Sealed and Waiting …

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During my recent trip I took this photo of the lock on the door that opens to the Holy Sepulchre Church.  The door is massive and old and I have always been drawn to it.  The age and the light and shadow drew me to it once again.

During this time of pandemic, the door to the Holy Sepulcher has been sealed.  No one is allowed in.  People have made there way to the door and prayed, but no one is allowed in.  It seems strange that a place revered by so many as the place of the Golgotha and the Tomb would be shuttered.  But it isn’t without precedence …

So give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day.  Otherwise, his disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people that he has been raised from the dead. This last deception will be worse than the first.”

“Take a guard,” Pilate answered. “Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how.”

 So they went and made the tomb secure by putting a seal on the stone and posting the guard.   Matthew 27:62-66

As we wait on this Holy Saturday, my prayer is that the door to our hearts … the door to our lives … would be open.  Open to receiving the Good News of Easter … and open to living our faith and loving others with doors open and barriers removed.

 

 

Getting Ready

49126-house-cleaning-11514On the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Where do you want us to make preparations for you to eat the Passover?”

He replied, “Go into the city to a certain man and tell him, ‘The Teacher says: My appointed time is near. I am going to celebrate the Passover with my disciples at your house.’”  So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them and prepared the Passover.   Matthew 26:17-19 NIV

Today has been a whirlwind of activity at the church for me.  A very different Maundy Thursday from the past.

There was no Sanctuary to prepare … no alter decorations … no last minute music details.

No one but me.  I have spent the day recording, editing, uploading all the services for this Holy Week.  The work is done and now we wait to celebrate and remember together … virtually.

I have been thinking of the Passion narratives and a comment made this week in an online Bible Study I lead.  This week is filled with ritual and routine.  Anticipation and remembering.

The same was true for Jesus.  I hadn’t thought much about the idea that Jesus has already planned everything.  And when it came time there was Jesus …

fgdhkjWhen evening came, Jesus was reclining at the table with the Twelve.  Mt 26:17-30 NIV

Perhaps our efforts are easier on a day like this … in a time like this … because we do our work in advance … knowing that Jesus will show up tonight as we gather around the virtual table already set and waiting for us to partake.

We also know that the tomb will be empty come Sunday and we will celebrate the hope of resurrection.

Maybe if we could keep the anticipation of Easter alive during the week, it would change how we prepare each and every week for Worship.

The anticipated encounter with the Risen Savior tends to change how you act.

Oh and that thing from Bible Study?

Well we were studying Leviticus – I know exciting stuff?!

As we looked at all the rituals and practices outlined in the book, I asked, “What does ritual mean to us today?”

I expected comments about how the rituals of this week would be missed, etc, etc

And then from the blank square (voice only on a Zoom Meeting) came a profound observation:

“I’ve always thought of ritual as preparation for worship.  I wonder if we have lost our love of ritual in a culture of instant gratification?”

Wow!

Perhaps we are getting a reset on our thinking.

Taking the time to prepare.

More family meals – less microwave specials.

More intentional planning of our time … and our worship.

May we discover the ritual of preparing … and may we take the time to be prepared for all the activities of Easter … and our worship.

Did you hear the one about the sheep?

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The story of the lost sheep

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent. Luke 15:1-7 NIV

This is a story worth telling over and over again, but I think in this season it has a new meaning. I’ve been reviewing the stories (parables) of Jesus from the perspective of Easter looking back. That’s has provided an interesting view for many of Jesus’ stories, but this story has a particular new context as we approach Easter 2020.

So often this story is told as a means to encourage the church (the 99) to seek after the lost (the one). And that is a great way to look at this story … leave the safety of your church walls and search after those in need of a shepherd. But we are already outside of the church this year.

The story is also told so that the lost (the one) might know that God is searching for them.

Again I love that message, but the lost (the one) have to be around to hear it.

And it is that idea that has me rethinking this entire story. You see, suddenly the greater church has had to take their message beyond their walls. Overnight it seems the church has discovered that technology has evolved past the 1900s. The church has discovered online meetings, online streaming, cell phones, texting, and shockingly THE INTERNET!

