Reflections on a (Good) Friday Morning

I have a pretty set routine for Fridays.  I get up, make breakfast and say goodbye to my wife as she heads to work.  I take my daughter to school, then usually do the food shopping.  At some point I end up  finishing work that did not get done (even though Friday is my day off).  But today is different.  Today I spend more time focused on one thing.  Today is Good Friday, a day we remember Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross.

Some churches do not hold Good Friday services.  Some do, but many Christians do not attend.  And that is a shame.  Yes I know, its another day or night at the church after a special Palm Sunday service and possibly Maundy Thursday service (are we really that busy that we cannot spend one more hour in worship?). I know there are so many other things going on.  But is it right to go from the celebration of Palm Sunday to the celebration of Easter without going through Golgatha?  Let us stop for a moment and think about one thing…Jesus.cross with shadow

Good Friday is the most solemn day on the church calendar.  It is a day that we stop to consider His death for us.  It is not a day to celebrate, rather a day to remember.  It is a day to focus on His passion, His pain and His love.  It is important.

 

Today, even if you do not attend a service, please read one of the gospel accounts of the passion.  Please stop for a little time and consider what Jesus went through for you.  Please take a moment and give thanks for what God has done, is doing and will do for you.  And may your Good Friday be one of significant blessings.

To read the Gospel of John’s account of the passion, click here

 

 

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Reflections on a (Holy) Thursday Morning

My wife cut up some bread into cubes to take to her workplace.  There she will conduct two Maundy/Holy Thursday services.

I will go to the church building and prepare my service as well.  We’ve reset the sanctuary to look different, creating a special communion 1atmosphere, because tonight is a special service.

Well, tonight, Friday night and Sunday morning are all very special services that tell the most important story.

If you are not aware of the essential Christian story, it is told in three days – Maundy Thursday, the day in which Jesus gives us the mandate to love one another as He loves us, and the Lord’s Supper.  Good Friday, the day Jesus lays down His life for us and Easter Sunday, the day of Resurrection.  Three days that tell the story.

And you know what?  You don’t have to fully understand to take part.  You don’t have to understand exactly what happens to the bread and the wine when we take it.  You don’t have to understand why Jesus willingly sacrificed His life for us.  You don’t have to even fully understand the resurrection.  After all, there are many questions surrounding all these things – but that is what the journey of faith is about – exploring the questions of the intersection of God and ourselves.

So often Christianity gets a bad rap about what we stand against.  Maybe you shy away from church because you were shamed, or made to feel bad about yourself.  Maybe you just don’t like “organized religion”, or you are one of the many people I’ve encountered who just never quite understood what was going on.  Come tonight.  Be present with us as we explore the sacred mysteries of Communion.  Come Friday night and hear the story of Jesus going to the cross.  Then celebrate with us on Sunday morning as we shout out the oldest statement of faith in Christianity, “He is Risen!”

And if you don’t get it, that is fine.  At least come and start the journey.  After all, the journey is what it’s all about.

In like a lion and out like a lamb

In like a lion…

…out like a lamb

March has traditionally been described this way as the month starts off wintry and ends with spring.

Okay I know, as I write this on March 20th (the first day of spring), we are expecting ANOTHER winter storm filled with ice and snow.  Bear with me for a moment as this is not about March or the weather.  It’s about Jesus.

We began March with the gospel story of Jesus overturning the tables in the temple.  The lectionary text was John 2:13-25 where Jesus “made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables.”  Pretty lion like, isn’t it?

But look at how March will end.  Friday March 30th is Good Friday and the gospel text comes from John chapters 18 and 19 where Jesus, the Sacrificial Lamb, is crucified.  The gospel story ends “At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid. Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.”  Out like a lamb.

I’ve thought about this over the past few weeks as I’ve focused a lot on the authority of Jesus in my sermons.  His surprising actions in the temple often shock people (and certainly changes that phrase “what would Jesus do?).  But then again, for the people of Jesus’ day, his actions were certainly shocking.  I’m sure some loved his actions in the temple as it signaled Jesus’ change from “nice guy preacher” to Messianic Warrior about to overthrow the Roman occupation.

But that isn’t what Jesus did.  During that last week of his life, Jesus entered into Jerusalem as a King, cleansed the temple as a Prophet, wept over the city as a loving friend, washed his disciples’ feet as a servant, reimagined the Passover as a mystic and sacrificed his life for ours, as a savior.

In like a lion and out like a lamb.  And the world will never be the same.

 

 

 

The Loss to the Kingdom

26 people are dead.  26 people are gone, no longer able to do their part for God’s kingdom.  That is the first tragedy.  The second tragedy is that we will focus more on the never-ending one side versus another in the argument about gun control than on the loss of life.

This is insane.  And this is becoming far too common.

You see, I’m sick and tired of the same argument over and over.  I’m sick and tired of extremists on both sides trying to out shout each other.  I’m sick and tired of the hatred and the division.  Damn it, its time to stop all of this.

So if there is a way that we can agree on stopping the illegal purchase and use of weapons, can we work together and do it without shouting at each other?

If there is a way that we can increase the recognition and support for those suffering from mental illness without shouting at each other about our healthcare position can we do it?

Can we just work together and stop this insanity?

Twice in recent sermons I said the following:

Believe it or not, we can disagree on issues and remain in community.  We can disagree and continue to be in relationship.  We can remain together as the body of Christ even if we are on different sides of an issue. 

