John 10:22-30 – Sermon – Hear My Voice

John 10:22-30
Hear My Voice
GOD, did you mean for the giraffe to look like that or was it an accident?  GOD, instead of letting people die and having to make new ones, why don’t you just keep the ones you have now?  GOD, I went to this wedding and they kissed right in church. Is that okay?  GOD, what does it mean you are a Jealous God? I thought you had everything.  GOD, thank you for the baby brother, but what I prayed for was a puppy.  These are questions that children have asked God.  They are funny and to look into a child’s mind is always entertaining.  But we all have asked God questions at one time or another during our life. 
In today’s text we receive another story of people asking Jesus something.  There seems to be a tread that we can follow in these questions or better yet in the people who are asking these questions.  You can place the people into three different categories: sincerity, entrapment or mistaken assumptions.  As one looks at the people who sit there and ask Jesus questions, they fit into these three different categories. 
In the third chapter of John we receive a story of a Pharisee Nicodemus who came to Jesus in the night to ask him questions.  Nicodemus asks Jesus how someone can be born again.  He asks this question out of sincerity. He honestly is looking for the answers.  He knew that Jesus was a teacher who came from God and wanted to know more, so Jesus answered him with care and compassion.  Jesus lead him down a gentle path full of love and grace.  The answer given befuddled Nicodemus, there was not a huge light that came on that shows us that he understood what Jesus meant by being born again.  But the point is that Nicodemus’ heart was sincere in the asking.
That is not the case for some of the other Pharisees in the Jesus’ life.  You don’t have to look too far to see that they try to entrap Jesus in order to bring charges against him.  Take Matthew’s recount in chapter 22, this is a text many of you are familiar with.  In this story the Pharisees use one of their disciples to go and ask Jesus if they should pay taxes or not.  Verse 18 it states, But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, and he asked them, “Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?” “Caesar’s,” they replied.  Then he said to them, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”   Jesus doesn’t answer them in the same tone as he does Nicodemus.  Here you can tell that he is a little shorter with his answer, a little more poignant, and you can sense the tension.
Then you have the mistaken assumption questions.  People ask Jesus questions but frame it in the wrong context or make assumptions about Jesus that they shouldn’t, and we all know what kind of trouble you can get into if you assume things.  This is the type of tone that today’s question comes in.  The people asking Jesus a question are not sincere and they are not looking to entrap him, well not quite yet.  Within this question they assume a lot and are mistaken in their assumptions.
First of all who is asking the question?  John tells us that the Jews gathered around him.  Something that we have to remember is that the author of John’s gospel does not mean the whole Jewish race.  Traditionally when you see the phrase “the Jews” in the Gospel of John it is in reference to the Jewish religious leaders, the Pharisees and the Sadducees.  The picture we receive now is one of the religious leaders cornering Jesus while he was in the temple.  The first verse of this section tells us why Jesus is in the temple.  It states that it was the Feast of Dedication, or the Feast of Remembrance.  It was a winter Feast and since it was probably a little chilly Jesus found shelter in the south end of the second temple area called Solomon’s Colonnade or porch. 
What happened was the religious leaders may have gotten caught up in all the celebrating.  The Feast of Remembrance is a time when they would look back at their history and see their forefather’s victories over huge threats.  This might have got the religious leaders blood going and they wanted to have history repeat itself by getting rid of their biggest threat, Jesus.  In order to do so they needed to get some things strait, they needed more information.  They cornered him in the temple and asked him, how long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.
The thing is with Jesus is that he can see into our hearts, he knows our souls; therefore he knew why they were asking him what they did.  One of the commentaries I read restated the question as this, Jesus, do fit into our criteria of what the messiah looks like?  When they asked this they were demanding that Jesus answer them on their terms.  They wanted the Son of God to tell them a yes or no answer if he was the Messiah.  Since Jesus saw into their hearts though he knew the reason why they were asking was not a yes or no answer, it was much more complicated than that.  Jesus always gives the answers that the people really need, which may not be what they were looking for.  The main point we need to know is that the religious leaders were trying to push Jesus into a box.  We do this a lot with God.  We expect God to be the God we want and desire. 
I have stumbled on a blog called Letters from Leavers.  This site is dedicated to the rants of people who are fed up with the church.  They are so tired of God, ministers, and church people in their lives that they want to leave organized religion all together.  As I have read through some of these posts I am convinced that many of these people suffer from the same thing that these religious leaders did, trying to fit God into their own little box they created. 
Listen to one of these letters.  I have had enough.  I am leaving for good this time.  I have always grown up in the church, going to Sunday School, and attending worship.  Recently I went through a tragedy and neither God nor the church was there for me.  I prayed to God but God did not answer.  I reached out for help and all I got was a cold shoulder.  I am fed up with this so called God.  I always thought God was there to protect you.  God is there make sure bad things don’t happen to the people that believe in him.  That was not the case though and so I am out.  God is dead to me.  And then the letter goes on to rant about the church and the people in it.
Is it God’s fault that bad things were happening to this person?  No, we live in a fallen world and Jesus never made the promise that nothing bad would ever happen to us, that is a huge misconception about God. 
This person and so many more on this site all seem to be asking Jesus questions like, are you the God that will do things my way?  Are you the God who will shed riches upon me if I follow you?  Are you the God who will let nothing wrong ever happen to me again?  When Jesus hears these questions his answer is, Am I the Christ YOU are expecting, definitely not.
But why not?  Why cannot God be the God that we design?  The easiest answer is because we are not the designer, we are the designed, we are the created, we are the children who cannot create the Father.  Add on top of that, that we are humans, fallen creatures who have a limited ability to fathom the awesomeness of God. God is the only one who can tell us what God is like and he does in the second half of this text.
In this part we receive wave after wave after wave of grace from our Lord and Savior.  It shows us that although the Pharisees expected one thing out of Jesus, Jesus offers them grace, care, and love for his sheep.  Once again in the tenth chapter of John we get a picture of Jesus as a Shepherd and we are his lambs.  This is a common theme in John’s gospel and throughout the Bible.  That is the picture we receive from God.  Jesus, or God, is a shepherd and we are his sheep.
What do you picture when you think of sheep.  For me I get the picture of the only place that I have seen a ton of sheep, England.  As Alycia and I lived over in England for a year we saw a lot of sheep in a lot of different areas.  The town we lived in was right next to the Moors, a barren and unlivable place for humans, but a great place for sheep to roam free.  As we would drive around these moors we would always have to be on the lookout for sheep in the road. With all the grass that is in the moors, some very intelligent sheep would find the grass nearest to the fast moving machines known as cars to be the tastiest.  Inevitably we would see that one of these fast moving machines would collide with one of this not so intelligent creatures and the loser would always be the sheep.
It got me thinking about this image of sheep and shepherd that we get so much of in the Bible.  I looked at this dead sheep on the road and I would think to myself, I don’t know if I want to be God’s sheep.  I know like a sheep I will be sheared tonight but I hope I don’t smell as bad as they do.  I hope I have a little more intelligence, no much but a little bit more than they do.  I hope that I don’t just follow God because I don’t know any better.  All of a sudden this analogy was not working for in my 21st century mind.  The truth is it might not work in many of your minds too because of your experience with these animals.
As I looked back on this analogy I came to a realization.  I am doing it again.  I am making it about me.  
I am making it about us, instead of making it about God and learning something about God within this illustration.  What do we learn about God as the shepherd instead of us as sheep.  Verse 27 says, My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.  In the text it states that Jesus is the kind of shepherd that knows each one of his sheep.  He loves his sheep so much that he gets to know them personally.  God is a God that is personal and wants to have that personal relationship with you.  It also states that if we are Jesus’ sheep then we know his voice.  We know when Jesus is calling us.  That tells us that Jesus is talking to us.  This means that our shepherd is active in our lives and cares so much about us, that he wants to talk to us, call out to us.
What is it though that the shepherd offers his sheep?  Eternal life.  Verse 28 states I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.  Jesus is the type of shepherd that offers such an amazing gift to his followers.  He is so loving, so generous that he wants his sheep to be with him forever. He offers us a gift that no one else can give us.  He gives us eternity, a piece of eternity that no one can take away.  We worship one loving God.
Can you see the waves of grace now?  Can you see the loving care, compassion, and joy that Christ offers to his sheep? Even though the idea of being a smelly creature like sheep may be a little outdated, we can understand the care that Jesus offers.  We can understand a little bit better who our shepherd is.  In this text God is telling us who God is and I don’t know about you all but I like what I see.
God is telling his followers that we do not have to worry about eternity.  We can loss the fear of the future.  All we have to do is follow the shepherd.  If we do then we will have eternal life. The thing is though many of us don’t truly believe that in our hearts.  We have been tricked before in life.  We know that people fail to live up their promises. We have been hurt, lied to, and our hearts have been ripped out and stomped on.  What makes us trust God then?
We can trust God because God has never let us down.  God promised to never flood the world again and sends the rainbows to remind us of that, and God has lived up to that promise.  God promised that when the time was right he would makes things right again between us and him.  He would send his Son to die our death in order that we may have eternal life.  Jesus came to defeat death by rising again on the third day.  We are in the Easter season, a time when we joyfully proclaim that God did exactly what God said he would do.  God has always lived up to his promises.  There has never, in this history of the world, been a time when God has messed up or failed to do what was promised.
This must mean that if verse 30 is true.  If Jesus and the Father are one, if they and the Holy Spirit make up the 3 in 1 God that we worship and they have never failed in the past, then we can rest assured that they will never fail in the future.  All of God’s energy, strength and love was put into the sacrifice that was made on the cross. God did not fail and God never fails us.  This means that the promise of an eternal life with God must be true.  This means that the Good Shepherd never leaves our side and is always with us through our life. 
We see this in the 23rd Psalm, the second most memorized section of the Bible.  Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will not fear, for you are with me.  Your rod and your staff, your shepherd’s crook they comfort me.  God’s grace keeps washing over us.
It is alright to ask God questions, that is how we understand who God is.  Asking God to be our image of God will always create a God who fails in some way.  This means that we need to have God tell us who God is. Once we do so we need to rest assured that God will live up to his promises.  Jesus, in this text promises to give his sheep eternal life.  No matter who tries to take that away from us they cannot because it is God’s grace to give out not ours.  It is our job to accept that grace.  It is our job to hear that voice of hope and love; that voice of salvation and simply say thank you.  Then live a life knowing that Jesus is there with us all along the way. Live knowing that you are wrapped up in the hands of God no matter what happens.  That is the voice that calls to each of us. That is God we worship here today. 
AMEN

Luke 1:39-45 – Sermon – Leaping for Joy

Luke 1:39-45
Leaping for Joy
12-23-12

Theodore Baker translated the lyrics from a 15th century carol.  His German to English translation is just what we sung. 
 
