we will have no problem letting go of that which has been given to our care. We are not owners, but stewards.

Again, these are not meant to be an exact parallel to how Jesus relates to us as his people. We are not actual colts tied to posts and we are not to equate such imagery that would see Jesus relating to us as we would to an animal. But hopefully, you get the picture.

In summary, the two disciples, like you and I, are sent ahead as witnesses to who Jesus is and what he has done. We do this with the words Jesus gives us to speak along with actions that confirm the words. Jesus is Lord; and we have the privilege to participate in his ministry by bringing others to him by word and deed. But, there is another calling we have as disciples that is seen running through the whole story. Let’s look further:

As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying,

“Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” (Luke 19:36-38 NRSV)

The story has a theme of worship running through it. There is no hesitancy from the disciples regardless of how odd their mission may have seemed. They are obedient to every word Jesus speaks to them. Not only that, but they also do it joyfully, gathering with others to sing praises to the Lord. This is what it means to be a disciple of the Lord who is King of all kings. Everything we do is done as an act of joyful worship. Notice how Jesus never had to tell anyone to spread their cloaks or lift their voices in praise. The presence of the Lord brings out a response of worship from those who know him.

Even in a story that is all about Jesus’ departure, his soon coming crucifixion and death, the author is inspired to write it in a joyful, worshipful tone. This too, is our response of knowing the Lord, even now as we live between the times of his departure and his return. That’s what we see in the parable of the pounds. The faithful servants take all that is given to them and serve as stewards who trust in the Lord and his promised return. But the parable also had one servant who thought the master to be a “harsh” man. He did not respond as one who trusted in the character and word of his master. So, Luke has one more detail to share to carry that through.

Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.” (Luke 19:39-40 NRSV)

Jesus’ approach to the city is met with resistance. It comes from the Pharisees, the same opponents of Jesus that have been resisting him the whole journey to Jerusalem. They are not excited about Jesus riding in as the victorious king that they must answer to. They’d rather have their own rules and regulations that keep people bound to them. They also did not want the shouts of praise to reach the ears of the Roman authorities that they were capitulating to. A triumphal entry of a new king could end what little control they thought they had. There is no worship on their lips or joy in their hearts.

Notice how they oppose Jesus. They go after his disciples. They order Jesus to order the disciples to stop being worshipers and witnesses. Everything the disciples are doing points to Jesus as the true Lord and King, and the Pharisees cannot endure it. We can expect the same today as true disciples who follow the Lord. Those who want to keep people tied down for their own purposes will resist those who follow the one who is setting people free to follow him. The more we worship, the more we witness, the more we can expect the powermongers and slavedrivers to try to muzzle us into silence. But Jesus has words for them: “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”

In other words, Jesus stands at the gate as King, and he can’t be stopped. He will enter the city as its only Lord and King, and death itself will not prevent him from bringing life and freedom. Even if the whole world falls silent at his departure, the sound of the stone rolling from the tomb will shout his victory. Perhaps Luke intends to leave us with a lingering question. If Jesus is truly our Lord and Savior, even at the gates of his own departure, how could his followers be silent? After all, he is a returning King.

Extravagant Worship w/ Dan Rogers W2

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Extravagant Worship w/ Dan Rogers
April 10 – Palm Sunday
Luke 19:28-40 “Blessed Is the King”

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Program Transcript


Extravagant Worship w/ Dan Rogers W2

Anthony: Let’s move on to the next pericope, which is going to be Luke 19:28 – 40. It is the Revised Common Lectionary passage for April the 10th, which is Palm Sunday. Dan, would you read that for us please?

Dan:

28 After Jesus had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. 29 As he approached Bethphage and Bethany at the hill called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, 30 “Go to the village ahead of you, and as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it.’”

32 Those who were sent ahead went and found it just as he had told them. 33 As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?”

34 They replied, “The Lord needs it.”

35 They brought it to Jesus, threw their cloaks on the colt and put Jesus on it. 36 As he went along, people spread their cloaks on the road.

37 When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen:

38 “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”

“Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”

39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!”

40 “I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.” [NIV]

Anthony: Dan, what’s the big deal about Palm Sunday? And what is significant about Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem as we’re thinking ahead about Holy Week?

Dan: In all four Gospels, the significance of Jesus entry into Jerusalem is his triumphal royal entry into the city, leading to his enthronement as King. Now for the Gospel writers, the lifting up of Jesus on the cross was the Ascension of the King to his throne. And in one sense, the first step in Jesus’ Ascension to the Father.

Anthony: If you preach this passage, Dan, (which you most likely will, and we’ll be listening) what’s going to be your main teaching emphasis?

Dan: In my over 51 years of ministry, I’ve preached on the triumphal entry many times and will continue to do it many times, but my teaching emphasis varies a bit, depending on which Gospel account I’m preaching from.

The triumphal entry is found in all four Gospels. And that indicates its importance to the story of Jesus. Now, if I’m preaching from John’s account, I note a lot of John’s use of biblical imagery to show Jesus as the Messiah, the prophesied King of Israel, the King of the Jews who was to come and bring in a new age of peace and freedom.

And the concepts of peace and freedom were very important to John’s readers who are probably enduring a great deal of persecution at the time they read his Gospel. John especially, though, draws on imagery from the Jewish feast of Sukkot or Feast of Tabernacles, as it’s sometimes called. And though this festival came in the fall of the year, John moves many of its symbols to the springtime story of Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem.

Now the Feast had become separated from its original agricultural roots and had come to be seen in the days of the Old Testament prophets as a celebration of the enthronement of the Messiah, the King, and the beginning of the Messianic Age. And thus, John uses the festival’s imagery to illustrate this is what’s happening with Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem.

But now if I’m preaching from Luke’s account (which is the Lection for this year), I know how that Luke omits most of the Jewish imagery John uses. Perhaps lest his Gentile readers get the mistaken impression that the focus of Jesus is on a nationalistic Jewish kingship. For Luke, Jesus’ enthronement on the cross begins the rule, (basileia, sometimes translated kingdom) the rule of God for all followers of Jesus, both Jew and Gentile, all people.

And I teach it this way as a story of contrast. For his final visit, Jesus enters Jerusalem as the people’s Messiah king and savior, but not in the way most would have expected here. Hear the contrast in this story. We have the Messianic King coming to save his people, riding on a white charger, a battle horse? No, on a donkey. He brings peace, not war against the Roman. He conquers hearts and minds, not nations. He’s not welcome with royal robes, but those of the common people.

His crown is one of thorns. His throne is a cross. His coronation is an execution. His victory is in death, but through his death and resurrection, King Jesus succeeds and in saving his people. And through his death, King Jesus triumphed over all the powers of sin, death, and evil. And through his death King Jesus wins the war. The battles and skirmishes obviously continue, but through his death, victory is assured.

The triumph and victory are ours through our King, our Lord Jesus Christ. And this event of the Triumphal Entry assures us that we can have great comfort and peace because no matter how “wrong side up” things may look in the world around us or in our own lives, we can know triumph has already come.

Eternal peace, eternal joy, and eternal life have been won and secured for us because of the triumph of our King Lord Jesus. So as the crowd said, “Bless it be the name of the Lord.”

Anthony: Yeah, it reminds me how Jesus is our Deliverer, and he is faithful to deliver us ultimately. But often that deliverance doesn’t look the way I anticipate it looking or the way that I think would be best for it to happen – as the people of the day thought as well.

It seems that the Pharisees are trying to shush the multitude of disciples celebrating Jesus. I’m just curious, in what ways do we today need to be on guard that we aren’t hushing those seeking to worship Jesus?

