Sermon for May 26, 2019

Readings: Acts 16:9-15 • Psalm 67:1-7 • Revelation 21:10, 10:22-22:5 • John 5:1-9

This week’s theme is God makes us whole. Acts shares the story of Lydia’s conversion. Lydia, from Thyatira, is regarded as the first baptized convert in Europe. In Psalm 67 we are reminded that all are invited to praise God for his universal mercy. He brings us to perfection as all are ruled with equity. Revelation reminds us that Jesus is the temple. Through him God restores our heath and makes us clean. All are given access to the water of life. The sermon is developed from the story of the healing at the pool of Bethesda. Jesus tells us to stand up before God and receive the blessings he provides.

Stood Up by Jesus

Read John 5:1-9, NRSV, before sermon:

 Have you ever felt stood up by God? And when we say “stood up,” what we mean to say is that we have been let down. Maybe that’s how the person with a disability felt “who had been ill for thirty-eight years.” That’s practically a lifetime of being down on the ground. Enough time to convince us that God doesn’t see us, doesn’t know our situation and basically doesn’t care. Have you been there? If so, maybe this little story told by the apostle John can lift your eyes to see a different perspective.

The story begins with John telling us “Jesus went up to Jerusalem.” John has used this “up to” language many times in his stories of Jesus. The word in Greek is “anabaino” which simply means to ascend but it’s the word used to translate many ascensions in the Old Testament—stories like Moses’ ascent of Mount Sinai or the ascent to Mount Zion or to Jerusalem. Within Jerusalem the same language is used in going up to the temple, and then within the temple there is a further ascent into the holy of holies. More examples could be listed, but in essence, when John uses anabaino, he is using a word that points back to God’s presence in Israel’s history. God is the one Israel’s priests and leaders have historically ascended to. So, when Jesus enters the story by going up to Jerusalem there is more than a change in physical elevation taking place, the story has to do with Jesus ascending in order to stand us up in the presence of God. Let’s look at the text:

Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth-zatha [Bethesda], which has five porticoes, (John5:2 NRSV). 

John gives us some details to ponder in the story. The setting is at the pool of Bethzatha or Bethesda depending on translation. Bethesda means “house of mercy,” so you will see a number of hospitals named Bethesda.

Until the 19th century, there was no evidence of this pool and people believed John was creating a metaphorical illustration. However, archeologists later discovered the remains of the pool fitting John’s description. It is in the Muslim quarter of Jerusalem.

John also wants us to note that the pool is next to the Sheep Gate, which was the gate sacrificial lambs were brought through. As the story unfolds, John is creating a picture of contrast between the rituals of sacrifice—along with the superstitious waters of “healing”—with Jesus himself, who is both our true sacrifice and our living water. John was a good storyteller.

In these lay many invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years (John 5:3-4 NRSV). 

We are introduced to our poor cast- down soul as “one man” who was among “many invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed.” This description of disabled people serves as a rather poignant pointer to life in this fallen world.

This refers to a life without direction, a life with distortion and pain, and ultimately a life that is hopeless. Like this one man, we can find ourselves among many people with disabilities, people who are paralyzed and unable to find any healing or wholeness for their lives. We can feel there is no one to help us when we forget that we are made to walk with the Lord.

When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be made well?” (John 5:6 NRSV). 

Jesus enters the scene. Keep in mind that John is primarily concerned in his Gospel account of showing us that Jesus is the full revelation of the Father. The first thing we see Jesus do is take notice. He “saw him lying there” and he also “knew that he had been there a long time.” No matter what our lifelong experience has been, the Father sees us and he knows our situation. It’s out of this deep personal knowing Jesus asks the man the question “Do you want to be made well?”

At first glance it sounds like a “tongue-in-cheek” question. Of course, he wants to be made well; who wouldn’t want to be well. But good questions are grounded in personal awareness. Jesus must have known that this man would need to wrestle with that question. Thirty-eight years of anything is a lot of undoing. The man’s healing would amount to a whole new life of change for him.

  • Who has been bringing this man here for the past 38 years?
  • Who has been caring for him and feeding him?
  • Are you ready to do things on your own?
  • Are you ready to stop depending on others and learn a skill to earn an income?
  • Are you ready to enter society in a new way, with all its blessings, and all its requirements?
  • Are you ready to start showing personal responsibility?

The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me” (John 5:7 NRSV). 

The man’s answer didn’t tell us explicitly if he wanted to be well. But it did tell us that he had been trying to make himself well for a long time. His description of all the reasons he couldn’t make it to the pool was placing blame on others who refused to help. This is what happens when we are working a program for our own healing, or what we may call legalism.

When you can’t live up to the program—and you never can—you can always look down at others. It’s easy to put the responsibility elsewhere—to blame others—to get the attention off ourselves. Jesus knew this about this man, and he knows this about us. And his response is one of grace.

Jesus said to him, “Stand up, take your mat and walk” (John 5:8 NRSV). 

Here’s a man who has been let down for thirty-eight years by legalism, a man who is unable to stand up, and Jesus’ response to him is a powerful word of grace: “Stand up, take your mat and walk.” These weren’t empty words. They were words of power that created a new reality. The man only needed to believe and to respond.

At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk (John 5:9a NRSV).

Jesus gave him legs to stand on and told him to take the mat home—he no longer needed his mat to protect him from the ground. He no longer needed to wait for others to take care of him; his healing was complete. Jesus stood him up. The story doesn’t end here:

Now that day was a sabbath (John 5:9b NRSV).

This lectionary selection cuts the story in half by ending with “Now that day was a Sabbath.” What? Why this little bit of information from John?

It’s not another example of a story culminating into a nasty showdown between the legalistic religious rulers of the day and the Lord of grace and healing, but John has a significant point to make. In this story we are given this little twist to aid us in our understanding of what the Sabbath rest is all about. Here, on the Sabbath day, Jesus tells the man to pick up his mat and walk. He wasn’t trying to goad the religious leaders—he was helping this man and us understand that resting in him is not lying around all day; resting in him is experienced as standing and walking in the presence of God. Jesus is our Sabbath rest.

We all face times in our lives when we feel like the man at Bethesda. We are waiting and waiting for someone to help us—for someone to come and fix the problem. We’ve all had times when we’ve blamed others for the situation we are in—there is no one to help me get to the healing water.

This week, ask God to help you see that he is the living water—in fact, the living water came to you. Ask him to help you see you need to pick up your mat and enter his Sabbath rest. Ask him to help you remember that he has stood you up—that is, he has helped us stand.

Jesus has forever stood us up in him, and in him we will never be let down.


Small Group Discussion Questions

  • Can you think of experiences in your life where you felt that God had let you down? How does the story of the man who was “down” for thirty-eight years help you reflect on your own story?
  • Reflect on Jesus taking notice of the person and knowing his situation. What does this tell us about the Father’s heart toward us? Does this feed your faith or leave you with more questions?
  • What do you think about Jesus asking the man if he wanted to be made well?
  • How does the detail that this healing took place on a Sabbath inform us what true rest is?
  • Read the passage from Revelation and talk about what it means that Jesus is your temple and that you have been given access to the water of life.

Sermon for May 19, 2019

Readings: Acts 11:1-18 • Psalm 148:1-14 • Revelation 21:1-6 • John 13:31-35

This week’s theme is God removes barriers. The story in Acts reminds to not put up barriers,, which can prevent people from relationship with God. Psalm 148 talks about all creation praising God without barriers or limitations. John reminds us of the new commandment to love as Jesus loves – this is the opposite of putting up barriers or stumbling blocks. In Revelation we are reminded that God became flesh to remove the dreaded barriers of sickness, worry, fear and death. This sermon will use two passages of Scripture to show that God wants us to build bridges, not barriers.

Bridges Before Barriers

Note: This sermon builds off the Speaking of Life video “Hinderance”. If you cannot play the video, download the text so you know the point of the video.

Introduction: This is my story; you should put this into your own words and use your own examples.

I used to be rather legalistic, believing I had to follow a set of specific rules in order for God to see me and to love me. I also believed others needed to follow the same set of rules. I kept a 7th day Sabbath and believed anyone who didn’t wasn’t really a good Christian. I judged people for their lack of diligence, as if I was the example they should follow. I was strict in what I believed and quick to share what I did not like. Sadly, I was known more for what I was against, than for what I was for.

Many people view Christians as people who are against a whole bunch of stuff. Churches are often known more for what they are against than for what they are for. It wouldn’t take long for most of us to put together a list of things most people believe Christians are against. Historically, it seems we’ve built better barriers than we have bridges. We’re known more for our animosity against sinners than our love for all people. We are thought of as just another religion with a set of rules that varies from church to church. Is it any wonder Christianity is being marginalized and many people, especially young people, are turned off to Christianity?

As was mentioned in the “Speaking of Life” video, we often hinder others in their relationship with God by imposing barriers on people that prevent them from knowing God as he truly is and experiencing fullness of life with him.

This is what Peter was dealing with in Acts 11. He was giving a report in Jerusalem about how God had revealed to him to reach out to the Gentiles. The initial response was not favorable:

Now the apostles and the believers who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also accepted the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him, saying, “Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?” (Acts 11:1-3 NRSV).

Peter wasn’t following the rules. Circumcision was a clear barrier to keep others out. If you wanted to be in, you had to become a Jew and be circumcised.

Peter then recounted the story of his encounter with Cornelius the centurion to his friends and fellow disciples:

I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. There was something like a large sheet coming down from heaven, being lowered by its four corners; and it came close to me. As I looked at it closely I saw four-footed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles, and birds of the air. I also heard a voice saying to me, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’

But I replied, ‘By no means, Lord; for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ But a second time the voice answered from heaven, ‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’ This happened three times; then everything was pulled up again to heaven.

At that very moment three men, sent to me from Caesarea, arrived at the house where we were. The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. He told us how he had seen the angel standing in his house and saying, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon, who is called Peter; he will give you a message by which you and your entire household will be saved.’

And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’

If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?” When they heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God, saying, “Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life” (Acts 9:5-18).

This vision cut through some pretty significant signs of distinction for Jews—unclean meats and circumcision. All Jews were bound by the Old Testament laws of clean and unclean meats, and all male Jews were to be circumcised. This was a sign of their calling—their relationship with God. And now God was telling Peter neither were necessary for Gentiles. These items were barriers—getting in the way of Gentiles developing relationships with God. Peter’s vision was about breaking down those barriers and building bridges.

The apostles and believers praised God for giving Gentiles repentance that leads to life—in other words, for including them. God was much bigger than they anticipated—Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and ascension was much more meaningful and powerful than they imagined. God was for all.

It makes you think, doesn’t it, about barriers vs. bridges? It makes you wonder how many things we put in the way of people’s progress in their relationship with God. It makes you wonder if we are creating barriers, when we are called to build bridges—to lead people to the One who redeems all and then trust him to work in their lives.

Let’s talk about some potential barriers:

  • Inviting someone to church: Barriers might include questions about their beliefs, their lifestyle, their habits, or their hang-ups. Jesus came to save sinners—and all sinners need Jesus. We need to build bridges to church, not barriers.
  • Baptism: What barriers do we put up for baptism? Age? How long someone has attended? Their beliefs? Their giving record? Who is qualified to determine if someone is ready for baptism? 3,000 were baptized after Peter’s sermon in Acts 2. Philip baptized men and women in Acts 8. Many were baptized in Corinth. There were no barriers to baptism. It was a personal choice.
  • Communion: Is age a barrier? Are they “ready” or “worthy? Do they know what it’s all about? Again: barriers or bridges? We should welcome all to the table, not find reasons to keep them away.

