2008-03-30

THE ULTIMATE PRACTICAL JOKE


A Sermon For Year A, Easter-2
Copyright © 2008 Nathan L. Bostian
Based on John 20:19-31; Acts 2:22-32; 1 Peter 1:3-9

What is the best practical joke you ever played on someone? What is the best practical joke that someone ever been played on you?

1. PRACTICAL JOKES: I have to admit that I have been both the instigator, and the receiver, of a great many practical jokes.

There, of course, have been the gross jokes: Vaseline on doorknobs... Saran wrap over the hole in the toilet...

The football team decorating the car of one of our teammates with dirty athletic supporters. That was pretty smelly...

Then there was the time we were all driving in my buddy's jeep. All of the sudden I yell "Toilet in the lawn! Toilet in the lawn!"

You see, someone had been redecorating their bathroom, and had thrown their toilet out to be picked up by the trashmen. So, we picked it up instead. And we put it on the front steps of a friend's house... Then he put it at someone else's house... Then they drove it somewhere else... And so on...

By the end of our senior year, the toilet had visited about 50 houses and was decorated quite nicely. It was the class of '92 senior toilet. We took lots of pictures on it.

Then there are the annoying practical jokes. Like when my friends and I would go pick up someone's car and move it sideways so it blocked the whole street.

Or when those same friends literally took apart my 1984 Volkswagon Rabbit and made me do a scavenger hunt to find all the parts.

Then there have been several weddings where all of us in the groom's party went to the local grocery stores and got hundreds of the free newspapers and green sheets. Then we wadded them up into hundreds of balls of newspaper and filled the newly married's car from top to bottom.

But, my favorite practical joke was completely unplanned. It happened in my buddy's dorm room at Texas A&M. It was a cold winter day, and we were both under a blanket on the couch playing Madden '94 football on the Sega gamesystem.

My buddy asked me to turn up the sound on the TV with the remote. When I hit the wrong button, I realized that our remote control operated our next-door neighbor's stereo as well.

You see, it turned on his stereo through the doorway that separated the two rooms. Furthermore, I found I could operate his stereo with the remote underneath the light blanket that covered me. We waited for him to get back in the room...

[Tell the story of how we made him think the stereo was haunted]

2. THE ULTIMATE PRACTICAL JOKER: Now, other than showing you how twisted and goofy I am, what do practical jokes have to do with God? What do they have to do with the readings we just read tonight?

I remember in college I got in this huge debate with a roommate over whether God had a sense of humor. My friend was convinced- because one version of the Bible wrongly translates Ephesians 5:4 as telling us to avoid "joking"- he was convinced that humor, jokes, and sarcasm were against God's will. We argued for about 4 hours, but he never GOT the joke!

Yet, this is a common misconception of God: The idea that God is stoic, unmoved, un-caring, and unable to appreciate comedy.

So, is it true? Does God have a sense of humor or not?

Well, first, let's ask this: Does humor have a purpose? Do jokes do us any good? Well, I guess it depends on whether it is good humor, or bad humor.

Bad humor does us no good. Bad humor is based on demeaning other people: Putting them down to raise ourselves up. Bad humor is a sneer that uses and abuses God's children, for a cheap laugh that makes us feel superior and prideful.

But good humor: Ahh! Good humor! Good humor is a breath of life to the weary soul. Good humor looks at the paradoxes and absurdities of life, and grins a big goofy grin.

Good humor elevates and raises up both the joker and the

joke-ee, so that they both benefit from the humor.

Good humor has a way of reminding us to be humble, to remember our oddities, and to recognize our weaknesses, without beating us over the head to make us feel guilty.

Have you ever noticed how good humor can slip in past the censors of our mind- you know, that part of us that tells us to take ourselves so seriously. While we laugh, space is created for that "aha!" moment to realize something:

"Wow, that is kinda dumb when you put it that way!"

"Gee, I guess I DO act like that sometimes. I get it."

"Yep, this situation isn’t that serious after all. I was way too stressed out!"

And I think God is the MASTER of good humor. He invented it!

Just look at the Platypus or the Giraffe. Look at human dating and mating rituals. God had to have a sense of humor to make that up! The Psalmist tells us that God even made the great sea creatures just for the fun of it! [104.26].

In Genesis, God names the first child of His Covenant people "Issac" which means "He laughs!" Later on, he jokingly named His entire people "Israel", which literally means "They wrestle with God!" When God led the people of Israel out of bondage in Egypt, he did so by sending a series of practical jokes on Pharaoh to show him how weak and powerless the so-called "gods" of Egypt were.

In fact, the entire history of salvation- from the calling of Abraham, to the exodus of Israel, to the salvation of Jesus- the entire History of salvation can be seen as God's cosmic practical joke on the powers of pride and evil.

3. THE JOKE OF THE RESURRECTION: Think about it. What did God- the Creator and Ruler of the Entire Universe- what did He choose as the method to save and reconcile His creation? Did he choose powerful angels? Did he choose incredible armies? Did he choose power and strength and might?

No. He chose to become incarnate in an infant. A helpless infant. A helpless infant, born to poor parents, with a seemingly ludicrous story of a virgin conception, in the backwoods of the Roman empire, among a people that most cultured Romans saw as backward.

And it's ALL TRUE. God really DID pick that way to redeem the world! God delights in taking the little things, the simple things, the things of no account, and using them to overturn the prideful and arrogant and powerful.

It is the VERY DEFINITION of a practical joke!

And as Jesus grew up, He proved that the old adage of "like Father like Son" is true. His sermons were interspersed with jokes about logs in people's eyes, and funny stories about wise servants, and greedy masters, and lost coins, and pigs with pearls.

