Living as God’s People Today/On Eagle’s Wings

Text:  Exodus 19:3-7 & 20:1-17, preached at Elim October 7 2018.

There is nothing like knowing who we are and what our purpose and meaning in life is.  There is nothing like having the confidence of knowing and understanding where we are and where we are heading in this world, like knowing we are making a difference; that we matter, count to someone, somewhere; that we are important.  That we have meaning and purpose!  That is just as important for us today as it has ever been.

So do you?  Do I?  Do we?

The above reading from Exodus 19 and 20 answers that.    

A short review.  God, out of nowhere, talks to Abram and promises him the world, so to speak (Genesis 12:1-9).  Abram believes and sets out to follow God, not knowing where and what!  

Joseph initially doesn’t see himself as part of that plan, but through the course and events of his life discovers he is very much part of the unfolding plan of God for the bigger picture (Genesis 39:1-23 & 50:19-21).  Last week we “witnessed” Israel’s deliverance from Egypt.  The children of Israel reluctantly follow Moses, end up getting trapped, fearing for their lives and crossing through the Red Sea on dry land only to find themselves wandering in the wilderness—desert area without food or water (Exodus 14).  They feel lost, betrayed, angry, thirsty, hungry, and pretty much totally fed up with Moses and his leadership.  How does Moses feel?  None to happy you could say!

Now here in our text from Exodus we see three months have passed.  The young Israelite nation is still alive.  They have not made very much headway, maybe a day or two’s travel so far.  And God begins to talk with them through Moses and gives them some definition of what it means to be God’s people in the world.

Abraham didn’t go looking for God.  God came to him and blessed him.  Moses wasn’t expecting to be in God’s service and complained over and over again that he wasn’t fit to lead God’s people.  Yet God came to him and blessed him.

The Israelites were crying out to God about their treatment as slaves, and their dismal existence in Egypt.  Their knowledge of God was very minimal yet. 

God “hears their cries” and comes to deliver them.  Their response?  They complain bitterly and make Moses’ job of leading them nearly unbearable.  The LONG ROAD TO FREEDOM would be an appropriate title for their journey and they are no where near to the end yet!  And now here we are in Exodus 19 & 20.  

God’s word to them through Moses?  

v. 4

You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.

That’s God’s perspective.  And the Israelites’ deliverance from their powerful Egyptian enemy was indeed miraculous!  The pillar of Cloud and Fire, the parting of the Red Sea, the drowning of the entire Egyptian army “dead set” on their demise and recapture for continued slavery!  That is quite the narrative.  Quite the birth story.  Quite the beginning of a young nation who has yet to discover who and what and where and why in their wilderness wanderings.  

You and I, too, have our stories.  Our battles within that we fight and lose.  Our dragons that we fight.  Our prisons and addictions and miseries.  And often even as adults we still don’t quite know who and what we will be when we grow up.  So, youth, don’t despair.  Hang in there.  Don’t get too hopeful!  Identity crises don’t end when you reach 20 or 21!

But God is active and on the move for the Israelites.  And, if you are willing to see and believe it—God is on the move in our world today!  Individually.  Collectively.  As a congregation.  As a nation.  We are the people of God—God’s treasured possession, God’s kingdom of priests, His holy counter-culture nation”—in this crazy world of ours today.  Looking at it this way, faith is much more than just a simple prayer of salvation for lone believers one at a time.  See the bigger picture.  See the evidence of God.  God is everywhere!  Grace is ubiquitous!  

“I have destroyed your enemies.  I have born you—carried you on eagle’s wings!  I have freed you from captivity.  I have brought you to Myself!”

Now, let’s give that some definition!  Unpack it.  What does it mean to be God’s people in this world?!  The Decalog—Ten Commandments— are given to help them understand their covenant relationship with God. They have a lot to learn about themselves and God.  They wander and lose their way and make more mistakes, and do a miserable job of being God’s people.  They wonder, who are we and what are we doing wandering lost in the wilderness!  Self discovery, discovering God and learning how to live for God in today’s world is not meant to be easy.  Make no mistakes—life is no picnic.

God brought the Israelites “kicking and screaming”— so to speak — to Himself.  Now He says, “obey My voice.  Keep My covenant.”  Note that God’s Ten Commandments—God’s principles of life for our relationship with God and one another as fellow humans—are part of the Covenant agreement God has brought us into through His call to us.  There is no “believer’s prayer” being asked for here.  Know God has called you and brought you to this point.  If you hear His voice, then obey His call.  Keep His covenantal agreement by living according to the life giving principles He gives us through these Ten Commandments.

