Sermon: The Coming Kingdom

Sunday 29 March 2015
Palm/Passion Sunday

Mark 11:1-11

24ramosBIt’s all a misunderstanding. Back in chapter 8 of Mark, Jesus had talked with his disciples about who he is and what he is meant to do. He asked them, “Who do people say that I am?” “They think that you’re John the Baptist, or Elijah, or one of the other prophets.” Then he asks them, “Who do you say that I am?” And Peter answers for them, “You are the Messiah. You are the Christ. You are the Anointed.”

From that point on, Jesus and disciples are working against each other. Jesus keeps telling them, “You don’t understand. I’m going to have to die. I’m the Messiah.” And the disciples keep telling Jesus, “You don’t understand. You can’t die. You’re the Messiah.”

The youth group studied it a couple of weeks ago. Mark has two stories of men being cured of blindness. And in between the two stories about blindness, Jesus predicts his death three times. Three times Jesus tells his disciples that he is going to have to die, and they never get it. They are sure that he is wrong. Mark puts Jesus’s predictions of his own death between those stories about blindness for a reason: Jesus may be able to cure people of physical blindness, but no matter how hard he tries, he cannot get his disciples to see the truth. He cannot cure their blindness.

The second of those stories about Jesus healing a blind man comes right before our gospel lesson today. Jesus and his disciples are traveling from Galilee to Jerusalem, and they’re almost there. They’re in Jericho, just down the hill from the holy city. As they are leaving Jericho, a blind beggar named Bar-Timaeus cries out to him, “Jesus, Son of David, show me mercy!” The crowd tries to shut him up, but he keeps yelling, “Son of David, show me mercy!”

Jesus has a lot of titles. He calls himself Son of Man. Mark calls him the Son of God. Peter calls him the Christ. Pilate calls him the King of the Jews. And I’ve mentioned before that what those titles usually mean for us today is not the same as what they would have meant in Jesus’s time. For example, many people besides Jesus were commonly referred to as Son of God, chief among them the Roman emperor.

But with the title that Bar-Timaeus uses, there isn’t much confusion. Son of David. Everyone knows that Jesus doesn’t actually have a father named David. We’re not talking about a name like Bar-Timaeus’s own, which literally means, Son of Timaeus. No, there is only one David that is being referred to here: it is David the King.

So, who is the Son of David? The Son of David is someone who will do the same things that David did. David was a warrior. He was a conqueror. He fought and defeated the Philistines. He established Israel as a kingdom to be reckoned with. Under David, Israel was strong, Israel was independent, Israel was united, Israel was feared. Surely the Son of David would be able to make Israel strong, independent, united, and feared again.

So, when Jesus enters Jerusalem riding on a colt, we have to remember that our expectations and the crowd’s expectations are very, very different. We’ve heard this story enough that we just assume the crowd knows what’s going to happen next. Isn’t it obvious that Jesus is going to be crucified? That’s the whole point of Jesus, isn’t it? Isn’t it obvious that he’s going to die for the sins of the world and then be raised from the dead and then ascend into heaven? No. In fact, that possibility is so incomprehensibly ridiculous that even though Jesus tries to explain it to his disciples three times, they still don’t get it. No one expected Jesus to enter Jerusalem to die. They expected him to win.

You can tell by what they say: “Hosanna! Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessings on the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest!” What does Hosanna mean? I had to look it up. It’s just that word that we always say on Palm Sunday. And it’s there in the communion liturgy, too. It’s Aramaic, and it means, “Save us!” Rescue us! Liberate us! They are expecting Jesus to liberate them from Roman rule. They are expecting him to rescue them from the debts imposed on them by the upper classes. They are expecting him to save them from oppression.

What else do they say? “Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord.” Who is it who comes in the name of the Lord? It’s a king. A conquering king would come in the name of the Lord to re-establish God’s rule on earth. The one who comes in the name of the Lord would make sure that Israel was not answerable to any foreign power, but only to God.

But here is the clincher. What the crowd says next removes all doubt about what it is they want, what it is they expect of Jesus. “Blessings on the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!” The coming kingdom of our ancestor David. They know the stories about David’s kingdom. He defeated every one of Israel’s enemies. He expanded Israel’s borders. He established a dynasty. And he did it all with armies. With God’s help, to be sure, but with God’s help in the form of armies.

The crowd that welcomes Jesus to Jerusalem welcomes him like a king. And they expect that he will live up to his side of the bargain, that he will do what it is that kings do. They are expecting him to save them. They are expecting him to fight. They are expecting him to win.