Then Jesus pulled the biggest practical joke of all: He pranked death itself.

Instead of seeing our resurrection story today through the lens of dry doctrine and serious dogma, try seeing it through the lens of Robin Williams and the Three Stooges:

The disciples are scared to death. They are hunkered down in fear of the Religious Authorities. They jump every time they hear a door slam. They are peeking through the windows, and praying to make it through this week without being crucified.

Then comes Jesus. Walking in from the next dimension. Quietly. Like a cat. He slips through the dimensions into that upper room and says:

"PEACE BE WITH YOU!"

Aaaagh! Everybody runs around like Keystone cops! You can hear the Benny Hill music in the background. Jesus is rolling over laughing!

And as they glimpse their Risen Savior, the smiles start to come to their mouths as well. Humor has snuck past the censors of their minds, past the fears in their hearts: THEY GET IT!

It's not so bad after all. There is Hope. It is ALL going to be OK.

Jesus is here. Life is worth living, and worth living well...

Then we switch to the next scene. In the middle of all of the smiling disciples is the prune-faced, deadly-serious skeptic Thomas. He is shaking His head...

"Nope. I don't care if the whole Roman Legion saw it! I will NOT believe until I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the nail marks, and put my hand in his side!"

You can just see the next week: Happy disciples all around talking and praying in amazement over the resurrection. And old prune face is just sitting there rolling his eyes.

Then, with perfect comic timing: Jesus slips through the dimensions again and shows up. "Peace be with you!"

Then the joke hits Thomas. Shock. Awe. Wonderment. Smiles. Maybe even laughter as all of the disciples look on with that "I told ya so!" look. Old prune face begins to melt.

The joke gets past the censors in Thomas' mind, and he GETS THE JOKE! All he can say is "My Lord and my God!"

Now THAT is humor at its finest. Rimshot please...

4. THE JOKE OF THE CHURCH: And yet, the joke does not end there, because WE are still part of the cosmic joke that God is playing on the forces of evil.

Did you notice that part in the Gospel where Jesus says: "As the Father has sent me, so I send you." Then he breathes His OWN Spirit of joy and peace and power and humor into them and says:

"Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained."

I do not know what is a bigger joke: The resurrection of one man, or the fact that he sends out the most unlikely crew of numbskulls in history to share His resurrection with the world.

And if you think I am being to hard on the disciples: Think for a moment about what their history was:

They never really got what Jesus was saying: Even when he explained it to them in private.

They were always arguing over who was best, and who would get the throne next to Jesus: Just like Junior High kids arguing over who gets to ride "shotgun".

They were bold when they should have been humble, and sacred when they should have been bold.

Their defacto leader- a guy who Jesus renamed Peter- has a name that literally translates as "Rocky" or even "Dense". Would you want to follow a dense guy named Rocky?

This was literally like God writing the script for the Bad News Bears or the Mighty Ducks, except instead of winning a trophy at the end, the goal is to save the world.

And yet, He sent them out and they changed the world. With nothing more than this incredible resurrection Story and the resurrection Spirit living inside of them, they went everywhere and literally turned the world upside down.

And, their work has reached so far that right here, right now, WE are part of that same JOKE! We are reading their writings, talking about their God, trying to follow their Jesus.

And when I look at my own life, I get the joke too. God took an arrogant dude like me and turned my world upside down...

[Very short testimony focusing on the paradoxes in my life]

And so, I find myself here inviting you to join me in the same Joke... To laugh with Thomas and all the Apostles... To become part of the continuing Prank of Jesus on the powers of pride and evil and inhumanity and death.

Along with the Apostle Peter- good old Rocky himself- I say: "Although you have not seen [Jesus], you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls."

I invite you tonight to GET the joke, and be filled with the indescribable and glorious joy of the Risen Lord Jesus. I invite you to see all of your stresses, all of your problems, all of your temptations in the light of Christ's Ultimate Joke.

Let His Joke slip past the censors of your mind, and you might just get a new Way of seeing everything. You might just learn how to take things a little less seriously. And you might learn how to live joyfully with Jesus in THIS present moment. Amen+

2008-03-28

What do Anglicans believe happens in the communion meal?

The short answer is that we believe that Christ is really present in the sacrament of Communion. To understand this, we must remember what a "sacrament" is. The prayer book defines it as "an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace" (BCP 1979 pp. 357-361). In short, it is a physical thing, like bread, wine, water, oil, that God uses to share the presence and power of Jesus Christ, through the working of His Spirit.

Yet, sacraments are not magic. It's not like we believe that priests have the power to "call down God from on high" to do what we want. No human, not even a bishop, has the power to make God do anything or to define how God will act. Yet, God does have the power to define how He Himself will act. And He has promised, in Scripture, to work in certain ways when we do certain things (2Ch 7:14; Jer 18:5-10; Num 21:8-9; Isa 55:11; Mat 9:21, 18:18-20).

One of these promises is when Jesus said of the Last Supper that "This is my body... this is my blood..." (Mat 26:26-28; Mark 14:22-24; Luke 22:17-20; 1Co 11:23-34). Another promise related to Communion is "whoever eats my body and drinks my blood will have life in him" (John 6:54-56). We believe that when we meet together as the Church and share in the Lord's Supper, that Christ is present in a real and unique way, so that it is an actual "partaking" or "communion" with the Risen Christ (BCP 1979, pp. 859-860; 1Co 10:16-22; Luke 24:25-31; Mat 18:18-20). This is because the Risen Christ fills the whole universe and is available to be present in a special way in the bread and wine of the Lord's Supper (Col 1:15-17; Eph 1:22-23, 4:10).