The outcome, the out flow, the result of keeping God’s covenantal agreement is we will be His precious people—His treasured possession—for the sake of the world.  He will make us to be a kingdom of priests who can take His love and message to the world!  That means prayer for and caring for all the people of the world and their relationship with God.  

I can almost here someone say, “NO!” I don’t want that responsibility.  I want to play games, eat popcorn and watch movies.  Sorry.  This isn’t my word.  It’s God’s!  

The clear underlying message that permeates this whole reading is the message of Jesus and the cross.  The Israelites did not become God’s people because they were so holy, good and righteous.  Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, and all the characters of Scripture were called by grace and learned how to be God’s people by discovering and following God in their midst.  They didn’t seek God.  God found and called them.

The law was never meant to be given as a way of becoming God’s people.  That is abundantly clear and obvious, even though we humans get so confused about it all the time.  The law was to show us how much we need God’s mercy and grace, and to show us how to love tangibly and really in this broken, hard, cold world.  The law points to the Messiah.  The Old Testament, over and over again reminds us of our need for God’s Savior.  Over and over again the message of the Old Testament helps us see Messiah’s mission as universal; for the world, not just for the small chosen nation of Israel.  

This text, this sermon, God’s Word, is for us.  Know God is working in your life.  Know God is working in our world today.  Look past the brokenness.  Look beyond your inadequacies.  Look through the pain and suffering, the misery and evil, the hatred and bigotry.  See God on the move.  Through the Incarnation.  Jesus became human, one of us, to break us free from our own prisons, our own Egypts, our own captivities.  And now, because Jesus inhabits us—lives in us and through us as the people of God in this world today, Jesus uses us to soften and change and redirect the world.  There is no time to wimp or chicken out.  There is no time to lick our wounds and feel sorry for ourselves.  The world is dying to hear, to know, to experience the reality of God’s love in Christ, God’s amazing grace, God’s purpose and plan.  And we are God’s messengers, God’s tool for helping them know and experience that message.   

We might feel intimidated and overwhelmed.  We might say, NO THANK YOU GOD!  So did the first disciples.  They ran and hid.  They lied and denied knowing Jesus.  They wimped out.  Yet God used them and most of the world today has at least a minimal knowledge of what it means to be a Christian.  Unfortunately many people in our own country understand that Christian message through what we call fundamentalist believers who stress legalism and morality based on their own warped thinking.  They convey a confused message.  A message that confounds grace, that hides the cross of Christ and makes the love of Jesus conditional.  

It is up to you and me to clarify that message.  To live that grace out loud and help the Church to be the welcoming, encouraging discipling fellowship of broken and healed and equipped believers.  

Let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work.

In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Joseph

Genesis 39:1-23 & Matthew 5:11-12  (preached at Elim 9/23/2018)

Blessed or cursed?  Sibling rivalry.  Power struggles.  Feeling powerless?  Victims of those more powerful than us and seemingly in charge with no balance or checks.  Dysfunction.  Favoritism.  Betrayal.  Lying and deception.  Anger.  Revenge.  Prey and predatory sexual assault.  What!  Is this about Washington, D.C., the White House?  Our president?  No!  This is an old story from the first book of the Bible.  Genesis 39.  

Last week we spoke about Abram—God later changed his name to Abraham, Father of many—and his call.  Blessed to be a blessing.  That is one of the key take aways from Abraham’s call.  God does not call us to be special, spoiled children who have all the privileges and are loved more than others!  We are called to be God’s instruments in reaching out and caring for the world.  Called to be God’s presence—the body of Christ—in the world.  Blessed to be a blessing!

Joseph’s story continues along the same theme!

Joseph showed signs of being blessed and “special” from early on in life.  Jacob, his father favored him in an inappropriate way, causing conflict and jealousy among Joseph and his brothers.  Joseph’s dreams added to that jealousy.  

That sibling rivalry and jealousy erupted into hatred and plans of evil to kill Joseph. Joseph had been sent by Jacob to check on the brothers as they shepherded sheep, taking them from place to place for grazing.  When Joseph found them they plotted to kill him.  Reuben, one of Joseph’s brothers, talked them into throwing Joseph into a pit with the hope of rescuing him and returning him to their father.  Before he could put his plan into action the brothers saw a caravan of Ishmaelite traders and sell Joseph as a slave rather than murder him.  Joseph is then sold into slavery and is purchased by Potiphar who just happens to be the captain of the guard for Egypt’s pharaoh.  Joseph’s age is guesstimated to be about 17.

