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Holy Week Readings and Reflections

Apr 18th, 2019 by Pastor Robert | Comments Off on Holy Week Readings and Reflections

It is Holy Week, and rather than preview the sermon for Sunday (we will absolutely be celebrating the resurrected Christ!), I want to suggest some scripture for reading and reflection for this Maundy-Thursday, Good Friday, Saturday, and finally Easter Sunday!

Maundy-Thursday: John 13:1-38

Jesus is our Lord, but Jesus also came to serve us. One way Jesus’s service to us is modeled is when Jesus washes his disciple’s feet. This, incredibly humbling act, placed Jesus in the category of servant. How does it make you feel that God’s

only Son, Jesus, came to serve you? How does this knowledge inspire you to live your life?

 

Good Friday: John 19:1-42

This week as I reread the story of Jesus’s arrest, torture, and crucifixion, I was struck by how quickly the friends and disciples of Jesus abandon him. On top of this, I was struck by how much power Jesus had. As God’s son, Jesus could have stopped every event from unfolding the way it did. When you suffer, do you remember that Jesus also suffered?

 

Saturday:

During my seminary training at Fuller Seminary I visited the Jewish Temple and Center in Pasadena, CA. Twice, during the service I attended that day, congregants were asked to stand if they were bereaved. This practice captured my interest then, simply because I had never seen grief acknowledged communally in a worship service before. Now, the image of those few men and women standing comes to me as I think of Jesus’s friends and disciples on Saturday. I wonder if they went to synagogue or to the temple that day. I wonder if they stood to show their grief. When you mourn the loss of a friend or family member, how do you share your sadness with those around you?

Sunday: John 20:1-18

Hold your head high,
Christ has risen.
Rejoice and shout,
Christ has come calling us home.
Home to the heart of God,
Home to God’s living presence,
Home to God’s banquet feast.

Hold your head high,
Christ has risen.Death has been conquered,
Christ has come calling us home.
All that was broken has been made whole,
All that was dislocated has been set right,
All that was oppressed has been set free.

Hold your head high,
Christ has risen,
Bringing God’s healing,
Christ has come calling us home.
Redemption is complete,
God’s eternal world has begun,
Love reigns over all,Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah,
Christ has risen calling us home.

–Christine Sine

 

 

 

Jesus comes…riding on a donkey!?!

Apr 10th, 2019 by Pastor Robert | Comments Off on Jesus comes…riding on a donkey!?!

Ronald Heifetz may have been talking about Jesus when he said, “Leadership is often a matter of failing people’s expectations at a rate they can stand.” Think about it, for the Jews of Jesus’s day, they had pretty clear expectations about who their messiah would be! A warrior who would bring political power back to Jews; a judge who would bring ethical, moral, and religious truth to an unfaithful world; but a peaceful servant-leader? Jesus’s triumphal entrance into Jerusalem on a donkey was certainly failing people’s expectations, but perhaps not at a rate they stand!

From Jesus’s birth to his baptism and ministry, his work was always about teaching, healing, and reconciliation to God. Forcing people to follow or coercing them to take a side wasn’t Jesus’s approach. Rather, when the disciples are called, he invites them, “Come follow me”; when he sees someone who is sick he asks, “Do you want to be healed?” Jesus sees people’s faith, and Jesus’s word casts out demons and heals the sick. What is gentler or more powerful that words spoken in truth? It reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from C.S. Lewis’s book The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. In this allegory, four children prepare to meet Aslan, a lion who represents the Christ figure in the book:

“Aslan is a lion- the Lion, the great Lion.” “Ooh” said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion”…”Safe?” said Mr Beaver …”Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

The servant-leader, King Jesus, riding into the Holy City, Jerusalem on a donkey is a surprising sight. It fails people’s expectations and challenges us to seek God’s vision for the world. A vision that teaches us that peace triumphs over hate and violence. A vision that teaches us that love ought to guide our decisions. A vision that shows us that gentleness and humility have more power than all the armies and war toys of history.

I invite you to join the crowd’s ruckus, “Hosanna, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” This is our surprising King! Our Messiah! Watch carefully, listen intently—become like this King, become like Jesus.

“Lazarus, come out!”

Apr 4th, 2019 by Pastor Robert | Comments Off on “Lazarus, come out!”

“Lazarus, come out!” This is the resounding call I hear coming from John 11:1-44.

Jesus hears of his friend’s approaching death and yet he waits two more days to make the journey to Judea. Jesus says, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it” (John 9:4b).

Jesus encounters Lazarus’s sisters who, through their tears of grief tell him, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 9:21b and 32b). But Jesus responds, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever live and believes in me will never die” (John 9:25-26).

Jesus arrives at the tomb, and though overcome by his own grief and sadness, speaks the words, “Lazarus, come out!”

Theologian and pastor, R. Kent Hughes reflects, “[God] wants us to pour our hearts out to him. He cares so much that he enters into our sorrows. He is not an impassable, stoic God. Rather, he feels our pain and weeps along with our weeping. He understands us better than we understand ourselves. He brings joy and resurrection life into our afflictions Believing him, we find peace and joy in the delays” (John: That you May Believe, 292).

