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Sermon for April 30, 2023 – Fourth Sunday of Easter

Program Transcript

Speaking of Life 5023 | Empty Tomb and Open Gate
Jeff Broadnax

A few weeks ago, we celebrated Easter Sunday, one of the most significant days in the Christian calendar. Many of us likely spent a lot of time hearing about and meditating on the Empty Tomb. This is good because the Christian faith is based on the fact that Jesus is not dead — his tomb is, indeed, empty. Jesus is alive and we are reconciled to God and each other because of it.

The Empty Tomb means that our sins have been forgiven and that humanity has been made new in Christ. As Christians, we should give a lot of our attention to the empty tomb. The empty tomb helps us understand Jesus referring to himself as the open gate.

In the tenth chapter of John, Jesus describes himself as the gate by which the sheep can find pasture. In the parable, those who follow Christ are his beloved sheep. The passage says:

Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
John 10:7-10

In this season of Easter, let’s focus on what it means to live in the reality of Christ’s resurrection. In other words, we have an opportunity to give our attention to why we were saved, and how we are being invited to respond to God’s gift of grace. According to this passage, part of the reason that Jesus rescued and redeemed us is so we can experience a full, abundant life in him.

Jesus is depicted as the gate that leads to life and because of his sacrifice, the gate is wide open to all. No matter our current circumstances, abundant life is available to us in Jesus. This does not mean that our lives will be perfect once we start following him, however, it does mean that in every situation, Jesus will be with us and our relationship with him is the richest of blessings.

It also means that one day believers will experience eternal life — an existence where there will be no more pain or suffering and there will be rejoicing without end. We have been saved by Jesus to live an abundant, full life in Christ — a life where Jesus fills all our moments with his life-giving presence. The gate to this life has been opened wide by Christ when he left that tomb, so what are we waiting for? Let us not hesitate to run away from things trying to steal our joy and into Christ’s wide-open arms. There he is offering us an abundance of forgiveness and love.

I’m Jeff Broadnax, Speaking of Life.

Psalm 23:1-6 • Acts 2:42-47 • 1 Peter 2:19-25 • John 10:1-10

This week, we mark the fourth Sunday of Easter. In this season, we focus on what it means to live in the reality of Jesus, our risen Lord. Among many other things, he has revealed himself to be a gentle caregiver and guiding light. The theme for this week is Jesus is our shepherd and guardian. In arguably the most famous Psalm, David identifies the Lord as his shepherd. In Acts 2, we see the way in which a community cared for and nurtured by Christ behaves. In 1 Peter, we read how to bear up under suffering by relying on Jesus, the shepherd and guardian of our souls. Lastly, in John, Jesus reveals that he is the means by which sheep can find safety, nourishment, and abundant life.

The Example of Christ’s Suffering

1 Peter 2:18-25 NRSV

In 1987, John Lewis was elected congressman from Georgia’s 5th Congressional District, and he served in the House of Representatives until he died on July 17, 2020.  Lewis was a major figure in the Civil Rights Movement and served as the chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) from 1963-1966. He was a key leader of the March on Washington in 1963 and spoke at the historic event.

On March 7, 1965, Lewis was one of the leaders of a march from Selma to the state capital of Montgomery, Alabama to stand up for voter rights. As the 600 peaceful marchers crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge, they were met by a wall of state troopers and dozens of spectators holding Confederate flags. Alabama governor George Wallace had ordered the state police to “use whatever measures are necessary to prevent a march.” Despite the right to peacefully protest, the 25-year-old Lewis and his co-leader Hosea Williams were told by the troopers that the march was unlawful.

When the leaders tried to talk to the commanding officer to explain the group was within their legal rights, the troopers set upon the marchers with billy clubs and tear gas. Seventeen marchers were hospitalized, including Lewis, who suffered a fractured skull in the brutal violence. March 7 is now remembered by many as Bloody Sunday. In speaking of his experiences in the Civil Rights Movement and the tragedy on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, Lewis said, “I accepted the teaching of Jesus, the way of love, the way of nonviolence, the spirit of forgiveness and reconciliation. The idea that hate is too heavy a burden to bear…I don’t want to go down that road. I’ve seen too much hate, seen too much violence. And I know love is a better way.”

