Friday, October 1, 2010
What a great way for you and your church leadership groups to review, renew and launch transforming ministries for your congregations! Some just don't have time to spend eight hours in from of the TV, but would have time in their cars or on the jogging paths or sidewalks while walking their canine friends.
You're in luck! The sessions are now available for download and use on your iPod or mp3 player or you may burn a CD to use in your car. Take a look in the right hand panel of this blog. The files are available for immediate download. They are large files so be patient. If you are on dialup, or just need a more convenient way, drop me a note and I'll send you a CD.
Audio and Video are different experiences. You'll learn something different in each format. If you have formed a team at your church, here's my recommendation: Then during the week, listen to the audio session. Send emails to each other with the ideas that God has placed on your mind.
And may you be blessed!
Monday, June 7, 2010
(1 Samuel 7:7-12)
Below is a the Memorial Sunday sermon at Smith Chapel, how we can become an Ebenezer, a living memorial to God's help. After listening to Bishop Schnase describe the Wesleyan approach to salvation and sanctification through Grace, I thought it important for us to hear my take on friend Dorothy's story, part of the sermon below. The hymn of preparation was "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing" and the Scripture reading was 1 Samuel 7:7-12.
Ebenezer, in our song and our Scripture, “stone of help,” but also stone of remembrance for it helped them remember. Last Tuesday, we visited our stone of remembrance, the memorial stone of our son Jeff. Jeff would have been 48 on June 30th, one month from today. August 13th will be 30 years, but he will always be 18 to me. Jeff was Rosemary’s best friend. He was Curt’s constant companion. He was our son. In his short life, he had experienced more than most. He had a job that he loved, he had a girl that he loved, and who loved him in return. He had friends that he loved who cared about him. He was passionate about life. He loved life and it loved him in return. How do we memorialize a life so precious to us? How do you live in response to the love that he had given us? A stone of remembrance yes, but our best response is a life of remembrance, a life lived as a memorial to life of love that he lived. Our lives as a stone of remembrance.
Sometimes when tragedy happens, we have trouble even getting on with life, let alone living our lives. We have the question in our hearts continually, the question that has plagued humankind since the beginning, the question that in so many cases drives people away from the Christian faith. The question of course is “Why do bad things happen to good people?”
You’ve all asked that question. Certainly Ilene has asked the question. Certainly Cecil has asked the question. When we think of Julie, I think we all ask the question. My hunch is that every single one of you have asked. Many times with unsatisfactory answers, many unsatisfactory answers from good, well-intentioned people. They say, “It was all part of God’s plan.” Or “God takes the very best for his own.” Or “God loved him the most.” Well, then, I don’t want God to love him. In fact, I don’t want a God that had it in his plan to snatch Jeff from us. How can we have faith in such a God? How can we raise a stone, a memorial to such a God?
It’s the kind of thing you might have heard from your friends. It’s the kind of thing you might hear from the more vocal of the Christian community today. “God has a plan. It was all part of God’s plan.” It’s the kind of thing that drives many away from the faith. You might have heard it, but you won’t hear it here. It is not Methodist. It is not Wesleyan. It’s not part of our DNA.
John Wesley had a running battle with friends of his who followed the French theologian, John Calvin, who believed that all things were predestined by God. Even those who are to be saved and those who are not to be saved are predestined by God. That was unacceptable to Wesley who believed in a God of grace. A God whose grace was available to all, not just some. God’s love, God’s mercy, God’s grace is available to all. O, we have the free-will to refuse it, we can choose, but God’s grace is available to every one of us.
How does this address the question of “Why do bad things happen to good people?” The world is fallen, evil exists, bad things happen because of the choices we have made from the beginning. Choices made by both people and spiritual forces. Paul called them “powers and principalities”; they make choices too. Choices result in accidents. Choices sometimes result in evil. Bad things happen to good people not because God chooses them, but because people do. Choice gives us the freedom to love, to experience joy. It also gives us the freedom to do harm.
Or because that’s the way a fallen world is. We choose to go certain places. We choose to go at certain times. We live in certain places. The hurricanes that provide water for thousands of square miles, provide devastation at the seashore. The same thunderstorms that water the plains spawn tornados. The wild beasts that provide food also are a threat to life and limb. We live in a fallen world, but someday we know that the lion will lie down with the lamb. That is yet to come. For now, bad things do happen, but we know that God is there.
The important thing for John Wesley was the understanding that God’s grace was available, not just available, but working in each and every one of us even before we know it. Wesley was not alone in his understanding, but was following in the footsteps of a Dutch theologian, Jacob Arminius, who had set forth certain principles in opposition to John Calvin. Wesley embraced Arminism, as it came to be known, and our own denomination as well as many other Wesleyan denominations, such as the Church of the Nazarene, the Salvation Army, Assemblies of God; and many others like the Disciples of Christ have followed and others, most all flowing from Wesley’s teachings.
And how important is this understanding? It makes understand that God’s love is for all, not just for some. We don’t have a God who picks and chooses. We have a God who loves all of his children and wants all to believe in him and love him in return. By the way, that should influence the way we view others.
It makes us understand that we are immersed in God’s grace that is continually nudging us, but that we have apart to play, we have to accept the nudging of God’s grace. Understand there is nothing we can do by ourselves to save us. It is grace. But what we must do is make the choice to accept it.
