Listen for the Shepherd’s Voice

“Listen for the Shepherd’s Voice”

Jesus Mafa, from a Christian community in Cameroon, Africa. From Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library

Jesus Mafa, from a Christian community in Cameroon, Africa.
From Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library

John 10:14-16 – April 26, 2015

So many voices, sounds and cries, clamoring for our attention today! Noisy voices, going bash, bang! Clash, crash! Busy voices—hurry, scurry! Going round and round, almost spinning out of control! Angry voices, growling, scowling, mean and nasty. Making me want to run and hide myself away! All of these loud voices, and sounds, almost too much to handle.

Here in our Gospel reading today, Jesus talks about being the Good Shepherd. He is referring to us—that’s each one of us—as sheep. Rather unflattering, but in my opinion, pretty accurate.

Jesus portrays Himself as the Shepherd. The Good Shepherd, caring for His sheep.

Sheep can be fearful, not sure of what to do. Sheep can be stubborn and single-minded, going their own way. Sheep can even be gluttons, eating food that will make themselves sick unless they are steered away from certain kinds of plants in the pasture. But our Lord Jesus identifies Himself as our Shepherd. That’s a difficult job. Being Shepherd of so many, varied, and assorted kinds of sheep.

As someone who was born and bred in the city of Chicago, I do not know anything at all about sheep, or lambs, or ewes. However, I have learned a number of things since I’ve become an adult. I’ve gleaned information from books, and articles, and from people relating their experiences with sheep.

You might be aware that sheep are at the same time stubborn and timid.

Sheep aren’t good at many things. They are relatively dumb animals and can do little on their own. However—they are good at following—sometimes. As I have read on one of my favorite inductive bible study websites, sheep are also good at distinguishing sounds. They can recognize the familiar voice of their own shepherd. They often follow their own shepherd willingly enough, but won’t pay any attention to others who try to lead them—sometimes.

Even still, as our Good Shepherd, I suspect that Jesus has a difficult time in leading His widely varied multitude of sheep around the pasture. What with stubborn or confused ones wandering off into far-flung or seldom-traveled areas of the pasture, this huge flock must be hard to keep track of, and even harder to round up.

This particular morning, I want to focus on one particular verse: John 10:16. Our Lord Jesus mentions that He has lots of sheep. Other sheep, from outside of this little sheep pen. Lots of sheep, from all over the place. Even from all over the world! Jesus is not going to neglect those other sheep, either.

What are we, as sheep, going to do out on the hillside, when we are out in the great, big pasture with Jesus? This wide pasture can be a scary place. We might get lost from the Good Shepherd. Maybe there are dark places, rough spots on the hillside, where I as a sheep, or some of the other sheep, might wander off. Maybe, get in trouble, become sick, have an accident, or meet a predator.

Let’s consider the wider context. The wider world. Other voices can be just as loud as the welcoming, confident voice of our Good Shepherd. Instead, the craving, the desire for more, and never having enough. Just think how listening to that alluring, insidious, beckoning voice can destroy relationships within a family or a group of friends.

A second voice can be quite loud, drowning out the supportive voice of the Good Shepherd. Instead, the sneaking voice of suffering and despair, weakness and sorrow. The penetrating voice of bitter tears and clamor can distract and cause a great deal of dismay. That insistent voice doesn’t have to be loud, but is so often nagging, persistent, even heart-rending.

What can our Good Shepherd do, in those cases? I admit it. I am often a fearful, anxious sheep. I cry out, and say “help me!” or “save me!” And, “I’m scared!” or “I’m all alone!” Thank God that our Shepherd Jesus has a strong, familiar voice. He is insistent and persistent, too!

          I can hear Him when He calls out to me. Can you hear Him when He calls to you, too?

When my older two children were very small—I’m talking a toddler and a preschooler, now—I can vividly remember one time when we were at a department store in Chicago, in the women’s clothing section. There were a great number of round clothing racks, about four feet high, and I was pushing my younger daughter in a stroller. I took my eyes off my older daughter for just a few seconds, and by the time I looked back at the place where she had been standing, she was gone.