For many of us, this is a terrible and a beautiful story. It is terrible because John Lewis and the other citizens on the Pettus Bridge were unjustly brutalized by those who should have been protecting them. We lament the fact that the Civil Rights Movement was necessary and that racial inequities still persist. Yet, the story is a beautiful example of the power of the gospel. John Lewis suffered injustice at a level most of us can only imagine, yet he was convinced that Jesus showed us a better way. Lewis was transformed by Christ and rejected the way of anger, bitterness, and revenge. Instead, he chose to forgive because of who Jesus is and how he loved humanity.

It is hard not to marvel at John Lewis’ ability to love and forgive those who caused him to suffer. Truth be told, many of us will never experience true unjust suffering. Those in marginalized groups may have some regular experience with injustice; however, few will experience prolonged, persistent unjust suffering. At the same time, the majority of us are outraged by the slightest inconvenience. For flawed human beings, it is natural to wish harm on those who hurt us at some level, especially when our pain is caused unjustly. Think about your reaction the last time someone cut you off in traffic, rudely disagreed with you on social media, or blamed you for something you did not do. Was your response to lovingly forgive the one who wronged you? I would guess that most of us would say “no” to that question. Would you consider what happened to you true suffering on the scale that John Lewis experienced? I suppose most of us would say “no” to that question as well; however, even minor slights can cause us to feel something like suffering. And it is difficult to move past those feelings to find the better way John Lewis spoke about. As Christ-followers, how are we to love our neighbors, even those who treat us unjustly? How can we keep minor slights and inconveniences in perspective? How do we forgive those who cause us to suffer?

There are no easy or quick answers to these questions. At the same time, we know that in order to find the way forward, we need to turn to Jesus. In this season of Easter, we remember that Christ came to heal our brokenness and to show us how to live in a world that sometimes causes us to suffer. In the first epistle of Peter, we read:

Slaves, accept the authority of your masters with all deference, not only those who are kind and gentle but also those who are harsh. For it is a credit to you if, being aware of God, you endure pain while suffering unjustly. If you endure when you are beaten for doing wrong, what credit is that? But if you endure when you do right and suffer for it, you have God’s approval. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps. “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.” When he was abused, he did not return abuse; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls. (1 Peter 2:18-25 NRSV)

For many of us, this passage can cause discomfort, which can get in the way of us understanding what Peter is trying to help us understand. First, Peter addressed this section of his letter to people who were enslaved, including those harshly treated by their masters. While slavery in ancient times was far less brutal, not race based, usually temporary, and with other key differences from slavery in America, the idea that enslaved people were told to endure unjust beatings does not sit well with most of us. Second, verse 21 suggests that his audience was called to suffer. Is Peter suggesting that it is the will of God for some people to suffer in slavery? Finally, Peter talks about the heinous treatment Christ endured to set us free. As people who love Jesus, it is hard to think about the particulars of Christ’s suffering. While we know he suffered and died for us, dwelling on the details of his pain can make many of us uneasy.

We will talk about each of the challenging aspects of this passage so we can learn what wisdom Peter may be passing on to us.

To start, let’s look at how Peter approached the evil of slavery. Many critics of the Bible cite the book’s implied sanction of the institution of slavery as a reason to distrust its authority. While we do not have time to fully discuss this complex topic, we can talk a bit about the context for the New Testament writers.

In the first century, the survival of Christianity depended, in part, on Rome’s view that the Jesus movement was a peaceful sect of Judaism. Rome tolerated the Jewish religion because the stable economy of Israel provided a substantial tax base. Christianity could not be distinguished as an independent “nation” for taxation purposes. For these reasons, the full weight of the Roman Empire would come down the on fragile, emerging church. To that end, the New Testament writers were careful not to write things that could be perceived as upsetting the social status quo. At the same time, they could not turn a blind eye to the exploitation of God’s children. So, both Peter and Paul, the two New Testament writers who directly discussed slavery, laid the moral and spiritual foundation for the destruction of slavery without openly challenging the institution. A careful reading of the Bible will show a strong anti-slavery position that manifests itself by attacking the reasons why one person would enslave another.

Peter compared the suffering of people in slavery to the sufferings of Jesus Christ the Lord. This was a radical and disruptive idea. At that time, most people linked financial prosperity with righteousness. It was thought that a person who owned slaves was more blessed, and therefore more righteous, than the person who was enslaved. Slavery was seen as a fair economic solution to the problem of people not being able to pay their debts, so slave owners were looked upon with favor. Peter turned the institution of slavery on its head. He called the enslaved person blessed for their endurance of an unjust institution. He said this after instructing his listeners to honor everyone, especially the family of believers (vv. 16-17).

