Easter Joy

Easter Joy—John 20:1-18

Lungs gasping for air.  Arms pumping.  Feet pounding on a dusty trail.  Rays of early sun light breaking over the horizon.  It is Easter morning, the day of the resurrection of our Lord.  Peter and “the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved” (presumably John?) were rushing to the tomb.   

Heartbroken women had made their way to the tomb through the predawn light. They had been startled by an unexpected turn of events.  The stone had been rolled away. Instead of the dead body they intended to finish caring for, they find an empty grave and the unbelievable message that Jesus has been raised from the dead!

The women rush back to where the other disciples had spent the night and share the incredulous news.  Peter and John run to the tomb. John outpaces Peter, but doesn’t go in.  He peers inside but doesn’t enter.  Peter—breathless from running—catches up and goes inside.  

The linen wrappings that had held Jesus’ body were lying flat and empty.  The cloth that had covered Jesus’ head had been folded neatly and laid aside by itself.  John sees and believes.  We are not told what Peter thinks.  They go back to Jerusalem.  This is all recorded in the twentieth chapter of the Gospel of John.  

Those early disciples did not easily believe that Jesus had defeated death.  They were too familiar with mortality and the violence of this crazy world.  They had witnessed Jesus’ crucifixion.  They knew all-to-well the power of death.  They had not yet been convinced of the power of life!  As these two men struggle with doubt and belief, the story continues with “But Mary…” (John 20:11).  Grieving Mary is suddenly back at the tomb weeping.  She is still convinced someone has taken Jesus’ dead body.  Belief in God and Jesus’ victory over sin and the grave did not come easily for her or any of the disciples.  Yet, she too, came to believe in Jesus’ victory and power over sin and death.

The early disciples struggled with doubt and belief.  They believed, but their faith had a lot of growing to do.  Knowing their struggles with doubt and belief encourages us.  Our stories, our struggles and our wrestling with what to believe can be a source of encouragement and strength for each other.  The stories of others encourage us.

The lesson in this?  Do not struggle alone.  Do not be a lone wolf Christian.  Stay connected and active in your worship and fellowship life.  Stay involved.  And, cut yourself some slack when you struggle with doubt and faith.  They are intricately connected.  The benefit of Christian fellowship is we don’t struggle alone.  We need each other.  So, let’s press on together!

Pastor Bruce Kolasch

The Great Exchange!

Good Friday Sermon—Hostage Exchange – Barabbas and Jesus

Mark 15:6-15

Now at the festival he used to release a prisoner for them, anyone for whom they asked. Now a man called Barabbas was in prison with the rebels who had committed murder during the insurrection. So the crowd came and began to ask Pilate to do for them according to his custom. Then he answered them, “Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” For he realized that it was out of jealousy that the chief priests had handed him over. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release Barabbas for them instead. Pilate spoke to them again, “Then what do you wish me to do with the man you call the King of the Jews?” They shouted back, “Crucify him!” Pilate asked them, “Why, what evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Crucify him!” So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified.

In the news from this past week we read that in TREBES, France a French police officer offered himself up to an extremist gunman in exchange for a hostage.  That woman is alive today because of that officer.  The officer has died of his injuries.  Col. Arnaud Beltrame was among the first officers to respond to the attack on the supermarket in the south of France on Friday. His death, announced by French Interior Minister Gerard Collomb, raises the toll to four. The gunman was also killed, and 15 people were injured in the attack.

That makes me think of what Luther called the great exchange mentioned in 2 Corinthians 5:21:

“He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”

Bar Abbas — his name in English would be “son of the father.”  Hmm.  Think of that!  That is what and who Jesus is—Son of God, Son of the Father.  God in human flesh.

Jesus’ whole purpose in life was to come as one of us and take our place—to take our sin upon Himself and bear it all the way to the cross.  So, in a very real sense, Barabbas’ name is generic—on purpose—so that we could insert our own names for his and then see that Jesus took our place as a prisoner to sin and death.  Jesus took our place for the punishment our sin deserved.  Jesus took our sin and died on the cross for us.  The wonder and mystery of this all is that through His seeming defeat He defeated death instead.  His resurrection three days later proves His victorious death on our behalf.  Jesus traded places with us and exchanges His life and righteousness for our rags and death.  No wonder this day is called “Good Friday” by Christians down through the ages.  It is indeed good.  Not that Jesus died, mind you, but that He died victoriously and gave us life, freedom, and hope in exchange.  Paul calls this God’s wisdom.  It was God’s plan from the start, even before the world began.  And the powers of darkness never knew what they were accomplishing through their violent act of murder!