In fact, along with St. Paul, we believe that to have the Lord's supper and not discern, or understand, that Christ is really present is to become guilty of "sinning against the body and blood of the Lord" (1Co 11:27-29). Therefore, when the priest or bishop consecrates the sacrament by saying the words of institution (This is my body... This is my blood), we believe that Christ becomes fully present in the sacrament for our strengthening. He becomes fully present, not because the minister "calls Him down", but because He has promised to be there.

Somewhere in the priest's Eucharistic prayer, there is also what is called the "Epiclesis". The Epiclesis comes from two Greek words for "upon" (epi) and "calling" (klesis), and thus epiclesis is where the priest calls upon the Holy Spirit to come upon the elements of bread and wine and make them into the presence of Christ. He usually says something like: "Sanctify [the bread and wine] by your Holy Spirit to be for your people the Body and Blood of your Son, the holy food and drink of new and unending life in him". In this action the priest is not making Christ "more" present in the sacrament, because Christ is already fully present whenever the words of institution are said. Instead, the Epiclesis is a recognition of how Christ is present: by the power of His Spirit. It is the Spirit that makes mere wine and bread alive with the presence of Christ, just as He made a virgin's womb alive with the presence of Christ (Luke 1:35).

There are about six models in Christian history of how Christ is present (or not present) in the sacrament. First, there is the view of the Roman Catholics that is usually called "transubstantiation", coming from the Latin words "trans" (meaning beyond) and "substantia" (meaning substance). Their view is that when the sacrament is consecrated, it goes "beyond substance", and ceases to be bread and wine in any way. It becomes fully the body and blood of Christ, and it only appears and tastes like bread and wine.

The second model is the Lutheran model, usually called "consubstantiation" (from the Latin word "con", meaning "with"). In this view, the presence of Christ is "with" the substance of bread and wine. The sacrament is fully the substance of bread and wine, and fully the substance of body and blood at the same time. The body and blood of Christ is somehow "with, in, and under" the elements of bread and wine. Thus Communion becomes fully bread and wine, and fully Christ, just as Christ Himself is fully human, and fully God, at the same time.

The third model is the "spiritual presence" model, usually held by Presbyterians and some others. In this model, it is not so much that Christ is present as that His Spirit is present in the sacrament. Instead of Christ coming down to be "in" the sacrament, the Spirit raises us "up" to where Christ is. In the sacrament, the Spirit connects us with the risen Christ and His flesh and blood in heaven. I have heard this called the "elevator" view of the sacrament, because in it we are raised with Christ, and connected with Him in heaven.

The fourth model is called "receptionism". This is the model that Christ is only present if we receive Communion in faith and believe He is there. If we don't have faith, then He is not really there. This would seem contrary to Scripture, which says "whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. A person ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have died. But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment" (1Co 11:27-31). Whether or not we want Christ to be present, He is there in the sacrament. If we come in good faith and have confessed our sin, the presence of Christ strengthens us. If we come without faith and with unclean consciences, the same presence of Christ will discipline us, and even harm us. More on this here.

The fifth model is the "absence" model, where Christ is absent from the sacrament entirely. In this model, Christ and St. Paul are interpreted symbolically. When Christ said "this is my body", he really meant "this represents my body". Thus, in the absence model, Communion is not really a "communion with Christ", because it is just a symbol that He is not present in. No grace is given. Nothing happens for us except remembering what Christ did for us (which could be done by looking at a cross, without going to the trouble and mess of serving a meal). In the absence model, the Lord's Supper is just a memorial to Christ, kind of like a grave stone.

The sixth model is the Anglican model, called "real presence". Actually, "real presence" is the lack of a model. It is merely a statement that we believe that Christ is really present. We don't know exactly HOW He is present (other than by the power of His Spirit), because it is a mystery. But we do know that He is present as He promised. "Real Presence" does not work with receptionism or absence views, but it does work with the other models. You will find Anglicans who believe in transubstantiation, consubstantiation, spiritual presence, and who refuse to specify any model, but we all agree on the "real presence" of Christ.

Now the question arises: what does the real presence of Christ do in the sacrament? At least eight things:

• First, it connects us with Christ and is a "participation" in His life (1Co 10:16-17; 2Pe 1:4). It actually draws us up into His divine life and allows that life to flow through us, just like plugging an electric cord into a socket. Through communion, the suffering, crucified Christ, and the risen, victorious Christ, are made known to us, right here, right now (Luke 24:24-32). It opens a "portal" of tangible, touchable, intimate connection with the historic, physical Jesus Christ.

• Second, it assures us of forgiveness, because it is the "blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins" (Mat 26:28). By participating in communion, we are participating in the action of our forgiveness, and accessing the blood by which we are forgiven. By coming into contact with the real presence of Jesus' crucified and resurrected body, we eat and digest the life giving flesh of the Messiah. In this, it is a medicine for our souls and bodies, which we take to spiritually strengthen us with the very presence of Jesus Christ.

• Third, it strengthens us for service. Jesus says that His flesh is "real food", and His blood is "real drink" (John 6:54-56). Physical food and drink are used for one main purpose: to strengthen our bodies to work and live. This spiritual food strengthens our spirits to work and live for God. It is a meal of grace and power to recharge our spiritual batteries.

• Fourth, it connects us with the Body of Christ across the world. Just as the elements are called "the body of Christ", so also the Church is called "the body of Christ" (1Co 11:23-12:27). When two or more Christians are gathered for Communion, they united not only to Christ, but to each other as well, as the Spirit unites them with the celebration of Communion as the focal point of that union (Mat 18:18-20; Eph 4:4-6).