“Lo, how a Rose e’er blooming from tender stem hath sprung!
Of Jesse’s lineage coming, as men of old have sung.
It came, a floweret bright, amid the cold of winter,
When half spent was the night.

Isaiah ’twas foretold it, the Rose I have in mind;
With Mary we behold it, the virgin mother kind.
To show God’s love aright, she bore to men a Savior,
When half spent was the night.

Sure this is not as Christmasy as you may have liked on this Fourth Sunday of Advent and maybe Holy Night was more of what you were hoping for this Sunday.  But it isn’t Christmas yet.  Tomorrow night we will celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ and then for 12 days we keep celebrating it.  Next week in worship we will walk through the Old Testament and New Testament texts to hear of the promise of the Messiah and then the Messiah’s arrival.  We will listen to 9 scripture lessons and we will sing 9 Christmas Carols.  All the good ones.

But not today, today we are still in preparation mode.  We are making that last ditch effort to ready ourselves, ready our souls, ready our hearts for the gift that comes on Christmas morn, or as they hymn put it, “when half spent was the night.”  So instead of ringing Christmas fully in this Sunday, we get this simple and nice text about two relatives coming together celebrating the fact that they are both pregnant.

 

I am sure, since they were family, they had discussions in the past about Elizabeth not being able to conceive.  As the women would gather at any family function, talk would happen and although Mary was still young and not married she would be invited into those conversations because soon she would be.  Mary probably understood the pain and disappointment that Elizabeth, a preacher’s wife, couldn’t conceive children.  In every synagogue all the members simply wanted to see Elizabeth pregnant as much as possible.  A pregnant preacher’s wife is like catnip to church ladies.  I am sure the rumors of why she couldn’t were being placed back upon Zachariah.  But now they had been visited by angels and Zack still had his doubts.  So the Angel Gabriel strikes him mute until their baby is born.  Can you imagine that parsonage; a mute rabbi and a pregnant rabbi’s wife expecting their first child in their older years.

Meanwhile in Nazareth, the Lord’s angel also appears to a virgin named Mary who was engaged to a man named Joseph.  She was probably just a teenager when the angel came and told her that God had picked her to bear his Son.  It was in her womb that the Christ Child, the God-man, would be born.  She is taking this all in, trying to understand her, when the angel tells her that her Elizabeth is pregnant as well.  After the angel leaves Mary runs off to the mountains to spend time with Elizabeth and make sense of all that is happening.

Growing up with three sisters there is only one thing that comes to mind when two pregnant women of the same family get together for the first time.  I have seen it happen with my own eyes.  I have seen it when sorority sisters see each other for the first time in a while.  Or best friends who have been gone forever come back to see each other.  They all use that high pitched scream they used to have anytime they saw a picture of teen heartthrob.  It starts off a normal human pitch, but still loud, and eventually it moves into a noise that only dogs can hear.  Somehow that is all I can think of when Mary shows up at Elizabeth’s house, both pregnant, both visited by angels, both told of the great thing their sons will do for this world.  All I can picture is…AHHHHHH, OHHH MY YAHWEH!!!!!!  Yes this is the small gift here on Christmas Adam, a sorority sister yell.

As they meet for the first time the baby inside Elizabeth gives a wallop of a kick.  Even John the Baptist in utero understands the wonderful thing that is happening in this moment.  The one who is to pave the way is in one belly, while the one who is to come, is still an embryo in the other.  The holy moment of confirmation of God’s plan to save the world was understood by all of those involved.

When Alycia was pregnant with Dean two of our friends were also pregnant and due the same time.  All three of their due dates were only days apart.  So they would chat on the phone here and there and compare where they were in the process of baking a human.  They would compare doctor check-ups, progress reports, different pains and cravings.  They would talk about the inability to sleep, swelling in places that never were swollen.  The list would go on and on.  I say this as the husband and the father of the soon-to-be born.  As a man I don’t understand what it is like to hold life inside me.  I thought, after a bad burrito, I was close, but I was soon told differently.  My ears would go deaf to some of those things that Alycia and her pregnant friends would discuss but I could not relate.  But all three of them could because they were going through the same thing at the same time.

Mary and Elizabeth get together and they have three months of this shared experience.  Mary can see into her future and prepare for what life will be like at 9 months pregnant.  The scripture says that when she came to visit Elizabeth was six months pregnant and Mary visited for three months.  She left in the final weeks before birth.  I wonder if she did because that is how pregnant she would be when she would be wandering the streets of Bethlehem looking for a place to give birth to her son?  Mary gained first hand experience on what was awaiting her and it was a vital connection she probably needed.

Someone once asked me what to expect when you have children.  I told them that what they should do is write down what their life looks like now on a piece of paper.  Write down what you and your spouse love to do and what your favorite hobbies are.  Write down the moments of joy you have in life to.  Then get in your car and drive down a highway you can get up to at least 70 miles an hour on.  Then when you are cruising at 70 miles an hour, take that piece of paper and ball it up and chuck it out the window.  That is what is like when you have a baby.  It changes absolutely everything but what is so amazing is that you never truly want that piece of paper back because what you have now is so much better.

I am sure there were moments with all of you who were expecting your first child that you needed to get ready for it.  I am sure they are different for everyone, both mothers and fathers.  What moment was it for you?  Was it when the nursery was finally all painted and all the furniture was in?  Was it when you had to child proof your house and you realized it would take you a second or two to get into any drawer or toilet in your house?  Was it when you had to install that car seat for the first time and you wondered what deranged person invented such a horribly complicated device? 

I think we witness Mary’s moment right here in the scripture.  Elizabeth is so happy to see Mary and so elated about how her baby jumps when she comes that she says this to Mary, “With a loud voice she blurted out, “God has blessed you above all women, and he has blessed the child you carry.  Why do I have this honor, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?  As soon as I heard your greeting, the baby in my womb jumped for joy.  Happy is she who believed that the Lord would fulfill the promises he made to her.”  I love the last part of that verse, “Happy is she who believed that the Lord would fulfill the promises he made to her.” 

With this Mary breaks out into song, which is referred to as the Magnificat.  This song of praise starts with Mary, moves up to God’s people, then the rest of the world and then to God.  It is a song of praise and thanks giving that seems just to erupt from Mary’s soul.  The honor, the joy, the hope, the peace, the love that will be coming from her body, her baby, is overwhelming.  Here is what she says;

Mary said,

“With all my heart I glorify the Lord!
47     In the depths of who I am I rejoice in God my savior.
48 He has looked with favor on the low status of his servant.
    Look! From now on, everyone will consider me highly favored
49         because the mighty one has done great things for me.
Holy is his name.
50     He shows mercy to everyone,
        from one generation to the next,
        who honors him as God.
51 He has shown strength with his arm.
    He has scattered those with arrogant thoughts and proud inclinations.
52     He has pulled the powerful down from their thrones
        and lifted up the lowly.
53 He has filled the hungry with good things
    and sent the rich away empty-handed.
54 He has come to the aid of his servant Israel,
        remembering his mercy,
55     just as he promised to our ancestors,
        to Abraham and to Abraham’s descendants forever.”

We don’t know much about the rest of their pregnancies.  This is the only peek we get into the both Mary and Elizabeth’s baking process.   For the other six months they are isolated from connection for all we know, but for these three months they spend it with each other.  This is their big connection to community, to ready themselves for what is to come.

Why are you here this morning?  Why did you feel that today, the fourth Sunday of Advent, the first Sunday of winter, was a good day to come to church?  Are you here because you were hoping to get a sense of Christmas?  Are you here because of the darkness that invades your life this time of year and you needed some light?  Are you here because this time of year you desperately seek some sort of connection to make sense of it all?  What brings you here this morning?

My hope is this is not the last time we will worship together before Christmas morning.  I truly hope you will come to one of the Christmas Eve services in order for us to truly celebrate the birth of Christ.  It isn’t Christmas yet, but it is right there.  We can almost feel the birth pains starting.  The baby’s kicks are getting harder and we can tell there isn’t much room in the womb.  God’s promise will be fulfilled.

Elizabeth tells Mary, “Happy is she who believed that the Lord would fulfill the promises he made to her.”  God’s promise will be fulfilled.  This Christmas seems darker than others.  Maybe it is just me, maybe it is just darker in my own eyes.  All I know is I cannot wait to see the light. 

Our final hymn today is another Christmas Carol but it is still dark and somber.  In the Bleak Midwinter was written by Christina Rossetti as a Christmas poem for an American magazine in 1872.  She imagined the Nativity in a snowy Northern landscape and what it would have been like if Christ came into the world she knew.  In the early 1900s it was put to the familiar music that we know it by.  I love this carol but what I love is that in the somber tune, the quiet melody there is a hope and joy.  It feels distant.  It still feels far off but it is there.  Listen to the words of the second verse,

Our God, heaven cannot hold him
Nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away
When he comes to reign:
In the bleak mid-winter
A stable-place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty
Jesus Christ.

The light is coming and tomorrow night we will welcome him.  But today, this morning we celebrate the fact that we are happy because we believe that Lord will fulfill his promise.  God will live up to what God says.  Light will come to eradicate the darkness.  This is why we gather together on this fourth Sunday of Advent, on this last day of preparation.  We come to ready ourselves, remind ourselves, in the midst of this community we love that we will find the hope, peace, joy and love in the babe in Mary’s womb.

And all God’s people said.  Amen.