These may seem obvious examples, but Christians have been putting up such barriers since the early church. It’s almost like we are more interested in keeping people out, than leading people in. Perhaps being followers of Jesus makes us a bit prideful or gives us a feeling of one-upmanship. Maybe it’s fear – we aren’t sure we want others in because that may mess up what we have.

This leads to the next passage of Scripture, which shows us what the real problem is.

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another (John 13:34-35).

When Jesus says there is a new commandment, we should pay attention. The new commandment is to love others as he has loved us. Jesus spent his entire ministry breaking down barriers. He called out the Pharisees time and time again for their many rules and regulations that kept people focused on everything except a relationship with God. He became human to show that humanity was worthy and valuable to God. He endured the most despicable death, reserved only for the lowliest of people, to show that no one was beneath his attention and his love. He ate with sinners, calling a number of them to be his disciples. He changed the way women and children were viewed—showing their value to God. He destroyed barrier after barrier to build the bridge to the Father.

If we love as Jesus loves us, we will be just as diligent to build bridges, and much more aware of any barriers we may be constructing. We want others to know Jesus as their Savior, their redeemer, and their friend. We want them to understand that God came and made his home among mortals and that he is dwelling with us until the day comes when tears will be wiped away, death will be non-existent, and pain will be gone.

We want others to understand that God loves them just the way they are; and he loves them so much he won’t leave them just the way they are. He is the one who will bring about change in their lives as they get to know him. We want to build bridges enabling others to worship together, pray together, share in communion, build relationship and love as he loves.

The only way we can do that is to break down barriers and build bridges. We want everyone to see that there isn’t anything that will keep Jesus from being our God, and us from being his people. We are his and he is ours.

Three things to ask yourself and pray about this week:

  • What barriers do I face that are preventing me from believing that God loves me just as I am and that he calls me his beloved?
  • What barriers have I built preventing others from seeing God as he really is?
  • What bridges am I building for others – enabling them to see God and build a relationship with him?

Small Group Discussion Questions

  • What are some things the church/Christianity is known to be against?
  • What are some things the church/Christianity is known to be for?
  • What are some things others know that you are against?
  • What are some things others know that you are for?
  • How can/has making it known what we are against become a barrier?
  • How do we stay true to what the Bible says, and still build bridges for sinners?
  • Can you share how someone built a bridge for you?
  • What barriers has this congregation built – or what impression of barriers is there of this congregation?
  • What bridges do we need to build? How do we build them?

Sermon for May 12, 2019

Readings: Acts 9:36-43 • Psalm 23:1-6 • Revelation 7:9-17 • John 10:22-30

This week’s theme is The Shepherd gives life. Psalm 23 is the Shepherd’s psalm, he leads us to still waters, we dwell in his house forever. In Acts 9 we see life restored as Peter prays for Tabitha (Dorcas) – who is raised from the dead. In Revelation we see that the Lamb of God is our shepherd. The sermon focuses on the passage in John where we see Jesus identifying his sheep as those who hear his voice and follow him.

God with Half the Heart

Suggestion: Have someone read John 10:22-30 prior to the sermon.

Introduction: Some of you may have seen the necklaces girls sometimes share. Each necklace is half a heart. One necklace says “Best,” and the other necklace says, “Friends.” The girls feel more complete when they are together. If you give me a bit of license, think of the two halves of a heart, with you having half and God having the other half. We are not complete until our heart is aligned with God’s heart. Thus the title, “The God with Half the Heart.”

Let’s discuss the passage from John.

At that time the Feast of the Dedication took place at Jerusalem; it was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple in the portico of Solomon. The Jews therefore gathered around Him, and were saying to Him, “How long will You keep us in suspense? If You are the Christ, tell us plainly” (John 10:22-24 NASB).

This passage takes place during Hanukkah—the festival of lights—celebrated each year by many Jews. About 150 years before Jesus, Greek armies had overtaken Israel and one of the Greek leaders desecrated the temple by sacrificing a pig and putting pig blood throughout the temple. (Pigs, as you know, were unclean to Jews.) The Greeks also filled the temple with pagan idols and practices. Eventually there was an insurrection against the Greek leaders, and the Jews were able to get their land and temple back. It’s an interesting story about the Maccabees you may want to read some time.

The Jewish leaders scoured the temple of these things and renovated it, rededicating it to God. Part of the rededication was to light the Menorah—a sacred lampstand with seven branches used in the temple. However, they found only one day’s worth of oil that had not been contaminated by the Greeks. As the story goes—the light burned miraculously for eight days. Thus, you have the eight-day celebration of Hanukkah, the feast of rededication.

Hanukkah is a bit like our celebration of Fourth of July, which is a celebration of America’s declaration of independence. Hanukkah looked to the past for the most part because, during Jesus’ time as well, they were an oppressed people. It was a look to the past to see that God had been faithful in delivering them, and an act of hope for the future that God would deliver them again and give them independence again. It was two-sided—joy to celebrate God’s past deliverance and longing to look for God’s final deliverance.

Thus, you understand the Jews surrounding Jesus and asking, “Are you the deliverer?”

I believe it’s important to note here that Jesus would have grown up with this festival and participated in it as part of his Jewish identity. He interacted with Jewish institutions and festivals. He didn’t destroy or disdain them; rather, he showed how they point to him. If you allow me to bring the analogy in again, it’s like the Jews are holding up half a heart and waiting for God to bring the other half—to restore the relationship.

Jesus is showing he is the restoration. He is showing that God entered our world through a real person, and who lived right in the midst of Jewish traditions. Note how he answers their question:

Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe; the works that I do in My Father’s name, these bear witness of Me. But you do not believe, because you are not of My sheep” (John 10:25-26 NASB).

In Hanukkah and other ceremonies, the people of Israel were holding up their half heart to say, “we are waiting for you.” We are longing for you. Jesus comes through in the Gospels to say, “I have the other half. I am the other half. I am what you’ve been looking for. Come and be complete in me.”

He is the fulfillment of their special days.

  • Sabbath—Jesus heals a man on the Sabbath. The work of God – such as healing someone – is more important than keeping to ceremonies and cultural identification. He is our Sabbath rest.
  • Passover—celebration of God’s deliverance from Egypt. The sacrificed lamb spared the first-born among the Israelites. Jesus, the sacrificed lamb of God spared all of humanity.
  • Feast of Tabernacles—everyday during this festival, a priest would take a pitcher of water from the pool of Siloam. He would pour this water in a large basin while everyone sang psalms about God’s salvation. The water was called—the waters of salvation. Jesus said, “If anyone comes to me, out of him will flow rivers of living water.” He is the fountain; he is the water-source; he is our salvation.
  • Feast of Hanukkah—dedication of the temple. Jesus is the Holy of Holies, we are his temple.

Jesus is showing that these different trappings of being Israel point not just to a national identity, nor just to religious tradition, they point to HIM. They are about him.

My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they shall never perish; and no one shall snatch them out of My hand” (John 10:27-28 NASB).

Illustration: The following illustration will need to be adapted to your own memories. Be aware that some people’s memories of their parents are painful; you may want to extend the illustration out to grandparents and guardians.

We all have our memories of home and how we knew Mom and Dad were home. In my house, it was the sound of the car on the gravel driveway. As a teenager, I may not have admitted it, but I was actually glad when to hear the sound. Dad was home! Order and peace had returned; we were taken care of. We are thrilled when we hear Daddy’s voice.

I believe this is what Jesus was referring to when he said, “My sheep hear my voice…”

Jesus comes and says: Papa is home. Abba is home. You don’t have to identify yourself by what you survived; you don’t need to celebrate what you did or what happened to you when you thought I wasn’t listening or aware. I am here! You are more than your history or your special days; you are the sons and daughters of God. You’re in my hand, and the heart is complete. Our heart-halves are put together now. I am here.

Jesus uses I AM statements to show all is pointing to him: I am the gate, I am the bread, I am the water, I am the shepherd, I am the sabbath. And at this flashpoint, Jesus says, “I am HERE.”

Then Jesus goes even further in his statement:

My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one” (John 10,29-30 NASB).

He uses some even more inflammatory language, as usual, in this exchange. This is reminiscent of the Hebrew shema: shema israel adonai eloheinu adonai echad. Hear oh Israel, the Lord our God is ONE. That word ONE meant one being, just one being of one substance. But it also meant UNIQUE. God is unique, there is nothing like God, there is no one like God. There is only one. And in saying these words over and over, we are the unique people of a unique God. There is no one like him, and we are his, so there is no one like us.

The Lord our God is one. Jesus and the Father are One. This is the deepest nerve that Jesus can strike here. They knew what he was saying, and many of them leaned down to get their stones at that point.

But others heard his voice and believed. They heard what he meant. The longing is over, the waiting is over—God’s deliverance is here. The heart is complete. Daddy’s home. We don’t have to be survivors anymore, because the King is on his throne.

The completed heart

Our heart joins with the Father’s heart and for the first time, it becomes whole. What does it mean to live with a completed heart? To live as a loved person?

Like the Jews Jesus was talking to, some of us still find our identity in what we were—in our traditions and special days. We still find our identity in what we do—good or bad, in what others say about us—good or bad, and in the things we have. But this is not where our identity comes from. We are the children of the King who could never love us any more or less than he does right now. We are sons and daughters of the One who created all things. We know he is the one who completes us—who has the other half of our heart.

Rest in that completeness. The two halves of the heart have come together.

Let me leave you with three charges:

  • Spend time this week asking God to help you see how he has made your heart whole. Spend time in prayer and praise.
  • Ask God to reveal to you someone who needs to know that God can and does make our heart whole. Share this truth with them.
  • Listen—listen to the voice of the Shepherd, hear his words of affirmation and follow his direction. Doing so will fill your heart.

Small Group Discussion Questions

  • We all have memories of home. Most of us remember some sign that Mom or Dad were home: a hat on the hook, boots by the door, the scent of a certain perfume. Discuss these memories. Do you think of God being “home” in the same way? (Note: if memories of parents are painful, this also works with a guardian, grandparent, or trusted friend.)
  • The setting of John 10 is the Feast of Dedication, which in modern times is called Hanukkah. This feast commemorated a time from what is called the “four hundred years of silence” between the Old Testament and New Testament. Have you ever felt that God was silent? How did you know he was “home again” and the silence was broken?
  • What is the difference between living life as a survivor and life as a fully-loved child of God? Do we identify ourselves by our scars or by our relationship with God? How?
  • We talked in the sermon about Jesus upending or re-casting several Israelite institutions (Passover, Feast of Tabernacles, Hanukkah). What institutions of our culture do you think he would overturn or make us see differently? What would happen if Jesus showed up at the Super Bowl or the World Cup?
  • What does Psalm 23 say to you personally?
  • Read Revelation 7:9-17 and describe a time you felt you were led to springs of the water of life, or when God sheltered you.