It makes understand the power of prayer. What good would prayer be if all things were predestined, even the prayers we say tonight? We choose to pray because we know we have a God who loves us, and God who hears our prayers. Not that all are answered to our satisfaction. Evil forces exist in this world that resist grace and bad things can happen.
But it makes us understand that nothing can happen that cannot bring God glory, even the most tragic of circumstances. Tragedy happened in Jesus’ life. His friend Lazarus died. Jesus used it to bring glory to God. Bad things happen in our lives. If we will allow God, he will take those tragedies and bring glory out of those too. I praise God today because he has been at work in my life.
Yes, I think the Wesleyan understanding of God’s grace, God’s love, makes our lives much more important because we have choices to make. What we do with our lives matters. It matters to us. It matters to others. We can choose to make our lives a memorial. We can choose to make our lives a difference. And I would submit that we make a difference best when we follow the teachings of Jesus.
We are the body of Christ. Jesus is our head. We are to have the mind of Christ. Paul called Jesus the pioneer and perfector, perfector, of our faith. It is Jesus to whom we look. It is Jesus who we follow. It is Jesus in whom we believe. It is in following Jesus that we build our lives into a memorial for Him and for those we love. Our lives become an Ebenezer when we choose to follow Jesus.
Making choices is not always an easy thing. We are immersed in a world of bad options. It’s easy to make bad choices when we are surrounded by bad options. Fortunately, Wesley had some things to say about that too. He taught us too how we are to live our lives in following Jesus, how we can best make choices. We talked of that last year when we did our sermon series on Wesley’s Three Simple Rules.
First, do no harm. Recall that we said that this was the first rule because in so many cases it is so difficult to undo harm. We can be forgiven, but the consequences of harm remain.
Then, do good. Do all the good you can, to all the people you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, for as long as ever you can.
Finally, stay in love with God. We do this by immersing ourselves in grace and saying yes to God’s nudgings. We immerse ourselves in grace by doing all those things associated with the devotional life: We pray, we read and hear Scripture, we study, we partake in Holy Communion, we fast, we gather in community to enter into holy conversation. In so doing, we hear the love of God proclaimed and we respond in love.
This week I read a facebook note from my friend Dorothy in Springfield. She had attended a Joyce Meyer event this past weekend where Joyce had talked a lot about, “what you think, you become.” She was challenged to spend some time each day thinking about what she was thinking about. It struck a chord with her.
On Tuesday morning, her Bible opened to the following verse, one of my favorites: Philippians 4:8 "Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable - if anything is excellent or praiseworthy - think about such things." NIV
Wow! Dorothy thought about in the shower, then on the drive to work. Then she thought about what she thought about. When the day was done, she wrote this:
What goes into my head, thoughts, judgments, etc., can be pretty scary sometimes… Man, are my eyes wide open now. Here are a few examples that will bring me to a place that is noble and just and lovely and admirable:
1. I will not shade any of my thoughts with deceit or lies.
2. I will think about others with respect and honor.
3. I determine to think on what is virtuous and decent.
4. I will keep my thoughts focused on good things.
5. I will look for the inner beauty in the people I meet - after all God created them.
6. I will focus on the best qualities of people I know.
7. I will avoid sloppy attitudes.
8. I will recall those things that cause my heart to praise God!
She concludes: These are the biblical teachings that will better shape my day to help me better shape the world where I am.
Dorothy is becoming a memorial, a stone that will help others remember who and whose they are. How does this come about? It is grace. God’s grace. We can do nothing apart from God. But there came a time from God’s nudgings (Wesley called it prevenient grace—grace before we know it, grace before it’s convenient) there was a time Dorothy responded and said yes to God. God forgave her of her sins and brought her into a relationship with Him. She became a Christian. She was justified, she was made right. She was brought into a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. We call this justifying grace. You see grace is God’s love continuously poured out for us. God continued to pour out his love, to continue to work in Dorothy’s life. He nudged to go to the Joyce Meyer seminar. She said yes. Through the voice of Joyce Meyer He placed an idea before her. She said yes. On Tuesday morning he nudged her to read her Bible. She was again immersed in grace. She said yes. He placed Paul’s letter to the Philippians before her. It shaped her thoughts to which she said yes.
How do our lives become a memorial? Wesley believed that God does not leave us alone. Through our immersion in grace, our immersion in God’s love, from our saying yes, day after day, God moves us from where we are towards where he wants us to be. Wesley called this sanctification. Moving on to Christian maturity with God’s help. Yes, I would say on to becoming an Ebenezer, a monument a stone to God’s help.
Stones are a big deal in the Bible. (Note: Small stones are passed out to each in the congregation.) A search will reveal almost 400 occurrences, depending on the translation you might be using. Some notable remembrances of stones in the Bible:
Jacob used a stone as a pillow the night he dreamed of Jacob’s ladder and angels ascending and descending from heaven. In the morning he set it upright as a pillar, pouring oil on the top of it and saying, “Surely the Lord is in this place and I did not know it…. How awesome is this place. This is none other than the house of God and this is the gate of heaven.”
Stones. The Ten Commandments were given on two tablets of stone.
Joshua had the Israelites take 12 stones out of the Jordon River after they had crossed over and set them up as a monument to God so that anyone who asked in times to come they would know they were a monument to God’s mighty acts so that they might fear the Lord forever.
There was the Ebenezer stone, the stone of help.
There was the stone Jesus commanded be removed from Lazarus’ tomb, and the stone that was rolled away on Easter morning.
Then, there was Christ, the cornerstone.