While the language of the passage was directed to Peter’s enslaved listeners, it seems equally aimed at the believing slaveholders. In essence, the apostle is saying that the Christians who enslaved others were making those who are made in God’s image suffer as Christ suffered. How Christian masters should respond was not openly articulated by Peter, but the message was obvious.

Peter’s approach to slavery tells us something about God. God is not blind to injustice and our suffering. In fact, The Easter Season reminds us of the lengths to which God will go to end injustice and suffering. In Peter’s time, slavery was an accepted institution. Yet, God saw slavery as unjust and worked to bring an end to it. Similarly, God is neither unaware nor idle in the face of the injustice we experience. It is outside of God’s nature to ignore injustice. However, he may address it on a level we may not immediately perceive.

God is not a legislator. He does not address evil by changing laws. He addresses evil by changing hearts and minds. He has a long view of history, and his plans are bigger than our personal story. Yet, he promises that our individual experiences are important, and he will balance the scales of justice in this life or the next. Part of the gospel message is that Jesus Christ is the beginning of the end of all injustice (Luke 4:16-21). We can have the hope that evil can only triumph for so long.

So, what about the harsh treatment and the implication that the enslaved Christian was called by God to endure? On face value, it may seem like God’s will for the enslaved Christian was to suffer and the Creator overlooked the abuse visited upon his creation. However, Peter says three things that show that these are not the messages we should take away from this passage.

  1. He called upon enslaved Christians to accept the authority of their masters (v. 18), but he did not tell them to accept the unjust treatment. Rather, he told them to endure (vv. 19-20) the harsh treatment, which implied the abuse would be ended at some point.
  2. He encouraged his enslaved listeners to follow Christ’s example and entrust themselves to the one who judges justly (v. 23). This suggests that God the Father sees perfectly, and he is the ultimate judge.
  3. Peter referred to Jesus as the shepherd and guardian of their souls (v. 25). Not only does Jesus guide his followers but he protects them. As a shepherd and guardian, he acts to eliminate threats to his sheep and no one or nothing can withstand him.

Putting all of these pieces together, Peter was exhorting his audience to turn to Christ when experiencing injustice, rather than trying to address it in their own strength. Putting their faith in God was not an acceptance of the injustice. Rather, it was an act of faith that God would perfectly judge and make things right, one way or another.

If anyone doubts God’s commitment to our individual and collective well-being, Christ’s death and resurrection provide evidence of the lengths God will go to heal our brokenness. This is important for us to keep in mind. Whether it is a minor slight or true injustice, our natural tendency is to turn within — towards our own pain. We want to stop the harm being done to us and make sure it does not happen anymore. We make judgements and decisions from a place of hurt, which hampers us from seeing clearly.

As Christ-followers, we can pursue a better way like John Lewis said. Instead of turning towards our pain, we can turn towards God and lay our pain at his feet. In Christ, God showed his willingness to bear our pain. We can tell him what happened to us and how we feel, and then listen for his response. If we experience a minor slight or inconvenience, God will bring our situation into perspective. He will reveal character failings in the ones who harmed us and in ourselves.

God causes us to have compassion for our neighbor and view them through his eyes. Oftentimes, we find ourselves praying for those whom we were intent on accusing. If we experience true injustice, God will give us the strength to endure in love. He will cause us to pray like our Lord, “Father forgive them because they do not know what they are doing.” On some occasions, God may have us take steps to directly address the injustice; however, he will transform our hearts so our motivations are love and reconciliation. Other times, he will call on us to pray and trust him to bring an end to our suffering in the best way possible. In all cases,  when we bring our hurts to the throne of grace, we are greeted with empathy and understanding. We are not made to feel shame for our emotional wounds. Instead, God suffers with us and brings healing to each and every injury.

Finally, it may be hard for us to read about the sufferings of Jesus, and the brutal details may make us uncomfortable. The temptation to turn our eyes away from violence is understandable; however, meditating on the suffering of Jesus is essential for those who seek to follow him.  This is why we celebrate the Easter season. Christ’s scourging and crucifixion prove that God is well acquainted with sorrow and suffering, and nothing we may experience is outside of his understanding. Also, when God asks us to endure the suffering we experience in this life, he is not asking us to do anything he has not already done for us. In fact, Christ has endured more for us than we can possibly imagine, which helps put our present troubles into perspective.