Talk about dysfunctional homes and families.  This story has been turned into books and movies already, and rightly so.  The drama continues. God has chosen Joseph, but at this point I’d question whether the idea of being chosen is a blessing.  It sounds and looks more like a curse.  

But, the text reads that God blessings everything that Joseph does.  Potiphar sees that Joseph is a gifted, talented young man.  He puts Joseph in charge of his entire household.  Joseph is living a a foreign country amidst strangers speaking a foreign language.  He no longer has any connection with his father or any of his brothers.  He is alone and surrounded by people he doesn’t know and customs he is unfamiliar with.  Yet he thrives.  He is now the head butler.  The chief steward.  The household manager.  Potiphar’s right-hand man.  And Potiphar’s household thrives under his management and care.  Verse 5 says that the Lord blessed Potiphar’s household for Joseph’s sake.  

And the plot thickens!  Mrs. Potiphar—we are not given her name—sees Joseph and wants him for herself.  He is young, athletic, good looking and obviously confident and gifted.  She wants to seduce him for herself.  “Come, sleep with me!”  she says.  Time and again she tries to persuade him to go to bed with her.  Time and again Joseph refuses.  “How can I do this evil.  My master trusts me with everything in his household.  I have complete authority to do what I want.  He’s withheld nothing from me but you because you are his wife.  How can I do such an evil thing and commit such a sin!!”  

This has has gone on for some weeks. Then it escalates. She catches him by himself in the house when they are alone.  The other servants are absent.  Mrs. Potiphar passionately grabs him to seduce him and tells him to make love to her.  He refuses and flees from the house.  Mrs. Potiphar has held onto him so tightly that he has to tear himself away—literally—and runs off with her holding his robe.  He runs off naked or in his skivvies.  

Now Mrs. Potiphar is the jilted lover. She has his cloak.  She uses that as evidence against Joseph and gets her revenge by telling the other household servants that Joseph tried to rape her.  When Potiphar comes home, she shows him the “evidence” and says “that Hebrew slave you bought and put in charge of everything tried to rape me!”  

Potiphar is enraged and throws Joseph into the castle dungeon.  Think about this.  God blesses everything Joseph does, and Potiphar’s household is thriving because of Joseph.  And now this.  Is Joseph blessed?  Or is he cursed?!  At this point he seems cursed!

What happens next?  Joseph finds himself in prison, and again is obviously gifted and talented.  The Lord continues to bless everything he does, and the jailor puts Joseph in charge of the prison.  Verse 21 says, “But the Lord was with Joseph in the prison and showed him his faithful love.  And the Lord made Joseph a favorite with the prison warden.  Verse 23 says, “the Lord was with Joseph and caused everything he did to succeed.”  And yet he stays in that prison for more than a decade.  Cursed!  

Some things to consider.  Joseph is “taken down” three times in our text, and then picked up and blessed each of those times.  First, he is taken down by being thrown into a pit, with the plan to murder him.  Yet he is “rescued—taken up” and sold as a slave.  Then he is “taken down” to Egypt and sold again as a slave to Potiphar—captain of the guard for Pharaoh, the king of Egypt.  He is lifted up because of God’s blessings and put in charge of everything in Potiphar’s house.  And yet again—a third time—he is taken down by an angry woman who sought to use her power and position. For her own sexual lust she tries to seduce a slave.  When Joseph refuses he is thrown into a dungeon.  No trial.  No defense.  Just accused and convicted and sentenced.  Blessed or cursed?!  And yet again, Joseph is put in charge of the entire prison because the head of the prison sees how good Joseph is at managing things.  He is a gifted, capable young man.  God blesses everything he does.  Just like Potiphar, the warden can put his feet up and not worry about anything because Joseph has it handled!  

For those of you who know this story, which takes up a good part of the book of Genesis, you know that though Joseph lies forgotten for nearly a dozen years in the dungeon, he ends up being the Prime Minister of Egypt and saving the entire country from an extreme famine.  Joseph’s father and all his family too are saved from the famine and we see the divine reason behind the scene for God’s choosing and blessing Joseph.  

The final chapter of Genesis shows Joseph’s brothers fearing for their lives. “What if Joseph seeks revenge and has us executed.  We deserve it!  He has the power to make it happen!”  Joseph tells them not to worry.  “You meant harm, yet God was working behind the scene to bring about good and the saving of many!”  

Blessed to be a blessing!  Indeed!  Can you see God’s purpose and plan being brought about in our world today?  When evil seems to reign uncontrolled; when evil people get away with murder, literally!  When the world seems to be out of control and God seems to be on vacation, look again!  