I tried not to panic, but began calling her name. Calling over and over, traveling in and out among the many racks, around the clothing section. Sure enough, she came out from the middle of one of the clothing racks where she was hiding, coming towards my voice. A familiar, comforting voice, one that she knew well. She knew she could respond to that voice in trust and assurance.

Do we know the familiar, nurturing voice of Jesus, our Shepherd? Or, is that voice the voice of a stranger—to us? Is Jesus just a nodding acquaintance, or is He one of our best friends?

Let me tell you about a Lutheran pastor who I sincerely respect, the Rev. Dr. Janet Hunt. I often read her sermons online. I was especially moved by the one she wrote on this passage.

She, too, is listening for the nurturing, encouraging, supportive voice of the Shepherd in her life. As she listened for the voice of the Shepherd, she found herself remembering other, life-giving voices which have shaped her.

Let Dr. Hunt tell you, in her own words:

“When I was in my last month of seminary, my adviser Paul was preparing to retire. Like me, he was a lover of books, but without his office shelves, he needed to get rid of a whole lot of them. So he let me have my pick. . . . A number of them still sit on my shelf. Paul died of cancer not long after that, so all I have left of him are those books with his handwritten name inside and a handful of letters he sent me while I was on internship. . . . I feel as though I still hear his voice of confidence in me whenever I run my fingers along their spines.”

We can see that our Good Shepherd’s encouraging voice can echo in the voices of other dear ones, too. Other helpers, who reflect that familiar Voice of our Shepherd, and also serve as confident supports. Challenge and teach us. Mentor us. Come alongside of us, and act as nurturing, helpful voices in each of our lives.

          What do you hear as you listen today?

Do you hear the confusing voices of the world? Or, do you hear the nurturing voice of Jesus, our Shepherd? Do you hear the discouraging internal voices of sadness, hurt, and depression? Or, does the comforting voice of Jesus come through, loud and clear?

          I encourage each one of us to listen for our Good Shepherd’s voice.

Listen to that familiar, comforting, nurturing, supportive voice. This is the Good Shepherd, who loves each of us so much He laid down His life for the sheep. Praise God, we can celebrate! We can rejoice that we do have a Good Shepherd who intimately knows each one of us, and loves us. No matter what. Praise God!

Alleluia, amen.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my daily blog for 2015: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind .  Thanks!)

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We All Are Witnesses!

“We All Are Witnesses!”

Jesus laid down His life for us 1 John 3-16

Luke 24:48 – April 19, 2015

Have you ever been confused by the number of hurried, jumbled nature of things happening at once? And the speed at which these things happen? This experience is more common than we might think. Just think of this past week, preparing for the Not-So-Lent fish fry at our church, and everything that had to be done by yesterday afternoon!

However hurried and jumbled this past week has been around here, it pales in comparison with our Gospel reading today. The end of the Passion Week must have been momentous and confusing for the followers of the Rabbi Jesus. Some confusing and jumbled things were happening very quickly. From the big festival entrance on Palm Sunday to the Passover Dinner of Maundy Thursday evening, to the arrest, trial and Crucifixion on Good Friday. Events happening in short succession from morning until night. Everything happening one thing after another. This was compounded by the followers of Jesus scattering, running away, frightened by the very real, very legal, very official things happening to Jesus on Thursday night and Friday during the day.

Let’s fast-forward to that Sunday morning, the first day of the week. The disciples still must have been frightened to death of the authorities. But, I suspect they needed to talk about the happenings of the past few days, too. We can see that from our scripture passage.

We pick up the narrative right after the events of the Road to Emmaus. To fill everyone in, two followers of Jesus got on the road to Emmaus that Sunday. As they walked, they talked. Debriefed. Tried to figure things out, as best as they could. And what circumstances they needed to figure out! A Stranger began to walk with them on the way, and unbeknownst to them, it was the risen Jesus, incognito. He shared with them a summary of all that He had come to earth to do. Of His ministry, His message, and His purpose. And still, they did not know it was Jesus.