 

John 6:51-58 – The Bread of Life Part III – Sermon

John 6:51-58
The Bread of Life Part III
08-19-12
A friend of mine told me a story about how he was giving communion on Sunday and a little five year old boy came up to receive.  At five years old the kids in his church stay in the service and so this boy had just heard his first sermon on communion.  The minister could tell he was listening intently on the communion liturgy and his explanation of what was going to happen during communion.  At this church they did communion by coming to the prayer rail and then the minister would walk down and pass out a piece of bread to everyone.  Then he would walk down with one of those things that held a bunch of Jesus juice and everyone would take one and drink it.  As he went down the prayer rail with the bread everyone partook of it.  As he followed with the juice he got to the little boy, who looked up and said, “Preacher, I ain’t drank blood yet and I ain’t starting today!”
As the church was just being started there were rumors about it that it was a cult of cannibals.  Now we may find that shocking but you can see why in the scripture today and when we do communion.  “This is my body broken for you.  This is my blood shed for you.”  When we come to the Lord’s Table we feast on his body and blood.  In the scripture today Jesus says, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.”  This is in the Bible, not a Twilight book.  You can tell why some people were hesitant about this whole Christianity thing if they had to eat a body and drink blood.
This railed up the crowd there listening to Jesus.  “Then the Jews debated among themselves, asking, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”  But this doesn’t stop Jesus, he continues as he says later, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in them.”  So as we eat his flesh and blood then he dwells in us?  To an outsider this may sound just like a new summer horror movie plot.  The way it sounds is that we will be possessed if we eat Jesus’ flesh and blood.  I have seen less gory things on a Quentin Tarantino movies.  Yet this is still Jesus Christ saying these things…so what does it mean?
If we remember last week we learned that in John’s gospel the author loved to use metaphors.  Seven times Jesus says “I am…” something in order to give us a metaphorical look at who the Son of God truly is.  He continues the metaphor, “I am the bread of life,” in today’s passage and uses the eating and drinking analogy to discuss the sacrifice he will do later in his life.  When we partake in communion we take the bread and say this is the body of Christ broken for you.  We take the cup and we say this is the blood of Christ shed for you.  There are other denominations that state that in this act of Holy Communion the bread and wine turn into the actual body and blood of Jesus Christ.  There are others who say that this is only a symbol of Christ’s sacrifice and is not the actual body and blood.  We United Methodists do what we do best and that is we hold down the middle of the road.  We throw down the mystery card and say we don’t understand how the Holy Spirit does what he does, but that in the act of communion it is both a symbol and actual body and blood of Jesus Christ.
So Jesus is using this metaphor of the Bread of Life to give us a better understanding of who he is.  He is trying to tell this crowd that keeps following him and wanting to know more about him that he will give the world salvation through his body and blood.  If we want to receive this salvation, this gift of eternal life we have to understand the sacrifice he will be going through.  “Jesus said to them, “I assure you, unless you eat the flesh of the Human One and drink his blood, you have no life in you.  Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.”  This salvific act that Jesus is doing is the bringing about transformation within us.  When we truly understand and accept what Jesus has done, by giving of himself for our sake and for our salvation, transformation happens within us.  The bread of life enables us to live this life as those who go on to live in the next.
Peter Reinhart, in his 2008 TED Talk [which I will post on our new Facebook Page this week for you to watch] says that bread is transformational food.  Bread actually goes through four major transformations.  Pop quiz, what are the three basic ingredients in bread? [flour, water, and yeast]  The very first transformation that happens in the bread making process is where the ingredients come from.  Flour is what happens to grains as you grind them up.  But how do you get the seeds from the wheat to then grind up to make flour, which is one of the basics in a ton of the food we eat.  Just ask anyone who cannot eat gluten and you will find out how much flour is in everything we consume.  But how do we get there.
I did what any 21st century preacher does these days, I surfed the internet and I found this video clip showing how to harvest the seeds from the wheat.  Just to warn you the sound is not that great but the information is.  
I know the sound was a little bad but this is probably a lot like how those in Jesus’ day harvested wheat.  There are three basic steps to get from the wheat in the field to the grains ready to grind.  First you harvest it or to put it another way you kill it.  You cut down the wheat that has ripened and is ready.  We constantly forget that most of our food was alive at some point but then when we picked it or harvested it, it died.  In the process to get flour it has to happen.
Anyway, then they take the heads of the wheat and place them in a pillowcase.  I am not sure if this is how they did it in Biblical times but it still works.  They beat it with a shoe or as the video had on it, “wack it” with a shoe.  What this does is seperates the seeds from the husks, shafts, and hulls.  It frees them up.  Then the final part is the winnowing.  To tell you the truth I have said that word many of times in preaching because it is used all the time with what John the Baptist talks about and in some of the other parables.  Until I watched this video I really didn’t understand it.  Winnowing, in this case using two buckets and the wind provided by nature, separated everything out so that the seeds were the only thing in the bucket.  Then these seeds would be ground up and turned into flour, which then we add to water and yeast and we have dough.
The first major transition in the bread process is the death of the wheat.  It was alive in the fields and then it is dead on our counter tops.  The second transformation is when you add all these ingredients together.  You take the flour and the water and  you mix those together.  That is called a clay.  Do you know the Hebrew word for clay?  Adam.  Then you add a leaven to it.  Leaven means to bring to life.  In the case of bread we add yeast, a live bacteria.  Soon this dead clay now has life.  This is the second transformation, life is added.  As we witness those three ingredients come together and then rise we are watching life happen.  Remember that Peter called bread, “yeast burps and sweat and starch guts.”  This yeast eats and releases gas and continues to rise.  Now stage 9 of the steps in making bread is what?  Proofing.  It is in this stage that we wait for the dough to show us it is truly alive.  The second major transition is life.  What was dead is now alive.
Then we put this alive dough into the oven.  Then Peter Reinhart says we reach TDP, which stands for Thermal Death Point.  This is the temperature at which all organisms of a culture will be killed by heat either instantaneously or within an arbitrary brief finite period.  (This is really turning into a gruesome sermon)  But this is the temperature, after 140 degrees Fahrenheit that the dough dies and turns into bread.  This is the third transformation.  We have gone from alive in wheat, to dead in flour, to alive in dough to dead in bread.  Until that TDP the dough is really uneatable.  I am sure there are some people out there that enjoy eating raw dough but it isn’t like the goodness of cookie dough, it really is tasteless and bland.  But after that TDP, that Thermal Death Point, after the dough dies, the taste is brought out.  It is something that is great to eat.
So there are the three of the four transformations.  Alive to dead – we get the flour; Dead to alive – we get the dough; Alive to dead we get the bread, but what about the fourth?  Where is that fourth transformation happen?  In happens within us.  When we eat bread, when we eat the yeast that has given itself up to die for the sake of making dough into bread, we are the final transformation.  What is dead provides life again, our life.  Bread is referred to as the staff of life.  It is the first product that was domesticated.  Every culture has some sort of bread in its history.  When we think of simple, basic foods, we think bread.  It is bread, dead dough, that gives us, humanity life.
I am sure you can see the symbolism here.  Jesus is introduces himself as “The Bread of Life.”  In order to give us life means he will have to be put to death.  But death was simply for Jesus a transformation.  Without death there would be no resurrection.  What was alive in a human form was Jesus Christ who then was placed upon a cross and died.  He truly and simply died.  But then he was alive again. 
Of course the people there that day did not understand what he was talking about.  Many of us here today read parts of the Bible like this and walk away scratching our head.  Remember metaphors are not supposed to be easy to understand or something that is clear cut but simply a way of understanding or a way of knowing.  Jesus said, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven.  Whoever eats this bread will live forever, and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”  Since we stand on the other side of the first Easter, we understand what he is talking about but do we truly know it for sure?
That final transformation still needs to happen within us.  When it comes to being a follower of Christ we have to understand that what was Alive was then dead but then alive again.  Unlike bread, Christ is alive and promises to allow us to be alive forever too.  His death and resurrection makes life possible for us.  It is that sacrifice, that gift, that grace that transforms who we are and who we grow to be. 
Are you hungry for the bread of life?  Are you hungry to grow in that transformation?  Then let us get to know this person, this savior named Jesus Christ.  Let us sink our teeth into the creator who took Adam, simple clay, and created life.  Let us fill ourselves up on the gift God gives called the Holy Spirit and allow us to live as transformed people.  Let us rise like dough and face the world alive and full on the bread of life.
And all God’s people said…Amen.