Looking at the suffering of Jesus is necessary for Christians because it is what makes forgiveness and reconciliation possible. As we look at the price he paid to forgive all sin, it is difficult to argue that we cannot forgive our neighbor’s sin against us. Christ died horribly to forgive our neighbors. Therefore, as his followers, we too should turn to God to empower us to love, forgive, and reconcile.

In this world we will suffer. Perhaps we will not experience anything like John Lewis and others experienced on the Pettus Bridge. However, we will all suffer hurts and injustice. The good news is that Christ has overcome the world. God is not blind to injustice, and he promises to bring all things to their just end. He sees our pain and he acts on our behalf. Our job is to trust him — to turn to him instead of our hurt. He is our shepherd and our guardian. He leads and protects, and his ways are perfect. Let us all challenge ourselves to follow the way of love in all circumstances. Let us challenge ourselves to be like Christ even in our suffering.

Living Hope w/ Mandy Smith W5

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April 30 – Fourth Sunday of Easter
1 Peter 2:19-25, “Suffering Is Universal”

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Program Transcript

Living Hope w/ Mandy Smith W5

Anthony: Our final passage is 1 Peter 2:19 – 25. It’s a Revised Common Lectionary passage for the fourth Sunday of Easter, April the 30th.

For it is to your credit if, being aware of God, you endure pain while suffering unjustly. 20 If you endure when you are beaten for doing wrong, where is the credit in that? But if you endure when you do right and suffer for it, you have God’s approval. 21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps. 22 ‘He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.’ 23 When he was abused, he did not return abuse; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly. 24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. 25 For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.

Jesus Christ, bore our sins in his body so that we could live for righteousness. As a Spirit-empowered response to this reality, Mandy, what does it look like to live for righteousness?

[00:39:19] Mandy: That’s a big question. Again, it’s a strange reality. Again, if I was going to be God, I would not say, oh, the way we’re going to solve this is by me. My wounds are going to be the thing that’s going to solve the problem.

But I remember being on a retreat once in Kentucky, which I think is where you are. Am I right?

[00:39:39] Anthony: I’m from Kentucky. I live in North Carolina now. Very close.

[00:39:42] Mandy: Down there at the Abbey of Gethsemane, which is an amazing place for a silent retreat, and I was really carrying some serious suffering and feeling like this was a sign God had forsaken me.

And in many ways, I think to quote Barbara Brown Taylor again, she actually makes a distinction between pain and suffering. So, pain is the actual experience that cannot be denied, and the suffering is our belief about that experience that God has forsaken us, which we see Jesus wrestling with.

And in many ways, that’s worse than the actual pain. We see that in Job as well. That yes, you can’t argue with what he’s lost. But the question that most of the book of Job is about is: why. What does this mean about your relationship with God?

So, I was in that place when I went to this Abbey, and it’s a Catholic setting, and so there’s crucifix hanging on the walls everywhere you go. And in my Protestant tradition, we don’t usually have a Jesus actually hanging on the cross still.

And so, I just was like, geez, Jesus, you just hanging everywhere, suffering everywhere I go. And it’s a real bummer. And I’m here to try to rest, and I just don’t want to be confronted with your suffering everywhere I go. You’re really spoiling it. I’m trying to enjoy my lunch here, Jesus. And you’re just hanging there on the wall looking at me. And something changed in me, and I came to see—especially people who suffer all around the world have that crucifix on the walls of their homes because (as much as I understand why we want to have an empty cross) because he’s resurrected now.

When we suffer, I need to know I’m not alone. This thing that had been judgment, had felt like, oh, that’s a sign God’s forsaken you because you are suffering and he’s not. Instead, I came to see, the solidarity that he has with me, and I have with him in that place. That, as it says in this passage, if you endure when you do right and suffer for it.

Jesus’ faithfulness to the Father is what took him to the cross. He could have stopped any time. He could have just said, oh, just kidding. I’m not really the Son of God. I’m not really going to do miracles. He could have got out of it anytime he wanted to, but he just kept saying yes every single day to the Father, and even when he knew what was coming. You can feel this heaviness upon him of obedience and of knowing what it’s going to take, where it’s going to take him.

And to just suddenly realize that is our story, that when we do right and we suffer for it, we have God’s approval. It’s not a sign that we are forsaken by God. It’s as even though we see Jesus cry out on the cross, my God, why have you forsaken me? I refuse to believe that was because the Father had actually forsaken him. I believe that it was because Jesus was lamenting, as we were talking about earlier, and that psalm that he’s citing from Psalm 22, I think everybody would’ve known it and would’ve known the whole Psalm.