• Fifth, not only does this meal unite us to each other and to Christ now, but it unites us across time with the communion of saints, the great cloud of witnesses that surrounds us (Heb 12:1). Through communion, we are present with Christ and the disciples in the upper room at the last supper. Through communion, we are present at the great heavenly wedding feast that we will eat on the last day (Mat 26:29; Luke 14:15-24).

• Sixth, it remembers the act of Christ's sacrifice on the cross (1Co 11:24-25). It serves as a memorial that reminds us, and a ceremony that re-enacts and re-presents for us, every Sunday, what Christ did on the cross. God knows that we worship with our eyes, hands, smell, and taste, not just with our ears, and therefore Communion is a re-presentation and a representation of Christ's cross.

• Seventh, it proclaims the hope we have in the resurrection and second coming (1Co 11:26). It is a triumphal declaration of the victory of Jesus over all the powers and principalities that stand against God's Love. It is a foretaste of the glory, power, and community that we will have in Christ's presence forever.

• Finally, it is a non-bloody sacrifice in which God sacrifices Himself for us, and we sacrifice ourselves to Him. It is not a repeat, or "do over" of Christ's sacrifice, which is "once and for all" (Heb 9). Rather, it is a re-enactment and re-presentation of Christ's one time sacrifice, in which His eternal sacrifice is made physically present to us right here, right now. In return, we offer the only sacrifice we can give to God: ourselves. We return a sacrifice of our selves, our praise, and our thanks in gratitude for what Christ has done for us (Rom 12:1; Heb 13:15-16).

If you are interested in my 2014 follow up essay "How should we prepare to partake in Eucharist?", please click here.

2008-03-25

A CHRIST FOR EVERY TASTE?

A Sermon For Year A, Easter Sunday
Copyright © 2008 Nathan L. Bostian
Based on Acts 5:25-32; 10:34-43; Luke 24:13-35

1. A CHRIST FOR EVERY TASTE: One of the interesting things about being on my side of the Easter phenomenon is looking at how other churches and ministries do Easter, and comparing and contrasting it with what we do.

As I was driving around this week, I noticed at almost every major intersection in my town, clusters of plastic signs by the side of the road offering every conceivable type of Easter worship experience.

Some advertized Sunrise Easter worship services. Others advertized contemporary, relevant, rocking Easter services. Yet others advertized classic, traditional, meaningful Easter services. Some offered services tailored to teens, others services tailored to children, and yet others tailored to young twenty-somethings.

In fact, at a couple of larger churches I saw banners advertizing multiple kinds of services at the same location: It is literally the shopping mall of Easter worship, with contemporary at one end of the Church mega-plex, classic worship at the other end, and children's worship somewhere in the middle.

And you should have seen these clusters of signs by the road (maybe you did!). It was as if the signs were part of some odd football fumble drill, where they were all crowded together, desperately vying to be in front, to get the attention of the consumer public.

Now, one part of me really is glad about all of this: It shows that there are well-meaning people at churches all over the place who want people to know about Jesus and encounter his saving power! They are so intent, that they are making sure that every conceivable person with every conceivable taste has an opportunity to encounter Jesus in a way that is comfortable and meaningful for them.

This is awesome. This shows that people Love Jesus and Love those who He came to save.

But, there is another side. A less sincere side. A consumer side to the story. Why is it- do you think- that we feel the need to advertize Jesus like He was mouthwash, or a sports car? Why do we feel we have to custom make Jesus, in every style and color, just to get people to pay attention to Him? Does Jesus really need our cool "power add-ons"?

Why do we think that the Gospel message- the message that God became human and literally defeated death- why do we think THAT message needs to be "massaged" to be more hip, cool, relevant, trendy, and marketable?

Why does Jesus need OUR help to be meaningful?

When we put it like that, it sounds silly. We KNOW that Jesus doesn't need our help to be LORD or to change lives. We KNOW that his message should be the most relevant message in the history of the world- to every single person in it, regardless of personal taste or demographic- because we KNOW that only his message comes with the guarantee of a Life stronger than Death.

We KNOW it, but I think we still have to put cosmetics on Jesus because we are afraid: We are afraid that His Story isn't true. We are afraid that He WON'T back up what He says. Yet, we are also afraid He WILL back up what He says.

2. WE TAILOR CHRIST BECAUSE WE ARE AFRAID HE ISN'T REAL: So, first of all, I think we tailor Christ to our liking because many of us- deep down inside- wonder if the whole thing is too good to be true. After all, we read stories like those in Acts and the Gospels, and nothing could seem further from our everyday reality.

We find Jesus-followers boldly standing up against the authorities and proclaiming the Risen Christ. We see them unabashedly taking His message of resurrection and hope to people who have no hope. And we see that Jesus actually WORKS in miraculous ways. People are healed. Demons driven out. Christ grants them miraculous escapes from jail and danger.

But, we don't see that in our lives. We fear- I fear- mentioning Jesus in polite conversation because I might get labeled a Jesus-freak, a fanatic, or worse- the worst "f" word you could be called: A fundamentalist! [SARCASM]

We have trouble mentioning to our well-educated, respectable Atheist and Muslim friends that Jesus is Risen, and He is Lord- to say nothing of proclaiming Jesus where we might actually get persecuted!

And we don't see miracles like that either. At least not in this culture. And we are incredibly skeptical of people from other cultures who claim to experience miracles. It seems that miracles like the book of Acts hardly EVER happen to college educated, upper-crust kind of folk (like us!). [SARCASM]

And, let's be honest: When is the last time you ever saw someone rise from the dead? The whole "Christ is Risen" thing smells kind of fishy to those of us in an age of science.