I want people who agree with this statement to do the following:  Pray.  Pray for the families of the dead.  Pray for the injured.  Pray for the emergency workers.  Pray for all affected But do not stop there.  Pray this as well:

Lord, how can we stop this insanity? What can we do to find a balance between the extremist factions regarding safety issues?  What can we do as united followers of Jesus Christ to end this violence in our communities?

I’m not looking for an argument.  I’m looking for reasonable people to put forth reasonable ideas to save lives; lives that are made in the image of God.

Lord, have mercy on us all.

 

 

Simple Acts

And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.  Matthew 10:42

Our church is hosting Science in the Summer this week.  It is an annual program that teaches kids some really great stuff.  One year was physics (simple machines) last year was DNA (they even extracted DNA samples from strawberries).  This year it is the science of sports.  And since it is blazing hot this week, we set out some water.

I believe the church should offer its building to organizations for the good of the hospitality

community.  We host AA, NA, Senior Citizen groups, an exercise group and a host of others. We even open the doors to the public during the Memorial Day Parade so people can use our rest rooms.

The church should be the center of a community, and simple acts like this create that environment.  Will we get tons of new people in worship through this?  No.  But that is not the reason we do it.  We do this because we are followers of Jesus, and He calls us to be hospitable and loving.  It’s as simple as that.  Yet when we love as we are called to love, these acts begin to add up.  And maybe, just maybe, someone who is in need of spiritual hope will remember that little church that offered a cup of water.

Grace and Peace,

Bill

If You Miss a Sunday, You Miss a Lot

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.  Hebrews 10:24-25

Here is the church.  Here is the steeple.  Open the doors.  Where are the people?here is the church

It is no secret that worship attendance is on the decline in our country.  And yes, I know it is the summer, with many people away for the weekend.  But it is an overarching situation every week.  People just don’t feel that they “get anything” out of worship.  Or they don’t like the music.  Or they don’t like the sermon.  Or they don’t like the pastor.  Or some other reason.

But one of the things we have lost sight of is God.  You see, worship is not about us.  It is about God.  The Westminster Catechism reminds us that the chief end of humanity is to glorify God and enjoy God forever.  Catch that?  Glorify God not us.  That is the purpose of worship.

Yet we do get something out of worship.  We can (when we allow it to happen) encounter God.  We can experience God’s healing.  And (and this is a very important part), we can be a part of God’s mission in the world.

Last Sunday was an incredible worship service.  We started with a mini-hymn sing which included some congregational favorites.  I preached on Luke 13:10-17, the story of a woman healed on the Sabbath.  Realizing how humans have made the Sabbath a “rule” instead of a gift of God’s grace, I tried to open up the idea of the importance of taking a break in life, and being present in worship to experience God’s grace directly.  I reminded the congregation that the woman was at the place she needed to be for healing (the synagogue during worship), and that Jesus was at the place he needed to be to heal the woman.  We, as followers of Jesus, need to be where God wants us so that we can either be healed, or be the healing presence for another.  So often our presence in worship helps someone else far more than we realize.  Any person might be the vehicle for God’s grace.  Any person might be the one God has chosen to guide another, to help another, to pray for another, to heal another, to love another.  But if you are that person and you are not present…

After the sermon, our youth group led us in some songs, then we prayed for the youth as they went on a Summer retreat.  This was followed with some intense prayers for the congregation, community, nation and the world.  Our prayer time is definitely growing – and everyone present is a part of those prayers.

Worship is important.  It is important to God and so it should be important to us.  Yes, we all need some time off, we need rest.  But Jesus calls us to rest in Him.  What better way to do this than worship?

Grace and Peace,

Bill

Why The Church Matters

There are a lot of questions asked by the churches today, especially “where are all the people?”  Church attendance has decreased across the majority of mainline denominations and even the non-denominational churches as well.  While asking hbpc“where did everybody go?” is a good question, it is not the most important one.

The pivotal question of the day in the church is this.  Why do we exist?  Why do we matter?  What would the community miss if we just closed?  Why church?  And recent news shows us the answer.

A mass shooting in Alexandria, Virginia

A mass shooting in San Francisco

Terrorist attacks in London

Terrorist attacks in Iran

Ongoing conflict in Syria

And I haven’t gotten started on the ongoing issues of world hunger (including here in the U.S.), homelessness and lack of clean water, not to mention the shootings that have occurred without the huge headlines.

Where does the church fit into this?

The church is the most unique institution on the planet.  We are not just another charitable institution or NGO.  We are not another social services agency.  We are not another club or organization to belong to.  We are the church, and the church is the most generous institution on the earth.  The church is the most forgiving institution on earth.  The church is the most transforming institution on earth.  The church is the most loving institution on earth.  Or we are called to be.

Yes we sometimes mess up.  Yes we sometimes put inward needs over the outreach of Jesus.  But we try.  We try to follow the teachings of Jesus.  And when we do – when we love our neighbor as ourselves, we:

Feed the hungry

Clothe the naked

Visit the imprisoned

Heal the sick

Forgive the sin

Love-Love-Love

We are the church.  It is our call to go out into all the world and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and to teach everything Jesus has commanded us to do.  And when we follow His commission, people change.  Even people inclined to use violence on others.

Rise up O Church of God – band together and love one another.  Love your neighbors.  Love the stranger.  Create places of peace and joy.  And let’s change the world.

Grace and Peace,

Bill