It’s all a misunderstanding. And it’s much more ironic than anything in an Alanis Morissette song. They greet him like a king, but the only crown he will receive is a crown of thorns, the only throne he will have is a wooden cross, the only battle he will win is to kill death by dying.

What they are saying about him is true, but not in the way they think it is. Jesus is king, but not of some petty state in the Middle East. Jesus is savior, but he doesn’t save with weapons or armies. Jesus does come in the name of the Lord, but not to bring a political victory. They are right about everything, but they will think that they were wrong. Isn’t it ironic?

Jesus obliterates everyone’s expectations of him. He is nothing like what they are looking for, what they are praying for. He is a complete surprise, and a surprise that will only be understood after his death and resurrection, and then only after mystical experiences of the risen Christ and deep prayer and study of the scriptures.

It makes me wonder what sort of Christ we expect Jesus to be. What sort of Kingdom of God are we looking for? Do we have a clear view of who Jesus is and what God’s Kingdom is like, or are we just as blind as those early disciples were. How is it that we expect Jesus to enter our world? How do we expect the Kingdom to come?

I have to admit, I’m not entirely sure myself. Being certain that we can predict God is an easy way to be led into self-delusion. But I have my suspicions. If today’s gospel lesson is any indication, I suspect that when we conjure up images of glory and power and dominion and victory, we might be missing the point. If we are expecting the kingdom of God to be ushered in by force, I think we might be getting it wrong. Left Behind Christians are really looking forward to Jesus returning in a blood purge that wipes out most of humanity. That’s what they think the Kingdom of God is. And there are plenty of other Christians who don’t have such bloodthirsty dreams, but who think that God, Jesus, and the Kingdom are best expressed in glory. We want to be on a winning team, which often means that we want God to crush the competition.

But the Kingdom of God seems to be much more subtle than that, and much more insidious. A mustard seed that grows into a tree. Yeast that grows to permeate an entire batch of dough. The Kingdom of God expresses itself in surreptitious ways, from the bottom up, from the inside out. In an addict conquering addiction, one day at a time. In enemies finding forgiveness and reconciliation. In the choice of simplicity over extravagance. In the choice of grace over judgment. In listening and understanding. In feeding the hungry. In visiting the imprisoned. In comforting the grieving. In the steady effort to bend the arc of the moral universe toward justice. This is where I see the Kingdom of God. This is where I see Jesus Christ entering the world. Not in the pomp and spectacle, but in the humility and quiet service, following the Christ who gave himself up that we might live.

Sermon: A New Covenant

Sunday 22 March 2015
The Fifth Sunday in Lent

Jeremiah 31:31-34

I will make a new covenant with you, says the LORD.  Not like the old covenant — a covenant which you broke.  I will put my law in you, write it on your hearts; I will be your God, and you will be my people.  A new covenant, one that cannot be broken.

Covenant is one of those words that we usually only use in church.  It’s one of those special religious words that we hear often, but who can be sure what it means because we never use it in real life. Words like repentance, communion, sanctification. They’re a special kind of church jargon that sometimes we understand, and sometimes we just think that we understand. So I thought we would take a few minutes just to explore what the word covenant means. What are we saying when we use the word Covenant?

Most basically, a covenant is an agreement. A sort of contract or commitment. We usually think of a covenant as an agreement that is particularly binding or solemn.

In the church we sometimes talk about the covenant of marriage. It is based on promises made by the two parties to each other and to God, and promises that God makes in return. We call marriage a covenant because we consider it a sacred contract, one that is not easily broken.

In the legal world, a covenant is usually some sort of restriction on the sale of property. Some neighborhoods have covenants that restrict how you can build on the land. Maybe only certain types of roofing or siding are allowed. Maybe you can’t have a clothesline visible from the street. In the not-so-distant past, many US neighborhoods had exclusionary covenants that prohibited owners from selling their homes to anyone who was not white.

In the Bible, a covenant is usually an agreement between God and some person or persons. Often there are promises made on each side, and sometimes the two parties perform rituals to show that they intend to abide by the covenant. If you’ve been following along with the Old Testament readings in the lectionary this Lent, you’ve already heard about several of them.

First is the covenant with Noah, a covenant with all living things. God promises never again to destroy the earth with a flood. As a sign and promise, God lays down the divine weapon, a bow, and leaves it facing away from the earth so that anytime the rainbow appears, God will remember not to be at war with any of earth’s creatures. It’s a one-sided covenant; humanity does not have to do anything to ensure that God will uphold the agreement.

Next comes the covenant with Abraham and all of Abraham’s descendants. God promises to make Abraham’s children into a great nation and to give them land and power. Abraham and God go through a complex ritual to cement this covenant, and circumcision is meant to be the continuing sign of God’s covenant with Abraham.