Finally, we are to become stone of remembrance, an Ebenezer, a monument to God’s help for those around us to see.
One more thing, we become a memorial, a stone of remembrance, when we live a life of gratitude.
As we drove away from the cemetery, from Jeff’s grave last Monday, I asked Rosemary a question I’d heard another time. “If you knew, if you knew the pain, the suffering, the anguish that you’d have gone through because of the loss of Jeff, because of the bad things that had happened to this good child. If you knew, would you have had children?”
Her response was the one that I know you know: “I’m grateful for the time I had with him. I wouldn’t trade a moment, not a second of that time.
The time we have with one another is precious. A precious stone, more precious than gold. You see that precious stone is hope. And that too is grace, an undeserved gift of love from God. The hope that we will join again with those who have gone before, join with them in the presence of Jesus Christ who is our stone of hope.
Our hope is in Jesus Christ, the answer to our deepest longings, and our most difficult questions. When we ask, “Why?” We need not know the reason. Reasons may never be satisfactory to us. What we need is our stone of hope. We need gift of Jesus Christ.
With a gift like that, how can we not live our life as a stone of remembrance, as a memorial to all that God has given us.
So may you all be stones of remembrance, carrying in your hands the precious stone of hope to the glory of God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He is our help and we are his stones of remembrance, his Ebenezers in a world that desperately needs his help. Become a stone for all to see, and as Dorothy said, to shape the world around you. Amen.
Saturday, June 5, 2010
Strategy #4 Create Momentum
Or how to break through resistance and lead change!
Leaders motivate. Managers channel that motivation. In the case of “Creating Momentum” both are clearly needed. Channeled activity without motive is doing the same old thing. Motivation without direction is simply chaos. Momentum mathematically is a “vector,” ie it has a direction as a component. In other words, it is channeled energy. So the leader’s task is to achieve channeled energy that moves the congregation toward his or her vision.
So how does a pastor create momentum? What does he or she focus on? Buckingham and Coffman, First Break all the Rules (pg 57) say emphasize your strengths. Jim Collins, Good to Great, says select something you can do world class, that you are passionate about, that makes the biggest difference (he says “economic denominator”; I say that produces the most "extravagant generosity" or the most "radical" participation by your congregation.)
What can you do world class, better than anyone else? Everyone has something. Our little church does Vacation Bible School (VBS) world class. We have an average attendance of 19 that includes two children. Yet we had 18 kids in VBS last year with a teenage dancer leading awesome music, in a multipurpose barn a half mile from the church, with a neighbor mom, home schooler, as a wonderful Bible teacher. To be world class, we didn’t just depend on our own resources, we used the community. And we had fun! Three years ago it rained. One of the mothers rounded up 10 plastic water bottles and tennis balls, and we did VBS bowling down the church aisle. The first one to 153 (the number of fish caught in John 24) won. And we had fun. (Two years later, Cokebury used the same game as one of its recreation programs.) Did I say 18 kids?
The intersection of what you are passionate about, what you can do world class, and what radically maximizes participation should be the fruitful ministries that are your focus. Then Collins says the best achieve success over and over again creating an accumulation of visible results that energize their companies (congregations). Momentum builds and bursts through resistance to change!
Success is best visible in PRAY-PLAN-DO-CHECK-ACT cycles. Rick Warren says, “[Practices] must be put into a sequential process [to] be acted on every day.” Bishop Schnase says, “Exemplary and repeated practices.. are the means congregations use to fulfill their missions with excellence and fruitfulness [changing lives in Jesus Christ].”
Create momentum by doing what you are passionate about, what you do best, what brings extravagance and radical participation and do it in an exemplary and repeated manner… Changing lives in Jesus Christ!
Bob’s Farrism: “Successful churches do what unsuccessful churches refuse to do.”
Friday, May 28, 2010
The Strategy Themes discussed below were presented by Bob Farr, Director of Congregational Excellence, Missouri Conference UMC, as part of a presentation “Renovate or Die: How to Become an Outwardly Focused Church.” The following discusses Strategy #3 of 10.
Strategy #3 “Begin with the Basics.”
“May a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!”
Bob suggests “Start with great worship, great music, great children’s programs, do the Five Practices well.” That would be quite a report card. Even Adam Hamilton says Church of the Resurrection gets a “B” in worship. (That’s enough for the rest of us to revise our report cards.) So where in the world do we begin? I would suggest with what you do well and make it better.
Edward Deming is the Father of total quality management that revolutionized the Japanese automobile industry. The heart of it is the simple “Deming Cycle”: Plan, Do, Check, Act (and I would suggest immersed in prayer). Again, Adam Hamilton reports that the worship team meets every Monday to review how the worship weekend went and how they can do better. Not only that, Rev. Hamilton has an associate monitor his Saturday night sermon to make recommended changes for the Sunday services. Would we be so bold? Pray, then Plan, Do, Check Act, and Pray. By the way, without a team accountable to make what the activities better, your church will not be intentional or successful in your effort. The best team is the team of doers. James was right, “Be doers…, not merely hearers.” Then the gospel according to Deming says, “Then do it better, one step at a time. Plan, do, check, act.”
Small churches believe they are strapped from doing great things by limited resources. God uses others; we should too. There are talented people in our communities who are just waiting for our invitation to make a joyful noise or to lead Vacation Bible School (VBS). Want to have a great VBS? Find a teenager in your neighborhood who loves to dance and sing. Give her the Cokesbury CD and Music Director’s book a month in advance and watch your VBS blossom. Young girls will admire her, and well, boys will be boys.