I will be the first to admit, that sometimes I am frustrated by the mysterious working of our God, I am angry and discouraged by a world wrecked with violence. However, I also want to say, I take great comfort in our God, the creator of this universe, who will, “wipe away every tear from our eyes”, who will make, “death will be no more, neither mourning, or crying, or pain anymore, for the former things will have passed away” (Revelation 21:4). We do not need to look far to realize that our God is committed to life, to healing, and to restoration. While it is healthy to have a realistic perspective in this life; we can also claim hope, life, and the resurrection power of Jesus!

Light from Darkness

Mar 27th, 2019 by Pastor Robert | Comments Off on Light from Darkness

In John 9:1-41 we read the miraculous account of Jesus restoring the sight to a man who has been blind from birth. As is so characteristic of the book of John, Jesus represents light in the world, while some others around him contrast darkness.

Specifically in this story, a man who was blind from birth, who only ever knew darkness is now, not only revealed Jesus (the Light of the World) but also literal light in the physical world we live in. However, the Pharisees, who by every account ought to know and recognize “The Light” when they see it, can’t seem to understand who Jesus is. In this story roles are reversed, Sabbath is certainly treated as holy. Indeed Jesus fully restores the man on that sacred day.

During Lent it is important to learn about the teacher Jesus, to understand what kind of Messiah he is, and to notice his servant-leadership. When the man born blind is questioned about his healing he replies, “Whether he [Jesus] is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!” (John 9:25). The gracious and loving God we serve moves and works in mysterious ways. But we can be absolutely certain of God’s faithfulness, we can be certain of God’s love, we can be certain that God brings restoration when we are broken.

Let us turn our eyes towards Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith (Heb. 12:2)

Jesus Teaches us to Pray

Mar 20th, 2019 by Pastor Robert | Comments Off on Jesus Teaches us to Pray

We are halfway through the season of Lent, a time of Spiritual Retreat, of turning toward God and learning from Jesus so that we may be for the prepared for journey through Holy Week.

This week our church is looking at the text of Matthew 6:5-14, Jesus’s teaching on prayer. This is the beloved text leading up to the Lord’s Prayer, and Jesus is careful to instruct his disciples to pray prayers similar to his in secret, without calling attention to themselves, and leaving behind flowery language—I love the way The Message Bible interpretation explains Jesus’s words,

“And when you come before God, don’t turn that into a theatrical production either. All these people making a regular show out of their prayers, hoping for stardom! Do you think God sits in a box seat?

Here’s what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won’t be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace.

The world is full of so-called prayer warriors who are prayer-ignorant. They’re full of formulas and programs and advice, peddling techniques for getting what you want from God. Don’t fall for that nonsense. This is your Father you are dealing with, and he knows better than you what you need. With a God like this loving you, you can pray very simply.”  

God doesn’t want us to try to impress others through our prayer, we don’t need to use big words or worry about perfectly spoken phrases. God does wants our attention, God wants our time. When we pray God desires our gratitude, our ability to acknowledge who God is, to humbly ask for the things we need, and to seek reconciliation with the only one in the universe worthy of extending forgiveness to us. And, we can pray with faith, because our Heavenly Father already knows what we need and is ready and able to provide for us.

Jesus’s Baptism

Mar 5th, 2019 by Pastor Robert | Comments Off on Jesus’s Baptism

John the Baptist preached a radical message of repentance from sin, John lived in the desert far from the sacred caverns of the Temple, and father still from the rituals and staunch practices that most Jews would have abided by in his day. And yet, this is the very man Jesus seeks to begin his ministry. The rule followers among us have red flags flying and sirens blaring: “What are you doing Jesus?! Don’t you know that it’s the Pharisees, Sadducees, teachers of the law, scholars and scribes that you need on your side? Not your crazy cousin in the desert!”

I suppose Jesus is simply not a rule follower. Jesus is sinless though, and John knows this. He attempts to persuade Jesus to baptize him instead of the other way around. But Jesus insists and what follows is the assuring voice of God from heaven; saying what we all long to hear from God, praising his child as we all desire to hear our Heavenly Father praise us, “This is my son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

Jesus does not engage in the act of baptism to repent from sin—he is sinless, Jesus is baptized because Jesus came to be in relationship with us. Jesus came to be near to sinners, Jesus came to be near the lost, to be near the broken and sick, to be near to those who recognize their sin.

This is why John’s message of repentance is so beautiful. John prepares the way, teaching us that the Kingdom of God is coming because God is coming. Our repentance does not hinder or quicken the arrival of the Kingdom, rather it is because God has turned to us that ensures the Kingdom’s arrival. Jesus is this turning, Jesus is this coming, and Jesus’s baptism shows us that God is not too lofty to humble himself to the dirty waters of the Jordan, and the image of a dove descending on Christ shows us that God will bring new life—-just as the dove that brought a sprig of leaves to Noah after flood—we will find our salvation in this man who has come to teach, heal, and befriend us.  

 

Name that story!