Then there is the covenant with Moses and the children of Israel. God promises to make Israel into God’s specially favored nation. God gives them the Ten Commandments and the rest of the Law. But this covenant goes both ways. The Children of Israel promise to follow God’s laws, and God promises to make them the chosen people.

From that point on, the biblical narrative is filled with stories of how God’s people broke their covenant with God. They broke the commandments. They turned to other gods. And time and time again, God visited the people with judges and kings and prophets who worked to repair the damage, who tried to bring God’s people back into right relationship with God.

That’s where today’s passage comes in. After generations of having the people break their covenant with God, and generations of sending prophets to reestablish the covenant, God is ready to make a new deal. “Remember the covenant I made with you when I brought you out of Egypt?” God asks. “I promised to make you my chosen people if you would just follow my commandments and live in my love. Well, it hasn’t worked out very well. I’ve kept my end of the bargain. I’ve been faithful. But you have broken the covenant. You have behaved like a unfaithful spouse. And we’ve worked on it. We’ve been to counseling. We’ve tried to work out our differences. But it never seems to make a difference. It’s been several centuries now, and things aren’t changing. I think it’s time for us to look at our other options.”

We would expect God to want to give up on the chosen people. That’s what most humans would do. After centuries of a one-sided relationship, we would want to give up and get out. But it seems God can handle more than we can.

Instead of giving up, God decides to make a new covenant. And this time, God is going to make sure that this covenant cannot be broken. God will write the law on people’s hearts. God will forgive the people for their sins. “I will be their God, and they will be my people,” God says.

And it’s a good thing for us. As much as we might try to pretend otherwise, we seem to be just as faithless as God’s chosen people in the past were. We don’t follow God’s law. Forget about all the esoteric rules you can find in Deuteronomy and Leviticus, we don’t even do that well with the Ten Commandments: remembering the Sabbath, not coveting our neighbor’s possessions. We fail to put God first in our lives. We make for ourselves other gods, in the form of money or power or our own selves.

In fact, we can’t even seem to get a handle on the greatest commandment: Love God with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself. We have trouble loving our enemies. We have trouble making room in our lives for God.

And yet, despite our faithlessness, God does not give up on us. God writes a new covenant that we cannot break. God will be our God, and we will be God’s people. We proclaim it every time we celebrate communion. “God made with us a new covenant, by water and the spirit.” For us Christians, that covenant is marked in baptism, the sacramental reminder of God’s promises to us.

God wants to be in relationship with us. God wants to be a part of our lives, to walk with us on our journeys. And even though we keep running away from God with our behavior, even though we do just about everything in our power to push God away, God does not give up on us. God keeps calling us back. God keeps wooing us into deeper relationship. God keeps giving us another chance.

And God makes a new covenant, one that we cannot break, so that we never have the excuse of saying that we are too sinful or too dirty or too lazy or too evil for God. God takes that excuse off the table. Everyone, each and every one of us is invited by God, loved by God, and included by God. There is nothing we can do that will separate us from God’s love.

So it’s our choice now. We can keep denying God’s advances, keep pushing God away, keep saying that we’re not good enough. Or we can welcome God into our lives.  We can celebrate the new covenant that God offers us. We can accept the love that God offers. We can allow God to be our God, and we can be God’s people.

Notes-N-News

Good afternoon!

++  Women’s Ministry Spring Cleaning. March 21st beginning at 9am. Help clean and make ready for new carpet, paint, and interior decorating. Snacks will be served.

++  Food on the Fourth is March 22. Items especially needed are small vegetable oil, jam, sugar, flour, and protein items.

++  Men’s Fellowship Group – Sausage Making this Saturday, March 21, 2015  9:00 a.m. at Morning Song Acres.

Contact: Bob White (541) 352-7429 or E-mail: goirishcream@embarqmail.com

++  Church Office will be closed for Mon March 23rd and Tues March 24th for spring break vacation days.

++  Palm Sunday, March 29 will be our Designated Giving Sunday for Lutheran World Relief and/or UMCOR– One Great Hour of Sharing. Please indicate on your envelope or check which organization you wish to support.

++  The Potato Fundraiser made $450.00 for our youth missions!! Thank you to everyone who helped, ate, and/or donated dollars.

Blessings!
Jennifer Fowler
Office Manager

Sermon: The Serpent in the Wilderness

Sunday 15 March 2015
The Fourth Sunday in Lent

Numbers 21:4-9

John 3:14-21

22cuaresmaB4We just heard, from the Gospel of John, probably the most well-known passage in the New Testament. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” It’s one of the first verses that most Christians are taught to memorize. I learned it in the King James Version: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” The verse is so well known, that people assume you know it just by seeing the reference: John 3:16.  You can see it posted on billboards. You can see it on placards at sporting events. John 3:16 is simply one of the best known bible verses in the world.