So, we feel like this whole Easter thing is a happy myth that we have to fix up, and make relevant, to people who have experienced neither the power nor the passion that the Bible speaks of.

So, we custom-make Christ because we feel like we have been sold a defective product, and like a shady used-car salesman, we must exaggerate the truth to get people to buy in.

But, is it really reasonable that the Gospel Story is un-reasonable? Is it really logical that the Resurrection event is illogical?

I mean, just because we have not experienced something and have not seen it with out own eyes: Does that mean it isn't real?

We believe in blood cells, quantum atomic structure, physical laws, economic trends, and even our own brain: But we have never seen them. We believe them, on the basis of faith, based on inference from the evidence we have, as interpreted by people we trust (such as scientists).

We put our faith in the most probable inference from the facts we have, back to cause that gave rise to those fact. In other words: We look at something in our world and say: "Now why is that?" Then we weigh the possible explanations and put our faith in the reason that best fits.

But what best fits the data we have for the Resurrection? What best fits the power and passion we see in the early Church?

Were these poor, oppressed, mostly uneducated early disciples inspired to practice radical Love, overcome racial and ethnic divides, stand against the authorities, suffer and even die on the basis of a pious myth about some Rabbi named Jesus of Nazareth?

What turned disciples who were too scared to even admit they knew Jesus- who denied Him and hid from the authorities- what turned them into a movement of people that overcame the mighty Roman Empire after 300 years of non-violent social action?

If Jesus had stayed dead- if the disciples had stolen the body or made up the story- all the authorities would have had to do was grab the body, cart it through the streets, kill the leaders of the Jesus-movement: And it would have ended.

But it didn't end. And they DID kill the leaders. Yet they never found the body. Why is that? What is the most reasonable explanation? [PAUSE] Maybe the resurrection IS real.

And what about the idea that we do not see stuff like Acts happen anymore today? Is that really true? Or is it just that our culture trains us, from a very early age, to be so jaded and skeptical that we would never see a miracle even if it bit us in the butt.

We explain away everything. The things we can't explain we ignore. And the things we ignore we treat as unreal.

But what if those people from other cultures- those that claim to experience Jesus miraculous resurrection power- what if they aren't making it all up?

And how do we explain lives like Mother Teresa, Pope John Paul II, Martin Luther King Jr., and Archbishop Desmond Tutu (and a million others!)? How do we explain events like the abolition of slavery, and the massive movements toward racial and gender equality that have only happened in cultures impacted by the Gospel of Christ?

Where do those people come from? Where do those ideas come from? Is it just a coincidence that it is in THOSE cultures where this crazy resurrection Story is proclaimed that we see this happen?

What is the most probable inference to put our faith in?

3. WE TAILOR CHRIST BECAUSE WE ARE AFRAID HE WON'T ACT: So, let's say we are over the hump of believing the Jesus Story is too good to be true. Let's say that we actually believe that, 2000 years ago, a man rose from the dead and this impacted the rest of world history.

Why then would we still feel the need to market Jesus like diet soda? If we believe that Jesus' resurrection has the power to change individual lives and even entire cultures- a lesson we learn over and over from history- If we believe that, why do we feel that we need to "help" Jesus change lives in our culture through slick marketing?

I think we do it because we are afraid that Jesus won't actually show up when WE NEED Him. Sure, he showed up for the disciples. Sure, he showed up and changed people and cultures in the past. But that was them. This is US.

Can we trust Jesus to show up for US, here, now, and change lives?

We fear that the answer is NO. We fear that if we put too much trust in Jesus, He will leave us hanging. We fear that Jesus won't love us and help us like He does for others.

So we make backup plans. We say: "Jesus may show up, but if he doesn't- and let's be honest, we don't really think He will- if he doesn't we can still do it ourselves!"

So, we devise a system of self-help instead of relying on the resurrection. We look for relevance and style, instead of Reality and Scripture. We reduce the Gospel to something that is easily controllable, readily consumable, and will never let us down.

But, is it really true that Jesus will let us down? Or, is it the case that we never really gave Him the CHANCE to show up?

Maybe trusting Jesus is kind of like learning to ride a bike. Remember learning to ride a bike?

The hardest thing was trusting the bike enough to build up speed to actually stay balanced.

Because the bike will never balance if we hold back, and stay slow and controlled. The bike will just fall over on its side, time after time. Or worse: You will get stuck with those dinky training wheels and you will wobble back and forth, moving like a snail, with no stability.

The bike only becomes trustworthy when you put your whole trust in it, press down those pedals as hard as you can, and get enough speed going so that you are stable and secure.

It would be insane to say "Bikes are untrustworthy!" just because we am too afraid to ride them fast enough.

Yet, that is what we do with Jesus. We don't put our full trust in Him. We wobble back and forth without really committing our lives to live fully for Him.

And as a result, we never experience the power of His resurrection in our lives, and the stability and security that brings.

4. WE TAILOR CHRIST BECAUSE WE ARE AFRAID HE WILL ACT: But, let's say we are over this hurdle as well. Let's say that we both believe the resurrection IS a Reality, AND we believe that Jesus WILL act in our lives if we put our full trust in Him.

Why then do we still feel the need to custom-make Christ to fit our own style and our own needs? What stops us from trusting in Jesus alone- not "Jesus AND relevance", or "Jesus AND my demographic", or "Jesus AND my ideology"- but trusting in Jesus.

Period.

Full stop.

Jesus drunk straight, not mixed with the fashions of our age.