Children’s programs, VBS, Sunday School, Youth Programs need to be fun. Kids learn and are attracted to the faith in fun environments. Jesus called himself a “bibber.” Can you imagine what He might have been like as a child? Make fun foundational and you will have the beginnings of a great children’s program.
Then Practice, Practice, Practice, Practice, Practice (that’s five). And “Make a joyful noise.”
Tuesday, May 18, 2010
The Strategy Themes discussed below were presented by Bob Farr, Director of Congregational Excellence, Missouri Conference UMC, as part of a presentation “Renovate or Die: How to Become an Outwardly Focused Church.” The following discusses Strategy #2 of 10.
Strategy #2 “Understand Your Present Realities”
The house closest to our 175 year old country church is a fairly new modular home where a single dad, his child and girl friend reside. He is one of the 80 plus percent of the people in our neck of the woods for whom church attendance is not important. Chuck does not look like our church. The neighborhood has changed. Rather than a farm community, it more closely resembles suburbia with residents traveling to a half dozen communities for their labors instead of making their living off the farm. There are few ties to the land. So not only Chuck, but most of our neighborhood does not look like the church.
Some of our church members live on 100 year old farms. Many, many of the neighbors are new and younger and living on smaller parcels of land. Because of that, the church doesn’t know their neighbors. The church members were high school classmates of 1964 and their parents. The neighbors don’t do 4H or woman’s groups with the church members. They don’t go to the sale together, because the neighbors don’t go. Most are not sure who’s behind the new mailboxes.
(By the way, if asked, most of the members would say there’s nobody around here anymore (that looks like them). Yet, a missioninsite listing within a six mile radius returned 800 mailbox addresses!)
In the book Stones into Schools, the story of Greg Mortenson planting girl’s schools in Afghanistan, he tells of visiting a US Army fire base where the operations center tracked not intelligence on the enemy but the culture of villages, the clans, the households, everything imaginable about the community the battalion was trying to secure. Mortenson gave them high marks for their efforts to know those they were sent to serve. What if we were to strive to know as much about the communities in which we live?
Just this week, I had an Edward Jones broker knock on my door, telling me (I’m sure his tongue was in his cheek), “I’m not here to sell anything. I’m just trying to get to know the neighborhood.”
It’s easier if we have a reason to talk to people. We need to continually make reasons for invitation, reasons to knock on doors, reasons to start conversations, reasons to ask neighbors to participate with us. Adam Hamilton says that today the reason may more likely be a means of service, in a food pantry, at a Habitat work site or other work project. Some rural churches piggy back with bigger churches to offer Angel Food Ministries to their neighborhood. Servant evangelism does work. Whatever it is, we need to be searching for reason for invitation. Rick Warren calls them “bridge events” into the neighborhood. How many, how often? As many as the resources of your congregation will allow: three, five, seven times a year.
And teach your congregations they don’t have to be a theologian, they don’t have to be an evangelist. All they have to do is be able to say is “I go to church. Church is important to me. Church makes a difference in my life. Won’t you join me this Sunday.” Then make sure you give them something to take away.” (Rev. Ross Reinhiller, who grew his church from 175 to 350 attendees in 2 years in a town of 3500 people.)
Get your thinking caps on. What is your church’s reality? What do you need to do to bridge to the new reality? How do you become missional? What do you need to change to give them something to take away, something important to them?
PS. Bob’s Farrism is “Connecting to context is everything.”
Friday, May 14, 2010
(2 Timothy 1:5)
There always seem to be the need for disclaimers for Mother’s Day sermons. Because
-Some are. Some are not.
-Some were. Some were not.
-Some will. Some will not.
-Some are chosen. Some chose not.
-Some are good, have experienced good mothers. Some have not.
So with every Mother’s Day sermon, there seems to be a need for a disclaimer.
3. I like smiles. So here goes.
To the second son, she wrote, “Marvin, I’m nearly blind so I can’t drive. I stay home all day, so I really don’t use the Mercedes.”
Finally, there were Six-year-old Johnny and his four-year-old sister who Suzy presented their mom with a Mother’s Day present; a small, spindly house plant. While it wasn’t the finest looking specimen, they had bought it with their own money and Mom was thrilled. She hugged and kissed her children and told them she loved them for thinking of her.
Johnny said, "There was some other flowers we wanted to buy for you, Mom, but we didn’t have enough money." "Yeah," said sister Suzy, "they had a real nice bunch of flowers at the shop that we were going to buy."
"But I love this plant," said the happy mother. "I know, Mom," said Johnny, "but these flowers would have been perfect for you. They were in a wreath and they had a ribbon that said ’REST IN PEACE’ on it AND YOU’RE ALWAYS ASKING FOR A LITTLE PEACE SO YOU CAN REST.”
1. Mothers don’t always have it so good. I have to say that not even the mothers of the Bible (May they rest in peace) did not have it so good.
-Elizabeth, like Sarah and Hannah, gave birth in her old age. There was joy in the family. I think grandmothers can appreciate that.
-Bathsheba saw her son Solomon become King.
-Mary was blessed with a remarkable child, we call him Jesus.
The bible has good things to say about women. Women get the last word in the Book of Proverbs: (Please Read Proverbs 31:10-31)
When a remarkable woman, a remarkable mother is mentioned we all have someone we know come to mind, someone we would tell about. For me, it might be Rosemary (but that’s too close to home). It could be my next door neighbor, Lorraine, who prayed 40 years for her son and her prayers answered at the close of her life. But the woman I would like to tell you about is my grandmother Emma Matson.