This is such a familiar verse that it is quite amazing how unfamiliar the two verses right before it are. “And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” That’s what leads into John 3:16. Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness.

That seems pretty obscure, doesn’t it? What are we supposed to make of a snake lifted up in the wilderness? Well, fortunately, this morning we have also read the bible passage that unlocks the secret of the snake lifted up in the wilderness. It’s in the 21st chapter of the Book of Numbers.

After being freed from slavery in Egypt, the Israelites are out wandering the wilderness, as they have been for some time. And once again they are complaining about their situation. There’s no food out here. There’s no water. And we are sick and tired of eating this miserable manna. I mean, it may be bread from heaven, but even bread from heaven gets tiresome after a few years. We were better off as slaves in Egypt.

So, God, apparently tired of listening to their complaining, sends a plague of poisonous snakes on them. And after the snakes start biting people, and some of them even die, the people have a change of heart. Alright God, we get the message. We were wrong. We’ll stop complaining about being out here in the wilderness. Just take away these snakes already.

So God tells Moses to make a bronze snake, and to put it on a pole, and to lift it up in the middle of the camp. And if anyone gets bitten by a snake, they should look up at the  bronze snake and the poison won’t hurt them; they will live. The snake that Moses lifts up in the wilderness is a sort of divine cure for snakebites. Anyone who gazes on it will be saved from death.

Which brings us back to Jesus. He tells Nicodemus that just like that serpent in the wilderness was lifted up, so he, Jesus, the Son of Man, is also going to be lifted up. And whoever is in the wilderness, and is dying of poison, if they lift up their eyes and look at the Son of Man who is lifted up, then they will be saved, they will live. Like the snake in the wilderness, Jesus himself will become a cure for poisoning, a cure for death.

And how is it that Jesus will be lifted up? By being crucified. It’s a pretty ironic way to talk about capital punishment. All of the other Gospels talk about how Jesus suffered and died, but not John. No, John talks about how Jesus was lifted up and glorified on the cross. Somehow, being lifted up on a tool of torture still managed to raise Jesus up into an elevated position, still managed to lift him above the earth toward the heavenly realm. And all those who gaze upon him will be saved, they will live.

That brings us back to John 3:16. What does that serpent in the wilderness have to do with God so loving the world? Whoever lives and believes in the Son will not perish, but will have everlasting life. That’s what all that language about the serpent is about. They look upon the snake lifted up and they do not die, they live. They look upon Jesus, lifted up, and they do not die, they live.

Which begs the question: what does it mean to believe in Jesus? It’s one of the trickiest words in the New Testament. John uses it all the time. It’s part of the key to his theology. In fact, it’s the key to John 3:16, isn’t it? Whoever believes in him may not perish, but may have eternal life. But what does that mean?

The way we commonly use the word, believe means to think that something is true. It’s something that happens in the intellect. Do you believe in global warming? If you say yes, it means that you think that global warming exists. Do you believe in Santa Claus? If you say yes, it means that you think that Santa exists.

But does that work when we talk about believing in Jesus. Is it enough to simply think that Jesus exists? If that’s all we’re talking about, then even the demons believe in Jesus. Even Satan believes in Jesus. They think that he exists, after all. But is that enough? I think most of us would agree that that is not the kind of belief that we are talking about.

So maybe it would help to go to the Greek. There are two different forms of the word.   The verb is πιστεύω. It usually get’s translated as “to believe.” The noun for the same word is πίστις. It usually gets translated as “faith.” They’re the same word, though. As a noun, though was say it is faith, but as a verb we say it is to believe. Part of the problem is that English does not have a verbal form of the word “faith.” We cannot say, “Whoever faiths in him will not perish.” But if we did have a word like that, it would probably be closer to what the original Greek is talking about.

The belief that we are talking about is not simply thinking that Jesus exists. It’s also not simply thinking that Jesus is the savior. It’s about a little more than that. It’s about having an active faith with Jesus at the center. It is about living a life that is informed by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. It is about looking up to the cross, looking up at Jesus crucified, and seeing not death, not humiliation, not defeat, but seeing life, seeing glory, seeing victory. Victory that comes through suffering, through self-giving, through humility.