Dan: Let me first speak to the meaning of the passage, and then I’ll comment on your question.

In the Lucan text, the Pharisees ask Jesus to rebuke his disciples for declaring him as king. And as the kingship parable Luke places just prior to the Triumphal Entry states, the Pharisees were determined not to let Jesus rule over them and were determined to have him killed. They are also undoubtedly concerned that the public proclamation of Jesus as king, a Jew as a king, would draw the attention and ire of the Roman authorities.

But your question does give me an opportunity to talk about one of my pet peeves about Christian worship in some settings. As Paul tells us in Corinthians, our community worship should be in decency and order. That is why we must not be disruptive and cause offense and confusion in community worship. Also, we should respect the worship traditions of different Christian tribes.

Now some Christian worship traditions are highly liturgical with lots of pomp and circumstance and some focus more on preaching and teaching. And some, such as the Quakers, emphasize the spiritual discipline of silence. We should respect the varying Christian traditions and not judge, or (to use your word, Anthony) “hush” them because they may be different from our own.

Also, pet peeve! Worship leader, please don’t tell people how to worship! Again, with decency and order, people should be free to worship as is appropriate for them. For example, please don’t tell people to bow their heads in prayer. Some may want to lift their eyes to heaven. Invite people to join with you in prayer.

Don’t tell people to stand; invite people who are able and so desire to stand. Don’t tell people to remain standing; invite them as they are able, and so desire to remain standing. Some of us have physical challenges, especially those of us who are older. And we can’t stand as walk as we used to. So please don’t embarrass us because we need to sit down when you say remain standing.

So, the key is don’t command! Invite people to participate with the worship leader and the worship team in community worship. So, thank you for allowing me to share one of my pet peeves.

Anthony: You are welcome.


Small Group Discussion Questions

From Speaking of Life
  • Can you think of any examples of something that “went away” that was worth celebrating?
  • In light of Jesus’ death and all that he delivers us from, what specific things can you think of that deserve a “going away party?”
  • Although we live in this present evil age, we also know that the devil, all evil, sin and darkness are defeated and will ultimately be removed. How does this shape how we live in this present evil age?
From the Sermon
  • Can you recall some of the ways the sermon related the Parable of the Pounds to the story of Jesus’ triumphal entry? What insights are gained by the context of the parable with Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem?
  • What stood out to you from the sermon and the text about the disciples being sent “into the village ahead of [them].” How did the sermon relate this to participating in Jesus’ ministry?
  • Luke mentions the detail of tying and untying five times in reference to the colt. What symbolic witness of Jesus did the sermon bring out with this reference?
  • The sermon said that setting the colt free just to roam the hills on its own would be another form of bondage. How does this serve as an analogy of what true freedom is for us?
  • The text tells us that the colt had “never been ridden.” Discuss the symbolism you see in this detail, or the symbolism presented in the sermon? Any insights? Any wild guesses?
  • How were the disciple’s actions throughout the story an act of worship? What are some specific ways the disciples were worshiping the Lord?
  • What struck you about the Pharisees resisting Jesus by telling him to order his disciples to stop? In what ways do the powerful and elite rulers of our day try to prevent Jesus’ entry in the world by trying to stop his disciples? How have you experienced this dynamic?

Sermon for April 15 – Good Friday

Good Friday Service

As a call to worship read through Psalm 22.

Today we commemorate Good Friday. We remember Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross because of his love for humanity. This is often referred to as the passion of the Christ. In current times, passion is defined by a strong emotion, but the root word for passion means to suffer. To have compassion is to suffer with. On the cross, Jesus showed compassion, he suffered with us.

In today’s service we will meditate on Jesus’ seven statements from the cross. Together, these sayings constitute a powerful message from our Savior’s heart during the hours of his greatest personal agony. They reveal Jesus’ innermost feelings as he poured out his life for us.

(Participants can rotate through the stations or readers can take turns leading the meditations in the service.)

Forgiveness

While they were nailing Jesus to the cross, he prayed over and over, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing.” Luke 23:34 (TPT)

As we journey with Jesus in his redemptive work on the cross, perhaps our thoughts turn reflective as we recall the atrocious events leading up to his crucifixion, yet we remember the compassionate words Jesus spoke, even as the spikes were driven into his hands: “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing.” Jesus’ words transcend time and space. His words echo in our hearts today. Jesus invites you to ponder the question, “What are you doing?”

Take a moment and ask God to show you a picture of your heart. What do you see? What does it mean? Ask the Holy Spirit to help you recognize the hidden wounds that cause you to act a certain way. Don’t try to figure it out alone! The Holy Spirit is your Guide, the Helper—the Parakletos. Invite God’s healing light to illuminate the darkness and make you whole.

Hope

Today you will be with me in paradise. (Luke 23:43)

God’s expansive view of humanity is evident in Jesus’ crucifixion. The disciples have scattered, and it is the Jewish leaders not the Romans that call for his death. Who would have expected the Messiah of glory to establish his kingdom as a martyr? It is not a Jewish person, or a religious leader that asks Jesus for forgiveness, but a convicted thief on the cross. What has the thief done to deserve forgiveness? He merely recognizes Jesus as the Son of God and asks. Jesus responds, “Today you will be with me in paradise.”  Once again, in God’s kingdom we see that the last are first.

Praise God, that through Christ’s sacrifice we are remembered and receive the grace we could never earn. Take some time to think about who you assume will be “last”. Is there a person or group that thinks of you as “last”? Ask God to give you the strength to turn towards him, to give you his eyes to see, receive, and give the undeserved grace that he poured out on the cross.

Care

Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.  When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home. (John 19:25-27)

Whether connected by DNA or not, our “families” are connected by a long history, treasured memories, and shared experience. During his painful moment on the cross, Jesus sees two people he loves, Mary and John, and calls them family. He reimagines their relationship beyond the genetic bond. Through Christ, people of different experiences and cultures are united as brothers and sisters. Our compassionate Christ places the lonely in families.

In God’s loving presence, consider the experiences of your fellow brothers and sisters. Are there those who are easier to include than others? Is there a time where you feel uncomfortable with your brothers and sisters?

Ask God to unite our hearts in Christian love. To give us hearts and minds like his above. May the Spirit fill us with insight for shared hopes, goals, comforts, and cares. To know how to grieve and celebrate with one another.

Loneliness

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34)

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” begins the Psalm Jesus was quoting (Psalm 22); it does not end it. The desperate opening line is answered with repeated, reassuring acknowledgements of God’s presence, not his absence. Verse 10 says, “From birth I was cast on you; from my mother’s womb you have been my God.” Verse 11 says, “Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help.” Verses 19-21 declare, “But you, Lord, do not be far from me. You are my strength; come quickly to help me. Deliver me from the sword, my precious life from the power of dogs. Rescue me from the mouths of the lions; save me from the horns of wild oxen.” Then verse 24 is the clincher: “For he [God] has not despised or scorned the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help.”

In typical rabbinic fashion, when Jesus quotes the opening line of Psalm 22, he is thereby referencing the entire Psalm, which speaks not of separation or abandonment but of God’s rescuing presence. Jesus spoke to God, knowing that his Father was listening. Perhaps most fully there on the cross, Jesus felt and knew the Father’s unyielding opposition to evil and his commitment to eradicate it. And that is what his cry of abandonment indicates. What events in the world have you crying out to God, and asking why? Are there situations in your personal life that feel forgotten by God? Present these areas to Jesus, ask him to reveal his rescuing presence.