Emma, Grandmother Emma, Mother Emma. Here’s her Bible. One of my treasures. I doubt that I would have served you these past six years if it were not for Grandma Emma’s faith.
Emma, you might say that she followed Hakon as the Biblical Ruth had followed Naomi, “Where you go, I will go. Where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God.” From the comfort of a life in Wisconsin to the wild and unforgiving west. “Where you go, I will go.”
Emma went and was a witness to her faith in every circle she traveled. And that includes mine.
“A good woman, a good mother, where will you find? She is far more precious than diamonds.” Happy Mother’s Day. Amen.
Thursday, May 13, 2010
Strategy #1 “It all starts with the pastor.”
The pastor is the congregation’s visionary, whether his or her own or derived from the congregation. The leader’s role, sorely needed in the church today, is to be a CHANGE agent. (Maybe we ought to respell it “chng” because it is certainly thought of as a four letter word!) The leader, the pastor, is causes change. Unfortunately, it often takes conflict and chaos to get change started and perseverance to push through the resistance.
I like Thomas Hawkins’ model for overcoming resistance. We’ve talked about it in past years at School of Lay Ministry:
• Where “D” is Dissatisfaction. Dissatisfaction drives urgency and motivation that are essential to change.
• “M” stands for Model. Without a vision, without a clear picture of a new state of being, the church cannot move. Last year we talked about the “Missional Church,” an Acts 2 church steeped in the Commandment (Matthew 22), Compassion (Matthew 25), and Commission (Matthew 28) of Jesus Christ, undergirded by the Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations, a Congregation with a purpose of making new disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world!
• “P” stands for Process. The congregation needs to see a way to get there or frustrations will remain. Here’s why the Healthy Church Initiative is so important. It is a visible process that gives hope that the church can really move to a new place. Change can happen!
Now note that the left side of the equation is a product of the three parts. As any one goes to zero, so does the whole left hand side!
• And the “R” is Resistance. The product of “D*M*P” must be greater than “R,” the resistance, or you and the pastor will never push through!
Yes, it starts with the pastor, but without a supportive laity, the vision will be lost. That’s why I think the Laity Leadership Development (LLD) program that our Conference Lay Leader, Brian Hammonds, has championed is so important. Laity need to be equipped to work side by side with our pastors in moving congregations to make new disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
Ask your pastor what his or her vision for the congregation is. Be ready to help make it happen, to push through conflict, to move forward.
PS. Bob’s “Farrism” is “If you are going to lead, you are going to bleed.”
Saturday, May 1, 2010
It is still the Easter Season on the Church calendar, but this morning the recommended Scripture takes a leap backwards, back to December, back to the Festival of the Dedication, also called the Festival of Lights, a joyous time on the Jewish calendar. It’s still celebrated today in nearly every Jewish home. You know it as Hanukkah. Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights.
A little background that everyone in the first century knew and when we know helps our understanding of some of the more difficult passages in the Bible. We’ve mentioned it in passing before.
The first century world was immersed in a Greek culture and they had been for hundreds of years beginning with the conquests of Alexander the Great in about 330 bc. After the death of Alexander, the known world was controlled by three dynasties: One based in Macedonia that controlled much of the Northern Mediterranean; another based in Egypt that controlled northern Africa, and a third based in Syria that controlled the near east, Persia and Mesopotamia. In essence the Greek culture was spread from Italy to India and from Macedonia to Egypt. And of course that included Palestine.
Israel had fought hard for a thousand years to maintain its religion and culture in the face of Egyptian Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian, and now Greek domination. Had they not succeeded, we would probably not be here. We might be worshiping Zeus until God came up with another plan.
In the second century bc, the Greeks had had enough. They were going to put an end to this upstart Jewish culture and religion once and for all. A very egocentric ruler Antiochus Epiphanes (Epiphanes means god manifest if that will give you an idea of his character), Antiochus Epiphanes came to power in 175 bc in Syria. It wasn’t enough that the culture was trickling into Palestine’s, Antiochus Epiphanes wanted to destroy and outlaw everything Jewish. In 170 bc Epiphanes invaded Jerusalem. Scrolls were destroyed, circumcision was outlawed. Mothers who had their babies circumcised were executed with their babies hanging around their necks for all to see. Gymnasiums and baths were built. These were to be center of culture rather than the Temple. As many as 80,000 were killed and persecutions were horrid.
But the crowning blow came in 167 bc when the Greeks entered the Temple, stripped it of gold and silver, made it a Temple to Zeus, and then on the 25th day of the month of Chislev, essentially the month of December, they performed a desolating sacrilege (using the words of Jesus) by offering a swine, a pig on the altar of the Temple.
Now there was a Priest named Mattathias who had five sons, all heroes, the oldest named Judas Maccabeus fought back against great odds. It was an epic fight for freedom. Three and a half years from the time the Temple was violated, three years to the day that the desolating sacrilege, the offering of the swine had taken place, Judas Maccabeus had recaptured and cleansed the Temple, and re-lit the candles, the lights of the Temple, thus the Festival of Lights, and offered a sacrifice on a re-consecrated altar.