4000 years ago, that serpent in the wilderness performed a sort of magical function; it cured people of snake bites. What Jesus did 2000 years ago performs not a magical function, but a mystical function for us today. Because when we gaze on Jesus lifted up, humiliated by the standards of the world, but honored and glorified by God’s standards, then we receive the grace that Christ provides. And a cure for the poisons that inflect our lives, the greed and selfishness and jealousy and pride and enmity that threaten to destroy us. When you are in the wilderness, when it seems like you are wandering endlessly with no direction, when you are sick and tired of the same spiritual diet, and when you feel attacked from all sides, when your life is poisoned by sin and guilt, there is but one thing to do. Look on Jesus, lifted up, activate your faith through him, and live.

Notes-N-News

Good afternoon!

++   Lenten Study continues Wednesday evening at 6:00pm.

 

++   Share the Warmth Silent & Live Auction– March 13th, 6pm-8pm at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Hood River.

$10/person or $5/person with a canned food item for FISH Food Bank. Hors d’oeuvres from Ahi’s Catering. Proceeds go to St. Mark’s to use in their support of FISH, HRWS, Emergency Voucher Program, Free Clothes for Kids, and Athletes for Cancer.

++   Lenten Spiritual Nature Walk —  March 14th, Saturday. Meet at Catherine Creek for a gentle walk with guided spiritual activities. The trail is paved and suitable for all ages–from strollers to wheel chairs. Stick around a little longer if you want to continue with a more challenging hike. All are welcome. This is a great opportunity to invite your friends.

From the Washington side of the Hood River Bridge, travel east on Hwy 14 for 5.8 miles to Old Hwy 8 at Rowland Lake. Turn left on Old Hwy 8 and drive 1.5 miles to the trailhead on the left side of the road. Look for Pastor David King. Meet at 2:00 and we’ll head out a few minutes after.

++   St. Patrick’s Potato Fundraiser for our youth—11:30 this Sunday the 15th. Potatoes will be served and you pick what you want to pile on top of them! Sour cream, cheese, butter…………come support our youth.

++   Pastor David’s Out-of-Office Hours Wednesday, March 18th, 1-3pm. Ten Speed Coffee at 13th and State St. Stop by for informal conversation.

++   Just for fun!  If there was ever a year to celebrate the mathematical constant of Pi, this is it. National “Pi Day” corresponds to the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. 2015 delivers the truest Pi Day we’ll ever witness in our lives. You see, for so long, we’ve been satisfied with the approximation of Pi as 3.14, when really the value is more accurate as 3.1415. If that number looks familiar, that’s because it will be Saturday’s date: March 14, 2015. This won’t happen for another 100 years! So bake or buy a “pie”, eat a pie, have fun with the day.

Blessings!
Jennifer Fowler

Sermon: The Wisdom of Foolishness

Sunday 8 March 2015
The Third Sunday in Lent

1 Corinthians 1:18-31

Christ CrucifiedPaul, the greatest of the apostles, has been busy, traveling across the known world spreading the good news of new life in Jesus Christ. And it hasn’t been easy business. No matter where he goes, Paul finds opposition. Many of his fellow Jews think that he’s a heretic. The Greek philosophers think he has a weak mind. The Romans think he’s trying to stir up rebellion. Even his fellow Jesus-followers question his beliefs and his methods. And yet, despite all the opposition, Paul is winning people for Jesus Christ. People are responding to his message in cities and towns across the Mediterranean world.

This morning he writes back to one of the churches he has founded, a church that is experiencing conflicts of its own. And he tries to explain to them that no matter how people may try to tear down the church and its message of transforming grace in Jesus Christ, God’s message transcends those kinds of criticisms. Don’t worry if they try to tear down the wisdom of your argument; God’s wisdom is beyond human categories.  Don’t worry if they make fun of our savior as weak; God’s power is expressed most fully in weakness.

It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense after all. Paul’s critics had some good points. At the center of Paul’s message is Christ crucified. It is a very unlikely image to found a religion on. The image of Christ crucified is God at God’s weakest, at God’s most foolish. Christ crucified looks like a failure of the greatest proportions. Jesus is unable to escape death. In fact, he dies on a cross like the very lowest of criminals. Weakness, foolishness, death—it doesn’t seem like a very good way to win converts.

In the arena of Greek philosophy, the highest value is placed on achieving wisdom. In fact, the very word “philosophy” means “the love of wisdom.” When Paul debates with the philosophers, he claims that Christ is wisdom incarnate. He claims that the abstract, highest ideals that the philosophers have been seeking for centuries were actually born into a human body and wandered the earth.

That idea alone is enough to turn off most of his audience. Everyone knows that the highest, most perfect things are not things of flesh, but things of spirit. Everyone knows that this physical world is corrupted beyond redemption. The perfect things, the actual real world exists beyond the physical world, beyond our perception. Plato and Aristotle didn’t agree on much, but they could agree that anything perfect had to exist outside the physical world. So how could something perfect ever become incarnate in the physical world, let alone as a human being?