Suffering

Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” (John 19:28)

The human experience is not a smooth one. We are dependent in physical and emotional ways. The loneliness we feel, the pain we suffer, the entire spectrum of human emotions, Jesus experienced during his embodied life. On the cross, Jesus took on our anguish, trials, and disappointments, and overcame them all for all of us. In his compassion, Christ suffered with and for us. He partners with us in our lives. When we see someone in need hungering for compassion, thirsting to be loved – we can confidently minister to others from the well of grace and abundant love we have received.

Take a moment to reflect on times when you have experienced the light and love of Christ shining into dark moments. How have you experienced his care and concern for you personally? Is there someone to whom you can offer a cup of compassion?

Triumph

“It is finished.” (John 19:30)

Jesus’ humility rings in his words. His was not a vain, I-showed-you attitude. He did not even say, “I did it.” He claimed no credit. He asked no pity. To the end, Jesus’ mind was on the work he came to do. He announced, for all to hear, “It is finished.”

What the disciples saw as a lost dream of a messiah, and the religious leaders of the time perceived as a victory for maintaining the status quo, God saw as a victory. When Jesus says, “It is finished” from the cross, he means death has lost its battle, sin no longer has power – humanity has forever been drawn into the Father’s loving arms.

In what ways have you seen God’s redemptive work in your life? Take a moment to thank Jesus for his life poured out for you.

Reunion

“Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last. (Luke 23:46)

Right before his death, Jesus managed these last words, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” Words, despite all that had happened, that spoke of his unwavering trust that God the Father was still good and still trustworthy. It was a moment of complete surrender, even as Jesus entered into our fallen darkness, he chose to believe in love rather than doubt. Even with his limited strength, Jesus was able to cry out his witness to the goodness of God. A declaration so commanding that its power reached back through time to undo the actions of the original humans who chose to believe an evil lie that God was selfish and untrustworthy. Jesus’ words transformed “our” story by replacing humanity’s original “no” with an incredible and overwhelming “yes”.

Prayer: Lord, when life seems anything but fair, help us to believe that you really are that good and in return put our complete trust in your goodness.

God is love, and Jesus’ ministry showed what love is. He gave himself for us. He preached his last sermon most effectively, by both word and example. In his last seven statements, he affirmed God’s greatness and glory.

Sermon for April 17, 2022 — Resurrection of the Lord

Speaking Of Life 4021 | The Last Enemy

As we celebrate Resurrection Sunday, let us remember that Jesus’ resurrection is not only about hope for life after death. Because of the life that we have in Christ, we are united with him and invited to join him in healing the world.  He is risen and he is with us!

Program Transcript


Speaking Of Life 4021 | The Last Enemy
Michelle Fleming

Today is one of the most special days in the Christian calendar. We’re celebrating the resurrection of Christ from the dead. “Christ is risen. He is risen indeed!” You see, that’s one thing that makes Jesus different from other religious teachers. Not only did Jesus leave us a legacy of teachings about the importance of loving God and loving other people, especially those marginalized by our culture, but Jesus also showed us that death doesn’t have the last word. Let’s read I Corinthians to remind ourselves of this important truth:

If all we get out of Christ is a little inspiration for a few short years,
we’re a pretty sorry lot.
But the truth is that Christ has been raised up,
the first in a long legacy of those who are going to leave the cemeteries.
There is a nice symmetry in this:
Death initially came by a man, and resurrection from death came by a man.
Everybody dies in Adam; everybody comes alive in Christ.
But we have to wait our turn: Christ is first, then those with him at his Coming, the grand consummation when, after crushing the opposition,
he hands over his kingdom to God the Father.
He won’t let up until the last enemy is down—and the very last enemy is death!

I Corinthians 15:19-26 (The Message)

In this letter to the Corinthian church, Paul is making the argument that since Adam introduced death into creation, it only makes sense that Jesus—God in human flesh—would overcome death.

Some might think that the resurrection means human beings shouldn’t die at all. Jesus’ death shows us that suffering and death are part of the human experience but not the end of it.

Through Jesus’ life and death, God turns everything upside down. Human beings think sickness and death are repulsive to God. But Jesus was touched by humanity’s suffering, and his death on the cross expresses God’s solidarity with us. God the Father, Son, and Spirit aren’t just watching us live our lives— but they are living in us and through us. God participates in our suffering with us, and Jesus’ resurrection affirms that death cannot hold us in its grip.

But Jesus’ resurrection is much bigger than simply overcoming death for humanity. Jesus’ resurrected life pulses through us, helping us share God’s love as we move through the world. We are not only freed from death’s grip but we are freed to live joyous lives with Christ. In relationship with him, we are transformed and brought into wholeness.

On this Resurrection Sunday, we say that death is not the end. Even more important than that, Jesus frees us to live in loving participation with the Father, Son, and Spirit right now. “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!”

I’m Michelle Fleming, Speaking of Life.

Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24 · Acts 10:34-43 · 1 Corinthians 15:19-26 · John 20:1-18

The theme for this week is holding the tension of death and life with joy. Today we’re celebrating Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, but it’s important that we don’t gloss over Good Friday and Holy Saturday. While Jesus’ resurrection from the dead ensures our resurrection too, we can learn a lot about living in a world where both suffering and joy appear side by side by considering the resurrection story. As Psalm 118 points out, times of suffering can feel like punishment from God, but in reality, God is our salvation and comfort. Even as Adam introduced death to humanity, Jesus’ resurrection shows that death cannot hold us in its grip, as explained in 1 Corinthians 15. And this breaking of death’s grip isn’t just for some, but for all. Acts 10 reminds us that “God shows no partiality.” Our sermon text tells about Mary Magdalene’s grief and how she and the apostles lived the questions that Jesus’ death and resurrection raised.

Living the Questions

John 20:1-18 (NRSV)

We Christians have plenty of questions that we would like answered. Today, on Resurrection Sunday, we might ask, “How does God resurrect a person?” And that would be a relevant question, but it is a question that we won’t have answered right now. What are some other questions that we would like answered?

Wait for suggested questions or use the following prompts – 1) How is cancer cured? 2) Who assassinated John F. Kennedy? 3) What do we need to do to have world peace? 4) How can I make 2+2=5?

Rainer Maria Rilke (pronounced RAY-ner MREE-uh REEL-kuh) was an Austrian poet and writer who lived in the late 19th century. One of his most famous works, Letters to a Young Poet, was a short collection of letters he wrote to a young writer named Franz Kappus. The young writer had posed all sorts of questions to Rilke, asking for answers that Rilke knew he wasn’t qualified to give. Here’s what Rilke told the young writer:

Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue.

Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them.

And the point is to live everything.

Live the questions now.

Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.

It’s not easy living the questions, but we’re not the first to have to do it. We can read the account of Mary Magdalene at Jesus’ tomb and watch her grief turn to quizzical joy as she lived the questions about Jesus’ death into new questions about what it means to serve a risen Savior.

Read John 20:1-18 NRSV

We’re going to look at the passage again, but this time through the lens of the questions that Mary Magdalene and the apostles were living. You’ll notice that these questions are the same questions we also face when struggling with change and difficulty.

Where is Jesus?

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” (John 20:1-2 NRSV)

Here we observe Mary Magdalene coming to the tomb while it was still dark. John’s gospel often uses the binaries of darkness and light symbolically, perhaps contrasting human beings’ inability to see and perceive at first with the dawn of understanding. When Mary sees the stone rolled away, she immediately wonders where he is? Someone has taken him, and we don’t know where he is.