John 6:35; 41-51 – Sermon – The Bread of Life Part II

John 6:35; 41-51
The Bread of Life Part II
08-12-12
There are a total of 7 “I am” sayings in the Gospel of John.  Seven times Jesus describes himself.  Those statements are…
I am the light of the world
I am the gate
I am the good shepherd
I am the resurrection and the life
I am the way, the truth, and the life
I am the true vine
I am the bread of life
All of these seven sayings are metaphors which are very common in John’s gospel.  A metaphor is a figure of speed in which a term or phrase is applied to something to which it is not literally applicable in order to suggest a resemblance.[1]  For example you probably have heard this metaphors before.  “She is drowning in a sea of love.”  Does this mean there is a woman drowning, which means she is breathing in liquid, somewhere out there?  Does that mean there is a liquid called love that he is breathing in?  No, the metaphor points to the fact that this woman is so caught up in love that it is consuming her. 
Here is another, this one is a little more poetic and comes from the works of William Shakespeare. 
All the world’s stage,
And all the men and women merely players; 
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. 
This is simply a commentary on life and a way to describe it.  Life is like a play (which is actually a simile and not a metaphor but I hope you get the picture. 
In John’s gospel there are tons of metaphors.  Jesus uses them all the time to describe who he is.  John uses this to give us a rich understanding and picture of God’s son but also it can make Jesus hard to figure out and understand.  “I am the gate; if anyone enters through Me, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture.” [2]  So we get this image that Jesus is a gate we go through to find pasture.  That gives us insight but only if you understanding what it means to find pasture.  If you don’t know what that means that can leave you wondering.  During my first sermon here I talked a lot about myself.  I told you who I was and I used phrases like, I am a father of two kids.  I am a husband for ten years.  Those were direct sayings that allowed you to get to know me.  But I didn’t say things like “I am the good shepherd,” or “I am the chief.”  I absolutely would not do what Jesus does in this text and say “feed on me.”  But that is what he does when he looks at those people around him and says, “I am the bread of life.”
So what was it like to make bread this week?  I heard a lot of you were intrigued by it.  Connie emailed me about this idea to have the bread maker going during the service to fill up our nostrils with warm baking bread.  Ahh, it smells so good!  How many of you were thinking about what Jesus says about him being bread?  As you went through the steps of baking and put your hands into the warm dough filled with active yeast, did you think of Jesus saying “I am the bread of life?”  As you took the flour, water and yeast and added the time, temperature and ingredients to it, did you think about the one who sustains us for eternity?
Bishop Will Willimon says, “Christianity is not a spiritual religion; it is an incarnational religion. It believes that God has a body, God takes up space, God will not remain ethereal and vague. This Gospel (John’s) opens with the declaration, “The Word became flesh and dwelt amount us.””[3]  John’s gospel reminds us that God takes up space in our lives.  He isn’t just an idea, a figure we dreamed up in our minds to compensate for our weakness, but has breathed our air, knows how it is to feel, and wants to take up room in our hearts.
Dietrich Bonheoffer was a theologian in Germany during World War II and was killed in a prison camp because he stepped out on faith and spoke out against Hitler’s regime.  He puts it this way, “The body of Christ takes up space.  That is, the body of Christ makes footprints.  A truth, a doctrine, or a religion needs no space for themselves.  They are disembodied amputees – that is all – but the incarnate Christ needs not only ears or a heart, but living people who will follow him.”[4]  Christ looks at the people around him, who were searching for him and he said, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven.  Whoever eats this bread will live forever, and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”  He looks at them and says, “feed on me.”  “Take, eat, this is my body given for you.”
The people who ate the five loaves and two fish were hungry for more of this Jesus so they searched for them.  We come here today hungry to know the God who is in our midst and at times interrupts our lives as he tries to wedge himself into and find room in our hearts.  The Christian faith is not just an idea or a doctrine, it is an encounter with something, with someone, with the three-in-one God who here in our presence today.  
This is the problem with God, he won’t let us go.  He has all the right too.  If God decided to take humanity to court for a legal separation, we wouldn’t have a foot to stand on.  We constantly disobey, disown, and think we are the creators instead of the created.  Yet there God is, still trying to win us over.  I know countess stories of people who have been below rock bottom only to find Jesus there.  They are suffering depression, alcoholism, addiction, pain beyond belief and life is simply an act of suffering.  Maybe you can relate to that.  When they are so far down that they don’t feel worthy of anything, there Christ is offering a hand out and ready to pour grace into their thirsty souls.  There God is ready to walk right into their hearts and give them the life of the world bread they are truly hungry for.  Jesus is always right there, even when we are truly beyond hungry and are starving for forgiveness and grace, or meaning and belonging.
Let’s face it, as I preached last week I, like you, did not realize that one of our seats would be permanently empty.  Mildred’s death is a shock to us all.  I did not want to end my first month as your minister walking through what we have been through last week.  There is still plenty of mourning to go and pain to get through.  I did not want to show up today and act like that event is in our rearview mirror.  It is still raw, it is still fresh.  Part of me was glad that one of her last acts on earth was feasting on the bread of life.  It was in a moment of communion with God that she slipped from this world to the next.  And where has God been in all of this?  Where has the Holy Spirit been active?  Right here in your lives, in my life, in the lives of everyone who came to the viewing and all who mourn.  Jesus never leaves us and is constantly offering us the bread of life to live on.
From February 1 to March 2, 2003 Morgan Spurlock ate nothing but McDonald’s.  He filmed the dramatic effects it had on his body and psyche.  You can see this in the documentary film, Super Size Me.  During that month he visited McDonald’s three times a day and ate everything on the menu at least once.  During this month he gained 24.5 pounds and an increase in his body mass of 13%.  His cholesterol level jumped to 230 and he experienced other physical difficulties.  We laugh at this a little but the truth is that for that month he consumed the bread of death.  He filled himself up with things that were bad for him. 
It is easy for us to connect those dots.  Too much McDonald’s is bad for you.  Yet how can we look at our lives and be blind to the fact that we are feasting on just as bad metaphorical foods?  How many of us are in a relationship that we shouldn’t be in because it is physically harmful to our bodies or to our children?  How many of us suffer from smaller addictions that we cannot break and if we were truly honest with ourselves hold a little tougher grip on our lives than we like to admit?  How many of us find it too easy to slip into bad habits that we know are not good for us?  How many of us are so in debt that cringe every time we open the mailbox or answer the phone?  Are we filling our lives up with the bread of death?  Maybe I’m not talking about you but I guarantee you know someone who fits those description.
On the altar today we see stacks of homemade bread.  Our senses are on overload as we see and smell the wonders of bread.  We had to move some things off the altar to make room for this feast of the eyes.  Peter Reinhart says that “bread is a transformational food.”  I hope you saw that as you worked through the stages of baking; through the degassing, the mixing, the forming, and the baking.  Ingredients that don’t look like anything come together and make something.  What was lifeless then had life.
The same is true with the bread of life.  Those who are truly hungry are able to go through that transformation.   In the verses today Jesus says, “Your ancestors ate manna in the wilderness and they died.  This is the bread that comes down from heaven so that whoever eats from it will never die.”  What use to send us to the grave is now going to send us to life.  Jesus, becoming the bread of life, and then giving up his life for the world is the cornerstone of this transformation.  This sacrificial act secured eternal life for us all and now he freely offers it to the all of us.  But I don’t want to jump ahead too much.  We will get to more of that next week but we need to realizes that the transformation that Christ offers is unlike anything else in this world. 
Peter Reinhart was on a mission to figure out how to bring out the best flavor in wheat bread.  He was attempting to create something that is good for us and taste great.  He said it is hard to take the healthiest part of wheat, the bran which is filled with germ and fiber, and turn it into something with lots of flavor.  The white part of wheat which is what makes white bread is easy.  It is purely starch with is really just sugar.  Sugar tastes great in all its forms.  That is why Wonder Bread is so wonderful.  But to get to the good stuff that our bodies need, that takes special skills, and an artists touch. 
This world has a lot to offer us.  We can see a lot of white bread around in our world.  Materialism, greed, ego, politics, celebrity, and power all taste great.  They are easy to partake in and understand why so many people like it.  Yet that is not what sustains.  The bread of life is what does much more than the rest of the world.  Jesus looks at our world and he says, “I am the bread of life.”  He is what we need to sustain ourselves for eternity.  He is looking for those places in our lives where he can set up shop and intrude.  He is looking for where he can intrude in order to wake us up to what he is offering.  He is standing right next to us waiting on us to finally admit that we cannot do it on our own and will be happy to take over our lives if we only give him a chance.  The bread of life offers us real true life-giving nourishment, if we only eat.
Metaphors can be hard to understand.  They don’t just come out and say it.  We have to learn about the topic the metaphor points to better understand how it points out the reality it is suppose to.  As you baked this week do you understand what Jesus means when he says “I am the bread of life?”  As you cut off a slice later on today and put butter or jelly on it, will you understand how the bread of life feeds us what we truly need in this world?   Jesus says “I am the living bread that came down from heaven.  Whoever eats this bread will live forever.”  We need that bread, Lord give us this bread always.
And all God’s people said, Amen.


[2]John 10:9
[3]Pulpit Resource, Vol. 37, No. 3, Year B, July, August, September 2009, William Willimon, p.27
[4]Ibid