Sermon for May 5, 2019

Readings: Acts 9:1-6, 7-20 • Psalm 30:1-12 • Revelation 5:11-14 • John 21:1-19

This week’s theme is A Higher Calling. Psalm 30 is a parallel between David praying, “I will extol you no matter what I face,” and Jesus in the Garden praying, “Not my will, but yours be done.” Jesus became the worthy lamb who was slain (Revelation 5), fulfilling that calling. John shares the story of Peter being redeemed by Jesus’ calling, “Feed my lambs.” The sermon focuses on Ananias’ response to his higher calling.

Pick Me!

Introduction: Share a time when you (or perhaps your child) were chosen for something and how good it made you feel.

Who doesn’t love the enthusiasm of a child, who, when the teacher asks for a volunteer, shoots their hand up in the air and squirms with excitement saying, “Pick me. Pick me.” When it comes to something we enjoy doing, or something we know a lot about, and we are asked to participate, we are often more than willing to say, “Count me in!” Other times our response is a bit more reluctant.

Ask the congregation for an example of a time when they excitedly said “Yes” to something they were asked to do. Or when they volunteered for something and it turned out to be an amazing experience.

Through God’s story in the Bible, we find times when God specifically calls someone by name. Some responded positively at the get-go; others were more reluctant. There are eight times when God called someone’s name twice. We may be familiar with the stories and the responses.

  • Abraham, Abraham—when he was ready to sacrifice his son, Isaac. He was relieved to sacrifice a ram rather than his son. He had passed a test proving he feared God.
  • Jacob, Jacob—when he is preparing for his journey into Egypt. He is told to not be afraid and that his descendants would become a great nation in this foreign land.
  • Moses, Moses—when he is called from the burning bush and told to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. Moses gave excuses to get out of this calling before surrendering and leading the nation to the land of Promise.
  • Samuel! Samuel!—At first Samuel thought he was hearing Eli’s voice and ran to him. This happened three times. The next time he heard God call he responded as Eli instructed, “Speak, for your servant is listening” (1 Sam. 3:1-10). Samuel went on to bring God’s word to the nation.
  • Martha, Martha—when Jesus tells her she is worried about so many things. Become more like Mary, learn. We believe Martha learned that lesson.
  • Simon, Simon—when he is told he will deny Jesus. He did, but then Jesus restored him by asking him three times, “do you love me.” After Peter affirmed his love, Jesus told him to “Feed my sheep.”
  • Saul, Saul—on the road to Damascus. Saul is struck blind, healed, and later given the name Paul. He then became the apostle to the Gentiles and a prolific writer we still learn from today.

We can tell stories of Aaron, Joshua, Samson, David, the prophets, the apostles—all people whom God called and gave a mission. How do we respond to God’s call? Do we respond like Jonah, who ran and then spent three days in the belly of a fish, or do we respond as Isaiah responded when called? “Here I am Lord, send me.” No clue what he was in for, but he knew who he was in to—God.

Isaiah wasn’t the only one with that response—Ananias responded in the same way. Let’s look at the story in Acts 9.

A bit of background

Acts 9 starts off talking about Saul’s persecution of early converts:

Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem (Acts 9:1-2).

This was a tough time for the disciples and the early church. Saul was a Pharisee and there is a good possibility that he was part of the Sanhedrin—the supreme council, or court of the Jews. And he wasn’t putting people into jail to spend a night or two, these prisons were horrific places to be. Many early Christians were horribly tortured—so Saul was not someone you wanted to mess with. You avoided him at all costs.

Here he is heading to Damascus to persecute more Christians. On the way, a bright light from heaven flashes and he falls to the ground. Let’s read the story:

“Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied, “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything” (Acts 9:4-9).

Now the story really gets interesting for one man—Ananias.

In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, “Ananias!” “Yes, Lord,” he answered (Acts 9:10).

Here I am Lord, ready to do your bidding—the response each of us believes (hopes) we will give to God’s calling.

The Lord told him, “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight” (Acts 9:11-12).

We don’t know if Ananias had a minor heart attack at that moment, but we can surmise this request scared him to death. Notice his response: “No way, Lord, this guy is trouble.”

“Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your holy people in Jerusalem” (Acts 9:13).

Have you ever prayed this way—as if you are talking God into something or acting like God isn’t already aware of the situation? But God, let me share the facts with you. You must have forgotten who this guy is and what he has done to you…

But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name” (Acts 9:15-16).

I can’t help but wonder if Ananias had a little smirk on his face when God said, “I will show him how much he must suffer…” But God also said, “This man is my chosen instrument…” I imagine Ananias had conflicting emotions. Still, God said Go, so Ananias went…

Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord – Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here – has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength (Acts 9:17-19).

We know the rest of the story. Saul becomes Paul and after more training begins his ministry to the Gentiles. He wrote more letters—turned into books of the Bible—than the rest of the apostles combined. Because Ananias meant what he said when he said, “Here I am, Lord,” he was a big part of the gospel being spread throughout a large part of the Gentile world.

This story reminds us of some important things about God calling us to go…

  • God already knows all the details. We don’t have to remind him, but when we do, he patiently works with us. “But God, this does not look safe.” “Go anyway because I am with you.” “But God, do you know who this person is you are asking me to serve?” “Yes, it is a beloved child of mine who needs to know my love and who needs to enter relationship with me.”
  • God does not ask you to go outside of his presence—ever! Remember the promises, I will be with you to the end of the age. Nothing can separate you from my love. Nothing can snatch you out of my hands.
  • Not only are you never outside of his presence, you are never outside of his power. Remember what Jesus said before he gave the Great Commission? “All power and authority on heaven and earth has been given to me.” This is the one who is with us always—even to the end of the age. Wherever Jesus sends us, he is in the lead. He does not ask us to do things for him, but with him. His calling is an invitation to participate.
  • God does ask you to do things that are beyond your ability—but never beyond his. Again, it’s an invitation to participate, not a job to do for him.
  • We’ve all been called to go… Go and make disciples.

Most of us won’t see a vision from God giving us a specific place to go, but our calling to go is just as meaningful. Our calling is to go—make disciples—share God’s love and life with others—show others who their Father is.

When we say, “Here I am, Lord,” and are willing to follow him and go with him and minister with him, we are joining something that will change us. We are participating in what Jesus is doing—bringing many sons and daughters to glory. We are giving people hope by telling them their sins are forgiven, they are loved and God wants to live in them.

We are walking alongside them as Jesus helps them see why their way of life leads to such discontent. We help them see that God always has their best interests in mind. We help lift people when they are down, hold them up when they are falling, give them a shoulder to cry on, give them someone to lean on, and share life with them. We also share our hope, our joy, our faith and whelp them know the one we call Papa and the one we know as Jesus.

God has called us to go—to partner with him in sharing good news others need to hear. What are you doing with that call?

Ask God to place a name or names in your heart and mind—people he wants to draw you to and share life with. And when those names come to mind, my prayer is that your response to God is, “Here I am, send me.”


Small Group Discussion Questions

  • On a scale from 1 to 10, how willing would you be to volunteer for something where you didn’t know all the details? (i.e. someone from ‘up front’ saying, “I need a volunteer.”)
  • Do you know anyone who would say, “Pick me! Pick me!”?
  • Has there been a time when you “heard God’s voice” with a prompt to do something and you didn’t do it? (An “I’m not here, or I can’t hear, Lord” response.) Please share.
  • Has there been a time when you “heard God’s voice” with a prompt to do something and you did it? (A “Here I am, Lord” response.) Please share.
  • Read and discuss John 21:1-19.
    • What do you think the apostles were thinking in the morning before they went fishing?
    • What do you think Peter was thinking as he left the boat and swam to Jesus?
    • Why did Jesus ask Peter the same question three times?
  • Read Rev. 5:11-14 and share what this verse tells us about Jesus. Compare this to the promise Jesus gave of never leaving or forsaking us.

Sermon for April 28, 2019

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

This week’s theme is Jesus is our Lord and our God. Psalm 118 tells the Lord is God. Acts 5 shows the faith of the apostles who said they must preach the risen Lord who is alive and exalted. Jesus is the Alpha and the Omega, we read in Revelation. He is the one who is, who was, and who is to come. This week’s sermon focuses on Thomas, the first disciple to recognize Jesus as Lord and God.

Thomas the Eighth Day Believer

Suggestion: Share a time when you thought nothing good could come out of a situation, or a time you were full of doubt. Ask the members if they want to share a time of doubt or when they lost hope. Ask if they can imagine what the disciples were going through as they hid.

Let’s pick up the story in the book of John.

On the evening of that day, the first of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you” (John 20:19-20 ESV).

The doors are locked. It’s an interesting contrast here with what goes on in the earlier part of the chapter. Mary Magdalene is out in the garden, by herself, walking to the tomb. She’s on her own, facing the elements and who knows what. Peter and John came out for a minute and then ran back into the locked room. Mary is the brave one, out on her own because of her confused love for Jesus.

The disciples are meeting together. That must have been a strange day, or whole week, of conversations. They all betrayed Christ and ran off, except the women in the end, and here they’ve all come back together. They don’t know how to make sense of this with anyone else. They are kind of leaning on each other, not sure how—or if—they’ll ever make it back to normal life.

Then Peter and John come back with these stories of an empty grave. What does this mean? What about these words from Mary Magdalene, who claimed she saw the Lord? Then there were the disciples from Emmaus who said they saw the Lord. How do we make sense of this, what do we do now, what happens to—

And suddenly he is there.

“Peace be with you.” This is similar to the greeting that angels always gave when they appeared—“do not be afraid.” “Peace be with you” echoes into all levels of being. Peace be in that room, despite this strange being who has just appeared, and peace be between God and humanity forever. From the conversation with the snake in the garden to the battles in the final days of humanity, the phrase echoes out: Peace be with you.

When he had said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them, if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld” (John 20:20-23 ESV).

They were there because of fear, and when they saw his wounds, they were glad. It was indeed him—the one they know and love, the one who shared in their pain and who was killed by their structure of government and empire.

And he breathed on them. Here John is putting the whole story together again. Just as the Lord breathed life into Adam so many eons before, so here he is again. Here he is breathing life again, and with his breath he is bringing back to life the part of us that had died in the garden. The part of us that died when Adam and Eve first ate of that fruit can now be made alive again.

Then he said to forgive others—let others experience what they were experiencing. We should not think that it’s up to us to forgive—only God can forgive, and he did it at the cross. We can say, if you don’t forgive them, they cannot experience what it is to be forgiven. We represent the One who forgives; we cannot represent him if we don’t also forgive.

Let’s now focus on Thomas. First a bit of background.

Thomas is introduced as “the one called the twin,” with no further explanation. Much has been written on what this means, but in the end we don’t know. There are some things in the Bible that we don’t know for sure, some details that aren’t tied up. That’s okay. Not every single question is going to be answered, not every wrinkle is going to be ironed out. Sometimes we get ourselves in a tizzy of doubt because we can’t answer all the questions that life and gospel throw at us. Faith happens in real life, just like the Gospels happened in real life, and in real life the answers aren’t that easy to put together. In real life, you marry the person who you think you can spend your life with. In real life, you have kids when you think you are ready.

Thomas’s unknown twin lends a dimension of reality to the Gospel story. It’s the kind of nonfiction detail that sticks out. There are details like this all over this story if you look close enough. Why was the stone rolled away when Jesus could walk through walls and graveclothes? Why would he appear to only ten of the apostles—knowing that Thomas wasn’t there? (Judas was gone by this point.) We don’t know exactly, but it’s nothing to panic over; maybe one day we will know the answers.