All kidding aside, this rush to connect with people has created an interesting outcome.

More people are connecting to the messages of the church than ever before.

People that rarely entered the doors of our buildings are connecting through technology.

The message of God’s love is reaching more people today than a month ago.

And that is a really good thing! But it also reveals a problem. Have you stopped to ask

WHY?

Why are more people connecting to the church?

The easy answer is there are no atheists in a foxhole,

but I really don’t think that is entirely what is happening here. This is something more!

I truly believe that for the first time across our culture, people are able to connect with church without having to deal directly with God’s people. Let me repeat that ….

people are able to connect with church

without having to deal directly with God’s people.

Is it possible that the 99 in the story Jesus told drove away the one or at least kept the one from having a safe place amidst the 99?

I don’t have an answer yet, but I am hopeful that this time away from the church building will cause us to ask, what practices can we leave behind so that those that found us through technology outside of our buildings will also find their way into the community that gathers inside a building.

And with that thought, may God forgive us for the things we have done that kept the ONEs from gathering in the safety of our Churches. Give us the heart and eyes of The Good Shepherd to seek and bring home the ONEs. And may we find comfort in the knowledge that we have all been that ONE at some point in our lives.

AMEN

Did you hear the one about the 2 sons?

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The prodigal son … we’ve heard it countless times and thanks to Luke, we get it.  Right before the parable of the Prodigal Son, Jesus says: “In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

And so we get it the point before the story is ever told … there is great rejoicing by God for the one who returns home.

Since Jesus first told this parable, those that have heard this story and taught it have always focused on the prodigal son’s return. But the way Jesus begins the story should mean that we can’t ignore that this is a story of two sons.  Remember Jesus says at the start: “There was a man who had two sons.”

Maybe we have missed the whole point of this story because we have long focused on the wrong son.

Let’s recap the story of BOTH sons:

A man had two sons and the younger son demanded his inheritance and took the money and ran. He went away and wasted all the money on wild living. He ended up broke, hungry and miserable in the mud and mess of a hog pen. When he came to his senses, he confessed to God that he had sinned and he headed home. He wasn’t sure how his father would receive him, so he was prepared to take the job of a servant. But when the father saw him, he ran to meet him. The Father embraced his son and they had a wonderful celebration.

So if you are hear this story and you are someone who is distant from GOD, far from the Father’s provision and love- you identify with the prodigal son.

If you are someone who has ever hit rock bottom, who has tried everything to rise up from the pigpen, but to no avail – you identify with the prodigal son.

If you are someone who knows what it means to come to your senses and long for home, someone who believes there is still mercy in God’s heart – you identify with the prodigal son.

For all the prodigal sons, Jesus wants you to know that, just like the Father in the story, God is willing and waiting to receive you back. There is nothing you’ve done that is so bad that God won’t forgive you and embrace because God Loves you just as you are! He’s waiting for you. He has suffered for you. You can go home again. A Heavenly celebration is planned for you. So come home.

And for most of us that is all that we know or believe about this story.

So it would be nice if the story ended there, BUT IT DOESN”T

What about the other son?

Meanwhile the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. “Your brother has come,” He replied, “and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.” 

The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, “Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!”

“My son,” the father said, “you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.”

For lack of a better term, I am going to call this older son – ‘the stayed-at-home Prodigal’.  Jesus was far more direct in the day.  For Jesus the other son in the story was the religious establishment – those who had a problem letting go of the traditions & establishment of the day.  This other son represented the many religious people today who haven’t sinned against God by running off and going wild.

These ‘stayed-at-home Prodigals’ have been around the church a long time keeping a pew warm or perhaps a sofa at home, but when it comes to really celebrating what God is doing in the lives of others, they have forgotten how to rejoice.

I’m convinced there are more people in the church today who are guilty of being ‘the stayed-at-home Prodigals” than there are those guilty of being the younger wandering prodigal and perhaps that is why the church struggles to grow.

Here’s our problem: For so many of us, we’ve grown up knowing the Lord, and we have forgotten what it was like to be in need of God’s grace and love.  Simply put, we have forgotten the joy of being welcomed into the family.