Not until dinner that evening in Emmaus, when the risen Jesus was revealed when He blessed and broke the bread. And then—Jesus disappeared! The other two at the dinner table didn’t waste any time! They ran back to Jerusalem, to the Upper Room, to tell what they had seen. Yes, they were witnesses. Eye witnesses, verifying everything that had happened that day.

Our Gospel reading for today picks up the story at this point. All of the followers of Jesus are gathered together in the Upper Room, and are talking about the story of the road to Emmaus. Do they believe? Or, don’t they? Are a few skeptical? Or doubtful? Are some still frightened?

Let’s transition to today. Here and now. I can hear some people today, scoffing at the idea of some guy rising from the dead. And then, miraculously traveling alongside of two other guys? Good as new—in fact, even better? No way! Not a chance. The other two must have been hallucinating. Or dreaming. Or maybe, seeing a ghost. They can’t believe. Or, won’t believe.

As we start the Gospel reading today, the risen Jesus suddenly appears to the group in the locked Upper Room. What does He say? “Peace be with you.” A common greeting of the time, yes. However, Jesus is also calming their hearts, their spirits, their anxieties, their emotions. “Peace be with you.”

How does the risen Jesus immediately respond to the disciples? “Don’t be frightened! It is I, myself.” He emphasizes His identification. “I, myself!” It’s not anyone else, but Jesus! He lets them know that He is solid and corporeal, not a ghost. Not a spirit. And, Jesus doesn’t criticize His followers for being afraid! For feeling uncertain, doubtful and anxious!

I wonder whether you have ever had a kind and patient teacher, or instructor, or coach. When you were afraid, uncertain, or anxious, did this kind and patient person get angry with you? Or, upset? Or, did this person continue to be open and willing to help you? Generous with time and welcoming to your attempts? That is Jesus, all over. To a T.

Jesus even volunteers to eat a piece of fish, just to show everyone that He was, indeed, for real! An actual, physical person. (A ghost or spirit couldn’t eat or drink!)

What’s the big deal?

Jesus tells us. Wait—He tells the disciples, first. They are to proclaim what they have seen and heard. They are to be witnesses to the power of the resurrection. They are to tell how the risen Jesus has made a difference in their lives! And boy, that was a big difference!

When we read the book of Acts, that is exactly what we see. The disciples are witnesses of what they have seen and heard, witnesses of the power of the resurrection. Time after time, no matter what, the disciples tell others about how Jesus lived, preached, did miracles, and rose from the dead. Then, how all that has made an earth-shaking difference in their lives.

Our second Scripture reading today is from the first letter of the Apostle John, chapter 3. This passage also tells about the power of the resurrection. The aged apostle John mentions this in verse 16. John was giving his friends some instructions, even some admonitions. We are told to love one another. Why? Because of the One who laid down His life for us. That’s why. And following His example, we ought to be willing to lay down our lives for each other.

This is the message that Jesus told the disciples to start to carry, when John was a very young man. Looking at 1 John 3 and 4, some decades later, we see the aged John still carrying the message Jesus told him to, the message of sacrifice, hope, and resurrection. Let me read two verses: 4:13-14. “We know that we live in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent His Son to be the Savior of the world.” John is still being a witness, all those decades later, at the close of the first century!

Dear friends, our Lord Jesus gave specific instructions to His friends, to go and be witnesses. He gives those same instructions to us. We are to be witnesses of the power of the resurrection. The aged apostle John continued to do that, all of his life.

Can you think of someone who was a witness to the power of God, in your life? Someone who immediately comes to mind for me is Miss Rose. I met her almost thirty years ago, when my older two children were very small. She was a witness to the power of God, and to God’s love. She communicated God’s love to everyone she ever met, just about! A little lady, a dynamo for God, she would tell everyone about God and how much God loved them.