God was on the move through Joseph’s life and brought about good back then.  It didn’t happen over night.  Nor does it today.  But be patient.  Also, be willing to be chosen and to be used as God’s instrument for change and healing.  Who knows?  Maybe you are the next Joseph.  We are God’s hands and feet for the sake of the world today.  One act of kindness, random kindness can lead to another, and to another.  God can use a Joseph, or a Ruth Bader Ginsburg or you and me to bring about justice, healing and change.  Don’t despair.  Pray.  And then in holy boldness act!  God is on the move. Through us!

In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Finding Your Heart

Luke 12:13-34

This could be the story of Nemo.  Nemo in Latin means “no body.”  As such, it could mean nobody and everybody.  All of us.  

Jesus has a way of telling stories that cut to the quick, get us.  Get down and personal.  This story certainly does that for me.  Probably for all of us.  It is the story of someone who has more than enough and decides to take life easy.  And in the language of Ecclesiastes 9:7 “eat, drink and be merry.”

This story also reminds me of Steven Covey and his Seven Steps of Highly Effective People, the second step:  Begin with the end in mind.  As an introduction to this principle Covey has us imagine what people would say at our funeral.  On the basis of what you know about this un-named man—Nemo—nobody—what would you say about him at his funeral.  What defined his life?  If you could use a phrase or word to define him what would you say?

“Short sighted.”  “Narrow minded.”  “Small view of the world.”  “Narcissistic.” “Self focused?”  

He had amassed a wealth of grain.  He lacked nothing.  He was set for life.  He could take his leisure and retire.  The problem was he died that very night.  Ouch!  

Then Jesus sums up this short parable with the zinger:  “Life does not consist in the abundance of possessions” Luke 12:15.  And again: “Life is more than food and the body more than clothing” Luke 12:23.  And again:  “do not strive for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying…strive instead for God’s kingdom and you will have all you need!” (indirect quote—Luke 12:29-31).  And the gem of this passage, “Do not fear little flock, it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom.”

We can go through life trying to find something worth living for, something to pour our selves into.  Something that would make us feel like we mattered and were making a difference in the world.  

A factor that affects that desire is the fear of not having enough, not succeeding, not being or doing as well as others like us.  The result of course is that we feel like we are failures.  We feel inadequate.  

In today’s gospel reading we have two brothers whose father has died.  They have an inheritance to split and one brother is cheating the other—or at least that is the sense we get from our reading.  We do not know the circumstances.  Maybe the one brother is more responsible and has taken care of dad through an extended illness.  Maybe the one brother worked harder on the family farm.  Maybe the other brother was a slacker and irresponsible.  We don’t know.  What we do know is that one of the brothers comes to Jesus with the request that Jesus force his brother to share the inheritance.  

It is a fair request isn’t it?  Share and share alike.  That’s what we learned in kindergarten.  Don’t be greedy.  Share.

Yet how does Jesus answer this jilted brother?  How would you have answered him?  

In so many words He says that is not why I’ve come into this world…to be an arbitrator.  Do not let greed get hold of you.  Life does not consist in the abundance of your possessions!

Jesus then goes on to tell a parable about this rich farmer who hoards his excellent crop and decides to kick back and enjoy life—eat, drink and be merry!  (Eccl 9:7)

In the parable Jesus quotes God as saying, “You fool! Tonight you die!”  Then who will benefit from all that you have accumulated for yourself?  

We do not know anything about this rich man.  Did he have a family?  Next of kin?  Some sort of will?  Those bits of information are not important here.  Jesus draws attention to the idea of hoarding what we have rather than sharing it with others.  

Life is more than clothing.  Life is more than good food.  Life is more than the possessions and things we gather around us.  

Jesus draws attention to the birds and flowers and comments on how God cares for them—making the point that God will also care for us.  

Why seek to accumulate more and better things in life?  We have more than enough to share!  Strive (seek, pursue) God’s kingdom.  Be different than the world around you.  Strive for God’s values.  Sell your possessions.  Give to the poor.  Accumulate treasures in heaven.  

Heaven, by the way, is not a distant place in the sky here, rather the place where God’s rule and reign have sway.  The kingdom of heaven is a way of life that we can live in the here and now.  Do not let fear rule you.  Be generous.  Don’t live for the future.  Live to make a difference now.  Live generously.  Live God’s way!  

You want to find your heart?  Find your passion?  Find something worthy living and dying for to make your dent in the world?  Then strive to be kind and generous and good.  Strive to be like Jesus in the midst of this crazy world.  Let that be your passion. 

In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

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!