The interesting thing about Thomas is he has only a few lines in scripture before his famous scene here at the locked room.

  • John 11:6—”Let us go too, that we may die with him.” This is Thomas most likely talking about dying with Jesus in Jerusalem. Jesus is returning to raise Lazarus, but he’s walking into a death trap because the authorities there are trying to kill him. Thus, the first time we see Thomas, he is actually faithful Thomas, not doubting Thomas—he’s talking about dying with Jesus—he’s that committed.
  • John 14:5—”Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” This is interesting. While at first glance it comes across as a reasonable question, it sounds a bit like Thomas’ faith is wavering a bit. What was first an emotional, confident promise that he would follow Jesus to death, now has an edge of cynicism to it. Wait—are we being misled? Wait—look, I hate getting duped, just the facts sir, just the facts please.

Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe” (John 20:24-25 ESV).

Thomas was not with them. What a great designation. I love that reality here. I think we’ve all been Thomas at one time or another, and most of us know some Thomas-es. Someone who keeps asking questions, someone who just won’t go along with the crowd, won’t get with the program. C’mon, Thomas! Get with the program!

Notice Thomas didn’t just say, “I have my doubts;” he said unless I see, I will never believe.” That wording indicates there was pain with his doubts. We don’t know why Thomas wasn’t gathered with the other disciples, but his doubtful response leads us to wonder if he was privately dealing with his pain.

Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although 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, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:24-29 ESV).

Isn’t it just like God to make a special appearance for the one missing apostle. Here is Jesus, making an extra trip—an extra appearance—to meet with this broken person. That is the Lord we serve. Put your finger here, put your hand here.

And Thomas responds by naming Jesus: My Lord, and My God.

Thomas was an apostle who led with his heart. Like many, he was emotional, up-and-down, unpredictable. He was the one who was bold enough to voice his doubts even when everyone else was on board. He not only had his feet washed by Jesus, he put his hand directly into the wounds of Jesus, there are few gestures more intimate than that. This doubter was the first to recognize Jesus as Lord and God. He was the apostle who later travelled further than any of the other 12 to spread the gospel. Legend has it that he went to India.

Thomas the doubter was imprisoned, tortured, lived in a cave, and finally run through with spears and beheaded so they could make sure he was dead. As much as he was doubtful, he ended up being doggedly loyal. As cold as his doubts were, his faith ran just as hot. All because his Lord lavished grace upon grace for him, just as he does for us.

We all doubt from time to time; we all deal with emotions and pain, and worry and fear. There are times when we feel like Thomas the doubter, and there are other times we stand like Thomas and declare Jesus as “My Lord and my God.” So what do we do when doubts arise?

On this doubter’s Sunday, what do we take home with us?

  • Doubting is OK. Thomas doubted and it was OK; it was who he was. Just like Thomas, God made you unique. He made you in the unique and weird and wonderful way you are. He has a plan for you, just as he did for Thomas the doubter, Peter the hothead and Paul the overachiever.
  • When you doubt, think things through. One of the holiest things you can do is knock your head up hard against the questions of faith—ask, ask forevermore! And be ready for an answer that’s may just be more creative, interesting, and amazing than you ever imagined.
  • Doubt your doubt—Doubt often occurs when we believe we are alone—forgetting that Jesus—our Lord and our God—is always with us. It’s amazing how many doubts arise when God asks us to do something difficult or to deal with a difficult person. At times like these…
  • Ask God to give you the boldness to do whatever it is he asks you to do. Remember who is with you—and watch your doubt slip away.

 


Small Group Discussion Questions

  1. So far in John, we’ve seen Jesus appear after the resurrection to an unstable woman with a questionable past (Mary Magdalene), a group of men who all abandoned him at his crucifixion (apostles), and a stubborn cynic (Thomas). What does this choice of audience tell us about the kingdom Jesus is setting up? What does his choice of company tell us about him?
  2. In the sermon, we drew a distinction between cynicism/unbelief and doubt. Do you believe there is a difference? How do you discern between the two in your own life?
  3.  Thomas the great doubter also made the greatest theological statement in the Gospels (“My Lord and my God!” John 20:28). Can you think of other examples of great doubters who became great saints (ex. C.S. Lewis, Chuck Colton, etc). Why is there sometimes a connection between great doubt and great belief?
  4. The sermon talked about God using our unique gifts and personality types: “He has a plan for you, just as he did for Thomas the doubter, John , Peter the hothead and Paul the overachiever.” Do you believe this in your own life? Have you seen God use your unique gifts in his kingdom in creative ways?
  5. Pick one or two verses out of Psalm 118 and share why it speaks to you.
  6. Read Acts 5:27-32 and discuss what you think Peter and the apostles were thinking. What gave them the courage to stand up for what they believe? What gives you that courage?
  7. Read Rev. 1:4-8 and talk about the titles of Jesus you see here. Put this passage in your own words.

Sermon for April 21, 2019

Readings: Acts 10:34-43 • Psalm 118:1-2; 14-24 • 1 Cor. 15:19-26 • John 20:1-18

This week’s theme is Christ is Savior for all. The Psalmist starts off by reminding us God’s love endures forever. The Lord has become our salvation. In Acts 10 Peter shares the hope of salvation with Cornelius and other Gentiles, telling them that everyone who believes in Jesus receives forgiveness. Paul refers to Jesus as the 2nd Adam in his letter to the believers in Corinth. “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.” In John we read the story of the resurrection—He is Risen!

Resurrected for ALL

Introduction: The sermon is short to allow for other readings, drama, songs, etc. Have someone begin the service by reading John 20:1-18 or Luke 24:1-12 to share the story of the resurrection.

Welcome to Easter 2019

In Jerusalem one of the most popular places to visit is the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. This has been identified as the place of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. It is a place of pilgrimage for many Christians. Despite many mutilations over the centuries, the Holy Sepulcher remains a gathering place for Christians of all denominations. Many Christian pilgrims walk down the Via Dolorosa—the street Jesus walked down toward his resurrection—and then enter the Holy Sepulcher. It’s a moving place to visit.

The Church of the Holy Sepulcher was built over Golgotha and now sits inside the walls of the city of Jerusalem—a city considered Holy by Jews, Muslims and every denomination of Christians.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Western Wall, which is the last remnant of the Second Temple, is the most holy site in Judaism and Jews from all over the world pilgrimage to Jerusalem to pray at this wall.

Also in Jerusalem is the Dome of the Rock—a most sacred place for Muslims. Along with the dome, sitting atop where the Hall of Solomon once stood, is the oldest Islamic shrine the Al Aksa Mosque, the third most important mosque in Islam. Muslims trace their heritage back to Ishmael, the son of Abraham (Ibrahim).

Three of the major religions refer to Jerusalem as the Holy City, though only one—Christianity—acknowledges Jesus as the Messiah and Savior.

Is it any wonder as Jesus walked down the Mount of Olives on his last trip into the city, he stopped and wept? He was going there to die for all of humanity, and most would reject him—and most still do.

But here’s the good news! Reject him or not, Jesus is the Lord of All and he was resurrected for all. And that’s why we celebrate. Not just because he was resurrected for you and me, but because he was resurrected for every believer and nonbeliever, for every slave and free, for every Jew and Gentile, for every man and woman. Easter reminds us that Jesus—the Son of God—our Redeemer and Savior—went to the cross for all and was resurrected for all.

The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ shows the profoundness of God’s love. Some call it reckless, some call it preposterous, some call it radical, Paul said it comes across to others as foolishness. Why would God die for people who don’t even acknowledge his presence? For the same reason he died for all those who do acknowledge his presence—because God loves all his children; Jesus came for all.

The apostle Paul is talking about the resurrection of Jesus when he says:

For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive (1 Cor. 15:21-22).

Jesus died for all—Christians, Muslims, Jews, atheists, sinners and saints—and he was resurrected for all. This is why we celebrate—God doesn’t show favoritism. Let’s not forget what Peter says in the book of Acts.

Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right. You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, announcing the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all” (Acts 10:34-36).

This statement makes some a bit uncomfortable—that Jesus Christ is the Lord of all.

The sad truth is his message of peace is not as well received as we would hope. In the Holy Land, each group believes they have the cornerstone on truth, and because of this, they are superior to the other groups. Even within the groups there is competition—which Jews are more holy than others? Which Muslims are truly fulfilling the words of the Koran? Which denomination has the best understanding of theology, doctrine and practice? We are still competing, which means we still don’t grasp the significance of who Jesus is, what he did and what his death and resurrection mean for humanity.

Imagine what it would be like if we truly believed Jesus died for all, was raised for all and was Lord of all? Don’t just rush through that thought.

This next section is the crux of your message. Take your time asking the following questions. Allow the members to think things through, write things down, share their thoughts. Either expound these points by sharing how the truth changes the way you look at Jesus, yourself and others, or ask open-ended questions leading to discussion.

  • What if it’s true that Jesus died for all?
    • How would you look at him differently?
    • How would you view yourself differently?
    • How would you view others differently?
  • What if it’s true that Jesus was raised for all—that just as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive?
    • How would that change the way you view Jesus?
    • Would that change the way you look at yourself? Your sins? Your need for control?
    • How would you view others differently? Would they still be categorized as “other” or “sinner” or any other label?
  • What if it’s true that Jesus really is Lord of all?
    • Would you look at him differently? Would you think he’s foolish, or have more respect for his sacrifice?
    • How would you view yourself differently? If he is Lord, you can’t be, so would that mean more trust on your part?
    • How would you view others differently? Rather than seeing them as “other,” would you see them as sheep without a shepherd? Children who don’t know their father? Would this change the way you treat others?

Easter changed everything. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female. Jesus made us one. Do we believe this?

Ask God to help you see this truth more clearly. Ask him to help you respond accordingly—with a bit less judgment, a bit less animosity at times, a bit more compassion, and a lot more understanding. Ask God to help you follow the new commandment—to love others as he loves us.

Let’s make Easter more than a day of celebration; let’s make it a day of change.


Small Group Discussion Questions

  1. What does having a new beginning in Christ mean to you?
  2. Describe your new beginning in Christ to the group.
  3. What does it mean Jesus is Lord of all whether they realize it or not?
  4. What areas of your life are you struggling to surrender to Jesus’ lordship?
  5. If Jesus doesn’t show favoritism, how does that change the way you think?
    1. About yourself?
    2. About your church?
    3. About others?
  6. Read and discuss the passage in I Cor. 15:19-26.

Sermon for April 19, 2019 – Good Friday (This can also be used for Maundy Thursday)

 Readings: Isaiah 52:12-53:12 • Psalm 22:1-31 • Heb. 4:14-16; 5:7-9 • John 18-19

This week’s theme is The Passion. One suggestion is simply to read the passages from a modern translation with a bit of discussion and a prayer after each reading. Isaiah shares the prophecies about Jesus’ sacrifice. Psalm 22 is the Psalm Jesus quotes and is about God’s deliverance. Hebrew talks about Jesus being our High Priest, and the two chapters in John share Jesus’ arrest, trial, death and burial. The service below can be done with a meal, with snacks or just on it’s own. It is a candle service.