How often in life do we ask the same question – where is Jesus? Mary assumed he had been taken; he was nowhere around. How often do we make the same assumption? Where is Jesus when we’re faced with difficult situations, we ask the question, “Where is Jesus?” And rather than make assumptions, such as “This is my fault” or “I’m being punished,” we should focus our attention on Jesus’ words. Jesus had told his disciples that he would be crucified but would rise on the third day. Today, we have Jesus’ words in the Bible to remind us that “In him, we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28, NRSV).

Here are Jesus’ words:

“I’ve told you all this so that trusting me, you will be unshakable and assured, deeply at peace. In this godless world you will continue to experience difficulties. But take heart! I’ve conquered the world.” (John 16:32-33 MSG)

While we live the question “Where is Jesus?” we can live by the truth that he is alive, he is in us, and we live in him. Where is Jesus? In you and with you, always inviting you to join him in what he is doing. This is the reason we celebrate the resurrection. Jesus is alive and in us; we no longer have to ask where he is.

What do we do now?

Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes. (John 20:3-10 NRSV)

These verses tell us what happened when Peter and John made it to the tomb. We read that John “believed,” but at that time he didn’t connect the dots that Jesus had told them he would rise from the dead. Right then, John believed Mary that Jesus was missing. He and Peter went home. Why didn’t they stay and try to investigate what happened to Jesus’ body?

If we think about the kind of week these disciples had had, we could say “it had been A WEEK.” It started so promising and ended with much heartbreak and grief. When we are consumed by our grief, it’s difficult to see past the grief. “What do we do now?” was the question they were living. Other questions they might have been living: “Why did he die? Are we next to be killed?”

The disciples had suffered a number of losses, such as the loss of their friend and teacher as well as the loss of a future they had envisioned. Their very typical reaction was to withdraw, go home, and lock the doors. What emotion makes us withdraw? Fear. When we’re living the question “What do we do now?” we are often confronted with our fear of not knowing what we’re supposed to do next or how we’re supposed to do it. We’re tempted to withdraw just like the disciples did.

The resurrection reminds us that Jesus has not left us to wonder what to do next. Death comes to us in many ways throughout our lives: loss, disappointment, disillusionment. When we anticipate something and it doesn’t happen, it’s a kind of death. We are learning that we really don’t control anything. And if we think about it, each time we have faced disappointment or loss, at the very bottom God’s grace has been there. We have come through that smaller “death” to the other side because something or someone has always made a way for us. That’s the power of the resurrection. Jesus reminds us that he claimed victory over death – over anything that can stop us from living in him.

What do we do now? We claim his victory. He proclaim his life in us. We follow him; we participate in what he is doing in us and in those around us. As the Great Commission reminds us, the one to whom was given all power and authority on heaven and on earth will be with us always. We are invited to join him in his mission of bringing many sons and daughters to glory.

What do we do now? We wait for him to show up – confident that he does. When he does, we join him in what he is doing. We rest our hope on Jesus. We proclaim him, we praise him, we worship… but we are getting a bit ahead of the passage.

Why are you weeping?

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” (John 20:11-15 NRSV)

Here we find Mary Magdalene weeping. The disciples have left, but she stays. She finally summons up enough courage to look into the tomb, and sees two angels who ask her “Why are you weeping?” She shares her sorrow with them: Jesus is gone; I don’t know where he is. It seems a little strange that she doesn’t think it odd that two beings are sitting in the tomb, asking her questions. But she answers them, and then she turns around, and Jesus is there. He asks her the same question: Why are you weeping? She thinks he’s the gardener, but she answers the question again.

Did the two angels and Jesus himself not know why Mary was crying? I am guessing that they knew, maybe better than Mary did. Living the question “Why are you weeping?” encapsulates the grieving process. Human beings need to talk about their pain, disappointments, and losses. It’s part of the healing process that God created. Grief is not something that people “get over;” grief must be expressed through talking to someone, journaling, moving our bodies, or creating art and music. Grief must be integrated into a person and talking about our losses can be a part of the process. When we are processing a loss or disappointment, living the question “Why are you weeping?” helps us process and integrate the loss into our lives. It helps us heal and ultimately turns us back to the healer. Jesus understands our pain, our suffering, our grief, and he enters into it with us.

The resurrection reminds us that our weeping is for a moment; the joy of knowing Jesus and knowing his resurrection is our resurrection encourages us to not grieve as others do, with no hope. The resurrection reminds us that our grief will turn to joy because we know we have been risen with him and we have ascended with him.

Will life go back to the way it was?

Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her. (John 20:16-18 NRSV)

Jesus says Mary’s name, and she instantly knows him. “Rabbouni!” she says. Though the scripture doesn’t say it explicitly, it’s implied that Mary embraces Jesus, and he says to her, “Do not hold on to me because I have not yet ascended to the Father” (v. 17). This might sound a little cold; after all, who could blame her? The last time she saw him, he was dead on a cross. But it might make more sense if we understand Mary’s unspoken question to be “Will life go back to the way it was?” and if we interpret Jesus’ response to be “Are you willing to change your vision of how life is supposed to be?”

It’s a human tendency to resist change or to be nostalgic for “the good ole days.” It would be a natural assumption for Mary to think that Jesus could take up where he left off. But in any kind of death, coming out on the other side means that things are different. We are different. The Holy Spirit uses the losses and suffering we endure to change us. We already know, deep down, the answer to the question we’re living, “Will life go back to the way it was?” And we, like Mary, must move forward into living the question “Are we willing to change our vision of how life is supposed to be?” Are we willing to surrender to the changes God is leading us through and leading us to? If we are going to participate in resurrection, our answer must be yes because resurrection implies a change.

The resurrection reminds us that when Jesus rose from the grave, everything changed. Death lost its sting. The grave is not a permanent dwelling. There is life after death. Jesus is alive, and because he lives, we too will live forever. The resurrection reminds us to live in our new reality – that we are a new creation, redeemed and reconciled to the Father. The resurrection reminds us that God’s promises are sure – just as Jesus rose from the grave, so will we. Just as Jesus entered into glory, so shall we. Just as Jesus declared victory, we will declare victory. All because he is risen!

For Reference:

Rilke’s Letter Four: https://www.carrothers.com/rilke4.htm

https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/resurrection-of-our-lord-3/commentary-on-john-201-18-5

Extravagant Worship w/ Dan Rogers W3

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Extravagant Worship w/ Dan Rogers
April 17 – Easter Sunday
John 20:1-18 “The Resurrection”

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Program Transcript


Extravagant Worship w/ Dan Rogers W3

Anthony: Let’s move on to our next pericope. This is going to be for Easter Sunday. The text is John 20:1 – 18. It is the Revised Common Lectionary lection reading for April the 17th.

1Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples returned to their homes.

11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12 and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her. [NRSV]

Wow! So, Paul writes that if Christ hasn’t been raised, our preaching, Dan, is in vain. I just want to give you an opportunity to rift on the stunning reality of the resurrection of our Lord, which makes what we do not in vain.

Dan: Absolutely. You mentioned reality. And that’s a very important term in considering the resurrection of Jesus. As there are those who have suggested that while Jesus may have existed, his resurrection from the dead was imagined or just plain made up by his disciples. So, the question is, who is Jesus?

If Jesus is dead, then he was a young Jewish male who taught some good things but, so what? There’ve been a lot of good teachers down through history. But so what? We’re still born, live, and die and return to dust, that’s it.

But if Jesus is alive, if he were resurrected in a glorified body, then he is the Son of God. That’s who he is, fully human and fully God. And in him, all humanity has the opportunity to be resurrected in a glorified body as well. And physical death, decay and corruption is not the end of our existence.