I Corinthians 2:6-9

But we speak God’s wisdom, secret and hidden, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.  But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him…”

Check out the excellent Skit Guys video entitled “Barabbas” through www.skitguys.com.

Crowds, Parades, Chaos…

Palm Sunday, March 25 2018

John 19:19-22

Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross.  It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.”  Many of the Jews read this inscription, because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, in Latin, and in Greek.  Then the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but, ‘This man said, I am King of the Jews.’”  Pilate answered, “What I have written I have written.”

Crowds.  Parades.  Shouts.  Noise.  Chaos.  Confusion.

The smell of blood and sweat.  The stench of jealousy and jockeying for positions of power and advantage.  The crowds caught up in mob mentality.  Hatred and violent emotions the rule of the day.

This was not a protest for racial equality in Birmingham, Alabama though the description would fit that too.  Nor was it an anti-war protest against the war in Viet Nam though that too might fit this description.

Saturday’s March-4-Life held in Salt Lake City and across the country was much more peaceful, yet at the same time the emotions ran very high.   The high schoolers I listened to at our March-4-Life were articulate and passionate.  The whole issue of how we deal with the tragic loss of life that has happened over and over in our country and the highly debated and divisive issue of gun laws is captivating our news media.  And well it should.

All this has made me wonder and think about what it means to make a public statement, to be a politician running a campaign.  If you were Jesus’ campaign manager how would you have advised Him?  Would we vote for Him?

The phrase “King of the Jews.”  It is political.  The Jewish leaders protested it.  They were offended by it.  Jesus did not deny it.  But He did redefine it.  Jesus came into our broken, violent world not to be the territorial ruler of a temporal government.  Jesus came as a Jew, to fulfill the Law of the Old Testament as Messiah of the world.  But He did not come to be an earthly king.  He did not come to set up government and a political office in Jerusalem to make the world a better place.

He came as Savior of the world.  He did not come to work out a compromise with people in power.  He did not come to negotiate with the power brokers of His day.  He came to take on and defeat the evil trinity—sin, death and the devil.  And He did this by allowing the human organizations of government and church—religious and secular leaders—combine their forces against Him.

This is the mystery.  This is the wonder.  He did not come on the scene as a super hero to match might for might and power for power and physically over power evil.  No.  Jesus did it in such a way that He broke forever the power of evil by His passive, quiet death on the cross.  He didn’t protest.  He did not resist.

This is the mystery.  This is the wonder.  He was not overcome or overpowered and taken against His will.  He let evil have its day.  The Gospel of John, over and over again, uses the phrase, “His hour had not yet come.”  And now, it was His hour.  The time was now.  The forces of evil amassed against Jesus did not take Him by surprise.  This was all part of the scheme, the plan of our salvation.

Jesus, in loving obedience to the Father.  Jesus in loving action for us willingly, quietly submitted Himself to the worst that evil could do.  When Jesus was whipped and flogged; when Jesus was lied about, spit upon;  when Jesus was beaten and dressed in a mockery of a robe and plated with a crown of thorns that they beat into His scalp; this He did willingly and on purpose.  He could have called a million angels to His defense, though He would not need to have a single angel’s assistance.  One word from His mouth—the mouth that spoke the world and all our galaxies and universe into existence—and He could have utterly destroyed all evil.  He didn’t because He was saving us.  His mouth that spoke all that is into existence held its peace because He was taking away the power and punishment of our rebellion and sin.

The powers of evil and all in our world that threw itself against our Savior completely failed.  Like the violent storm on the Sea of Galilee that Jesus calmed with a simple phrase, “Peace! Be still,” evil lost its power that day.  Jesus’ death was a victorious death.  He yielded His spirit only after sin and death and the devil were completely defeated.  Then He spoke those three words—IT IS FINISHED!   The empty tomb, three days later, are tangible proof for us as believers.

The forces of evil in our world today still rage and fume.  Wrath and violence, killings and hatred are still the composition of our daily news.  Yet, our King, our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ is our Prince of Peace.  Evil, hatred, lust, greed, fear, bigotry, jealousy, gluttony, sloth, envy, anger and wrath do not have to reign or rule us anymore.