Good Friday

Suggestion: This service works best with a 16 people or more. With a smaller group, members may need to read more than one passage. The congregation gathers around tables arranged in a large U with the communion table located in the open end. The communion table has a place setting for one, the Christ candle, as well as the communion elements. The fare is simple – homemade soups, vegetable trays, breads. It is evening, and the lights are somewhat dimmed. On the tables around the room are yet fifteen unlit candles, each having a couple of numbered verse references (one for lighting the candle and one for blowing the candle out) and matches. The meal begins with a prayer, conversation and fellowship.

Part way through the meal the room is hushed as the Christ candle is lit by the pastor, then one by one, the Scriptures of Christ’s last week are read, and the candles are lit. Then the pastor gives a brief meditation on the “Mandate of love” – Jesus’s command to his disciples to love one another.

Communion is observed simply – a hymn sung, the elements shared. Then the room lights dimmed way down, the readers begin again—the events of Jesus’ passion—with the conclusion of each reading, a candle extinguished. (You may need a small light or cell phone light to aid in the reading during this section.) After the last reading, the Christ candle is extinguished. The room is plunged into darkness. Silence, then a prayer of confession—a single candle lit in the hope of the resurrection.

The clean-up is one of hushed voices and quickly done—the congregation scattering till Sunday morning and the celebration of Easter.

Welcome to all!

Today, we are having a special candle service that I hope you find inspiring and thought provoking. We are going to read a number of scriptures with little commentary as we think through the final days of our Lord’s life on this earth.

This is not a funeral gathering because we know the end is actually the beginning. However, it is a somber time because we realize why Jesus came, why he gave up his equality, why he went to the cross, why he died – to save us.

All was done because of his amazing love for us.

Opening Prayer

So why do we call this “Good Friday?” There are three theories:

  1. Because it refers to Jesus’ victory over death and sin and led to the Resurrection—the very pinnacle of Christian celebrations.
  2. The word “Good” derives from God—so it is “God’s Friday.” This used to be in an old edition of the Catholic Encyclopedia, but there is no real basis for this.
  3. The word “good” is the word “Holy.” This agrees with other languages that refer to the day as “Sorrowful Friday,” “Sacred Friday” or “Passion Friday.” The day is Holy because the Holy One went to the cross in his love for us.

On this day, Jesus, the light of the world, willingly entered completely into our darkness by becoming our sin and taking on the penalty of sin—death. He did this so that we could live in the Light.

We will read 15 passages of Scripture and then light a candle after each reading. Let’s pause for a few moments between each reading to think about the events.

Please be quiet and attentive as the readings begin.

(Light the Christ Candle)

  1. Matthew 21:1-11, The Triumphal Entry

When they neared Jerusalem, Jesus sent two disciples to a village telling them they would find a donkey with her colt. “Untie her and bring them to me,” he said. “If anyone asks what you’re doing, say, ‘The Master needs them!’”

The disciples went and did exactly what Jesus told them to do. They led the donkey and colt out, laid some of their clothes on them, and Jesus mounted. Nearly all the people in the crowd threw their garments down on the road while others cut branches from the trees and threw them down as a welcome mat. Crowds went ahead and crowds followed, all of them calling out, “Hosanna to David’s son!” “Blessed is he who comes in God’s name!” “Hosanna in highest heaven!” (Light candle.)

  1. Matthew 21:12-17 Cleansing the Temple

Jesus went straight to the Temple and threw out everyone who had set up shop, buying and selling. He kicked over the tables of loan sharks and the stalls of dove menrchants. He said: “It is written: My house was designated a house of prayer; but you have made it a hangout for thieves.”

When the religious leaders saw what he was doing, and heard all the children running and shouting through the Temple, “Hosanna to David’s Son!” they were up in arms and took him to task. “Do you hear what these children are saying?”

Jesus said, “Yes, I hear them. And haven’t you read in God’s Word, ‘From the mouths of children and babies I’ll furnish a place of praise’?” (Light candle.)

  1. Mark 11:12-14, 19-25 Jesus curses the fig tree

As they left Bethany the next day, Jesus was hungry. He came to a fig tree in full leaf, but without fruit. He addressed the tree: “No one is going to eat fruit from you again—ever!” And his disciples overheard him.

In the morning they saw the fig tree, shriveled to a dry stick. Peter, remembering what had happened the previous day, said to him, “Rabbi, look—the fig tree you cursed is shriveled up!”

Jesus was matter-of-fact: “Embrace this God-life. Really embrace it, and nothing will be too much for you. This mountain, for instance: Just say, ‘Go jump in the lake’—and it’s as good as done. That’s why I urge you to pray for absolutely everything, ranging from small to large. Include everything as you embrace this God-life, and you’ll get God’s everything. (Light candle.)

  1. Mark 11:27-33   Jesus’ authority questioned

When they were back in Jerusalem and were walking through the Temple, the high priests, religious scholars, and leaders came up and demanded, “Show us your credentials. Who authorized you to speak and act like this?”

Jesus responded, “First answer my question and then I’ll present my credentials. About the baptism of John—who authorized it: heaven or humans? Tell me.”

They were on the spot, and knew it. “If we say ‘heaven,’ he’ll ask us why we didn’t believe John; if we say ‘humans,’ we’ll be up against it with the people because they all hold John up as a prophet.” They conceded. “We don’t know,” they said.

Jesus replied, “Then I won’t answer your question either.” (Light candle.)

  1. Luke 20:9-18 Parable of the tenants

Jesus told another story: “A man planted a vineyard and handed it over to farmhands as he went on a long trip. After some time he sent a servant back to collect the profits, but the farmhands beat him up and sent him off empty-handed. The man sent another servant. That one they beat black-and-blue, and sent him back. He tried a third time, again the servant was beaten and sent back.

Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘I’ll send my beloved son. They’re bound to respect my son.’

“But when the farmhands saw him coming, they quickly put their heads together. ‘This is our chance—this is the heir! Let’s kill him and have it all to ourselves.’ They killed him and threw him over the fence.

“What do you think the owner of the vineyard will do?   He’ll come and clean house. Then he’ll assign the care of the vineyard to others.” (Light candle.)

  1. Luke 21:5-19 Sign of the End

One day people were standing around talking about the Temple, remarking how beautiful it was when Jesus said, “The time is coming when every stone in that building will end up in a heap of rubble.”

They asked him, “Teacher, when is this going to happen?

“Watch out for the doomsday deceivers,” he said. “Many leaders are going to show up with forged identities claiming, ‘I’m the One,’ or, ‘The end is near.’ Don’t fall for any of that. When you hear of wars and uprisings, keep your head and don’t panic. This is routine history and no sign of the end.”

“Nation will fight nation and ruler fight ruler, over and over. Huge earthquakes will occur in various places. There will be famines. You’ll think at times that the very sky is falling.

“You’ll even be turned in by parents, brothers, relatives, and friends. Some of you will be killed. There’s no telling who will hate you because of me. Even so, every detail of your body and soul—even the hairs of your head!—is in my care; nothing of you will be lost. (Light candle.)

  1. John 12:20-36 Greeks come, predictions made

There were some Greeks in town who had come up to worship at the Feast. They approached Philip and said: “Sir, we want to see Jesus. Can you help us?”

Philip went and told Andrew. Andrew and Philip together told Jesus who said, “The time time has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Listen carefully: Unless a grain of wheat is buried in the ground, dead to the world, it is never any more than a grain of wheat. But if it is buried, it sprouts and reproduces itself many times over.

This is why I came in the first place. I’ll say, ‘Father, put your glory on display.'”

A voice came out of the sky: “I have glorified it, and I’ll glorify it again.”

Jesus said, “The voice didn’t come for me but for you. I, as I am lifted up from the earth, will attract everyone to me and gather them around me.” He put it this way to show how he was going to be put to death. (Light candle.)

  1. Matthew 26:1-13 Anointing

When Jesus was at Bethany, a guest of Simon the Leper, a woman came up to him as he was eating dinner and anointed him with a bottle of very expensive perfume. When the disciples saw what was happening, they were furious. “That’s criminal! This could have been sold for a lot and the money handed out to the poor.”

When Jesus realized what was going on, he intervened. “Why are you giving this woman a hard time? She has just done something wonderfully significant for me. You will have the poor with you every day for the rest of your lives, but not me. When she poured this perfume on my body, what she really did was anoint me for burial. You can be sure that wherever in the whole world the Message is preached, what she has just done is going to be remembered and admired.” (Light candle.)

  1. Matthew 26:14-16 Betrayal

That is when one of the Twelve, the one named Judas Iscariot, went to the cabal of high priests and said, “What will you give me if I hand him over to you?” They settled on thirty silver pieces. He began looking for just the right moment to hand him over. (Light candle.)

  1. Luke 22:7-14 Preparation

The Day of Unleavened Bread came, the day the Passover lamb was butchered. Jesus sent Peter and John off, saying, “Go prepare the Passover for us so we can eat it together.”

They said, “Where do you want us to do this?”

He said, “Keep your eyes open as you enter the city. A man carrying a water jug will meet you. Follow him home. Then speak with the owner of the house: The Teacher wants to know, ‘Where is the guest room where I can eat the Passover meal with my disciples?’ He will show you a spacious second-story room, swept and ready. Prepare the meal there.”

They left, found everything just as he told them, and prepared the Passover meal.

When it was time, he sat down, all the apostles with him, and said, “You’ve no idea how much I have looked forward to eating this Passover meal with you before I enter my time of suffering. It’s the last one I’ll eat until we all eat it together in the kingdom of God.” (Light candle.)

  1. John 13:2-17 Washing feet

Just before the Passover Feast, Jesus knew that the time had come to leave this world to go to the Father. He knew that the Father had put him in complete charge of everything, that he came from God and was on his way back to God. So he got up from the supper table, set aside his robe, and put on an apron. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the feet of the disciples, drying them with his apron.

After he had finished washing their feet, he took his robe, put it back on, and went back to his place at the table.

Then he said, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You address me as ‘Teacher’ and ‘Master,’ and rightly so. That is what I am. So if I, the Master and Teacher, washed your feet, you must now wash each other’s feet. I’ve laid down a pattern for you. What I’ve done, you do. I’m only pointing out the obvious. A servant is not ranked above his master; an employee doesn’t give orders to the employer. If you understand what I’m telling you, act like it—and live a blessed life. (Light candle.)

  1. John 13:18-30 Predicts betrayal

I’m not including all of you in this. I know precisely whom I’ve selected, so as not to interfere with the fulfillment of this Scripture:

The one who ate bread at my table… Turned on his heel against me.

“I’m telling you all this ahead of time so that when it happens you will believe that I am who I say I am. Make sure you get this right: Receiving someone I send is the same as receiving me, just as receiving me is the same as receiving the One who sent me.”

After he said these things, Jesus became visibly upset, and then he told them why. “One of you is going to betray me.”

Jesus turned to Judas and said, “What you must do, do quickly.”

Judas left. It was night. (Light candle.)

  1. John 13:31-38 Predicts Peters denial

When he had left, Jesus said, “Children, I am with you for only a short time longer. You are going to look high and low for me. But just as I told the Jews, I’m telling you: ‘Where I go, you are not able to come.’

Simon Peter asked, “Master, just where are you going?”

Jesus answered, “You can’t now follow me where I’m going. You will follow later.”

“Master,” said Peter, “why can’t I follow now? I’ll lay down my life for you!”

“Really? You’ll lay down your life for me? The truth is that before the rooster crows, you’ll deny me three times.” (Light candle.)

