Wednesday, April 19, 2017


Easter Sermon (John 20:1-10;11-18;19-22) (4/16/17) (rather than a summary, I'm publishing the full version of my Easter sermon. The close may be of special interest to my Rotary friends.)

I’m a little disappointed in my secular friends this year.

First, like all years, the secular folks think it’s just another day.  You know, one of the good things about Easter if you live in the secular world, one of the good things about Easter is that it is easy to get a Tee Time.  Right?  But that doesn’t mean that most of those people on the golf course don’t believe in the resurrection. What it means is they don’t live a resurrection life.

A second reason I’m disappointed in the secular world this year, it they normally set up my Easter sermon.  Normally there are major features in Time Magazine, or productions on the History Channel or CNN challenging the very foundations of our faith, claims that there was no resurrection and we are to be pitied.  Remember a few years ago when they claimed to have found the ossuary of Jesus, the very bone box that contains the bones of Jesus?  Of course, the claim is if they have the bones of Jesus, then there was no resurrection.  What they actually found instead, were likely the bones of James the brother of Jesus!  Adding to the proof of Jesus and of the early Christian movement. 

Thinking of ossuaries, bone boxes, in 2012, they found another dating from 70 ad which shows the earliest documented evidence of belief in the resurrection.  The earliest documented evidence of belief in the resurrection.  On the outside of the box, was the sign of Jonah.  You remember the Jonah story.  And you may remember that Jesus was asked for a sign.  And Jesus replied, “No sign will be given to you except the sign of Jonah.  For just as Jonah was in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights, so the Son of Man will be in the belly of the earth.”  The sign of Jonah.  The belief in the resurrection.  And if the date of this box was about 70 ad, the people who made the box lived in the time of the resurrection, 40 years earlier.  Eye witnesses to the resurrected Jesus.

The more they dig, the more they find evidence of a resurrected Jesus, not evidence to debunk it.  They keep digging, and the more they know the more we know that the resurrection is real!

The bigger problem is not non-belief in the resurrection.  The bigger problem is those who believe in the resurrection, yet don’t live a resurrection life, who don’t live a resurrection life.

I who guess that maybe a lot of the people not in church this morning.  If asked they might say that the resurrection was real but it didn’t have much to do with them.

Here’s an example of a person who stated the resurrection was probably real, but doesn’t live a resurrection life.

I remember seeing the interview of a Prime Minister of Israel a few years ago, can’t remember which one.  Before Netanyahu.  He was touting the advancements of his little nation.  “We are first in this, first in that.”  Since a year ago, it was Israel that cracked the San Bernardino iphone, this year he could probably say, “We are first in cracking iPhones.”  But this is what he said, “Israel, of all the nations on earth, is first in resurrections.”

He said it, but I have a hunch that as a good Jew, it hadn’t changed his life.  He wasn’t living a resurrection life.

We are the Easter People.  We believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  The question for us is, tomorrow, as we go into the week, will we live our lives differently because we’re here today worshiping a Risen Savior?  What would it take?  “How can we make this belief in the resurrection change our lives?”

Unfortunately, I think we tend to live Good Friday lives rather than Easter lives.  Just as at the arrest of Jesus, the disciples scattered, we scatter.  And according to John’s Gospel, only John had the guts to go to the crucifixion.  The rest of them were scattered.

And even when John and Peter find the tomb empty, and even after Mary tells them “I have seen the Lord,” they are living in a world of lack of understanding with no impact on their lives.

How do we know?  In the first passage we read, it ends like this: “for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples returned to their homes.”  (John 20:9-10) They just went home.  Nothing much had changed.  Jesus had risen, but their lives had not changed.  They were still living in a Good Friday world.

So what is it that changed the lives of the disciples?  Let’s jump ahead in our Scripture on Easter.

Looking to Scripture.  Beginning with verse 19, to the evening of Easter: 19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  (John 20:19-22)
Returning to the first line: 19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews,

Some important things here.  The empty tomb was not enough.  The eye-witness of Mary Magdalene was not enough.  Their lives had not been changed.  “The doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked.”  Locked.  That, my friends, is not a Resurrection life, “locked.”  Cowering behind locked doors.

Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.”

“He showed them his hands and his side.”  John, of all the Gospels, is the most physical.  Only in John do we hear of the nails, and we shudder.  Only in John we hear of the blood and we squirm.  Only in John do we hear of the spear in the side of Jesus, and we feel horror.  And only in John do we experience the resurrected Jesus with the marks of crucifixion on his hands and in his side. 

In John we find a very physical, a very human Jesus, but also a resurrected Jesus, one who can walk through walls, can appear in a locked room.

But now, but now, we find out about the resurrection life: 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

Peace.  Peace.  An ancient greeting, “Peace be with you.”  A greeting, yes, but from the mouth of the resurrected Jesus, also pregnant with hope.  Regardless of how tough things are now, Jesus gives us hope.  He says in Chapter 14, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”  Hope.  You can take that to the bank.  With hope you can live as resurrection people.  You can live a resurrection life.

“Peace,” then “As the father has sent me, so I send you.”  God has a mission to reconcile the world to himself.  He sent Jesus on that mission.  And now he sends us.  “So I send you.”  Easter people, the resurrection life is continuing the mission of God in Jesus.  “So I send you.”

“When he had said this, “he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

If we are going to live the resurrection life, it is really, really important here to understand what John is saying.  John can be read either at a surface level as a literal story, or you can dig in a level and find a deeper, a deeper meaning.  That’s where we are going right now.

John’s Gospel is written in what I would call a “Garden Motif.”  Think about this.

John’s Gospel begins with “In the beginning..” (John 1:1) What does that remind you of?  Genesis.  The beginning of the story.  And where does the beginning of the story take place?  A garden right?  The garden of Eden.  John’s Gospel begins with the same words as Genesis, and we immediately think of a garden.

Then, when we get to the passion narrative, John’s Gospel is the only Gospel that tells us that Jesus’ tomb was in a garden.  In telling the story of Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus burying Jesus it says this, “Now there was a garden in the place where Jesus was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid.”  (John 19:41)

And remember this scene after the resurrection.  Mary Magdalene is in the garden.  “She turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus.  Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?”  Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have taken him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”  Jesus said to her, “Mary!”  She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabouni” (which means teacher).”  (John 20:15-16) Rabouni, I love that.  But it means more than teacher.  It is a term of endearment.  It means “dear teacher.”

But here’s the garden motif.  “Thinking of him to be the gardener.”  The gardener.  In a garden.

And then in the final chapter of the Bible, Chapter 22 of the book of the Revelation, a book we believe was written by this same John, it ends in a garden.  “On either side of the river is tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit for each month; and its leaves are for the healing of the nations.”  (Rev 22:22) A garden where the world is finally reconciled to God.

Three gardens.  The garden of Eden, where we fell away from God.  The resurrection garden where the world was changed forever.  And the last garden, where we will all be restored, reconciled into perfect relationship with God.  But it was in the resurrection garden where everything changed; where we became the Easter People capable of a resurrection life.

So Easter people, let me tell you why you were changed forever. 

You remember in the creation story, the first garden story, where it says, “And the Lord God formed man out of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.”  (Ge 2:7) You remember that?

Now Jesus breathes on us again.  In breathing on us and giving us the Holy Spirit, he has made of new creations.  Remember, he tells Nicodemus, “You must be born anew.  You must be born of water and the Spirit.”  Here, in the garden, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”  And they and we became new creations capable of a resurrection life.

Folks, this is the garden that changes everything.  This is the garden where you became Easter People.  This is the garden where you become new creations.  This is where Jesus commissioned you to live a Resurrection life!  “As the Father sent me, so I send you.

A story of a resurrection life.  Three weeks ago, Rosemary and I were at the farm in South Dakota.  I received a phone call telling me that a friend that was in the hospital.  A second call, a shattering call that I was not prepared to believe, was that he was being placed in hospice.