And even if we were to accept the possibility that the eternal and perfect ideal wisdom could become incarnate as a person, it certainly would not become incarnate as someone like Jesus of Nazareth. He was a commoner. He had little education. He died as a criminal. And worst of all, he wasn’t Greek. He was a barbarian. No one like that could ever be the incarnation of ancient wisdom.

The Jews Paul talks with are interested in something different. They think God is most fully expressed in signs of power. Miracles, healings: these are the sorts of things they want. These Jews are looking for the Messiah. They’re looking for a hero riding in a glorious chariot on the clouds. They are looking for someone who will have the power to overthrow the Roman oppressors and make Israel a free nation again. And so Paul tells  them that what they are looking for, the promised Messiah, is none other than Jesus of Nazareth.

And the proof Paul gives them is the image of Christ crucified. A very strange choice if you’re looking for power. Seeing the leader of your movement being tortured to death does not exactly inspire confidence. They know what glory looks like, and it does not look a crucified man.

But there is something even more problematic about Paul’s argument. You see, Deuteronomy 21:23 clearly states, “Anyone hung on a tree is under God’s curse.” That’s why people had been so anxious to get Jesus’s body down and in a grave before sunset, because the body of someone executed by crucifixion is an affront to God and cursed. That means that however good a man Jesus might have been, he is automatically disqualified from being the Messiah because he was crucified. The Bible says explicitly that he is cursed by God, and anyone who is cursed by God could never be the promised Messiah.

But Paul is undeterred by all these criticisms. He writes, “God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.” It’s a paradox, he says, so that no one can brag about how smart they are, how they could figure out God. God does something completely crazy, completely unreasonable, so that no one can understand what is in God’s mind. God does something that to everyone looks absolutely foolish, and yet it is the very epitome, the very incarnation of God’s wisdom. God does something that for all intents and purposes looks weak—God dies on a cross—and yet it is the ultimate sign of God’s power, God’s victory over death. It doesn’t make any sense, and it’s not supposed to, because God’s wisdom is foolishness to the world, and God’s strength is made perfect in weakness.

We should have known. Christ’s crucifixion wasn’t the first time God’s wisdom was expressed in foolishness, and it wasn’t the first time God’s strength was expressed in weakness. When God wanted to free the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt, God didn’t send a general, or a warrior, or a diplomat. No, God sent Moses, a fugitive shepherd with a speech impediment. When God wanted to save the Jews from genocide in Persia, it wasn’t with armies or with plagues. No, God sent Esther, a young Jewish girl who was scared for her life. So why should we be surprised that when God wanted to be revealed to humanity, it wasn’t as a king or a hero or a philosopher, it was as a poor traveling preacher who was willingly executed in order to expose God’s victory over death.

And things haven’t changed much since then. God still finds wisdom in foolishness and power in weakness.

Consider John Wesley. He failed miserably as a missionary to Georgia. He was constantly in trouble with his superiors. And he could never seem to get a job in a church anywhere. And yet his work inspired the Methodist movement which includes about 75 million people today. God turned foolishness into wisdom.

In the American South, and across this nation, when God wanted to free a people from 400 years of slavery and abuse, it wasn’t done with violence or rebellion, and it wasn’t done by powerful men in high offices. God did it with sermons in packed churches and on crowded malls. God did it with nonviolent resistance in the face of unspeakable violence. God did it with old women, and with little school children, and with poor laborers, marching forward for justice. God turned the world’s expectations upside-down.

And how is God calling us now to act foolishly for the sake of God’s wisdom? How is God calling us to show strength by becoming weak? Is it by loving our enemies and praying for those who want to hurt us? Is it by holding on to hope while the world is clutched by fear and despair? Is it by reaching out to the lowest and the least instead of striving to be the most and the highest? Yes, it is all these things, all these things and more. God’s call for us nearly always seems like foolishness by human standards. And God’s strength is strongest when it is expressed in weakness. We just need the courage to be fools for Christ, and to rest assured in God’s strength, even when we feel the weakest. Because things are not what they seem, and in God’s world grace and power usually come from the most unlikely of places. Thanks be to God.

Notes-N-News

Good afternoon!

++  FISH Food Bank needs food supplies! Small vegetable oil; jam; sugar and flour; protein items such as tuna and canned meats.

++  The spring women’s retreat at Mt. Angel is this Friday thru Sunday. May everyone travel safely and have a blessed weekend!