Mar 4th, 2019 by Pastor Robert | Comments Off on Name that story!

We have a group of five congregants participating in a church membership and baptism class! This picture is from our most recent gathering where we discussed the early church. Can you guess which scene they are acting out?

 

Resurrected to our Calling

Feb 28th, 2019 by Pastor Robert | Comments Off on Resurrected to our Calling

One of my absolute favorite Bible stories is from I Kings 19:10-13. It’s the story of Elijah running away from his calling. It’s the story of God being revealed through natural disasters, and finally, bending low to meet Elijah where Elijah wants to meet God–in a whisper of a question, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

Elijah is a bit defensive in his answer, but with good reason! He is, essentially, being hunted by the current king and queen of Israel for challenging their deity and continuing to proclaim God throughout Israel. Elijah is exhausted, he’s ready to die but God’s presence is life and through Elijah’s conversation with God he is renewed and reenters his ministry in Israel.

Why do I love this story? First, it’s so relatable! In our life’s most vulnerable moments we also crawl up in our caves, perhaps it’s under the blankets of our bed, or maybe behind the screen of our computer or cell phone. We also try to escape from the situations and circumstances that are most frightening. And in the midst of our dismal situation, God also comes to us, whispering, “What are you doing here?”

Why do I love this story? Second, God speaks and listens to Elijah. God doesn’t try to explain the situation, or correct Elijah’s feelings–God listens and then God recommissions Elijah to return to his ministry in Israel. Having a good friend listen to me, really listen, when I’m going through a hard time is so valuable. Knowing they won’t try to fix my problem or put in their two cents, rather, they’ll just hear me and try to understand what I’m going through.

God seeks us and finds us, God hears us, and God will bring us into new life.

Compassion

Feb 14th, 2019 by Pastor Robert | Comments Off on Compassion

“Is there anyone deserving of kindness?” This is the question King David asks his advisors after his throne has been established over Israel. And the answer is, “Yes!”

In this story from 2 Samuel 9:1-12 David is remembering his friendship with Jonathan, the son of the previous Monarch, King Saul. David is wondering if there is anyone left from Jonathan’s family that he can provide for despite the decline of Saul and Jonathan’s family years earlier.

As readers, we anticipate that King David’s agenda will be strengthening his throne, perhaps expanding the kingdom, or preparing his children to take over leadership. The last thing King David should want to do is bring potential enemies into the royal court. However, Mephibosheth, the son of Jonathan, is not only welcomed to the palace, he is welcomed to King David’s own meal table.

According to Google, compassion is “sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others.” However, in this story, King David is not merely being compassionate, he is acting like God! King David is looking out for the good of Mephibosheth, providing for him, and showing him love knowing fully that he will never be able to repay the kindness.

On Sunday, we will dive even deeper into this beautiful story of compassionate love, and we will also see how God reaches out to us like King David reached out to Mephibosheth. And, that God’s reaching is even more perfect, even less conditional, even more radical. God does not just put his food on the table for us, God put his own son in our lives so that we could know God truly, intimately, and fully.

Join us this Sunday morning at Glendale Church of the Brethren at 10:45am to learn about compassion, and to learn more about God. 

 

Psalm 23

The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters,
he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

Beyond our Patterns

Feb 7th, 2019 by Pastor Robert | Comments Off on Beyond our Patterns

This week we will be learning about the cycle of the Judges in Israelite history. The Judges were not as we think of judges today; gown and gavel in hand, but rather normal people called from within the folds of society to remind the Israelites how to be faithful to the work and witness God was calling them to do and be amongst their Canaanite neighbors.

In Judges 2:10-19, we read a summary of the cycle the Israelites and Judges fall into throughout this Old Testament book of the Bible; the Israelites did evil in the yes of the Lord, the Lord’s anger burned against them and the Lord gave the Israelites into the hands of their enemies, the Israelites would cry out in distress to the Lord, the Lord would raise up a judge to save them, but after the judge died the people fell back into sinful patterns and become even worse than they were before….and, the cycle begins again.

Although we cannot draw a direct parallel to our own lives, I do think sometimes I also fall into a pattern of sin, sadness, and forgiveness from God. After all, I am human, and humans sin. On one hand, I see the stories of the judges coming alongside Israel as a word of encouragement; when I do sin, there will be someone to remind me what God’s plan is for me, someone to keep me accountable to God’s sovereignty in my life, and someone to walk alongside me to help me move back into faithfulness with God. On the other hand, this is story about corporate sin and corporate forgiveness–it’s about an entire group of people recognizing their error and corporately turning back to God. This is certainly more tricky!

In an age when news, good and bad, is constantly circulated on Facebook, Twitter, and hundreds of news sources, we can easily want to detach from the bad stuff that’s happening in our world. However, the story of the judges reminds us that we are not beyond the mistakes of our own society, and, that God is also not beyond the ears of those who cry out to Him. Within our church we can seek healing and find healing, we can seek reconciliation and find reconciliation, we can seek peace and find peace. The church can be a model in a deeply broken world of the corporate following of Jesus; simply, peacefully, together.