So to every Prodigal, God says, “Come on; join me in the celebration, because there is joy in the presence of angels over just one who repents!

And that brings us to the end of the story.  How does the story end?

We don’t know.  We’re left hanging.

Does the older brother stomp off, nurse his bitterness, never returning?  Or does he uncross his arms and allow his father to put his arms around his shoulders as they walk into the house together to celebrate?

Jesus doesn’t tell us and I think Jesus left it open-ended on purpose.

It’s up to you.

What will you do?

How will you respond?

Which prodigal are you?

The Good News is that God invites … encourages … compels … both sons to come join the banquet … For in that moment of celebration, you will receive the gift of forgiveness and all of Heaven will rejoice.

Give thanks this day for the gift of forgiveness for each of us given to us through the life of Jesus Christ and revealed in the story of the Prodigal Sons.

I don’t know about you … But that’s a story we need.

And a story worth telling over and over …. and over again.

 

Did you hear the one about the workers?

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Matthew 20:1-16 …

The parable of the Workers

For many of us we have heard this story since we were children and that is our problem. We think we know the story. So we are quick to pass over it. But what if this story was more than a great moral lesson?

What if the story contained a Gift from God?

I think we miss the gift (just like the disciples) because we listen to them without hearing them thru the lens of Easter and and an empty tomb.

Many of Jesus’ parables are counter-cultural. They present a world or a “kingdom” that is radically different from what those that listened knew. The kingdom of God that Jesus describes in this story is vastly different from our world. Perhaps brought to light by recent events, empty shelves, panic shopping, and the I was here first mentality.

And while this is a simple story and definitely counter-cultural. Let’s not forget that the story isn’t hard to understand:

At six a.m. a vineyard owner goes down to the local temp workers center and hires a crew to help with the grape harvest. He agrees to pay them the fair wage of one denarius for a day’s work—six a.m. to six p.m.

By nine a.m. he sees he needs more workers and brings on another crew. He adds more workers at noon and again at three in the afternoon.

In fact the harvest is so good, he even brings on fresh additional workers at five p.m., which means they’ll only work for an hour, but he needs them.

The parable’s unsettling sting comes when it’s time to pay the workers. To everyone’s surprise, those who came at six a.m. and those who came at five p.m. all get paid the same wages—the one denarius as promised at the beginning of the day.

Everybody gets the same.

Naturally the six a.m. crew who had put in a full day of work were upset. They expected to get paid more especially after they saw the latecomers get paid generously.

They naturally expected more! Instead, everyone got the same.

It is not a coincidence that Matthew places this story just moments after Peter asks Jesus a question, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have? Mt 19:27.

In other words,

Jesus, we’ve given up everything to work for you. What do we get in return?

Jesus responds with a very generous promise, including eternal life, but he also turns things upside down by saying, many who are first will be last, and the last first.

AND Then JESUS tells a story and the story likely did not sit well with the listeners. After all this story isn’t the way we operate or think. Everyone got the same pay, even the ones who just got to work an hour ago?

WE would shout – Ever hear of equal pay for equal work?

We would get upset.

We would demand what we deserve.

We would want paid more!

BUT then the vineyard owner says, “Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’

And that changes things. It changes everything because

Jesus is trying to teach us something about God,

And I have to be honest at this point we don’t like what Jesus is teaching us. This lesson is a different arrangement – focused not on our rights or privileges. This lesson doesn’t speak to our notion of what is just or fair.

But isn’t that God’s prerogative? And since God is God, and we’re not, we don’t get to question how God distributes the riches of the kingdom.

So workers late to the vineyard find their place with those their all day and the thief on the cross beside Jesus comes into the kingdom in his last hour the same as Peter.

YEP ….. God’s grace is unfair alright, Unfair because none of us, no, not one of us, deserves what we have been given by grace.

It’s simple …. we could never earn what God gives us.

God just chooses in love to gives it all to us. God chooses because of grace to give each of us all of it. What is it? — forgiveness, hope, peace, security.

And it isn’t fair – not one bit!