Indeed, as John’s Gospel tells us, the one who became Jesus is the Creator, Maker of all things. In Jesus’ bodily resurrection, we have God’s pledge that along with the Creator in his human nature, the entire creation can and will be renewed. A new spiritual heaven and new spiritual earth populated by God, his angels, and glorified, spiritual, bodied humans. That is the hope of the resurrection.

Anthony: As I was rereading through this passage, I was struck by the phrase, “It was still dark,” in verse 1. And what came to my mind, it seems that new life often starts right there in the dark. Surprisingly enough, it’s a seed in the ground, a baby in the womb, or Jesus in the tomb.

And if that’s the case, what might we learn about the darkness we sometimes experience in our own lives?

Dan: Since we’re discussing a text in the Gospel of John, we should look at how John uses the imagery of dark and light. Oh! John is a master at the use of imagery and with layers and depth of meaning and understanding.  John begins his Gospel with, “In the beginning,” harkening back to the opening words of the book of Genesis and the creation story. In the Genesis creation story, darkness is prevalent, and then God introduces light!

Now in John’s Gospel, John introduces Jesus as the light that came into the world, which darkness could not overcome. And throughout his Gospel, John uses the imagery of light, day, and sight versus darkness, night, and blindness. Seeing and knowing Jesus is to see and know the light, to live in the day, to see clearly.

Not knowing Jesus is to be in darkness, in the night, and to be spiritually blind. Thus, when the physically bind came to know Jesus, they were healed, and they could see. Now we notice that Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night, a Pharisee who wanted to ask Jesus some questions. So, he comes at night, and he doesn’t understand Jesus’ teaching.

When Judas betrayed Jesus, he goes out at night. He does not understand who Jesus truly is. So, when John tells us that Mary Magdalene went out to Jesus tomb while it was still dark (and we noticed that all the other Gospels speak of an early morning arrival), John is telling his readers that Mary does not yet truly know who Jesus is.

She is still operating in the dark. But the darkness cannot overcome Jesus, the light. So indeed, Jesus comes forth from the darkness of death. And Mary eventually comes to know and understand who Jesus is.

And when Jesus comes in glory, John tells us this, the eyes of the blind will be open. And also, that every eye will see him. Blessed are the eyes of those who now have come out of darkness.

I think that’s a great lesson. Blessed are our eyes. We don’t realize how blessed we are that our eyes have been opened, that we’re not in the dark, that we’ve come out of darkness, and we can see and know who Jesus is. And we pray for the day when all will see and have that vision and not be in the dark. As the well-known hymn says, “Open my eyes that I may see.”

Anthony: Mary didn’t recognize the risen Lord Jesus, right in her presence. Is there anything we should make of that, in terms of a lesson for us?

Dan: I think we should note from the text and just to give Barry some benefit of the doubt, Mary had been crying and tears filled her eyes.

It also says that she turned around (whatever that means exactly.) But here’s the key. It was when she heard Jesus’ voice, she turned toward him and cried out, “Teacher!” Now on a practical level, Mary was not expecting to see a living Jesus. She was looking for a dead body, a naked, dead body that had been tortured, hung from a cross, pierced in the side by a spear and was all bloody.

What she glimpsed was a man who looked like a gardener. And indeed, he was the gardener, having made the garden of Eden, but he looked like a gardener. So, he looked pretty fit, and he was wearing clothes, not like someone who had been crucified and had laid in a tomb for three days. But I think John wants his readers to understand something a bit more theological.

Mary recognized Jesus when he spoke to her. It is truly in the spoken words of Jesus that one has the means to recognize his presence. Christians today do not see the risen Lord as Mary did, but we recognize his presence with us just as she did. We have his spoken word in the scriptures and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ in our lives.

And we have his presence in the elements of communion. We recognize him in the breaking of bread. We must understand from reading this and thinking about it, that Jesus is always with us, even when we don’t see him.

There’s the old saying that you don’t see what you’re not looking for. We need to look for Jesus and we need to see him in our lives. And we must realize that he is always with us. Look for him and expect to see him because he’s there.

Anthony: Yeah. What is Jesus ultimately communicating to Mary when he tells her not to hold on to him (I’m sure she wanted to), but not to hold onto him because he had not yet ascended to the Father?

Dan: When Mary first saw the risen Jesus, she called out to him, “Dear Rabbi,” or special teacher. She did not yet see or understand him as Lord or God. And perhaps it appeared to her that she thought she could now continue following and being with Jesus just the way she had all during his ministry. So, everything’s back to the way it was. Everything’s the same. This is good.

But Jesus lets Mary know, things have changed. The next step in God’s plan of salvation is Jesus going to the Father in heaven. Wow! And when he returns to his disciples, he’s going to establish them in a new relationship with him and with the Father, by giving them the Holy Spirit to be with them and in them. It’s a new way to carry on his ministry. And obviously, it’s very Trinitarian.

We can note that after Jesus explains what he’s about to do, Mary then goes back to the disciples and tells them she has seen the Lord. At that point, she has a new understanding of who Jesus is.

Anthony: I wonder in the fullness of the kingdom if Peter’s going to try to set things right by having a sprint race with John. What do you think?

John seems to make the point that he arrived first and he’s the swifter of the two, but I say we should have a match race in heaven.

Dan: John mentions it twice. Now he doesn’t even use his name. He says that disciple or whoever. So, he tries to remain humbly anonymous, but it is interesting that two times he wants every one of his readers to know.

And you can imagine let’s say, John as an older man, at the time he’s writing this Gospel, wants his readers to remember that you know that was pretty fast!

Anthony: The glory days.

Dan: Yeah, back in the glory days. And I could beat Peter, I’m telling you. So yeah, a little bit of interesting humor there from the apostles.


Small Group Discussion Questions

From Speaking of Life
  • Jesus’ resurrection means we will also be resurrected. Does this change how you live your life now, in the present? If so, how?
  • Death, “the last enemy to be destroyed,” can actually help us live more meaningful lives now. Does the fact that you will die someday change how you live each day? If so, what do you do differently?
From the Sermon
  • The sermon notes four common questions Mary and the disciples faced (Where is Jesus? What do we do now? Why are you weeping? Will life go back to the way it was?). Have you ever wrestled with any of these questions? If so, please share your experience and how you lived the question.
  • We experience a variety of smaller “deaths” as part of our human experience, and if we look carefully at each experience, we can see how God’s grace has carried us through to the other side or “resurrection.” Have you experienced God’s grace during loss or disappointment? If so, how did God carry you through?
 

Sermon for April 24, 2022 – Second Sunday of Easter

Speaking of Life 4022 | The Great Disruptors

Jesus invites us to participate in his upside-down kingdom. He disrupts our broken systems, takes us out of our comfort zones, and ushers in peace while healing our broken world.

Program Transcript


Speaking of Life 4022 | The Great Disruptors
Greg Williams

In the 2008 musical comedy Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog the titular character, Dr. Horrible struggles to explain his motivation for being a villain and wanting to disrupt society. He tells the viewers of his vlog: “And by the way, it’s not about making money, it’s about taking money. Destroying the status quo because the status is not… quo. The world is a mess and I just need to rule it.”

Like Dr. Horrible we can also have difficulty explaining exactly how to fix or change the world. All we know is that the “status is not quo” and something needs to change.

In first-century Jerusalem, the political and religious leaders of the time found themselves dealing with a gang of agitators who sought to change the status quo. This upstart group of fishermen and tax collectors had the nerve to accuse their leaders of an absurd crime: murdering God!