John 6:24-35 – Sermon – The Bread of Life Part I

John 6:24-35
The Bread of Life Part I
08-05-12
The basics of bread are easy.  Flour (the ground up seeds of wheat) plus water plus a yeast.  This makes up the basics of any bread recipe.  No matter what type you are trying to create it has to have these three ingredients; flour, water, and yeast.  Some sort of bread has been around for thousands upon thousands of years, some say about 30,000 years.  It has been a staple in life for the last 10,000 years.  Wheat and barley were one of the first plants domesticated and planted as a source of food and revenue in Asia and Europe.  Bread was a vital part of any civilization and that is true today.
Today there is a movement of artisan breads that are more readily available.  These are the fancy breads that we see in the bakery section of the grocery stores or at the bakery.  These can get really fancy with different crusts and flavors inside.  Now instead of just regular bread you can go to a restaurant and see that the sandwich comes on ciabatta or focaccia bread.  There is a new awakening for the types of bread that we use in our everyday lives.  Growing up I remember when Subway had either white or wheat and now that have five or six breads to choose from.  But no matter what type it is at its core it is still basically flour, water and yeast.
I have attempted to make types of bread before.  I went through a stage of experimenting with homemade pizza dough but I never really made a real loaf of bread.  As you can read in the newsletter article there are twelve basic steps in making bread.  I didn’t really realize this and I have learned this week that each one is crucial to the outcome of a good bread.  Each step has to be followed and the artisan part, or the art of baking, comes out during these steps.  It is how someone uses the time involved, the temperature of the oven and the ingredients to determine what the bread looks and tastes like.
Peter Reinhart is on staff at Johnson and Wales at the Charlotte campus and is world renouned for his baking.  He did a talk a couple years ago about bread and transformation.  I found this talk incredibly insightful and so you will hear a lot about it over the next coupe of weeks.  Remember that name though because I will be mentioning it a lot.  Peter informed me that there are the twelve steps and all of them are vital and important in the baking process.  Let’s walk through those twelve steps this morning to bring everyone on the same page.  You can also find these steps in the newsletter article as a reference as we go along.
1.      Scaling – or as the French call it Mis en Place.  This is the weighing and measuring out the ingredients.  Too much of something can through the whole recipe off.
2.      Mixing – this is the process of adding those ingredients together at specific times and at specific temperatures.  As I experimented with pizza dough different recipes had water and yeast at different temperatures and they all came out different.
3.      Fermentation – this is when the yeast starts to work.  Yeast is a living organism that turns sugars into ethanol and carbon dioxide.  During this part of the process the yeast starts to teat the enzymes in the flour and turns them into flavor.  As Peter Reinhart says all bread really is yeast burps and sweat and start guts.  Yummy!  Without this process though you would have flat, flavorless bread.
4.      Folding – during this part of the process you are degassing the dough.  You are breaking up that CO2 that the yeast is creating and making room for the yeast to continue to work.
5.      Dividing – this is simply splitting the dough into workable amounts to yield however many loafs the recipe calls for.
6.      Rounding/Pre-shaping – putting the dough into the desired shape.
7.      Benching – this is letting the dough sit a while and relax again. 
8.      Makeup/Panning – This is simply putting into the pan that will bake the bread
9.      Proofing – during this step the yeast is proving the yeast is alive and healthy.  This is the final rise of the dough
10.  Baking – you are cooking the bread in an oven
11.  Cooling – letting it rest and cool in order not to burn ourselves
12.  Storing – this is when they package it up or eat it up like I prefer.
These twelve steps will yield bread; the substance truly is part of our daily lives and has been for almost forever.  These are the same steps that were around 100 years ago and even over 5,000 years ago.  The process has not really changed over time although the artisan part has here and there.  But that is how we get bread.
Bread is the stuff that last week Jesus used to feed 5000 people.  He took the five loaves of bread the youth had on him and he fed all those people and had twelve baskets of leftovers with.  It was that miracle that set the stage for this sermon series.  As we go through the rest of John 6th chapter we learn how people reacted to being fed in that miraculous manner.  Here is what happened.  After feeding the 5000, if you remember, Jesus was nervous because the people wanted to make him their king.  In order to escape that he went up onto a mountain alone.  While he was up there, the disciples headed off on a boat headed to Capernaum.  As they were traveling the waters started to get rough and the wind drove them out onto the lake about three or four miles.  Then they saw Jesus walking out to them on the water.  After the disciples panicked a little Jesus got on the boat and they were at Capernaum.
We pick up the story this week with the crowd.  While the disciples and Jesus were heading the Capernaum the crowd was waiting for Jesus to come down of the mountain.  In the morning they knew that only one boat had left with the disciples on it and that Jesus wasn’t with them.  No one saw Jesus come down off the mountain and walk across the water.  They were wondering where Jesus went and so they hopped into some boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus.  When they get there they find him and they are really confused.  What they really want to know how Jesus gave them the slip and got over here.  There was only one boat missing and he wasn’t on it but now he is here…?
Jesus answers them in verse 26, “I assure you that you are looking for me not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate all the food you wanted.  Don’t work for the food that doesn’t last but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Human One will give you.  God the Father has confirmed him as his agent to give life.”  Jesus knows that they are not searching for him because he gave them the slip but because they are hungry for more.  They are hungry to learn more about the one who fed them that miraculous meal. 
In a commentary I read this week Benjamin Sparks wrote about Rice Christians from 19thcentury China.  This is what he said, “There was a name in nineteenth-century China (and perhaps all over Asia) for persons who came to church because they were hungry for material food.  They converted, were baptized, joined the church, and remained active members as long as their physical needs were met through the generosity of the congregation.  But once their prospects improved and they and their families no longer needed rice, they drifted away from the church. Hence missionaries called them ‘rice Christians.’”[1]
This happens all the time even in the modern church.  I know people who go to certain churches because their kids get a discount at the church’s school.  Or they become members in order to get a lower rate on the wedding they are planning.  We all know people who come to church for what the church can give to them and then when they don’t get that anymore they leave.  Jesus sees a little of that in the people who followed him to Capernaum.  They wanted more of that fresh miraculous bread but Jesus knows that stuff will fad eventually. After a while that bread will taste just the same as everything else.  What they need, what their souls are truly hungry for is the “food that endures for eternal life.”
After they hear this they want to know how they can get that type of soul food and Jesus tells them all they have to do is “believe in him who God sent.”  They come back with a follow up question, “What miraculous sign will you do, that we can see and believe you?  What will you do?  Our ancestors ate manna in the wilderness, just as it is written, He gave them bread from heaven to eat.”  I wonder if these types of questions grated on Jesus’ nerves?  They get under my skin from time to time.  This question that the people ask just proves that they are only in this quest for Jesus for themselves.  They had just witnessed two miracles, Jesus feed the 5000 and then mysteriously getting to Capernaum without a boat and now they are demanding a third.  Plus they are using scripture to attempt to get Jesus to do what they want.
We do this all the time.  We have an idea about how God is supposed to act and so we attempt to force God to do it that way.  We constantly demand signs to answer our questions or as another hoop that God has to jump through for our obedience to happen.  When we do this we are simply being “rice Christians.” 
Yet what Jesus is offering us today is the Bread of Life.  He is offering us food today that is richer than anything at the most expensive restaurants in Uptown Charlotte.  He is offering us something that is everlasting.  What Jesus is offering us is the chance to be transformed by the Bread of Life.  If we believe in Jesus then we will never go hungry and never be thirsty.  This is metaphorical here.  There are places in the Bible that you cannot take absolutely literally.  We will need real and physical food and water to live life.  But what we are truly hungry for, meaning, purpose, acceptance, belonging, love, grace, forgiveness, peace, is all found in the Bread of Life. 
It is amazing that all this bread is (holding up the loaf of communion bread) is flour, water, and yeast.  The people who created used the same process, the same steps as we walked through earlier.  Over those steps raw materials are transformed into something that almost miraculous.  Time, temperature and ingredients came together to create what we will partake in today, the physical bread we will feast on.  God, the artisan of life, used time, temperature and ingredients to send his Son to be the sacrifice needed to save humanity.  That process is also being felt in our lives too.  Maybe the timing is just right for you to start your transformation?  Maybe you are realizing that God’s miraculous ways are present in your life and you want to continue to the process of being made whole?  Maybe life has turned up the heat in your life and it seems a little overwhelming?  Maybe the right ingredients are not present in your life and you need to go all the way back to step one again and rescale your life, reprioritize your life again?
The good news is that Jesus offers us a way to do just that.  The meal that we are about to partake in is a means of Grace where we can physically met, connect, and be transformed by the Almighty Baker.  We come today to the table and partake of one loaf because we who are many are one in the body of Christ.  Jesus said, “I am the bread of life.  Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”  Let us ready ourselves and then come forward to be fed by the Bread of Life.
And all God’s people said…Amen.


[1] Proper 13, Pastoral Perspective in Feasting on the Word. O. Benjamin Sparks, P.308.