  1. John 14:1-6; 16-21 Comfort

“Don’t let this throw you. You trust God, don’t you? Trust me. There is plenty of room for you in my Father’s home. If that weren’t so, would I have told you that I’m on my way to get a room ready for you? And if I’m on my way to get your room ready, I’ll come back and get you so you can live where I live. And you already know the road I’m taking.”

Thomas said, “Master, we have no idea where you’re going. How do you expect us to know the way?”

Jesus said, “I am the Way, also the Truth, also the Life. No one gets to the Father apart from me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him. You’ve even seen him!” (Light candle.)

  1. Luke 22:15-17 Passover

Again, Jesus said: “You’ve no idea how much I have looked forward to eating this Passover meal with you before I enter my time of suffering. It’s the last one I’ll eat until we all eat it together in the kingdom of God.”

Taking the cup, he blessed it, then said, “Take this and pass it among you. As for me, I’ll not drink wine again until the kingdom of God arrives.” (Light candle.)

Celebration of the Lord’s Supper

Congregation recites The Lord’s Prayer

Exhortation – The New Command – John 13:34-35

Part 2: Passion of the Lord Jesus Christ

  1. Matthew 26:30-35 Jesus’ warning

They sang a hymn and went directly to Mount Olives. Then Jesus told them, “Before the night’s over, you’re going to fall to pieces because of what happens to me.

Peter broke in, “Even if everyone else falls to pieces on account of you, I won’t.”

“Don’t be so sure,” Jesus said. “This very night, before the rooster crows up the dawn, you will deny me three times.”

Peter protested, “Even if I had to die with you, I would never deny you.” All the others said the same thing. (Blow out candle.)

  1. Matthew 26:36–46 Gethsemane

Then Jesus went with them to a garden called Gethsemane and told his disciples, “Stay here while I go over there and pray.” Taking along Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he plunged into an agonizing sorrow and said: “This sorrow is crushing my life out. Stay here and keep vigil with me.”

Going a little ahead, he fell on his face, praying, “My Father, if there is any way, get me out of this. But please, not what I want. You, what do you want?”

When he came back to his disciples, he found them sound asleep. He then left them a second time, and then a third time, again praying: “My Father, if there is no other way than this, drinking this cup to the dregs, I’m ready. Do it your way.”

When he came back the last time, he said, “My time is up, the Son of Man is about to be handed over to the hands of sinners. Get up! Let’s get going! My betrayer is here.” (Blow out candle.)

  1. Matthew 26:47–56 Arrested

The words were barely out of his mouth when Judas (the one from the Twelve) showed up, and with him a gang from the high priests and religious leaders brandishing swords and clubs. He went straight to Jesus, greeted him, “How are you, Rabbi?” and kissed him.

Then they came on him—grabbed him and roughed him up. One of those with Jesus pulled his sword and, taking a swing at the Chief Priest’s servant, cut off his ear.

Jesus said, “Put your sword back where it belongs. Don’t you realize that I am able right now to call to my Father, and twelve companies—more, if I want them—of fighting angels would be here, battle-ready? But if I did that, how would the Scriptures come true that say this is the way it has to be?”

Then all the disciples cut and ran. (Blow out candle.)

  1. John 18:15–27 Peter’s denial

Simon Peter and another disciple followed Jesus. That other disciple was known to the Chief Priest, and so he went in with Jesus to the Chief Priest’s courtyard. Peter had to stay outside. Then the other disciple went out, spoke to the doorkeeper, and got Peter in.

The young woman who was the doorkeeper said to Peter, “Aren’t you one of this man’s disciples?”

He said, “No, I’m not.”

The servants and police had made a fire because of the cold and were huddled there warming themselves. Peter stood with them, trying to get warm. The others there said to him, “Aren’t you one of his disciples?”

He denied it, “Not me.”

One of the Chief Priest’s servants, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, said, “Didn’t I see you in the garden with him?”

Again, Peter denied it. Just then a rooster crowed. (Blow out candle.)

  1. Luke 22:63-71 Beaten and condemned

The men in charge of Jesus began poking fun at him, slapping him around. They put a blindfold on him and taunted, “Who hit you that time?”

When it was morning, the religious leaders of the people and the high priests and scholars all got together and brought him before their High Council. They said, “Are you the Messiah?”

He answered, “If I said yes, you wouldn’t believe me. If I asked what you meant by your question, you wouldn’t answer me. So here’s what I have to say: From here on the Son of Man takes his place at God’s right hand, the place of power.”

They all said, “So you admit your claim to be the Son of God?”

“You’re the ones who keep saying it,” he said.

But they had made up their minds, “Why do we need any more evidence? We’ve all heard him as good as say it himself.” (Blow out candle.)

  1. John 18:28-38 Pilate

They led Jesus to the Roman governor’s palace. Pilate came out to them and spoke. “What charge do you bring against this man?”

They said, “If he hadn’t been doing something evil, do you think we’d be here bothering you?”

Pilate said, “You take him. Judge him by your law.”

The Jews said, “We’re not allowed to kill anyone.”

Pilate went back into the palace and called for Jesus. He said, “Are you the ‘King of the Jews’?”

Jesus answered, “You tell me. Because I am King, I was born and entered the world so that I could witness to the truth. Everyone who cares for truth, who has any feeling for the truth, recognizes my voice.”

Pilate said, “What is truth?”

Then he went back out to the Jews and told them, “I find nothing wrong in this man. It’s your custom that I pardon one prisoner at Passover. Do you want me to pardon the ‘King of the Jews’?” (Blow out candle.)

  1. Luke 23:5-21 Herod

But they were vehement. “He’s stirring up unrest among the people with his teaching, disturbing the peace everywhere, starting in Galilee and now all through Judea. He’s a dangerous man, endangering the peace.”

When Pilate heard that, he asked, “So, he’s a Galilean?” And he sent Jesus to Herod.

Herod was delighted when Jesus showed up. He had wanted for a long time to see him and hoped to see Jesus do something spectacular. He peppered him with questions. Jesus didn’t answer—not one word. But the high priests and religion scholars were right there, saying their piece, strident and shrill in their accusations.

Mightily offended, Herod turned on Jesus. His soldiers joined in, taunting and jeering. Then they dressed him up in an elaborate king costume and sent him back to Pilate.

Pilate called in the high priests, rulers, and the others and said, “You brought this man to me as a disturber of the peace. I examined him in front of all of you and found there was nothing to your charge. And neither did Herod, for he has sent him back here with a clean bill of health. It’s clear that he’s done nothing wrong, let alone anything deserving death. I’m going to warn him to watch his step and let him go.”

At that, the crowd went wild: “Kill him! Give us Barabbas!” (Barabbas had been thrown in prison for starting a riot in the city and for murder.) Pilate still wanted to let Jesus go, and so spoke out again.

But they kept shouting back, “Crucify! Crucify him!” (Blow out candle.)

  1. John 19:1–17 Crown of Thorns

So Pilate took Jesus and had him whipped. The soldiers, having braided a crown from thorns, set it on his head, threw a purple robe over him, and approached him with, “Hail, King of the Jews!” Then they greeted him with slaps in the face.

Pilate went back out again and said to them, “I present him to you, but I want you to know that I do not find him guilty of any crime.” Just then Jesus came out wearing the thorn crown and purple robe.

When the high priests and police saw him, they shouted in a frenzy, “Crucify! Crucify!”

Pilate told them, “You take him. You crucify him. I find nothing wrong with him.”

The Jews answered, “We have a law, and by that law he must die because he claimed to be the Son of God.”

When Pilate heard this, he became even more scared. He went back into the palace and said to Jesus, “Where did you come from?”

Jesus gave no answer.

Pilate said, “You won’t talk? Don’t you know that I have the authority to pardon you, and the authority to—crucify you?”

Jesus said, “You haven’t a shred of authority over me except what has been given you from heaven. That’s why the one who betrayed me to you has committed a far greater fault.”

Pilate caved in to the crowds demand and turned Jesus over to be crucified. (Blow out candle.)

  1. Luke 23:26-37 Crucified on Calvary

As they led him off, they made Simon, a man from Cyrene who happened to be coming in from the countryside, carry the cross behind Jesus. A huge crowd of people followed, along with women weeping and carrying on.

Two others, both criminals, were taken along with him for execution.

When they got to the place called Skull Hill, they crucified him, along with the criminals, one on his right, the other on his left.

Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them; they don’t know what they’re doing.”

Dividing up his clothes, they threw dice for them. The people stood there staring at Jesus, and the ringleaders made faces, taunting, “He saved others. Let’s see him save himself! The Messiah of God—ha! The Chosen—ha!”

The soldiers also came up and poked fun at him, making a game of it. They toasted him with sour wine: “So you’re King of the Jews! Save yourself!” (Blow out candle.)

  1. John 19:19–22 “King of the Jews”

Pilate wrote a sign and had it placed on the cross. It read:

Jesus the Nazarene

the king of the Jews.

Many of the Jews read the sign because the place where Jesus was crucified was right next to the city. It was written in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek. The Jewish high priests objected. “Don’t write,” they said to Pilate, “‘The King of the Jews.’ Make it, ‘This man said, ‘I am the King of the Jews.'” (Blow out candle.)

  1. Luke 23:39–43 Two Thieves

One of the criminals hanging alongside cursed him: “Some Messiah you are! Save yourself! Save us!”

But the other one made him shut up: “Have you no fear of God? You’re getting the same as him. We deserve this, but not him—he did nothing to deserve this.”

Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you enter your kingdom.”

He said, “Don’t worry, I will. Today you will join me in paradise.” (Blow out candle.)

  1. John 19:23–27 Divided Garments

When they crucified him, the Roman soldiers took his clothes and divided them up four ways, to each soldier a fourth. But his robe was seamless, a single piece of weaving, so they said to each other, “Let’s not tear it up. Let’s throw dice to see who gets it.” This confirmed the Scripture that said, “They divided up my clothes among them and threw dice for my coat.” (The soldiers validated the Scriptures!)

While the soldiers were looking after themselves, Jesus’ mother, his aunt, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene stood at the foot of the cross. Jesus saw his mother and the disciple he loved standing near her. He said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” Then to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that moment the disciple accepted her as his own mother. (Blow out candle.)

  1. Matthew 27:45–48 Jesus quotes the Psalm

From noon to three, the whole earth was dark. Around mid-afternoon Jesus groaned out of the depths, crying loudly, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”

Some bystanders who heard him said, “He’s calling for Elijah.” One of them ran and got a sponge soaked in sour wine and lifted it on a stick so he could drink. The others joked, “Don’t be in such a hurry. Let’s see if Elijah comes and saves him.” (Blow out candle.)

  1. Luke 23:45b-48 Into God’s hands

The Temple curtain split right down the middle. Jesus called loudly, “Father, I place my life in your hands!” Then he breathed his last.

When the captain there saw what happened, he honored God: “This man was innocent! A good man, and innocent!”

All who had come around as spectators to watch the show, when they saw what actually happened, were overcome with grief and headed home. Those who knew Jesus well, along with the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a respectful distance and kept vigil. (Blow out candle.)

  1. John 19:28-37 It is finished

Jesus, seeing that everything had been completed so that the Scripture record might also be complete, then said, “I’m thirsty.”

A jug of sour wine was standing by. Someone put a sponge soaked with the wine on a javelin and lifted it to his mouth. After he took the wine, Jesus said, “It’s done . . . complete.” Bowing his head, he offered up his spirit.