If we are convinced of the power and presence of the Risen Christ, why do we so often opt for something far less?

I think we do it NOT because we are afraid He isn’t real, BUT because we are afraid HE IS. I think we do it NOT because we are afraid He will not act, BUT because we are afraid He will.

I think we are scared to death of what might happen if we let the Real Jesus loose in our lives.

What might He want us to do? Where might He lead us? What would happen to all of my desires and pleasures, not to mention my favorite sins and prejudices?

We want control. We want predictability. We want what we want, when we want it. And it scares us to death to give that to Jesus.

So we tame the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, and turn Him into our pet kitten. We ignore the Lord of the Universe, and make Him the mascot for our own pride and prejudice.

Even though we have every rational reason to trust Him- every logical reason to believe that His plans for us are far better than anything we could come up with on our own- We still struggle to loosen our grip and let the Real Jesus in.

And this is not just YOUR struggle, but it is MY struggle. And this is not just MY challenge, but it is YOUR challenge.

I challenge us all to loosen our grip and let Jesus be Lord. I challenge us all to surrender the rights to ourselves, and give those rights to Jesus. I challenge us all to get on the bike and pedal as fast as we can.

Tonight join with me, loosen your grip on yourself, and once again surrender ourselves to Christ. I invite you, as you come up to take the bread and wine, to give Christ your whole self: Your body, your heart, your mind, your will. You soul.

Just as the disciples 2000 years ago, I invite you to encounter the Risen Lord Jesus in the breaking of bread. Amen+

A CROWN FOR A KING

A Sermon For Year A, Passion Sunday
Copyright © 2008 Nathan L. Bostian
Based on Matthew 26:69-27:54

Tonight I would like us to take a mental tour- a tour with our imagination- of the day that Jesus was condemned... The day that Jesus was finally "crowned" as a King.

A perfect life. Perfect love. He healed and delivered all who trusted in Him. The blind see. The crippled walk. The hungry are fed. And now this...

Jesus, eyes swollen, face bruised, body beaten, stands before crooked judges after becoming a victim of police brutality...

Then the high priest stood up before them and asked Jesus:

"Have you no answer? What is it that they testify against you?"

Look into the narrow eyes of the high priest. Can you see the hate? Can you see the judgment? Can you see the rage?

But Jesus remained silent and gave no answer. Again the high priest asked him,

"I put you under oath before the living God, tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God."

Jesus said to him, "You have said so. But I tell you, From now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven."

Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, "He has blasphemed! Why do we still need witnesses? What is your verdict?"

The bloodthirsty crowd screamed "He deserves death!"

Look into the narrow eyes of the crowd around Jesus. Can you see the hate? Can you see the judgment? Can you see the rage?

Jesus didn't deserve it. He did nothing but Love. He received nothing but hate. You see, He didn't fit what they thought Messiah should be like.

They wanted Messiah to be powerful and filled with wrath. A true Messiah would kill all the Romans, all the foreigners, and everyone who didn't look right, or smell right, or believe right according to the "nice" religious people.

But Jesus didn't do that. He loved instead. He cared for women, and children, the poor, the diseased, and worst of all- non "religious" people. Non-Jews. Even Centurions in the occupying Roman Army.

He seemed to have this crazy compassion for all people- as if they mattered- as if God loved them.

He was a revolutionary. A heretic. He loved the wrong people. He didn't hate the right people. He didn't heal on the right day, or teach in the right way.

He didn't fit their stereotype, so they crucified Him. They judged Him, condemned Him, and killed Him.

And those who promised their undying devotion- people like Peter, "The Rock"- they turned their back on Jesus, and denied they even knew Him.

Can you see the look on Peter's face when the rooster crows and he finally realizes the depth to which he has sunk? Have you ever been in Peter's shoes?

Now its your turn...

You see, Jesus tells us that whatever you have done for the most insignificant people around you, you have done for Him. [Matthew 25]

And when you reject the poor, the needy, and the "different"... when you deny their humanity in your thoughts, words and deeds... you are rejecting Him too.

So its your turn. Close your eyes and answer these questions with Jesus:

Who do you judge, condemn, and crucify in your heart because they are different?

Who do you deny, and turn your back on, and pretend like you never knew them?

Is it the person who sits all alone, who doesn't talk right or look right or smell right? Is it the person who asks for change at the street corner?

Is it the person who is loud and boastful and knows it all, who deep down hates themselves?

Is it the people who try to look beautiful and trendy on the outside because on the inside they feel ugly?

Is it the person who tries to act tough, but who is scared inside?

Is it the person who has less than you and wears tattered clothes?

Is the person who has more than you, who makes you jealous?

Is it the person who has given up on life and lives in apathy, because no one has ever told them they were worth something?

Is it people who dress different, or speak a different language, or have a different skin color?

Is it people who believe differently, or have a different god?

When you condemn them and make them sub-human, you condemn Christ all over again.

When you judge them and label them based on their outward appearance, you judge Christ all over again.

When you crown them with your labels of bitterness, worthlessness, and judgment: You crown Christ with a crown of thorns all over again.

You see, after they condemned Jesus, they stripped him and put a robe on him, and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on his head.

He deserved a crown of heavenly light arrayed with the stars of the sky, what He got was two inch barbs pressing through flesh and grinding against the bone of his skull.

They put a rod in his right hand and knelt before him and mocked him, saying, "Hail, King of the Jews!" They spat on him, and took the rod and struck him on the head.

One day He will rule with a iron scepter that will destroy all hate and oppression and selfishness and sin. On day every knee will bow, and every tongue confess that He alone is Lord.

Yet, on that day so long ago, they used his rod to beat him, and their words to mock him.