Since they were obviously dangerous malcontents, the leaders placed them under lock and key, warned them to be quiet, and considered the matter resolved. But the next day, the men were at it again—they’d escaped from prison without a soul noticing, and there they were in the courtyard, talking about this man Jesus who had been crucified.

Led by Peter, freed by an angel, and guided by the Holy Spirit, the apostles had entered the temple courts and begun preaching the Gospel boldly!

But the Gospel confounded the Pharisees who were defined by the status quo. When a group came declaring an exciting and hope-filled message of redemption, they threw them in jail to maintain their power and influence. They could not comprehend the inverted world order implied in Peter’s words:

“We must obey God rather than human beings! The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead—whom you killed by hanging him on a cross. God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might bring Israel to repentance and forgive their sins.”
Acts 5:29b-31

Peter chose his words carefully, by referring to the Crucifixion as Jesus being hung on the tree, he brought to mind Deuteronomy 21:22-23 where we are told that such a man is cursed. For the Jewish rabbinical leaders this was inconceivable, here was this man Jesus, who should be cursed by the death he died – yet this man is now raised and exalted by God? Such a thing should not be! Who are these men that they would make such extraordinary claims?

Peter and the apostles were the great disruptors, the forerunners of every Christian since who has endured imprisonment, torture, and deprivation even to the point of death for the sake of the Gospel. For the sake of obeying God and not man.

Christians today are no strangers to acts of social disruption designed to bring about societal change. Yet in the clamour of opposing voices, the solutions being put forward usually aren’t much better than Dr. Horrible’s desire to rule. Unlike Dr. Horrible, Christians have been given insight into what needs to change. We are called to be great disruptors to the status quo by pointing to the solution – Jesus. We acknowledge the world’s a mess but we also acknowledge the mess is because we humans are trying to rule it without God.  

Peter reminds us to obey God and not man. When we do, we bring a message of hope that can transform the world. We share the good news that God has exalted Jesus. He is the prince and Savior who brings about repentance and forgiveness. He is the great disrupter. Disrupter for the good! He is the solution to the messes we see around us. He is the gospel. Let’s participate with him in disrupting the status quo and bringing beauty out of our messy world.

I’m Greg Williams, Speaking of Life.

Psalm 118:14-29 • Acts 5:27-32 • Revelation 1:4-8 • John 20:19-31

Today is the Second Sunday of Easter, which kicks off a season of reflection upon Jesus’ resurrected life and Ascension. The theme is: responding to the resurrected and glorified Jesus. In our passages today, we witness how in the resurrection, God has shown us the chasm between human values and God’s values. We are brought to witness the exalted Jesus, contrasted with his horrific death and supposed humiliation upon the cross. Our call to worship Psalm calls us to remember that God’s love is eternal, and that what humans have rejected, God has chosen. In Acts, Peter stands before a bewildered Sanhedrin declaring boldly that the man they crucified, God has glorified. In Revelation we bear witness to the exalted Christ in all his power, the Alpha and the Omega, and we are reminded that even those who crucified him will witness his glory. Finally, in our sermon passage, we see Thomas balk at the concept that the risen Lord could be the same person who had nails driven into his hands or a spear into his side. Yet when he does confirm that the wounded Christ is also the glorified Christ he can have only one response: “My Lord and my God.”

Out of Doubt, Exaltation

John 20:19-31

Every year, on the Second Sunday of Easter, we are blessed to be able to reflect on the experiences of the disciples as they encounter the risen Christ and contend with the reality of a world turned on its head: the one who the leaders reviled, rejected, tortured and crucified, is now exalted by the Father. It’s an incredible moment in history, filled with incredulous people being taken from a place of doubt and fear to one of faith and hope. There is one man history has made the very incarnation of the incredulity and doubt – Thomas, often unfairly labelled “Doubting Thomas.” Let’s have a look at his encounter with the risen Christ.

If you haven’t already, have a reading of John 20:19-31.

Our doubting souls

Perhaps you’ve heard the phrase “I never doubted you!” cried when we succeeded at something. While the phrase might sometimes be a sincere statement, it does of course beg the question, if there was no doubt, why did the thought of doubt even come up? It can be uncomfortable to acknowledge just how prevalent doubt is in our lives. Think of everything you have doubts about on any given day: We doubt we can get out of bed without being grumpy. We doubt we can get the kids to school on time, or ourselves to work for that matter. We doubt that we’re the right person for the job, any job that is! We doubt that anyone else is the right person for the job!

Some doubts are generation locked – derived in early childhood from our parents, teachers and other influencers. Then as teenagers we began to form our own doubts – often doubting that anyone really cared about us. As young adults we doubt anyone else has a clue what they’re talking about (that doubt might be more intergenerational than we care to admit). Once we hit middle age, we doubt every life choice we made up until that point. Past middle age we begin to doubt our own bodies; we doubt we can make it to the bathroom on time without throwing our hip out again. And toward the ends of our lives, like the teenagers, we often doubt that anyone really cares about us (again this one might be intergenerational).

While we might not have personally experienced all the same doubts at the appropriate age (some people have perfectly good hips their whole lives), many of us have had similar doubts. That’s because those doubts have foundations. They don’t crop up out of nowhere – and knowing why we doubted something is key to being able to overcome the doubt.

Share a personal anecdote of a time you had a doubt – it can be funny or serious, but it should be empathetic – a doubt people can relate to because the reasons for the doubt can be easily explained.

The deep foundations of doubt

Doubting God, like most other doubts, also has an identifiable foundation. Many of us have had moments where certainty wavered, hope flickered, and we had to contend with the cold and terrifying existential prospect of a world without Jesus. Yet in our passage today we have poor Thomas, singled out for being the doubter amongst a sea of doubters. The question we need to ask though, to help us understand what is happening in the passage, is what was the foundation of his doubt? Let’s have a look at the way he frames his doubt:

“Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” (John 20:25b)

Thomas makes a simple assertation – his belief is dependent on being able to verify Jesus’ wounds. There are many reasons why Thomas might have wanted to do this. Some theorize that he was fearful that Jesus could be a ghost, or a masquerading evil spirit. Others claim that he needed to touch the wounds to verify it was Jesus and not just a prank.

So, which was it? Why did Thomas want to touch the hands and side of Jesus? Was it just that he needed the physical contact to assuage his doubts? A tactile moment of certainty? That’s something many people could get behind – just give us the cold hard facts!

For others of us, the idea that he was worried about a spirit masquerading as Christ might be a little more divorced from our experiences – we might have a harder time empathizing with the rationale of his doubt. But what if there was yet another cause for his doubts, one that hinged upon a prevailing philosophical outlook that persists to this day. Perhaps it came down to a simple question: How could God bleed?

If this was part of his thought pattern, Thomas may have been contending with a deeper theological challenge. For Thomas, like so many before and since, this idea that God (or his appointed Messiah) could bleed was probably preposterous. That God could be in any way affected by the material world did not stick with the Jewish understanding at the time and contradicted the prevailing theories amongst Hellenistic philosophers.

Almost 400 years before Thomas’ encounter with his risen Lord, the philosopher Aristotle posited a theory that the universe was made up of “unmoved movers” – constants that held to their pattern of existence unaffected by any other force. The greatest of these, he theorized, must be God – his theoretical omnipotent deity must be the greatest “unmoved mover”. Key to this understanding was the logic that God could not possibly be affected by his creation – he is instead ‘other’ and separated by a great distance.