Then the Jews, since it was the day of Sabbath preparation, and so the bodies wouldn’t stay on the crosses over the Sabbath (it was a high holy day that year), petitioned Pilate that their legs be broken to speed death, and the bodies taken down. So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first man crucified with Jesus, and then the other. When they got to Jesus, they saw that he was already dead, so they didn’t break his legs. One of the soldiers stabbed him in the side with his spear. Blood and water gushed out.

The eyewitness to these things has presented an accurate report. He saw it himself and is telling the truth so that you, also, will believe.

These things that happened confirmed the Scripture, “Not a bone in his body was broken,” and the other Scripture that reads, “They will stare at the one they pierced.” (Blow out candle.)

Christ’s Candle extinguished

Silent Prayers

Mark 10:33 – 34 (light one Candle)

Back on the road, they set out for Jerusalem. Jesus had a head start on them, and they were following, puzzled and not just a little afraid. He took the Twelve and began again to go over what to expect next. “Listen to me carefully. We’re on our way up to Jerusalem. When we get there, the Son of Man will be betrayed to the religious leaders and scholars. They will sentence him to death. Then they will hand him over to the Romans, who will mock and spit on him, give him the third degree, and kill him. After three days he will rise alive.”

Prayer of dismissal

Sermon for April 18, 2019 – Maundy (Holy) Thursday – Lord’s Supper

 

Readings: Exodus 12:1-14 • Psalm 116:1-2. 12-19 • 1 Cor. 11:23-26 • John 13:1-17, 31-35

This week’s theme is The New Covenant. Exodus reminds us of the first Passover, when the unblemished lamb was killed and the blood saved those in the household. The Psalmist reminds us that God has heard our cry and has inclined his ear toward us. Precious is the death of his Son, the sacrifice of thanksgiving. Paul reminds the church at Corinth of the sacraments Jesus introduced to the new church. The sermon focuses on the New Commandment to love one another.

Holy Thursday – Dinner and Discussion

John 13-17

Suggestion: Plan a congregational meal or some nice finger foods the members can share later in the service. The goal is to for members to fellowship and build relationship. Try to have a member of the pastoral or leadership team at each table to serve as host of that table. Each table should have a round of bread (including gluten-free bread), and wine and grape juice.

Jesus very much looked forward to sharing this meal with his disciples. He wanted to tie up a lot of loose ends.

  • He wanted them to understand true leadership.
  • He wanted to emphasize what was most important.
  • He wanted to emphasize the idea of communion—of being included in the life and love shared by the Father, Son and Spirit.

The first thing Jesus did on this night was wash his disciple’s feet.

You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you (John 13:13-15).

Jesus was teaching about serving. Leaders are to serve—they are to be the chief servants—because serving others best represents Jesus.

Jesus, the Son of God for eternity, gave up his privileges with God for the Incarnation. He became flesh so he could serve us. Further, while flesh, he devoted himself to serving others—even to the point of death. He wants us to see God’s heart—to love and to serve you and me.

Jesus never wants us to forget that his desire was to share his love and his life for us. So he took two items that you would find on any Jewish table—bread and wine—and used them to remind us of his life as a servant, a savior, a redeemer, a friend.

Bread—take and eat—this is my body. This emphasizes two things—a body broken for us, and that we are all of one body—one loaf. There is a small round of bread on each table. Each table should eat the bread—symbolizing that we are one—and we are one in Christ. As we eat, we remember that Jesus is the living bread and he is inviting us to participate in his life. We will pray over the bread and then share it.

The host of each table will pick up the plate of bread and hold it up as the prayer is shared.

After the bread, Jesus took a cup and blessed it, saying, “Take and drink, this is my blood which I have poured out for you.”

The Bible reminds us that life is in the blood. Jesus is not only emphasizing that he gave his life for us, but that he did so because of his unconditional love for us. His shed blood symbolizes not only that our sins are forgiven, but that they are also forgotten. That’s love.

As you take the cup, realize this is Jesus sharing his love for you.

Pray a blessing over the cup and the host share it with the table.

Now is time for fellowship and sharing a meal. If you need something, just ask the host of your table. Take this time to share what Christ has done in your life of the life of someone you know. Talk about what Christ is doing in your family, in our congregation, in our denomination. This is a time of fellowshipping with Christ. We didn’t just take the bread and wine to fulfill a requirement, but to acknowledge we are in communion with the Father, Son, Spirit and each other.

Pray a blessing over the meal. Hosts make sure all have plenty and direct the conversation to our relationship with Christ.

Give members 30-35 minutes to fellowship, then rise and continue the service.

A New Commandment

Jesus gave us a new commandment. Let me read it to you:

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know you are my disciples if you love one another (John 13:34-35).

Now if Jesus says something is new—like a command—don’t you think the disciples perked up their ears? Don’t you think we should pay attention? How do we love as he loved?

He had just demonstrated one form of love by washing their feet—taking the role of a servant. And in the next hours he would demonstrate his ultimate love by going to the cross—taking the role of a sinner. The point is sacrifice—Jesus did everything for us—his mind wasn’t on himself, but on us. He wants us to get our minds off ourselves and on to others. This is love; this is what is most important.

So we’ve covered two of Jesus’ emphases for the evening. One was to give a new definition and example of leadership. The other was to emphasize what is really important. They are obviously tied in together. True leaders are motivated by love.

The third thing Jesus emphasized on this last evening is communion—not just the bread and wine that we just took part of—but what true communion is all about.

He starts by telling them his Father’s house has plenty of room for all. He is preparing that place and will come and lead us there.

“How can we know the way to this house?” Thomas asks. Jesus replies:

I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me (John 14:8).

When Philip asks Jesus to show them the Father, Jesus replies:

”Don’t you know me. Philip?… Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves” (John 14:6, 11).

Then he promises a new friend who would always be with them:

This Friend is the Spirit of Truth… He has been staying with you, and will even be in you. I will not leave you orphaned. I’m coming back… then you will know that I am in my Father, and you’re in me, and I’m in you (John 14:16-17 MSG).

This is communion! This is being included in the love and life of the Father, Son and Spirit.

I am the Real Vine and my Father is the Farmer… Live in me. Make your home in me just as I do in you…. I am the vine and you are the branches (John 15:1, 4-5 MSG).

See the emphasis on communion—on being included in who he is and what he is doing.

Then he ties in this communion with love.

I’ve told you these things for a purpose; that my joy might be your joy, and your joy wholly mature. This is my command: Love one another the way I loved you. This is the very best way to love. Put your life on the line for your friends. You are my friends when you do the things I command you. I’m no longer calling you servants because servants don’t understand what their master is thinking and planning. No, I’ve named you friends because I’ve let you in on everything I’ve heard from the Father. You didn’t choose me, remember, I chose you… Remember the root command: Love one another (John 15:11-15, 17 MSG).

Continuing in John 16:

I’ve used figures of speech in telling you these things,. Soon I’ll drop the figures and tell you about the Father in plain language. Then you can make your requests directly to him in relation to this love I’ve revealed to you. I won’t continue making requests of the Father on your behalf. I won’t need to. Because you’ve gone out on a limb, committed yourselves to love and trust in me, believing I came directly from the Father, the Father loves you directly. First I left the Father and arrived in the world, now I leave the world and travel to the Father (John 16:25-28 MSG).

Finish by reading John 17 from the Message.

End with Prayer

Sermon for April 14, 2019

Readings: Isaiah 50:4-9 • Psalm 31:9-16 • Philippians 2:5-11 • Luke 22:14-23:56

This week’s theme is The Liturgy of the Passion. The prophet Isaiah talks about God giving strength in the midst of adversity as this prophecy refers to Jesus’ passion. The Psalmist also refers to Jesus’ passion as he reminds us of Jesus’ faithfulness in God’s deliverance. Paul reminds the church at Philippi to put on the mind of Christ, and this week’s sermon takes us through the details of Jesus’ last day.

Hand in Hand with Jesus

Luke 22:14-22 (NRSV)

Today is called Palm Sunday and it pictures the day Jesus walked down from the Mount of Olives and many greeted him with palm leaves and shouts of praise. As he descended, Jesus stopped and looked over the city. Because of who he was, Jesus was able to see the entire history of the city as well as the current temple and the mixed group of people. He saw all the deception, all the sin, all the filth, all that had turned the people away from God and he wept. He saw so many people who didn’t know they had a Father who loved them, like sheep without a shepherd, he said. He longed to gather them together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings offering them shelter and protection. It was one of the most emotional scenes we see with Jesus. He knew what he was facing, yet he raised his face, squared his shoulders and continued his journey into Jerusalem.

We pick up the story in Luke 22.

When the hour came, he took his place at the table, and the apostles with him. (Luke 22:14 NRSV)

Jesus and his apostles are reclining “at the table.” An interesting point here: Leonardo DaVinci’s painting is not an accurate portrayal of the last supper. The seating was more likely in the form of a Roman Triclinium, three lounge areas around a center table full of food and drink. There was often specific seating. Jesus would have been at the center table off to the left. On his right, taking the corner position would have been John, and on Jesus’ left would have been Judas. The disciples were reclining on their sides, leaving one free hand to eat and drink.

At this triclinium table, Jesus gives us the sacrament of Communion, pointing to his finished work on the cross. It is at this table where we find rest. Like the disciples, we are called to recline at this table—to rest in him, to find our complete rest in his death for us. We do not turn dying to self as another work we must perform, but rather a reality in Christ that we receive. Otherwise dying to self just becomes another form of legalism where self-denial and self-abasement are attempts to control. This attempt of dying to self is really a form of suicide. Instead of receiving Jesus’ forgiveness and gift of life paid for by his death, we try to create a contract where our death pays for our shameful choices in life. This is not the restful life Jesus’ death brings us into. He wants us to face the reality that we cannot do for ourselves what Christ does for us. We realize the sufficiency of Christ’s death.

Let’s continue in Luke:

He said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I tell you, I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God” (Luke 22:15-16 NRSV). 

Note that Jesus tells his apostles that he has “eagerly desired” to eat this Passover. He is not saying he eagerly desired to face what he was facing or to go to the cross—he eagerly desired to be in communion with his disciples. This is the heart of God. Jesus, as fully God and fully human, knows that the Father’s desire is to share fellowship with us—to be in a communal relationship with us. He also knows it is humanity’s deep desire to share fellowship, relationship and communion with God. Jesus desires a covenant relationship, not a contract negotiation. This is the life he is inviting us into at this supper.

Jesus vows not to eat or drink the Passover again until the Passover was fulfilled, which would happen the next day—on the cross. It was on the cross where Jesus  fulfilled the restoration of communion between God and humanity. After he makes this vow Jesus puts into the hands of all the apostles the cup of wine that will become the cup of the new covenant in his blood. He institutes the Lord’s Supper as a way of pointing to him.

Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he said, “Take this and divide it among yourselves; for I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:17-21 NRSV).

In Luke’s Gospel , we have Jesus giving us the sacrament of Communion before he reveals the betrayer. As we look at Judas, we see that his belonging preceded his betrayal. We do not betray that to which we do not belong. Jesus reveals his betrayer as the one whose hand “is with mine on the table.”

But see, the one who betrays me is with me, and his hand is on the table. For the Son of Man is going as it has been determined, but woe to that one by whom he is betrayed (Luke 22:21 NRSV).