++  There was a great turnout last Saturday for the women’s meeting. 5 women within the many groups we have, have volunteered to be contacts about needs or ideas for our congregation. They are Cheri Anderson, Martha Hoskins, Carol Kyger, Rose Miller, Kristen White.

++  Spring Fling March 21st. You’re invited to help! The Women’s Ministry Group will be making ready the narthex and adjoining rooms for new carpet, paint, and interior decorating. Snacks will be served. Come for as long as you are able.

Blessings!
Jennifer Fowler

Sermon: The Way of the Cross

Sunday 1 March 2015
The Second Sunday in Lent

Mark 8:31-38

jesuspeterLast week I talked with you about Jesus’s identity in the Gospel of Mark. The gospel lesson this morning comes right after the key scene. Jesus asks his disciples who people say that he is. And the disciples report to him the things that they have been hearing. “They say that you’re John the Baptism, or Elijah, or one of the other prophets.” And Jesus asks them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter gives the answer for all of them: “You are the Christ.” You are the Messiah. You are the Anointed. And Jesus orders them all to secrecy.

Jesus agrees with them, though. At this point in the story, he has come to terms with who he is. He knows that he is the Christ.

But there is a problem. And the problem is this: Jesus has a very strange idea about what it means to be the Christ. 2000 years later, it all seems obvious to us. But it’s important to remember that no one at the time was looking for a Messiah like Jesus. No one would have guessed that he would do what he was about to do.

There certainly were Jews who were looking for the coming of the Christ. Christ is the Greek word. Messiah is the Hebrew. They both mean “anointed.” And there are two kinds of figures who are known for being anointed: prophets and kings.

At this point in history, the Messiah that people are expecting is a king. They are expecting a warrior. They are expecting someone who will redeem Israel. To redeem literally means to free from slavery. And it’s very clear whom Israel is enslaved to. Israel is enslaved to the Romans. If the Messiah is going to redeem Israel, then the Messiah is going to have to free Israel from Roman rule. And how else would someone do that except by leading a military revolution?

So when Jesus starts to talk with his disciples about what his next move is going to be, it is no surprise that they are expecting him to lay out his war plan. They are expecting him to enlist the crowds as soldiers. They are expecting him to toss out the collaborators on the Sanhedrin and install new, righteous priests. They are expecting him to take up his sword and lead.

But Jesus says something very unexpected: “I am going to have to suffer, and I will be rejected by all of the religious authorities. Then, I will be killed, but after three days, I will rise from the dead.”

No doubt, the disciples thought that Jesus had lost his senses. Hadn’t they all just come to an agreement that he is the Christ. Why on earth would he be talking about suffering and rejection and death. It made no sense at all.

So again, Peter takes it upon himself to act on behalf of all of the disciples. He takes Jesus aside, so that he won’t have to shame him in public. And Peter begins to try to explain to Jesus that he must be mistaken. If you are the Christ, then everyone knows what you have to do. Everyone has been waiting for you to act. The crowds are already on your side. You have the momentum. It is time to act. It is time to mobilize. It is time to use the extraordinary power that God has given you and rise up against God’s enemies. It is time to fight.

But Jesus doesn’t respond with the same kind of manners that Peter showed. He turns to the other disciples, and in front of everyone, he angrily shames Peter, “Get behind me, Satan. These aren’t God’s thoughts that you’re speaking. These are human thoughts.”

This is the moment. This is moment in Mark’s gospel that everything changes. Jesus is at the height of his popularity. Jesus is at the height of his power. And now he is about to throw it all away. Now he is about to make his biggest political gaffe.

It’s not enough for him to make a fool of himself in front of his disciples. Instead, he decides to call the whole crowd together. He decides to make a speech in front of all of his followers and supporters and hangers-on. He is the clear front-runner in Judean politics. But now he is going to do something that he won’t be able to recover from. It’s the Howard Dean scream. It’s Rick Perry’s “The third one, I can’t. Sorry. Oops.”

“If anyone wants to follow me, they have to disown their own self, and pick up their cross, and follow me. Anyone who wants to save their soul will destroy themself, but anyone who destroys their own soul on my account or on account of the good news will save themself. What is the profit in acquiring the entire universe if you lose your soul? What could you possibly give in exchange for your soul?”

It would be as if someone said, “Let’s overthrow Robespierre, but don’t forget to bring a guillotine for yourself. Let’s topple Hitler, but let’s start by going into this gas chamber. Let’s fight back against ISIS, but make sure you bring your own sword for your beheading.” Take up your cross and follow me. That is no way to start a revolution.

Of course, Jesus did inspire some latter day revolutionaries. Not so much the revolutionaries like George Washington, or Napoleon, or Mao, or Che. Jesus inspired revolutionaries like Mohandas Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and Nelson Mandela. And that is the kind of revolution that Jesus led against empire. He proved his point about empire by allowing himself to be unjustly killed by one.