I’ve known Richard for 20 years, as long as I’ve been in Columbia.  He’s my age.  He was member of Northwest Rotary, and later, he was there on the Salvation Army Advisory Board when I joined.  The most industrious member of the Advisory Board.  He had led the capital campaign for Harbor House, the Salvation Army’s shelter for the homeless.  He was so successful that they had full funding before they ever broke ground.  He was instrumental in organizing the publicity for the Red Kettle campaign year after year after year.  Richard was an awesome volunteer.

As a Rotarian, he coordinated community volunteers for as long as I can remember. 

Because of Richard’s coordination, we all served meals on wheels.  It was great because we did it two by two.  The Jesus way, right?  I have made fast friendships simply because we served meals together.  Two people riding in a car from house to house delivering meals and talking.

Richard organized groups who packaged food at the Food Pantry.  We worked on Habitat for Humanity homes because he organized them.  We assembled PET, Personal Energy Transportation for those who have lost use of their legs from mines or polio and then had them shipped to Guatemala. 

Most notably, five years ago, Richard organized our club as a Partner in Education with West Boulevard Elementary school, a school with one of the highest percentages of children from impoverished homes in the city.  All 15 classrooms have one or two Rotarians to help teachers, motivate kids, become mentors, whatever it takes. 

To give you an idea, this last Tuesday, I was told by a volunteer that goes to her first grade class each and every week, that one day she arrived and the class was in turmoil.  One of the favorite playmates was not there.  DFS had just taken her away because her Mom had gone to jail.  That classroom needed a Rotary volunteer that day.  And Marilyn was there to help with the children because Richard had coordinated that effort.

Richard has been a positive influence in my life.

We got back from South Dakota Thursday night.  I went to see Richard on Friday morning.  I first went to Boone Hospital.  He had been discharged.  I called Richard’s number and yes, he was home, and yes, to my dismay, he had been placed in hospice care.  Could he take visitors?  Yes.  I went to see him.

I have to say, it was one of the most difficult visits I’ve ever made.  I was exhausted when I left.  His doctors had given him days to ten days.  He said that one of the of the advantages was that he given the time to be able to tell others what he wanted them to know.  I told him I’d come back the next day, Saturday, and help him write his story.

I did.  It was one of the best conversations that I have ever had with another human being.  What he conveyed to me was a resurrection life.  He talked to me about his upbringing, his parents.  We talked of his failed marriage and regrets that he had had.

But most of all he had talked to me about his alcoholism.  It had haunted him from college.  It had haunted his professional life in advertising and radio until 1996 just a year or two before I met him.

He told me that he had two small groups that had shaped his life.  Two small groups that loved him.  Two small groups that supported him. One was his AA group and the other was at his church.  And as it turned out they overlapped.  His AA group was at his church and there were several members of both.

What he described to me from that point forward, the last 20 some years of his life, was a resurrection life.  His life had been a trash heap until that time.  What he described to me that for the last 20 some years of his life he was a New Creation.  He may not have heard these words, but the same just the same, “Just as the Father has sent me, so I send you.”  And God had breathed on him and he had become a new creation, powered by the Holy Spirit.  Just as surely as if he had been in the Upper Room with the disciples on that Easter evening.

I asked Richard what he really, really wanted others to know about him.  He said that he wanted others to know that he cared, that he really, really cared about the homeless and the down trodden and the marginalized in the world.  That he really, really cared.

He was carrying on the mission of Jesus Christ. “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”  Richard was living a resurrection life.

He told me he’d already decided what he wants others to do. He said, you know in that line where it says, “Donations can be made”?  I don’t want that.

Simply say, “In lieu of donations, “Ring a Bell this Christmas for the Salvation Army; deliver a meal to a shut-in for Meals on Wheels, read a story to a fourth grader at West Boulevard Elementary; fill a backpack for hungry children at Central Missouri Foodbank; paint a room for Habitat for Humanity; assemble a PET for the disabled.”

“Rick, simply say that.”

What do we do when Jesus says, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you,” What do we do when he breathes on us and makes us New Creations?  What do we do?  As Easter People, we have all been born anew of water and the Spirit, we have all been breathed upon.  What do we do?  We live a resurrection life.  So may it be with all of us.  Amen.