As I shared earlier, according to tradition Judas would have been at Jesus’ left hand.

Judas is standing in for all humanity. He is not the worst sinner of the bunch that Christ’s sacrifice doesn’t reach but rather he is a picture of our betrayal of the Father to whom we belong. Judas acts out for us our life of control instead of trust. Like all humanity since the Garden, Judas chose to take matters into his own hands rather than trusting God.

Later, when Judas sees Jesus being condemned to die, he is remorseful that his controlling ways got out of control. He then tries to regain control by making amends for his actions in returning the 30 shekels of silver. The religious rulers of the day reject his attempt of repentance. From here Judas becomes his own judge and in one final act of control takes his own life by hanging himself from a tree. From start to finish, Judas has lived and died in the self-destructive choice of control.

Hand in hand with this event, Jesus is hanging on another tree—the cross. From start to finish, Jesus has lived and died in the redemptive choice of trust. He puts his trust in the Father from birth to death and gains for us the forgiveness religion has denied. He becomes for us our true judge who pronounces us righteous and not guilty. Jesus stands over and against the tree of death Judas and all humanity hangs on and becomes for us the tree of life from which we can now eat.

Conclusion

At the cross, Jesus takes all our betrayal, sin and death into his own death for the purpose of redeeming it and healing it. We see that the wrath of God on the cross is the love of the Father, Son and Spirit burning away all that stands against our communion with him. When Jesus died, we died. Our death is hand in hand with Jesus’ death.

As we anticipate Easter, we can begin to see that our life is also hand in hand with his. There is a resurrection that follows the cross. There is no betrayal that God’s grace doesn’t restore to belonging.


Small Group Discussion Questions

  1. How might our attempts of “dying to self” become acts of control? Have you ever tried to condition God by works of self-denial or self-abasement?
  2. What do you think about Jesus including Judas Iscariot at the communion table? What does this say about the Father’s heart of forgiveness?
  3. Can we see our own stories in the story of Judas? Or does the betrayal by others become hiding places for our own failures of loyalty?
  4. Phil. 2:5 says to have the mind of Christ, what does this “Last Supper” service tell you about the mind of Christ? How do you live this out in your daily life?

Sermon for April 7, 2019

Readings: Isaiah 43:16-21 • Psalm 126:1-6 • Phil. 3:4b-14 • John 12:1-8

This week’s theme is We have a new beginning in Christ. Psalm 126 talks about how God restored Zion and gave Israel great hope. In his letter to the church in Philippi, Paul says everything he had is dung compared to what he has in Christ. In John we read about Mary anointing Jesus, which Jesus calls the greater thing. This week’s sermon focuses on the words of God in Isaiah, “See, I am doing a new thing.”

Our Do-Over with Jesus

Introduction

Have you ever heard of a mulligan? I’m not referring to an English stew made of whatever was left in the kitchen. According to the Urban dictionary and Wikipedia, “A mulligan is a second chance to perform an action—usually after the first chance went wrong through bad luck or a blunder.” It’s a term some nonprofessional golfers use when a player hits a bad shot and tries again—often only offering one mulligan per nine holes. After an errant drive the golfer will say, “That’s my mulligan,” and set up for a new drive. In essence, it’s a do-over.

Suggestion: Share a time you wanted to call “Mulligan” and have a do-over. It could have been in a game, a project, how you dealt with an issue, your career, etc.

I’ve got a question. Have you ever wanted a do-over? Perhaps I should ask how many times you’ve wanted to call “Mulligan,” and start over. Perhaps you wish you’d chosen a different career. Maybe you can think of a time you overreacted to your spouse or child and wish you could take it back and start over. Perhaps you think your entire life needs a mulligan—you’ve made so many mistakes, the only hope is to start over.

Let’s go a bit deeper—have you ever wanted to cry “Mulligan” with God? Have you ever said, “Lord, just give me a second chance, or another chance”? “Lord, can I just start over?” Can I believe what the prophet Isaiah said and have God start a new thing? I’m guessing many of us have.

Let me ask one more question. Have you ever heard someone say they aren’t good enough for God? When you press, they share that their life is too full of sin for God to want them. They believe they have surpassed God’s willingness or ability to forgive—he has no more grace for them. Perhaps you’ve felt that way a time or two in your own life. I know I have.

Whenever I start to feel I need to call a mulligan or ask for a do-over I start to think about some of the characters in the Bible who likely wanted to call “Mulligan.”

Who doesn’t think Moses wished he could have called a mulligan when he didn’t follow God’s instructions? God told Moses to speak to a rock and it would produce water—but Moses let his emotions get in the way, yelled at the Israelites and then struck the rock with his staff. This bad decision cost him dearly.

I would guess the Israelites had several occasions when they wanted a “do-over.”

Do you think Samson wished he could call a mulligan when Delilah cut off his hair and he lost his God-given strength?

I’d bet Jonah wished he could call a “do-over” and go direct to Nineveh and skip the whole fish-swallowing episode.

Do you think Peter wishes he could have called, “Mulligan” a few times—like when he told Jesus he could not die, and Jesus had to rebuke him? Or the time he cut off the ear of the servant in the Garden of Gethsemane, or when he denied Jesus three times?

And what about Paul—who doesn’t think he wishes he could have called a “do-over” and believed Jesus from the beginning—before he condemned so many early Christians to prison or death?

And what about you? I am confident we all have things in our lives we wish we could take back, or do over, and so many times we wish we could say, “Mulligan” and act as if it were a new beginning. And sometimes we let these thing—mistakes, sins, omissions—become so big in our mind that we start to believe they affect how God looks at us. We start to believe the lies that we aren’t good enough, that we committed that particular sin too many times, that we will never learn, that God can’t love someone like us.

But here’s the kicker—we don’t need mulligans or do-overs. That’s good, because the truth is, doing things over wouldn’t change much—we’d still be who we are and we’d likely make many of the same mistakes over again—or we’d just make different mistakes. That’s the practical side of the issue, but there is a much more important reason why we don’t need mulligans or do-overs—it’s because of who God is.

Illustration: I have a pastor friend who spent most of his life believing God had heavenly scales that weighed all our deeds. On one side God lists all your good deeds, and on the other side he lists all the bad things you did. The hope is your life has more good deeds than bad. Now, my friend knew there was no actual set of scales, but he still struggled with all the mistakes he’d made. And his real fear as a young person was that he would die in the middle of a sin and not have a chance to repent. For example, if he lost control of his car and was headed for a cliff or a tree—the last words out of his mouth would be bad language or a curse. He laughs now, but it was a real fear as he grew up.

God does not call you his beloved because of anything you did, do today or will do. He calls you his beloved because of who he is.

Since I mentioned Israel as an example of desiring a do-over, let’s talk about them a bit.

Israel was a nation because of a promise God gave to one wandering Aramean—Abram. Abram wasn’t righteous, but he believed, and that was counted to him as righteousness. Abram—who God renamed Abraham – was given the promise of a son. Rather than wait for God, he had a son through his wife’s servant, Hagar. This son, Ishmael, is considered the forefather of the Prophet Mohammad. Around 13 years later, Abraham had another son, Isaac. Isaac had twin sons, Esau and Jacob. Esau was born first, but Jacob manipulated things so he received the birthright instead of Esau and then he deceived his father Isaac so he would receive the blessing reserved for the firstborn.

Jacob had 13 children. Leah gave him six boys and at least one daughter; Rachel gave him two sons. Two more sons were from Leah’s servant, Zilpah, and two were from Rachel’s servant, Bilhah.

The lives of our forefathers display clearly that God did not choose them because of their example—or their faith. The biblical story focuses on God and his faithfulness. His covenant promise wasn’t made because these men were great, but because God is great.

The story continues when 10 of the brothers sold their younger brother, Joseph, to some traders. Joseph ended up in Egypt where God used him in powerful ways. As you know, the entire family ended up in Egypt and there they remained for several centuries.

During that time Israel grew from a large family to nation of people—estimates of 4-6 million people. God led the family to Egypt in the time of severe drought, and he led the nation out of Egypt to a land flowing with milk and honey. Did they become righteous while in Egypt? No, far from it. They were a nation of sinners, whiners and complainers—and God remained faithful to them.

The prophet Isaiah speaks of this faithfulness:

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: “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?” (Isaiah 43:16-19).

Prior to going to Egypt, God gave the family of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob a new name—Israel—and a covenant. (The name Israel is a combination of the Hebrew words for “wrestle” and “God” and implies wrestling with or clinging firmly to God.)

When he led them out of Egypt, he gave them a new beginning. And this new beginning is what Isaiah talks about. “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. I am doing a new thing.” Isaiah is not telling them to forget the Exodus—he is reminding them of it! They are to remember that God makes new beginnings, and this is what they need in Isaiah’s day. Forget about how deeply you have sunk into sin—God will renew you now, just as he did before.

There are many scriptures in the Bible reminding us that God does not count our sins against us; that he has removed our sins as far as the east is from the west; that nothing can separate us from his love. But sometimes we think those passages apply to others, and not necessarily to us. After all, we know better and we still sin. (As if others don’t know better, so their sins are not as offensive.) It’s easy to think we aren’t good enough, we aren’t studying or praying enough, we aren’t giving enough, we can find all kinds of things that make us feel we aren’t right with God and we feel the need to ask for a mulligan or a do-over so we can get right with God. When we feel this way, however, we need to recognize that our feelings are lying to us. Yes, you heard that correctly. Our feelings can and do lie to us – especially when it comes to our relationship with God.

On our own, we will never be good enough for God—and he doesn’t expect us to be, because he is good enough for us. Our past, our sins, our rebellion is not, and never can be, more powerful than God’s grace.

We don’t need a do-over with God because he’s already given us the ultimate do-over in Christ. We don’t need to call a mulligan because he doesn’t hold our sins against us. God, through Jesus Christ, gave us the perfect mulligan, the perfect do-over. He gave us a new beginning, the old is not counted against us—we are a new creation.

It’s been said, yesterday is gone, tomorrow is not promised, you just have today. Right here and right now is what matters in your relationship with God.

Take some time this week and pray about the things you have felt are holding you back from a right relationship with God. Then ask him to help you remember that his grace is always bigger than our sins. Ask God to help you stop focusing on the past and stop worrying about the future—ask him to help you see him today.

Listen to the words of Isaiah: “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?”

See what God has done, is doing and promises he will do. He is doing a new thing in you—open your eyes to see it spring up. Jesus came for you, he died for you, he rose from the grave for you, he ascended for you, and he sent the Holy Spirit to dwell in you.

Give God this day, today.

Surrender all to him—the good, the bad, the ugly, the things that can break us and the things that can make us—and live in his goodness, dwell in his righteousness. You are a new creation in him—do you not perceive it?


Small Group Discussion Questions

  • Do you spend more time in yesterday, today or in the future?
  • What would a do-over accomplish for you?
  • What do the words, “See, I am doing a new thing” mean to you? What new things do you see in your life?
  • Describe a situation where dwelling in the past prevented your or someone you know from moving forward.
  • What does dwelling in the past achieve?
  • Read Phil. 3:4-14. Now put this in your own words about you and your accomplishments. How important are those accomplishments in comparison to what Jesus offers you?
  • As you read the story of Mary anointing Jesus in John 12, what comes to mind? Share how you can relate to Mary’s action.