When we talk about taking up our cross or having a cross to bear, we usually just mean some kind of generic suffering. Illness might be a cross to bear. Grief and loss might be a cross to bear. Sometimes the idea of denying self and bearing our cross is used to keep oppressed people in oppression or to keep abused people in situations of abuse. If he hits you, that’s just your cross to bear. You need to deny your own needs and bear it.

But that is a perversion of Jesus’s words. Denying self and taking up our cross is never about convincing weak people to continue suffering in silence. Taking up a cross is a form of resistance. Taking up a cross is an act of boldness and defiance, not an act of trembling or surrender.

At it’s most basic, to take up one’s cross means to be prepared to die. It means not being afraid of suffering, or loss, or rejection, or even death. To act as those who are prepared to die means to act fearlessly, to not be afraid of any consequence, to have nothing left to lose.

There are still places in the world where being identified as a Christian might get you killed. It’s not a risk that many of us are likely to face. But when Jesus calls his disciples to take up their cross and follow, he’s not just talking about dying for the name “Christian.”

He is talking about being prepared to die for the values of God’s Kingdom. He is talking about a counter-cultural movement. He is talking about standing up against oppression. He is talking about advocating for the disadvantaged. He is talking about turing the world upside down. He is talking about doing all this—no matter what the cost might be. If you are rejected by the popular, if you are suppressed by the powerful, if you are injured by the authorities, Jesus says to press on. Even if it leads to imprisonment, even if it leads to death, then that death will stand as a witness against the injustice that caused it.

That is what it means to take up our cross and follow Jesus. It is at once far more peaceful and at the same time far more radical than Jesus’s first disciples could understand at the time. And it is just as difficult for us in our own time. It is a power that is found most powerfully in weakness, a wisdom that is found most fully in foolishness.

So may God inspire us to walk as Jesus walked, to walk the way of the cross, to proclaim good news to the poor, release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, and liberty to the oppressed. And may God grant us the boldness to do this without fear, to take up our cross and follow Christ, wherever he might lead.

Notes-N-News

Good afternoon!

++  Lenten Study begins this evening. The Animate Bible series includes a video, time for personal reflection, and discussion.  There will be a light soup and bread supper at 6:00 followed by study at 6:30.  Faith in Action is sponsoring this 7-week Bible study.  

++  All Church Women:

This Saturday, February 28th, at 10am we will have a meeting for all the women of the Church.  This will be an idea gathering/planning meeting.  From this meeting we will select representatives from the different women’s groups to form a core group to call on when there are activities or projects to plan.  We need all of your input.  Cookies, juice and coffee will be provided to fuel your ideas and enthusiasm. You are needed!

++  From Marv Turner: at our morning meeting on Feb 21, the attending members voted to disband United Methodist Men as a group within the Asbury Our Redeemer Partnership.  We hope to promote a men’s group with in our Partnership to include all the men of our church in joint activities of some sort. We still plan to meet the third Saturday of the month for fellowship breakfast and to continue providing flowers for Mothers Day and to support The Christmas project by asking for $20 donation (dues) per year. We encourage “Methodist Men” support and aid in the Sausage project and the Easter Breakfast  as well participate in retreats now planned.   A name for the new group has been suggested to be “Partnership Men”

++  FISH Garden/Landscape update

Our faithful garden volunteers have raised thousands of pounds of fresh produce for the food bank in past years.  As the FISH building moves steadily toward completion, interest in the gardens is growing.

  • HRMS 8th graders in Michael Becker’s class are working on a landscape plan for the property to incorporate edible perennials and insect-attracting plants.
  • An instructor at Klahre House has approached us to see if her students can help with weeding or other projects.
  • We have received funding to hire a garden volunteer coordinator to work with community groups and individuals interested in helping with the gardens.

It is amazing to watch how God is multiplying our efforts to nourish both body and spirit !

Blessings!
Jennifer Fowler

FISH Garden/Landscape update

Our faithful garden volunteers have raised thousands of pounds of fresh produce for the food bank in past years. As the FISH building moves steadily toward completion, interest in the gardens is growing.

  • HRMS 8th graders in Michael Becker’s class are working on a landscape plan for the property to incorporate edible perennials and insect-attracting plants.
  • An instructor at Klahre House has approached us to see if her students can help with weeding or other projects.
  • We have received funding to hire a garden volunteer coordinator to work with community groups and individuals interested in helping with the gardens.

It is amazing to watch how God is multiplying our efforts to nourish both body and spirit.