Charles Wesley’s famous hymn lines ring in my ears and soul—“He breaks the power of cancelled sin!  He sets the prisoner free!” (O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing)

This week, Holy Week, we celebrate and live out the reality of what it means to be Christian—what it means to be a believer and a follower of Christ in this evil, fallen world.  We are in the world, but not of it.  We are governed by a higher law, the law of love.  And the Christ of the Gospels, the Man of Galilee still lives and reigns in you and me.  And we are making a difference in our world.  I saw it in action.  I wrestled with it when a boy and young teenager in the sixties.  I live it today.  Together we are making a change that will continue to impact the world one heart, one soul, one life at a time.

In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Children and Guns

“…and a little child shall lead them” Isaiah 11:6

From the days of the Sandy Hook shooting and all the school shootings since then until now I am told that our government has loosened up the laws making it easier, not harder, to buy assault rifles and large ammunition clips.  Easier!  Not harder!  All under the pretense of protecting the Second Amendment, our citizens’ right to bear arms.  All for the sake of self-defense.  All, it seems to me, a knee jerk reaction to fear based thinking.  Our political leaders have not had the courage nor the right thinking to draft, pass and enact laws that actually protect our children and us from such crazy, random acts of violence.  We need common sense gun laws.  No one is trying to take our guns away.  Our leaders need to take responsibility in passing and supporting laws that prevent military style weapons from being in the hands of ordinary citizens.

No writer of our constitution ever envisioned the American public arming themselves with military assault rifles or the type of semi-automatic and modified weapons that have wreaked so much death and carnage in our country.

The tragedy at Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida this past week is so hard to accept. If there is a silver lining in the dark clouds of such crazy violence it is the reaction of the high school students who are crying “enough!”

Maybe our youth will force us and our government to do more than just offer up prayers along with expressions of sympathy and condolences to the growing number of bereaved families.  Maybe our youth will have the wisdom and courage in leading our nation’s leaders to take action.  Maybe our children will give us courage to do the right thing!

This is more than a problem of emotional immaturity and poor anger management skills.  It is more than a question of mental health issues, or of who is authorized to buy such dangerous weapons.  To be sure we need more aggressive background checks—at a minimum!  But, who is brave enough to question the abusive rationale of 2nd Amendment thinking that makes this type of violence so widespread and common today?  Our leaders are not!  But after Stoneman Douglas’s tragedy our nation’s youth are!

A little child shall lead them?  Indeed! God give our youth and us adults courage in taking on a culture that allows this to happen again and again.  Give our youth and us adults courage to work for positive change for the sake of the common good!

Birth Mark

finger prints and photographs
connections with the past
place and time
memories
histories that are shared

isolation
keeps us hostage
when we don’t push out
of our cubby holes and dungeons
to see
sunlight
clouds
trees

the past we find
can’t box us in
nor hold us underground
when we discover the
guest, the Unexpected One
who shares our story, His story
we the captives free

the birth canal was scary
the womb so tight, too close
I fought to keep inside
my safety held me in
yet

stand I now in open air
this earth, she holds me loose
entombed no more
not dead am I but living
I am birthed
the shadow of the cross
has left its mark on me

finger prints and photographs
remind me who I am
but the cross it is that shapes me
beyond place and time to be the one I am
becoming

 

Homelessness

When God originally made us as humans God made us to live with together in God’s own house…or home together with God and with all people.  God’s home was a place called heaven.  It was grand and beautiful.  Like an expansive garden.  Warm and sunny.  It wasn’t like a normal house, because there was no bad weather to keep out.  I am sure we could still have gone to the mountains to find snow to sled and ski, and so on. But life was good there and there was no need to hide or find shelter.  There was safety and warmth.

Sin messed that up.  God, in order to protect us, escorted us out of heaven and separated heaven and earth with sort of a veil.  He put a guardian angel there to keep us from getting back in the wrong way and causing even more damage.