Which is the wrestling of a person who is in absolute agony and who still chooses to see that God has made things possible. And the end of that psalm sounds very much like he has done it. That gives me great hope and for me to live for righteousness means living in a way that embraces the possibility that even when I suffer—I don’t do right as perfectly as Jesus did, but it often is my desire to serve and to obey and follow that gets me into painful places. And to trust that the righteousness there is knowing, even though I don’t feel it, that we have God’s approval in that place.

[00:43:21] Anthony: I was sitting in a sanctuary once with a dear friend who happens to be a professional theologian, and we were talking about Jesus on the cross that we were seeing in this sanctuary.

And I thought, why don’t we come up with a symbol of life, right? The resurrected life. And he said to me, for a lot of us, we need to know, we need to be able to look up and see this broken, battered body, that he gets us. He understands; we can trust that he knows, and he’s not apart from it. He’s in it with us.

And I thought, that’s hard to argue with. I’m glad that Jesus had his way with you as he was staring at you during this retreat to remind you of who he is and what he’s up to. And what we see he was up to, is he doesn’t return abuse for abuse.

We talk about the kingdom of God being an upside-down kingdom, that looks upside down to our experience. What we often see as abuse leads to future abusers. What can we learn and live as a result of what we see in Jesus?

[00:44:25] Mandy: Yeah, that’s a big question. And actually, I just want to add one thing to what you just said about looking for a symbol. And as soon as you said it, I just thought, I think we are the symbol. You know that?

We carry around the resurrection so that the world can see, and I’m reminded of the passage that says we carry in our bodies, the death of Jesus from Corinthians. We carry in our bodies the death of Jesus so the life of Jesus may be seen our in our bodies. So even though it feels like death, for us, it looks like life.

Most of the people I know who look most alive and who show the resurrection power, have died a lot, have suffered a lot. And that’s where the miracle is revealed, I think.

But yeah, to get back to the second question, oh my goodness, there’s so much I want to say about this, and I don’t think we have time.

But going back to what I was referencing earlier about the real ways that I have experienced abuse from fellow Christians (mostly related to gender stuff), that actually it’s been also the place where I’ve come to know the meaning of the gospel in more and more ways. Because my human tendency is to just push back and to just demand that person apologize or that person change.

And in a particular moment, I felt like there was somebody who was specifically standing in the way of something that I felt God calling me to do. And that’s a deeply painful place to say, yes, I want to obey God. But there are human beings who are saying, no, you are not called to that. And so, I just remember crying out to the Lord and saying, when will he learn? When will he change? Will God change his heart? Fix him. And I felt this almost physical pressure on me saying, Mandy, let it go.

And I was like, oh, not you too, God, not you, not another voice telling me, I just have to adapt to this painful situation, and I just have to suck it up and I just have to take it in. And honestly, it just felt like more of this oppressive, abusive experience that I was already experiencing. And he said, no, no, no, I’m not saying that you should give into this person or agree with this person. I’m saying let it go because I let it go and all of the pain that he experienced, and I suddenly just sensed the story in a different way of what God was doing on the cross because we don’t often give God much credit for having emotions.

And what if our rejection of him brought deep pain in him? That he had created something beautiful and given it to us and we had just ripped it out of his hands and said, we just want it and we don’t want you. And what if that broke his heart? And when somebody breaks our heart, there’s just this natural instinct that wants to take all that pain and roll it up in a ball and just hurl it in their direction.

We do that all the time. And this is what we’re talking about here. The kind of abuse just gets passed on and the violence just escalates. But what if instead God said, I’m going to take all that pain that I’m experiencing because I see how beautiful this was supposed to be, and you have just broken it.

And instead of just rolling it into a ball and throwing at us, he—like the cartoon characters like to swallow it and let it explode like a bomb. You see a cartoon character swallow a bomb and it explodes inside of them. What if he said, no, I’m going to let it just blow up inside of me.

This is real pain. And I felt this is what God was asking me to do. Not to deny the injustice, but to choose to say, I’m going to let go. I’m going to let my sense of indignation die in me. I’m going to let my want, my desire for vindication and revenge, I’m going to let that die in me. And honestly, it did feel like it was going to kill me.

I felt like I’m going to lose myself. I’m not going to exist anymore. Even if it doesn’t kill me physically, it’s going to kill my identity because for us to protect ourselves is a fundamental human instinct. But I felt the Lord say, but because I did it, I’m asking you to set aside your sense of right, of what you deserve, because I did it.