Three and a half years was a time told in the book of Daniel, and it appears in the book of the Revelation. How long will this last? When will I know? Is this persecution to last forever? The answer is a limited time, three and a half years and it is a message of hope. Suffering will not last. God will deliver us. Joy will come in the morning.
The Temple was cleansed, the lights re-lit and there was a joyous celebration, the apocryphal book, 1 Maccabees, says with songs, harps, lutes and cymbals for eight days. It was a time of great joy and Israel decided that it would be celebrated every year at this same time in perpetuity. And so it is. Suffering will never have the last word. Persecution will never last. God promises deliverance. God gives us hope. God promises joy. And we celebrate.
But during this Festival of Dedication, John tells us it was winter. I think John was telling us there was a chill in the air. There was pall over the celebration because the Jews were trying to destroy the Lord of Life. At the time of this Festival of lights, the Jews were trying to snuff out the Light of the World. The Jews. The Jews in the parlance of John were the Pharisees and others that opposed Jesus. It was they who were trying to extinguish the Light of Life.
Our passage today is from John, chapter 10. In chapter 8, Jesus had said, “I am the Light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (8:12) But by the end of chapter 8, the Jews were trying to stone Jesus.
In chapter 9, Jesus restores sight to the man who had been blind from birth. When the Pharisees try to tell the man that Jesus is a sinner, he says, “I know not whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, but now I see.” (9:25) By restoring sight to the blind man, Jesus is giving him light. Jesus, the Light of the World. It should be a cause for celebration, but there is a chill in the air. It is winter, and Jesus walks under the cover of the Portico of Solomon to escape the cold winter rains.
In frustration, the Jews gather around him and say, “How long are you going to keep us in suspense. If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” (10:24) Jesus replies, “I have told you plainly but you do not believe.” But more importantly, he says, “The works I do in my father’s name testify to me.” (10:25) Isaiah had foretold what the Messiah would do. It had to be on the minds of the Pharisees and on the mind of Jesus: “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless shall sing for joy.” (Isaiah 35:5-6) Jesus had healed the lame, given sight to the blind, loosened the tongue of the dumb, restored hearing to the deaf, he had done all of those things. The works that he had done in the father’s name were testimony to him.
Today’s reading in John chapter 10 is right in the middle of the “I am the Good Shepherd” discourse. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, contrasts himself to the thief who comes to steal the sheep, the hired hand who has no stake in the herd and runs at the sign of danger, or the wolves who come to destroy. These come to kill, or steal, or abandon. Jesus is the Good Shepherd who comes that you might have life and it abundantly (10:10). In our passage he says, “I’ve told you [that I am the Messiah], but you do not believe. The works that I do testify to me, but you do not believe because you do not belong to my sheep. My sheep hear my voice. I know them and they follow me. I will give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are One.” (v 25-30 NRSV and NASB)
Because they would not believe, the adversaries of Jesus did not belong to his sheep. We believe. We know we need to believe, but they did not. Why not? Why in face of not only his words, but his works which testified to Him? Why did they not believe?
Simply, they had the wrong world view. We sometimes use the word paradigm which is a philosophical framework on which we hang all of our understandings. I think of it as a filter, a lens by which we view the world. We often can’t see outside of that filter or outside of the field of view of that lens. Those things that are outside of our field of view we disregard.
The Jews had been using a paradigm of who the Messiah was to be for 1500 years. For them, the Messiah would be a prophet, yes, of the lineage of David, yes, who would restore the nation to its greatness. They were looking for a warrior who would throw off the shackles of Rome as Judas Maccabeus had thrown off
Jesus had come as a prophet yes, of the lineage of David yes; but not as the warrior David, but as the shepherd David. Not to restore the grandeur of the nation, but to establish the kingdom of God. Not to re-consecrate the Temple, but to be the Temple. Not to renew the sacrifices on the Temple altar, but to be the sacrifice that takes away the sins of all the people. He was outside their paradigm, outside their world view. And He was a threat to them.
And then when he says, “I and the Father are One,” to their ears, within their framework, their paradigm, it was simply blasphemy. The concept of One God in three persons, simply didn’t fit their world view, their paradigm.
We too get stuck in paradigms. Why is it we get so stuck in our paradigms? A story about paradigms that might help. This was told by Frank Koch in the journal “Proceedings,” the magazine of the U. S. Naval Institute:
Two battleships assigned to the training squadron had been at sea on maneuvers in heavy weather for several days. [Koch says he] was serving on the lead battleship and was on watch on the bridge as night fell. The visibility was poor with patchy fog, so the captain remained on the bridge keeping an eye on all the activities.
Shortly after dark, the lookout on the wing of the bridge reported, “Light, bearing on the starboard bow.”
“Is it steady or moving astern?” the captain called out.
Lookout replied, “Steady, Captain,” which meant we were on a dangerous collision course with that ship.
The captain then called to the signalman, “Signal that ship: We are on a collision course, advise you change course 20 degrees.”
Back came the signal, “Advisable for you to change course 20 degrees.”
The captain said, “Send, ‘I’m a captain, change course 20 degrees.” “I’m a seaman second class,” came the reply, “You had better change course 20 degrees.”
By that time the captain was furious, He spat out, “Send, I’m a battleship. Change course 20 degrees.”
Back came the flashing light. “I’m a lighthouse.”
We changed course [Koch says].
In the world view of the Jews, the paradigm of the Jews, the Messiah was to be the battleship, the Messiah was to be like Judas Maccabeus who would throw off the shackles of the earthly oppressor. When Jesus came, He was a light house, the light of the world. The Jews were not about to change course.