Thursday, April 13, 2017


Sermon Summary (4/9/17) “The Gathering Community” (Mt 16:8; Eph 4-13 excerpts)

I just finished Pillars of the Earth for the second time.  Great read.  Set in 12th century England, the heroes are Prior Philip, Tom Builder and Tom’s stepson Jack who by the end of the 973 pages has built a soaring cathedral of a new design.

It reminded me of my college humanities teacher when teaching this era talked of a revolutionary architecture involving “Flying Buttresses,” just dropping it in there like I knew what a “flying buttress” was.  It took me 48 and reading the book to find out.  As it turns out, master masons were building churches to the heavens without appreciation of the wind loads on the churches high above the ground.  Until they employed external supports called flying buttresses, the churches would crack and sometime collapse.  The book in large part is about buildings.

I bet you thought church was about buildings.  “Church” is an unfortunate translation from centuries ago of the Greek word, ekklesia, which is better translated as assembly or gathering.  I like community, church as the gathering community.  After all, Paul didn’t go around the Mediterranean building buildings.  No, he built communities. 

Jesus never intended that we build buildings, “You are Peter and upon this rock I will build my ekklesia, and the gates of hades will not prevail against it.”  A gathering community, Christ-birthed, that will never die!  How is it that we become part of the gathering community?  Christ is the builder and we are stones (of differing size, shape, even color) all with different functions.  Not all are foundation stones or corner stones, but some must be or the building will crumble.  Some too must be flying buttresses or the building will collapse. 

Differing stones but Paul tells us we are one body all with differing gifts according to the grace of the Holy Spirit.  He emphasizes that all gifts are of equal importance and meant not for you but for others, for building up the body for ministry.  You the gathering community are the body of Christ equipped to do his ministry, to be his hands, heart and feet of Him on earth.

The most significant arena for disciple-making is the local church, the local gathering community.  Our mission is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.  Another way of saying it, is to lead others to an active faith in Jesus where an active faith is loving God, loving God, serving the world, changing lives is Jesus Christ.  How are we doing? Do we ask each day, how can we can spend an hour to strengthen our devotional lives better loving God and is there someone in the gathering who can mentor us?  Do we ask how we can we spend an hour each week loving others, if only to have a cup of coffee with them or to read to a shut-in?  Do we ask how we might spend an hour each month serving the world?  And do we ask how the community can mentor us to change lives in Jesus Christ, ourselves and others.?  Amen.

Saturday, April 8, 2017


Sermon Summary (4/2/17) “Can We Rely on the New Testament?”  Luke 1:1-4

A story… about a boy growing up in Jerusalem in 30 ad.  His mother’s name is Mary, she may have been “the other Mary” at the tom She may have been related to Mary, the Mother of Jesus.  In the book of Acts, we find that she had a house with an upper room.  This is where the family observed the Passover.  And could it have been that if this family was related to Jesus’ family, that when Jesus' family came to Jerusalem for Passover each year that they observed it together here?

This year is different.  This year there is a stir in Jerusalem.  Jesus has entered Jerusalem and declared himself to be the Messiah!

It’s Thursday night.  Dusk will begin the Passover.  But tonight is different.  Instead of the families, Jesus is in the Upper Room with the disciples.  Mother has allowed me to help serve the meal.  And I sit in the corner of the room while the Jesus and the disciples talk.

There’s something new here.  Jesus takes the bread, blesses it, breaks it, gives it to his disciples and says, “This is my body broken for you.”  What can he mean?  After supper he takes the cup and says, “This is my cup of the New Covenant poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.”  What does he mean?

They sing hymns.  They leave the Upper Room and go out into the darkness.  I need to follow them.  Even though it’s past my bedtime and I’m dressed in my linen bed clothes, I need to follow them.

I follow them to Gethsemane.  I see Jesus praying.  But then I’m not sure what happens.  There’s calamity, there’s chaos, there are soldiers.  I run away.  This is what I say later:  51 A certain young man was following him, wearing nothing but a linen cloth. They caught hold of him, 52 but he left the linen cloth and ran off naked. 

“Young man.”  I was a boy.  I was a boy enthralled with Jesus.

What happened following that was a blur.  A trial, crucifixion, resurrection—yes! Ascension, Pentecost.