Why did he take that mocking crown and rod? Why did He let himself be taunted and abused when He could call down millions of angels to save him? Why?

Maybe it was because He knew that when that happened, the world was over. When He comes in power, time stands still and there are no more second chances.

When He comes back to establish His eternal Kingdom, our time is through. Our choices are over, and He will judge us by what we've become.

The Light of His Love will show us who we REALLY are deep down inside: Past our masks. Beyond our facades. Underneath our excuses: We will face who we have become in the Light of Christ.

But before He comes in power and glory to judge our hearts, He wants to spread His Kingdom in a different way. He gives us the freedom to receive or ignore His Love. He gives us the choice of accepting or denying His Kingdom.

Right now, we live in a world where we are either revolutionaries who spread His Kingdom, or we are enemies opposed to it. We are either spreading Light, or bringing darkness. We are either part of Christ's solution, or part of the problem.

You make the choice. Which side are you on?

What crown will you seek after?

The crown of the world?

Or the crown of Christ?

Close your eyes for final time, and see Christ coming again in glory on that last day. He is riding the clouds, with radiant light flowing from Him and ten million angels behind Him. He sits on His throne to judge the world, and countless billions of humanity are spread out like a sea before him.

What do you want Christ to say to you? What reward do you want to see in heaven? What Kingdom do you serve? Will you wear His crown of thorns, or the crown of the world?

Look in front of you. Two people are sitting before the throne of Christ. One is clothed in a trendy suit, with polished shoes and perfect hair. He confidently comes before Christ carrying a huge burden on his shoulder. It is a sack filled with what he calls his "treasure". He opens his sack to present his achievements and trophies to Christ as proof of his worth.

Christ looks at him sadly, as the man dips his hands in the sack and pulls out nothing but crumbling debris, rust, and filth. In the light of Christ all his pretty things become ugly. He gets frantic trying to reach the bottom of his sack, his head sweaty, his hands trembling. His wealth crumbles before him. His success and power slips through his hands. The people who said they were his friends turn their heads from him. And his fine clothes begin to disintegrate from his body, leaving him cold and naked and ashamed before his Lord.

Then you see a second person walk before Christ. She is naked, and humble and hesitant and self conscious. Yet, warmth and Love radiate from Christ's face. She says she has nothing to bring before Him... and then they come forward.

One man stands beside her saying "I was hungry, and she fed me". Another women stands beside her saying "I was sick, and she healed me". Yet another, "I was lonely and she cared for me". And another, and another, and another. Soon she was surrounded by hundreds whom her life had touched... hundreds who she would be with for eternity.

And then all those who had been touched by the people she had touched came forward, and soon she was surrounded by thousands, maybe millions, who had experienced Christ's Love because of her. And from the throne, out of smiling lips and eyes filled with joyous tears, the Savior's voice boomed "Well done good and faithful servant, well done."

And as the selfish prideful man was sent away humiliated, cold, and naked, Christ clothed that woman with a warm robe of radiant white, which showed the beauty Christ shining through her for all to see.

What do you want Christ to say to you? What reward do you want to see in heaven? What Kingdom do you serve? Will you wear His crown of thorns, or the crown of the world?

Let us meditate on that question for a moment in silence... [End with Taize Song "Jesus remember me, when you come into your Kingdom"]

2008-03-05

IMAGINE YOU ARE A BLIND BEGGAR

A Sermon For Year A, Lent 4
Copyright © 2008 Nathan L. Bostian
Based on John 9:1-38

Tonight I want to do something a little different than what I usually do. Usually I try to connect with your mind, and challenge you to make a decision to follow Christ in a deeper way.

Tonight I want to engage your imagination. I want to help you see something. For some it may be seeing something entirely new. For others, it may be a reminder of things they have already seen.

I want to lead you in an ancient spiritual practice that the monastic traditions call "meditatio", and what we may know of today as "meditation".

But this is not meditation where you clear your mind and try not to think at all. Clearing oneself is actually part of something called contemplation. Rather, in Christian Spirituality, meditation actively engages the imagination to think upon a specific object, a specific image, a specific text of Scripture.

Tonight, I want to show you how to use a text of Scripture- namely our Gospel Drama tonight- to pray with Christ through your imagination.

Now, some of you may have factual questions about our Gospel from tonight: Who was the blind beggar? How did we get this story in the first place? What's up with Jesus making mud?

A few of you may even have deeper questions, like: Is Jesus really the Messiah, the Son of God, like this text claims?

These are all good questions and they deserve good answers at a Bible study sometime this week. But right now, I ask you to bracket those questions off, and put them on pause.

I want you to imagine yourself IN this Story. In fact, I want you to imagine you ARE the blind beggar.

Close your eyes. Notice the darkness...

This darkness has been with you your whole life...

You do not know what light looks like... at all...

You exist in a world only made of sound and touch... No light at all...

Now you are sitting by the road, on the same spot you have sat your entire adult life...

You feel the same rocks underneath you... You hear the same merchants around you hawking their wares...

The sun is hot on your face... You can feel the harsh dry wind of the desert blowing dust in your face...

You can taste the dust... The same dust you have tasted your entire adult life...

In one hand an old chipped pottery bowl... You can hear words come out of your mouth... Words that you don’t even think about anymore... Words you are numb to:

"Alms for a poor blind man! Please can you help me? I was born blind! Alms!"

You used to feel embarrassed to beg... But that was a long time ago... When you still felt like you were human...

But now the words just roll off your tongue. Like a puppet controlled by fate. "Alms for a poor blind man!"

And you hear the footsteps walk past... Occasionally the chink! chink! of change in your bowl...