Oh, my goodness. Something happened that freed me from this little script I’d been in and I suddenly realized we were stuck. I’m stuck in a script here. Like you say this to me, I say that to you. We go back and forwards and it just goes round and round in a circle, and I just felt like I was suddenly drawn out of this cycle of whatever the script is that between men and women or between whoever’s always perpetuating. And I was able to say, ah, look at this space we’re stuck in. Look at this thing. I feel freed from it. I don’t need you to approve of me in order to do the things that God is calling me to do anymore. I hope one day you get it, but I’m going to just keep saying yes to God.

And I felt such a freedom and such a release. And it was really good news. Like it wasn’t just now I can do my job. It was like, ah, this is the hope of the gospel. This is the power that God has given us, that he’s asking us to die to what we think we need in order to actually receive what he’s offering us.

And it will feel like death. If you are taking poison, thinking all along that it’s helping you heal, the doctor is going to have a really hard time saying, actually that thing you keep putting in your body is what is killing you. If you believe that’s what you need to live, it’s going to feel like death to say, ah, I’m going to have to choose to stop taking this medication.

And it’s only after you take it that you start to heal, that you start to see, oh my goodness, the doctor was right all along, but it’s going to feel like death first. So that is what I’m learning and living. As I see how he broke the pattern of abuse and how he refused—oh my goodness, what a beautiful thing that this God who had been so wronged by us and continues to be so wronged by us, refuses to take it out on us and chooses to take in himself the pain of all of that so that we don’t have to bear what he would be righteous, what he would be justified in dealing out to us from his own deep pain of us rejecting him. So, praise God that he has taken on that pain within himself and somehow let it die in him so that he can come to us and receive us again.

[00:51:02] Anthony: You said because I did it, Jesus that is. He did it. He’s done it. And it reminded me of a statement that Richard Rohr made, that pain that is not transformed always gets transmitted. And what I hear you saying, (and I praise God for it) is he transformed it because, hey, Mandy, I did it. I did it for you and you get to do it with me. We are going to transform this.

And I’m so grateful for that and grateful for you. Thank you so much for being with us. I saw a statement you made on the socials recently where you said, when I see only seeds, may I speak of gardens. And I’m thinking for you, as you said early on, ministry’s hard.

It’s hard work. It’s tough. But I pray that the Lord will allow you the joy of walking through a lot of gardens with him in the quiet of the evening and see the beauty of what he is doing all around you.

Thank you for joining us, and I certainly want to thank a couple of people, Reuel Enerio, and Elizabeth Mullins, who do such incredible work with this podcast.

And Mandy our tradition here at Gospel Reverb is to end in prayer. And so if you’re willing, would you please pray for those who are listening?

[00:52:15] Mandy: Yes, of course.

God, we thank you for this crazy way that you have come to us, that you have invited us into. Thank you that you are the kind of God that we can trust to not abuse, to not oppress, that your power is the kind of power that empties.

And it’s so much unlike anything we see in the world and in ourselves. And so Father, we pray that you would invite us, that you would teach us, that you would show to us how to be more like Jesus. Thank you for modeling it yourself and not just talking about it, but for saying, okay, let me come and do it; let me be like you and let me show you what it looks like.

And Father, we need your help because we have so many other ways we’ve been taught to fill ourselves up and to be enough in our own strength, our education and our media and our culture. And everything around us says, no, if you empty, you’ll just be left empty.

But thank you, Lord for the miracle that when a human being empties in your direction, that there is something that you are then able to fill. Thank you that your Spirit has been promised to us, that you are already with us, that you are already just waiting to give us the insight and the vision and the direction, and the comfort and the courage that we need—maybe not the things that we think we need, but what we actually need.

So Lord, give us the courage to empty and trust that there is something that will fill us, something better than we were trying to fill ourselves with. We thank you for this promise, for this miracle that we have access to every single.

In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

Small Group Discussion Questions

From Speaking of Life

  • The Speaking of Life presenter said a full, abundant life was one in which Jesus fills all our moments with his life-giving presence. What does this mean to you?
  • One of the reasons God saved you and me is so we can experience a full life. What does this say about God?

From the sermon

  • What do you think of John Lewis’ ability to love and forgive in spite of the suffering he endured? Do you know of any similar stories of amazing love and forgiveness?
  • Do you sometimes find it hard to believe that God sees and cares about your suffering? Why or why not?
  • How should Jesus’ suffering on the cross impact how Christians interact with their neighbors?

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