John 6:1-15 – Sermon – Abundance

John 6:1-15
Abundance
07-29-12
I am slowly, SLOWLY getting use to this 9:00am worship hour.  It is definitely a change.  More for Alycia who has to wrangle two kids and get them here by herself by 9.  We will get used to it and week three was a little easier than the past two.  I was talking with a friend of mine who wants to come here me preach but lives about an hour and half away.  I told him that worship is at 9:00 and he requested we change it to 11 for the week he and his family were coming.  I told him no.
I realize there are some pros and cons about this worship time slot.  Some of the pros are the fact that I will never miss a Panther’s game.  I’ll be home in plenty of time and heck, I could even make a game when we are done at 11:00.  I will never have to wait in line at a restaurant after church.  I still have plenty of time in the day to do whatever I want.  One of the cons is I will have to figure out some different sermon illustrations than what I could use if we worshiped at 11:00. 
For example, how many of you are hungry?  If this was 11:30 instead of 9:30 I be the number would be almost doubled.  Plus, there are some awesome snacks down in the fellowship hall as a nice buffer between breakfast and lunch.  Hunger is a fickle thing.  It is something we all experience at one time or another.  We all know what hunger is because we all have had it.  But there are people in this world who know real hunger because they haven’t eaten in days.  The backpack ministry we donate too here is great because there are kids in our community that will go home on Friday and not have a good meal until they come back to school on Monday.  But we all get hungry.  It is cycle of life.  We use up all the nutrition in our last meal and our bodies start to remind us that we need to eat.  We need to put some fuel into our stomachs.
We all have different ways we react to that feeling.  For me, when I am hungry I start to get irritable.  My head might start to ache a little and my fuse gets really short.  But after I have put some food in my belly, I’m better.  I wonder what the crowd was acting like that had come to see Jesus.  They had seen the miraculous signs that Jesus had done with the sick and they wanted to know more about him.  They flocked to him because of they started to learn something about this guy named Jesus and what he could do.  They wanted to know more.  So they came in huge numbers.  We come here today hungry for Jesus too.  We hunger for that connection, that grace, that love, that forgiveness that only Jesus can offer.  Are you hungry this morning? 
There are four gospels in our Bible, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.  Matthew, Mark and Luke are known as the synoptic gospels.  They seem to share similar sources and although they take different perspectives they follow each other in their story telling.  John seems to stand out on his own and looks at the story of Jesus a little differently.  You can come out from reading these four gospels with the same message but the story is told differently in each.  One difference is found in the telling of this story.  In the synoptic gospels the disciples look to Jesus and ask how they are going to feed the 5000 people sitting there.  Here in John’s gospel Jesus asks the disciples, “Where will we buy food to feed these people?”  John tells us that Jesus asked this question to test the disciples and he already knew what he was going to do.
In John’s gospel there is no doubt that Jesus is divine.  Jesus is God’s Son and John does everything in his power to demonstrate that.  In other gospels you can see a more human side of Jesus, but not in John.  In this story we see that Jesus is aware of the needs of the people and knows how to deal with them.  But instead of doing it himself he wants to involve the disciples.  He looks at Philip and poses the question, “Where are we going to buy enough food to feed these people?”  Philip opens the calculator app on his smart phone and does some quick math.  “Roughly five thousand people give or take.  Multiply that about $5 per extra value meal at the Kosher Deli and you get $25,000.  Jesus, you will need about half a year’s salary to buy enough food to feed all of these people!  And that is just a value meal, which will not fill everyone up!”
Then Andrew comes up and says “A youth here has five barley loaves and two fish.  But what good is that for a crowd like this?”  That is all Jesus needs.  He found his gap and he is ready to burst through.  I have more in common with Philip then I care to admit.  As a planner I like to calculate everything.  Alycia makes fun of me because she will ask me  question and if it is number related, out comes the calculator and I find out the answer.  Alycia is rolling her eyes the whole time.  I like the easy answers and sure things.  I try to think about every option and what is the most feasible.  I love to find what is the most reasonable way to handle a situation.  I don’t like to fail, although I have a lot, and so if things aren’t going to go well, then I may not think about doing it.  Yet Jesus isn’t interested in the safe answer or the sure thing.  Jesus could care less about what is reasonable. 
So where does that leave us this morning?  I love preaching this story because of what it represents.  This demonstrates for us the idea of abundance.  When God gives he gives abundantly.  Jesus say in John’s 10th chapter, “I have come that they may have life, and may have it more abundantly.”  Jesus brings to us more than we can ever imagine.  What he offers is more than we actually need. 
When we think of abundance what is the first thing that comes to mind?  The amount of French fries you get at Five Guys? The amount of cars on 74?  The amount of political ads on TV now, no wait that will become worse as we get towards November.  When we think of abundance we also think of stuff.  Those people on Hoarders have an abundance of ‘stuff’.  How many cats do you have to own until you have an abundance of cats?  This story is really all about God’s abundance.
After Jesus receives the five loaves and two fish from the youth what does he do?  Notice it wasn’t an adult that stood up and said, “here Jesus can you use this?”  No it was a youth.  The adults were probably hoarding all their snacks to make sure they had enough for themselves.  That would be the reasonable thing to do right?  Jesus is holding the five loaves and two fish and he tells the disciples “Have the people sit down.”  The verse goes on to say, “There was plenty of grass there.”  The first sign of abundance was the grass.  There was enough room in this field for everyone to have a seat.  How much grass has to be available for 5000 people to sit down on?  I don’t know if you could fit 5000 people on our lawn out there?  We probably have just under 100 people here this morning and so think about 50 times more people like us.  That is a lot of space yet there was enough room. 
I think this shows that Jesus has enough room for all of us.  There is enough space in his heart, in his grace, for all of us to be there.  I know there are people who feel they can’t come to church because they won’t be accepted or they say “the church doesn’t want people like me.”  Yet in Jesus’ eyes and at this spontaneous meal he makes sure everyone has a place to sit down.
All 5000 people sit down and then Jesus gives thanks for the bread and fish.  Then he passes it out to everyone.  I love what it says next, “each getting as much as they wanted.”  Jesus didn’t just pass out enough to fulfill everyone’s needs.  No everyone got what they wanted.  One fish sandwich may be enough for some, but some may have wanted a second.  Jesus’ didn’t hold back, he gave them what they wanted.  All 5000 people ate until they were full on those five loaves and two fish.  They didn’t get just enough to take away their hunger headaches but they ate until their bellies hurt, until they had ‘plenty’ to eat.  Not just enough but plenty.
You know what plenty feels like don’t you?  You have had plenty to eat when you can’t suck in your belly any more.  You try but for some reason that 2 pound burrito you ate is sticking out and over your belt.  Plenty is that third plate of Thanksgiving that you probably shouldn’t have had.  But there is the abundance again.  Jesus doesn’t give us what we need but offers us even more.  His love and his grace is more than we can ever desire or want.  In Psalm 23 it states, “my cup runneth over.”  Everyone in that crowd that day felt taken care of, loved, and full.
Then after everyone was full the disciples picked up 12 baskets of leftovers.  12 baskets!  It isn’t just a couple of pieces of bread but it was tons more than what was originally offered.  Even then there was an abundance of leftovers.  Can you imagine if you were the youth who offered up the 5 loaves and two fish and then after dinner the disciples walked back up to you with the12 baskets to take home?  How would you explain that to your parents.  “Yeah, mom, I know you sent me out on my trip to hear that Jesus guy with two fish and five loaves of bread.  I decided to give it to him and then he let me bring all these baskets back home!  NO I didn’t steal them, it was a miracle and Jesus made my bread and fish multiply to feed everyone there and these are the leftovers!”
There are some people who like to claim that what really happened was that when they saw that the youth had given up his food, they dove into their own pockets and shared what they had brought.  I can see how this might happen.  If you get enough mom’s together you could probably cook a holiday feast with the amount of goldfish crackers, gummies, and other snacks they have in their purses.  But what this does is really take away from the miracle here.  That idea says that if we shame people enough then miracles can happen, but I don’t see that here.  I see a miracle.
There is a story about a man who was caught in a flood. As the flood waters were rising, a man was on the stoop of his house and another man in a row boat came by. The man in the row boat told the man on the stoop to get in and he’d save him. The man on the stoop said, no, he had faith in God and would wait for God to save him. The flood waters kept rising and the man had to go to the second floor of his house. A man in a motor boat came by and told the man in the house to get in because he had come to rescue him. The man in the house said no thank you. He had perfect faith in God and would wait for God to save him. The flood waters kept rising. Pretty soon they were up to the man’s roof and he got out on the roof. A helicopter then came by, lowered a rope and the pilot shouted down in the man in the house to climb up the rope because the helicopter had come to rescue him. The man in the house wouldn’t get in. He told the pilot that he had faith in God and would wait for God to rescue him. The flood waters kept rising and the man in the house drowned. When he got to heaven, he asked God where he went wrong. He told God that he had perfect faith in God, but God had let him drown.  “What more do you want from me?” asked God. “I sent you two boats and a helicopter.”[1]

How many times are we the man waiting as the flood rises?  How many times do we say, God will save me as we ask the boat to leave?  I know when I am struggling with faith or for answers to come for God I tend to get it in my head the way it supposed to be and I look for that instead of being open for God to work in God’s own way.  I tend to look for the most reasonable way to do something but then later I realize I may have denied God the ability to work and provide a miracle because I was too caught up in the fear of failure.  When we do this it seems that we are telling God we know better.  In one of the synoptic gospels during this story the disciples beg Jesus to let the people go but instead he lets them stay and eat.  The people going home would be reasonable but then a miracle could not happen. 
Are you hungry?  Did you come here today hoping to be fed by the Spirit?  Well welcome, there is plenty of room on the grass.  Come and have a seat.  Are we willing to let God work through you?  Are you willing to give God our five loaves and two fish and then get out of God’s way?  Give him what you have because he can turn it into enough to feed thousands.  Are you willing to eat plenty have so many leftovers that you have to share them with those you know are hungry?  Are you going to leave this place today so filled with grace that you flock to the next time we come together and you bring others with you because you have been fed by Christ?
My prayer for Indian Trail UMC is that we are hungry and we trust in God to feed us.  Because we if are willing to hand over our five loaves and two fish, if we are willing to eat plenty of what is offered, then I promise we will see a miracle of abundance.
And all God’s people said…Amen.