In the world view of the Jews, the paradigm of the Jews, the Messiah was to be the battleship, the Messiah was to be like Judas Maccabeus who would throw off the shackles of the earthly oppressor. When Jesus came, He was a light house, the light of the world. The Jews were not about to change course.
Mixing metaphors, they were not of this light house’s flock and His signals were not known to them. Jesus said, “You do not believe me because you do not belong to my sheep.”
Even though Jesus, the shepherd, had taught them his voice, they did not believe him to be their shepherd and they did not respond to him. This shepherd was outside of their paradigm, their worldview. Jesus says, “The sheep hear my voice. I know them and they follow me. My father is greater than all else and no one can snatch them out of my father’s hand. I and the father are One.” (10:27, 29-30) This was a paradigm shift they could not accept.
“I and the Father are One.” Unity. Jesus’ unity with the Father was in his relationship with the Father, one of perfect love of the father and perfect obedience to the Father. Perfect love and perfect obedience are the two pillars of unity. And Christ asks unity for us and of us. In John 17, just a few chapters later, Christ prays to God for us saying, “I ask..on behalf..of those who will believe in me...that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us so that the world may know you sent me.” (17:20-23)
Christ praying that we become one with one another, one with Him and in so doing our oneness, our unity testifies to Christ, that God has sent him. We are to have oneness with Christ so that all the world may know him.
The twin pillars of unity are love and obedience. The manifestation of these pillars of unity are works that testify to Christ. Just as Jesus said, “The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me.” The works that we do, the works of the Church of Jesus Christ, also testify to Jesus Christ.
First Pillar: We love God by first believing in him and making that belief manifest by the works that we do that testify to Him.
Second Pillar: We secondly obey God and make that manifest also by the works that we do that testify to Jesus Christ.
In so doing we become one with Christ, one with the Church, one with one another. And we give witness to Christ through our works. That is how the story is told. That is how the world may come to know that God has sent him.
Today is “Change the World Sunday.” But for us, I would prefer it to be “Change the World Summer” as we involve others in the community to gather Health Kits, the things we do in Christ’s name, and thereby witness to him that God has sent Him. Being one with Christ and witnessing to him.
One in love that comes through belief, and one in obedience because we hear his voice saying, “My sheep hear my voice and I know them, and they follow me.”
Susannah Wesley, mother and spiritual guide of John Wesley is quoted as saying, “There are two things to do about the gospel: Believe it and behave it.”
Believe it and behave it. In so doing you will have unity with Christ and with one another. So may we all become believers and become behavers, and in so doing, become one in Jesus Christ. Amen.
As you know by now, we eloped last week to celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary with dear friends who live just north of Daytona Beach, Florida. The highlight of our trip was on Sunday. After church (we were Lutherans last Sunday), we headed for Orlando. Marlitt had called a week or two in advance and asked that we stay Sunday night because they wanted to (as our anniversary present) to take us to the opera in Orlando. Now, these friends are our German friends, and Wolfgang (we call him Fred) speaks seven languages. So if the opera is Mozart or Wagner that’s their native language. If it’s Italian, no problem, they speak Italian. Rosemary and I speak South Dakotan. Now they do have subtitles that flash across the top of the stage, and God bless ‘em, the subtitles were in South Dakotan. Good. Actually the opera was Porgy and Bess, in English, sorta’, and it was awesome. A full symphony orchestra, flawless, engaging performances. We have to say we loved it.
But, it was the trip to Orlando that I wanted to talk about. Fred and Marlitt had this little device called a GPS that they stuck to their windshield that provides directions for them to get from their house to the opera house. As soon as Marlitt backed out of the driveway, this little thing said in a soft voice, “Turn right in 100 feet.” And it was right!
In addition, there was a broad green arrow on the display that started straight ahead and then turned right. And then when we got going, it would say, “move left (or get in the left lane), turn left in one quarter mile.” And it was right again. And the arrow showed the way.
Now, give me a map and compass, and I’ll find my way anywhere. But without either, intuition just isn’t good enough. Here’s the difference between men and women. Women know they will be lost and they ask for directions. Men, don’t know they will be lost, and don’t ask for directions. Case in point. In the late 60s, we drove home from Ft Rucker, AL, to South Dakota, and hit Birmingham at traffic hour. Since my destination was not the middle of Birmingham, I decided I could skirt it, go around most of the traffic. That was without a map or a compass. And I didn’t ask for directions. We got miserably lost, in the wrong part of Birmingham. You may remember what was going on in the Birmingham in the 60s. Where we were was not the place to be lost.
But I digress. It is the third Sunday in Easter. The eggs may be stale. But the Easter story never gets stale. When you read the Gospel of John it seems all of the stories are told in the light of the resurrected Christ. Here’s one of the big differences in the Gospels. Mark, written first, is written as if the Messiahship and the resurrection are hidden from the disciples. It’s as if they are saying, “We didn’t know. We were with him for three years and we didn’t know. It was hidden from us.” Matthew and Luke are somewhere in between. But John, before he get’s halfway through, Jesus is saying, “I am the resurrection and the life.”
And this story, this story, is like it is the call of the disciples told early in the other gospels, but here in John told in the light of the resurrection. Remember the stories in the other gospels? Jesus goes to the Sea of Galilee and calls Peter, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” This is almost like that story told in light of the resurrection. If it is not the same story, it is then the “recall” of the disciples by the resurrected Christ. After all from that point forward, the lives of the disciples were defined by the resurrected Christ and so are ours. “Follow me.” No GPS required, “Follow me.”