Pentecost.  They were meeting again in the Upper Room.  O, I wish you could have heard Peter’s sermon.  Powerful.  I want to learn everything I can from Peter.  Peter had been with Jesus since the beginning.

For ten years I’ve hung around the Jerusalem church.  One day my cousin Barnabas comes and we go to Antioch together.  We spend some time with Paul.  Paul, now there is a driven man.  He had encountered the Risen Lord on the way to Damascus.  I’m still a young man and I have difficulty following Paul’s instructions so I stay on the islands with Barnabas while Paul goes off on his journeys.

It’s my chance to learn Greek and I learn it well.

Years later I arrive in Rome.  There is a church there, followers of Jesus.  And Peter, Peter arrives.  He doesn’t speak Greek very well and he doesn’t write it at all.  He needs a secretary and an interpreter.  It seems as if I have been preparing my entire life for this.  I spend nearly ten years listening, writing, recording all that Peter has to say.  They are the most exciting years of my life.

Then, Peter is dead.  Crucified by Nero.  Paul, too.  Beheaded by Nero.  Who is going to tell the story?  Who is going to preach?  Who will tell of the miracles?  Of the healings?  Who will tell the parables? Who will tell of the Kingdom of God?

Who is equipped to write the words that will become the template for the greatest story ever told?  The story that points to Jesus, a story that I rely on because I wanted to become his follower.  Suddenly, I realize it is me.  God had equipped me to write down Peter’s story about the Good News, the story that points to Jesus, “The Greatest Story Ever Told.”  God has equipped me!

My name is Mark, and this is my story.  And you can rely on the story, “The Greatest Story Ever Told.”  Amen.


Sermon Summary (3/26/17) “Wrestling With the Culture Wars?”  Lev 18:22; 1 Ti 1:8-10

Remember Matthew Shepard?  Beaten, tortured, left to die, trussed to a fence near Laramie, WY. I never understood the hate that some harbor against gay people until Matthew Shephard. In fact, growing up in the 50s in South Dakota, I knew little about gay issues.  I guess the first time I ever had to talk about them was at an Annual Conference in NY when our working group voted down legislation that would have liberalized our rules about what we believe and about ordination of gays.  A young woman there said very sadly, “I guess I’ll never be able to fulfill my dreams in the United Methodist Church.

When I told Rosemary that I was going to talk about in this sermon, she said, “Why?  Why would you ever want to do that?”  I might have changed my mind except that just last Sunday a 350 member church in Wichita voted to exit the Methodist Church because of their uncertainty about where the church will come down on issues of human sexuality.  The church is beginning to be torn apart.

Last year the Western Jurisdiction elected a gay woman as bishop and the South Central Jurisdiction, our jurisdiction, immediately brought her up on charges.  The trial will be this year and regardless of the outcome, the church will continue to be torn.

So where do we go?  The Book of discipline while calling us to extend grace says, “Homosexual conduct is incompatible with Christian practice.”  That’s what the church says.

What do conservatives say? How do they interpret the Bible?  And how do progressives interpret it?  One would think the Bible would have a lot to say on such a hot topic, but there are only five passages and Jesus was silent on the issue, didn’t even allude to it.

I’ll let you read the passages above.  Conservatives say, “The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it.” 

Progressives say that passages must be read within the context of the cultures that they addressed, that Moses wrote into the abhorrent religious practices of the Canaanites, that Paul wrote into the extensive promiscuity of the Greek and Roman temple worship .  And neither have anything to do with our understanding of homosexuality today, and therefore don’t address today’s understanding which can be life-giving.  They argue word itself only originated in the late 19th century as did psychiatry, our understanding of human behavior.

I’ve wrestled with this issue for 30 years and I’ve finally come to understand that while we wrestle we are to “Do no harm.”  I cannot love my neighbor when I wish them or do them harm.  My task as I wrestle with it is to be a follower of Jesus, “A new commandment I give you, Love one another.   Even as I  have loved you, have love for one another.  By this you will be known as my disciples, if you have love for one another."  As we wrestle with our understanding of the issues, we remember Jesus saying, "If you love me, you will obey my commandments, Love one another."  Amen.