Luke 24:44-53 – Sermon – Great Joy

Luke 24:44-53
Great Joy
05-20-12
(Warning rough draft ahead)
Children’s moments are precarious situations.  You go in with a game plan, a direction, a goal in mind and you pray that you will eventually get there.  More times than not, something happens and the conversation gets derailed with a random statement or question.  But I do have to say my best Children’s moment came in 2005.  I know it was in that year because it was it happened with one of my sermons I had to do for ordination and it was caught on tape. 
The topic was about pride and bragging.  For the Children’s moment I was going to talk being filled with the right things.  I gave the illustration about being filled with hot air and as I talked about being filled with the wrong things I blew up a balloon.  It got bigger and bigger and the kids were a little giddy trying to figure out what would happen next.  I said something along the lines of, “if we fill ourselves up with the wrong things we cannot stay filled long.”  Then I let the balloon go.  It was suppose to simply fly around the sanctuary and come to rest somewhere.  What it did instead was fly strait up in a circular manner and when it was empty it came to rest in my hand that just let it go a couple of seconds ago.  All the kids looked at me in awe and I couldn’t do that again to save my life.
That balloon demonstrated the fact that whatever goes up must come down.  Gravity holds us here on earth so no matter how hard we try, as long as we are still on earth, we will always come down.  Whether you are a balloon filled with the hot air of a preacher, a kid trying to fly off their roof, a sky diver or even a rocket, if it stays on earth it will come down.
Today is Ascension Sunday and like I explained to the kids this morning this is the day that Jesus ascended into heaven.  To ascend is to head skyward, to move or climb or rise in an upward motion.  After Jesus was resurrected he continued to join the disciples every so often and help them along the way.  He visited them on a beach after a bad night fishing.  He visited them in an upper room a couple of times.  But in this last visit with them, he gathers his disciples close and gives them his final directions before he leaves earth for his heavenly realm.  Then he takes them as far as Bethany and blesses them.  While he is blessing them he is taken up to heaven.
This is an interesting concept for our modern minds.  We actually know what is up there.  If you keep going up and up and up you will reach space.  Once you hit space you can travel in any direction for trillions of light years and still be hitting ‘stuff’.  So where is heaven in all that?  We always look up when we talk about heaven but that is because we grew up thinking that heaven is up and hell is down.  That kind of language is still in our vernacular too.  I like how a person put in it one of the commentaries I read they week.  Thomas Troeger said, “but I also think of the persistence of up-ness.  The direction ‘up’ may have left our cosmology, but it has never left our souls.  Stand up for justice.  Look up in hope.  Pull yourself up.  I am feeling up today.  Look up at the stars.  The sun is Up.  Reach Up. Up you go, up in the sky so blue.  There is some resilience in the heart, some spring in the soul, some reaching beyond and above that will not dies, that will not go away, that keeps calling to us, that beckons us beyond ourselves and in doing so gives us strength to live faithfully here and now.”  When we think about where Jesus is now, where it goes against what science and our telescopes have taught us, we constantly look up.
This is Christ’s final act on earth; he departs from it while blessing the disciples.  I like that because he doesn’t stop blessing and then leave.  There isn’t a final close up shot on Jesus who says some powerful last phrase and then ascends to heaven.  The blessing continues all the way until he disappears from their site.  Like following a balloon that was let go into the sky, the disciples stood there basking in the glow of Jesus’ glory and blessing as he ascended.  Then it was over and Jesus was gone.
This was a moment of transitional leadership.  For three years Jesus had walked with these disciples, told them what to do, taught them, prayed for and with them and now his time on earth was over.  It was up to them to do God’s work.  This had to be a stressful time for the disciples or soon to be apostles.  Their leader is now gone and the responsibility has been placed solely on their shoulders.  Their task is to transform the world and share the love of God with everyone they meet.  Their true work was just beginning.
Jesus didn’t tell them to stand there with looking up waiting for him to return.  There are those in this world that think that is exactly what it means to be a Christian today.  They constantly look up to heaven and await the second coming.  I constantly pass a church sign that had the phrase “Prepare for heaven in 2011.”  I thought it was a nice rhyme and I waited to see what they would do after the new year.  Now it reads, “Prepare for heaven in 2012.”  Not as great of a tone.  But there are people, churches, and even denomination that concentrate on the getting to heaven part of our faith.  There is a time and place for that but reading today’s scripture I don’t see it as the focus our faith.  How can we think that when some of Jesus’ last words are “This is what is written: the Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and a change of heart and life for the forgiveness of sins must be preached in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” 
With those words he doesn’t tell them to stand watch until his return and do nothing.  He is telling them that they must go out and preach the Good News to ALL nations.  That is a ton of work that is ahead of them.  I wonder what they weight of that new reality felt like on their souls as Jesus ascended.  Were they worried?  Perplexed?  Dumbfounded?  Gobsmacked?  Where they overwhelmed with this responsibility?
We did a passion play one year when I was in youth.  I played a Roman soldier and Alycia was one of the Mary’s following Jesus to the cross.  At the end of the production the person playing Jesus got into a cherry picker and ascended to the ceiling.  At the very end as the music hit the crescendo, a button was pushed and up Jesus went with white cloths covering the cherry picker’s support.  It was pretty breathtaking but it was also funny a little bit later.  The stage where this performance happened was did not have a curtain because it was the place we worshiped every week.  So after about five minutes you heard the cherry picker make some noise and down came Jesus from the ceiling.  You remember, whatever goes up, must come down.
In Jesus’ final monologue with the disciples he tells them that he will not leave them stranded.  He says, “I’m sending to you what my Father promised, but you are to stay in the city until you have been furnished with heavenly power.”  He is sending something back down.  Something with heavenly power to help them with their job of transforming the world.  That something will come next week at the day of Pentecost.  The day the Holy Spirit comes down to dwell in this place.  The same Holy Spirit that is here right now in our midst.  When Jesus goes up the Holy Spirit comes down.
Jesus goes up [point up] and the Holy Spirit is sent down [point down]…but for what?  The work that has to be done on this earth is what Jesus had been preparing them for.  The work of telling to world about God’s love and the joy that can happen when we follow God.  But to whom does that news go to?  Remember Jesus tells at the end of Matthew’s gospel when he talks about the least of these in our world; the hungry, the lost, the broken, the blind and…and…well…us.  The disciples were to go out to ALL Nations, every single one of them.  That is why we are here today because the news traveled half way around the world.  It went form the heart of the Middle East to the belt buckle of the Bible Belt in the New World.  It came to a place called Thomasville and to the people who made up a church called Trinity.  That news, that wonderful news of what God has done in this world and what can happen in your own life if you decided to follow him came here because of what comes down. 
Jesus goes up [point up] and the Holy Spirit is sent down [point down] in order that we go out that way [point left] and that way [point right].  Jesus goes up [point up] and the Holy Spirit is sent down [point down] in order that we go out that way [point left] and that way [point right].  [Do the motion again but a little quicker to demonstrate the sign of the cross]  This is our purpose as a church and as followers of Jesus Christ.  It is the blessing that has been laid upon our shoulders and one we need to carry.
Luke doesn’t end the story right there though.  He goes on a little further and adds verses 52 and 53.  He could have ended with Jesus ascending up but he ends volume 1 of his story by saying these words, “They worshipped him and returned to Jerusalem overwhelmed with joy.  And they were continuously in the temple praising God.”  They heard their task.  They felt God’s blessing on their lives and they were filled with the need to worship and were overwhelmed with joy.
When is the last time you were overwhelmed with joy by the grace of God?  When is the last time you felt the Holy Spirit knock you over that all you could do was smile.  Last Sunday as we welcomed in six confirmands and I had the privilege of baptizing two of them and then they helped distribute the communion elements…I don’t know about you but that was pretty powerful.  Maybe for you it was during a time of prayer, a time of reflection or a time of personal devotion.  Maybe you were moved by a random act of kindness or when you helped someone in need.
Another moment when I was struck by God’s grace was at this year’s cross walk.  This is an annual event on Good Friday here in Thomasville when people walk from Memorial UMC through downtown and to Brown New Calvary Baptist off of Doak Street.  During this walk people have the chance to carry the cross just as Jesus did.  I was moved this year because of a lady in a wheel chair.  I thought is was great for her to go on this walk with us but then when I saw this I was deeply moved.  [picture]  Here you can see her carrying the cross.  In the midst of her brokenness she connected with Jesus who was deeply broken when he carried the cross.  This is a moment I will remember always because look how powerful of an image.  It didn’t feel me with dread or worry.  It filled me with overwhelming joy, great joy.
It is moments like that which enable us to go out and serve God like we should.  It is the blessings that we receive when we are doing God’s work that enable us keep going.  It is when we are actively doing God’s work, teaching children in Sunday School, leading Youth on a retreat or mission trip, leading an adult Sunday School class or small group, or going out and helping the least of these in this world that we are knocked over by God’s spirit and filled with overwhelming joy.  It is this joy that drives us back to this place of worship to celebrate those moments and continue to be fed by the God we worship and serve.
Today we recognize and remember the blessing in which Jesus gave the disciples as he ascended to heaven.  It is the blessing of the one to come who will give us what we need to transform the world.  Jesus goes up [point up] and the Holy Spirit is sent down [point down] in order that we go out that way [point left] and that way [point right].
And all God’s people said. 

John 20:29-31 – Sermon – Scars

Image from Art and the Bible

John 20:19-31
Scars
04-15-12
I have some cool scar stories and some lame ones.  Under my chin I have a scar from falling off my bike and having my chin be the first to thing to hit the road.  I had one some on my knees from similar stories and incidents.  There is a faint scar on my thumb when I sliced it open with a pocket knife the night before we left for England.  I had a choice to either go to the emergency room and get a stitch or two or suck it up and hope it heals as we flew overseas.  Then there are the lame stories.  I have this coolest looking scar on my hand but I got it in youth group playing football and the guy trying to intercept the ball had long fingernails and sliced me.  Then there is the one on my forehead.  Alycia gave that one to me…well some stories shouldn’t be told from the pulpit.  Just kidding but it is a lame story for another time.
You cannot go through life without some sort of scaring.  There are the scars we get on the outside but there are also those that no one can see that tear up our insides, our emotions, our spiritual lives.  It is how we deal with those scars that tells us a lot about who we are and whose we are.
I want to introduce you to someone.  Her name is Claire Wimbush.  I’ll let her tell you more about herself. 
I love the theology Claire uses here.  Or to say it another way, I love the imagery Claire uses to talk about God.  “God became a particular body in history, in Jesus Christ.”  We forget that God, when he chose to be born into human flesh was limited to a human body.  Yes there were times when the divine power took over and he could do things that we mere humans cannot but he was still in that human form.  At the resurrection and after he still had the scars of his crucifixion on him.  To quote Claire again, “And God, who can make oceans, and elephants with ears the size of table cloths, and blue butterflies and all the wonderful things we see around us could surely find the power to close those wounds and to resurrect the Son of God in a perfectly whole body.  So the fact that God did not choose to do that tells me something mysterious about how God wishes to be in the world.  God never chooses to be with us except to be with us in our brokenness.”
That is powerful coming from a person with spastic cerebral palsy, a person who has known no life except one fill with imperfections when it comes to her body.  But we all have that don’t we.  In our society we have this grand idea of perfection.  We look at magazine covers, movie actors, sports stars and we attempt to hold ourselves up to that ideal and that image.  Yet is that what God is calling us too?
Usually in the story of Doubting Thomas we concentrate on Thomas.  We look very hard at the one who doubted because of all those who have doubted in the past or continue to doubt the resurrection of Jesus.  It is a great soap box for us preachers to stand up on the Sunday after Easter.  But what I found interesting is looking it from Jesus’ perspective.  In this story what does Jesus use to prove his resurrection?  He uses his scars.  He uses the holes in his hands and the slice in his side to prove to Thomas that it is really him.
The painting shown on the screen is called Doubting Thomas or as it is known Thomas Putting His Finger on Christ’s Wound.  The painting is done by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio [car-a-vahj-o].  This painting was done around 1602-1603 and what makes Caravaggio unique is his use of light and darkness.  It almost makes the image look 3D.  I love this painting for many reasons.  One reason is how real it looks.  His ability has a painter is amazing and the position of all the characters in the painting almost invites you to bend in for a closer look.  I love how you can see the little flap of skin resting on Thomas’ finger and I have always wondered when Thomas did this in real life if it tickled.  The other reason is a little more recent discovery.  When I was looking at this painting again something struck my eyes for the first time.  We see one of Jesus’ hands holding back his robe, exposing his wound.  What is his other hand doing though?  It is on the wrist of Thomas guiding it into his wound. 
When I saw that I was amazed because of what it tells us about the character of God.  He is okay with our doubt.  He is okay with us questioning him.  He will caringly and gracefully carry us through the process of making sense of it all and coming to a place of belief.  In this painting Jesus is in control and like a father allowing their little child to poke around and explore his face while sitting on his lap, Jesus is allow the disciples to soak up as much hands-on experience as they need to belief in the resurrection.
Let’s hear a little bit more from Claire.
Wow.  What a person of God.  What a child of God Claire is.  Many of us would be holding a grudge against God for the hand that we were dealt if we were in Claire’s shoes.  Some of us are mad at God for the life we have or the situations we have gone through.  But is it worse than Claire’s?  I look around and I see able body people.  I see people who are dealing with life, some more than others, but you all can wash your hair.  You can get dressed by yourself.  Life, when compared to someone who has spastic cerebral palsy, is quiet good. 
I am not diminishing your wounds or your scars.  But I think Claire gives us a great perspective this morning.  Here is one quote from her, “As a culture we have fallen into the trap of allowing imperfections to be deeply stigmatizing.  We believe imperfections only diminish us, if we have [a life altering disease, cancer, if we are over weight, if we don’t move like we use to or if we aren’t the ideal we always hoped to be than] we are somehow less than we should be.”  When we do this though do you understand what we are doing to God?  We are telling God that he got it wrong.  When our DNA cocktail was mixed up and he implanted talents, gifts, and feelings into our soul, that somehow God didn’t know what he was doing.  What it comes down to is we are unhappy with who we are.
I wonder if Jesus is unhappy with the marks on his body?  When we meet him and we see the scars in his hands and feet, the flap of skin on his side, they flogging scars on his back, will he hide himself from us, ashamed of his past?  I don’t think so.  I think he will give us permission for us to take it in so we can find belief in what he had done.  I think he wears those scars as badges of honor and ways to show how God’s glory, God’s grace, and God’s love for us was carried out in this world.  I think he will look at us and say, “Put your finger here.  Look at my hands.  Put your hand into my side.  No more disbelief.  Believe!”
The good news is we can do that to.  Claire’s message and her theology about her life will always be stuck in my head.  She has shown us her wounds, her scars, her imperfections and by doing so has shown us the glory of God.  She said that we strive to this image of perfection that is glossy, shiny, and pretty but that is false.  There is truly only one perfect person in this world.  He died a little over a week ago and last Sunday came back to life.  He was resurrected from the dead and boldly shows us his scars in order for us to believe. 
Our job as followers of this perfect person is to hold ourselves up to his standards, not the worlds.  He looked at each one of us as we were being formed in our mother’s womb and he knew us.  He knows what you are going through and the little and big imperfections we have to deal with.  Instead of being ashamed and stigmatized by them, maybe we should use them as a way to point to the glory of God instead.
Claire said that her job is to reminder her congregation where they are going and when they get lost to remind them to “learn to become so aware of yourself and so aware of what God is doing in your life and in the life of the community around you, that everything you do shows forth the glory of God, even the imperfections.”  So may you look at your imperfections, your wounds and your scars with new eyes.  See them not how the world sees them but see them through the eyes of the Risen Christ, as proof of what he has done for us and does through us in order for others to believe.  That will bring glory to the Risen God we worship everyday!
And all God’s people said…Amen.