Then God set in motion the plan to bring us back home to heaven.  That plan pointed to Jesus—even years and years and years before Jesus came.  The plan was a place where people could once again come close to God and worship God; a place where people could find some hope, peace and joy—some relief from the craziness of the world.  That place was called the Temple.  Originally it was large tent, a Tabernacle in the wilderness.  The inner most part of the Temple was the Holy of Holies where the Ark of the Covenant was kept.  Priests who served the people and served God would go to that inner chamber once a year and offer a sacrifice of atonement.  Other sacrifices were made every day and at special times throughout the year.  One significant sacrifice that each family celebrated once a year was the Passover.  All these sacrifices pointed to the problem of sin and the consequence of sin—death.

The sacrifices allowed an animal to die in our place, its blood shed in the place of our blood.  This pointed to how serious sin is, but it also pointed to hope and forgiveness.  Through the sacrifices and all the Temple rituals God’s people could be forgiven and come close to God for worship.

Yet all of this was temporary because it had to be repeated over and over and over again.  Every year.  Every day of every year.  To mess up was to risk the danger of being exposed because of the deadliness of sin.  So the rules and laws were important to protect and guide us.

Then, at the appointed time Jesus—the Savior of the world—came.  And when Jesus came on the scene the Temple and all its rites and rituals became outdated.  They were only there to point us to God’s permanent solution.  And when the permanent solution came, the temporary fix was no longer needed.  Hence, today if we were to go to Jerusalem you will find no Temple, no sacrificial system.  No blood letting.  because Jesus’ death on our behalf was the sacrifice to end all sacrifices.  We no longer have to travel to Jerusalem to worship or to find God.  God has come to us in Jesus.  Through Jesus we are all forgiven.  There is no longer any more punishment for sin.  Jesus took all the punishment for all the sin for all people, for all time on Himself.  So now, we are no longer spiritually lost or homeless.  No one need be excluded.  No one is left out.  Period! All that is left to do is belief and trust in what God has done for us in Jesus!  Do you trust Him?  I do.  Yet this is not a passive belief, or the end of the story.  It changes how we live with each other in this broken world.

Today we have homeless children and families in Utah, across our country and around the world.  War causes this.  Poverty causes this.  Selfishness and greed causes this.  Draught and weather affects it too.  Many children and adults are exposed to the storms and cold of weather because they do not have a place to call home, no shelter to live in.  No place of safety.  We care about them, or at least we should!  We care that they are in such predicaments.  And we try to do what we can to make a little difference.  We pray for them.  We try to be generous in a variety of ways to help them.  We do what we can.  A little bit can make a big difference.

Jesus makes it safe for us to be back in fellowship with God.  We need to work hard and make it safe for all to live with dignity, respect and safety in this world until Jesus comes again!

What you looking at?  The Witness of John the Baptist

John 1:19-34

My question today is, what if we consider letting others follow our gaze?  Let them see the focal point of our faith? Our witness can be words of hope and faith we share, but it can also be how we focus on Jesus and allow others to see Jesus as the focal point of our faith.

Faith is not about us.  It is about Jesus.  Our faith is never strong enough.  Our faith is never pure enough or above reproach.  It is the object of our faith—the focal point where the gaze of our hearts is fixed—that is important.  Being humble about what we believe is important!

John’s disciples followed the gaze of John the Baptist as he pointed to Jesus and said, “Behold (look at and consider), the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).  They followed John’s gaze and saw Jesus.

John did not push them for a decision.  He did not tell them how lost they were.  He did not tell them ‘I know something you don’t know; I have something you need to make your life complete…” He pointed to Jesus.

He did challenge them to be consistent.  Make your life match your lips.  Make your walk match your talk.  Be kind.  Be generous. Care for the poor.  Care past yourself.  Be content.  Be good.  Turn your life around.  And he visibly and audibly looked to Jesus.

In effect, John challenged his listeners to follow his gaze, and see who Jesus is; consider what Jesus’ purpose in life is about.  Then John let the Holy Spirit do the rest.

Not all witnessing needs to be confrontational or filled with apologetics (a word theologians use to talk about doctrinal truth—telling others how wrong they are, etc.).  Sometimes witnessing might be giving others permission to struggle with what they believe and not push them.  Sometimes witnessing might mean accepting that not everyone will immediately (or ever) agree with what we believe.  We shouldn’t be threatened by that.  Maybe we can express our faith out loud and own it personally without being arrogant or pushy.  Sometimes maybe just believing for ourselves and humbly holding on to our convictions and focusing in Jesus is a valid way of witnessing.

Let me know what you think.  I’d be interested in your response.