Sometimes you hear the footsteps intentionally walk far around you... You can hear the murmur of people afraid to touch you for fear that they will be infected by your sin, by your disease...

Other times you hear muffled laughter... And suddenly a rock from a child smacks you in the side of the head... or a foot kicks the bowl out of your hand...

And you hear a roar of laughter from the crowd around you...

It has always been this way... It will always be this way...

You are blind... You are less than human... You are a toy to be played with...

You are cursed. Your parents are cursed. Someone, somewhere did something that brought the wrath of God upon your family... Upon you...

God has forsaken you... God has denied you... God has..

WAIT. Listen. Someone is talking about you.

"Tell us Teacher: who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?"

Lord, not this again. Not the religious stuffed shirts delivering another diatribe about how God justly punishes the sinful...

Hmmm. What did he say?

"He was born so that God's work might be revealed in him..."

Impossible. I am cursed by God. God's only work in my life is to crush me and... What?

You hear the sound of a man gathering the dust from the ground by your feet. Then you hear the sound of him spit.

Now his hands are touching your face, and... and... oh God... you can feel him putting sticky saliva and gritty dirt on your eye lids...

Your mouth opens to utter a curse upon him and his family, but instead you hear him say in a calm voice, that sounds like someone you have known your entire life:

"Go. I send you to wash in the pool that is called Sent!"

You stand. Beweildered... Is this some kind of practical joke? Is this some cruel religious prank.

Is he serious? Who does he think he IS anyway? And almost as if by autopilot, you find your feet walking toward the pool you have gone to your entire life.

And as you walk. Darkness. Then a flash. Then pain. Then darkness again. A flash of brightness. Pain. Head, throbbing.

WHAT IS HAPPENING?

Your feet pick up the pace. You are stumbling blindly over rocks, and over feet. Flashing. Brightness. Darkness.

You can smell the sweet humidity of the pool. Flashing. Brightness. Darkness.

You reach the edge. You plunge your head into the lukewarm water. Your hands feel your way to your eyes. You rub them and rub them until the mud is gone.

You pull your head out of the water to catch your breath... You open your EYES... Open your eyes...

And suddenly you have a new sense that you have never had before... You see. You SEE. Light. Motion. Color. People. Animals. Sun. Blue sky. People staring.

You SEE. You SEE!

"He was born so that God's work might be revealed in him..."

Is THIS what He meant? You SEE not only your world, but the meaning of your life for the first time. You have been given spiritual sight as well as physical sight.

"He was born so that God's work might be revealed in him..."

"YOU were born so that God's work might be revealed in YOU..."

However you are comfortable, with eyes opened or closed, think about the questions I will ask. You may use the candles or the icons to help you focus on Christ:

How would you FEEL if you were this beggar? What emotions would be welling up inside of you? What would be overflowing from your heart at that moment?

What would you THINK if you were this beggar? How would you begin to understand what had just happened? What questions would be raised in your mind?

What would you DO if you were this beggar? Where would you go? Who would you tell?

And what would you do about the man who healed you? What would you think of Him? How would you feel about him?

Like this beggar, we are all thrown into horrible situations beyond our control... Family situations... Health situations... Financial situations... Relationship situations... Tragedy situations... Situations that harm and demean us.

What is your situation?

Are you in this situation because of your sins or someone else's sins?

NO. You are where you are so that God's work of love, healing, and restoration may be revealed IN YOU.

You are where you are because in Christ, God wants to do something amazing in your life. Something you would have never imagined. Something as incredible as healing a man born blind.

Like this beggar, we are all beggars. We beg to be cared for. To be valued. To be worthwhile.

We beg to be secure. To be whole. To know that everything will be alright.

We beg for Meaning. For Purpose. For a reason behind all of the things we go through.

Above all, we beg for Someone who will never leave us or forsake us. Who will love us no matter who we are or what we have done.

We are all beggars.

We hunger. We yearn. We need. We thirst. We crave.

We crave that which only Christ can give us.

For a final time tonight, I ask you to imagine. Imagine Jesus Christ was standing before you, looking into your blind eyes with His eyes of infinite compassion.

Imagine he wants to reach into you and heal you at the deepest level of yourself.

What would you ask Him to be healed of? What part of your life would you ask Him to touch? Where do you need the healing touch of His infinite compassion?

Open yourself to Christ, and ask Him now to heal you. Ask Him now to touch you. Ask Him now to raise to life the dead parts of yourself.

Now imagine He is filling you with His Spirit... His healing Spirit... with the Spirit that raised Him from the dead.

Imagine the Spirit is like liquid light being poured into. Imagine the warmth and light of the Holy Spirit filling you, from the top of your head... through your neck... through your shoulders... through your body... into your arms... into your legs... Down to the very bottom of your feet.

Imagine the light and warmth of Christ's Spirit seeping into the deepest depths of yourself. Imagine the healing presence of Christ's Spirit healing those parts of you that so desperately need healing. Imagine the core of your soul being filled from top to bottom in the Love and Light and Peace of Jesus Christ.

How do you feel?

What do you think?

What will you do?

I invite you to take a couple of moments in silence just to reflect on what you have imagined and experienced... [After one minute or so, begin singing the Taize song "The Lord my Light, my light and salvation"]
This is a bunch of stuff to make us think hard about our incredible love affair with the God of the universe, our astounding infidelities against him, and his incredible grace to heal and restore us through Christ. Everything on this site is copyright © 1996-2015 by Nathan L. Bostian so if you use it, cite me... otherwise you break the 8th commandment, and make God unhappy. You can contact the author by posting a comment.