Mark 16:1-8 – Easter – Sermon – The Beginning

Mark 16:1-8
The Beginning
04-08-12
We like good endings.  We enjoy it when a movie or the book ends and everything is wrapped up in a nice little bow.  The boy gets the girl, or the girl gets revenge, or the family is reunited, or the lost are found, or the kids make it through okay.   We leave the theater or turn off the TV or close the book and we think, that was nice.  It was a full story with a beginning, a middle and an end.  There are some stories out there that don’t really end well.  If you remember the TV series ALF, about a lovable alien that lives with the Tanner family.  In last frame of the series finale ALF is finally captured by the Alien Task Force.  Kids cried for days after watching the lovable puppet being caught by the evil authorities, which have been wanting to catch him and torture him for years.  Then you had the weird ending for Little House on the Prairie when they decide to blow up the whole town after a railroad tycoon buys the land out from under everyone.  It didn’t seem to fit the feel of the nice, wholesome show, as the audience watched each family take turns blowing their houses up to only splinters.  It is hard to wrap things up nicely.
But we should know by now that the Bible isn’t interested in wrapping things up nicely.  The classic story of Jonah ends with God’s open ended question about the Ninevites and Jonah mad as a wet hornet sitting under a withered bush.  In Jesus’ parables we don’t know what happened to the Good Samaritan or the Prodigal Son.  There is no Disney ending in those stories.  Even in other events we never really learn what happens like in Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus.  All we know is he came in the dark of night and they had a conversation.  How this encounter ends is Jesus talking and then that is it. 
The author of Mark’s gospel had the same problem.  Depending on your Bible there is usually some type of headings in between the 8th and 9th verses of Mark’s 16th chapter.   The headings usually say something like, “The Shorter Ending of Mark” and “The Longer Ending of Mark.”  It looks like in the original manuscript the Gospel simply ends with the verse, “Overcome with terror and dread, they fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.”  People speculate that readers didn’t like that ending so they later added a shorter one and a longer one which ties everything up in a nice neater bow.
But to stop with the Marys leaving the empty tomb scared, that doesn’t make much sense.  Do we really want to end the story of Jesus life on earth with words like terror, dread, and afraid?  There isn’t a marketing firm out there that would think that is a good idea.  It would be like a shoe company changing its slogan to “$100 shoes made for $.12 an hour.”  The fact that sweatshops have been used to create what we wear on our feet is not what we want to think of when we purchase something.  We want a rosier picture, something warm and fuzzy to hold on to.  We don’t want a picture of two women leaving the empty tomb in terror and dread who then go away and say nothing.  We like John’s story better when Jesus appears to Mary in the garden and gives her comfort and peace.  That is a better ending to the story.
There is this gut wrenching feeling that all people get when it comes to death.  After a long struggle with watching a loved one die; after the days of waiting by their side wondering if that breath will be there last; after the countless nights of no sleep and the inability to eat; death finally comes.  There are the feelings of loss and mourning but there is also this nagging feeling of relief.  We don’t like to think about it but it is always there.  There is relief in death.  Yes they are not in pain anymore and their struggle is over but for those who stay behind there is relief that our care is done.  That chapter in our lives is over and now we can start the long journey of moving on.
Mary and Mary went to Jesus’ tomb to move on.  They were providing the last bit of devotion to the man they followed and loved.  As a last act of locality they were finding closure by doing what women did back then and taking care of the dead.  But instead of finding the body of Jesus they found a man in a white robe who says that the person they knew and believed was God’s son has been resurrected.  That feeling of relief and wanting to seek closure was gone.  Instead they are now filled with fear and dread.
In 2003 one of the hottest books was one called The Da Vinci Codeby Dan Brown.  There was a huge uproar because it states that Jesus was actually married to Mary Magdalene.  A secret order of the Catholic Church was in charge of keeping it a secret because Christianity would be turned on its head if the real truth came out.  All around the US churches had sermon series on the book, held Bible studies and book clubs to discuss if what Dan Brown wrote had any shred of truth in it.  I was in charge of a study on this book and as we gathered in a living room we discussed the relevance of this book with actual history and faith.  We discussed the other non-canonized gospels that were out there and how the Bible was actual created.  We then discussed other times in history when similar debates arose.  Then someone asked why people, like Dan Brown, find excitement in trying to prove the Bible and the Christian faith wrong.  The only answer I could muster up was exactly what the two Marys were feeling when they saw that stone rolled away, fear and dread.
What people fear and dread is the truth.  If the stone is rolled away and the man in the white robe is correct that Jesus as been raised….now what!  This means all those predictions Jesus talked about are true.  This means that Jesus IS God’s son.  This means he did raise up a new temple in three days after it was destroyed.  This means the resurrection is TRUE and that is a scary, terrify, and the dreadful reality some people don’t want to believe.  Sometimes it is better to think of any other option out there then to realize the truth in the resurrection.
While Mary and Mary stood at the entrance to the tomb and listened to the man in white explain what had happened what they thought was the end turned into the beginning.  That three year journey they took with the carpenter’s son from Nazareth was only the prelude to the story that was unfolding.  The stone that was rolled away was now placed on the shoulders of those who followed him as the responsibility to profess what had happened.  The weight of that responsibility was setting in to the women’s hearts as they left the tomb and the fear of that reality disabled their ability to profess the glory of the resurrection.
I think Alycia and I will never forget the day when we left the hospital with Dean and went home for the first time as a family of three.  It is a surreal feeling to go through the birth of your first child.  All that waiting is now over.  All the planning and prepping is behind you as you buckle up your little one in the car seat for the first time.  The hospital where Dean was born had a policy that when a new baby was leaving the hospital a person had to check the car seat to make sure they were strapped in correctly.  In a moment of fatherly pride, finally able to do SOMETHING, I strapped Dean in for the first time and showed the lady my work. She glanced down, checked to see it was tight enough but not too tight, and then looked at us and said congratulations and went back into the hospital.  That was it. 
We put Dean in the car and took a slow drive back home.  I had to do more to get my driver’s license then I did to take my first born home from the hospital.  There was no proof needed that I lived where I lived and could manage the raising of another human being.  There was no background check or guidelines to follow or proof of insurance needed.  After nine months of waiting, all those doctor visits, birthing classes, books, and nursery building, it all ended with a quick check of a seat belt and the kid was all ours.  The weight of that responsibility fell heavy on our shoulders.  The ride home was slow not only because of the precious cargo but because the weight was falling heavy on our shoulders and fear and dread filled our souls.
The truth is when the stone was rolled away it was our turn to pick up the mantel and the responsibility of doing God’s work was passed on.  The new covenant was made and pressure was on.  That is a lot to take in when it is not what you are expecting.  The fact is after forty days of waiting, after forty days of self-denial and preparation we come to worship today not to say that it is over but to profess it has begun, once again.
The youth watched Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ a couple of weeks ago and that is a very sobering movie to put into perspective what Christ went through Friday.  After Christ’s death in the final scene we see him get up, with the nail prints in his hands, and the movie fades to black. It is a nice ending to a bloody movie and that is where most people would like to stop.  Yet the truth, the reality of the resurrection is that is the only the beginning of our responsibility and duty as followers of the Risen Christ.
If we truly believe that Christ is Risen (He has Risen Indeed); If we feel that truth in our hearts and are willing to be transformed by the reality that Christ is Risen (He has Risen Indeed); If we are willing to turn our lives over in dedication, in our commitment to follow his will for our lives then brothers and sisters in Christ it is only beginning.
May you come this Easter morning to an empty tomb and leave feelings of fear and dread.  Because to do so means that you have accepted the truth that Christ is Risen (He has Risen Indeed).  Feel the weight of that responsibility on your soul this morning because that means you understand and you believe.  There is no shame in fear.  There is no betrayal in letting reality soak in before you act.  The Marys left the tomb and did just that.  If they never told anyone then we wouldn’t be here.  Their inability to speak changed and the disciples learned of the resurrection soon enough.  They met him in Galilee and we meet him here in this place today. 
So how to I wrap up an Easter sermon?  How do I make it nice and neat with a pretty bow around everything?  How do we go from this place today?  Changed?  Affected?  Bored? Transformed?  Fearful?  Ready?  Here is the truth…Christ is Risen (He has Risen Indeed); Christ is Risen (He has Risen Indeed); CHRIST IS RISEN! (He has Risen Indeed)….