I met her again, ten years ago when I was a chaplain intern at the Presbyterian Homes. She was a resident there. I was so happy to see her. Miss Rose and her joy in the Lord bubbled over and communicated to everyone she met there, too. Even though she was in severe, chronic pain, she witnessed to the power of the resurrection. She asked people she met, “Do you know Jesus? Can I tell you about Him, and what He’s done in my life? Can I tell you my story?”

Each of us has an opportunity to be a witness, to communicate the Good News about the risen Jesus and the power of the resurrection. We can communicate by words, by a smile, by being kind, through our actions, through our generosity.

Think about someone who impacted your life, who communicated the Good News to you. There’s a great example for you! Just like Miss Rose is a marvelous example for me, to be a witness despite pain and suffering, even through difficulty in my life. I can still communicate God’s love, just like the aged Apostle John did, too. He was even in prison when he wrote his first letter, on a little island in the Mediterranean Sea. That didn’t make any difference. John still told his story, how the risen Jesus made a difference to him.

What is important is that we get out there and start being a witness, telling people about the power of God, and about how much the risen Jesus has changed our lives. Can you be a witness? It’s as simple as telling your story. Can you tell the story of Jesus and His love? Jesus loves you. Jesus loves me. Jesus loves all of us.

Be witnesses to God’s love and power.

Alleluia, Amen.

 

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my daily blog for 2015: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind .  Thanks!)

Seeing is Believing!

“Seeing is Believing”

Jesus and Thomas illustration John 20-24

John 20:24-29 – April 12, 2015

Seeing is believing! Or . . . is it?

I wonder what things come to mind when I mention the phrase, “Seeing is believing”? Or even, “I won’t believe it until I see it!” Sometimes, people can be really doubtful about things. I can just imagine several people I know folding their arms across their chests and saying, “Unless you show me . . . “

In the gospel account we read today, from John 20, the disciple Thomas had just that reaction. After the resurrection, the first time Jesus came to the disciples, Thomas was not there. We’re not told why, simply that he wasn’t there. Maybe he was scared, maybe he was away, or out of town. Maybe he was sick. We just aren’t told why he wasn’t there.

The ‘why’ is not the important part. The fact that Thomas wasn’t present is. Thomas had doubts. Sincere doubts. Truth to tell, the other disciples’ story was a little farfetched. I mean, how many people have you known who came back from the dead, and walked through walls into a locked room?

I wonder. I wonder if Thomas’ reaction strikes a chord with anyone here today. How many of us today are like Thomas? Doubting that Jesus has risen indeed from the dead? Or, completely missing Jesus, and doubting that Jesus is even here at all, today?

Let’s think some more about Thomas and his reaction. Thomas not only doubted, he also refused to believe! He not only doubted, he wanted concrete proof. Tangible proof, proof he could touch and feel and handle. Thomas wanted to put his hands in the nail marks on Jesus’ hands. That’s pretty concrete.

As I thought more about Thomas and his reaction and attitude toward Jesus and His first appearance to the disciples, I was reminded about my children. Generally, children have concrete thinking processes, especially smaller children. I have four children, and I’m accustomed to talking with them and communicating in more appropriate ways for their age groups. My children are just about grown up now. But when I used to explain something about God to my children, sometimes it was difficult for the younger ones to fully grasp the ideas I’m trying to explain. And they can ask some pretty hard questions. Gee, sometimes it’s difficult for me to know how to explain things about God to anyone who asks!

Maybe Thomas needed more concrete explanations, too. We just aren’t sure. The Gospel of John isn’t clear at this point. We as readers don’t know why Thomas had difficulty believing. But the gospel account says he did.

How many of us today are like Thomas? Not sure? Not believing? Closed up behind the locked doors of feeble faith? Not believing that Jesus can make a difference in our lives today? Could Jesus come and reveal Himself to Thomas? Can He come and reveal Himself to those today who are fearful, doubting, and unbelieving? . . . Can He reveal Himself to me?