Perhaps you can see the problem for Thomas here. His doubt had some deep foundations, they were founded in his religious and social cultures. His friends were claiming something that was going to force him to reassess everything he thought he knew! He had to be sure! Thomas had to learn that no one, whether priest or philosopher, could tell you who God is and how he acts. God himself would have to do that.

No foundation strong enough

This could have been the end of Thomas’ faith – he had demanded a high bar for believing that Jesus was risen from the dead – it couldn’t just be his closest friends and confidants telling him so. Yet in Jesus’ response we see the heart of God toward his (even stubborn) children.

A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” (John 20:26-27)

Regardless of the reason Thomas felt he needed to touch Jesus’ wounds, whether he thought him to be a ghost, a fraud or a theological impossibility, there was one solution that shed all these foundations. But it wasn’t Thomas touching Jesus, even though it might seem that way from the text What we are actually seeing here is far deeper – it is Jesus coming to Thomas; he is sought out the one sheep who had gone astray, just like he told them he would.

Jesus’ accommodation of Thomas’ desire to touch him sometimes leaves people with a difficult conundrum – what do we say to people now who say they need to touch and see Jesus? It’s a difficult question to wrestle with, but one that Jesus is actually giving us an answer to here. For Thomas, his foundations of doubt were deep – but they were nothing Jesus could not overcome. After one simple encounter with Jesus, Thomas is left exclaiming, “My Lord and my God!”

Not only had he come to believe that Jesus is risen, but he also declares a theological truth that had never been so clearly uttered until that point: Jesus is God. He’s not just a political, religious, or military messiah – Jesus is God. Thomas overthrows centuries of traditions and beliefs in this one statement. He proclaims that this man, born out of wedlock, tried as a criminal – who was tortured and crucified is God! The foundations of his doubt are uprooted, in one simple moment – this isn’t something that would normally happen in one single moment of time!

Yet it does. This is the work of the Holy Spirit, opening Thomas’ eyes to God’s reality – showing that Jesus is the one to be exalted above very other name. And so we see in this passage that no matter how intimidating the depths of our doubt might be, regardless of how firm a foundation they might have in our lives, they are powerless before the Holy Spirit as he strips our doubts away.

And yet still, we see him

Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:29-31).

Thomas and the disciples were not going to see Jesus again after his Ascension – at least in bodily form. Yet they had already received a clear promise, they would see him in a different manner. Earlier in John 14:19 we read what Jesus told his disciples:

“Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live.” (John 14:19)

Thomas’ declaration, “My Lord and my God” was a fulfillment of a prophecy he had received only days earlier. This moment of revelation was where Thomas saw Jesus, not just as a man, but as God meant that he saw him in a way the rest of the world didn’t.

Thomas saw the risen Lord, and we too, through the power of the Holy Spirit see him. He lives in us and we in him. We see that Jesus is exalted to the highest place, that he sits at the right hand of the Father. And we, with Thomas can declare with exaltation as we witness the risen Christ – “My Lord and my God!”

Extravagant Worship w/ Dan Rogers W4

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Extravagant Worship w/ Dan Rogers
April 24 – 2nd Sunday of Easter
John 20:19-31 “My Lord and My God”

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Program Transcript


Extravagant Worship w/ Dan Rogers W4

Anthony: Well, Dan let’s move on to our final pericope of the month. It’s for the second Sunday of the Easter season. It’s John 20:19 – 31. It is the revised common lyric common lectionary passage for April the 24th.

Please read it for us.

Dan:

19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

24 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”

But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

30 Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. [NIV]

Anthony: “As the Father has sent me, I send you.” What is Jesus revealing about the Father and also about us as disciples of our Lord Jesus?

Dan: Jesus said, as the Father sent me, I’m sending you and then he breathed on them. And here we find that Jesus is sending out his disciples. He’s telling them that they’re going out with the same authority and the same mission that he’s had from his Father. We understand that the mission of Jesus, the mission of the church is from the Father through Jesus and in the Holy Spirit.

It is a Trinitarian mission to save humanity and indeed to save all of creation. So, Jesus’ followers are to continue in his ministry on the earth, even after he left. After he went back to heaven, he sent the Holy Spirit and in the Holy Spirit, all of his followers from that day forward will be able to work with him in his ministry.

And the followers of Jesus will have the power of the Spirit to continue the Father’s mission through Jesus and in the Holy Spirit. So, his followers participate in the heart, the goal, the mission, the purpose of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit.

Anthony: Yeah. That’s encouraging to know that the mission is God’s mission.

It’s the Fathers in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. It’s not my mission. It’s not the church’s mission. It’s God’s mission. And so, whenever we engage our neighbor, love our neighbor, work in our community, we know that God is at work already in front of us, at work.

Help us to theologically understand verse 23 about if you forgive, it is forgiven, if you retain, it’s retained. Is Jesus really saying sins will be retained if the disciples don’t forgive them?

Dan: This particular verse over the years has been subject to many different interpretations. And indeed, it is a challenging verse to look into. The Roman Catholic church has used this as a proof of needing to go to a priest and receiving forgiveness for your sins, from the priest and the act of confession.

Protestants have looked at it in several different ways, including the communal view, where it is the community of faith, the church, which either lets people into the church, allows them to be baptized, or denies them admission to the church, or something along that view. But let me give you an analogy that at least works for me, and I hope it may work for others who are listening.

Let’s say a man robs a convenience store and steals all the money, makes a getaway. But from that day forward, he lives with a feeling of guilt. He knows he’s done wrong. And so, for the next 20 years, every time he sees a police car, every time he hears a knock at the door, he wonders, is this it? Have they finally caught up with me? Will I be going to prison now?

He can’t sleep at night, lives in guilt for 20 years. And then suddenly one day there’s a knock on his door and of all things, it’s the sheriff. So, he puts out his hands and says, “All right. Put the handcuffs on me. I know you’ve been looking for me. I knew my day would come. Take me away to prison.”

The sheriff looks at him and says, “No, you’re not guilty. Let me tell you what happened. Even to the very moment that you robbed that convenience store, the governor simultaneously, and even previously, pardoned you and declared you not guilty. We’ve been looking for you for 20 years to tell you that you’re a free man.”

Now, the person who robbed the store would probably say, “What took you so long to find me and tell me that? I’ve lived 20 years of my life under guilt, and in fear. I’ve been cursed, and you tell me I’m not even guilty of the crime.”

You know to be free, to be declared not guilty and to [not] know it, is to continue subjectively to live with a feeling of guilt, not knowing that you’re really free. How many people do not know that God, Jesus Christ has indeed forgiven them of their sins?

And because of their not knowing they are living a life of condemnation, a life of guilt, a life where they fear what the final judgment may be. Wouldn’t it be nice if someone would find those people, and tell them that they’ve been declared not guilty, and that in Jesus Christ, they are free of their sins?

As the followers of Jesus today, as his disciples, we need to let people know that in Jesus, their sins have been forgiven. Now, if you let someone know that their sins are forgiven, they can experience that forgiveness. If you don’t let someone know that their sins are forgiven, they do not experience that forgiveness. And they feel as though their sins have been retained, even though they have not. So, the responsibility, I think, is on the followers of Jesus to let people know Jesus has forgiven you of your sins. You are free.

Anthony: Jesus repeatedly said, “Peace be with.” What a beautiful greeting, not only for his friends that heard it, but also for us! And if that’s the case, how so?

Dan: In Aramaic, which was the primary dialect of Jesus and his disciples, the word for peace is shlomo alach. In the Hebrew Old Testament, the word is shalom.

And it has a broad range of meanings. It’s its meanings included primarily health, good life, and prosperity. But it also included notions of security, completeness, blessing, and salvation, and all Shalom was viewed as coming from God.