This last chapter of John is kind of the epilogue. It wraps the whole story together. The book could have easily ended in the previous chapter, Chapter 20, but the author wraps all the story together, pulls all the pieces together and re-calls Peter in the light of the resurrection. It is the renewal of Peter’s call to discipleship in the light of the resurrection. And we too are called and re-called, daily, in the light of the risen Christ. It is our story too.
Beginning in verse 3. Simon Peter says, “I am going fishing.” And they disciples say, “I am going with you.” Resurrection Sunday has come and gone. We don’t know the time frame here. The disciples have left Jerusalem and returned to Galilee. We know from Matthew and Mark that that is where Jesus told them he would meet them. It might have been weeks since Jesus has appeared to them in the Upper Room. Weeks since they’ve seen Jesus. I somehow think Peter is in the doldrums. Would he ever see Jesus again? And what were they to do? Peter says, “I’m going fishing.” Back to what he knows. Back to the material world. “I’m going fishing.” And the rest say, “I’m going with you.” You see, the Easter Sunday story may be about the promise of the future. This story is about the presence of the resurrected Christ in our lives. It is about the present. The resurrected Christ re-calling us (cast your nets on the other side), restoring us (do you love me?), sending us (feed my sheep and follow me). It is about the presence of the resurrected Christ and it is about the present.
“Children, haven’t you any fish?” Jesus had told them in the parable of the vine and the branches, “apart from me you can do nothing.” “Haven’t you any fish. Cast your nets on the right side.” If you abide in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit…if you love me, you will keep my commandments.” And the story tells us they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. The present reality of the resurrected Christ. Abiding in him, obeying him, finding fruitfulness in him.
The beloved disciple says, “It is the Lord.” Now I think they knew that but sometimes you just have to state the obvious. “It is the Lord.” It is the resurrected Christ who is present in my life, who makes all the difference. Apart from him I can do nothing. But sometimes, sometimes we go back to fishing, we get lost in the material world and we lose sight of Christ. We don’t even recognize him when he appears to us, calls us. It takes someone else to say tous, “It is the Lord.” It is the presence of the resurrected Christ in our lives that makes the difference. Christ is hidden by the world, but revealed by love.
The beloved disciple says, “It is the Lord” and impetuous Peter who has been working stripped down, puts on his clothes and jumps into the water while the other disciples drag the net full of fish. Reading from verse 9: When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. 10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” 11 So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. (John 21:9-11)
Then there is this thing about the 153 fish. Lots of numerology in the Bible. Lots of conjecture. My favorite comes from Saint Jerome, fourth century scholar and the one who translated the Bible from Hebrew and Greek into Latin. The Latin Vulgate Bible. Jerome, great scholar. He said that 153 represented the known species of fishes in the world. That when nets are drawn to Christ, no one is excluded. All are offered faith. All are offered salvation. We all receive the invitation.
And the nets are the church and they are not torn. No one, of any nationality, race or creed is excluded. O, we can surmise that some do not accept the invitation, but all are included. It is the reality of the resurrected Christ that draws us to him. It is his church, the church of the resurrected Christ who includes them. All of them.
When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there with fish on it and bread. Then Jesus took bread, broke it, gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. (21:9;13) Jesus and John do not lose a chance to give us spiritual meaning by means of simple symbols. Peter had denied Jesus three times around a charcoal fire in the courtyard of the high priest. He is about to be restored by the risen Christ around another charcoal fire. The risen Christ makes his presence known in the gift of broken bread. We recognize the presence of the risen Christ as we receive the gift of bread in the Eucharist. Jesus feeds the disciples before they are called to feed his sheep. We too are spiritually fed before we are sent as his church to draw in his nets.
15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. 18 Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” 19 (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.” (John 20:15-19
“Peter do you love me more that these?” (More than your boats, your nets, your material possessions; or more than the other disciples? Could be either) Do you love me more than these? Lord, you know that I love you. “Feed my sheep.” Three times. Then “Follow me.”
The resurrected Christ was present to Peter. Peter’s life would be shaped by the presence of the resurrected Christ. This resurrected Christ who ate with them and allowed them to touch his hands and put their hands in the scars of his side. This resurrected Christ was real to the disciples, he was present with the disciples and he defined their lives.
“Peter, do you love me?” “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. If you abide in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit, but apart from me, you can do nothing.” The love for Christ would shape the life of Peter. He had a personal relationship with the risen Christ. He acknowledged the presence of Christ with him every step of the way. Peter could have said, “And he walks with he and he talks with me. And he tells me I am his own. And the joy we share as we tarry there, none other has ever known.”
When we acknowledge Christ. When we allow him to influence the decisions we make and the shape of our lives, we have a personal relationship with him. The resurrected Christ is present with us. The resurrection is a present reality. It is if we say too, “And he walks with me and he talks with me.”
Turn right in 100 feet. Move to the left lane, turn left in one quarter mile. Follow me.
The thing about that GPS on the windshield is that if you disobey it, if you turn too soon, or too late, or in the wrong direction it will tell you. Turn around, turn right, turn right, turn right. But finally, if you just won’t obey it, it’s silent for a while. But then it assumes you still want to get where you are going, and it calculates a new path from where you are to get us on track.
It says, “Follow me.” So may it be in all of our lives. Amen.