Perhaps Thomas even had difficulty finding something to believe in, since he had so recently seen his Master and Teacher arrested and crucified. Grief, fear, anger, dashed hopes, shattered dreams. I strongly suspect several, if not all of these, were operating in Thomas’ life at this time.

These strong feelings and emotions inside are intense, and raw. From what is known today about the stages of grief, Thomas could very well have been feeling awful, angry, fearful and upset. Thomas could have felt like his life was falling apart. But Jesus can break through all of that. Jesus could enter Thomas’ life with new hope, standing right in front of him. In the same way, Jesus Christ can enter through the closed doors of our hearts, and meet us where we are, with open arms.

Just as Jesus did not leave Thomas high and dry, to figure things out on his own, so Jesus will not leave us. Our Lord came to Thomas in the upper room, despite his doubts and unbelief, and Jesus also comes to us in our doubts, and in our unbelief.

Now, Thomas didn’t actually see Jesus, at first. He had just heard from others who had seen Jesus. But then, a second time, the risen Lord appeared to the disciples. Again, in the locked room, and this time, Thomas was there.

What were Jesus’ words to Thomas? “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt, but believe.”

Thomas responded with that tremendous affirmation, “My Lord and my God!” Praise God for the sincere, heartfelt response of Thomas.

Jesus’ words to His doubting disciple serve as words of comfort and reassurance to me. I know I have doubts and fears, sometimes. And just as Jesus did not leave Thomas doubting, so too, Jesus will not leave me doubting, either. He will welcome me with open arms, coming through the locked doors of my fear, anger, doubt and unbelief.

Thomas saw Jesus. Seeing was believing, in Thomas’ case. Moreover, the risen Jesus continues with the statement, “Have you believed because you have seen me?” –here’s the best part of all. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

What was that Jesus just said? Did I read that correctly? “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” So–the Gospel of John says here that all who have not actually seen the risen Lord and yet have come to believe are indeed blessed.

That means Christians throughout the centuries are blessed, since they have come to believe in Jesus Christ and yet have not actually, physically seen Him as risen from the dead. That means you and I are blessed, since we have come to believe in Jesus Christ, too. How awesome is that? I am–you are–we all are blessed because the Lord Jesus says so!

Just as Jesus helped Thomas to believe, so the Gospel of John helps us to believe, too. This Gospel was not only written to bear witness so long ago, in the first century, some years after Jesus was raised from the dead. This Gospel was also written for the many generations which have come to believe throughout the centuries. And that includes us, too. Even though we may have doubts, and unbelief, and wonder whether, and why, or even why not, Jesus comes to us in our doubts and unbelief. Our Lord comes to us with reassurance and open arms and says “Do not doubt, but believe!”

Praise God that as we come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, we can have life in His name. And Jesus can come to us, at any point in our walk with the Lord, no matter what the circumstance happens to be, no matter where we are in our lives. Thank God that Jesus will be there for us and with us, no matter what. May we all be able to affirm, with Thomas, that the risen Jesus is our Lord and our God.

Alleluia, amen.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my daily blog for 2015: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind .  Thanks!)

“I Have Seen the Lord!”

“I Have Seen the Lord!”

Woman-and-Jesus-

April 5, 2015 – John 20:18

Who doesn’t like to hear a good story? Storytellers are wonderful to listen to. Small children love to hear stories. Even grown-ups enjoy stories. Certain stories are told over and over again, in different ways. Cinderella. King Arthur. The Arabian Nights. Aesop’s fables. Even the Wizard of Oz. What about The Greatest Story Ever Told? That’s another name for the narrative of the Passion Week, following Jesus step by step from Palm Sunday through Good Friday, finishing up with the happily ever after ending on Easter morning!

We left Jesus on the cross, on Friday afternoon, when last we met in St. Luke’s sanctuary on Good Friday. Jesus had walked through the days of Holy Week, debating with the Pharisees and other Jewish leaders in the Temple. He had eaten a Passover dinner with His disciples on Thursday evening. The special thing Jesus did on Thursday was instituting the Lord’s Supper with the bread and cup of the Passover meal. Do this in remembrance of Me, He said.