Now I’m a big Star Trek fan, and I hope you or maybe some of the listeners are, and you can appreciate what came to be known as the Vulcan salute. Leonard Nimoy portrayed Mr. Spock in the series. And Leonard Nimoy was Jewish; he grew up in the synagogue. And they were looking for a way that Vulcans might greet one another. And Mr. Nimoy reflected back on his time as a boy in synagogue, and he remembered the priestly blessings.

The priests would bless the people, the rabbis would bless the people by forming the [Hebrew] letter shin, which was the beginning letter of one of the names of God. And so, what he did was he separated the two hands into one hand: the thumb extended, the ring finger and the middle finger together and the little finger and the other finger together in what came to be known as the Vulcan salute. But it came right out of the synagogue as a blessing from God.

And the words that Spock would recite would be “Live long and prosper.” And the response was “Peace and long life.” And those are exactly the meanings of Shalom. I have to admit that when I pictured Jesus in this scene saying, “Peace to you,” I keep seeing him give them the Vulcan salute. At least that works for me.

Now in the Greek New Testament, the Hebrew meanings carried over, but some Christian nuances came to be understood. And the word peace is used in three basic ways in the New Testament. One is the opposite of war or strife. And two, it’s used to describe restored, happy, personal relationships. And three, it’s use for peace of mind, especially in a contrast to a troubled and fearful heart or outlook on life.

Now in our passage, Jesus appears to use the term mostly as number three, but not excluding the other two. The peace Jesus passed onto his disciples and to us today is the peace of God. The peace of mind that comes from knowing and trusting Jesus, the peace that is a fruit of the Holy Spirit, the peace that erases a troubled and fearful heart.

The peace that comes from realizing Jesus has entered the building. (A little play there on “Elvis has left the building.”) But literally in the story of Jesus, [he] did enter the building. In our lives, Jesus has entered the building. He is always in our lives.

So, the New Testament tells us 365 times, (and mostly from the mouth of Jesus) fear not. Peace. Have peace in Jesus. He is here. He is with us. He’s in our lives. Trust him. You have hope in him. You can have confidence in him. Fear, not. Shalom, live long and prosper!

Anthony: While you were talking, our podcast producer, Reuel, typed in the chat area that he’s a fan of Star Trek. But I got to tell you, you lost me. I don’t know that I’ve seen a single episode, but I’m with you in that, what a beautiful greeting of shalom from our Lord!

Finally, “My Lord and my God.” [verse 28] What a stunning declaration from Thomas! Tell us more, Dan.

Dan: In the verses that we read, Jesus said to Thomas, put your finger here and see my hands, reach out your hand, and put it into my side, stop doubting and believe. And so, Thomas has been known, down to this day, as Doubting Thomas. And anytime someone doesn’t have a hope or belief or they’re being negative, people say you’re a Doubting Thomas.

So, Jesus said to Thomas, stop doubting and believe. Now here, Jesus allows Thomas to make a scientific experiment. You know, stop doubting, believe, except God’s reality. It’s a far greater reality than the one you know as a human. I’m the same Jesus you knew, fully human, but also fully God, come back from the dead. And I still bear the scars in my body.

And some ask were the scars not healed? Why did Jesus still manifest these scars? One reason is so that Thomas and the others would know he was Jesus. He was the same human that they had known for so many years. He’s not some different being, he’s not some ghost, some spirit thing, something of their imagination.

He is really, and truly Jesus, fully human and fully God standing right there before them standing right before Thomas.

So, we note what Thomas says in his reply in verse 27.

 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

Now, I don’t think Thomas should be known as Doubting Thomas. In fact, in this verse, he’s probably made one of the most important and powerful statements in the New Testament about the divinity of Jesus Christ. He’s called him my Lord and the Greek word for the Lord, Kyrios, is the same word that’s used in the Greek translation of the Old Testament for the Hebrew word Yahweh. So what Thomas is saying here, in a sense, is Yahweh, my Lord, my God.

Now I feel for so-called Doubting Thomas. And on behalf of all realists everywhere, I’d like to suggest we now call him Believing Thomas, because Thomas accepted God’s reality as the most real reality of all.

And Thomas becomes a faith-filled believer.

29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Thomas was blessed. He saw, he believed, and he gave a profound announcement of faith.

But it makes me think, what about us today? What about you and me? We’ve not seen Jesus, literally, physically with our own eyes. We’ve not been able to perform a scientific experiment of touching scars. And yet we believe. Jesus said blessed are those who believe without seeing. We do know that Jesus is alive. We experience them in the spirit.

And as he becomes to us – over time, communing with him – our best friend. He was a friend of Thomas and the other disciples. He was close to Thomas, but he’s close to us too. He is our best friend, as he was Thomas and the other disciples. And he’s also our Lord and our God. But as I said earlier, we worship him as our Lord and our God, as Thomas did [with] a startling claim in the New Testament to Jesus’ divinity as fully human and fully God. But let’s not lose sight of the fact that he’s not only our Lord and our God, he is also our friend. Again, as one of the famous hymns says, “What a friend we have in Jesus.”

Anthony: Dan, thanks for being my friend and be my guest here today. I so appreciate the commentary you provided as I’m sure our pastors and teachers will as well. It’s our ongoing rhythm at the podcast to have our guests pray a blessing over the pastors, preachers, teachers, Bible students.

So, would you say we’re to prayer for our listeners?

Dan: Our Lord and our God, we come before you Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, in the name of Jesus to ask your blessing on your disciples today, especially those who minister in the word. May we speak your word rightly, truthfully, powerfully, and boldly.

May we be empowered and abled, strengthened by the Holy Spirit. And may those who hear the words we speak also be empowered by the Spirit to understand, and to apply these words in their lives. We thank you, God.

Father, we know it is your mission through Jesus and in the Spirit. And because it is your mission, it cannot fail. Sometimes we wonder if we’re adequate preachers or, if we’re doing a good job, or if we’re having any effect at all, or if our lives make any difference. And yet if we’re participating in the ongoing mission of Jesus from the Father in the Spirit, we cannot fail.

We can only succeed. And as Jesus said, numerous times in the passage we just read, let his peace be unto us. And let us know and have that confidence, that trust and that faith, that though we are human, we cannot fail for we are on mission with the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. Thank you for allowing us to participate.

Thank you for the success that you give. Thank you for allowing us to be a part of it. Bless us, please. For we love you, Lord. And we want to serve you and minister to your people. We ask your blessing as well as give thanks, in Jesus’ name. Amen


Small Group Discussion Questions

Questions for Sermon: “Out of Doubt, Exaltation”
  • Have you ever had a misplaced doubt that took a long time to shake? How did being guided by that doubt affect you?
  • Reflecting on your own testimony, what was your “My Lord and my God” moment? Share the moment where you came to the realization that you actually believed that “… Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:30)
  • The sermon taught that the Holy Spirit can overcome any doubt, no matter how firmly ingrained. What persisting doubts do you or a loved one have that you hope will be uprooted by him?
Questions for Speaking of Life: “The Great Disruptors”
  • How do you feel about being a disruptive force in society for the sake of the Gospel?
  • Have you ever had a cause that you were willing to go to great lengths for? Perhaps it was protesting, boycotting, or campaigning? Do you apply the same uncompromising passion to sharing the Gospel?
  • Christians often mistake “Christian issues” for the gospel when they vocalize the things they care about. Do you ever fall into this trap?
  • How can we ensure that the loudest thing that people hear coming from the Christian community is the good news of the exalted Jesus bringing reconciliation to mankind?