Let me remind you how UNFAIR and UNJUST God’s grace is … God’s economy of grace is so unjust that his own perfect Son, Jesus Christ, gets rejection, ridicule, torture and death as his pay “at the end of the day”.

Jesus gets what WE deserve.

That is Jesus’ compensation for a lifetime of perfect obedience, and it isn’t fair, but it is God’s choice, not ours.

So, this gift of grace should move us To Serve someone. To Love a child. To Give more than we ever dreamed we could. Why? because that is how God has treated you.

WE have been given the gift of grace – a gift that is leveling, unsettling and amazingly generous. That gift of grace was given to us through the life and death of Jesus Christ …

An undeserved gift … available equally to each of us

And that gift is revealed in this story of the workers in the vineyard.

And the gift of grace is story worth telling over and over and over again.

Learning to Be Galilee

44211061_2058728190858335_5136780246065872896_nDuring my recent trip to the Holy Land, I had requested a certain guide – Mike Abu Libdeh – or as he is most known – Mike Be Galilee.

He was born in Jerusalem. His mother died in childbirth. He was raised in a Greek orphanage and he attended school in Crete. Instead of pursuing his college passion for biology, he answered the call to return to Jerusalem and lead pilgrims on tours of the Holy Lands.  He is a deep person of faith and is part of the Greek Orthodox tradition. His spiritual insights were a highlight for all of us.

As you might guess from his nickname, Mike encouraged us to “Be Galilee”.  It derives from the stories Mike tells and he tells them over and over.

He reminds you that water is a big deal.  Without water, people die. In Israel, every drop is as precious as life itself.  So water serves as a vital metaphor for a life of faith.

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From the north, 3 sources combine to create the Jordan River as it flows into the vibrant Sea of Galilee.  Galilee has always represented life as it provides: Water, Fishing, Trade, and Tourism. As the Jordan winds it was south from the Sea it ends at the Dead Sea.  The Dead Sea is the lowest point on the Earth and sustains no life.

So given a choice – Be Galilee.  (BTW, did you catch the imagery of 3 sources becoming 1 River of Life providing the water of life)

From this metaphor of water and life, Mike has developed 5 keys for our life of faith:

  1. Be Galilee is a way of life to enjoy the gift God gave to all of us the love and our humanity to share and never close our hearts but keep our souls giving as a natural running spring.”
  2. Be Attitude is to believe and practice on daily basis in our life the sermon Jesus preached on the mount of beatitudes, as rules of love as way of life and as blessings to all.”
  3. Be the House of God, if each one of us tries his best to be the house of God then our world will be filled with peace as you will always try to purify your soul through your acts and your relationship with God and with others around you.”
  4. Be Home as someone around you needs you to be his or her home. Warm home is in us in our hearts and souls where others will never feel homeless in their connections with you. As long we try our best to be home for others we will find someone to be home for us in which you find your peace and love and stability.”
  5. Be Change. Don’t wait for others to be what you want. Change and be what God has called you to be.”

You can summarize it all with the call to Be Galilee.

As a follower of Jesus, live life to its fullest, serve, share, and love. In your actions be a natural vibrant source of life (a river).

How might you be Galilee in your home, your work, your school, with your circle of friends and coworkers, and yes, with your family?

Or as Mike puts it, “Be Galilee!”

Stories Worth Telling

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He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves
that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt.

Luke 18:9

The Parables of Jesus … we know them … or least we think we know them … we have heard them since children in SS … they have played out in larger plays and shows as great moral lessons … but it is the idea that we know them that we will explore during Lent.

The difficulty is that since we think we know them.  We are quick to pass over them.

But what if these stories are more than great moral lessons?

What if each story contained a Gift from God intended for you?

Each of the stories that Jesus tells contains a Gift from God – a Gift we miss.

These Gifts would be missed if we failed to listen to the stories to more deeply examine the stories in light of Easter Morning.

It is clear that the disciples struggled with the meaning of the stories – until Easter.

We don’t have to wait for Easter – so let’s retell the stories – and listen for the gifts they reveal in light of Easter Morning and an empty tomb.

Join me on a journey to Easter … with the stories worth telling over and over again.