After dinner, Jesus went to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. He wanted His disciples to keep watch with Him, but they were too exhausted. After the events of a very busy week, just think. The disciples couldn’t keep their eyes open!

Then the events follow in rapid succession. The arrest, torture, trials, and sentencing. The walk down the Via Dolorosa, the Way of Sorrow. Jesus dragging the cross outside the old city of Jerusalem. The disciples fled. (I won’t blame them—since their Rabbi and master was sentenced as a criminal and enemy of the state, I suspect the disciples were afraid they might be connected with their leader Jesus, too!) We see the women at the foot of the cross. The faithful women. And Jesus’ mother, Mary. Then—Jesus dies on the cross. The earth quakes, the sky is darkened. All creation mourns as the Word made flesh, the creator of all the universe, dies on the cross.

As we continued to follow the Greatest Story Ever Told, Jesus is taken down from the cross shortly before sunset. His body is turned over to one of the Pharisees, Joseph of Arimethea. That Pharisee who came to Jesus one night early in His ministry, recorded in John chapter 3. Joseph hurriedly lays the dead body of Jesus in a tomb nearby. And, the faithful women are also there. They follow the dead body to the tomb.

What faith they must have had! What tenacity, and what love. To follow their leader, their rabbi, their Lord and master, even though He’s dead. To care for His body, in the absence of the disciples. The men disciples who are in hiding.

The women are there. Not shunted aside, not put in second place. These faithful women play an important role in caring for their Rabbi and their friend, hurriedly washing and preparing His dead body for the grave, before the Sabbath begins at sunset.

As Friday night swiftly approaches, with it comes the Jewish holy observance. Especially this special Sabbath—which falls during Passover. No work is to be done at all on this holy day of rest, not even the compassionate work of caring for a dead body.

After Sabbath day and Saturday night end, it is now Sunday morning. Faithful Mary Magdalene heads out for the tomb even before the sun has fully risen. Can you see her, eager in her haste to get to the tomb? With some oils to anoint the body, perhaps? But as she comes near the tomb, she discovers the stone has been rolled away. The tomb is now empty. What happened? What on earth is going on? Mary runs to get some assistance, someone to come with her and check things out more fully. (Prudent, I say! Better to be safe, Mary!)

Sure enough, Mary tells what she discovered. Two of the—men—disciples come back with her. Mary returns with the other two, back to the tomb. They see the tomb, and sure enough. It is empty. And then, these two disciples turn right around. Go back to the rest. In hiding.

But—what about Mary? What does she do?

Again, I come back to the indisputable fact that the women are faithful and true. The women show compassion, love, and care for their Rabbi, their master and friend. Mary stays put near the tomb, and weeps.

What a roller coaster ride Mary has been on. Starting on Palm Sunday, their leader and master Jesus marches right into the lion’s den, right into Jerusalem itself. All through the Passion Week, Jesus appears in and around Jerusalem, in the Temple, doing anything but keeping a low profile. And I am certain the disciples and the women accompanying them knew very well that the Jewish leaders and most of the Pharisees were planning on doing bad things to Jesus. I suspect the events of Good Friday were not totally unexpected.

So, at this desperate point, early on Sunday morning, Mary weeps. She does not know where her Lord and Master’s body has gone! After many days and nights of worry, anxiety, strong emotion, and intense grief, I can well understand how Mary broke down in tears.

What about us, today? Have you ever been through days of intense emotion, gut-wrenching anxiety, even intense grief? All of those feelings tumbling and roiling through you? Then you know a little of what Mary was going through.

What Mary did not suspect at first was that she was in the Greatest Story Ever Told. She sees Someone through her tears, in the cemetery. She suspects this Person is the gardener, of all things! She says, still crying, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”

Then, Jesus—for it is He!—Jesus speaks to her. Jesus calls her by name. “Mary!”   Do you hear that? Jesus calls her by name. “Mary!” How sweet to have someone who loves you very much call you by name! Remember, I just said that Mary had been on an emotional roller coaster the whole week previous? Just think what this would do! Wow!

Mary’s eyes are opened. Mary finally sees clearly, and responds, “Rabbi!” “Teacher!”

There’s a word in the next verse that is sometimes misunderstood. In verse 17, Jesus tells Mary, “Do not hold on to me.” I’d like to tell you about this phrase. In the original language, Greek, the word ‘hold on’ or ‘touch’ is a present imperative verb. The verb in the sentence can be translated “Do not keep touching me!” Mary finally realizes that it was really and truly Jesus, in the flesh. And I bet she fell on her knees and grabbed onto His legs with every ounce of strength in her body. Clutching, crying, laughing. Can you just see her? Can you just see them? Jesus, gently trying to get her to let go. “Mary, Mary, can you stop clutching at Me?”

Can you see Mary now, as she understands in full. Jesus is alive! He is risen! Then, she listens to Jesus. Returns to the disciples, and declares the joyful truth to everyone!

So, Mary is not only a faithful friend and follower of her Rabbi, she is also someone who carries the Good News! The news that Jesus is no longer dead, but He is risen! He is alive again. I want all of you to understand this all-important point. Jesus has entrusted Mary with the Gospel message. Mary Magdalene is no longer just a supporting player, just a side note in the Gospel. Instead, she transitions to a lead actor in the Greatest Story Ever Told, here in John 20. And, one of the first and best preachers, sharing her experience, hope and joy.

What a story! Except—this is not make-believe. This is for real. This is very much the truth. Yes, Jesus is alive. Yes, He is Lord. And, yes, He has conquered death once and for all. Do you hear? Listen again to the words of Mary. She told the disciples, “I have seen the Lord!”

I pray that we all can affirm together today: He is risen! Christ is risen, indeed!

Alleluia! Amen!

@chaplaineliza

Thanks to the kind friends at http://www.40acts.org.uk – I am using their sermon suggestions and notes for Lent 2015. #40acts Do Lent generously! And, to the Rev. Dave Buerstetta for several ideas from his commentary notes on John 20:1-18.

(Suggestion: visit me at my daily blog for 2015: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. Thanks!)

Generous with Our Forgiveness

“Generous with Our Forgiveness” – April 3, 2015

Jesus Christ crown of thorns and nail

Luke 23:33-34 and John 19:28-37

Have you ever had someone say something or do something to you that was really unkind? I mean, downright awful? I can think of other descriptive words, too. Mean, nasty, despicable, evil. There are people like that in the world. In the world today, as well as throughout history. People who act and speak in a thoughtless manner, yes, but also people who act and speak in a deliberate way intended to hurt and to cause all manner of evil.

Tonight, we remember the events of that Passion Week, Thursday night through Friday afternoon, two thousand years ago. We will consider how unkind many people were to Jesus, our Lord. People who acted and spoke to Him in a deliberate way intended to hurt, and to cause all manner of evil. Imagine!

But first, let’s back up. Go back to the Upper Room, where the Rabbi Jesus and His disciples gathered together. They ate a Passover dinner, a Seder. Remembering that night so long ago when the Passover lamb was slain for the redemption of each Jewish household in Egypt. Remembering so long ago, as the head of each house smeared the blood of the lamb on the doorposts of each house so that the Angel of Death would pass over that house in the final plague on the people of Egypt. Remembering as the Jewish people fled from Egypt in such a hurry they were unable to allow their bread to rise. So they ate matzoh, or unleavened bread.

This Passover dinner in the Upper Room celebrated and commemorated the deliverance of the Jewish people from their slavery in Egypt. Jesus and His disciples remembered all of that. They came together to eat, to remember why that time, that night was different from all other nights. But Jesus added a whole new dimension to why that night was different. He instituted the Lord’s Supper. The Eucharist. We will remember this after the sermon, tonight.

The Passion narrative does not stop there. After dinner, after the bread and cup were shared by everyone present, Jesus went out to pray in the Garden of Gethsemane. He prayed so earnestly and with such agonizing intensity! Yet, His friends, His disciples could not keep watch with Him. They were too exhausted. Imagine.

Judas, one of Jesus’ disciples, slipped out during the Seder dinner. He went to the house of the Chief Priest and told them he would betray Jesus. With a kiss, a common greeting between two friends at the time. Imagine.

As we follow Jesus through the events of that night and on into early Friday morning, Jesus is led through several trials. He is scorned, mocked, tortured, and ultimately stands before Pilate. Jesus is sentenced to death. Death by crucifixion.

This kind of death is particularly horrible. A criminal’s death.

I am going to pause here, and take a moment to tell you what this service is not. It is not a service where we consider Jesus’ Seven Last Words on the cross. I have attended such services. Where there are a series of recitations of each Word, followed by a short message interpreting each one. Some churches commemorate Good Friday with the observance of the last day of our Lord’s life. They retrace the scenes, or the Stations of the Cross. These show that final journey of Jesus, to the cross. Emotionally moving, graphically illustrating the sights, sounds and feelings of those surrounding the cross, as well as Jesus, on that horrific day.

All over the world, today, people are remembering that awful journey. There are some who, just a few hours ago, walked that journey. Along the same roads where Jesus walked, through the old city of Jerusalem. Yes, it is incredibly sad to remember that our Lord was condemned to death, even death on a cross. A criminal’s death. People beat their breasts, and commemorate that agonizing journey. The stations of the Cross.

Instead, we will zero in on one particular word that Jesus spoke from the cross. We come to the end of our Lenten series of generosity. By looking at this word spoken by Jesus, I would like us to reflect on the magnitude of the generosity of our Lord. “Father, forgive them. For they do not know what they are doing.” Jesus is so generous that He forgives those who kill Him. Torture Him. Despise Him. Imagine what a kind, generous, God-sized heart Jesus had! Imagine.

I suggest to you tonight that you—that I—that we all consider how wide and deep Jesus’ forgiveness must be! Consider, with our friends at #40acts, who have given me these wonderful Lenten sermon ideas.

It is not easy to forgive! God knows, I have been wronged, I have had some awful things done to me. I’ve been wounded and in pain, and I bet you have, too! Others might mistreat us, even abuse us in a myriad of ways. Do you think it’s easy to put aside bitterness and resentment? Let me tell you. I know from experience. It is not easy.

Yet, that is exactly what Jesus does here. On the cross, no less! That diabolical device of torture, devised by the Romans to be a horrific instrument of death. If Jesus could forgive His killers and those responsible for His death, what does that mean for us, today?

I know what it means for me. I know that I have been moved to forgive those who have hurt me. God has urged me to forgive those who I have resented deeply, for years.

We can look at this tremendous act of forgiveness—all forgiveness begins at the cross. Jesus models for us what forgiveness ought to be like. What forgiveness can be. We are only able to forgive each other if we know what God’s forgiveness is like. Imagine.

Thank God that God has given us the promise that is faithful and true. Each Sunday, we proclaim God’s forgiveness of our sins. Each Sunday after our confession of sins, I make the statement, “Believe the good news of the Gospel—in Jesus Christ, we are forgiven!”

Can you believe the good news that Jesus proclaims to us from the cross? He proclaims forgiveness. Jesus, struggling for breath on the cross, uses the last of His remaining breath and strength to speak. What does He say? He speaks forgiveness. Can we do any less?

Praise God. Jesus loves us this much. What love. What generosity. What forgiveness. Amen.

@chaplaineliza

Thanks to the kind friends at http://www.40acts.org.uk – I am using their sermon suggestions and notes for Lent 2015. #40acts Do Lent generously!

(Suggestion: visit me at my daily blog for 2015: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. Thanks!)